My Wife’s Having an Affair This Week: Episode 5

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“Thinking about it, there seems to be no definite perpetrator or victim. You know, there’s a thing called willful negligence. Even knowing that their marriage will be in danger going on like this, there are many couples that don’t put in effort.” – Bo Young

Wow, this show really means business.

It takes a serious topic and is unafraid to delve into the darkest, most provocative corners of it, evoking such deeply personal responses and reflections. When the episode ended, I just paused and contemplated over what I had observed. I even had a conversation with my wife about how we would handle it if either one of us had an affair. Many K-dramas have elicited emotional reactions from me, but none have hit so close to heart as this one.

In this episode, Hyun Woo further descends into anger, despair, loss and pain. He confronts Sun-woo three times, but it’s only in the third that he  musters up the courage to punch him and take revenge by calling Sun-woo’s wife and breaking the news of his adultery to her. This is triggered by Sun-woo’s acceptance of Hyun Woo’s friend request on Facebook, allowing Hyun Woo to see the admiration he receives on Facebook for his beautiful family life. It’s not pretty at all and there’s no attempt to glorify his actions. He does this not because of any noble reason to ensure the wife is not kept in the dark. It is because he hates it that he’s the only one affected by what has happened. It’s unfair that Hyun Woo can retain his happy family whereas his is destroyed. His rage has blinded him to any form of reason; but really, what would a reasoned reaction to being cheated look like? Would a rational reaction be the right kind of reaction?

With Soo Yeon, Hyun Woo is dismissive, curt and explosive. Divorce keeps getting mentioned. He cuts her off when she tries to explain herself. He refuses to accept any of her explanations. He accuses her, calling her the aggressor and him the victim. He blasts her for destroying what they had together.

It’s not possible to say that Hyun Woo’s reactions were wrong; all that I can say is that I would not have reacted the same way as him, because of our different personalities. But I found it difficult to judge him and wonder if I might have reacted in the same way if the same thing happened to me. Having gone through marriage preparation courses and also spoken to friends who are marital counsellors, I know in my mind that divorce shouldn’t be the first option and that the couple should sit down and work things out. The right thing to do would be to exercise mercy and forgiveness, re-examine the marriage, rebuild the trust and move towards reconciliation. But in a way, Hyun Woo’s reactions aren’t wrong either. He’s angry – his wife has betrayed him after 15 years of marriage, and in doing so, also affected their child. Regardless of Soo Yeon’s reasons, her actions have been detrimental to their marriage in a major way. Whether it ultimately does destroy their marriage is a decision both of them have to make and it will be a heartbreaking, difficult journey.

We finally get a more insightful glimpse into Soo Yeon’s perspective in this episode and the most evident point is how isolated and lonely she is. Unlike Hyun Woo who has a band of brothers and a relatively close group of colleagues at work, Soo Yeon’s work environment is cold and distant. She struggles as a working mum, with pressures from both her boss and subordinates. On the home front, she’s working hard too to ensure the best for her son and has to network to negotiate a place for her son in an art class, following which she’s swamped by messages from fellow mums. While we see her perspective, the show ensures that we empathise with her, without necessarily sympathising with her. It’s clear she has done wrong, regardless of her circumstances and how she feels. Throughout the episode, she keeps insisting that this affair is something just between the two of them, but it really isn’t. She’s clearly repentant and wants to make the marriage work, but there’s no way to talk about doing so now, when Hyun Woo is so enraged. The next episode will explore the fall-out further and the show clearly isn’t allowing her to get off scot-free, making her confess the truth to Hyun Woo’s mum – something that Hyun Woo himself has not contemplated.

The show manages to balance the intensity of Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon’s storyline with the antics of Hyun Woo’s production team as well as scenes of Joon Ki’s philandering ways. I do hope the show is going somewhere with Joon Ki’s storyline as it’s getting increasingly ridiculous and no longer funny to see Ara being played around with in such a brutal, callous manner. I did not find any of the Joon Ki sequences funny at all in this episode. However, the Bo Young and Joon-Young storyline fares much better and we finally see the truth behind Joon-Young’s marriage, that his wife left him three days after they got married, which also opens a new angle on this show’s already very competent exploration of difficult issues in marriage.

It’s refreshing to see a drama take such a hard look at a difficult yet real topic in our society today, which seems to be worsening. Dramas like these are much needed and can be potentially powerful to help married couples talk through difficult issues. At this point, my personal wish is for the show to take a more hopeful, redemptive route and show us how Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon eventually work things out and redeem their marriage.

Healer Episode 17: Taking down Elder

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While this was an action-packed episode with lots of good stuff happening plot-wise, there were also moments where the plot slowed down and lingered on beautiful moments of interactions between our characters.

The first was the meeting between Young Shin and Myung Hee. As she moves in to see Myung Hee, the camera follows Young Shin’s point of view, peering slowly over the corner as she sees the table full of sweet goodies – exactly as Moon Ho had told her. Young Shin takes in a breath and steels herself, because she knows this is not going to be easy. Gradually, her eyes move across the table and eventually sees Myung Hee wheeling herself towards the table to bring more cookies. As she sees Myung Hee face to face for the first time, Young Shin chokes up, holding back her tears, unable to say a word – the joy on her face is so evident, yet she has to restrain it. After Myung Hee takes her flowers, Young Shin tells Myung Hee how pretty she is – a line that’s delivered as a formal compliment from a journalist, but tinged with tenderness from a long-lost daughter. Myung Hee tells Young Shin she’s a big fan of hers. Young Shin smiles and can no longer hold back her tears and they start streaming down; it’s the proud affirmation and praise from a biological parent that she’s never had. The bittersweet irony of Myung Hee telling Young Shin that she finds her familiar, and that she also cries easily is a quiet moment of resonance between mother and daughter.  It’s a really moving scene, performed so beautifully by the two actresses.

The next scene I really enjoyed was Jung Hoo and Young Shin’s exchange after she leaves Myung Hee’s house, particularly the moment when she asks him if she has killed someone before. She confesses to him that she has not asked about his past, because she’s afraid if she asks too much, he will no longer want to be with her. Jung Hoo looks at her assuringly and tells her, “I won’t”, still standing at a distance from her, respecting that she might still be afraid of him after what she last saw. She then looks at him and says what she’s always been wanting to ask – whether he has killed someone. There’s a brief pause after she asks, and the fear in her eyes is evident; even though she knows deep down he’s not a killer, there’s a fear in her that he might give an answer that will once again cause her to become distant. He shakes his head subtly and said “no”, and Young Shin’s demeanour becomes completely at ease and relaxed, saying to both him and herself, “I thought so”. It’s a moment played with such restraint, respect and regard for one another and it’s perfectly executed. It’s perfect also because Jung Hoo is dressed in his most commonly seen “Healer” disguise, yet laying bare his feelings and intentions to her, without any more pretense.

While the actors and actresses did give excellent performances in the above scenes, props must also be given to the production and directing team for constructing those sequences. There was such precision in selecting whether to focus on their faces or their hands, in framing their faces, and in choosing the right camera angles by pulling back further when there was a need to show the energy between the characters. The production team often doesn’t get praised for all the behind the scene work in editing and putting together these episodes, but certainly there was very thoughtful crafting being done here.

Besides the two powerful scenes above, we certainly got a lot of satisfactory backstory and plot progression in this episode. We finally learn from Myung Hee what happened back in 1992, that Moon Shik had called her to warn her that a group of men called “The Farmers” led by Elder were coming to get them and that she had to take Ji Ahn and run away. In running away from the men, she decided it was safest to hide her next to a rubbish cart, while she ran away and subsequently got into an accident. This is all told from Myung Hee’s perspective, but what continues to intrigue us as viewers is Moon Shik’s perspective, because we know that he certainly had a bigger role to play in what happened and he has not told her the full story. Nonetheless, this is sufficient because the focus of this episode is really on what exactly happened to Ji Ahn/Young Shin.

In the meantime, we see the gang of ‘good guys’ band together to declare war on Elder and this swings into high gear in the final half of the episode. It’s an incredibly fun, intelligent and humorous sequence as we start off with Minja, Jung Hoo, Young Shin and Moon-ho having a four way conversation through their head-sets. It was really cute to see that ‘girl power’ moment with Minja choosing to let Young Shin go on the mission, in spite of Moon-ho’s objections. Another cute moment was when Young Shin notices that cars are tailing them and says “very suspicious” with such seriousness. Jung-ho looks at her, with such pride in his eyes, and laughs to himself. I laughed out loud when Young Shin moved back into the video camera at the mortuary  to wave to Minja. There are so many of these funny moments, throughout the entire sequence of the gang executing their plan to defeat Elder.

What’s even more impressive is that we even get some tender, heartwarming sequences in the midst of this plan. One of which is Moon-ho’s conversation with Min-jae in his office, where he shares with her that he has renewed meaning in his life, as he wakes up everyday and asks himself what he will do today and what ‘these kids’ will be doing. His tender, big-brotherly affection for Jung Hoo and Young Shin/Ji Ahn is very touching. (On a side-note, I somehow get a sense that Moon-ho and Min-jae will end up together in the end as the show is still not dropping her character and we keep getting these deep conversations between the two of them.) Another moment is Jung Hoo reminiscing about how Teacher used to bring him to the vault and also introducing Young Shin to his dad. It begins with Jung Hoo hilariously mimicking what Teacher used to say to him and then both of them bowing respectfully before his dad.

At the end of the episode, we see the sheer brilliance of the plan put together, which played on the strengths of every single character. They manage to secure the tape, which gets to Moon-ho just in time for his broadcast, which is also perfectly timed with Jung-hoo’s entry into Elder’s home that allows Minja to activate the camera in his glasses to send a live-feed from Elder’s residence through to the broadcast. The “good guys” certainly secured a big victory in this episode.

The big question remains of what will happen to Jung Hoo and Moon-Ho, now that they have trespassed on Elder’s territory and declared war in such a huge way. If what we know of Elder is true, he certainly must have had anticipated something and wouldn’t have consented to bringing Jung Hoo into his own residence so easily. The stakes have been raised as we move towards our grand finale and I’m certainly excited to see what unfolds next!

The K2 Episode 16: Finale

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In my review of episode 14, I mentioned all I hoped for was that Choi Yoo Jin’s story got a satisfactory ending. In that aspect, the finale certainly surpassed my expectations by delivering a semblance of a redemption arc that was heartbreaking and touching. It even brought tears to my eyes (and my wife’s too – LOL!).

This was far from a perfect finale, but I’m only going to elaborate on the two most glaring faults. The most severe fault was that Subway product placement segment, which was even worse than the one in episode 14 because it ended with so, so cheesily with Jeha saying “I love this place!”. Yikes! This will go down in the history of K-drama was the worst product placement ever. Kudos to Ji Chang Wook for even being able to pull off that line with a straight face.

Besides that, I really disliked the way Anna was portrayed in the past two episodes, which is a fault that has plagued her characterisation throughout the entire series. In this episode, she’s repeatedly being used the hostage and always so helpless and needy, continually calling upon Je Ha to reecue her. She barely does anything to save herself, except for kicking aside the hard disk. What happened to the courageous, resourceful and determined girl who was able to escape from the monastery repeatedly in episode 1? If she’s supposed to be one of the lead protagonists, shouldn’t the writer at least have given us more to admire her for? Up till the end, I was still hoping for her to do something mildly heroic, but we had nothing. Such a disappointment, really.

Coming back to what I liked about the finale, we finally got answers about what happened to Ume Hye Rin. This was very long overdue, but at least, it’s convincing and frames Yoo Jin’s descent into evil meaningfully. We learn that it was Yoo Jin’s father who is responsible for Hye Rin’s death, assigning one of his men to kill her in spite of Yoo Jin begging him not to do so. Yoo Jin wanted to save Hye Rin, but she was too late. She could have saved Hye Rin by calling 911, but she chose not to. She was aware that Anna was being held Master and behind the door but could not bear to look back and face Anna. Following that, she decided to tell Joon that she had killed Hye Rin, so that she could retain her hold over him. In fact she believed that she had killed Hye Rin because she had turned coldly away from her when she begged her to save her. While that story doesn’t redeem her from all the evil she does, it certainly provides a plausible explanation. I did wish though that we got more backstory into how she made the decision to send Anna to a monastery in Spain.

Leading from that, we have a quiet moment of acceptance as Anna continues to hold Se Joon’s tie to keep Yoo Jin’s wound from bleeding further even after Yoo Jin tells her she can stop doing so because she is her enemy. I appreciated that it was not overplayed and Yoo Jin did not go to the extent of asking for forgiveness, which would have been out of character. I also liked that her final decision to stay in Cloud 9 did not become over-glorifed as a sacrifice for the safety of all, but was a decision she made because she was tired of all the power struggles and preferred to end it all. While there was little interaction between her and Je Ha in this episode, his desperate plea for her to leave, crying out ‘Damn it!’ when she refused and then running to the bomb to see whether he could defuse it really spoke volumes about how he genuinely wanted to save Yoo Jin.

What we get a lot of in the finale is interaction between Se Joon and Yoo Jin. The scene of her apologizing to him was really so powerful and moving. She admits to not killing Hye Rin and that she was stupid for ever thinking that she had to prove to anyone she was happy. She apologises to Se Joon for having subjected him to a life of pretense. Although we don’t see him actually accepting her apology, that acceptance is shown through him finally passing the thumb drive to her and even more so by his final act of staying with her. I was really impressed by Se Joon’s final act of pulling the bomb into the glass chamber of Cloud 9 and holding Yoo Jin in his arms. It was a great moment of redemption. I’ve never thought much of him throughout, but this was a truly heroic and touching moment that redeems him in my eyes. All Yoo Jin’s efforts to bring him to where he is today were not in vain, as she finally, just minutes before her death, gets to experiences genuine love. Yoo Jin and Se Joon have had a very complex dynamic throughout the show, simultaneously loathing yet needing each other, and it was a nice resolution to their storyline.

Song Yoo-na puts in yet another masterful performance throughout the episode. It was so compelling to see her cold, hard exterior gradually soften, as she apologises to Se Joon, then reveals the truth to Anna and finally decides to end it all in Cloud 9. Even as her exterior cracks, she remains stoic, trying hard to prevent herself from breaking down completely. Her line just before dying about how Se Joon and her almost seem like a happy couple is delivered with a genuine, lingering smile that we’ve never seen from her, and it was so heartbreaking. Song Yoo-na has really taken the character of Choi Yoo Jin and elevated it to a whole new level; she will truly be one of Korean drama’s most remembered villains.

Besides Yoo Jin’s story, the plotting of this final episode was decent enough and the growing sense of danger was sufficiently convincing with Sung Won pulling out a gun, then Park Gwan Soo cutting off the energy supply and communication lines. While I certainly do not condone murder, I was glad that Chief Kim did not die and got her revenge on Sung Won. She has certainly been one of the more compelling characters throughout and I’ve always admired her for her loyalty and never doubted her competence.

As for Je Ha, I’m pretty sure nobody expected he would die, so there was no suspense at all regarding his fate. Unfortunately though, he did not have many strong character moments in the finale and was mainly the hero who saves the day. His whole Blackstone storyline was resolved so neatly, with him confessing the truth about Blackstone to the ICC and Park Gwan-So being forced to commit suicide. Je Ha and Anna do get a cute, laughter-inducing moment as he asks her why she pressed the button so quickly as he wanted to do it together with her. It was endearing indeed, but there really hasn’t been enough throughout the entire series for us to become truly invested in their relationship.

Ultimately, the K2 was a series that had an interesting premise, but failed to develop a substantial storyline or to flesh out its main characters. Even as a satire or commentary on politics, the show did not fully succeed as most of the characters were so one-dimensional and their competence varied based on what was needed to advance the plot. As the series progressed, my expectations gradually decreased and based on my lowered expectations, the finale more than delivered. In the grand scheme of k-drams, a drama that ends well is certainly better than one that starts off well. I’m glad the series is finally over and I’ll definitely be on the look out for Song Yoo-na’s next drama series.

The K2 Episode 15

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The K2 ups its game in its penultimate episode, delivering an episode that’s fast-paced and enjoyable with some quality exchanges between characters, which has been sorely lacking in the past few episodes. It makes me hopeful that we’ll get a satisfactory ending to this series, but this is largely due to the fact that the writer has stretched out a very thin storyline and left all the best bits till the end.

By all counts, this was far from a perfect episode, and many of its flaws stem from long-term issues that have plagued the series from the start. Before going into what I liked about the episode, I thought I’d just go quick over the issues that bothered me, which are not new:

  1. Ume-Hye Rin’s death: The show has just dragged out this storyline for way too long. In this episode, we yet again get tiny tidbits to reveal the truth, but we still don’t know what exactly happened except that we now know that Master was present at the scene and President was involved. I’m still interested to find out what happened, but it really seems like the writer is saving the best for last.  Related to that is how Anna decides to just fly off without pursuing the truth behind her mum’s death – what happened to her determination?
  2. Sung Won and CEO Gook’s “plan”: What exactly was Sung-Won’s plan? Just bring a bomb in and believe that somehow Yoo Jin will hand Cloud 9 over? Why would she do that? Just getting into Cloud 9 is barely even half the battle won, because the real issue is access rights to Cloud 9. CEO Gook displayed even more stupidity, given that he has personally witnessed how Yoo Jin has destroyed peoples’ lives using Cloud 9. He did not seem to cover his bases at all and think through the implications of betraying Yoo Jin. Was it so surprising that she would turn on his grand nephews?
  3. Portrayal of JSS: The portrayal of JSS has been largely inconsistent throughout. Initially touted as an elite security force, their performance in most of their missions has been mostly laughable. It’s unfortunate that the competence of JSS has to be downplayed just to showcase Je Ha’s prowess. However, even more problematic in this episode is how the competence of JSS changes based on what’s needed for the plot. When the plot requires that Sung-Won be allowed to bring the bomb down to Cloud 9, JSS forces are incompetent and so easily defeated. At the end, when the plot requires for Anna to be set free, JSS forces suddenly become so strong and easily defeat those who are holding her in captivity.

Nonetheless, given that the above points are not new, what I did appreciate about this episode was that the plot kept moving ahead, moving from situation to situation, with the characters scheming and devising plans to outplay the other. The intricate web of relationships between the characters was leveraged and every character had a part to play in the elaborate scheme involving the bomb. Park Gwan-Soo was actually relatively cunning in this episode, deciding to kidnap Anna and then also programming the bomb such that it cannot be defused, such that in the worst case scenario that Cloud 9 isn’t handed over to him, it’d be destroyed nonetheless. Of course, given that Cloud 9 is a supercomputer, would destroying the physical location of Cloud 9 really actually wipe out the data?

I also appreciated very much all the exchanges between our key characters, starting with that between Je Ha and Yoo Jin, where she displays more vulnerability. Is it strange that the character that I feel the most for in this series is our villain? It is inevitable that she should get some comeuppance at the end for all the bad that she’s done. Nonetheless, in this episode, we get to see too how she’s a victim, and how she’s been caught up in this power struggle that she can no longer give it up. While Cloud 9 gives her power, it also has power over her. Je Ha knows this well and asks her to step away from it, for her own good. Although Je Ha is largely stern and formal when relating to her, it is evident that he too cares for her, because he’s arguably the only one who has seen first hand the forces that she’s also up against and how they’ve tried to manipulate her. There’s a chemistry and understanding between the two characters; they watch out for each other and even care for each other. It’s a touching and meaningful farewell, which also left me hoping that more could have been done to explore their dynamics, not so much in a romance manner, but possibly even as friends.

Then, we have the negotiations between Yoo Jin and Sung-won, which are tinged with hatred and contempt. To me, Sung-won is evidently on the losing end, but I’ll give him points for still trying to stand strong and trying different means to negotiate with her. I really liked the conversation where he tried to emotionally manipulate her by talking about how she had the courage to marry someone she loved, whereas he ended up in an arranged marriage. It might possibly have been true, but Yoo Jin is not gullible enough to take it in and he responds with snide laughter as well. There’s energy in their exchanges and their visual sparring was fascinating to watch. I wonder if they might actually join forces in the finale when they realise that the bomb cannot be detonated to take out Park Gwan Soo.

We also have the exchange between Chief Joo, Je Ha and Se Joon in the car, where we see each character having their own priorities in this elaborate political game, which seems to now hinge on the thumb drive. This is where we also get a bit more backstory into what exactly happened with Je Ha, which I have since learnt is largely inaccurate from a legal stand point (for more on this, go read RedRossette’s excellent write-up on this, specifically point 3). We also see how Chief Joo has given up his morals in service of politics. It’s Se Joon who comes out more strongly in this exchange as for once, we do see him asserting himself and taking some action for his own victory, even though it really was contingent on Je Ha getting the thumbdrive.

As we come to the end of the series, I’ve also come to appreciate what the writer is doing through the series of K2, particularly the worldview that is being conveyed. While the plot construction and characterisation could have been tighter, the show has certainly been very tight in constructing a world where deception is so prevalent at all levels, such that even personal conversations behind the public political world cannot be trusted. It’s really so relevant to our world of politics today, even in light of recent political happenings, that lies and deceit have become so pervasive that we can no longer trust anything. This has certainly helped to keep things tense throughout the show, where almost everything that the characters say cannot be trusted and we’re left to constantly figure out what the truth is. Unfortunately, this wasn’t used to the series’ advantage as the story constructed around the world wasn’t always compelling.

As we go into the final episode, I truly hope we get a satisfying conclusion to the Ume Hye Rin murder, which will likely lead to closure for Yoo Jin’s story. As a bonus, it’d be great if Je Ha’s story also gets a good close.

Healer Episode 16: Who can Young Shin trust?

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After a more light hearted tone in episode 15, we return to the intense and emotional tone of the previous episodes as our characters continue to work through the past and seek much needed answers.

While it was only a matter of time before Young Shin found out that her mum was still alive, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to come so early in the episode and as Moon Ho said, not in a car park. Throughout the series, Healer has ways been one step ahead of the viewers, reaching key points in the story earlier than expected, giving more time to explore the implications within the same episode itself. This was also the case with Moon-Ho’s discovery that Bong Soo was Healer. When the episode ended with Moon-Ho discovering the phone, I was expecting that we would have to wait at least an episode or more while Moon-Ho tries to confirm his suspicions before Jung Hoo finally reveals himself. However, I was pleasantly surprised that within minutes of the next episode, Jung Hoo stepped forward to Moon Ho and revealed the true identity of Healer and we got to see them relating to each other with this renewed dynamic. This brisk style of storytelling continually makes Healer such an enjoyable viewing experience.

What I also appreciate greatly is that these moments of revelation are not overly milked for emotional impact with the characters extensively dwelling on their pain and taking drastic actions. Instead we get to see our characters handling their emotions maturely, working through them and finally overcoming them. I was concerned that Young Shin’s distrust of Moon Ho after knowing the truth would lead to extensive moping around and her deciding not to work with him any more. However, the whole story line is handled very well, which also leads us to admire Young Shin’s hardiness even more.

She is certainly shocked and in denial when she first learns the truth. She walks away and tells that her name is Young Shin, not Ji Ahn. Yet after having some time alone and processing what Moon Ho told her, she chooses not to dwell on it, but returns to his office, eager to find out more about the past. Moon Ho’s joy when he sees her is so evident and what follows is a genuine and heart-warming conversation as Moon Ho shares with her that her birthday is the next day and her mum always prepares a huge feast on that day. Young Shin smiles when she finally knows her real birthday. We also get a funny moment of Moon-ho telling her that Jung Hoo is her oppa by one month. It’s a really beautiful scene

In between the two scenes mentioned above, we see Young Shin also grappling with trusting Jung Hoo.  Moon Shik attempts to instil distrust and fear in Young Shin by telling her that Healer is a killer and that his dad killed her dad. This leads Young Shin to distance herself from Jung Hoo when he comes to see her and she’s unable to hug him or even touch him initially. He tells her that he’s to uncover the truth and walks off in pursuit of it. Just before he walks out of the cafe, Young Shin stops him and asks him to come back, even if he doesn’t find the truth. Park Min Young is truly the star of this episode as she plays Young Shin’s conflicted state so well. She’s fearful and distant because she’s still processing what she’s heard about Jung Hoo’s dad murdering her dad. She knows instinctively it’s not true, yet without evidence, it’s hard to grapple with it. However, she’s also battling her emotions and deep down, she can’t let him go because he means so much to her, even more so now that she knows their childhood connection.

While the episode has certainly explored Young Shin’s initial reactions to the revelation of her past well, I do hope this continues to be explored in future episodes with more scenes of her talking to Moon-ho about the past and understanding more about her biological parents.

The above emotionally heavy-going scenes are interspersed with scenes of Jung Hoo getting closer to the truth of what happened to his dad as he discovers that Park Dong-Chul has taped his dad’s statement from twenty years ago. Of course, things are not so straightforward as Moon-Shik is already onto this, with his guys tailing closely behind Jung Hoo, ready to take him down in the church. It was a nice touch to get Myung-hee also involved in the conflict and it is her who alerts Moon-ho that Jung-hoo is in trouble. They arrive in the scene just in time to see Dong-Chul dead and Jung-hoo covered in blood, which causes Young Shin to recoil in fear once again. This whole storyline is relatively standard action series material and while there’s nothing unpredictable or particularly exciting about it, it does show our main characters gradually rallying together to work as a team to look out for one another in order to defeat Moon-Shik and Elder.

To close on a more superficial note, I really have to say that I love the song “Eternal Love” from the OST. I’ve read quite a few commenters or blogs mention that they don’t like it because it’s so dated or even cheesy. It certainly has a boy-band vibe but I like it exactly because it has a certain nostalgic sweetness to it. Of course, my enjoyment of the song is now further enhanced by its association with Jung Hoo and Young Shin’s relationship.

Healer Episode 15: The real me

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If I had to point out a key strength of Healer (which I seem to be doing every review so far), it would be its pacing – which is something that very, very few dramas do well. For many dramas, they either end up having too little plot to last for 16 episodes, such that they need to have “filler” episodes or repetitive plot-structures (e.g. Descendants of the Sun, Queen In-Hyun’s Man); or they have too many loose ends such that they have to rush through the plot towards the end. Even my other all-time favourite drama W Two Worlds suffered from weaknesses in pacing – I felt it went too fast in the first half and lost steam towards the end.

While Episode 15 wasn’t the strongest episode of the series, it pointed towards the masterful pacing of the series. In the midst of providing plenty of sweetness and cuteness (though I was surprised by the hints at pre-marital sex, rarely seen in k-dramas), the episode also moves forward the Moon-shik vs. Moon-ho storyline, while leveraging the progress in the relationship between Jung Hoo and Young Shin. The tone throughout was mostly light-hearted and fun with Jung Hoo and Moon-ho finally experience victory by implicating Moon-Shik in Teacher’s death. I really appreciated how the consequences and impact of Teacher’s death were so fully explored, with the previous episode extensively exploring the emotions felt by the characters and this episode focusing on the actions taken to avenge him, thus bringing the whole Teacher arc to a satisfying close. We see growth for both Jung Hoo and Moon-Ho, with Jung Hoo confronting the question of who he is and Moon-Ho no longer being a coward and declaring war on Moon-Shik. It was certainly entertaining to see Moon-Ho brilliantly orchestrate the whole news story with footage pulled together from different sources. Moon-Ho’s delivery as a news anchor is so eloquent and charismatic – it’s not hard to see why Young Shin idolised him.

Besides meaningful plot developments, this episode also had strong thematic coherence through exploring the theme of identity.  Early in the episode, Jung Hoo asks Min-Ja, “But the real me? Who is that? Does that exist?”. While Min Ja dismisses the question, it’s certainly one worth exploring further. As Healer, his only interaction with the outside world was through a facade. When he decided to get closer to Young Shin, he made himself more visible through adopting the identity of the awkward, bumbling Bong Soo when interacting with her on personal level, but still revert to Healer when he needed to rescue her. Now that he’s revealed himself, he will need to find to reconcile both identities. While I’m sure many found the kissy/touchy scenes very sweet, the highlight of their interaction for me was the scene where Jung Hoo meets Young Shin and introduces himself as “Seo Jung Hoo” and apologises for taking so long to introduce himself to her. That felt to me like a significant step ahead for their relationship. When Young Shin says cheekily in the car that she misses Bong Soo, it’s a moment of ironic humour as we witness Jung Hoo being jealous of “himself”.

The sequence of Jung Hoo and Young Shin infiltrating the police station together was really good fun – Young Shin even gets her own earpiece! Detective Yoon and the entire police force unfortunately get the short end of the stick here, being portrayed as incompetent and gullible. However, I’m willing to overlook that for the scene where Young Shin gleefully and victoriously expresses how fun it was and Jung Hoo basks in the joy of being called her “boyfriend”. There were certainly some Bong Soo vibes there when he smiled to himself and kept repeating “boyfriend” in a silly manner. I really wonder how much Bong Soo represented the “real” Jung Hoo, since he seemed to play that role so well and for so long. Honestly, I do miss Bong Soo and hope we get to see more of the Bong-Soo side of Jung Hoo in subsequent episodes.

Besides Jung Hoo, the episode also explored the theme of identity through Moon-Shik. Every scene with Moon-Shik was so intriguing. While handling the cremation of Teacher, he looks genuinely grieved and we see him wiping his tears in the car. Given that he’s with Secretary Oh, who is his closest ally, there is no reason why he should be putting up any pretence, which makes me wonder if he was really responsible for Teacher’s death or whether it was Elder’s instructions. We learn through Moon-Ho that it sometimes seems like Moon-Shik believes he has done no wrong, as if he can’t remember what he has done. This is certainly true based on this episode, where we see him refer to Jung Hoo and Young Shin as “those kids”, taking it upon himself to help them socialise. He is genuinely convinced that he’s carrying out his responsibility to them. While Jung Hoo is on a mission to discover the “real” him, Moon-Shik has completely gone into self-denial by numbing himself from his evil acts and believing he is part of something greater. This is exactly what he tells Moon-ho too, that his side is united and will fight together for their survival. At the end of the episode, Young Shin enters his car and we wonder what devious plan he has up his sleeves. While Moon-shik is the villain of the series, he’s certainly being portrayed in also complex and compelling manner, which makes us want to know him more. The simmering tension between him as Myung-hee is also exciting to watch to watch and I am looking forward to their confrontation. 

As we enter the last five episodes of the series, there’s so much to look forward to as the dynamics of the characters are gradually shifting and we have more people now entering the “good side” to battle Moon-Shik. War has certainly been declared and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds!

Healer Episode 14: The death of Teacher

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While there are many great things about Healer, this episode reinforces how every character matters on this show and gets sufficiently developed for us to care for them.

Teacher may not have gotten much air-time, but his position within the web of relationships within the show is adequately well-established such that his death provides many moving moments and also moves forward the storylines significantly.

The impact on Jung Hoo is certainly the greatest and Ji Chang Wook really puts in a masterful performance once again, which reinforces how his acting talent was really under-utilised in The K2. At the morgue, he advances in blinding rage towards Teacher’s body, taking down innocent people who stand in his way. Once he sees the body, he holds himself back, fearful of what he will see. Upon unveiling the body, he is in denial and asks Teacher if he is playing a game with him, but the truth sinks in and all his energy drains away as he sits on the floor, broken and lost. He subsequently enters into “Healer” mode, driving towards revenge, painfully recalling incidents from the past, tears welling up in his eyes. When Moon Ho overtakes him and stops him, he flies into rage and punches Moon Ho a few times. The exchange between Moon Ho and Jung Hoo that follows is so heartbreaking as both characters, with tears welling up in their eyes, express their frustration, pain, anger at themselves for indirectly causing Teacher’s death and not being able to do anything. Moon Ho’s pain is even worse, because he has not been able to do anything for the past 20 years. Moon Ho lovingly tells Jung Hoo to cry and let out his emotions, but also pleads with Jung Hoo to let him handle this and take down those who have brought them pain. Moon Ho is intensely remorseful and desperate for redemption. Jung Hoo stops and asks Moon Ho what else he can do, besides stopping him; Moon Ho has no reply and just looks at Jung Hoo while Jung Hoo drives off.

It’s really a beautifully played out exchange between the two characters that also shows how their relationship has developed. The fact that Jung Hoo stops what he’s planning to do signals his trust in Moon Ho, even though he won’t admit it. Moon Ho, on the other hand, finally decides he needs to take action, after many years of snooping around doing background work, but not taking action. As much as he is resourceful and sharp, Moon Ho is, like Min-Jae says, very much a coward – he fights when he knows he won’t get hurt. However, Teacher’s death serves as the cataylst for him to take resolute action, as he sees again what his brother is capable of. His decision to send Young Shin to Myun-Hee is the first step towards taking his brother down. As always, Yong Ji Tae puts up a stellar performance, fully portraying the anger and pain that Moon Ho feels.

The scenes of Min-Ja mourning Teacher’s death are certainly well-played as well. The character of Min-Ja has been considerably well built up thus far, having had many touching scenes with Jung Hoo. However, the writer takes an extra step this episode to even give us some backstory scenes where we learn of her feelings of failure as a mum and her challenges in her job. It’s really a true testament to how much love Song Ji-Na has for all her characters. She does not just use them in service of her plot and main characters, but thoughtfully crafts their backstories to help viewers understand and care for them. All the memories provide Min-Ja with the motivation to be a “good mother” to Jung Hoo by retrieving Teacher’s last moments from the police records.

In his final moments, Teacher looks at the camera and tells Jung Hoo to give it all up and live with the woman he loves. However, Jung Hoo is too broken and lost to take that advice. He unplugs all the computers and curls up in his bed, deciding to give it all up and withdraw from the world.

Min Ja continues to be the caring mother-figure and finds Young Shin, giving her the directions to Jung Hoo’s lair. Young Shin then goes to seek him out and the scenes between them at the end are so touchingly played out. When Jung Hoo sees Young Shin, he’s totally a wreck, with his face so pale and his eyes so listless. Young Shin simply holds him in her arms and cuddles up with him to comfort him. In her role as a journalist, Young Shin resolutely pursues the truth. However, with Jung Hoo/Healer, the truth does not matter. She does not know why Jung Hoo/Bong So is so broken, yet all she cares about is his well-being and to provide him the comfort he needs.

When Jung Hoo wakes up, he starts asking Young Shin to leave,because she’s in grave danger by being so close to him. However, she stands up to him and refuses to go. Park Min-young’s performance is top notch here and she portrays the mix of emotions experienced by Young Shin so well. She is resolute not to go and displays both determination and a sense of longing. She does not want to go because she wants to nurse him back to health; but more importantly, it’s because she cannot bear to lose him again and not know when she will next see him. After losing him for so long, she’s unwilling to give it all up to uncertainty. In spite of Jung Hoo’s claims of wanting to protect her, she protests and tells him that he can never get her hurt. She asks him not to send her away twice – the first time with resolve in her eyes, but the second time with such tenderness as she moves in to him and hugs him, which causes him to break down again. Min-young plays that mix of vulnerability and strength so well, causing us to feel sad for her yet at the same time admire her.

Beyond the writer’s love for her characters, it is evident that the key actors and actresses really love the characters they play, fully embodying their motivations, their personalities and their emotions. There were many moments in this episode where key exchanges between characters did not have any background music at the start, and the emotional energy simply came from the interactions between the characters. I’ve often found many Korean dramas to over-rely on music as emotional cues – Descendants of the Sun really comes to mind here. However, Healer does not require that because the emotions are conveyed by the realistic, moving performances put up by the cast. It’s no wonder that Healer remains one of the most loved k-dramas to date, because the entire team putting it together display such evident love for it too. 

Romantic Teacher, Doctor Kim: Episode 2

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I decided to watch the 2nd episode, since the first episode hadn’t introduced our main character, Doctor Kim. And I must say, I’m intrigued as the main premise of the show gets fleshed out.

For one thing, it looks like this show is going to move away from the typical big hospital setting to focus on a rural hospital, interestingly named “Doldam Hospital” in Jung Sun (doldam meaning ‘stone wall’ in Korean), where the focus is really on saving lives without the complications of power struggles, protocols and politicking. The artifice of Geosan University Hospital is emphasised through all the amplified surgical lights and the setting up of the operating room like a theatre, with a viewing gallery above. In contrast, Doldam Hospital is humble and all the scenes there are lit in natural lighting.

The contrast between the two hospitals is also established through the first case we witness at the hospital where the patient comes literally crashing in on his own, and not via an ambulance. Doon Joo keeps insisting on following safety protocols and codes of conduct, requesting to send the patient to a bigger hospital. He’s gradually surprised at the sufficiency of this small hospital. The staff at Doldam may not work in sterile, clean settings with the latest medical technologies, but they have everything essential and are quick to respond to patient’s needs. As opposed to the surgery scenes in Geosan University Hospital which focus on the machines and tools used, the surgery scene in Doldam Hospital focuses on Dr Kim’s hands and his precise cuttings and deft stitching.

Later on, we get a scene in Dr Kim’s office where he asks Doon Joo how many patients have died under his knife since his specialisation. Doon Joo confidently declares that only one patient has died, thinking that the small number is proof of his expertise. However, Dr Kim’s dismisses him, telling him to add ten to that and kill more people before coming to talk to him. Han Suk-Kyu plays Teacher Kim with such charisma and relaxed confidence. He’s a back-to-basics man, who listens to Madonna on a cassette tape. He’s certainly a refreshing character and I look forward to understanding him further.

While the medical drama aspects of this series are looking more hopeful, the romance aspects still feel quite forced. It’s a little too convenient how both of them ended up at Doldam Hospital at the same time and I do wish the writer had spent some effort setting up that premise more convincingly. However, I did like the exchange between Seo-Jung and Dong Joo, where she tells it like it is and calls Dong Joo out for being a coward, full of excuses. Seo-Jung does get some good moments in this episode, where we realise what happened in the first episode has been tormenting her over the past five years. Seo Hyun-Jin portrayed Seo-Jung’s tormented and frenzied state very convincingly and while I found the incidents in Episode 1 very ridiculous, I am keen to see how the show explores the ramifications of it on her psyche. In terms of structuring, I did wonder if it’d be better for the incidents in Episode 1 to be shown as backstory instead and for the series to have start instead from this week’s episode. At least, there would have been an element of intrigue about what exactly happened five years ago to lead to the current state of affairs. Keeping viewers on the edge is always a better thing than making everything obvious.

As for Doon Joo, I still do not find him a compelling character and his character’s trajectory, as of now, is still relatively straightforward and predictable. I do wish the series had played up more greatly the tension and dilemmas faced by Doon Joo, rather than simply giving in to the exact power structures that caused his father’s death. Nonetheless, Doctor Kim remains sufficient reason for me to stay around for a bit longer to see how this series unfolds and explores the heart of medicine and saving lives.

I read that the actors put in great effort to prepare for their roles by visiting hospitals, watching videos and consulting specialists to give convincing surgical performances. I do hope they also spoke to doctors and specialists about the more ‘human’ aspects of their jobs, i.e. the emotions they feel, the ethical conflicts they faced and the lives they encounter, because these human stories are indeed the key ingredients for a quality drama.

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim: Episode 1

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I will admit that I personally do not like medical dramas and was not intending to follow this series. However, after reading some articles about it and seeing the high ratings received on the first episode, I decided to give it a shot and watch the first episode.

I certainly wasn’t impressed and am unlikely to continue watching the series. Nonetheless, I thought I’d capture my thoughts on this episode.

While I usually enjoy shows that move at a fast pace, this premiere tried to accomplish way too much, too quickly. The first half is pretty typical – we get some backstory for our protagonist Kang Dong-Joo, and then we fast forward to present day where he is a medical intern with a surly attitude. His no-nonsense attitude attracts the attention of many, particularly a young surgeon Yeon Seo Jung, who starts to give him a hard time after he tells on her for not giving attention to a patient. What follows is some funny scenes of Dong-Joo being tormented by patients from hell. This is all pretty standard stuff if not rather bland because both Dong Joo and Seo Jung do not have very appealing personalities.

The second half is where things get ridiculous very quickly. After going a successful surgery, Dong Joo confesses that he likes Seo Jung, and out of nowhere, they share a passionate kiss, which was just like “Huh??”. Following that, Seo Jung gets on a car with her boyfriend who proposes to her just before they get into a fatal car accident (the usual random large vehicle that appears out of nowhere). They are rushed to hospital, where the guy seems completely fine and conveniently lives long enough for Dong Joo to spot him talking to another female doctor in the stairway. Seo Jung’s boyfriend then suddenly collapses in the hallway and dies. We then learn through a flashback that after proposing to her, Seo Jung actually tells her boyfriend that she kissed Dong Joo today and felt something – which was another big “Huh” moment.

What we get is our characters telling us that they love or feel for each other, without us actually see any chemistry or relationship developing. The series of melodramatic incidents in the second half also don’t resonate at all emotionally because we do not care for any of these characters. If anything, I actually felt bad for Seo Jung’s boyfriend for being subjected to such a terrible fate by the writers, being killed off within the span of 15 minutes. Such poor writing and characterisation certainly doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.

In terms of the medical drama aspect, this show fares alright, with an interesting effort to explain the medical terms that come fast and furious. The effect was lost because those terms weren’t subtitled, but nonetheless, a good medical drama shouldn’t require one to be a medical expert to enjoy it. The whole Seo Jung stuffing her hand into the body of the man with a rod through his body to hold onto his artery was so unbelievable. And the whole pulling balls out of anus sequence was really uncomfortable to watch.

At this point, the key character Teacher Kim still has not emerged, so there’s still hope that he might bring in a different dimension to the series. Nonetheless, I won’t be staying on for the ride.

My Wife’s Having an Affair This Week: Episode 4

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This was a good episode. I haven’t decided whether to follow this series, but if it’s consistently delivering episodes of such quality, then I’m definitely on board till the end. While we do have significant developments plot-wise in this episode, I’d like to start off by highlighting the outstanding production-related aspects of the show.

One thing I enjoy tremendously is the wacky, playful use of camera angles throughout. Director Kim Seok-yoon certainly has a lot of fun placing his cameras at the most quirky places, especially within Hyun Woo’s home. In the previous episode, we had a lovely shot of Hyun Woo from within the helium balloons pointing downwards, with the red balloons framing Hyun Woo’s head. In this episode, we get the camera coming from behind the shelves, from the corridor between the rooms and there’s an interesting frame where the entire frame is dark with Hyun Woo in the shadow except for a spot of light behind him shining on their wedding photograph. Within the confined space of the home, the camera is placed as far as possible from Hyun Woo to make him appear small, signifying how his status within the home has been diminished upon discovering the affair. The constant shifting of angles reinforce his sense of disorientation and loss. It’s such attention to detail that makes the show a delight to watch.

I also liked how food and eating is used as a reflection of the characters and relationships. We get many scenes of our characters having eating. Soo Yeon is often shown setting the table and preparing food, while Hyun Woo and their son dine at the table. Their meals are elaborate, with rice and several dishes as well as a soup or stew. Scenes of their family dining always focus on the three of them and not the individual food items, reinforcing how it’s a communal experience. The warmth and busy-ness that characterises these scenes stand in stark contrast to the scenes when Hyun Woo is alone at home, either with cake splattered all over or drinks on the floor. As for Ah-ra and Yoon-ki, their meals are either in classy restaurants with well-plated cuisine or at home with meticulously prepared one-pot meals. In the scenes of them dining, Ah-ra always takes a picture of the food to post on Instagram, but never of her and Yoon-ki eating together. For the home-cooked meals, we see Ah-ra painstakingly preparing the meals and setting the table alone, while waiting for Yoon-ki to return. They may be dining together, but it certainly is a sterile and cold experience. Then we have Bo Young, who after her divorce no longer bothers to cook meals and explores the range of instant foods available. Eating is a solitary affair for her, merely to fill the tummy, yet she also uses food to convey her concern for others, buying an additional tuna samgak-kimbap for Hyun Woo in this episode – which leads him to suspect she is Tuna Mayo.

Beneath all these stellar production values is also a set of storylines that are developing well. Besides the big revelation of Soo Yeon’s affair, we also see some development in the Bo Young & Joon Young as well as Ah-ra & Joon-Ki’s relationships plus suspicions of Bo-Young being poached. I appreciated how the episode managed to balance all these different storylines together, moving between them seamlessly.

I’m glad we finally see some comeuppance for Joon-Ki who gets horribly tormented when he decides to join a fitness club to leer at the instructors. I do honestly get very uncomfortable watching the scenes of his philandering ways because he truly shows completely no respect to his wife by flirting right in front of her. Hence, I was gleefully laughing at the scenes of him being tortured. He truly deserves it. Bo Young also gets some well-deserved screen time too, beyond just being someone who provides advice. While the dynamics between her and Joon Young are funny, I really hope we get more insight into Joon Young’s marriage. Credits to BoA for playing Bo-Young’s post-divorce state so well and I did feel happy to see her dressing up and going on a blind date.

And last but not least, we finally have the confrontation between Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon, which was mostly well-played. While we found out about the affair, we do not find out very much more, because Hyun Woo is unable to calm himself down when talking to Soo Yeon, which causes her to clam up further. Although Soo Yeon has certainly betrayed Hyun Woo, she deserves a smidgen of credit for her honesty, when she told Hyun Woo that she won’t see the man “for now” and that she missed him. Hyun Woo wavers back and forth on whether to divorce her or not. While on his own and with the Internet forum uses, he’s composed and rational, able to formulate a step-by-step plan and work through his thoughts. However, in front of her, he cannot control his anger, and what starts off as a calm attempt to get her to tell the truth ends up once again with him shouting and losing control.

The forum community plays an important role in Hyun Woo’s journey here and he makes a post whenever he reaches a significant emotional “milestone”, with the final post of the episode being him losing his precious.  To say that the community provides “support” is over-stating it, because the forum posters who provide advice are not truly concerned for him. They are excited and all abuzz over this sensational story that’s happening, but not really for his welfare and his future. This is reinforced by the scene where Hyun Woo walks alone in a crowd of people who are all looking down at their phones, connecting to the forum but not even looking up at him.

Lee Sun-kyun certainly puts in a good performance as Hyun Woo which has been consistent over the past four episodes. His facial expressions and body language are just spot on and even when he is angry and shouting at Soo Yeon, we sympathise with him because we know that anger comes from a mix of disappointment, hurt, fear and brokenness. I’m hoping to see more from Song Ji-hyo though, who thus far has been alright, but we still don’t get enough of her perspective and her emotions. Now that the adultery has come to light, I’m hoping we will get more of a female-voice on the whole matter. Based on the previews for next week, we see Hyun Woo confronting the man and while that’s an interesting turn of events, I do hope Soo Yeon’s voice is not sidelined for too long.

It’s always rewarding to watch a series that has been thoughtfully put together. There’s so much to think about and reflect on, especially for married couples. This is truly a refreshing change from the many other K-dramas I’ve viewed this year!