In a nutshell: It’s a story that starts off about vengeance then takes an interesting turn into redemption. It’s about the difference between a toxic and co-dependent love that pulls you down, and the kind of strengthening love that holds you up. This drama began with an incredible amount of buzz and, for the most part, lived up to it. Incredibly well acted, beautifully shot, with a compelling, cliche-avoiding plot that, unfortunately, dropped an important thread at the end. So it didn’t move my soul as much as I think it should have — but I don’t regret watching it.
Buzz because… The writer, Lee Kyung-hee is pretty much the queen of the melodrama. If that’s your cup of tea. It can be mine, if I’m in a certain mood. But I’m not going to lie. I watched for Song Joong-ki. I was glad his first turn as lead in a drama was with such an established writer — but I probably would have watched regardless. I was also excited, though not as much because I wasn’t as familiar with her, by the lead actress, Moon Chae-won. I’d heard good things. (I’ve since become a fan — through Nice Guy and also her fierce turn in the movie War of the Arrows Link goes to the Youtube trailer.) With those three names attached to the project, expectations were high.
So… Song Joon-ki? I first noticed him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal where he played a cheeky, frivolous playboy, with a love of fine fabric and getting handsy all over his best friend. He was definitely adorable but there was this one scene, when his character is threatened with a life-altering secret that gave a flash of SJK’s abilities to handle something beyond being charming. And then came Tree With Deep Roots and his opening role as the young King Sejong. He gave such a stunning performance — showing the progression from terrified and traumatized boy into the wise and cunning and powerful king — that I was pretty much blown away. The subtlety he brings… It’s pretty damn amazing. And this drama gave him the range to really show his talent. (He’s also in the currently released Werewolf Boy Link goes to a Youtube trailer.)
So… Dropped thread? The thing is, while the story definitely revolves around SKJ’s character, Moon Chae-won’s is equally important. And while his story comes to an organic and satisfying end, hers doesn’t. And it’s not that it’s horribly bad — her character isn’t destroyed by acts of incredibly stupidity or anything. But she becomes too passive. Plot happens to her instead of because of her. Whereas before, the choices MCW’s character made were a huge part of what shaped the plot. So it felt a bit empty when that changed. It’s a subtle thing, but it was big enough to leave me vaguely dissatisfied.