In a nutshell: A stunningly gorgeous drama with breath-taking cinematography. A poetically told tale of two horribly broken people finding purpose and love together. An intricate plot about a conman, in a desperate attempt to save his own life, pretending to be the long lost brother of a blind heiress. At first all three strands are expertly woven together to form a perfect story: the prose of the plot enriched by the poetry of the characters’ emotional journey with the gorgeous camerawork tying it all together. Unfortunately, the plot drops out. And, aside from a few awkward moments when the story tries to bring it back, poetry is all that’s left. It’s beautiful and emotionally satisfying, but logic is sacrificed.
Plot: It starts off well, all intrigue and mystery with a dash of cleverly planned heist. Our conman, Oh Soo, owes a large sum of money to a very bad man. And our blind heiress, Oh Young, appears to be a prisoner in her own home. The plot challenged our hero to both free himself from the very bad man and somehow help Oh Young escape the clutches of those who would control her.
In this section of the story Oh Soo’s teammates, Jin-sung (Kim Bum) and Hee-sun (Jung Eun-ji), were crucial players. They’re a formidable team (Jin-sung the brawn to Hee-sun’s brain), and they brought in the humor. I expected them to be a well integrated part of the drama. But when the plot dropped out, their reason for being dropped out as well. After that, their appearances tended to be awkward reminders of a plot that wasn’t really there.
The plot also brought us Moo-chul (the very bad man’s hired killer with a personal grudge against Oh Soo), and Secretary Wang (Oh Young’s main caregiver and also her main prison-guard). They both start off as plot-creators. Less fully formed characters than symbols of what both Oh Soo and Oh Young were fighting against. And they made for deliciously evil foes. Moo-chul taking sadistic pleasure in Oh Soo’s increasing desperation, gleefully twisting the knife (sometimes, literally). Secretary Wang playing the sacrificing caregiver everyone praises while smothering all attempts of Oh Young to act for herself.
Unexpectedly, when the plot dropped out, Moo-chul and Secretary Wang became much more complex and interesting. No longer needed to drive the plot, they were able to fill out into characters our protagonists learn and gain from, rather than simply beat against. Moo-chul becomes a character with such conflicting motivations and moments of grace and growth that I honestly think he could have carried his own drama. Secretary Wang could have carried her own story as well. (Though, her story is probably too odd for a regular drama. A novel maybe. Or an indie-film. A deep study of the human condition filled with silences and symbols.)
Both roles were played by incredibly good actors, Kim Tae-woo and Bae Jong-ok, and I almost wonder if their acting abilities helped shape the story away from its original plot and into the more poetic tale it became.
Poetry: Though, the poetry was always there. The emotional story of a man who clung to life even though he had nothing to live for, and a woman who was so tired of fighting to live that she wanted to die.
The scenes between Oh Soo (Jo In-sung) and Oh Young (Song Hye-hyo) were incredibly intimate and raw. (That they were supposed to be siblings made for some viewer confusion, I’ll confess. It was good of the drama to make it clear that they were not related and at least one of them knew it. For sanity’s sake.) We were watching two characters who’d spent a life-time building protective shields, begin to break those shields down. And the effect it had on both of them was electric. And moving. And very much poetry.
And while, at first the poetry echoed the plot (both Oh Soo and Oh Young were each facing down a very real life and death crisis), eventually the poetry took over. The actual physical or real threats to their lives became secondary to the spiritual threat. Was Oh Soo willing to put someone else’s life before his? Was Oh Young willing to engage in the painful struggle to live? But, by the time the plot began to slip away I was so fully invested in their struggle to emerge from their protective shells and really live (and hopefully live for each other), I didn’t miss it much. The plot had become a mere undergirding. Something to hang the poetry on. Whatever made the most sense poetically (will they live on together? die together? leave one to mourn the other?) I trusted the plot to make it so.
And, for the most part, it did. The one hiccup came when for a brief moment (very brief — barely a scene, really) the plot took forefront. It shouldn’t have. I don’t think it was needed so it only succeeded in disturbing the poetical flow. However, the last spasm of the plot did not alter the poetry, so I forgave its intrusion.
Cinematography: From beginning to end this drama used some of the most beautiful camera work I’ve ever seen in a drama. Costuming, set design… every scene became its own work of art. And for the most part, the acting was worthy of its frame. I think it’s partly because the story was being told with such visual lyricism that I was able to embrace the more poetical story, allowing the prosaic plot to slide away.
Final Thoughts: This was one of the harder reviews for me to write. What the drama did well it did very well indeed, but where it slipped up it was horrid. The plot really did go through a mangling and I can’t ignore that. But the emotional story was told so faithfully I can’t help but feel forgiving. So often it’s the other way around (emotional through lines dropped to allow the plot to do its thing) and I find those stories empty and soulless. Ultimately unsatisfying. This drama managed to keep its soul but sacrificed its body. In the end, I was satisfied but can only recommend it with caution. Take this as poetry and allow it some license and it may satisfy you as well.