So that ending was filled up full with adorable. Which means I was smiling in the end and, overall, I’m glad I watched. But I wasn’t as emotionally engaged as I like to be with a story. For some reason, Master’s Sun stayed at the surface level of entertaining without letting me sink into its world. I’ve thought a lot about why it didn’t quite work for me and I think it can be summed up in one word: meta.
Spoilers will come…
Meta is a milieu the Hong Sisters excel in. They’ve had years of experience in the drama-world and I think they get great enjoyment in pulling back the curtain. Showing the weakness of some beloved tropes, playing with the implications of others. And they make that process enjoyable for the viewer as well. (They love what they’re poking at — that makes all the difference.)
And I do enjoy a sprinkling of meta in my entertainment (a certain level of awareness is always fun). But when meta is the driving theme, it holds me at arm’s length, keeps me at the intellectual, rather than emotional, level. Meta is about how stories work; it’s not actual story. And while I love an engaging essay on the subject as much as the next literary-geek girl, what I soak in is story. In that sense, Master’s Sun was a bit dry.
I began the drama prepared to be patient. Word on the drama-watching street was that it had a shaky start but eventually picked up. And the beginning was shaky. Yes, the premise was fun and the characters were engaging, but it was very “monster of the week” without an overarching plot tying the episodes together.
The mystery of Joo Joong-won’s kidnapping existed, but it had little to nothing to do with each episode’s adventures. And Gong-shil’s ability to see ghosts was presented as a fact to be accepted rather than a mystery to be solved. (It was only in the eleventh hour that they decided to make a mystery out of it.) Some episodes moved me more than others (the one with the ghost dog had me gripped — I’m a sucker for dogs) but I eventually got a little bored.
I wasn’t really sure what the point was. Joong-won and Gong-shil were obviously going to get together. They were amusing to watch and even adorable at times, but they were moving smoothly through the “rom-com” steps and it all felt very predictable. Then came the sudden marriage, framed like Joong-won was trying to escape his love for the poor and unconnected Gong-shil, and I was out. Such a common trope, such a frustrating trope. And it felt like it was included, not for any character reason, but to simply tick that particular trope off the list.
But then I got schooled. And I had my epiphany.
I dropped the series because of the escape-marriage cliffhanger. But it turned out the escape-marriage was only there as a way to skewer the escape-marriage trope. Which happened almost immediately after its cliffhanging appearance. (If only I’d committed to 15 more minutes!)
But coming back in with my arms crossed, ready to get my best judging-you! face on, meant I felt the full force of the escape-marriage trope skewering. Joong-won’s dismissal of that sort of action being something only an idiot would do was hilarious. Because that’s exactly what I was saying! So I laughed and relaxed and settled back for some good viewing.
And even more tropes were set up only to be knocked down. The noble Candy sacrificing her love for completely selfless reasons, the controlling Cheabol giving up control when it came to his heart: both are dismissed as unrealistic and, if viewed from another way, kind of wimpy. Watching the tropes fall was fun!
And I think that was the drama’s point. Set up standard K-drama, rom-com, tropes and then knock them down with great glee. But that’s an intellectual exercise, not a story. And that’s why, while it was fun, it didn’t move me. Gong-shil and Joong-won were adorable together and I got the sense the actors enjoyed playing their trope-bending (and sometimes breaking) roles. (Plus, the characters were packed to the brim with eccentric quirks and ticks that must have been fun to play.)
But the characters themselves, the world they moved through, never felt more than skin deep. It was an amusing spoof that was meant to be taken as an amusing spoof and, in that sense, it succeeded. Especially in the ways it laughed at the man behind the curtain (all those rom-com “rules”). But for me, sometimes I just want the man to do his thing, spin out his tale, pull me into his world. That’s not what Master’s Sun was going for and that’s why I enjoyed our time together but never fell in love.