In a nutshell: It’s a ghost story / romantic comedy — a combination filled to the brim with possibility. It stars two actors overflowing with chemistry and talent and humor. It’s told with an intelligent eye towards spoofing the genre. And yet… it didn’t quite work for me. The premise was clever, the ghostly world fascinating, and the two main characters quirky and trope-breaking. But the story itself felt half-hearted. A nominal plot, created to hang punchlines on and keep our couple interacting, but ultimately empty. I was amused — even laughing out loud at times — but I was never enthralled.
What worked: The two main actors are heavy hitters. Gong Hyo-jin has a naturalness to her delivery that makes the most unbelievable things seem believable — normal, even. Which, with a character that can see ghosts, is a good talent to have. Her counter-part, So Ji-sub, has the sort of powerful presence usually associated with the strong, menacing type. Which his opening scene takes advantage of… then takes great delight in tearing down, setting a trend that happily continues throughout the drama.
It was easy to tell that the two actors were having great fun with both their characters and each other. And that enjoyment translated into their being a joy to watch. They took turns playing the straight man to the other’s clown — one delivering lines dripping with innuendo, keeping an innocent face while the other struggled to maintain their composure. (Most often it was Gong Hyo-jin’s character delivering while So Ji-sub struggled. Though, part of Gong’s intelligence was allowing small hints that her character knew exactly what she was saying play into her delivery. Which So picked up on — his restrained reaction becoming a return volley, daring her to drop her mask first. The most childish dialogue was lifted to delightfully intelligent, adult levels from these sort of interactions.)
It was also fun to watch the most frustrating of k-drama rom-com tropes get a thorough trouncing. A trope would get setup in clockwork fashion and then either Gong or So (or both) would tear the trope down. Often while saying what viewers have been yelling at their screens for years.
What didn’t work: But the story was so very, very weak. In the beginning, the episodic ghost stories were very episodic. The story would begin — adventures and laughs would be had — and then it would end, our characters not much changed. And then they’d do it again. Part of what I enjoy in k-dramas is the strong overarching storyline, so not having that arc frustrated me.
Unfortunately, when the larger story-arc did finally develop, it felt like a last minute add-on. There was a mystery set up in the first few episodes but it was so thin it was ignored for the bulk of the show. Then, towards the end, it was quickly reintroduced and wrapped up in an episode or two. Which only served to frustrate me further.
The supporting characters were also fairly weak. Paper-thin stereotypes, set-pieces on a stage designed solely for our two leads, any interest coming from the actors’ skills rather than the characters themselves. Which made the world feel emptier than it should have, less real — a construct to prop the tropes up so the drama could knock them down.
In conclusion: I can’t write Master’s Sun off completely. There was humor and there was cleverness and our two leads were highly entertaining. However, this is a case where I actually think the drama would have worked better as a movie. With a tighter focus and less hours to fill the simple plot-line would have allowed the humor and cleverness and our two leads to shine in their full glory. As it is, you have to wade through a lot of empty-filler to get to the good stuff. I can’t write Master’s Sun off completely… but I can’t recommend it, either.