K-drama Review: Nice Guy/Innocent Man

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Finally I am posting this is quite belated review for Nice Guy/Innocent Man, a melodrama that was...ah, what the hell, it had Song Joong Ki. That’s all we ever needed, right?
In all seriousness, however, I was surprised that I managed to finish a melodrama. I don’t think I have watched one from start to finish yet, without skipping episodes. I wasn’t planning to get interested in Nice Guy, but somehow the drama went by so quickly by that I didn’t even do a First Impressions post on it. It’s not like I was super in love with Nice Guy, but the drama somehow charmed me. Or was it Song Joong Ki who charmed me?

 Plot summary: 

Kang Ma Ru (Song Joong Ki) is young and optimistic medical student aspiring to become a doctor. He is deeply in love with his girlfriend Han Jae Hee (Park Si Yeon), an ambitious anchorwoman. One day, he receives a call from her, desperately begging for his help. Ma Ru rushes over to Jae Hee and finds her in a motel, crying next to a dead man on the floor. Ma Ru tries to convince Jae Hee to confess the police that she’d been attacked, but she is afraid for her career. Ma Ru decides to take the blame for her and is sentenced to five years in jail.
When Ma Ru is released he learns that Jae Hee has married a rich man and has a child with him. He feels betrayed and decides to take revenge on her by seducing the rich man’s daughter Seo Eun Gi (Moon Chae Won). But Ma Ru’s quest turns out to be more difficult as he finds himself falling for Eun Gi instead.


 What I liked: 

Song Joong Ki as Kang Ma Ru. Well, DUH. Is there anyone who doesn’t love him. In fact, it’s a bit doubtful whether Nice Guy would have received so much attention if it hadn’t been for Soong Ki in the lead role. Sure, the drama is good by itself, but Joong Ki was kind of the it-factor for me, the reason why I started this show. I was curious to see him in a dark grown up role, especially because he is known for his cute flower boy face and it was interesting to see his sweet image take a 180 in Nice Guy. And I was very pleased with his acting, even though I still saw him as a bit too pretty for the role. 
Joong Ki acts with his eyes, as can be seen in this drama, and it's the kind of acting I like the most actually. I enjoy when actors, in addition to the lines they say, are able to tell even more with a certain look in their eyes. And I think Joong Ki has mastered that quite well. In any case, I feel that he has now established himself as a more mature actor and hopefully he will have a great career in the film industry ahead of him.

The cinematography. knew that this was a very pretty drama, but it wasn’t until I browsed the pictures on the official page of the drama that I realized just how amazingly shot this drama was. Just look at these pictures I’ve posted here. The camera angles, the colours, the settings and the pretty cast make this drama a delight to watch.

The characters. What I enjoyed about Nice Guy was because unlike most melodramas, it concentrated more on the characters and the transitions they went through, rather than overflow the plot with makjang to keep it interesting. 
This might sound a bit sadistic, but I enjoyed watching Ma Ru’s fall from a bright young man into an emotionless zombie, living only for revenge. His character stayed mysterious for the most part of the show as he spent all his time lying and pretending. But it was the "bench scene" in episode 19 (my favourite of the entire series), where I could really feel what was going on inside Ma Ru. It was a moment of realization for Ma Ru as he had spent all that time trying to destroy Jae Hee, but instead had hurt himself and the people he loved. I found it heartbreaking how Ma Ru felt so much guilt and regret over the things he had done, and even blaming himself for making Jae Hee a "monster". It was the moment when, for the first time, he actually wanted do the right thing. And it could have been such a great conclusion to his journey, but it unfortunately wasn't because of the ending (we'll get to that later).

Meanwhile Jae Hee's lost all the things she ever cared about,
 chasing after money. Jae Hee had grown crueler as time went on, but you could always see her struggling with doing the things she wanted and doing the things she thought she had to do. I found it very ironic how her own son was able to point out how misguided she was about happiness. When your 5-year-old son teaches you to differentiate right from wrong, there is something amiss. In the end, Jae Hee finally understood that she had single-handedly ensured herself a lonely and unhappy life. She had destroyed Ma Ru's innocence, lost his love and made him feel like he was at fault - I think that's a big load of guilt and regret to live with. 
I also liked our female lead Eun Gi, though I felt that she didn't have a very remarkable personal journey. Eun Gi was yearning for love and affection, something that she didn't get from her father. Even though she was first introduced as a very arrogant and cold businesslady, it was quite clear that Eun Gi was actually not that ambitious. She was willing to give up everything for Ma Ru, even when knowing that he had lied to her. Then as she lost her memory, Eun Gi didn't care much for gaining back the company and rather wanted to live a quiet life with Ma Ru. It was interesting that Eun Gi, who had live in wealth her entire life, never really cared for it. While Jae Hee and Ma Ru thought that if they had money they could secure happiness with it.

The depiction of good and bad. With melodrama's it's easy lost the balance between good and bad, because you always need a villain in the story. However, if you make your villain into a one-dimensional cartoonish character whose evilness is never reasoned enough, the show loses its credibility. But I liked how in Nice Guy, neither our three main leads nor other side characters could be categorized as simply evil or simply good. There are lots of grey areas with our hero and as his questionable actions, as well as there are times when you can't help but feel sympathetic towards the characters who should be considered as villains (e.g. Jae Hee and her brother Jae Sik). This is a trait I think is very welcome in dramas and in film in general, because it gives this sense of realism to the characters, who otherwise would be hard to understand or relate to.

 What I didn't like: 

Jae Gil and Choco's storyline. I actually really liked Lee Kwang Soo's acting and his role as Ma Ru's best buddy (Running Man family all the way!), but I was annoyed with the silly loveline between Jae Gil and Choco. During the first half I found this cartoonishly childish romance to be very misplaced in the drama that was otherwise so dark and serious. Fortunately, it was toned down later on and I wasn't bothered by it that much, but it was still an element I could have done without.

The ending. Honestly speaking, the finale killed some of my love for Nice Guy. My main point is that I would have liked if the drama had a darker ending. I’m not saying that we necessarily need to kill off some characters or create tragedy in some other way, but I just felt that the drama had set up this whole idea that all actions have consequences that you will have to deal with in the end. The finale, however, pretty much contradicted this by making Ma Ru also lose his memory and give him an easy way out. This way he doesn't have to be responsible for all the things he did nor even remember it. Ma Ru can just live happily ever after with Eun Gi AND is able to fulfill his initial dream of becoming a doctor. It's nice and everything, but makes me wonder of the point of it all.
Also, while I wasn't particularly intrigued by the company business, I would have liked to see a conclusion for a storyline that had been such a prominent part of the latter half of the drama.
So in my view, the finale was quite disappointing. I would have been okay with a bittersweet ending or even a dark ending scenario where Ma Ru dies (though not through a knife wound 100 metres away from the hospital). A one that fits with the tone of the series. Because a sad ending is better than a bad ending.

 Overall conclusion: 

Nice Guy is decent example of a melodrama that manages be smart, subtle and not go overboard with typical cliches to keep the story from falling apart. While the ending wasn't to my liking, the series starts out with exciting reversals and unique turns and continues to be interesting all the way through. The characters are also intriguing and well-nuanced, while the great cast really brings them to life. Meanwhile solid directing and cinematography helps to cover for the shortcomings. Although it didn't leave a lasting impression on me, I had a surprisingly good time watching the soapy revenge tale.


Acting - For Song Joong Ki this was a perfect breakout role, while Moon Chae Won was surprisingly flexible in depicting the two opposite versions of Eun Gi, and Park Si Yeon managed to bring more depth to Jae Hee's unlikable, but at times, sympathetic character.

Plot: - Until the ending I had been fairly happy with the plot construction, despite the draggy episodes in the second half of the drama, but the way the show wrapped up really disappointed me. 

Cinematography and editing - This is quite a gorgeous drama already, but I especially liked the unique camera angles, like this scene of Ma Ru sitting in the shadows.

Romance - I found our leading couple very lovely and ridiculously pretty together. Plus, Joong Ki had pretty awesome chemistry with both of our female leads. However, I wasn't completely invested in the romance, for some reason.

OST - I liked the main theme, Joong Ki's "Really" and Lee Soo Young's "Nice Girl". But even though I found the soundtrack very fitting for the series, as a whole it doesn’t stand out to me that much.

 Final rating: 8       Enjoyment: 7 

 Memorable quotes: 

Eun Gi: "That was my first kiss. The one that we had by Hirosaki Castle. From someone… it was also the first time I told someone ‘I love you’ with all my heart. It was the first time in my twenty-nine years of life. ‘I love you, Seo Eun-ki.’ I heard that kind of heart-thumping confession for the first time because of you. Because of the guy named Kang Maru, waking up, breathing, living… those things felt wondrous for the very first time. So… My only wish now is to be able to see you every day, to say ‘I love you’ every day, to hear you tell me you love me every day, to dream the same dream, to give birth to children, to raise them, and to grow old with you. Is that possible?"
Joon Ha: "If I love them, do I have to have them?"
Jae Sik: "It’s not like you can take the money with you when you die."
Eun Gi: "I had a dream again yesterday. In my dream, I met about a hundred people. They all said they were my father. They all said they were my friends, said they were my lovers. Said they were on my side. They all said these sweet things, but only you didn’t say anything. You didn’t say that you really care about me, cherish me, ‘The person I love is only you.’ I even screamed for you to say it even if it was a lie. You didn’t say anything til the end, Maru. ‘Eun Gi, I am on your side…’, you could’ve just said that. Then I could’ve believed everything. Just if you had at least said something."
Ma Ru: "Love is… what I gave you, Noona. That is love. After you lost it, you realized how precious it was. You’re regretting it to the degree you could vomit blood. No matter what price you have to pay, you want to find it again. That is love, right, Noona?"
Eun Gi: "In this world, there is no love that cannot be."

Ma Ru: "The wounds I carry, she carries them too. The unshed tears in my head flow through her heart too."
Jae Hee: "People, you see… are ruthless and foolish. When they’re young, in order to have money and power, they give up everything like health and youth. And when they get sick, become old, and have all the money and power… in order to find their health and youth again, they spend all of the wealth they’ve wasted so much energy and time to accumulate."
Ma Ru: "I have been thinking a lot. About that night when noona killed a man. When I ran into that motel room...if that time...if I just let noona turn herself in. That instead you were to pay for your crime, what would have happened? I would have never left noona and I would have waited for you, regardless of how many years. I would have proposed to you too, noona. Then would noona have been happy?"
Ma Ru: "It was all wrong since then. Covering up for something that was wrong. Since then, noona...what is right, what is wrong, what you shouldn't do, where you definitely can't go - you've lost the knowledge to decide for yourself. And like a car without breaks, you just accelerated. I'm sorry, noona. I made noona like this. I thought it was love back then...it was just my childishness, and my arrogance. I made noona into an unimaginable monster like this...I was wrong. I made noona like this."
Ma Ru: "I will go to Noona. Love… I can’t promise love, but I can stay with you forever. As long as what you want from me isn’t love, as long as it isn’t that, it’s fine. Wherever noona is, I will wait for you, I’ll be understanding, I’ll be able to hold it in, endure it, and I will hold your hand. I won’t let it go. Stop all the useless acts, and throw away all the heavy weights laid upon you. And if there happens to be punishment that you deserve, accept it all. I will wait for you any time, so… will you come to me?"

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  1. Song Joong-ki is like the center of the Nice Guy universe. Although I really enjoyed Moon Chae-won's depiction as Eun-gi, both as the business lady and the doe-eyed amnesiac. Moon was able to show the cracks when Eun-gi was at her toughest. The scene when Eun-gi had a total rage fit was just awesome to me.

    What you pointed out about the role of money was very interesting. It adds another element to the drama. Happiness doesn't come from money. Or people's definition of happiness is different and stuff.

    Also, kudos for the quotes! You know, I never can remember the quotes to anything unless I've watched it at least a million times. Even then I don't really remember it either.

    1. Moon Chae Won was pretty good, though I would have loved to see her more as the tough Eun Gi than the amnesiac Eun Gi, because that was kind of a new type of character for her.
      Yup, the money issue was something that stood out to me, especially in the latter half, when both Jae Hee and Ma Ru were busy fighting over the company, while Eun Gi just would have settled for a quiet family life with Ma Ru. And although Jae Hee's character wasn't exactly likable, I felt bad for her in the end when she finally starts to realize that she's very alone in her big house and that no amount of money could not fill that emptiness.
      I usually write down quotes that I like during when I'm watching a drama, so I can add them later in the review. Also search online if I haven't written down anything. It's something I thought would be a nice addition to a review and I'm glad that readers seem to like it :)


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