K-drama Review: The Master's Sun

Thursday, May 22, 2014

2013 wasn't a good year in terms of good satisfying romcoms. Some either failed to intrigue me or disappointed me half-way, while others put me through painful Second Lead Syndromes that I never want to experience again (looking at you, Answer Me 1994). 

But even though the year was lackluster in that respect, there was at least one ray of sunlight for me The Master's Sun

It's a drama that reminds us just how important good chemistry between actors really is. There are lots of other shows that clearly have better stories to tell, but fail to impress because the spark is not there. The Master's Sun, on the other hand, is all about that spark.

 Plot summary: 

Tae Gong Shil (Gong Hyo Jin) sees dead people. 

She is nicknamed Tae Yang (Sun) but her life is filled with gloom for she is bothered by terrifying ghosts day and night. Ghosts have interrupted her life in such an extreme way that she is unable to have a normal social life or to get enough sleep at night. 

On one fateful evening she coincidentally meets Joo Joong Won (So Ji Sub), the arrogant CEO of Kingdom Mall, and discovers that by touching him the ghosts disappear. Elated by this discovery, Gong Shil sets out to stay as close to Joong Won as possible, despite his desperate attempts to rid himself from her.


However, Joong Won also realizes that he can use Gong Shil's abilities for his own benefit and solve the mystery of the kidnapping he went through as a teenager. He decides to make a deal with her, promising to be her shelter from the scary ghosts as long as she helps him to communicate with the spirit of a girl from Joong Won's past. All goes according to plan, until strong feelings start to grow between the odd pair.


SPOILER ALERT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 What I liked: 

The setup. I have to give it to Hong sisters for coming up with such a great premise for a romcom - the heroine has a serious ghost problem and to get rid of the annoying spirits she has to get all touchy-feely with the hero. I mean, how brilliant is that? Not only is it a perfect excuse for some glorious skinship, but it's also the best way to keep the main pairing close to each other. 

I know, I know...it's probably not the most profound way to make main characters fall in love with each other, but that's exactly why it works so well for the romantic comedy genre - it's simple and to-the-point. And it's certainly a better approach for the Hongs as the last time they over-complicated things it resulted in Big's rage-inducing ending.

The characters. I grew really fond of the characters in this drama. 

I loved our sleep deprived ghost-seeing heroine who, despite her gloomy appearance, is one of the most genuinely adorable characters in I've seen in a drama in a while. Gong Shil is set up as the typical Candy-character but she surprisingly defies it and proves herself to be more than just a stereotype. She's wonderfully acted by Gong Hyo Jin, who nails all the emotions seamlessly and also gives us plenty of humour. And well, who doesn't love Gong Shil's hilariously direct comments about her need for some touchy-feely from her human "ghost shelter"?

Joong Won may be reminiscent of other similar heroes before him, like Joo Won (Secret Garden) and Dokko Jin (The Greatest Love), but he is his own character with trademark hand gestures and unique sense of style. He starts out as a classical jerk type, but quickly softens as he is sucked into Tae Yang's ghost world. So Ji Sub puts on comic performance as the man who can't seem to stop staring at the sun. And I love that Joong Won doesn't realize he's a ball of contradictions as his warnings for Tae Yang not to fall in love with him are simply poorly disguised invites for her to do just that.  

Meanwhile, our secondary couple of a sassy actress, with a serious case of goddess-complex, and ghost-fearing body guard, who's as sweet as candy, was wonderful as well. Yi Ryung's nearly fruitless efforts to make Kang Woo fall in love with her are both hilarious and cute. She may have been a spoiled starlet, but her never-wavering feelings towards Kang Woo made me love her to bits. And although Kang Woo spent most his time battling with his unrequited feelings for Gong Shil, his gallant personality made me swoon as he saved Yi Ryung from trouble more than once.

And I can't help but mention awesome Secretary Kim, who was on our side - shipping Joong Won and Gong Shil like we did and offering much-needed wisdom for our hero Mr. Denial. His fatherly relationship with Joong Won (and Gong Shil) was super heartwarming. But I loved him most for the fact that he knew just how to push Joong Won's buttons to spark jealousy in him and admit his feelings for Gong Shil. 


The OTP. It is strange how easily the OTP in a drama can make of break a show. Or at least that's how I feel, because I can't help but wonder whether I would have continued watching TMS if it hadn't been for the compelling main couple whom I fell in love with from the very first episode. While both characters were likable in their own terms, it is mostly thanks to the perfect on-screen chemistry between So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin that made the pairing so lovable. After all, it's not hard to ship a fictional couple when the actors depicting them could make an awesome real life couple as well.

Also, funnily enough, almost everything in the drama seems to be supporting the couple getting together more than usual, instead of throwing obstacles between them like most dramas do. The second leads don't scheme or meddle with the romance (and have their own mini-romance instead) and the remaining secondary characters either root for the couple (Secretary Kim, for instance) or simply aren't threatening enough to come between them anyways (cause the evil twin sister simply wasn't evil enough). And though you would think that the ghost-issue would pose as a more serious problem to their relationship, even the supernatural aspect (aptly described by Javabeans: "Touch grumpy hot man, ghost go poof."is built to bring the couple together, not to keep them apart. 

It really is like the whole The Master's Sun-universe is shipping the OTP as passionately as we do. 


The ending. Even though I was not happy with the extension and thought that the last episode was pretty much a filler, I do understand that it wasn't planned. I'm a bit more forgiving perhaps because I liked that Hong sisters made the best they could to use the extension to give more depth to our heroine. 

Although I didn't agree with Gong Shil's decision to leave Joong Won (because the saying "If you love somebody, let them go" has never made sense to me), I liked how it was reasoned. For her, it was an opportunity to become her own person and not to depend on Joong Won. She needed to find her own way to deal with the ghosts. Joong Won was of course more than happy to be her "shelter", and I felt rather sad for him when he realized that Gong Shil didn't need him to be her protector anymore, but at the same time, I can totally understand why Gong Shil didn't want that. Throughout the series she had had to rely on Joong Won, however, it was finally time for her to rely on herself. 

I also liked that in the end, Gong Shil wasn't able to get rid of her ghost-seeing ability because, in a way, it makes for a better message - learning to adjust with things that you cannot change and make them work in your benefit. Gong Shil became independent and self-reliant and started using her ability as a way to make a sizable fortune (fixing up and selling an abandoned buildings after she'd gotten rid of the ghosts inside them). She was no longer scared of the ghosts and she didn't need Joong Won's money nor his protection. In short, she doesn't need Joong Won. Except that she still kinda does, but now its solely because she loves him and wants to be with him. And this is how it should be.


 What I didn't like: 

The weekly ghost stories. Not that I was that annoyed with them, but since they were yet another way of bringing our main paring together, the weekly mysteries remained very superficial and ultimately bored the hell out of me. Occasionally a funny reversal was revealed at the end of a case but mostly these little stories remained predictable and safe. 

I guess I wasn't really expecting anything more complicated or meaningful, because after all this is a romcom and most of us just want the focus to stay on the romance. But even so, Hong sisters could have put a little more effort into writing these weekly cases, especially since there were so many cool-looking ghosts in the show, who could have potentially had very interesting back stories.


The ending. I found the extension completely unnecessary as it didn't do much for the narrative and only delayed the actual ending. But as I said above, I can understand that it wasn't planned and I liked that Hong sisters used the extra episode for some character growth. 

However, my biggest issue with the wrap up of the show was that it lacked a conflict. To be honest, I think the whole show lacked a good conflict. 

Yeah, there was the ghost-seeing issue but it was never really an issue, more like a bothersome daily job for our heroine. And yes, there was the evil-twin storyline with a mystery, but it was never developed enough to be interesting and even in the end it seemed irrelevant. Then there was Lee Chun Hee's character, a person from Gong Shil's past with the same ability as her, who loved her and wanted to whisk her away. There could have been a compelling new character there and also a good romantic conflict, if only had the character and the storyline been brought in earlier. Because when you bring a character out in the last minute, you know that they're not important enough to actually change the outcome in any way. I wish that part had been explored more and I wish we'd had more tension in the last quarter of the show. But you can't have it all, I guess. 


 Overall conclusion: 

Sometimes I think I'm a hard-to-please drama fan. But actually, it's quite the opposite - I'm very easy to please. Give me an endearing cast with good chemistry, give me characters that I can relate to or understand, and give me a story that I can get emotionally invested in - and there you go, I am pleased. 

The reason why The Master's Sun clicked so well with me is exactly because of those three requirements above. The drama had its flaws, both in writing and in execution, but it hit the mark in aspects that I cared about the most. So while the drama doesn't quite make the list of my favourite shows, it does does go into my mental list of dramas that I've enjoyed the most. And that's not such a small achievement at all.


 Verdict: 

Acting - Gong Hyo Jin is lovely and full of effortless charm (as always) while So Ji Sub makes a smooth transition into comedy. Seo In Guk doesn't stand out too much by himself, but he makes an endearing couple with Kim Yoo Ri whose funny performance is a pleasant surprise.

Plot - The set up is so perfectly like Hong sisters - hilariously ridiculous but deliberately so. The story is mostly conflict-free but the progression is still satisfying. The last episodes, however, drag along and the story could use a better culmination. But it ends without pissing anyone off, which is definitely an improvement.

OST - The instrumental tracks compliment the drama's spooky side perfectly and Yoon Mi Rae's "Touch Love" is utterly beautiful (love that the lyrics match the drama). But I was a little annoyed with Hyorin's "Driving Me Crazy" being blasted at dramatic moments.

Comedy - Mostly cute fun, but there are still plenty of hilarious situations that make this show a blast to watch. Also, as expected from a Hong sisters drama, there's lots of witty wordplay (and funny sexual innuendoes) in the dialogue which I loved.

Romance - LOVED the OTP and rooted for them wholeheartedly. But the best part? Ghosts being used as an excuse for the couple to have lots of skinship. Hands down, the best way to make use of the supernatural aspect.

Horror - The horror elements are used to build up a spooky atmosphere but, not to worry, they mostly end up being comical, so the scares are extremely minimal. But some of the ghosts do look pretty creepy.

Cinematography and editing - It's a pretty good-looking show, with lovely colours and generally good angles. Some of the most memorable scenes are really nicely executed, though not as much effort goes into every scene (resulting in sequences with cheesy spinning camera-work or dramatic slow motion shots).     

 Final rating: 8       Enjoyment: 9 


 Memorable quotes: 

Jo Joong Won: "Why should I be afraid of the dead? The living are scarier."
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Kang Woo: "Don't compete with your past, but rather expect great things from your future and love your present self."
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Joong Won: "If you're a sun then I don't ever want to see morning again."
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Gong Shil: "The fact that you're coming with me even though you don't see them [ghosts], that is called trust."
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Kang Woo: "When your heart doesn't tell the truth, the pain will give the answer."
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Gong Shil: "People can change when the circumstances change."
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Joong Won: "I never knew there’d be a day where I’d be moved by Tae Yi Ryung’s acting."
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Joong Won: "Tae Gong Shil is my sun, without which the earth would be destroyed."
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Joong Won: "So it’s not because I’m rich or good looking, but because you’re afraid of ghosts that you want to be with me? Well, that’s new."
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Gong Shil: "Last night...I really liked it."
Joong Won: "Well I hated it."
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Joong Won: "Fine. I'll trust you. From now on, I'm going to do whatever I want to make myself feel at ease. From now on, you handle everything.
Gong Shil: "Thank you. I can handle everything."
Joong Won: "Is that right? Then, start with handling this. Tae Yang. It seems that I love you. What are you going to do now?"
---
Joong Won: "I wondered why I still kept you by my side when the calculations didn't line up and it was because...I like you. Being afraid that I might try to control you, I thought about putting up marriage as a barrier. I even tried to make you into Candy, which would have made the calculations work. But you said you didn't want to. I tried my best, but now I'm going to do what I want. From now on, it's your turn to be unyielding and enduring. You deal with it."
Gong Shil: "I don't understand. If you like me, shouldn't you tell me to fall for you?"
Joong Won: "Do you see this as a sweet confession to simply seduce you? This is a bitter warning for you to not fall for me, even if I try to seduce you."


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2 comments

  1. Overall this is one drama I really enjoyed. I did find myself impatient with some of the weekly-ghost-stories (get back to those main characters!) but I do see how they were used to create development. This is also one drama that is crowded with an enjoyable cast. Even the side-character's stories were enjoyable.

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    1. The cast really made this show. The story wasn't that strongly developed, but because our main cast made the characters so lovable I didn't want to nitpick about the shortcomings of the plot. After all, it was just one of those breezy romcoms and, let's be honest, you don't really expect very groundbreaking stories from romcoms.

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