Hello everyone! I know it’s been a ridiculously long time since I last wrote… What’s new, am I right? I could give you my typical excuses or I could just accept the inevitable, I am incredibly lazy and spectacular at putting things off.
However… one plus of my radio silence is that I have a looooot of things I want to talk about. The list goes on and on in terms of what I’ve been watching over the past couple of months, but the MOST PRESSING is… unsurprisingly… the drama that has already sparked so much conversation – W: Two Worlds.
Anyone who follows this blog (a.k.a. nobody), or who follows my tumblr (slightly more people but still edging towards nobody) will know that I have a massive lady boner for Lee Jong Suk. I have for years now. That probably will not change, despite my better efforts. The boy is pure cotton candy in puppy form, and surprisingly, he’s not that shit at acting either.
For months now I’ve been looking forward to W. Penned by the writer of one of my favorite Korean dramas ever, Queen Inhyun’s Man, W already had me intrigued. Then add the plot… and I was like a little kid at a candy shop. World crossing romance anyone? A Kdrama version of Philip Pulman’s worlds? Yes, please. You can imagine my reaction, then, when I found out that my favorite puppy (see above) had signed on. To say… excited… would be the understatement of the century.
Most people would therefore assume that I would be watching from day one. Those people, however, would be wrong. I am not some Kdrama newb, my friends. I am a veteran who knows exactly my own kdrama watching tendencies. I am a marathoner. I don’t do the long distance runs. Whenever I try to watch things as they air, I tend to get bored around episode 11 (shocker, that’s also when the angst tends to hit in) and then drop it. A couple months later if I hear good reviews maybe I’ll pick it up again. However, the shows that stick with me the longest are the ones that I watch all in one go, so that’s how I wanted to honor this drama as well. I remained faithfully as far away from the spoilers as I could. Even when I heard that the three months of airing time would be extended due to the Olympics… I stuck to my guns and refused to start watching. I KNEW this drama would be spectacular, and because of that I wanted to enjoy it the good old fashioned way. In bed, with a cup of tea and my laptop, all at once.
I’m sure you’re getting a pretty decent idea of how pathetic my life is at this point, but that’s not what we’re here for. What I’ve tried to do is paint a picture of just how excited I was for this show. Not only did it have a ton of my favorite elements, but the expectations just kept mounting the longer I put off watching it. So, finally last week, the day the last episode became available with English subs, I sat down to watch this beauty.
So for those who don’t know (and of course spoiler warning ahead), I’ll give a quick recap of the basic plot of W now. The main girl, Oh Yeon Joo, is a doctor, and her father is a manhwa (Korean for manga) writer. Dad’s cartoon is wildly popular, but unfortunately, and for no understandable reason (at first), he is hellbent on ending his comic and killing his main character. One day, our plucky main girl is suddenly grabbed from her humdrum existence into the world of the manhwa, where she tries to save Lee Jong Suk’s character Kang Chul.
The first few episodes did not disappoint. In fact, they were incredible. The plot zipped along at frightening pace, and half the time I didn’t know what was going on, but the experience was sort of akin to watching one of my favorite English sci-fi shows – Doctor Who. I didn’t necessarily understand what was happening, but I knew it was cool, and I knew I liked it.
But that blissful feeling of blindly being carried into the unknown soon began to be replaced by a niggling feeling in my gut. As the plot progressed and got more and more convoluted, things weren’t just happening quickly… they were happening so fast I couldn’t necessarily believe them. As Yeon Joo continues to save Kang Chul, their chemistry is sparkling. However, Kang Chul quickly becomes self aware, enters the real world, shoots Yeon Joo’s dad, then commits what appears to be suicide. Yeon Joo is distraught, and decides to save him one more time.
Now, when Kang Chul wakes up and realizes his attempt to end it all didn’t pan out, he confronts Yeon Joo. He asks why she took away his agency and forced him to continue a plot that isn’t his to control. Her response? She loves him.
Now normally, my reaction would be something like this.
And yet… my reaction at the time was more like this…
Why? Because over the course of the show, I didn’t believe that Kang Chul loved Yeon Joo. Kang Chul was hell bent on finding out why all these ridiculous things were happening to him. Was he intrigued by Yeon Joo? Yeah, definitely. Did he even like her? Yeah, probably. He certainly seemed to enjoy kissing her (and I certainly enjoyed watching him kiss her). But he never seemed all that fussed about her well-being, and he even SHOT her at one point (though admittedly he was fairly certain she was immortal at this point so I kind of have to give him a reprieve).
But I just… couldn’t believe he was in love with her that quickly, and that’s one thing that’s been bothering me while I sit back and think on this drama. I don’t believe a lot of the emotions and motives for the characters. I can’t figure out if that’s a writing thing, because stuff just went so fast, or if it’s a directing thing, where the scenes weren’t given enough time to brew, or if it’s an acting thing. I’m unfamiliar with Han Hyo Joo’s work in general. I saw her film The Beauty Inside, and I loved that, but her role didn’t require that much sophistication. I am an unabashed Lee Jong Suk fan, and I’ve always thought that he elevated whatever he was in, from I Hear Your Voice, to Pinocchio, to even Doctor Strange (despite how much of a hot mess that show was). I have always believed his characters, but in this one… he felt cold and distant, and I couldn’t figure out what was behind his perfect, alabaster, main character skin. It’s the first drama where I was actively questioning his acting skills.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t think the main couple was cute, because I totally did. Especially when they had their date nights and were doing romantic things intentionally, I loved those moments. Han Hyo Joo and Lee Jong Suk are adorable together. And while I don’t think their chemistry is sizzling, I still enjoyed their interactions in the beginning.
But then the reset happened. Around episode 8, Kang Chul realizes people around him are disappearing because he’s not acting like a main character. And so… he decides to pretend everything was a dream. He asks Yeon Joo to draw him a new story where he loses all of his memories of her. She agrees, and from this point on, Yeon Joo is just sad the whole damn show.
Yes, eventually Kang Chul starts getting intrigued by Yeon Joo again. There’s a really sexy moment where she kisses him while crying (honestly I was fanning myself in that scene), Dad and Kang Chul decide to work together and try to get a happy ending, blah di blah… but Yeon Joo never really seemed to regain her happy zippy moments from the beginning of the drama. Is that her fault? No, of course not… in fact it’s realistic. She went through a lot. She had her husband disappear, her dad was shot, she’s tired. But as the story progressed, I started feeling very disenchanted with how Yeon Joo kept getting pulled between Dad and Kang Chul. She was constantly crying, constantly trying to do the best for both characters, but she didn’t really have any empowerment. She was just… reacting to what was coming to her.
As we went into the last episode, you have NO IDEA how much I wanted her to take control of the pen and draw herself a happy episode. I wanted her to say “Screw YOU drama rules… Imma make my own ending with my boyfriend AND my dad and you can’t stop me COS IM THE REAL MAIN CHARACTER IN THIS DAMN STORY!” But she didn’t. She cried, she realized her dad was disappearing and cried more, she saw her boyfriend get shot and cried more, her boyfriend appeared in real life and she cried more, and then she was unsure of what happened to her dad so she cried more.
From what I can see, my general feeling of being dissatisfied is echoed by the rest of the international drama watching community. I’ve seen some beautifully layered dissections of the drama from people on tumblr. This shoddy reaction post does nothing to talk about some of the main issues of the show, like whether Kang Chul ever got free will, what happened to the world after Kang Chul left, why Kang Chul was ever able to do his magical deeds from the start, etc. I am just writing as a fan of this writer, and these actors, who watched this show expecting magic, and left it feeling lost and unimpressed.
The writer of this show actually addressed some of these issues. In a soompi article, she mentioned that she apologized to Han Hyo Joo at the wrap party. She said Kang Chul’s ending was happy, but Yeon Joo’s ending wasn’t. She was apologetic because while writing, “Forcing two worlds together, it just happened.” I personally don’t think that’s a good excuse. As the writer, she should have had a better idea on how to handle her characters. “It just happened,” doesn’t really cut it for me. Now if it was her intent from the beginning to end it like that, it’s her decision. But I guess she is responding to the ambiguity of the “happy ending” in that unsatisfactory way, to match the unsatisfactory ending.
I think I’ve become quite bitter about this drama because of the wasted potential. I scored it a 6 on mydramalist, which is very low for me (I am a perpetual people pleaser and feel guilty for scoring things low). There have been plenty of shows I’ve watched who deserve that score more than this one, but because of how GOOD it started out, the ending really poisoned the rest of the experience for me. Would I recommend this show? Probably not. I know some people said they would, and I agree certain things were incredible. The special effects were awesome, the concept was mindbending, the beginning plot was so interesting. But for me, a good ending (not a happy ending mind, a GOOD ending) is really important for a show, and without that I can’t recommend.
Anyway, what do you guys think? As always, comments are loved! And I apologize for this rambling review. It started out as a small rant, and it turned into a 2000 word mammoth. My bad!!