My Week in Dramas 27 December 2023
Moon in the Day, Gyeongseong Creature, Daily Dose of Sunshine, Sweet Home S2
I’m back and ready to get talking about dramas! Thanks for hanging on but there was no way I had the time or the internet to blog about dramas while I was overseas. Suffice to say it was no holiday. On my way back I managed to catch a few episodes of this and that.
Moon in the Day was undoubtedly an ill conceived project right from the start. It’s one of those scripts that should never have seen the light of day. Certainly not in the form that was aired for general consumption. Even though shows like Sweet Home S2 and Daily Dose of Sunshine are far from perfect, they at least add something to the K drama oeuvre. At the very least these dramas make inquiries about the state of the world in which we live. Unfortunately there’s nothing about Moon in the Day that is crying out to be seen or heard. At best it was a by-the-numbers (bland) reincarnation, second chance story of which they are already dozens out there done much much better. The best thing about it was the Three Kingdoms timeline although that was also thin on the ground so the show runners were compelled to rehash scenes and spread out an arc that didn’t have a lot to it. At 8 episodes or less it might have been somewhat watchable but 14 was really asking too much of the audience especially when there’s so little on offer. Pyo Ye-jin’s modern day arc was not only poorly set-up but it went nowhere. Why make her a firefighter if that has no impact on the storyline after a while? It’s somewhat the same with Kim Young-dae’s ghost character and celebrity doppelganger. The show appears to be a casualty of the current streaming wars — made with limited resources likely for the purposes of filling in a slot in someone’s programming but with no time given to the development of the script. The result is a shambolic hollow story.
Somewhat better but problematic along similar lines is Gyeongseong Creature. Admittedly I’ve only seen 3.5 episodes, but the script clearly lacks depth and maturity. The clunky writing was particularly obvious in the first episode As someone who has been on a steady diet of sci-fi horror over 3 decades, this show really does nothing particularly special as a monster flick. The trailers give the impression that this is a high cost, high quality production. What it actually does is give the genre a K drama coat of paint with the 1940s Japanese-occupied backdrop. To my mind the outdoor sets look like pieces in a theme park and one gets the sense that this is theatre rather than history. For good or for ill. Even how the characters interact feels the same. They are there to tell a story that the showrunners want to tell but the writing is not sufficiently skilled to hide the contrivances. When the leads first come face to face, they end up in fisticuffs. But why? Because they are being bent out of shape to fit an overuse mould. It’s insufficient to have a negative impression of him, she has to brawl with him so that she can get her street creds as girl boss of the week. So Jang Sang-tae is not a paragon of virtue she hopes him to be. But why should he be? He’s the richest Korean in town. The source of his wealth is dubious. He’s likely to be in bed with the Japanese. Regardless of that why should she care? She needs his expertise as much as he needs hers. What luxury of choice does she have to pick and choose who to do business with under such circumstances? None as far as I can see. For a female sleuth who has travelled widely and seen more of the world, she’s oddly choosy. And naive. Her father sets her straight when the lady doth protest too much but Father shouldn’t need to. Contrast this with the recent Godzilla Minus One — a two hour film that does a better job of setting up the lead’s hero’s journey and the show’s romance in a matter of minutes than what this show does in three episodes.
It does get better after the rocky start. While watchable if you like the leads enough, it’s not something anyone “has to” watch. Moreover the show doesn’t really do justice to the historical period even while it highlights the atrocities committed by the invaders using the local population as fodder for their unholy experiments. As someone whose relatives (some still alive) lived through Japanese occupation in Southeast Asia, I’m not unsympathetic to the sentiments presented here and yes, it is a story that has to be told. Unlike My Dearest, however, the writing seldom rise above the tropes or beats. Even if the Gyeongseong creature is presented as a metaphor (like Sweet Home) for the worst excesses of humanity’s avarice and self-interest, the storytelling doesn’t have the wow factor to credit it with any satisfying philosophical insights. Oppression and government abuse stories are a dime a dozen in K dramas and honestly this doesn’t particularly distinguish itself especially coming hot on the heels of say Sweet Home.
Wi Ha-joon is barely in it so far and I wonder if his character’s even necessary. That could change as the plot thickens but I’m not holding my breath. So far the show falls along predictable lines and unless you’re a fan of the time period like I am, it doesn’t push the envelope enough for me to endorse it especially when there’s so much on offer.
On the recommendation of absoluteM, my monthly conversational podcast partner, I downloaded the first six episodes of Daily Dose of Sunshine which I completed on a long flight. When I arrived home, I completed the rest mainly for the characters. For the show to take the field of psychiatry more seriously I think it would have been better off without the workplace dramas/romances although the main romance was quite adorable. The idiosyncratic colorectal specialist was a well-drawn love interest which worked in the context of the larger story but I never really embraced the Dr Hwang and Nurse Min dynamic. His persistence came across as overbearing and puerile, unbecoming of a senior psychiatrist. Her body language, on the other hand, came across as being largely indifferent even when they were a couple. For me he crossed lines I was uncomfortable being privy to in those early days. On the positive side, this is the first time I’ve watched anything with Park Bo-young in its entirety. The role suits and brings out all her best qualities as a performer. I also enjoyed the patient stories and the way they are interwoven into Da-eun’s growth arc although I’m largely ambivalent about Da-eun’s depression story as well as its resolution. It’s a double-edged sword making doctors and nurses the centre of some kind of psychological/health crisis especially one that is protracted because it inevitably makes at least half the cast look unprofessional. The way her return to work was turned into some kind of human rights issue didn’t sit right with me. Patients, and guardians were unfairly framed as villains for questioning her capacity to do her job. when it is their responsibility to ensure that the health care professional put in charge of their family member is up to the job. Also if depression is the serious mental health issue that everyone is saying it is, then I don’t think the show should handwave Da-eum’s return to work by accusing the guardians of stigmatizing mental health when they’re actually being protective of their family members and wanting the best outcome for them. Here the show conflates two different issues because ultimately the end goal of everyone involved in a medical situation should be what’s best for the patient. “First, do no harm.”
To my mind, the first half of the show is superior to the first largely because of how Da-eun’s depression arc is handled. I have less of a problem with Jang Dong-yoon’s arc which highlights terrible workplace conditions in South Korea although I am often left wondering if the show has designated itself front row cheerleaders for Big Pharma. :P While I didn’t root for his character to end up with Da-eun mainly, I did want to see his eventual recovery and triumphant return to the office environment.
It’s a decent enough conversational starter on a somewhat controversial subject in the local context but the need to conjure up a “return to work” happy ending sees the show resort to disingenuous maneuvering. Still it’s a heartwarming show for the most part and the characters are generally relatable and likeable.
Sweet Home S2 is a tricky one for me because there are things to like about it and much to criticise. I like the the change of direction — out of necessity it seems to me — because no self-respecting creative would do a rehash of S1. The inclusion of the military (and the expansion of its role) opens up a whole new area of possibilities for this end-of-the-world scenario which seemed to be some kind of commentary on the Covid era. I found the depiction of the military to be more sophisticated than meets the eye at the start during peak gunfire. Who would have imagined that men trained to use weapons, barely able to maintain control in a situation they have no road map for, scrambling for moral authority would make for intriguing storytelling? Oh Jung-sae’s mad scientist Dr Im in another time and place would have landed in a padded cell is at home in this sea of chaos. The unfolding scenario offers his crazy curiosity free rein. Unlike his compatriots he can afford to be fearless about this brave new world especially now that he’s roams unfettered from his governmental overlords.
Unfortunately however all the problems with S2 stem from the fact that it is clearly set up for another season. The middle section in a bigger story that we didn’t know was being told. From my perspective the story is morphing into a sci-fi superhero story probably along the lines of X-men. Not necessarily a net negative of course. There are hints of that even from the first couple of episodes with the talk of “neohumans” by Pyeon Sang-uk (Lee Jin-uk). Those who are able to resist complete monsterization become a special breed of humans. It’s purely speculation on my part but there’s a sense that these “hybrids” like Hyun-su (Song Kang) is held up to be a new stage in human “evolution”. That’s why (I suspect) the normies in this season are far more complacent and less heroic. I can see the attraction of dancing and drinking at the end of the world as we know it but designer clothes and makeup? Meh. Furthermore with the introduction of more characters the show does come across as less cohesive with multiple threads still left hanging at the end of the second season. It’s a veritable juggling act that has no end in sight. On top of all that, the show plods and perhaps that’s deliberate to accentuate the claustrophobia but it does feel like everyone is on knife’s edge waiting for something to happen. Eun-yoo (Go Min-si) particularly is the driver of that plotline and she’s written in this season almost entirely in service of the plot that is to come. Consequently characters appear to be overpowered or underpowered depending on how the script needs them to be. Unlike S1, it’s becoming more apparent that the monster show as it expands the world building is more about the ideas and the messaging than it is about specific characters.
Thematically the show is still very much on point but there’s no getting away from the storytelling issues in this season. Whether or not S3 is able to “fix” or mitigate the problems of this season is really the million dollar question.