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Mystic Pop Up Bar (2020) Final Remarks
This is a drama I feel that really needs a bit of a plug because it seemed to have gone under the radar. It's one that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish and would have followed in its entire run if I hadn't been obsessing over Hospital Playlist. I'm not big on fantasy as a rule but this one didn't take itself too seriously and in so doing made itself highly accessible through its wacky humour.
Despite the budgetary constraints, the world-building of the drama was surprisingly quite consistent all throughout. In an absurdist nutty fashion. It drew on a hodgepodge of various religious traditions as well as the Journey to the West mythos as its source material. On top it does a decent job of juggling the mishmash of the modern, the ancient and the hilarious corporatization of the Afterlife. Certainly the 12-episode format helped in keeping things tight and disciplined. Now that I've seen this drama and 365: Repeat the Year, I'm now convinced that the majority of Kdramas could be greatly improved by being trimmed to 12 episodes.
The show also benefits from keeping the focus on where the focus needs to be and that's on the main trio. Sure it's a Korean drama and there's romance to feast on but ultimately the superhero teamwork of the three is what makes this show magical and heartwarming. I loved laughing along as our trio embarked on adventures and inadvertent misadventures to settle grievances for those who fell into their laps while earning brownie points for our female lead Weol-ju so that her past misdeeds can be atoned for. Each grievance case is delightfully incorporated with Weol-ju's tragic past and has some bearing on her present trajectory. Despite all the madcap antics on the surface there is a really wonderful love story lurking beneath.
I've always been fond of Choi Won-young since he came to my attention in Hello Monster. He's a fine, experienced actor who has played a whole gamut of characters. But this has to be my favourite role of his. From the start I didn't really believe that he would take on a role just to be the female lead's offsider and I was proven correct. I came to the conclusion while watching this that I like him very much as a straight character and an all-round Mr Nice Guy. I loved his skill set and that he wasn't just there to keep a lid on Weol-ju's fiery temper or be a mentor to young Gang-bae. All of the trio were really good here and their interactions whether it be humorous or poignant were always on the money.
Prior to this I was unfamiliar with the lad who plays Kang-bae, Yuk Sang-jae. But he holds his own with the veterans admirably especially in the humour department. I also enjoyed his rollercoaster romance with the kickass security guard, Yeo-rin, in an delightful exercise in role reversal. All their scenes were adorable beyond words.
Overall this was a morality tale hidden under the cloak of a fantasy-superhero team-up. Spirit beings who were cast down among the living in search of redemption find answers to the meaning of life and their purpose in the bigger scheme of things.