I'm beginning to regret having started this drama so early. Not that I started it that early. But early enough that when I watch the previews I think... "Dangit! Now I'll have to wait a week before I can see that scene and see/hear her response."
To be honest, I didn't think I'd like it this much. Like a lot of people I suffered minor pangs of disappointment with Start-Up and Record of Youth in recent memory. I couldn't even get past the first episode of Start-Up. My response to that was "So this is just a pissing contest? I'm outta here. I'm getting too old for this. Yawn."
Fortunately I'm not too old for Run On apparently with its movie nostalgia and troubling parenting issues. There's a bit more to it than that. Just a tad. ;) The most important part is that the leads are immensely likeable (even if occasionally frustrating) and the show... so far... stays away from high melodrama. I say the same thing about this show as I do about The Uncanny Counter. It doesn't do anything remarkably original (not if you've been reading and watching superhero fiction for years) but what it does do with tropes and characterization, it does it extremely well. The balancing act and pacing seems to be working for the plot. And I suspect a satirical edge which is why I am finding it hugely entertaining.
This is why I thought it was odd when a post in the South China Morning Post, that was brought to my attention insisted that the leads didn't have any chemistry. Okay, that sort of thing can be subjective I suppose. But I don't agree. At all. And there are all kinds of chemistry. Just because a pairing doesn't set the screen on fire doesn't mean it has no chemistry. "Cute" is chemistry too.
No one in that right mind would debate the point that the show deploys well-used tropes but it does so in part parodying them as well as demonstrating affectionate regard for them. Kind of how The Princess Bride does things.
Dad the Assemblyman Ki is a prime of example of this. He's the classic buffoon and I love to laugh at his ridiculousness rather like how Mr Bennet loves laughing at Mrs Bennet. (A Pride and Prejudice reference just in case you're wondering. As I've said, I'm old.) When he tells his long-suffering missus that "She's the only one for him" and she responds with "I'm feeling nauseous now", I chuckle nostalgically. And when she asks if he's learning how to throw water at their son's love interest, I choke with laughter. Despite him being the stereotypical controlling parent from a wealthy family, he's a caricature rather than a serious threat. He's a cartoon version of the makjang chaebol parent because the show pokes gentle fun of him all throughout. I imagine he might be sincere in his monogamous attachment to his other half but her response helps us understand their dynamic. He is a faithful husband but he's not the husband she hoped she married. The best part of their marriage is that he doesn't cheat on her. (Low hanging fruit) It's feels like a contract marriage but the benefits have dwindled over the years. She on the other hand, tells her son that it was a love match that's deteriorated into a contract marriage. She plays her part in the same way he plays his. It's vaguely harmonious because they're busy with their own things but she's melancholy about the status quo.
Ki Jeong-do is the consummate actor because it's 24/7 for him. I would argue that acting is more what he's doing than his wife. For her it's a job, for him it's a lifestyle. He doesn't know how to do anything but to be the drama stereotype. What's particularly delightful is that puzzled look on his face when the people around him don't dance to his tune or play according to his script. That bewildered then grumpy look of a self-appointed director who thinks he's the lead character when he's just a recurring act in somebody else's drama. Like that woman on set Mi-joo's new job who thinks she's a real interpreter and throws a fit to convince everyone she's a person of importance. And to add insult to injury, the other actors in this play that Jeong-do thinks he is directing have their own ideas about their characters and have no compunction to say so to his face. Even while his wife lets him have his megaphone from time to time and makes him feel like he's important, she is vaguely aware that he is talking himself into the blackhole of irrelevance. He's stuck in a rut and can't see his way out of it. The irony is reinforced when the wife quizzes him about been shooting a soap opera.
Even while he's pushy, mischievous and glib, I find Yeong-hwa attractive. (Kim Tae-oh is a revelation) If for no other reason he is someone who dares to challenge Da-na's narrative of herself. He's not oblivious to the cues and he's not backwards in being forwards about promoting himself to her because he senses that she's not indifferent. It helps that he's not intimidated. I like that he sees past the prickly facade and he's challenging her to come out of her shell. I guess for me, I suspect he will be good for her in that she can't play her mind games successfully with him. I am really looking forward to seeing his painting. I love trees of course. But what I want from this mysterious painting is how he depicts Da-na in it. Presumably she will be in it in some fashion.
It's not hard to see why Da-na is who she is. Or pretends to be. She's up against male chauvinism and trapped in a family that is barely functioning as one. 3 siblings from 3 different mothers. Well, it's not necessarily a recipe for disaster. Under the right conditions and leadership, it could work. But the chauvinistic father is responsible for this man-made disaster. At this point I don't know why he kept her from playing soccer full-time if he wasn't going to let her take over the family business. The truth, I've realised is that Da-na is actually doing her bit to play family as much as possible. She's actually a good daughter and not the rebel we were led to believe she was. It's all boils down to perspective.
Rather than cute, I'd say that Seon-gyeom is adorably eccentric. There are moments you wonder... is this guy really that clueless because he has that confused innocent aura about him but then the next moment, something insightful and occasionally acerbic pops comes out of the blue from that wide-eyed boyish facade. He's especially good at looking after people. Maybe too good. Recklessly so even. But you know he always means well. I think he is enjoying being unemployed (and it's a great excuse) because he can hang around Mi-joo at the drop of a hat. He's also blessed with a kind of versatility which allows him to be usefully unemployed: He has people skills. He has a seemingly bottomless pit of dosh to dispense at his good pleasure. He's considerate. He is conversational. He doesn't mind driving to places at short notice. For a boy from a rich family, he can do laundry.
But Mum, Ji-woo, tells us that he practically raised himself. Perhaps the best thing she ever did was leave him alone. Seon-gyeom apparently was born sensible.
His reaction to the mouldy walls to the shabby motel room was gold. Mi-joo's remark about the toilet was also chuckle worthy.
I have heard the word "slowburn" used of their relationship. Maybe I have a different view of what "slowburn" means. I don't think there's anything slow about the progression of their relationship. Chocolate I would say had a slow burn romance. In Time With You had a slowburn romance. Most of the romances of Hospital Playlist can be described as such. But in this drama it is obvious that both leads like each other and show it. They're faux dating already although they couch the dating under the cover of "work", being helpful, "hobbies", sympathy and kindness. She gets completely wasted for his benefit. She's jogged and gone to the countryside with him. In backhanded fashion Seon-gyeom certainly doesn't deny it when Yeong-hwa asks him if they're on a date. As far Seon-gyeom is concerned, Mi-joo is his girlfriend.
Just look at Mi-joo raising the roof when he doesn't answer her text. Then he makes the mistake of trying to be logical ... "you could have called" and she loses it. Who cares about logic at a time like this? She's already done her drunken confession and he's already kissed her once, followed that with "really" and confessed to liking her already when she conveniently dozed off at that moment. When she calls, he comes running. Then when she's sickly he nurses her and tells her to rely on him. He says "What would you like me to do?" in a way that sounds suspiciously like he wants to have babies with her. They hold hands without any awkwardness or pretence to reluctance. Given permission, he grabs her hand with both of his and almost does something else with it. Seon-gyeom is a happy lad.
To be honest, this looks a lot like one of the fastest progressions of a romance I have ever seen. These two people talk to each other with honesty and clarity that would be the envy of many married couples. They like each other and it's clear to everyone looking on that they do.
Still with all the goodies that we got in these last two episodes, my favourite moment between them has to be the ending sequence when he tells Mi-joo to call out for him when things are hard instead of her deceased mother. How good is that brainwashing? A none-too-subliminal reprogramming. It's a turning point for her... a new way of thinking and living. She doesn't have to live in fear or embarrassment that she has no one. She has someone she can rely on because he is actually there... for her.
I will pay the show the best compliment I can give a rom com... the show does a good job of building the main romance, using old tropes in a way that feels new and takes the trouble of convincing you why these 2 people should be together. You see, I like it when a drama shows me things not just tell.