Sunday, July 10, 2016

Descendants of the Sun: A Review

When I first heard about Descendants of the Sun, Song Joong Ki's first drama since his release from the military, I wasn't terribly excited. Sure, I love Joong Ki, but the promos didn't interest me much. Then it began airing, and became so popular that I wondered if maybe it was too 'Western.' Then my fellow dramaphile watched it and told me I needed to see it as soon as possible so we could discuss it. I wasn't disappointed. It was far from flawless, but what it did well, it did very well. However I'm going to start with what I didn't like, to move that out of the way and get to the fun stuff.


The first two episodes attempt to be emotionally impactful, but they don't have enough to work with. They treat a budding romance like a tragic love story, even though the main couple has known each other a grand total of three days. The drama continues to rush itself here and there, but the first two episodes are the worst culprits. Also, there is a huge amount of bad English in this drama, as the majority of it takes place in the fictional country of Urk, and not South Korea. I blame Kim Eun-Sook, the writer behind the disaster that was The Heirs (2013). It seems she has a thing for making people speak English - even if they can't. Also, the drama does not follow one solid, backbone plotline - unless you count the romance between Captain Yoo Shi-Jin (Song Joong-Ki) and Kang Mo-Yeon (Song Hye-Kyo). Rather the drama is a series of events - not my favorite way to tell a story, but by the end of the drama, I didn't mind. Also, while I adore the Alpha Special Forces Team, I wish the writers had given some more love to the three soldiers who weren't the main characters. They deserved more screen time. Also, many of the scenes between Seo Dae-Young (Jin-Goo) and his 'it's complicated' girlfriend, Lieutenant Yoon Myung-Joo, (Kim Ji-Won) were cut, even though their relationship was a focal point of the drama.


There's a lot to love here. My personal favorite element of the drama is the relationships - particularly between the Alpha Special Forces team. Shi-Jin (Joong Ki) and Sergeant Seo Dae-Young (Jin-Goo) have one of the best on-screen friendships I've ever seen, providing the perfect balance of quiet understanding and humor. I also have to give an enormous shout-out to the little-known Hoon Park, who played Staff Sergeant Choi Woo-Geum. Against all odds, he rose to the rank of My Favorite Character - even surpassing Dae-Young and Shi-Jin. He's a complete gem.


The emotions in this drama are extremely well-written - by which I mean, even if you know somebody isn't dead, you'll cry because everyone else thinks they are. When the characters go through trauma, you go through trauma. When characters laugh or cry, you laugh or cry. Also, in spite of the serious subject matter and the gut-wrenching emotions, there are many hilarious moments to be had, and several times I laughed so hard I cried.

The male leads are unique in that the usual Lead/Second Lead position is reversed, and the wisecracking, cheerful one is the First Lead, and the stoic, more enigmatic one is the Second Lead. Shi-Jin's character is also the most honest male lead I've ever seen - in spite of the fact he lies out of necessity as a special forces captain, he is totally honest whenever he can be.
Also, it's important to watch Jin-Goo's ears when he smiles. It's the best medicine.

The OST for the drama is also my favorite since… well, it might be my favorite. It features artists like Xiah Junsu, Chen (EXO), Gummy, and K.Will, and I guarantee the songs will get stuck in your head for a very long time. Also this was Onew's (SHINee) first solid drama role, and while I expected him to be good, he surpassed my expectations and proved his acting chops. I look forward to seeing him in more dramas. The romantic relationships (after the rushed-ness of the first two episodes) drew me in and had me wishing they would "JUST KISS" for the better part of the drama. Also, and I'm going to spoil things a little for you, the drama has a surprisingly happy ending. I honestly expected more heartbreak before the credits rolled, but no - if you want a heartbreaking, emotional roller-coaster of a drama with a happy ending, this is the one for you. 



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