After years of urging from my sister and cousin, I decided to take the plunge and watch a K-drama (short for Korean drama). I had initially checked out a few scenes from a few K-dramas and found them super cliche and cringeworthy, so I tended to stay away from them. However, I’d heard some really great things about Descendants of the Sun (DotS) and with no other show to watch, I put it on. Because of my previous encounter with Korean dramas, I was actually pretty hesitant to begin watching. However, all my worries were eased within few minutes of starting the show. As a result, I’ve decided to review this show (with spoilers of course).
Briefly put, DotS is about the lives of two individuals (with some focus on other cast members), Korean Special Forces Captain Yoo Shi Jin and doctor Kang Mo Yeon. Shi Jin is a part of the ultra-exclusive Alpha force, whose missions are kept so secret, that the rest of the country barely knows they exist and each member goes into battle without dog-tags (so if they die in battle, their identities remain hidden). Despite the high-pressure environment, Shi Jin is an incredibly easy-going, fun-loving, funny guy, who is also coincidentally SUPER athletic and good-looking. Mo Yeon, on the other hand, is a gifted and hard-working cardiothoracic surgeon who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and do what she thinks is right. DotS is about how the two meet and come together, despite contrasting ideologies (in other words, fate brings them together).
The story begins with Shi Jin and his deputy leader (and also best friend), Seo Dae Young, freeing captured South Korean army men from a hostage situation begun by three North Korean soldiers. Of course the two men easily overpower and win, without any significant bloodshed. On their day off, the two are busy playing shooting games at carnivals (in their civilian attire of course) when the two witness and become part of a robbery. They catch the criminal and send him to the hospital (accidentally, because they are the good guys after all). The criminal, Kim Gi Boum, is actually a young kid who steals to support himself in his gang. Not able to afford the crazy hospital bills, he flees the hospital, and his attending doctor just happens to be the beautiful Kang Mo Yeon. As Gi Boum had stolen Dae Young’s phone, the two soldiers turn up in the hospital looking for him and the phone. They meet Mo Yeon who is incredibly suspicious over them and refuses to hand over the phone. Shi Jin is immediately smitten by her looks but after a few comical moments, the two men leave to go and find Gi Boum. They find Gi Boum being beaten up by his gang and end up rescuing him (it turns out at Dae Young was also a poor street gang kid once, who eventually ended up going to the army and completing his GED). Due to his beat up state, the two soldiers take Gi Boum back to the hospital where Mo Yeon’s suspicion grows and things escalate to the point where she threatens to call the police.
In the midst of these happenings, we’re introduced to another character, Yoon Myung Jo. The daughter of the Special Forces Commander, Myung Jo is an army surgeon who actually completed her residency alongside Mo Yeon (the two ladies also fought over a boy during that time so their relationship is initially quite strained). In order to get out of dating Shi Jin (her father wanted the two to hook up), she approaches Dae Young and in exchange for a favour, the two spread the rumour about them dating, in order to ward off Shi Jin. Eventually, the two begin dating for real and love each other. However, because of Dae Young’s less than stellar background and lower army position, her father objects to their relationship and in order keep his job, Dae Young breaks up with Myung Jo, devastating the both of them. However, despite this messy relationship, the two continue to love each other. For Myung Jo, this translates to her keeping tabs on Dae Young’s activities (super stalker-y LOL).
Anyways, back to the plot-line. Due to the missing phone situation, Myung Jo assumed that it was actually Dae Young who was in the hospital and so she comes to the hospital as well. She ends up verifying Shi Jin and Dae Young’s identities as Korean soldiers and leaves (Mo Yeon had refused to believe them). Taking his chance, Shi Jin asks her out and she agrees. However, their dates are continually interrupted by their jobs and the secretive nature of Shi Jin’s duties (Mo Yeon desperately wants to know what Shi Jin does on his missions/ where he goes but he can’t tell her due to the rules). Eventually, Mo Yeon breaks it off with Shi Jin due to their differing ideologies (she saves lives for a living, regardless of who it is, and he kills people to save lives) and the two go their separate ways. Shi Jin is assigned to a peace-keeping mission in the fictional country of Urk and Mo Yeon advances in her career, becoming a professor and the face of the hospital where she works. Things progress, with the two losing contact due to their geological separation and break-up. However, when Mo Yeon turns down and attacks the hospital director, Han, for making sexual advances upon her, she is sent to Urk as a ‘volunteer’ doctor on the behalf of the hospital (basically she’s punished by the director).
In Urk, the two, Shi Jin and Mo Yeon, meet again and become closer. They go on a number of adventures together and face off together in various dangerous situations (literally, it’s like the danger never ends LOL). They face active mines, earthquakes, dangerous political situations, health scares and even a gun/ child trafficker. Through each encounter, their love for each other grows stronger and eventually, the two begin dating again. The show ends with happy ending for all the characters, well kind off; that’s all I’ll say for now because a lot of other stuff happens in the middle.
In terms of story, I actually found the story to be a sort of mixed bag. There were some really good mature moments that definitely helped steer the show away from being cringe-worthy. For example, I actually really enjoyed how forthcoming the two leads were when it came to their relationship, at least initially. Mo Yeon practically begged Shi Jin to tell her what he did career-wise, but he straight up told her that he couldn’t and wouldn’t, but that he still desperately wanted to be with her. Same with Mo Yeon, she was steadfast regarding her principles and let him know that no matter how much she liked him, she couldn’t deal with their differing ideologies. I think it’s so rare for tv couples to have these sort of conversations right out of the box and be so honest with each other. And it wasn’t just them, the other side characters had some really great moments too.
That said, despite the refreshing, mature conversations, there were also a lot of contrived and cliche moments that took away from the show. One extremely visible example of this, is the dangerous situations the two leads continually faced. I mean, I understand two or three dangerous situations, but in this show, we had around five/six dangerous situations, all happening within the span of two-ish months. It just felt so contrived, you could literally tell that the writers were just brainstorming dangerous situations to put the leads in so their relationship could be tested. Similarly, the medical aspect of the show left a lot to be wanting. I’m no medical expert. However (LOL), a lot of my cousins are studying to be doctors and I have seen a lot of medical dramas, so I like to think I have some sort of knowledge about medicine and treating people. So whenever the medical sequences popped up on screen, I’d find myself confused at some of their story-lines and actions. And it wasn’t just the medical aspect that was illogical, there were other awkward story-lines as well. If anything, I’d probably have to say that the storyline (and maybe music) were the weakest link of the show.
A lot of moments dragged on and some story-lines didn’t have the emotional impact they were supposed to. For example, one of the doctors, Lee Chi Hoon goes into this sort of personal breakdown regarding his career choice because he backed out of helping a patient in order to save his life. I read another review where the reviewer mentioned that this storyline could’ve been a really good look at the vulnerability of being a doctor and it really surprised me because I didn’t even think of that. The entire time I was watching the character’s arc, I was incredibly bored because I had no idea why the writers were spending so much time on such a boring plot. However, as the other reviewer pointed out, the arc was supposed to be impactful and insightful, but it just fell flat and weak. I felt like that was the case for much of the story-line. Some of it was really great and fun to watch while other moments dragged on and were too cliche.
What propped up the show, in my opinion, was lead actor Song Joong-ki and the bromance between his character and Dae Young, played by Jin Goo. Joong-ki is INCREDIBLY good-looking in this show and brings so much COOLNESS to his character. When the show first started, I actually felt that he looked a little girly, but as the show went on, I literally could not stop staring at him. He infused such depth into Captain Yoon Shi Jin and made him so charming, likeable and just plain amazing. Shi Jin was an honourable and responsible soldier who didn’t shy away from making though decisions and firmly took responsibility for his actions. He just came across as such a great, stand-up guy. It was super easy to understand why Mo Yeon fell for him. And the bromance between the two male leads was adorable. Their friendship was characterized with deep trust, loyalty and respect for each other. When Dae Young was suffering post his break-up, Shi Jin tried to make him feel better. Similarly, when Shi Jin was punished for taking a decision, Dae Young assured him that he trusted and believed in Shi Jin’s judgement. It was really wonderful to see such a supportive, encouraging partnership. Of course, it also helped that their characters were incredibly hilarious together (Here’s a gif-set of them together). Similarly, Jin Goo is a pretty strong actor (he did a WONDERFUL job making the outwardly tough Dae Young actually be this soft, sweet marshmellow on the inside) and when combined with Joong-ki spectacular acting skills, the results were great and entertaining as expected.
On that note, I actually didn’t find the chemistry between Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo, who played Mo Yeon, to be particularly outstanding. I mean, the two looked decent and acted decently across each other, but there wasn’t any of that sort magnetic pull between the two. If anything, I sometimes felt that Goo and Kim Ji-won, who played Myung Jo, actually had better chemistry and a more compelling story-line at times too. The two deeply loved each other and struggled to find their way back to each other, with the two of them trying to sacrifice themselves for the happiness of the other. I felt like their storyline was also less contrived, despite having the more cliche plot-line. Again, the story-line really was a mixed bag. However, despite the uneven story-line, there were some really entertaining characters in the show. I’ve already raved about Shi Jin and Dae Young to an extent, but even the side characters were great. I particularly enjoyed the comical moments enacted by Lee Seung-joon, who played senior doctor Song. His character was so vain but enjoyable, especially in his scenes with the other doctors. Speaking of whom, the interactions between the hospital doctors in Urk were really enjoyable, they all shared a nice camaraderie which made for a nice watching experience. I find myself to be a sucker for fun friend relationships and the distinct group relationships between the doctors and soldiers were something that appealed to me and delivered in content.
Similarly, I definitely have to rave about the quality of film-making for this show. It was shot so beautifully and wonderfully. The fictional country of Urk was filmed in Greece so you can imagine how beautiful all the scenes of Urk/ Greece are. And there were quite a few artistic shots that I particularly enjoyed. For example, the show begins with this look at the night sky with the stars glowing, with the camera slowly zooming back to show that our glimpse of the night sky is actually from a hole within a soldier’s helmet (symbolism!!). I’m not really describing it well, but it was definitely something that took me off guard and elicited a positive reaction from me when I first watched it. I heard somewhere (although I’m not completely sure) that the show had a budget of a few million (?) and it’s definitely visible throughout the cinamatography. I’m a really visual person so I think the cinamatography was a big positive for me and definitely elevated the show.
So all in all, I think DotS was a pretty good introductory K-drama. While it wasn’t perfect, it was pretty enjoyable. It has definitely set a high bar for other k-dramas, but because my initial watching experience was so positive, I’m going to continue (or at least attempt to continue) this k-drama watching spree of mine.
My rating: Watch it for the hotness that is Song Joong-ki, the bromance, and cinamatography. Don’t expect much from the story-line, but still be prepared to desire to enter the world of k-dramas!
***also, if any of you manage to get to the end, I sincerely thank you. I know this piece really isn’t one of my bests and it definitely took a long time for me to write and get it out. The writer’s block was insane.