MBC’s new drama Who Are You? will probably not be a huge hit — On Air will easily claim that timeslot — and I doubt it carries the potential to join the ranks of the exceptional. The conceit is pretty clear — body-switching, and the hilarity that ensues — like a mix of Big, Ghost, Heart & Souls. But for some reason I really enjoy it.
It could be the amusement at seeing Yoon Kye Sang regularly transition from an irascible, bad-tempered businessman into a dorky, good-natured dolt, or it could be Go Ara‘s gorgeous doll-like features, or that all the characters, down to the most minor, are lovable in their own way (I love Young In’s friends — Lee Eon from Coffee Prince and Lee Min Jung from Kkakdugi). Or it could be that, unlike On Air, this drama’s all heart — its good humor comes through all the other stuff and makes for a surprisingly pleasant watch.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Sarang – “위로” (Consolation). Kim Sarang the musician, that is, not the actress/Miss Korea.
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SETUP and BACKGROUND
SOHN YOUNG IN (actress Ara) has a complicated relationship with her father SOHN IL GUN (Kang Nam Gil). While she loves him (and he quite adores her), his happy-go-lucky (read: irresponsible) behavior gets in the way of complete approval. She’s two days shy of high school graduation and newly twenty years old (the age of legal adulthood); she can’t wait to move out. He doesn’t like the idea, but she’s determined because she’s tired of being embarrassed all the time. He agrees to let her live in the dorms for her first year, but to come back after that — because as much as she thinks she can’t live with him anymore, he can’t live without her.
Her father’s a “quick service” deliveryman, in debt up to his eyeballs (surgery bills for her deceased mother), drinks soju too often for her liking, and dating a woman she hates. Although Young In inherited her artistic sensibilities from her father — her dream is to be a manhwa artist/writer — she doesn’t know that his old painting “hobby” is actually much more. He’s become a regarded artist.
Young In has solid friends in JI SOOK (Lee Min Jung) and YONG DEOK (Lee Eon). Ji Sook (whom Young In affectionately calls “Sooki”) is her classmate and wheelchair-bound, while Yong Deok (“Deoki”), who’s just back from military service, is older but treated as an equal. They’re both wonderful, devoted friends, offering support whenever Young In needs.
In contrast, CHA SEUNG HYO (Yoon Kye Sang) is a fussy, obsessive-compulsive workaholic who keeps everyone around him on edge with his constant demands and impossibly high (and fastidious) standards. He may have the bank account and tailored wardrobe of a standard kdrama hero, but there’s nothing dreamy about his awful personality. Seung Hyo can’t stand the sight of dirt or even a stray hair, he’s insanely wealthy at 31, and he’s adopted.
His hilarious anxiety-prone secretary is YEO JIWON or simply Secretary Yeo (gifted comic actress Ahn Sun Young). Whenever she’s feeling particularly degraded, she wails, “But I went to Ewha!” (a top women’s university) at the indignity. Seung Hyo’s also frequently attended by his lawyer and driver.
Episode 1 establishes the relationships, and ends with two sudden accidents, the first of which is Seung Hyo’s. Seung Hyo loses his temper with his assistants and drives off angrily, only to be hit by an oncoming truck. His body is mostly unharmed, but he’s knocked into a coma.
Secondly, Young In’s father Il Gun is in a collision while riding his motorcycle, and killed. His sudden death first leaves Young In angry at him for leaving her, then guilty for the horrible things she said before he died, such as being thrilled at the prospect of moving out so she could be apart from her father.
The crux of Episode 1 can be summed up in the following scene, when Il Gun’s spirit “comes back” after his death but remains invisible to all. And while I had my reservation’s about Ara’s acting, after this scene those were quelled long enough for me to cut her some slack for the rest of the series:
There’s something fishy about the way Il Gun’s death has been ruled suicide, and the death itself. That’s a mystery he’ll have to solve on his own.
Seung Hyo lies in a coma; the doctor informs secretary Yeo Jiwon and Lawyer Yoon that he may need a miracle to wake up. Yet just then he does awaken — and jumps out of bed, healthy and fit. And, um, a little different.
Episode 2 explains how Il Gun managed to come back, and why the body he inhabits is Seung Hyo’s.
As Il Gun is taken across the (metaphorical) divide between life and death, led by the man I’ll call the Reaper, he begs for mercy, for a chance to help his daughter — she has nobody in the world, she’s graduating tomorrow, she has no money. The Reaper feels pity and cuts him a deal. The rules are thus: He will have a limited time, for three hours a day, to finish his business. The body he inhabits will belong to the coma victim Seung Hyo. And when he’s not inhabiting Seung Hyo’s body, he (Il Gun’s “spirit”) must remain in a 3-kilometer radius of The Body, to be monitored by an anklet.
Unfortunately, Il Gun’s first day in Seung Hyo’s body is cut drastically short. Trying to guess everyone’s relation to him, Il Gun/Seung Hyo calls his secretary “Wife” and acts like a coarse, middle-aged ajusshi (go figure!), albeit a friendly one. The staff believe him to be hysterical (he runs through the halls giggling and babbling about visiting his daughter) and administer a sedative that renders The Body useless for the duration of today’s three-hour period. Il Gun will have to plan better next time.
Alone now, Young In’s got a tough deal ahead of her. At the mortuary, she’s accosted by her father’s debt collectors, who make suggestive comments on how she can “repay” the debt with her beauty. Enter SHIN JAE HA (Jin Yi Han), who puts a stop to their threatening behavior and takes her and her friends home. Jae Ha lets Young In believe he’s a friend of her father’s, although we’re to believe he may be up to something sinister. And may possibly be involved in her father’s death or suicide ruling.
(Let me sidebar: I LOVE THIS GUY. He had a one-episode part in Mixed-Up Investigative Agency’s episode 7 and gave a spoiled rich playboy unexpected depth. He was also in Conspiracy In the Court, which I really must get back to watching soon. His character here is another spoiled playboy — smooth enough with the ladies to be unsettling to Young In’s fresh-faced naivete — and perhaps my admiration of the actor makes me like him entirely too much. But he does manage to convey layers to the character.)
Jae Ha treats Young In well and tells her to call whenever she needs help. She doesn’t know what to make of his puzzling kindness or his offer of assistance.
She does, however, know enough about her father’s girlfriend YOUNG AE to hate her and throw her offers of assistance back in her face.
The next morning, Il Gun carefully picks his three-hour window to coincide with his daughter’s graduation ceremony. In his haste to escape the hospital, he gives no thought to changing his clothes or bringing money.
Il Gun/Seung Hyo watches his daughter take photos with Ji Sook’s family, and Young In finally breaks down into sobs when she poses for a picture with her friend’s father. A few steps away, SeungHyoDad cries too, and I think it might have been this scene that convinced me to stick with Who Are You? I can understand why Yoon Kye Sang took on the role as a test of his acting range — he really traverses from extreme to extreme — and his ability to inhabit both characters (his own, and the father’s) keeps me following the storyline rather than thinking about his acting. Here, he gazes in fatherly concern at Young In as he tries to approach her.
SeungHyoDad identifies himself as her father, so she assumes he’s crazy, which isn’t hard to believe given his strange dress. He’s reduced to following her to the restaurant where Il Gun had promised to take her after graduation. She yells at him to go away (believing him to be a pervert and flasher) — and while her antagonism makes his mission difficult now, he’s also proud of his daughter for standing up for herself. Aw. At the restaurant, SeungHyoDad sits down with her despite her protests because he promised to eat those noodles with her and damned if he won’t keep that promise.
Jae Ha’s intentionally mysterious motives make him an interestingly complex character. He cares for his girlfriend, a fellow art gallerist, but she loves him a little more than he’d like her to. He’s the son of the gallery owner (a snobby society mom) and has hidden reasons for keeping tabs on Young In, though he seems to genuinely like her spunk and treats her like a doting brother. If doting brothers were also under instructions to use you to find information about your father.
Jae Ha invites Young In to observe a fancy party being held at the art gallery that night, where she recognizes one of the attendees as her pervert stalker man: Seung Hyo.
Like I said, I don’t know if Who Are You? is going to be anything more than a “pretty good” series, but it is very watchable. I like that they’ve explained away the potential problem of why a man can be allowed control over another man’s body (because, on a basic level, that feels kind of icky, right?) in that Seung Hyo was likely to be stuck as a vegetable for the rest of his life, without the doctor’s so-called miracle. Therefore Il Gun isn’t really stealing time away from his host if his host would otherwise have been stuck in a coma forever.
I think what draws me most to the drama is the dynamic they’ve set up between Young In, Seung Hyo, and her father. First off, Seung Hyo is horrid, and Yoon Kye Sang really embraces the character’s abrasiveness. He may have emotional scars (abandonment issues over his adoption?) but so far he’s got no compassion, no warmth, no appeal. Yet.
When Il Gun is inhabiting Seung Hyo’s body, however, Young In starts to see him in a different light — but since that’s really her father at work, none of that can be attributed to Seung Hyo himself. So if she eventually falls for Seung Hyo, how much of that is genuine? How can she love someone when all his kindness came from someone else? (I’m guessing that changes, but I’m curious to see how.)