We’re past the halfway mark for cable drama Padam Padam… The Sound of His and Her Heartbeats, which means there’s no time like the present to check in. Shot with an intimate, art house sort of vibe and lacking an episodic format, it’s a drama that ends up feeling and looking the most like a long movie. (That’s not a criticism, as that kind of style and atmosphere work really well here.) It was only recently that I saw that the director’s previous credits include A Love to Kill – which, despite being a mixed bag, had some impressive cinematography. Luckily though, this show has that great drama trifecta of writing, acting, and directing going for it – because when you’re trying to juggle an engaging character drama with fantasy elements, it’s all in the execution.
At the end of the last episode, Kang-chil found himself brought back to life after he was executed for the inadvertent murder of the Warden. He gets to relive his moments up until that fateful accident, and by a force of will (or a miracle), he’s able to hold back – and in doing so, he changes his future. Gook-soo, who’s declared himself time and time again as an angel, informs his charge that he’ll have two more miracles happen to him. Why? Because all miracles come in threes.
The world of the drama proves itself quite small when we find out that the man Kang-chil was accused of murdering was Ji-na’s uncle, explaining why her father once beat the daylights out of a young Kang-chil. There’s certainly no shortage of daddy issues here – not only does Ji-na blame her violent father for the death of her mother, but Kang-chil’s dad holds responsibility for the death of his brother, Kang-woo. Ji-na is rightfully traumatized by her father, whose rage issues would cause him to beat her mother over visiting Kang-chil in prison. He tries to justify his actions under the umbrella of grief for his brother, but like Ji-na, I’m not buying it.
Kang-chil and Ji-na have their first meeting since his prison release, and when he accidentally lets that fact slip she responds pretty well… by dropping him off in front of a police station when he tries to hitch a ride the next morning. I guess that’s a normal reaction to someone fixing your car by breaking into it first.
Something I really adore about this show is how well it handles complicated relationships. Take Kang-chil and his Mom, who didn’t see each other even once while he was in prison. Though he holds the memory of her hanging up on him in his hour of need against her, that doesn’t do anything to diminish his love for her.
Even with that huge misunderstanding still between them, Kang-chil takes up living at her house and she puts up a front, when in reality she’s happy to accept him. She’s also unwittingly adopted another son – Gook-soo – who everyone believes to be a little slow. She takes him in as part and parcel with her son, even though he has a tendency to be nearly naked first thing in the morning. When she asks him about it, his reply comes with his trademark grin, “Mom, I’m an angel so I can’t sleep with clothes on.” A-dorable.
Their family is a misfit one, especially with HYO-SOOK, an old high-school flame of Kang-chil’s who’s been acting as a loyal daughter to his mom all these years. It’s here where we get more information on Gook-soo, such as the reason for his prison stay. To pay the hospital fees for his mother’s cancer, he took an ax to an ATM and sort-of-almost threatened a police officer. That’s what netted him the attempted murder charge on top of the robbery charge.
His mother’s dying wish was apparently for Gook-soo to become an angel, and whether the show is going to delve further into how this heavenly business runs or not remains to be seen.
An interestingly-handled development occurs when Kang-chil finds out he has advanced liver cancer, with an expensive transplant being the only option for him to live. Normally, The Big C is enough for me to jump ship, but the way it’s handled helps set the tone for how we’re to handle everything else in the drama. The cancer isn’t there so Kang-chil can cry all day and rend his garments in grief, it’s just a display of how really crappy things can happen to anyone. Just because Kang-chil’s had it hard doesn’t mean he’s excluded, which is an interesting take on the theme of second chances that this drama explores. Normally second-chance occurrences like this are because the main character deserves it in some way, which Kang-chil does. But the cancer card throws that all into whack, because to die from liver cancer after he’s been given a literal second chance at life seems silly and unfair.
When Kang-chil has the inevitable moment of “why me?”, Gook-soo’s answer is… well, why can’t it be him? Would it be more fair if his mother got cancer? Or the Warden, who took Kang-chil to the hospital to get checked out? What matters is what he does from now on, and that’s pretty much all the grief we get on this. I really like that the cancer isn’t considered the end, or used as a means to an end – it’s just there. What this development seems to be telling us is that Shit Happens, so we better get used to it now.
There’s something really magical in the scene where Kang-chil starts to gorge himself on street vendor food, despite Ji-na trying to urge him away to eat a proper meal. This is where her veterinarian background comes into play as she handles him like he’s a big animal – gentle, yet firm. It’s a testament to the scriptwriter that we can understand Kang-chil’s worldview just through this scene, in how he’s unwilling to take instant gratification for granted now that he has the freedom to do what he wants when he wants to do it. Inevitably, their conversation about whether he should or should not Eat Junkfood Now draws attention to a bigger, looming question: how do you live your life when you don’t have much of it left?
But at least Ji-na is starting to see Kang-chil for who he is – and not just his reputation as an ex-convict. Their scene watching fireworks together – a first for him – is just one in a series of many first experiences she shows him. He really is like a child to the world because he’s been away from it for so much of his youth, and Ji-na dutifully takes up the role as his guide and moral compass.
As Kang-chil’s guardian angel, Gook-soo has taken it upon himself to coerce Kang-chil’s newly-found son, Jung, to live with them. He doesn’t do this because he wants Kang-chil to have more family as much as he does it to save his life – strictly because Kang-chil can use him for a liver transplant. Being called heartless by Kang-chil brings the normally effervescent Gook-soo to his breaking point.
Gook-soo: “You really don’t think it’s unfair? You waste sixteen years in prison for something you never did. And you finally get out, get a job, and are about to be a good son to your mom. But in the end it’s liver cancer. Isn’t that unfair? A young kid giving some of his liver won’t kill him. He can give you some of his liver and he saves a life, so he can go to heaven later on. You can send him to college – he wants to go to America. He’s a smart kid. Let’s send him. It’s a total top-notch college… if we work our asses off we can do it. It’s fine! It’s been sixteen years since you got out. Isn’t it amazing? When you open your eyes tomorrow morning, this isn’t solitary confinement or a cell! Isn’t it crazy and amazing that you’re with your mother, even if this place is a shithole? Don’t you love being able to see your mother and say hello to her every day? Coming back into the world, everything seems amazing. It’s amazing for you too. You need to date a girl too. You need to love someone like everyone else too. Like a human being. At least once, like a human being. Let’s be filial to Mom at least once. Let’s earn her some money. Let’s allow her to boast about her son to the people in the market. ‘Look at my son, my son is this great.’ Come on, Kang-chil. You don’t have to feel ashamed to heaven, not at all. Trust me.”
This turns out to be exactly the sort of severely long monologue Kang-chil needs, as he finds his will to live recharged. It doesn’t help that Jung is about as awesome a son as he could hope for.
With the table-setting out of the way we get to see romance blossom as all of our characters become more and more intertwined. It’s clear that Ji-na feels something for Kang-chil, as she takes him on a train ride and a trip to the zoo – all of the things he’d never experienced before but always wanted to. He’s a very literal sort of person, so he takes her being nice to him as a sign of interest and kisses her in the heat of the moment. It’s unwelcome on her end, and effectively changes the relationship dynamic for a couple of episodes as she chooses to avoid him and deny her own feelings.
Gook-soo gets his own curious developments in the fantasy aspect of the show, with many a Black Swan moment highlighting the growth of wings on his back. Every time his wings make an appearance, however, he grows sickly, pale, and becomes prone to fainting. As far as the angel storyline goes, I think the more ambiguous the better – we don’t want to start getting mired down into details that will ruin the magic. It’s not as though there’s an absence of rules – we get a lot of lines from Gook-soo about things he can’t do as an angel, like wear clothes when he sleeps, drink alcohol, or kiss. But as for what he is exactly – whether it be a fledgling angel, a half-man half-angel, or something in between – we’re still not sure.
Gook-soo continues to have premonitions about Kang-chil’s future, and one of them comes true. When Kang-chil happens upon Ji-na’s dad taking out his rage on an innocent man, he recognizes him as the brother of the boy he was framed for murdering. Therefore, that makes the woman who visited in prison – the only woman who believed he was innocent and cared for him – Ji-na’s deceased mother.
The man who framed him, Chan-gul, hasn’t changed his terrible ways and orders Kang-chil to be murdered when he becomes too troublesome. This is the premonition Gook-soo saw before, and we have another moment like the hanging scene where Kang-chil is subsequently killed (via a truck to the phone booth he’s in) and brought back to life. Back in the phone booth and unable to move, he places a desperate call to Gook-soo, who realizes that this is all part of some bigger plan for Kang-chil to realize something. There’s an interesting moment when Gook-soo is put in some sort of time-warp that renders him unable to physically help Kang-chil, as it shows us that Gook-soo, too, is just as much a puppet as Kang-chil. Just because he has some heavenly ties doesn’t make him any less human, which is what keeps his character so grounded and relatable.
“First of all, you won’t die,” he tells his hyung. “Because I’m with you.” He urges Kang-chil to pay attention and to see what higher forces are clearly trying to show him. Kang-chil is taken into the past when his mother hung up on him that fateful night, only now he gets to see the reason why – she was trying to protect him from his deadbeat and drunken father(?) who had come looking for him. Once he realizes all of these truths – about Ji-na, her father, and his mother – he’s able to escape the phone booth before it gets hit by a truck and live.
Speaking of living, it turns out that Kang-chil’s cancer is on the serious mend, so much so that it’s considered a medical anomaly (read: miracle) by his doctor. It’s not explained explicitly, but it seems as though this last round of dying/living cured him. I was left scratching my head a bit at this development, and I’m waiting to see if it becomes an issue again.
Now with all the misunderstandings cleared, family bonding time ensues. I can’t say enough how much I love when everyone’s together, but one of my favorite relationships in the show is the one between Kang-chil and his maybe-son, Jung. I say ‘maybe’ because we’re getting pieces of a puzzle that may prove that Kang-chil isn’t his real father – and Jung, despite knowing this, begins to bond with Kang-chil as a son anyway. This quickly endears him as one of my favorite characters. Like his maybe-grandmother, he possesses a tough exterior that hides the little kid within him that only wants a dad.
Jung proves that blood-relations are not the end-all-be-all, as he chides his maybe-dad for saying that the world has nothing to lose if he dies. How can he think that way when he has a mother and a son? It’s a great moment, because it’s the first time Jung admits that he’s his son. (Or is he?)
Ji-na finally recovers from that awkward first kiss. She had made it a point to avoid Kang-chil for a good while – not because she didn’t like him, but because she was afraid of her feelings. They share a real, no-frills connection while taking a midnight swim in a swamp – er, lake – and he picks a pretty picturesque moment to ask her to go out with him.
She wants time to think, and in true Kang-chil fashion he asks her how long she needs… because he hates waiting. I love that he dogs her on this, not in a petulant way but just in keeping with his honest nature. Because he thinks of everything in simple black-and-white terms he has a hard time understanding her hesitation. If she likes him, she should go out with him. If she doesn’t like him, then she shouldn’t. Why is that so complicated?
Hyo-sook is always around to hang out with the Yang family, and though she’s shown jealousy over Kang-chil and Ji-na it seemed doubtful that she had a real emotional stake in him. She’s just a nice girl who’s been divorced, and sees Kang-chil as a simple and easy option for the future. He doesn’t feel the same way, of course, which deeply wounds her feelings. Aww.
Tensions have been rising between Ji-na’s ex-boyfriend, veterinarian Kim Young-cheol, and Kang-chil. What’s great about their relationship is that Kang-chil proves to be the more adult one, as he takes care of Young-cheol even after he picks a fight over Ji-na’s honor. Between the two of them Young-cheol is the more petulant and just plain petty one, so he’s frequently humiliated by Kang-chil’s simple and to-the-point views on life and his relationship with Ji-na. What’s even more adorable is that Kang-chil is dead set on the two of them becoming friends, despite Young-cheol trying his hardest to hate Kang-chil’s guts.
The only “bleh” moments I’ve had with this show have usually been in relation to Ji-na – whether it’s her feeding wild animals in her spare time, disarming bear traps for wild animals in her spare time, so on and so forth. I do honestly like her character, but in terms of how big of a heart she has: I get it. We all get it, Padam.
Her urge to save every and all animal on earth leads to one of my favorite scenes – because it’s just so cringe-worthy. Because she constantly saves animals that have trouble crossing a creek bed out in the forest, Kang-chil basically builds a habitrail system so little white bunnies can make it across. I have nothing against bunnies, I just have something against her abnormal hobbies.
I also like that we get so little of Chan-gul, but also just enough. We don’t need to know what he’s like on his own time, but we get little glimpses of what he’s doing behind the scenes as we go. So far his one goal is to retrieve the murder weapon from Yong-hak, the third man involved in the murder. In his haste to retrieve it he attempts to murder Yong-hak via a car to the face, but his former co-conspirator manages to barely survive.
We’ve been hearing about it and waiting for it for ten episodes – and it finally happens. Gook-soo gets his wings! I was honestly surprised at how well this was handled, because it’s just rife with the possibility to be terribly corny. It isn’t – and it is something of an awe-inspiring moment as Kang-chil looks up at his guardian angel in complete wonder… until Gook-soo comes tumbling to the ground with his wings swiftly disappearing into his back. He hasn’t quite gotten the knack of flying yet.
Though it was always Gook-soo clinging to Kang-chil, our hero has grown and matured even over such a short span of time and has clearly come to love and respect him. He wonders if they’ll have to be apart if Gook-soo flies to heaven, and Gook-soo replies by asking if Kang-chil is afraid to live without him. “If I say yes, will you stay even if you get wings?” Awww. AWWW. (And a freebie: Awwwww!)
Understandably, it’s a pretty big deal when Ji-na finds out that Kang-chil is the man convicted of killing her uncle. The part that seems a little manufactured? She’s less concerned that he’s a convicted killer than she is about the idea that he wants revenge on her father. So, she does what she does best in their romantic times of trouble – she completely avoids any sort of contact with Kang-chil. I think this is round three. I’ve lost count.
Gook-soo is the one to jump to his hyung’s aid… by breaking into her house to talk to her. He’s very thoughtful, at least, and sends her a text beforehand that reads: “I’m Gook-soo. I’m climbing over your fence.” Ha! Too cute.
He explains Kang-chil’s position to Ji-na, pointing out that Kang-chil didn’t kill her uncle. “There’s no evidence that he’s not the murderer, though,” she counters. Gook-soo operates on belief, though, and says he believed Kang-chil wholeheartedly ever since his hyung took beatings on his behalf. That takes a good person, and Kang-chil is good down to the core.
Kang-chil has overheard the conversation between them, but still urges her to talk to him openly. She yells at him instead, blaming him for her mother’s death (since the final fight between Mom and Dad was over Mom visiting him in prison) as well as her uncle’s. Who does he think he is?
Kang-chil: “Someone your mom believed in.”
Aww. He tells her that he’ll find the evidence to clear his name no matter what… but even if that’s the case, Ji-na says they’re over.
This show is a really perfect example of a lot of little moments coming together to make a cohesive and powerful whole. Everything is in the nuance and character growth, so the real narrative drive is in the details as much as it’s in the grander plot movements – which, when they happen, are consistently fantastic.
I was both excited and concerned for the fantasy aspect of this show, which has been deftly handled so far. (Really, I was cringing out of nervousness during Gook-soo’s flying scene… and then it turned out to be a killer scene.) I also like that the world in which these characters live and breathe isn’t romanticized – it’s just the opposite, and presents a grittier reality. That tends to change whenever we have Kang-chil and Ji-na on screen, which might be intentional or just a result of prettier date locations. Either way, the camerawork excels in bringing us up close and personal with our characters just as much as the soundtrack works as a barometer for how seriously we should be taking certain scenes.
And while I do feel that this show has set up a brilliantly engaging romance, I’m far more invested in the maybe-father/maybe-son relationship. We haven’t been given a whole lot through this first half, but it’s the little things – like the bonding trip to the sauna, or Kang-chil protecting Jung when he faced a gang of bullies – that just add this extra layer of magic. On some level they operate with a father/son sort of mentality, but more often than not they seem to act more like friends. And for all accounts they could be – we’re being prepared for the eventuality that Kang-chil may not be his dad, after all. Even if that ends up being the case, I still hope that they’ll just eschew blood ties and decide to call each other family anyway.
It helps that everyone seems perfectly cast for their roles. I can’t imagine Kang-chil in more capable hands, as Jung Woo-sung can convey both ferocity and vulnerability all in one gaze – at times deliriously happy, at times heart-wrenchingly sad. Kim Bum, too, seems made for the role of Gook-soo – who manages to be one of the most accessible characters while still retaining a great deal of mystery. I’m excited to see more of his story, and how Kang-chil’s circumstances may or may not impact his earthly tenure.
This show brings to mind a famous short story by Ambrose Bierce, called “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. (Published in 1890, the story has been adapted over the years into an internationally award-winning French film, as well as television shows like The Twilight Zone.) It depicts a man of thirty-five (Kang-chil’s stated age), who’s sentenced to death by hanging – only to miraculously return to life afterward. Like Kang-chil, evidence from having been hanged remains in the form of a mark around his neck. And like Kang-chil, the protagonist of that story was held accountable for a crime he was lured into. The protagonist basically gets to live after he’s supposed to have died, returning to his wife before the twist ending is revealed – that in reality he never came back to life, and everything he imagined after the hanging was all a dream. Whether the tie is intentional or not, the similarities were interesting to take a look at.
But above all else, I love that this show poses questions that come up again and again throughout the series – and rightfully so, since there are no easy answers. Whether someone can or should receive second chances because they deserve them, whether someone’s suffering can be measured and weighed in worth… I just love it when a show causes our hero – and those caught up in his world – to consider what’s right and just in the world as much as it causes us to consider the same.
- Padam Padam: Episode 1
- Padam Padam posters are out
- Jung Woo-sung and Kim Bum’s date for Padam Padam
- Jung Woo-sung’s image transformation in Padam Padam
- Scenes from Padam Padam’s recent shoots
- Character stills from Padam Padam
- Jung Woo-sung and Han Ji-min in Padam Padam
- Padam Padam’s first shoot with Kim Bum and Jung Woo-sung
- Jung Woo-sung models watches, apparently
- Kim Bum and Han Ji-min join Padam Padam