Welcome 2 Life: Episodes 1-4 (Review)
MBC’s new Monday-Tuesday drama is billed as a fantasy romance kind of deal, but it’s the legal and supernatural aspects of it that really get me. Its basic conceit is that a hotshot lawyer finds himself in a parallel world where he’s a prosecutor, six-years-married to the girlfriend who broke up with him three years ago. Rain and Im Ji-yeon don’t seem like an intuitive pairing on paper, but they’ve got a pretty kicking dynamic (literally!) and an immediate depth to their characters that I find really appealing.
The story centers on LEE JAE-SANG (Rain), who makes a very successful living defending the misdeeds of the morally bankrupt filthy rich—with the added talent of flipping cases around to make the victims into assailants. He’s basically the worst. BUT…he’s really good at his job, which to his and his boss’s thinking, actually makes him the best.
The show opens with Jae-sang presenting his girlfriend RA SHI-ON (Im Ji-yeon) with a bouquet to celebrate their second anniversary, but the scene goes quickly awry. She curses him out and batters him with the flowers, making him bellow insults back (he has no idea what he did wrong), and it’s all downhill ever after.
We find out pretty quickly exactly what he does wrong. Shi-on is a violent crimes detective and this time, she’s working an assault-by-a-chaebol case and finally has watertight evidence to nail him good… until they find out Jae-sang’s defending. His underhanded but entirely legal tactics sink them completely, and the victim ends up being falsely accused.
Shi-on vents her anger at Jae-sang after the trial with violence against his person. Though he’s a shark of a lawyer, he lets her beat him. He also refuses to report her, even though this happens at least once a year. It’s a weirdly endearing quality for someone who should be unlikeable, but maybe it’s the twinges of conscience he betrays even as he defends his conduct that make it feel like he’s not a lost cause. They’re subtle—pauses that last just a little too long, his troubled gaze that tries to find something that isn’t there. And then how he shakes it off to carry on. But it’s all working out for him beautifully, as he’s crowned co-CEO of his law firm after wrapping up the chaebol case so well.
Meanwhile, Shi-on’s on the trail of a kidnapped woman which she traces back to the same chaebol group. It brings her head to head with Jae-sang again, and he deflects her inquiries with the same smug attitude he had during the trial. But the situation niggles at him, and he tips Shi-on off to a location the woman might be. But by the time they get there, it is far, far too late, and they discover her body in a barrel, violently murdered. Sombre, Shi-on tells him it’s on him.
It’s a tipping point for Jae-sang, and he at last turns against his chaebol clients, even though he knows it will cost him his license. He calls Shi-on and tells her about his change of heart and his regrets, and that he’s coming to tell her everything. Alas, no good deed goes unpunished in dramaland, and he’s cut off en route by a two-pronged attack of Trucks of Doom. One Truck of Doom wasn’t bad enough, you had to use two??! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!
And then he wakes up to what he thinks is heaven until Shi-on comes in wearing nothing but a negligee, making saucy jokes about what she’s gonna do to her husband and he legit screams when he sees their supposed wedding portrait. But I’m pretty sure it’s the scrappy little kidlet that shoots off farts in his face that drives him away—barefoot in his pyjamas—all the way to his law firm, where they all keep calling him “Prosecutor Lee” and his boss makes it clear he is extremely unwelcome.
He’s convinced it’s some kind of hidden camera prank, but it gets serious when he finds out that the murdered woman is still alive, and on top of that, the chaebol he got off in his other life? Prosecutor-him put that guy away good. Oh, and he’s also the head of the missing persons investigation department.
I love that he finally rationalizes it as the weirdest dream ever—I mean, it makes sense, right? He remembers getting smooshed by the trucks of doom, so it follows that this whole other world is some kind of dream or a coma or the afterlife. For some unknown cosmic reason, he gets a do-over at this whole thing but this time on the other side, and he thinks he’s here to make sure that this time, he saves the woman.
Once he’s given himself a satisfactory explanation about the situation he’s found himself in, he grabs the second chance with some really devilish panache. I just love how he’s willing to play it as unscrupulously as in his previous life, and relishing how it’s for a way better cause. You can practically see him calculating the differences, what resources are available to him to make which moves, almost like navigating a computer game. He weighs up his consequences against the scales of unreality and comes to the brilliantly simple conclusion: “I don’t care, it’s just a dream.”
Since he’s living in game-mode, like it’s not real life and actions don’t have the same weight of consequences, this version of him can afford to be utterly fearless—and frankly, a little unhinged. Being consequence-free might not actually be how this parallel world works, but Jae-sang sure thinks so, even if he’s in for a rude awakening later (pun intended!).
And if it’s a game, he is GOOD at it. It’s so wickedly fun to see him use all that privileged information about the bad guys’ sneaky ploys and various misdeeds from his other life and turn it to his advantage. He’s funny too, and I laughed so much over how he takes the time to compliment himself (“A handsome lawyer I know told me…”). It’s also massively gratifying to see Jae-sang turn around so completely that he becomes willing to take a literal bullet for someone else.
In many ways, I see this show’s parallel world as a reinterpretation of the time travel mechanism, but inherently easier to provide an explanation for, with the added bonus of having more room to maneuver the story. The fact that it’s a major accident/head injury that catapults Jae-sang into this other life makes his explanation a compelling one. It’s kind of Life on Mars-y. At this point, I’d be more surprised (and maybe even a bit disappointed) if it did turn out to be “real.”
My working assumption is that this world is the result of all the things Jae-sang wished he’d done differently: All those changes are like an accumulation of choices that added up to this very different life. If he’s paid for his sins via Truck of Doom, maybe this is purgatory, or maybe it’s atonement. Either way, he gets a second chance to fix everything he’s done wrong before, but this time with a headstart—a headstart he earned by making the choice to change, no matter what it cost him (and maybe it cost him everything). He’s had his eyes willfully closed all this time, but now he’s opening them.
I miss old Shi-on, though. She was more cynical, more unyielding, more disappointed, while new Shi-on is kind of soft. But I hope she’ll prove to have the same mettle and be just as unforgiving when necessary. It makes sense that who she became was partially a result of the “bad” Jae-sang, but there’s enough other badness in the world that one good guy can’t actually ruin her.
I’m really here for this show. I picked it up on a whim, thinking I’d try the first two episodes and then be able to move on without regrets. After all, I’m still coming off a bad hangover from Full House-Rain (pro-tip: don’t watch Full House anytime after 2004, I warned you). But it’s an assured opener, and a premise that promises some good twists, with a grounded, interesting set of characters. I found some of the tonal shifts a bit jarring, but as long as it doesn’t unbalance things by putting its romance before its thriller, I think this could shape up to be a really good show.
- Premiere Watch: Let Me Hear Your Song, Welcome 2 Life, Be Melodramatic
- Wishing for good luck for MBC’s Welcome 2 Life
- Adjusting to a new reality in MBC’s Welcome 2 Life
- Rain suits up for dual roles in fantasy rom-com Welcome 2 Life
- Rain, Im Ji-yeon, Kwak Shi-yang and more gather for Welcome 2 Life Script Read
- Supporting cast lined up for Rain’s world-hopping fantasy melo