I have always had a soft spot in my geek girl heart for superhero / secret identity / vigilante stories. Healer hit ALL of my favorite story pleasure points and so as a result, I admit I am totally blind to the shortcomings that I know are there.
Essentially, this is a blend of the shows of Daredevil, Person of Interest along with a Lois and Clark romance threaded through the romantic suspense story. Seo Jung Ho (Ji Chang Wook) is the “Healer,” a vigilante for hire who will do anything short of murder. Young Shin (Park Min Young) is a reporter for a celebrity online news site whose DNA he is tasked with grabbing. Things get complicated and Jung Ho ends up going undercover at Young Shin’s news site as the nervous helpless Park Bong Soo. As they stumble upon corruption and conspiracy in their investigations, they soon discover that they have a shared past.
I’m pretty sure that this going to be one of my favorite K-Dramas of all time. The actor Ji Chang Wook does an AMAZING job of portraying the bad ass Batman-like character of Healer and his dorky Clark Kent civilian identity, sometimes within seconds of the same scene. His expression changes, his body language changes, all within split seconds. And Ji Chang Wook is totally one of those actors who acts with his eyes. Every flickering angst of emotion is in there, especially in the phone conversations with Young Shin where he’s delighted to talk to her as Bong Soo, but then realizes that she has a crush on his Healer alter-ego.
In this review I’m only going to talk about how this show does such an excellent job with the use of motif to underscore the recurring themes of the story. (For a truly amazing comprehensive analysis of this show, check out FangirlVerdict’s Healer review here).
When the story opens, Jung Ho’s goal is to make enough money to buy an island where he’ll live by himself far away from people. There’s a wildlife documentary featuring a leopard in the background, and as you watch, you realize that Jung Ho is that solitary wild animal, unaccustomed to human society because of his bizarre solitary upbringing and training. (After his father died mysteriously, his mother remarried and his father’s martial arts master buddy brought him up, teaching him parkour and how to fight). After he turned 18, his teacher left him a suitcase full of porn as a farewell gift and left. Aside from the hacker Jo Minja (who Jung Ho calls Ajumma, which means “older auntie,” in Korean and is a more a form of address, like Ms.,) who Jung Ho has never met despite working with her for the last 7 years, Jung Ho has basically been on his own as the Healer.
So when Young Shin grabs his hand when he is in his Clark Kent mode, it’s probably the first time he’s had human contact with that didn’t involve fighting. Later, when Young Shin blindfolds herself to talk to the Healer on the rooftop, she grabs his bare hand. There’s a moment of connection, one that is completely confusing to her later when she accidentally grab’s Bong Sow’s hand. Later, when the Healer agrees to a “date,” (because Jung Ho plans to reveal himself), there’s a moment in which Jung Ho is standing in the shadows by a doorway and she’s on her way out. Jung Ho grabs her hand, and they just stand there holding hands, him in the shadows, her looking towards the light. He’s not wearing a disguise, waiting for her to pull him into the light and finally see him for who he is.
But she never looks because that’s what she promised him. She’s, determined to show that she accepts him for who he is, secrets and all.
Plot happens and eventually Young Shin realizes just who Clark Kent really is but rather than confronting him, there’s this fascinating conversation where all the meaning is in the subtext. She tells him she’s angry, but that someone probably has a good reason for their secrets and that she’s going to be patient and wait. Clark Kent is so deliciously torn which makes for this delicious blocking of their movements when she walks away from him. As she does, he makes up his mind to reach behind him for her hand, but of course he reaches for her just a little too late.
But that set up in turn makes how they come together that much more meaningful. When Jung Ho’s teacher takes Jung Ho’s place and allows himself to be captured and killed, Jung Ho is shaking with rage, and ready to take off to kill his teacher’s killer. Only Ajumma’s warning that doing so puts Young Shin’s biological mom (who Young Shin doesn’t know) at risk, keeps him from going. He has no idea how to deal with his rage and pain (at one point earlier in the series, Ajumma asks Jung Ho’s teacher if Jung Ho is autistic as they suspect, and the response is that Jung Ho will be fine), and so retreats to his secret hideout in an abandoned building, where he turns off all his connections, unplugs his phone and is completely unreachable.
Ajumma is worried and thus knows that the only person who might have a chance of reaching Jung Ho (and getting through his traps to his secret lair) is Young Shin.
Plucky Young Shin (with Ajumma’s help) gets in and finds Jung Ho in bed, but so cold. She curls up with him under the covers to try to get him warm. Later when he wakes up, he’s intent on throwing her out, but he’s so weak from not eating he can’t. He keeps trying to get rid of her, telling her she doesn’t know who he really is or what he’s been keeping from her, or how he could hurt her.
But in one of my favorite moments of this series, she hugs him. At first he doesn’t respond, but he’s been so starved of human touch, that he can’t help but hug her back. Tears fall from his eyes, and they kiss ::swoon::
We then cut to the next morning with some lovely cuddles (yes the implication is that they’ve slept together, yes before Young Shin even knows his real name). But later when they get out of bed, Jung Ho is so happy and amazed, partially unconvinced that she isn’t just a dream that he can’t stop touching her. Actually, he’s more like a human blanket, draping himself over her every chance he can get - when she’s tending to his wound, when she’s cooking. Normally I’d be like WTF (because I’m at the point in my relationship where I'm like WHY ARE YOU IN MY WAY WHEN I’M COOKING) but because there was this thematic emphasis on how touch-starved Jung Ho was, it worked.
Other things I really liked:
-Ajumma-hacker Jo Min-ja - the bad ass superhero’s brilliant hacker partner is a caustic older woman with big hair and funky socks who knits while planning heists. She’s gruff but really does care about Jung Ho. I could devote a whole entire blog post to the awesomeness of Ajumma
-The ending of the long conspiracy circle running the country seemed kind of rushed.
-The love that Jung Ho showed his mom was adorable. HOWEVER (This is probably more of cultural thing) the fact that she felt she had to leave Jung Ho to be raised by a random friend of her dead husband in an abandoned building so that she could be remarried and start a new family was just not satisfying to me at all. There was a scene in which step dad confronts Jung Ho that I found rather strange. I don’t know. But young Jung Ho definitely deserved better than to be left by practically every adult who was supposed to take care of him.
I know that the Korean domestic audience did not embrace this show because in part they found it too predictable. And I suppose that is true, if you are viewing from a romantic suspense genre type of angle. But I wonder if because superhero / vigilante tropes are more common in American culture? I found that the 20 episode format forced a reckoning when it came to Healer’s secret identity much more quickly than say, an American superhero show like Green Arrow (which has multiple seasons to run).
Anyways, if you love a Clark Kent / Lois Lan secret identity dynamic to your romance, Healer is definitely going to satisfy that craving. In the U.S., it's available on Viki.
8/10, on viki.com
Oh My Venus centers around the story of a lawyer named Kang Joo-eun (played by Shin Min-a) who was once a schoolgirl so pretty she was named the “Venus of Daegu” (Daegu being the name of the city she’s from). But now she’s all grown up and as the years passed, she’s gained a bit of weight. Her first and long-time love Im Woo-shik (played by Jung Gyu-woon) for the last 15 years, breaks up with her saying that they’ve become different people.
Kim Young-ho/ John Kim (So Ji-sub) is a personal trainer to Hollywood stars, and after becoming embroiled in a Hollywood scandal (scandalous maybe for Koreans, not for Americans) returns to Korea with Jang Joong Sung (Sung Hoon) a pro MMA fighter he’s been working with and Joong Sung’s manager Kim Ji-Woong (Henry Lau). A series of coincidences ends up having Young-ho “save” Joo-eun from a few situations, and before you know it, Young-ho is helping Joo-eun through her weightless journey and slowly falling in love with her.
Things I liked:
-The backstory use of Young-ho’s childhood cancer to ground his character. Young-ho’s not working out to look good, but out of a drive to be healthy out of a fear of cancer. As someone who spent much of his childhood in hospitals, he is someone who recognizes that that what someone looks like on the outside is not who they are in the inside. This makes his falling for the overweight Joo-eun more realistic.
-Joo-eun has a drive, determination and confidence that she never lost, even when she had picked up weight. Her motto is “I can do anything if I put my effort into it,” which doesn’t change even when she is overweight. It’s an attitude you often see in middle-school books about fearless girls, less so in adult women, but it’s so refreshing to see a female character who still keeps that attitude. Though the break up with Woo-shik is definitely a catalyst for embarking on a weight loss journey, it is not the primary reason that keeps pushing Joo-eun to keep going.
-Slowburn of Joo-eun and Young-ho’s romance actually felt realistic. They navigated issues by talking about them like adults. After their first kiss, Joo-eun is not sure what that means for their relationship as a Coach/Trainee. The next day is a kind of hazy status quo of them acting normally towards each other with a few flirtatious hints. This worked nicely because as a viewer, I got caught up in the will they/won’t they.
-Complex characters and relationships: There’s a point in the series where Joo-eun sits down with Woo-shik and talk about how at first her weight loss journey was originally motivated by their breakup, but became about recovering a part of her self, when she realized they had become different people. Woo-shik admits that he is a little jealous of her new relationship, even though he doesn’t want to get back together with her, you can’t just make 15 years of feelings vanish over night. There’s a complexity here in their relationship that isn’t just pure jealousy or regret, and it strikes me as being very realistic.
-Oh Soo-jin - the primary female antagonist, Joo-eun’s former friend from law school, now her boss, who is now dating Woo-shik. You want to hate her for her cutting remarks and nastiness, but underneath that is an extremely lonely and self-conscious girl who fears that she will never be truly loved.
-Young-ho’s found family with Joong Sung, and Ji-Woong. Young-ho really is like their father figure to them and they readily adopt Joo-eun into their circle. These guys man, if everyone had friends like these two, the world would be a better place.
Things I didn’t like [SPOILER SECTION BELOW]:
-The secondary romance with Jang Joong Sung and his famous female stalker. Yes, I know they’re trying to play it off as being ok because she’s pretty, but really? There was no chemistry and no actual romantic buildup to their relationship. It was basically let-me-follow-you-and-harass-you-until-you-like-me.
-When Joo-eun finds out that Young-ho is actually a chaebol heir (and a client of her firm), she freaks out and walks out of the corporate meeting they both find themselves in. He chases after and she confronts him about lying (even though it was more of a deception by omission). He says to her they haven’t exchanged promises or rings, so he doesn’t see why she’s running already. She admits that’s the case, but leaves to mope around for a day, even leaving Seoul to see her family in Daegu (a 3 hr drive from Seoul). He comes all the way to Daegu to see her that evening and she just runs to him. I know that’s a big gesture on his part, but I felt like it should have been bigger.
- Young-ho spends an ENTIRE year away from Joo-eun recovering from the car accident. Granted I get that seeing her in pain because of him would upset him more and yes, I know he needs to concentrate on rehabilitation and learning to walk again. But to not even read her texts? Or have a single phone call or email? And then to have Joo-eun not be just a little bit furious when he shows up again (especially after she chewed out Oh Soo-jin for ghosting her after law school).
- The whole backstory with Young-ho’s father, step-mom and step-mom’s uncle. I don’t understand why step-mom’s uncle would suddenly get it into his head that killing Young-ho would be the way to grab control of the company. That sub-plot kind of came out of nowhere for me.
Having just previously watched the ugly ducking themed sitcom, She Was Pretty, which had far fewer plot issues, Oh My Venus suffered in comparison.
Still overall, I enjoyed Oh My Venus and I am glad I watched it. This is a good romcom to watch if you’re looking to binge something fun and delightful.