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.
My pandemic discovery has been a new love for K-dramas - that is tv dramas from Korea. I have little Korean language experience (other than a brief trip for 2 weeks to visit an expat buddy teaching English, and living in Queens, NY lol) however the stories and humor in K-dramas are totally universal, but yet are told a bit differently than they would be in Western media. As a writer, I’m interested in different methods of storytelling, so every once in awhile, I’m probably going to start posting some thoughts about the different shows I’ve been watching.
I really enjoyed this office romantic comedy that twisted the ugly duckling trope! Other tropes features in this show are childhood friends/reunion, switched identities, office romance, little of enemies to lovers, as well as a sort-of-love triangle.
When Kim Hye Jin (played by Hwang Jung-eum) was the pretty girl at school, she befriend a fat shy kid named Seung-Joon who lived next door. After his family moved to America, they lost touch. Fast forward to the present day where Hye Jin has lost her looks (according to Korean standards, which means she now has fluffy curly hair, ruddy cheeks and freckles) is a 30 year old unemployed woman trying desperately to get a job.
When Seung-Joon returns from America on a visit and calls Hye Jin to meet him Hye Jin readily agrees. She's looking forward to seeing her old friend again. But when Seung Joon (played by the ever swoon-worthy Park Seo-Joon) shows up he’s a tall, hot clearly well dressed man, and walks right past her. Desperate not to let her old friend see how much she’s sunken in beauty and status, Hye Jin asks her best friend / roommate Ha Ri (Go Joon Hee) to pretend to be here for that one meeting. By Korean beauty standards Ha Ri is a knock-out with her big wide eyes, v-shaped chin, pale skin and slender figure, and so it would be logical for Seung Joon to think that’s how she grew up. Seung Joon, contrary to what Hye Jin thought, is back in Korea to stay for awhile, and wants to rekindle his friendship with his childhood friend Hye Jin. Ha Ri (pretending to be Hye Jin) is utterly charmed by how Seung Joon treats her: like a person and not just a pretty thing.
(Look at Seung-Joon, played by Park Seo Joon, all grown up!)
Meanwhile Hye Jin does manage to find a job as a lowly intern (hired precisely because of her unremarkable looks - the manager says pretty girls leave after a year to get married but who would want to marry her?). She ends up being transferred to the very fashion magazine that Seung Joon has come to Korea to take charge of.
Like in the K-drama office romcom What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (one of my favorite K-dramas ever), the actor Park Seo Joon does an great job of playing a tough aggressive boss here in She was Pretty. Watching She Was Pretty, you totally see why he did such an amazing job in What’s wrong with Secretary Kim. However in this one, Park Seo Joon’s character, Seung Joon is a bit more vulnerable. He is the definition of all work and no play, and has no family, no friends in Korea, and is so demanding on his employees that he comes off almost as a toxic boss. I have to admit in the first few episodes I thought Seung Joon was just too mean and was rooting for Hye Jin NOT to end up with him. Seung Joon had no compassion at all for Hye Jin’s mistakes as the new intern, and constantly demeaned and belittled her in front of the entire office. To be fair, that is also common practice in Asian workplaces, so perhaps it’s just my American sensibilities sticking out. (but of course there are backstory reasons for Seung Joon’s intensely pressured behavior.. But I also thought Hye Jin’s antics and mistakes were perhaps a bit too over the top; I mean if I were her boss, I would be just as frustrated as Seung Joon.
Of course, it doesn’t help that Ha Ri continues to secretly pretend to be Hye Jin to meet Seung Joon on the side.
It’s the secondary characters, I think that really elevate this K-drama, in particular:
The friendship between Hye Jin and Ha Ri, I think is what sets this apart from so many other romcoms I’ve seen. I really wanted to hate Ha Ri; after all she’s the pretty girl, who gets ALL the guys, a rich girl who had her job, apartment and everything handed to her by her chaebol father. But she’s also someone who is deeply insecure and lonely — Hye Jin is really her only family. Later when Ha Ri’s subterfuge is discovered, Hye Jin, despite being furious (and in throes of developing awkward feelings for Seung Joon), understands why Ha Ri did what she did. Ha Ri realizes how much she hurt her friend and is deeply upset at herself. I have to admit, at first I didn’t buy Ha Ri’s regret because I wanted to see her suffer. But Ha Ri uses this as her transformational moment to realize she has never really had to struggle for most things in her life, and she decides to sell all her things, cut up the cards her dad gave her and figure out what to do for herself on her own. In the end, I love that the friendship between the heroine and Ha Ri remained strong as ever.
Kim Shin-Hyuk (played by a very hot Choi Si Won) is the secondary male lead. He’s a cross between the quirky jokester and cinnamon roll hero. What I love about him is that he ends up befriending supposedly ugly duckling Hye Jin BEFORE the makeover / transformational moment that you know is coming. (In fact, afterwards he’s like NO! What did you do to your freckles your best feature?) He genuinely likes Hye Jin as a person. But he’s also a trickster in that annoying middle-school boy way of teasing her to get a rise out of her. Sometimes it works, and sometimes, I thought wow he was being a total jerk. But in the end, even though he really wants Hye Jin to “look at him” (as he says to her when she’s asleep at her desk after working past a deadline), he pushes her towards Seung Joon because he knows that’s what she really wants (even though his heart is breaking). In the middle episodes, I REALLY wanted Hye Jin to get together with Shin Hyuk but the continuing middle school jokey-ness of his character sort of put me off.
Ultimately of course, Seung Joon figures out who his childhood friend really is — that it’s the clumsy intern he hated at first but has grown to really like. And this is where I really thought this show took a step upward. He falls for Hye Jin, not just because they had a shared childhood friendship, but because he genuinely enjoys her personality as an adult. Moreover when Hye Jin has that requisite makeover/transformational moment, it’s for herself and her own self-confidence for work, NOT to get Seung Joon’s attention. In fact, when Hye Jin gets the makeover, you get the sense that Seung Joon still sees her exactly the same way as before. And once they do get together, two two are ABSOLUTELY adorable. By the final episode, all that’s left is the most perfect buttercream frosting epilogue HEA for Hye Jin and Seung Joon.
Spoilery thoughts about what also set this series apart (highlight to read):
-Seung Joon’s total support for Hye Jin to pursue her dream career apart from him, even though it means that she won’t be coming to America with him and that they have to be apart from each other for a year. The epilogue seems like it’s buttercream frosting for a romance (and it is) but underlying this light rom com is Hye Jin’s search to figure out what she wants to do with her life. There’s a voiceover by Hye Jin that talks about realizing that being “pretty” is about doing what you love, and at the end of the series, she’s very clearly doing that
-Seung Joon’s opinion of Hye Jin doesn’t really seem to change when she undergoes the “makeover / transformation,” it’s her personality that captivated him. Moreover, it’s clear that at the end of the series, when Hye Jin reverts back to her “ugly duckling” looks with her fluffy curly hair and no more makeup, Seung Joon loves her just as much. Because Hey Jin has found something she loves to, and someone to love, she’s as beautiful as ever.
-The marriage proposal between Seung Joon and Hey Jin was absolutely adorable. And wow Park Seo Joon is really good at pushing a girl up against the wall and kissing her lol.
Nobody in this romcom is an evil antagonist; everyone is trying to genuinely trying find themselves, find love and happiness as best they can. It’s light, it’s fluffy, fun, and everything I want a romcom to be. If you liked Park Seo Joon in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, I would definitely watch this one. (On Viki).
I always loved escaping into books but I confess real world anxieties have made it really hard for me to focus on any book lately. So I've been diving into stories in other media like webcomics and dramas in other languages. They use familiar tropes (i.e. enemies-to-lovers, fake engagement, etc) but because they are different media the way in which the story is told changes.
Here are some of my recent distractions (which I HIGHLY recommend as a much more worthwhile way to spend your time rather than doomscrolling).
MY DEAR COLD-BLOODED KING
A F-R-E-E romance webcomic, secret identities, hot princes, and assassins in a feudal-based fantasy Japan. I literally stayed up until 3AM one night to binge read this comic and ended up joining the artist's Patreon.
Another F-R-E-E webcomic. Hades and Persephone retold. Greek gods with modern day trappings. Totally addictive.Enter your text here...
I know, lots of people are not into watching tv with subtitles, but trust me when I tell you that K-dramas are well worth it.
These shows are totally addictive, so much so that when I was asked by OSRBC Romance Readers Group (a general romance readers Facebook group with more than 8k members) if I wanted to moderate an OSRBC side group for lovers of Asian Dramas, I said yes. Romance readers and Asian dramas are such a natural niche - in the first day we had more than 100 readers join! So if you want to learn more (and fill your Facebook feed with pictures of gorgeous men) join us here: OSRBC: Asian Dramas.
What's the appeal? Here's a quote from an article about what appeal these dramas have, particularly for romance fans.
"K-Dramas push the envelope hard on the feisty-oddball girl character...female characters in K-Dramas have the space to be eccentric and even morally unsound (occasional kleptomania or blackmail are fine).
While male leads have to be paragons of virtue who are dapper dressers and also happen to look good in the shower, the female lead character is often a hot mess. She can complain about her unwashed, itchy scalp while on a date or be told that she needs to bathe as her clothes "smell of kimchi".
Women probably feel more seen in this universe for the complicated, angry, disobedient, funny, ambitious, feisty, acerbic and normal people that we can be in real life. A part of the reason for this space afforded to women characters could that about 90% of Korean scriptwriters and series writers are women. Compare this to the barely 27% of women’s presence in American film and TV, and you will see why Joan MacDonald, an American writer, feels that these shows "pay tribute to the female gaze" and the "female perspective."
-Anita Vachharajani, Crash-landing on the world: Why Korean dramas are as addictive as an unending stack of potato chips
These are the shows I have been watching and rewatching:
CRASH LANDING ON YOU - Netflix - (16 episodes) Enemies-to-lovers, opposites attract, fish out of water, fake relationship, protector, band of brothers, found family
South Korean female CEO accidentally paraglides into N. Korea. She falls on top of a N. Korean soldier. Since N. Korea and S. Korea are still technically at war, if she's caught there, she risks being sent to prison and possibly tortured and he spends half the series trying to safely return her home. Awesome hilarious cast of secondary characters. This was apparently the #3 series in all of Global Netflix in March of this year (FOR GOOD REASON!)
This is basically Tony Stark / Pepper Potts without Ironman. Long suffering secretary to genius CEO resigns, making him realize he can't live without her. Awkwardly proposes marriage to her, she says hell no (nicely with a smile, because this is S. Korea after all) he realizes he really does love her and he spends the rest of the series trying to woo her. Another great cast of secondary characters.
DESCENDANTS OF THE SUN - Viki.com (free with commercials), note that the version of this on Amazon Prime is the Vietnamese remake; romance melodrama in a disaster zone. Strong heroine doctor meets cocky special forces soldier, discover that despite their attraction, have very different philosophies about the value and sanctity of life. This also has amazing side character, including an amazing bromance between the hero and his second, with awesome conversations like this:
Hero: Ow, I think I hurt something. Maybe my appendix. I think I need to see that doctor over there.
Sgt Dae: The pretty doctor, of course.
Hero: No, it really hurts!
Sgt Dae: The appendix is on the other side.
Hero: ::quickly switches to the other side:: Yes! It really hurts!
Sgt Dae: You were right the first time, it's on the other side.