Friday, January 27, 2017

'The Legend of the Blue Sea' Works Wonderfully Despite Its Cheesy Romance and Problematic Writing

The Legend of the Blue Sea, the latest “big-event” K-drama, has just ended.  It got 20 episodes, and that only happens when a K-drama is getting much hype and ratings.  The assumption is that a K-drama must be pretty remarkable and immensely enjoyable for getting 20 episodes.  I personally find that’s not necessarily case. Sometimes, it is; sometimes, it’s not.  Fortunately, The Legend of the Blue Sea is justified enough to belong to the former category.

Its central plot follows a highly skillful con-man named Heo Joon-jae (Lee Min-ho) whose life becomes more tangled than it already is after meeting a strange woman whom he later named Shim Cheong (Jun Ji-hyun), a mermaid who has become smitten by him.  Intertwined with this is a storyline set during the Joseon era: the tragic love story between a nobleman named Kim Dam-ryeong (Lee Min-ho) and a mermaid named Se-hwa (Jun Ji-hyun), Joon-jae and Shim Cheong’s respective incarnations in their past life.  As Joon-jae and Shim Cheong inevitably grow in love, they are also haunted by the question of whether history will repeat itself.
There are a lot of entertaining things about this K-drama.  First, being a big fan of the Ocean’s movies and the TV series Leverage, I had a lot of fun with the moments in which Joon-jae and his cronies did cons.  Joon-jae’s hypnotism skills are pretty neat – reminding me of Merritt McKinney, Woody Harrelson’s character in Now You See Me – and I wish this was shown more down the stretch of the series.

Second, the comedy is terrifically executed.  Most of my laughs came from the early episodes, when Shim Cheong was still only beginning to learn how to be a human, and applying whatever she learn in her own way.  During this time, she was like a more hilarious version of the ignorant Ariel (i.e. Disney’s The Little Mermaid).  I find Jun Ji-hyun’s portrayal of Shim Cheong remarkably pleasing.  But she’s the Sassy Girl after all (something I only learned when I Googled her), so her charming quirkiness here should not come as a surprise.  (I wish she does more K-drama, as she almost only does movies.)
Third, it has some riveting dramatic arcs.  My favorite is Joon-jae’s search for his mother.  That entire subplot was pretty engaging.  I like that there were a couple of “almost meetings” that happen.  It’s a melodramatic cliché, I know, but it was done so well, that when the eventual reunion finally happened, it turned out being a very gratifying, heartwarming moment.

Fourth, there’s some intense thriller going on, and it has exciting, well-executed plot twists (though some of them were spoiled for me by a friend’s post in my Facebook newsfeed).  The climax and resolution of the “thriller” narrative (around episodes 17 to 19) are the highest point of this show.

Fifth, the romance is sweet.  Okay, it’s actually quite cheesy.  But Lee Min-ho and Jun Ji-hyun make it work.  They deliver cheesy lines with such sincerity, and perform rom-com hackneyed tropes with perfect adorability, that their romance never comes off as sappy or irritating, but genuinely endearing.  In addition to that, they are attractive leads with wonderful chemistry.
But The Legend of the Blue Sea is not free of flaws.  It’s riddled with plot problems.  Its writing didn’t always make sense to me, despite how much leeway I gave its storytelling.  There are story executions that I felt were too complicated when they should have been simpler, and story executions that were too simple when they should have been more complicated.  The “dual timelines” aspect of the plot doesn’t work as well as I wanted it to be.  Sometimes, the “mermaid” element and the “past life” element seem to be just too much fantasy for its own good, not being able to go somewhere reasonably clever with them.  And I also didn’t think the series ended with the exclamation point that it deserved.

In the end, its positives still outweigh its negatives.  The Legend of the Blue Sea is actually one of the better Koreanovelas I’ve watched.  But I think the reason why I don’t like it more than I do is because I watched it side by side with Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju, which I’ve pointed out recently, is nigh perfect.  This probably made its flaws bother me more than they should.

No comments: