Review – Master’s Sun

Review – Master’s Sun

An overall enjoyable series starring Gong Hyo Jin as Tae Gong Shil, a young woman who is tormented by her ability to see ghosts and So Ji Sub as Joo Joong Won, your typical CEO who is impervious to human relationships after a tragic event in his past.  Commence romance and supernatural shenanigans.  The episodes are fast-paced, varied and largely compelling.  Lots of side-stories involving ghosts to keep up the speed when the main plot lags.  I believe everyone can find something to like about this show and highly recommend it for online streaming or download.

————- MASSIVE SPOILERS & RATINGS FOLLOW ————-

Overall:  10/10 – an enjoyable romp through the supernatural and sleeplessness

Pacing:  10/10 – very steady

Romance:  4/10 (main characters), 8/10 (side characters)

Comedy:  10/10 (funny quippy dialogue, physical comedy and more!)

Main Character Female:  10/10 (bizarre, hysterical ghost-seeing gal who wins you over with her genuine smile, expressive face and comedic performance)

Main Character Male:  10/10 (CEO male lead, condescending but quite funny and likeable, great style, winning disregard for public opinion, succeeds with physical comedy and quirky charm but fails to express complex emotions.)

Side Characters:  8/10 (excellent array of memorable characters)

Re-Watch Factor:  10/10

X-Factor:  Ghosts

Now, let’s break down the major elements of this show.

The Ghosts.

The aspect of the undead turned all the wheels of this show.  They were scary, they were funny, and they were also the x-factor (or the special ingredient that makes this show stand out) of the series.

Some of the memorable ghost stories involved an awkward teenage girl who never quite fit in, in life or death – a group of abused and abandoned children (this episode had me sniffling into my pillow) – dead military dogs loyally watching over their suicidal masters – a CEO with a secret affinity for women’s clothing – and ghost weddings hosted by ghost matchmakers.

Scary…

And sweetly beautiful…

Tae Gong Shil’s interaction with the undead is comedic genius.  This actress is no stranger to being the lead female in a show and has perfected scene stealing.  I especially liked how more often than not the ghosts were not actually shown on camera – only Tae Gong Shil’s various reactions to them. Whether running away from them, crying and screaming at them, buying them coffee or soju, or carrying out their various favors – it was enjoyable (and sometimes awkward and creepy) to watch.  The instant classic scenes were her possessions, many of which lead to giggling with glee.  Tae Gong Shil possessed by house pets?  Hysterical!

 

Joo Joong Won, our male lead, won us over with his obvious delight in meddling in the affairs of others, supernatural or otherwise.  For a character so personally distanced from people – no friends, no lovers – it was fun to see him wholeheartedly leap into the business of others via ghosts and Tae Gong Shil.  The man ran right to the edge and immediately jumped in – accusing teenagers, pointing fingers, wringing confessions, sneaking down hallways and solving mysteries – and he loved every minute of it (even though he didn’t admit it until later).

When ghosts were around his eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning.  This is what made the love story convincing (sort of.  More on the romantic mixed bag at the end of the review).  He was not just falling in love with this wacky girl – he was falling in love with all the strings that came attached to her.  Come on, you have to admit that’s going to be hard to resist!  Dating someone who drags you into the supernatural world at every turn is far more entertaining than dinner and a movie.

(I kissed a ghost, got a hug and held her hand…. And she won’t remember a thing!  Passive-aggressive supernatural relationships rule!)

Ticks and Gimmicks.

There were several personal ticks and gimmicky elements to this show that proved delightful.  Tae Go Shil’s inability to get a good night’s sleep (and resulting dark circles under her eyes and unbrushed hair) was always used and consistently worked in reminding us that poor Tae Go Shil couldn’t escape the ghosts.  It helped me sympathize with her insane stalking of Joo Joong Won.  And in the beginning, it isn’t entirely easy to do that.  Her creepy poking and squeezing of Joo Joong Won was not romantic or even very funny at first, but in the overarching plotline it all worked out to my satisfaction.  It was rather cute when she was finally able to crash out beside her soul mate.  And that’s not a nightgown she’s wearing… she wore that to work.  I know, right?

Speaking of Joo Joong Won, his inability to read due to trauma was perfectly done (bring on the frames with no lenses!).  Even though the unfortunate event happened fifteen years ago, this physical symptom helped remind me of his scarred psyche and his damaged trust in people.  I was too distracted by his adorable stiff shoulders, flippy hands and cute catch phrases to think too deeply about Joo Joong Won being traumatized.  Say it with me… “Get Lost!”

Used to comedic perfection was Kang Woo’s fear of the supernatural, the badass guard turned to terrified, trembling Jello never failed to make me chuckle.

I also enjoyed Kang Woo constantly mistaking Tae Yi Ryung for a stalker or intruder and putting her in headlocks or shoving her face against a wall.

And my favorite gimmick – “Bang Shil!”  When Joo Joong Won’s aunt first meets Tae Gong Shil, she reads her nametag aloud and says, “I’ll remember that,” which made her inability or refusal to ever get her name right again so funny.  Every time she called her Bang Shil, I snorted with laughter.  And when Do Suk Chul, her husband, started calling her Bang Shil, too… well, put a fork in me.

Side Couples.

This show excelled at bringing the secondary characters to our attention.  Joo Sung Ran and Do Suk Chul were magic in every scene together as the older rich woman who’d married a younger man.  Her classy reserve and his goofy demeanor won me over completely.  Their chemistry was spot on and their witty banter and personalities never failed or faltered, earning them a solid ranking in the ongoing k-drama race for Best Side Couple Ever.

Tae Yi Ryung’s dogged pursuit of the indifferent Kang Woo was also amazing.  Her silly, childish behavior was just enough to be hilarious without crossing into the cliché of the villainous.  Yes, she could be jealous and troublemaking but she was never more than a mild nuisance.  And Kang Woo’s baffling reserve and general lack of interest to Tae Yi Ryung’s celebrity status made him the perfect match for her.  Ying and Yang, baby.

 

And let us not forget the giddy, gossiping employee of Kingdom who ended up falling for Tae Gong Shil’s sister, Tae Gong Ri.  Their smiling faces and gleeful romance that blossomed over grilled hearts and pigs feet made my day.

The secondary characters weren’t the only cute couples.  We were treated to many beautiful romances through the ghost stories, though a little sad by default you couldn’t help but dive into the gushy, glorious melodrama of love un-separated by death.

Seo In Guk kicks some ass.

Seo In Guk played Kang Woo, a bodyguard, security guard and informant.  I think this actor should be cast in an action-centric series in the future, as the few scenes where he could show off his fighting skills were the most memorable.  I love watching people jump up on furniture and walls so they can get the necessary height needed for a good face-kick.  His cat-like reflexes were spot on.  I also got the impression that Kang Woo’s character would have gotten several shower scenes but was denied because it might make Joo Joong Won’s lack of shower scenes more evident.

Eating, Drinking, Elevators and Piggyback Rides.

I comment on this because there is a startling LACK of scenes that take place without food or soju.  For a K-Drama, this is quite shocking.  Truth be told, I doubt So Ji Sub or Gong Hyo Jin survive on much more than seltzer water, so maybe that was a factor in the empty-plate syndrome.  I don’t remember seeing either of these super skinny actors eat anything during the entire show other than some tofu and a slice of brie cheese, though on occasion they sat in front of food while other people ate.

Considering a large portion of this show took place in a mall, I was surprised that there weren’t tons of elevator scenes. If elevators could talk, like they do in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I am sure they would all be tearfully calling their lawyers and preparing for a k-drama union strike.  Where would so many dramas be without them, after all?  Apparently, in stairwells, parking lots and roaming the hallways of shopping malls after hours.

And no piggyback rides?  Not even one?  Tae Gong Shil seemed to pass out from exhaustion or possession often enough, though this show resisted having Joo Joong Won throw her onto his back.  What?!

At least we had an amnesia plotline, otherwise I would have been concerned that Korea was turning over a new leaf and abandoning their beloved tropes.

Secretary Kim

 

I love these guardian angel type characters that just stand back while all the action takes place and quietly guide their troubled wards towards happiness.   Secretary Kim Gwi Do was so adorable you just wanted to hug him (and when Joo Joong Won did, I think my heart exploded from sentimentality overload).  Remember when he came to bail Joo Joong Won out of jail?  When he whipped out his credential cards?    Awesome.  And all those not-so-subtle attempts to make Joo Joong Won jealous of whomever was lingering around Tae Gong Shil at the time?  Three cheers to the sweetest secretary in the world.

And Joo Joong Won agreed.  Look at the love between secretary and CEO!  It’s more expression than Tae Gong Shil will ever muster out of our stoic male lead, that’s for sure.  Awwwwww, shucks.

Fashion.

The winner of the fashion show is So Ji Sub, hands down.  K-dramas can come up with some unusual outfits, often leaving me to wonder what the stylist was attempting to convey other than sheer ineptitude and colorblindness, but So Ji Sub was always dressed to perfection.  The scarves tucked under the collars of his shirts, the tailored suits, the socks, even his casual wear at home.  Gorgeous.  He’s not one of my favorite actors on the scene, nor do I find him particularly attractive (not enough expression in the eyes and the mouth – his mouth is so small that those straight capped teeth remind me of bunny cartoon characters).  But his thin frame looks great in a suit.

So Ji Sub wasn’t the only character dressed to the nines and looking fabulous.  Tae Yi Ryung, the superstar model/actress, always looked great.  Even when under the spell of a vanity ghost and so overdone she looked like she was wearing the combined closet of Cindy Lauper and the whole cast of Cirque du Soleil, she still managed to be strangely fabulous.  So Ji Sub’s aunt, Joo Sung Ran, was extremely fashionable as well.  Uber-classy older broad.  All those big chunky necklaces?  I loved it.  And what about Tae Gong Shil’s sister Tae Gong Ri?  That hat!  She was adorable, even in a work apron.

Unfortunately, the stylist of the show preferred Tae Gong Shil to look as if she were wearing a pillow case.  In almost every scene.

Huge oversized shirts, nightgowns that even my grandmother wouldn’t wear (sporting English sayings such as JESUS SAVE ME), dresses without shape that were never in style, not even twenty years ago when they were popular, tacky t-shirts, jeans that were ripped or sequined, just disaster after disaster.  Are you a groupie for Def Leopard?  Auditioning for Little House on the Prairie?  A Mennonite?  And she would show up to work in these get ups!

You know, before she was haunted by ghosts she was supposed to be top of her class – I’m pretty sure she should be smart enough to understand you don’t come to work in pajamas.  Even if your office is a storage closet.  The heavy-handed fashion references to being an escapee from a hospital or mental ward were overdone.  After a while I started to crave one of those scenes where the rich guy takes the poor girl shopping.  Unfortunately, when that happened he just draped a black piece of cloth over her shoulders and said, “Done!”  Long sleeves, high necklines… geesh.  Why?  Once again the mystery of Korean Drama fashion rears its tacky head.

Her best outfit by far was the Scottish plaid dress she wore while possessed by the composer’s wife (hysterically called the Nutcracker Lady by Joo Joong Won) and even then Do Suk Chul commented it looked like she was wearing a blanket.

The Music.

The musical score was nicely done and impressively varied.  It was spooky and operatic one minute, then carnival creep show the next, light and humorous when appropriate and sweepingly romantic when the mood struck.  Bravo, music producers.  There were even modern pop songs playing in cafes and restaurants.  The love ballad was used quite a bit, but it wasn’t overtly noticeable or overused until the end.

Scene Stealers.

If you’ve seen it, you probably know immediately who won this contest.  The ghost matchmaker and all her black-eyeliner glory!  Whenever she was on the screen, everyone else disappeared via her occult creep factor and stunning couture clothes.

There were also plenty of moments where our side characters stole the show.  Kang Woo’s hysterically overdramatic expression while embracing Tae Gong Shil in a dream sequence?  I nearly died.  The ring of applauding ghosts and the sudden appearance of a spaceship didn’t hurt either.

 

Every time Sung Ran’s husband, Do Suk Chul, corrected his wife on Tae Gong Shil’s name – when he started calling Tae Gong Shil the wrong name too – or when he was cheering on Joo Joong Won (fighting!) for going after Tae Gong Shil or vice versa, I could not stop laughing.

Kang Woo’s balled up fists over his eyes when Tae Yi Ruyng startled him!  Oh My God!

 

Or when Joo Joong dreams of that all-girl group in glittery underwear with the dead dancing dog?!  Random and divine.

And let us not forget the inanimate scene stealers – the collection of hideous dolls that kept popping up.  The Chinese marriage dolls?  Yikes!  That sickening doll that housed the ghost children?  Someone get those kids a tetanus shot.  That cannot be sanitary.

Curses and Curse Words.

I thought it was a nice twist that everyone thought Joo Joong Won was cursed by the untimely death of his first love – when in fact he was cursing her.  Holy Dropped F-Bomb, Batman!  It was really entertaining to have some colorful language in a k-drama.  Sometimes I wonder how much is flying right over my head because I don’t know more than a few phrases of Korean and must rely on the translations.  But I don’t recall ever seeing the word bitch in my subtitles before.

Final Review:  Excellence mired by mixed feelings.  It has problems.

Though there was ample entertainment, romance and comedy to be found in this series – something never sat right with me.  Maybe it was the chemistry of the main couple.  I believed they sincerely enjoyed each other’s company but they never convinced me there was any passion.  There certainly wasn’t any with their kisses.  Their love story had a more platonic feel to it.  I think it would have been uncomfortable to actually see them get a bit physical – which is ironic considering they were hugging, clinging, patting, poking, holding hands and more throughout the show.  Maybe I am spoiled on dramas that feature these smoldering, melt the screen romances with so much chemistry Einstein is wiggling uncomfortably in his grave.

Even when our hero confesses his love for the heroine in a glowing heavenly light, I just didn’t buy it.  This is what his eyes said, “I really like you.  More than anyone else I can think of right now.  Let’s sleep with our clothes on and raise ghost sheep for the rest of our lives.  Or… you know… run a mall.  Whatever.”  Here’s what her eyes said, “You’re so convenient!  I really, really love… the fact I don’t see ghosts when you’re around and those cool suits you wear.  You put up with my weird personality and your secretary is pretty cool, too.  Will you be my human handbag forever and let me carry you around like a stylish accessory?  I guess we can have sex, ya know, if you don’t mind if I sleep through it.”

Still, they were highly enjoyable to watch together and I was consistently entertained by their silliness, gestures, physical comedy and catch phrases…. So it’s hard to complain, but I can’t help it!  I want my kittens to be smitten.

Another thing this show DIDN’T HAVE… which is always missed… A Standout Character who has such screen charisma that you’ll be talking about him/her for a while, possibly dreaming about him/her, and definitely rewatching the show and recommending it to others – just because of that person.  Sometimes this is two people, or a couple, or bromance, or whatever.  But for me, it’s usually just one.  None of the characters were that cool.  They were cute, charming, quirky and worked well in the story – but I won’t be haunted (cough, cough) by any of them.

Also missing were the characters’ humanity.  These were people who were always dressed, ready, fed, bathed and at work.  Other than a few “sleeping” scenes, I didn’t get a sense of who any of these characters were at home or at heart.  Joo Joong Won’s house?  Generic.  Tae Gong Shil’s rooftop room?  Confusingly religious though no mention was made of religion throughout the show.  What do they do on their days off?  What do they do for fun?  Hobbies?  Interests?  Personal philosophies or dreams of the future?  Nope.  Just ghosts and work (what did they do again?  Oh yeah, generic business stuff and hanging out in a storage room getting paid for doing nothing but chit chatting to the undead).  Anything deeper you just had to make up or assume.  Insert implied characteristics here.  Which is largely what I’m used to with American television shows, but have come to expect more from Korea.

Character Development.  This usually requires the humanity (or lack of) mentioned above.  I won’t deny Tae Gong Shil came a long way throughout the show.  She learned to accept her ghostly fate and get some shut eye.  Did she become a better person?  Did she repay her sister for her sacrifices after making it rich abroad?  Did she go back to school or start considering a career – other than trying to buy the building she had already managed and seduce the guy who already openly liked her?  Nope.  She was still just a cute weirdo who sees ghosts.  And Joo Joong Won didn’t change, in my opinion.  You could tell he loved and appreciated his secretary from the beginning, though the hug at the end was nice.  No bonding moments with his aunt or his father or anyone else.  Pretty much Joo Joong Won just made a new friend (arguably fell in love) who put up with him and learns to balance another person in his life.  So… development of the main characters was so-so to nil for me.  And the side characters didn’t develop at all.  Stuff happened to them, externally, but they were pretty much the same from episode to episode internally.  I liked them all, but do I feel like I know them?  Maybe as acquaintances.

 

Cinematography.  There’s nothing wrong with my television screen, I just didn’t see any noteworthy cinematography in this show.  The special effects were decent (cue ghost leaving Tae Gong Shil’s body in a misty cloud) and I have no complaints about the makeup artists.  But the visual appeal of the show equaled that of daytime television in the States.  A few random shots of noteworthy buildings, blurred backgrounds and indistinguishable locations when outside, a nondescript (and largely empty – even during working hours) shopping mall and a rooftop apartment.  That’s about it.  I assume it was Seoul, because as far as I can tell from k-dramas that’s the only city in Korea.  And I assume it was filmed in Korea and not, say, Hollywood’s back lot, because there were a lot of Koreans running around and the only Caucasian chick had a thick foreign accent betraying English was not her first language.

The other problem I had with this show was its constant, shifting genre.  Drama? Horror?  Thriller?  Mystery?  Romance?  Comedy?  I like all of these genres and I even liked them all in this show – but it still left me feeling slightly detached because I couldn’t emotionally settle down.  It was like being on a giant cruise line during a rough storm, being thrown from room to room.  Bingo!  Fine Dining!  Yoga!  Show Girls!  Playground!  Movies!  Shopping!  Ack, just settle down for a few minutes and let me get used to this mess.

Throughout the show, there was one question that arose again and again that was never answered to my satisfaction. What happened to Tae Gong Shil to make her a ghost seeing freakshow?  We learn it was some random accident in the mountains, that she was in a coma-like state for three years, and that she wandered around as a pseudo-ghost with a photographer and did quite a bit of traveling.  And that’s it.  No flashbacks to speak of, really.  I was left with the impression that this was a very important event – and yet it wasn’t really addressed or explained in any satisfactory way.  They did a pretty good job with the kidnapping story after all, revealing just enough via backflashes to explain things. As these two events, the kidnapping and the accident, are the catalysts that made both our main characters into neurotic disasters – I just thought we needed a bit more on Tae Gong Shil’s past.

And speaking of Tae Gong Shil’s past – what’s up with the attractive photographer guy who randomly shows up, gives great advice, smiles like Prince Charming, and gracefully bows in and out of life of Tae Gong Shil during the final two episodes?  We can’t learn a little more about this dude?  Seriously?  And the coffee teen ghost?  What’s that all about?  He wasn’t even dead?  So many loose ends were tied, but not these… at least not enough for my taste.  Coffee teen ghost could have gotten a nice full episode story, don’t you think?

But let’s face it.  I could have forgiven the genre-soup, the sketchy past of Tae Gong Shil, the mysterious photographer and so forth… but it was the lack of romantic fire between the main couple that kept it from racing to the top of my personal favorite’s list.

This couple will live happily ever after like Sherlock Holmes and Watson.  Or like Patsy and Edina.  Absolutely Fabulously.  Without children.

 

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