Published on March 14th, 2016 | by ponyforprez0
Half-way Mark: Descendants of the Sun is a potential winner
Warning: Multiple spoilers ahead
Last week saw KBS’ hottest ongoing drama Descendants of the Sun leaving us in the midst of chaos in Urk after an earthquake struck the capital.
The drama has finally kicked up a notch in terms of grit and a grim reality, as our heroes and heroines put aside personal feelings and differences to tackle some actual issues because let’s not pretend it hasn’t been a cushy ride so far, okay? But all that aside, how has Descendants been faring thus far?
I would describe the Descendants and KBS relationship to something like the king presenting his firstborn, after years of trying for a son, to the nation. After all, 2015 was a tough year for the mainstream channel. Descendants’ fanfare is incredible, with the drama’s fifth episode hitting a viewership high of 30%. And that’s just the official count. I don’t even want to imagine what kind of viewership records we could set with the very much alive and kicking online community, who watch episodes both subbed and un-subbed thanks to teams of dedicated subbers. Kudos to you guys!
With My Love from the Star being the last notable drama to rep Hallyu (Korean wave) success, and yet only closing the series at 28.1% (still impressive – it set records in 2013), Descendants has officially broke through and cemented a new position in K-drama history. And let’s be frank, most weekday dramas do fairly decent if they hover around the 10% mark. For KBS, this is a really big deal, especially as a national public broadcaster, when cable underdog tvN had mostly been reigning with hits like Reply 1988, Cheese in the Trap and Signal.
So what constitutes Descendants’ success?
Manners maketh man, good (looking) cast maketh drama
Before anything, can we just point out the obvious? That fresh-out-of-army Song Joong Ki (he attended the first drama reading just two days after being discharged) playing an army captain is bound to send fan girls into a frenzy?
But let’s give credit when credit is due – Song Joong Ki as handsome Alpha captain Yoo Shi Jin is perfect for his role. Between leading his team with utter dedication and piling on the charisma while charming the socks of Song Hye Gyo‘s doctor Kang Mo Yeon – he doesn’t fail to remind us why he’s more than just a pretty face.
Unfortunately, Song Hye Gyo hasn’t completely won me over. It’s nothing to do with her acting, but the fact that Kang Mo Yeon as a character fails to establish a commendable presence yet…except that she’s a nice-looking doctor with a heart. Looking forward to her stepping up to her role as the medi-team leader, directing her team a lot more, quit being jealous of Yoon Myeong Ju (Kim Ji Won) all the time, and just showing us more substance in general instead of focusing on so many scenes of her looking forlorn whenever Shi Jin leaves her. It’s a frikkin’ war drama, damn it. Let’s have a strong female protagonist for once, Kim Eun Sook!
Besides the Song-Song pairing, Descendants does a good job with its supporting characters and love-lines. Jin Goo as stoic Sergeant Major Seo Dae Young (fresh off his role as what do you know, another sergeant in last year’s silver screen Northern Limit Line) and his forbidden love with Yoon Myeong Ju is both endearing and heart-wrenching. At the same time, both the medi-team and army troops are also doing a great job at empathetic roles, coupled with the strength and determination of fulfilling their duties well.
You also know the cast is good when they’re made up of bods like these.
Idol actors are also making a brisk foray into dramas today, and SHINee’s Onew and his portrayal of chaebol (a term commonly used to describe rich men in Korea) status doctor deserves rightful commendation.
While initial episodes felt like an ode to his real-life persona with little character progression, we’re slowly seeking a more vulnerable side of Onew’s character Lee Chi Hoon, starting from his guilt and regret he on being unable to save a patient – questioning his ability and worth as a professional. Loveeeed it. I want more.
Also liking resident Koreans of Urk, Daniel Spencer (Jasper Cho Tae Kwan) and Re Ye Hwa (Jeon Soo Jin). The pair seems incredibly quirky and I can’t help but feel their characters have a lot more depth than they seem. Let’s see how they contribute to upcoming episodes.
Urk as the premise of devastation
Descendants is presented as war drama, or at least, largely revolves around it. The premise itself provides plenty of opportunity for situations that leave viewers gripping the edge of their seats in anticipation. It’s a little too early to judge but up till now I feel like we haven’t really gotten into the meat of things, or experienced real conflict, save for a couple of gun threats and blood. As we officially approach the mid-way mark this week, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this to change. Show, go ahead and gut us good.
The filming location spanned several areas in Greece, namely Zakynthos, Arachova and Lemnos. Talk about high budget. But while the exotic locations aren’t the main factor behind the show’s stellar viewership, its sepia-tinted views and gorgeous sceneries of beach and sea are a definite plus and do set up an air of mystery and the unknown – the perfect recipe for disaster yay. On a side note, I particularly enjoyed how the characters fit seamlessly into Urk, and we get to see a lot of the town and its natural scenery.
A storyline set in stone – will this be a hit or a miss?
Descendants was completely pre-produced last year so as to allow parallel broadcasting in both Korea and China (due to the country’s strict regulations for television). And it looks that the pressure paid off, because the show wrapped up filming on December 30. I’d say the drama was lucky too, receiving an average six-figure budget per episode to really churn out a show of high production value and excellent cinematography.
But the early series wrap-up also means that the drama has the chance of being either a hit or miss, as its current golden status doesn’t rule out the possibility of ratings going wayward should the plot hit a sudden irreversible block. Things that could potentially go wrong? The conflict not being well-developed enough, love-lines being reduced to simplistic problems…the possibilities are never-ending with Kim Eun Sook dramas (for instance: Hit? Secret Garden. Miss? Heirs), and viewers and critics are mostly divided when it comes to opinions. But the devoted Descendant fan club can rest easy though – the drama seems to be heading in a safe direction with a setup that will diligently strive to evoke heartache, tears, and well-packaged romances. Presently, Descendants‘ success isn’t attributed to a bow-chicka-wow-wow story line (I’m actually afraid it’ll be disappointingly safe and medicore toward series’ end) and more of gorgeous packaging and witty dialogue, but we can’t deny that the series is definitely the current talk of the town! Keeping our fingers crossed that the drama manages a perfect balance till the end and everyone ends up happy.
So have you been following the hottest drama in K-land lately? What are your thoughts? Let us know!
Descendants of the Sun is also available on Viu, every Thursday and Friday, 8 hours after telecast in Korea! Visit viu.com or download Viu for free from Apple App Store or Google Play Store. It’s a fantastic drama app, and we highly recommend it! Go download it now.
Photo credits: KBS World Facebook