"To protect the love I couldn't protect in my past life. To meet again in a liberated homeland and love freely."
If I have to describe this drama in one word, I'd say it's "nostalgic". It does seem like an obvious choice since it's a story about past life, but making a mere viewer like me constantly feel warm and comforted by the characters and the bond between them is not something other past life stories can easily do. This is the product of seamless writing, talented cast and their acting, mesmerizing music and phenomenal cinematography. This drama is at the very top of productions of its kind, it will stay there for a long time, and it has possibly exceeded the standard value of other genres as well.
The story, for me, sums up into a beautiful story about destiny and camaraderie that surpasses the boundary of time. Instead of being something completely new, it surely makes a lot of new choices in characteristics, settings and storyline.
You will experience this simple concept of love and friendship on two timelines: one is back in 1930s Kyungsung (Old Seoul) when Korea was under Japanese rule, and one is in present time Seoul. Although the present time is their main timeline and their past is shown as their recollection, both timelines have their own weight and are laid out equally well.
The main characters are this story's forte. In the present time, we have a bestselling writer who appears snobbish at first but opens up into a very thoughtful person, a ghostwriter who can look both like a caring gentleman and a lonely lost puppy at the same time, and lastly, a fan who is strong, caring and rather very respectful for someone entitled "number one fan". They really are a bunch of good qualities which you can't help but fall for.
These three characters are then tasked with a mission to find out what truly happened in their past lives that makes things the way they are in present time. As they recall past events together, they develop a strong bond just as how they did in the past – if not even stronger because now they also have a chance to learn things about each other they previously didn't know.
At the same time, their past timeline is where the political genre comes in. It's not heavy on politics at all, I can assure you. It rather weaves this setting into the main message very nicely because here our main characters share their passion in fighting against the Japanese for liberation. It's rather super romantic, I must say. "To protect the love I couldn't protect in my past life. To meet again in a liberated homeland and love freely." – This quote says it all.
Other than that, this story gives you a good laugh. Side characters are as three-dimensional as the main ones, and many of them will surely grow on you. Also, this could be because I'm Korean, but even their dialogues and choice of action are three-dimensional. Every word they speak, everything they do, has a good reference and reason behind it. The constant mention of supernatural beings is witty, and how they involve famous quotes, poems and authors really fits with the plot. I can't praise this drama's writer enough for her super well-done research. There's really no plot hole or boring/dragging moments.
And, oh, did I mention? The said writer is Jin Soo Wan, the amazing writer behind Moon Embracing the Sun and MDL users' all-time favorite Kill Me, Heal Me.
For the cast, I have seen almost every single one of them in their past works, and they still didn't remind me of their other characters at all, which is always important. They were so alive in their roles. I specifically want to praise our leading cast Yoo Ah In, Im Soo Jung and Go Gyung Pyo who had to take on two roles each for their separated present and past characters. They all nailed it. Additionally, Kwak Shi Yang who portrayed the antagonist deserves extreme compliments. The fact that he made me utterly hate his entire being proves that his acting was marvelous. That is an A+ for someone who's been in the industry for merely 3 years.
Another thing I fell in love with was the music. This drama's OSTs are gems – not only because we have golden voices like Baek Yerin and SG Wannabe but because the lyrics were written according to the storyline. The music cues are planned out so well that it's almost cunning. They appear at every right moment to add meaning to what we're seeing on screen, and often times they call for tears. In other words, they are not just background music but part of the storytelling itself. Don’t ever forget to read the meaning of those songs, and you’ll be in awe.
Likewise, the cinematography, the costumes, sets and their props are also impeccable. "Visually stunning" describes this entire production. This is one of those few dramas that you can pause at any moment and get a beautifully-composed still image. Present day Seoul and 1930s also have a clear line between them – both done beautifully from a lot of research. The color is graded in a cozy lukewarm tone and will make you feel like watching a beautiful independent movie on a big screen.
Romantic, evocative, delicate, sentimental, homely.
“Nostalgic” it is. Nostalgic really sums up everything.
Witnessing how this drama played out every week felt just like witnessing a piece of art. I never thought I'd have a chance to give straight 10s on a review, but this drama felt like an exception from the very beginning, and it never disappointed me until the end. If this isn't enough to make you decide to watch, I don't know what else will.
I don't think I'll be able to get over this drama in a very long time. This drama is my home.