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01 July 2020

K Drama Review: Descendants of the Sun (2016)

Yes, I know, I'm 4 years late. I'm aware that this drama was really popular and there's even a Philippine adaptation that started airing in December 2019. However, I never really planned on watching it. I'm usually wary of shows that trend. But since Oppa is into Song Hye-kyo, he coerced me into watching this. :D 


I also know how things ended sadly for SHK and her husband and partner in this show, Song Joong-ki. I've read a lot about the Song-Song couple, their wedding, divorce, and the theme park that was patterned after this show. After watching them together, I feel a bit affected that they had to part ways. 


Anyway, Descendants of the Sun was very easy to watch because each episode did not last longer than an hour. Even if we started watching late at night, we can still manage to finish two episodes. Last night, we finished the last three episodes. I'm not sure if it even took us a week to finish everything. 


Story



Descendants of the Sun (DOTS) is a story about a surgeon (SHK as Dr. Kang Mo-yeon) who fell in love with a Special Forces alpha team commander (SJK as Captain Yoo Si-jin). They first met in the hospital when Dr. Kang was treating a thief (Kim Min-seok as Private Kim Gi-bum) who stole the phone of Si-jin's bestfriend (Jin Goo as Master Sgt. Seo Dae-young). Turns out that Dae-young's girlfriend (Kim Ji-won as First Lt. Yoon Myung-ju) trained with Dr. Kang before and they were not on good terms because of a guy. 


Dr. Kang turned down Si-jin several times. She had a huge moral dilemma because her job was to save lives while Si-jin killed people. However, they were really destined to be together. Si-jin's team was assigned to a fictional country, Uruk. Dr. Kang, who turned down the hospital chairman's advances, was punished by being forced to head the team of volunteers who were going on a medical mission in, ta-da, Uruk. So eight months after Dr. Kang turned down Si-jin, they were now staying in the same headquarters in a faraway land. 


Dr. Kang still had her doubts. She was afraid of going into a relationship with Si-jin, who had a very dangerous job. But they went through so many things together in Uruk - a risky surgery of an Arab VIP, an earthquake, a virus, and an attack by an arms smuggler. All these things made Dr. Kang realize that they were not really that different. They both had the same goals, albeit with different means of achieving them. Dr. Kang healed to save lives, while Si-jin killed some to save more people. 


When they were finally back in Korea together, things seemed to go smoothly for the two. But once again, Si-jin was assigned to a dangerous operation that would last for 3 months. He and his bestfriend Dae-young never came back. They were captured by the militia and were presumed dead. 


Dr. Kang tried to go on with her life with great difficulty. She volunteered in Albania in time for Si-jin's first death anniversary. On that day, however, she got the biggest surprise of her life. Si-jin returned and caught up with her in Albania. They were finally together again. 




I usually don't care about the second lead characters. But this show appears to be an exception. I loved Dae-young and Myung-ju. Sometimes I even loved them more than Dr. Kang and Si-jin. At first glance, they seemed to be an odd pair. Dae-young was a former gangster while Myung-ju was the daughter of a general, more specifically, the commander of the Special Forces or the boss of Dae-young. Myung-ju's father did not like Dae-young. He wanted his daughter to marry Si-jin. To get her dad off her back, Myung-ju asked Dae-young to pretend that they were dating. And we all know where these pretend stuff lead to. 


As a soldier trained to follow orders, however, Dae-young had no choice but to ignore Myung-ju as ordered by his commander. Myung-ju persisted and kept on calling Dae-young. She even asked one of his subordinates to report to her regularly on his condition, whereabouts, etc. She followed Dae-young all the way to Uruk, only to be disappointed because her father ordered Dae-young to go back to Korea. 


Eventually, Myung-ju's dad gave in. He was willing to accept Dae-young on the condition that he would leave the military and join their family company. Dae-young accepted the challenge and he even filed for discharge from the military. Myung-ju was angry that Dae-young agreed to do what her father wanted. So they broke up again for the nth time. 


Dae-young still had to join the dangerous 3-month operation of Si-jin's team because they did not find his replacement yet. After agreeing to join the mission, Myung-ju's dad tore Dae-young's application for discharge to signify that he was willing to accept him already even if he remained to be a soldier. The abduction happened, however, and Myung-ju was devastated that she was not on good terms with Dae-young before he left. 


Fortunately, he was able to return after a year. He followed Myung-ju who was assigned in Uruk at that time. And the two were finally together again. 


The final scene of DOTS was the wedding of Daniel and Ye-hwa, their friends from Uruk. The Uruk gang flew to Canada but the reception was interrupted by another disaster that the group had to attend to. 


Cast/Characters


This is probably one of the shows where I loved majority of the cast and characters. 




SJK and SHK are so good looking. I didn't feel their chemistry right away but because SJK is so handsome especially when he cracks jokes and SHK is so cute especially when she's angry, they grew on me eventually. I loved the chill yet very strong and dependable image that Si-jin projected. He knew how to divert SHK's anger, worries, etc. He's naturally funny. 


I've seen SHK's cuteness in Full House and Worlds Within and she does not disappoint in this show. It's nice to see glimpses of that cuteness despite the supposedly much more serious role of Dr. Kang. I still find an angry SHK amusing. But I'm still not a big fan of dramatic SHK. Probably Son Ye-jin set such a high standard for me but I've come to appreciate the silent, restrained dramatic acting of SYJ and can't help but compare it with SHK's louder with a wailing tendency type of drama. Don't get me wrong. She's not bad. We can even say she's good. But I just prefer SYJ's style. 


And because they looked so good together, I can't help but feel a bit sad about their divorce. Now I'm really curious about the reason why they separated. I hope we'll all find out eventually. 



I liked how Dr. Kang's character developed throughout the show. She used to be a no gray area type of person. For her, you're either good or bad. I'm glad that with her time with Si-jin, she realized that things aren't always black or white. Sometimes there could be a middle ground. Sometimes you have to compromise, meet halfway, or even bend backwards. I liked how she learnt to look at the bigger picture and accept that sometimes there is a bigger purpose behind things. And that when you love someone, you have to trust the other person, sometimes even blindly, because you really have no choice. 


I felt her pain when she was being asked to sign a confidentiality agreement after Si-jin was presumed dead. She said it was ironic that Si-jin died while saving people and the country yet he can't even be publicly acknowledged for his heroic deeds. But Si-jin said it best - he does it because someone has to do it. And because Dr. Kang loved him, she had to endure that no matter how difficult and painful it may be. 



As I mentioned above, I loved the odd couple Dae-young and Myung-ju. While they appear to come from different worlds, I liked their chemistry. I felt that their love was more passionate than Si-jin and Dr. Kang's. Probably because they had a longer history and they had to go through a lot of things together. Their love reverberated with every touch and kiss they shared. There were even times when I found Jin Goo hotter than SJK because of the delicate way he loved Myung-ju. But after going through their photos outside the show, my vote would still go with SJK. :D 


I loved how Myung-ju stood up for Dae-young. And I also loved how Dae-young was willing to give up his uniform for Myung-ju. I'm just glad that they ended up together without having to give up any of the other things they were passionate about. 



I also usually don't care about the bromance angles. Most of the time, they actually put me off because they tend to be slapstick with homophobic undertones. But I absolutely adored the Si-jin - Dae-young bromance. Probably because their relationship and loyalty to each other was the real deal - they were willing to risk their lives for each other. I loved how Dae-young did not hesitate to leave his still recuperating girlfriend's bedside to help Si-jin rescue Dr. Kang. If all bromances were created this way, then I'd be more than glad to have them in every show. :) 



Even the secondary bromance storyline was well done. Private Kim and Dae-young were both gangsters in the past. Dae-young had every right to hate Private Kim after the latter stole his phone. But he chose to be magnanimous. He probably saw himself in Private Kim. He took him under his wing and made sure he lived a good life moving forward. I can just imagine how Private Kim must have felt when Dae-young was presumed dead. Their reunion scene was just so touching. 



Even the supporting cast were superb. I especially enjoyed the love story of Dr. Song and Nurse Ha (who was also in Something in the Rain). The tension between these two was just so funny. But it was so heartwarming to know that Dr. Song loved Nurse Ha since time immemorial. That folder in his hard drive filled with Nurse Ha's pictures was just so sweet. I just hope they elaborated more on how they met and why they never got together. 


Daniel and Ye-hwa were also very likeable. Although they didn't appear that often, I know they made a huge impact on how the story moved and developed. They saved the Uruk group numerous times. 


I also liked the character of Dr. Lee Chi-hoon and how he developed from a mere rich kid to a real selfless doctor. I was proud of how he endured the guilt tripping of the patient that he abandoned in the rubbles. 


I also loved Si-jin's Alpha team members - Snoopy, Harry Potter, and Piccolo. Although their roles were not as prominent as Capt. Ri's boys in CLOY, I still felt their love, loyalty, and respect for Si-jin.  Oh and I loved the doves too. :D


Myung-ju's father was endearing. The North Korean soldier who ended up saving Si-jin and Dae-young was respectable. His loyalty to his country (and to Si-jin too) was just so admirable. Special mention to Blakey from Uruk too. 


I can't list down everyone but I guess the cast was one of the reasons why this show was such a hit. I'm not sure if SJK and SHK could have pulled it off if the focus was mostly on them. They were so fortunate to have such a strong supporting cast. 


Probably the only character I hated was the chief manager. For all the trouble he caused, it would have been nice to see him locked up in Korea. :D


Music


Unlike the other K dramas, music was not so prominent here. Sure, there was the token song that you'd often hear but there were not too many of the dramatic, mood setting music you usually find in other shows. 


The song they used, You are My Everything by Gummy, sounded like a Regine Velasquez song to me. But Oppa's right, it would have been very popular in the Philippines if Regine sang it. :D


What I Liked


I loved how the show tried to tackle the moral dilemma that doctors and soldiers face. Their jobs come with great power that it can be tempting to play god sometimes. Leave a bad man to die? Save the better ones first? It's a huge burden that these people carry. 


Dr. Kang was judgmental of Si-jin because his job entailed killing people. However, it was Si-jin who risked his life and position when he let Dr. Kang perform a surgery on the Arab leader at gunpoint. He was the one who ordered Dr. Kang to treat Argus instead of taking his revenge. And he was the one who helped the North Korean soldier because he respected his comrade's loyalty to his country. 


It's nice how the show tried to humanize the predicament these people face. But it was also great that DOTS did not sugarcoat things. They also showed the bad side - an unskilled surgeon who gets promoted because of her connections, a former elite solider who resorted to gun smuggling, and an elite soldier who opted to be a hitman. There will always be two sides and I'm glad that the show tried to strike a balance between the two. 


After seeing how fiercely loyal Si-jin was as a soldier, I can't help but wish for all soldiers to be motivated purely by love for their country and not the people running it. :) 


I also liked how this drama showed what volunteering entails - moving to an unfamiliar and dangerous place, where there's risk of getting hurt from guns and illnesses. The living conditions are far from ideal. But as Si-jin puts it, someone has to do it. And I have nothing but respect for people who choose this path. 


The show also gave us a nice preview of how politics gets in the way of everything - in the workplace, in the government, globally, etc. Sometimes you just really need to have someone with guts who will be bold enough to cut the crap the way Si-jin did when he defied orders not to operate on the Arab leader or when Myung-ju's dad authorized the black ops to rescue Dr. Kang despite concerns that it will affect US-Korea relations or when Si-jin helped his North Korean friend return to the North. 


The show was very easy to watch because it was visually appealing and the story was compelling. You can't help but be hooked because of the superb cast and the various interesting storylines. The drama succeeded in making even the sub-stories worth following. I guess there was a good balance between making the lead stars prominent without sacrificing the focus on the supporting cast as well. 


What I Didn't Like


While I enjoyed the show, I also felt that it might have been a bit too polished to please the audience. I know that's every show's goal but I had a feeling that this drama exerted extra effort in making sure that they pushed the right buttons. There's really nothing wrong with that. It's just that I prefer something like a diamond in the rough or something bold enough to defy the norms. 


The initial fight scene looked heavily choreographed. Good thing they were able to improve eventually.


Perhaps another thing I didn't really like was the fact that the main love story was not that relatable. It was not something you'd envy or aspire to have. I am just so grateful that I have not fallen in love with a soldier. I can never live through the anxiety of waiting. This is also probably the reason why I was so enamored with the supporting cast - their stories were more real. 


There were also some confusing parts like how the North Korean friend was able to rescue Si-jin and Dae-young and where the two went after they escaped. Number-lover Oppa says there was a huge gap from the time they were released around 5 months into their captivity and the time they were reunited with their girlfriends about a year after they were captured. 


I also wish subtitles are available even for the English dialogues. The heavy accent made it difficult for us to comprehend some lines. 


So...


Over-all, I liked the show because it was easy to watch and follow. It was entertaining with the right amount of cuteness, romance, action, comedy, and with attempts at being socially-relevant. 


P.S. Oppa says we should start rating the dramas so we'll start with this one. Will try to rate the rest when I find the time. Rating will be from 1-5 with 5 being the highest.


Oppa says...it's a 3.5 that he'll promote to a 4 because of SHK. :D


Noona says...it's a 4. :)


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