Song Joong Ki’s comeback drama! I was so happy to hear that Song Joong Ki had signed up for a drama not long after being discharged from the military, and I was counting down the days until it aired! I didn’t expect 16 episode Descendants of the Sun (2016) to have created a new ‘Hallyu wave“, but I’m glad that Joong Ki is getting the recognition he deserves as an actor!
What’s it about?
Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong Ki) is a Captain in the special forces of South Korea. When on leave with his second-in-command and best friend Seo Dae Young (Jin Goo), he encounters the beautiful and talented doctor Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye Kyo), falling for her instantly. However, his works get in the way of their dates, causing Mo Yeon to declare the relationship over before it even has a chance to begin. Eight months later, Mo Yeon is sent to Urk (a fictional recovering war-torn nation) to lead a medical team. Having his unit detached from special forces for a short break, Shi Jin is also there on a peace-keeping mission. The two meet again, but can their relationship blossom in the unique pressures of Urk?
Once I started watching, the first thing that really drew me into this drama was the great characters, and their fantastic chemistry on screen. I like that Mo Yeon knows what she wants, she’s professional, direct, and is immensely likeable. Her resistance to Shi Jin makes sense (who on earth wants to date someone who might disappear from you with no warning and no explanation?!), and her handling of herself and her emotions makes sense throughout the drama. Likewise I really liked Shi Jin’s confidence, suaveness, and cheekiness, and there’s a lot to like in the interaction between the two. The secondary couple of the drama, Dae Young and army doctor Yoon Myeong Joo (Kim Ji Won) have their own dynamic and problems in their relationship, and Dae Young’s sincerity and sternness bounces well off Myeong Joo’s eagerness. In fact, there’s times when the secondary couple grabbed my attention slightly more than the main. Other characters that I really liked include veteran doctor Song Sang Hyun (Lee Seung Joon), veteran nurse Ha Ja Ae (Seo Jung Yeon), young doctor Lee Chi Hoon (Onew), and peacemaker doctor Daniel Spencer (Cho Tae Kwan). With all of these actors (and more!) proving their skills on screen, there’s a lot of good chemistry going on, and a lot of fun to watch!
Secondly, I really liked the humour in this drama. From Shi Jin’s jokes, to Sang Hyun’s comic over-dramatic reactions, and even the breaks in the façade of Dae Young, the comedy is always well-timed and accurate. The comedy gives this drama something a little extra, which gets you invested into it even more.
Finally, you can’t deny the cuteness and overly sweetness of this drama. There’s plenty of cute scenes between our main couple and secondary couple (and third couple?) that will melt anyone’s heart. The bromantic moments between Shi Jin and Dae Young are solid and funny, and the warming relationship between Mo Yeon and Myeong Joo also unfolds nicely. There are, of course, moments to counteract all of this sweetness, and these moments are all done extremely well. The acting, as I’ve already pointed out, is very solid in this drama, and so these extra dramatic and intense scenes are bought to life beautifully.
As much as I loved this drama and its characters, I need to point out some of its flaws. The overall pacing of the series reminded me a lot of Boys Over Flowers; a lot happens in a very short amount of time. So much so, in fact, that you know the ‘big event’ that happens in each episode is going to be wrapped up nicely without any major effects on the characters. As such, it removes a lot of the tension from the drama, and leaves the audience feeling a lot less concerned about the main characters’ welfare than they should be. A lot of the time these ‘big events’ just feel like they’re thrown in to get our main couple in situations in which (mostly) Mo Yeon needs to rely on Shi Jin to save her.
Secondly, and very strongly linked to my first point, I feel like the setting of the drama in the fictional country of Urk is underutilised. Yes, it’s pretty, and sure, it helps the feasibility of some plot points, such as the desperation during the natural disaster and the involvement of gangs, but that’s about it. I mean, the characters have zero problems using wifi and only problems making a phone call back to South Korea to talk to loved ones… let’s try and make the setting a little more important!
Finally, my only other gripe was with the last two episodes. I found the timeline to be a little bit messy and over the place, with smaller and larger time skips thrown in haphazardly to make the ending work. I get that the writers had a lot to wrap up, and, considering they only had a total of 16 episodes to deal with, I think they do a reasonable job, but it could have been handled better. I particularly didn’t like the scramble to get all of the characters to the same event in the last episode, although I did like the idea of all the characters being there.
Anything else I should consider?
The narrative of this series takes up 16 episodes, but there are also three special episodes. The first two are the ‘best’ moments of the entire series (with an obvious focus on Shi Jin and Mo Yeon’s relationship), and the third is made up of behind the scenes and cast interviews (and arguably the only one worth checking out).
Story: 7/10. A lot of cute scenes and dramatic scenes that are acted out well, but they often feel strong together with little time for the characters to reflect on the impact of different events.
Characters: 8.5/10. The four main characters and the immediate supporting cast all have great chemistry with each other and really come to life when they’re on screen and together… which makes for a lot of fun!
Descendants of the Sun does not live up to the gritty and tragic feel its title, premise, and setting give. If you’re looking for a soldier struggling against his duty for the woman that he loves, you will not find it in this drama. However, if you want a sweet romance story and plenty of laughs and cute scenes, you’ve come to the right place. Overall, I give this drama 7.5/10.