03 May, 2013

At the Outset of the End of the World

... And it's looking pretty pretty good.  In fact, this may be one of the best television shows that I have ever had the pleasure to watch.  

The thing is, I could say that this show is all about this crazy virus outbreak, and there's this guy with these awesome logical skills and he and these other scientists figure it out this virus and there's this Typhoid Mary running around and Team Leader Kang is falling for his coworker Lee Na-hyun and things get crazy when she gets infected... and all this crazy crap.  It sounds thrilling, but that's really not what this drama is about. 

What it does do is explore human frailty, and the potentially catastrophic virus outbreak is simply the playground in which this drama showcases that weakness that we all have.

And so while there is this potentially catastrophic virus that may or may not wreak itself on the world, there are scientists that still worry about their success vs. other scientists.  A committee in charge of getting rid of the virus worries all too much about their image in the public eye, and a translation that I have been using has been bandying around the word "prudence".  When people are dying, does prudence really matter?  Does it matter that the ignorant public have a say in the dealings of this committee that is working to get rid of this horrendous issue--and is using the perfect people, whether prudent or not, to get the job done?  There always need to be rules, and prudence is helpful most of the time, but this committee is constantly letting minuscule issues (at least in comparison to the larger issue of the virus outbreak) deter the work that really needs to be done.  Thank heavens for head strong fellows like Team Leader Kang and Dr. Yoon Gyu-jin. 

In terms of protagonists, it is about Team Leader Kang's unwillingness to keep personal and professional motivations separate, even though he constantly warns his team to do so.  Team Leader Kang has a brilliant mind, but he's very human, and his temper rages and he becomes obsessive--but not without reason.  At the outset, I thought that he would actually be cold enough to follow his own advice (because in K-dramaland brilliant = no emotion right?...), but he continually acts hypocritically.  And it is wonderful.

Arguably (but not too much), the weakest of the bunch is our Eo Ki-young, our virus carrier, and our pathetic, sad, unsuspecting victim.  After I watched the first episode, I read up on Typhoid Mary, whom I have absolutely no pity for.  She was allowed to begin work again as a laundress, but decided to go back to cooking, and though she was healthy, she must have known that she was causing other to get sick and even die.  She made a conscious decision to put other people at risk, and that is despicable.  But I suppose that we'll never know, and maybe if I knew her situation better I would feel for her like I do Eo Ki-young.


The problem is, Eo Ki-young has done nothing wrong.  He sacrificed a lot, and worked aboard a horrendous ship in order to continue school, marry is girlfriend, and provide for his mother.  Those are all good things and he deserves happiness and success... but then he realizes that there is something wrong with him, and that he is causing other people to die even though he appears and feels healthy.  How screwed up is that?  And what's worse: he's treated like a criminal with police officers and citizens all on the alert to find him and hand him over to the CDC.  Eo Ki-young, though he endangers the lives of so many people, is to be pitied, just like Yoon Gyu-jin says so.  He's a victim.  He is weak, and pathetic, and sometimes he acts pretty low (that bucket full of blood anyone??), but in the end, he's more of a victim of the virus than anyone. 

And what is so great about all these characters is that they always feel like normal, real, breathing people.  Too often in K-dramas I am frustrated with characters because they react like no normal person would, whereas here, I am frustrated with most of the characters because they react with all too human tendencies.  It's not necessarily brilliant, but it is, because it is so rare in K-drama.  I think one of my favorite examples of this normality is in the sixth episode: Lee Na-hyun has been infected and is sitting on her sickbed probably sick to death at the prospect at what is about to happen to her.  Her mother calls.  She ignores it for as long as possible but answers.  They chat about mundane things, her mother notes that she doesn't sound to good, and chastises her boss for not taking better care of her.  Na-hyun repeatedly makes excuses for Team Leader Kang, and good ol' mother comes to the conclusion that he and/or she likes the other.  Na-hyun disputes this and they bicker for a little while and Na-hyun never once mentions her condition.  It's a beautifully natural scene that is both sad and humorous and I love the warmth the it exudes.  

Although the writing and the directing are to be commended for the natural way in which the characters are developed and shown, the actors and actresses should be given the utmost praise.  Yoon Je-moon and Jang Hyun-seung are just awesome.  The casting of Yoon Je-moon showed me that the makers of this show want quality, because Yoon Je-moon is no "leading" man material in terms of age or looks.  Sure, he not as attractive as a bunch of other leading men, but he hardly over or underacts, and I'm so pleased to see him in a role that really allows him to quietly, and naturally, shine.  I've noticed him in a bunch of his other roles, but this is the only one that I've seen that isn't stuck in some preconceived K-drama character mold.  And I'm impressed.  Even a trendy loving friend of mine that wanted to strangle Yoon Je-moon after his part in King 2 Hearts has fallen head over heels for him in this drama despite her initial reservations.  He's wonderful.

And Jang Hyun-seung.  Oh Jang Hyun-seung.  Jang Hyun-seung who I have been watching in last year's A Wife's Credentials and didn't even realize that he was in that drama and in this one.  Why?  Because he's so believable in both, and so completely and totally different.  In A Wife's Credentials he's despicable to his wife, bad tempered,  and a complete and worthless suck-up with big words and hardly any values to back them up.  (Granted, I'm only through the first six episodes currently so my opinion could change.)  But here, he's a magnificent human being.  Empathetic, brilliant, and generous, he's really very wonderful--though obviously flawed as every character here is.  But watching Jang Hyun-seung play these two characters shows me that he is by far one of the best Korean actors in the industry.  Too bad he doesn't always get these wonderfully layered characters to work with.  All I have to say is thank you Ahn Pan-seok.  Thank you so very much.  

All the other actors and actresses are doing their jobs admirably, in particular Kim Yong-min as the desperate, confused, and angry Eo Ki-young.  And Jang Kyung-ah's Lee Na-hyun is interesting.  She's quiet and intelligent, and she is not at all your usual clumsy, golden hearted K-drama heroine.  She is a strong individual and though quiet and seemingly meek, she's pretty tough and straightforward.

Speaking of which, Lee Na-hyun and Team Leader Kang... are the sweetest thing.  I actually started this series thinking that there wouldn't be any sort of love line, which is completely fine.  In fact, I thought that I would prefer it that way... until somewhere in the second or third episode there was some subtle moment, a look, a bit of dialogue--I honestly don't remember what it was--but there was no slow motion, no dramatic music, no nothing.  I had to watch it again to make sure that it actually happened and I knew that there was something between our leads and that something had to develop.  It felt so natural.  The two have a lot of respect for each other and they support each other.  But they are also fiercely strong individuals.  I love that Na-hyun made him promise, whether he has feelings for her or not, that he would never do anything stupid in her name.  Well, he already did, but hey, he doesn't seem to understand his feelings as much as we do.  I love seeing a couple in a K-drama that get along, compliment each other in character attributes, encourage each other, and are complete equals.  Also, I am loving how realistic her manner of dress is (though this seems to be a pretty prevalent attribute of Ahn Pan-seok dramas), and how she doesn't seem to wear makeup.  I'm sure that there's makeup, but she looks pretty barefaced. 

Overall, the editing, cinematography, music queues etc., have been excellent.  And I have to mention the super freaky ship scenes.  Ugh.  I literally cried myself to sleep after watching the first episode late one night, and it's because of the freaky ship scenes.  (Oh, and that fantastically horrific scene when Ki-young goes into an apartment to search for his friend and the camera slowly follows him as he limps to and opens every door off of the main room in a clockwise manner and then finds the dead, rotting corpse of his friend in the bathroom may have helped... just a little bit.) Anyhow, is anyone else getting the idea that the virus causes some psychological issues as well?  It's only been hinted at during the ship scenes... with the bloody tools and all that used for bludgeoning... but nothing has really happened with any of the patients that were infected inland.  I'm not so sure, but I'm dreading it if it comes into play in the latter half.  Oy.  I'm going to be crying and freaking out a lot.  I tell you, I don't do well with horror.  I say this as someone who squirms the entire way through Jurassic Park and even had a hard time Warm Bodies.  Yeeeeeaaaah. 

I am now at the halfway point (and waiting for subs), and this show has been everything that I could hope for and far more.  The drama was cut 8-episodes, but I have complete faith that this amazing team will end this drama in the same excellent vein that it began and has developed in.  

This kind of excellence is what I search for in K-drama, and is what keeps me watching.  It's rare, but it's worth it. 


  1. Okay, this has convinced me for sure. I will watch with you sometime soon!

  2. i know everyone is raving about this (esp Mr X) but I cannot bear to watch another medical drama. I am on the other hand trying to find the courage to watch A Wife's Credential. the first episode is beautiful and I totally that my heart will be shattered soon.

  3. So addicting, this show. I like the movie quality. It was funny when I watched the first episode: I had to reset my brain and turn off the automatisms that go with "watching a K drama." I'm still bummed about the cut cause bad ratings... I tell myself I have 6 more eps to see. I know it has finished airing but I don't want to be spoiled for the ending of that one: I expect a bang. ;)

  4. Yes, we'll watch it again once all the episodes are subbed.

  5. That's how I feel about sageuk right now, and am unable to make myself continue with "War of the Flowers". Ugh. It's just too intense right now.

    I'm watching "A Wife's Credentials" (just finished ep seven last night) and it breaks my heart. And it's just going to get worse!! It's a wonderful drama, but since a lot of the issues hit closer to home, I find it much more difficult to watch than "The End of the World". And it makes me a lot more angry, lol. I'll probably post about it sometime soon.

  6. Seriously!! I keep having to tell people that it's a K-drama--but it's not really a K-drama. I was really bummed about it too, but it didn't worry me because I know that it will go out with a bang, maybe even more so because there were less episodes. I have no idea how things are going to turn out, but I am preparing to be blown away.

  7. I wish I could say I only squirmed during Jurassic Park. I screamed, hid behind the doorway-like openings in the hall, cried; I pretty much just stood as far away from the television as possible while still being able to see the screen and hear what was going on. (Speaking of, I covered my ears quite a lot too...) So, even though this drama sounds amazing (and I absolutely love humanism dramas- I'm kind of obsessed) I don't think I'll be able to watch it, unless I watch it in the mornings or midday. It just has to be daylight. I might see if my mother will spare time and watch this with, since I'm such a scaredy-cat. And since I'm and idiot, Thanks for introducing me to this drama and writer.

  8. LOL, I saw Jurassic Park in 3D a few weeks ago and it started, my fists clenched, and all the childhood memories began rushing back and it was everything I could do to just sit there with my eyes open and not run out the movie theatre. I could not believe that I actually agreed to go. (!!!)

    The scary scenes are decently brief and it's more intense than scary most of the time, so if you possibly can WATCH IT. It's so good. I've been discussing the drama with a public health studying friend, who almost only watches trendies (that I sort of scoff at--*whoops*), and she sent me a text the other day "I want a sticker to put in the middle of the screen 'This is Public Health'... seriously. This drama IS my program." Yeeeaah... It's good stuff. And if you can get your mother to watch then YAY! In fact, that's awesome that your mum will watch dramas.

  9. Wow this is just a beautiful description of a show! Now I really want to see this show, but I'm worried I'll be unable to sleep after I do! Maybe I can convince a few friends to watch it with me in the BROAD daylight because this show sounds like it would be the type to get into my mind and let my mind do the work of coming up with all the creepy things going on. Which is awesome as it is terrfying.

  10. Thank you! ^_^ Yep, I definitely had a case of the mental freaks after the first episode: I had to make sure that my ears were covered (not easy since I have a pixie cut), and that my blanket was tucked in under my feet--because weirdly enough, that what always helps when I'm trying to sleep after watching something disturbing. It's too bad that it was so good and I just sat there forever replaying the entire episode in my head until I finally fell asleep. Do whatever you need to do in order to watch it! I don't mean to be pushy, but it is so good. ^^

  11. No I really will! It just means I need power in numbers and daylight and time to watch a happy movie before I fall asleep, but I feel like this show is worth all of that work!

  12. She actually doesn't, not really, but then again, she's not a huge fan of television period. She does enjoy things that explore human emotion though, or are just well written. Or a Disney movie / any-film-I-worshipped-in-my-childhood type of film. (i.e. Barney's Great Adventure: The Movie which I was obsessed with in my childhood and still almost cry at the opening car scene because of overwhelming nostalgia.) My mother and I really enjoy children's movies, what can I say?

  13. That wasn't my intention, but great! Making people's days are my cup of banana milk. Eh, eh? Get it? OTL I'm not very good at intentionally making people laugh, but apparently I'm really funny by just doing/saying things a certain way. My mom literally prefers watching me over whatever movie is on because I'm more interesting than it. Apparently, I'm very expressive with my face and it's entertaining. I don't get it, but I did win 2 bucks one because some person betted that they could count how many faces I made in a sentence. Needless to say, I won. I spent it on candy at the concessions stand during a school sports event.