The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do!

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf

George Orwell

Descendants of the Sun (2016)
Action,    Drama,    Romance
Written by
 Kim Eun-sook,    Kim Won-seok
Directed by
 Lee Eung-bok   &   Baek Sang-hoon
 Song Joong-ki,    Song Hye-kyo,   Jin Goo,    Kim Ji-won
Country of Origin
South Korea
16 + 3 specials

oh! brief

The kdrama follows the lives of two members (‘Big Boss’ and ‘Wolf’) of the South Korea Special Forces Brigade (fictional) Alpha Team and the lives of the people who intersect with them and in kdrama style, the women they love.

oh! talks drama

I had heard that this was a flawed kdrama and I had avoided watching it. On a whim, this past weekend I decided to throw caution to the wind and binge-watch as much as I could tolerate.

Surprise! I tolerated the entire production.

Even more surprising, I indulged myself by watching the entire production in one weekend sitting.

Breaking it down is going to be easy.

In my professional career, I have worked both in the medical field with doctors and scientists in research and innovation and the armed forces, special ops being one of my favourite assignments. I was a senior writer for both a drugs and health technologies assessment agency and the Commander (the link shows the Commander I had the pleasure of serving, he has now retired), of the Canadian Army. Keeping that in mind, the entire story probably made more sense to me than it would your ordinary kdrama audience.

I appreciated seeing a kdrama with the idea of merging special forces with international aid and humanitarian work, kind of like Tears of the Sun and one of the plots like Act of Valour. It’s never been done before and is a unique idea for kdrama. Apparently many didn’t like it and found many gaps if other reviews are to be believed. The stats and media attention tell a different story.

So, for all the naysayers, I disagree with you!

The writing for this production was researched well enough to deliver a plausible and solid story. From start to finish, even the subplots are all plausible in both medical and special forces fields. Were they delivered accurately? Not entirely. But the story and backstory are all well within the realm of possibility. The narration was good, I particularly enjoyed the humour and wit.

The things to like that the writing highlighted.

The focus of the story was not in fact on the romance, though many people seem to think it was, the focus was the friendship and relationship between two special forces agents and situations that occurred in their lives, that happened to include women they loved. You can tell this as each man makes the conscious decision, repeatedly, to follow orders, when each could have in fact chosen a different path that would have brought them full circle with their respective lovers.

The main characters, all four of them were working class people, earning wages and not dripping in wealth, prosperity, and power which is a far too common and abused plot in many kdrama.

The nail-biting scenes depicting real surgeries and life-saving special ops – all incredibly realistic, and I know a thing or two about both having watched surgeries being performed on real patients and been on the ground at military exercises and special ops exercises.

The incidents that the main characters’ face, from natural to man-made disasters are all plausible situations that have happened and received headlining attention across the globe. They’re also topical and never-before-seen in kdrama. Perhaps the portrayal could have been tighter, but given the intended audience, you can’t expect a blockbuster movie in each episode.

Sorry, that’s just not kdrama.

Perhaps there should have been fewer of those incidents allowing the director to focus on delivering more authentic scenes, but that isn’t the fault of the writer, as scripts can get cut to deliver a better production. It happens all the time.

The writing of medical procedures and depiction is relatively accurate which is unusual in kdrama which tends to go off the rails when it comes to science and accuracy of illnesses and procedures. I was quite impressed in fact, in one scene where Dr Mo Yun is pounding a patient’s chest to get the heart started before doing CPR. This is common when the heart has completely stopped, more common than people think and effective because it shocks the muscle back into pumping blood around the heart. Then CPR can be carried out effectively – there’s no point massaging the chest to get a patient breathing if the heart is dead! Think about it! This is just one authentic example, but, there is a number of them.

The writing around special ops missions was a little off-kilter. While some aspects were accurate, such as special ops agents being shot while wearing protective gear. Yes, it can put you down and knock you out being hit by multiple bullets. But the protective gear doesn’t mean you are completely shot up, the gear protects vital organs!

But, there were a few situations where things were poorly written. It’s harder to research special forces from the outside of an armed forces situation. They don’t disclose even the smallest detail and I’m not making that up! Even now, my Secret III clearance prevents me from discussing any military operations, special ops and exercises that I know of and are not publicly available. I haven’t worked for the Commander of the Canadian Army for more than a  few years!

Personally, I preferred the special ops missions and wanted to see more of that and less of the medical relief project, although the two obviously overlapped and allowed character development of all the main roles simultaneously.

The cinematography was not the greatest, considering the location and the cinematography that could have been captured. Much of the drama was filmed in Greece, so the backdrop itself was beautiful, too bad the editing wasn’t the greatest. I expected so much more and was disappointed that given the budget the cinematography aspect was lacking.

Fortunately, the accompanying music was in the capable hands of Gaemi (Kang Don-yoon), fast becoming a favourite of mine. An impressive score and a line-up of great artists who supplied great pieces to add to my growing collection of kdrama music – instrumental, ballads and trot. The musical choices helped fill in the gaps in writing, just saying! Thanks, Gaemi you’re the greatest!

The characters were well cast in this drama. They were the glue that held everything together.

Captain Yoo Si-jin (Big Boss) is the team leader of special ops Alpha Team (fictional) and has a strong military background on a special ops team in the military. He is a loyal military man, willing to sacrifice for his country and his team. But he is also a laid-back, jovial guy with a playful side. Song Joong-ki was the perfect choice for the character.

Firstly, he had just completed two years of mandatory military service and still had real-world military swagger.

Secondly, he had the physique of a uniformed officer – rippling muscles, toned abs and strength (or at least the look of strength).

But the best skill he brought to the production was his unique ability to become immersed in his character. Of course, he also has the boyish youthfulness to appeal to all those young teens swooning in front of their television screens. Personally, I find him mesmerising, and not because he looks so damned hot in uniform (yes! Yes he does!) It’s how he uses every aspect of his personality to paint the story of his character. He used his body and stance just like soldiers I personally know do, it’s all about the military experience. The control he has over his face and emotions in serious situations and then the soft playful grinning and cheeky flirtation. It’s captivating to watch. He did exceptionally well with balancing his chemistry between the relationships he was engaged in – the commanders’ he reports to, his team members, his bromance with Wolf, and of course the woman he loves. And he speaks such good English. Perfection! Could we clone him, please?

Sergeant First Class Seo Dae-young (Wolf) is an extremely loyal soldier who takes his job very seriously. He is an essential member of the Alpha Team as he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, particularly for natural disasters. This character reminds me of so many army buddies I made – there are more serious soldiers, they take their duty to their country seriously! Many were a little more serious about their job than some of the laid-back guys, sticklers for military convention and not willing to bend the rules and policies. But that’s a good thing! Jin Goo excelled in this role. He portrayed his character faultlessly, he was Wolf and he was impressive in delivering the sincere, no-nonsense army guy who had a soft side beneath the rough exterior. And he’s just as handsome and attractive in a rough, rugged way.

Dr Kang Mo-yeon (Beauty) is a cardiothoracic specialist working at Haesung Hospital. She is assertive and opinionated and believes that it shouldn’t matter who you know, your skills should be most important. She is stoic and doesn’t become overly emotional. Song Hye-kyo plays Dr Mo-yeon beautifully. She was cast well for this role. She brings her vast acting experience to bear in managing a complex character and situation, something completely new to her experience as a kdrama actress. But she skillfully delivers. I also had no clue that her command of the English language was so extensive. Awesome job!

The last leading character is First Lieutenant Yoon Myeong-ju who is an army doctor and daughter of a Lieutenant-General. She is also hopelessly in love with Wolf and it’s complicated. She is played by Kim Ji-won who I found did a good job with delivering a sincere performance. I found her character a little offensive and annoying, but that’s just me and not because the acting was bad. The acting was not bad at all!

The supporting cast was made up of great actors who delivered in each of their roles. It’s always a good thing when the cast comes together so well, especially when the director isn’t doing a great job of directing and the screenplay has gaps in either logic or plot. I liked the drama and I was delighted by the characters and their idiosyncrasies.

I must applaud Big Boss and Wolf on their bromance! These two actors were amazing at delivering their joking around, but at the same time having each other’s backs act. I respected their yin and yang – comic Big Boss and po-faced Wolf. They complemented each other and were opposite’s while being the same simultaneously. It was smooth and professional, exactly what they are. Loved the guys!

oh! sidekicks

My favourite sidekick was Private First Class Kim Ki-bum, who starts out as a thief but is ‘saved’ by good-hearted Wolf who sees something in this kid worth investing his time and money into. Maybe a flashback to himself? Played by Kim Min-seok who is just adorable and did a fine job of turning his character around and becoming a man, instead of a loser. Kudos kid!

Last to mention is Dr Lee Chi-hoon, a first-year resident and affectionately known as Spaceman by the Alpha Team Members. A situation arises during the production that leaves Dr Chi-hoon suffering from a severe case of PTSD which Onew, who played the character, pulled off with skilled intensity. Serious trauma like that faced by first responders at scenes of natural disaster can traumatise even the strongest and bravest.

Believe me, I’ve seen it. I felt compassion and empathy for Onew who, as young as he is, has likely never had to face a serious hardship or traumatic situation and yet he managed to convince me that he was suffering from PTSD. I’m also likely the only person writing reviews and opinion pieces on kdrama that will recognise the symptoms that the writer did a fair job of articulating. Job well did Onew! You did good and I completely got your character!

oh! that’s a wrap

This new type of kdrama might not appeal to the hard-core kdrama addicts, but I was enthusiastically waiting for each episode.

Maybe it was because I understood exactly what the writer was trying to expose with each new plot, having a personal history of my own with both the military and medical fields.

Maybe I just understood that the drama was more about the two soldiers than it was about the romance and was trying to be topical instead of boring. I mean, there are only so many chaebol dramas with melodramatic beauty queens and revenge plots one can stomach. Descendant’s of the Sun ,set out to be different and it was!

The writer took risks with previously disregarded but relevant subject matter. The director took risks with filming a fair portion of the drama outside of Korea and with situations never dealt with before on a kdrama. It was encouraging to see them expand themselves and try new things. This is how it will get better and broaden the range of dramas available.

I will watch this drama again, in fact, I’ll add it to my growing collection of classics.

You’ll enjoy this drama if you’re willing to look beyond the few flaws and view this drama with a new set of eyes. It’ll of course help if you happen to be a fan of any of the actors (obsessed or not) or actresses. Remember, the targeted audience for this drama is the younger generation.

oh! soundtrack

Descendants of the Sun

oh!  gallery

I have literally hundreds of images that can be added to this gallery, but these are some personal favourites, all of them I captured myself. If you use them kindly link back to my blog. It’s the right thing to do 🙂

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