Oh dear, The Master’s Sun, what am I going to do with you? It’s like there’s some magical force over my drama watching experience right now that’s saying that it’s impossible to have good writers and good actors at the same time. On one end I’m complaining about great writing and crappy acting (Empire of Gold) and thanks to the wonderful drama gods, I now get to complain about compelling actors being wasted on uninspired writing from the Hong Sisters.
But let’s take a step back for a second, and rather than have me rant about why this show has stomped all over my heart (because I was stupid enough to get excited) I’ll keep an open mind about all of this. It’s only episode two, and there’s plenty of time for things to go upward provided that I can swallow anymore of the children’s tales we seem to be getting. Episode one amounts to Tae-yang (Gong Hyo-jin) helping a man find “closure” with his dead lover and prevents him from marrying someone he doesn’t love, and episode two teaches a bunch of school girls to stop bullying people…maybe. Whatever it is, I’m not really interested, because there is no emotional drive to care about these side characters that are supposedly driving the episode.
This use of “mini-arches” in a rom-com makes me think back to a show that did use the narrative technique quite well, Dating Agency: Cyrano. Each arch was developed enough to establish pathos for the side characters, contribute to the growth of the main characters, and logically flow within the realm of the grand narrative for the entire drama. The Master’s Sun, on the other hand, does nothing on the list, and makes only a haphazard attempt at tying anything together with anything else. I have no idea why a good 60% of each episode is wasted on things I promptly forget when there’s so much opportunity to make the show totally about the main characters (including the second leads, who are currently non-existent). In other words, why isn’t it a show about things I actually care about?
Despite all the dark and gloomy in this drama (i.e. bleh), we still manage to have a sun. (I can have my double entendres too, Hong Sisters!) The only wonderful, fantastic, things about this show are the chemistry between Tae-yang and Joo-gun (So Ji-sub) and the acting that manifests the character onto our screens. Gong Hyo-jin is undoubtedly the life, blood, and savior of Master’s Sun, because I highly doubt I could watch it without her. She hits all the right rom-com notes through her character, and I’m happy that her mannerisms are not over the top. I’m also admittedly getting a lot of Best Love vibes from the relationship between the Tae-yang and Joo-gun (mostly because Joo-gun is really Dokko Jin’s twin brother), but I think this is the better version if you were to compare the two. There’s more fire between these two than Gong Hyo-jin had with Cha Seung-won. Since we have so much “touching” going by episode two, we’ve certainly hit the cavity inducing “rom” part of “rom-com.” However, not only is the “rom” not satisfying, the “com” is totally missing.
When I say that the “rom-com” isn’t there, I’m not saying that there is nothing in the show to indicate a romantic-comedy. There’s plenty, I promise. What this lacks is the magical zippiness that Hong Sisters dramas I used to watch had. There are plenty of moments to get our two leads together, but none of it feels natural or even logical, let alone funny and cheeky. At the end of episode two, we see Joo-gun standing around for 5 minutes just to go throw some “cruel” words at Tae-yang–and then act like he had better things to do. He also stands around to watch Tae-yang send off the high school girl ghost, but then leaves in the most abrupt way possible (after standing for what feels like two years). And then we’re supposed to believe that Tae-yang is a such a dim-wit that she would just shrug her shoulders when the car drives away (a scene that is totally unnecessary in the first place). Sure So Ji-sub and Gong Hyo-jin can give vitality to a character, something they’re already doing an awesome job of, but there’s really only so much an actor can do to make a flat character interesting.
That said, hope is not lost. I fell in love with the drama’s premise for a reason: it’s interesting and has great potential to be fast paced, funny, romantic, and all around drama comfort food. It’s for these traits that we watch rom-coms in the first place, and Master’s Sun has the potential to become a rom-com that embodies these traits—the best of rom-com—provided the Hong Sisters do a better job with the actual story building as well as the fluff.
Honestly, if I wanted a nitty-gritty drama all day every day, there are plenty of ways to get it that doesn’t involve burning oneself at the stake of bad rom-com watching. However, I go back time and time again to rom-coms (my drama list is proof), because they’re an escape to a happy fantasy where you know, in the end, everything will work out into a nice tight bow. It may not be the most stimulating of drama genres, but I think there definitely ways to put the brain in the rom-com that doesn’t sacrifice its fluidity and nonchalance (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho is one).
Master’s Sun has room to take in some intelligence, especially since I’m able to see some drama tropes called out on (like the “Candy” girl) as well as some backbone to our main leads. Joo-gun is not that annoying, rich, cold, male lead that’s obsessed with his first love. He’s only nearly all of that, except for the fact that he is a furious and spurned ex-lover that would like nothing more to gain revenge and get his money back. Tae-yang has all the qualities of a “candy” girl that are pleasant (and some unpleasant ones too,) but is able to not truly become a desperate “candy” girl: She gets left behind by Joo-gun? She moves on with her life. She needs Joo-gun to sleep properly? She pursues Joo-gun to fulfill her needs. Even though none of these “character developments” are innovative enough to truly be praise worthy, it’s nevertheless a nice and refreshing change in popular drama plot and character devices.
The bottom line? Master’s Sun is ultimately not a failure, mostly because it’s palatable. You can certainly eat the offer and not die. However, it would be nice to see the Hong Sisters get their rom-com mojo back and give their audience’s intelligence a bit more credit than they have been.