Descendants of the Sun Review
Nutshell Summary: Descendants of the Sun is a 16 episode 2016 Korean drama about about a military special forces team and a medical team who lives intersect during a peacekeeping mission. Two couples are showcased in this series. The honor and risk of service are underlying themes in this series.
1. Compelling Leading Man Lead actor, Song Joong Ki, was perfect as Officer Yoo Shi Jin. I loved this character. He was cool, funny, self-aware, charming, strong and fair leader. Shi Jin was an attractive package. He saved the girl, people, and made the world a safer place, all while being a good guy. Shi Jin appealed to women and men viewers both. The women wanted to date Shi Jin and the men wanted to be Shi Jin. This was Joong Ki’s comeback project after serving his two years of mandatory military service. Will he ever top the popularity of this character? Joong Ki had superb chemistry with every character, even the ones with limited acting ability. His romantic relationship with the leading lady was a slow build. Because he risked his life everyday, he understood his love interest’s hesitation to commit to a relationship. But they were like magnets that pulled each other together and their relationship could not be denied. I enjoyed this pair’s mutual respect for each other.
2. Likable Leading Lady. Lead actress, Song Hye Kyo, portrayed Doctor Kang Mo Yeon with a soft but strong stance. Mo Yeon evolved to connect with her humanity for others instead of the stove piped “it is about me” life. Mo Yeon was the voice of reason and caution in the romantic relationship with Shi Jin. She did not make the choice to have a romance with Shin Jin lightly. Should she get involved with a man that could die any day in the line of duty? Her heart said yes, but her brain cautioned her to say no. And she was right to be concerned. Loving Shi Jin did offer great joy but also offered a life of loneliness and fear when they were apart. Love doesn’t conquer all when you are alone and fearing for your partner’s well being. Shi Jin’s dangerous profession took him away without warning. During that time Hye Kyo’s portrayal of a woman in pain was superb.
3. Strong Second Leads. The appealing second lead was Officer Dae Young, portrayed by Jin Goo. Dae Young was Shi Jin’s fellow soldier and best friend. His romance was a forbidden one because his love was a soldier complete with a disapproving father. Dae Young was quieter, steady, and true to his convictions, with a quick sense of humor. His counterpart was Officer Yoon Myeong Joo portrayed by Kim Ji Won. She was stuck loving Dae Young who refused to break the military rules and date her. In the first part of the series this character had limited story but came into her own in the second half of the series. Ji Won’s portrayal was excellent when Myeong Joo fought a deadly virus. Dae Young and Myeong Joo’s love story spent the first of the series longing for each other but kicked into gear in the second half. It was worth the wait.
4. Rich Romance. Color me surprised that a military and medical drama had a superb romance between our leads and a solid romance between the secondary leads. Our leads were cute together delivering sassy banter, soul searching looks, and challenges to each other throughout the series. This couple had a level of maturity. Their chemistry was excellent. They respected each other. No, they did not always agree with the other’s choices, but they supported each other’s right to be individuals. Isn’t that awesome? They granted each other the right to make the best choice for them without making the other guilty. The second leads’ romance was a slower build to a solid couple. When the series started their romance was in the past. Whether to restart it was the question. Dae Young’s refused to break the rules putting Myeong Joo into a powerless position. She had to wait for him to open the door that she stood behind. But the payoff was there. Both couples took their time evolving their romantic relationships. Why rush? I enjoyed the ride with them.
5. Bromance Bliss. I love a strong relationship between male characters (aka bromance). Shi Jin and Dae Young were the perfect bromance. They supported each other, joked with each other, and were honest and direct with each other on tough topics. During their military missions, they almost didn’t need to speak with each other, they knew each other so well that glances sufficed. The chemistry between Joong Ki and Jin Goo was excellent.
6. Service was Respected. Most dramas are about individuals. Descendants of the Sun embraced service to the others. Service as a primary theme was unusual and refreshing. It provided a common thread that linked every military and medical person. United they made a terrific team. The military executed their missions to protect people or their country or both. The medical team realized helping others made them stronger people. At one point int he series, Mo Yeon wish for her graduating medical colleagues was “I hope everyone that took pledges can keep them throughout the earth and under the sun.” Mahatma Gandhi’s perspective is undeniable “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
7. Cohesive Story. The writers balanced the military and medical into a cohesive story. The first episode was nearly perfect. When they went to the foreign location the story was solid, peaking during episodes that dealt with the aftermath of the earthquake. When they returned to Korea there was a slight downturn in the story. The series was written by Kim Eun Sook (Secret Garden and The Heirs) and Kim Won Suk (The Queen’s Classroom). The writers delivered terrific banter in the form of playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks between all our characters. I’m a professed “banter-holic” and this series hit the mark for me. Descendants of the Sun was preproduced before airing, unusual was most dramas use the live-shoot production format. I think this allowed the writers for formulate a complete story and the production team to bring the drama to fruition missing some of the typical latter third of the series pitfalls many dramas have using the live-shoot format.
1. Foreign locations meant foreign actors which meant sub par acting. There were varying degrees of acting skills in our foreign actors. Some were stilted, like the bartender, and some did not have the depth of acting necessary to play their character to the fullest like Mr. Bad (David McInnis). The behind-the-scenes special stated the Urk children had never acted before. This was not a surprise. While annoying, the writers maintained the right balance so the foreign characters were secondary in the episodes. The vast majority of the episodes were not downgraded due to bad acting.
2. Okay Final Episode. Why are final episodes often lacking in dramas? This one had a strong first half as our couples resolved their issues. But after that it was a collection victory lap scenes that did not feel cohesive. In the final scene, they broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the audience. It did not add value so it came off more perplexing than positive.
3. Our leading man was Ironman. Shi Jin unrealistically avoided major injury when he should have been injured. Episode 14 was especially ridiculous, flat lining one minute then engaging in a face-off with rogue North Korean soldier the next.
Would I Recommend this Series? Absolutely. Joong Ki’s perfect portrayal of the leading man Shi Jin was the driver for the series. The lead’s romance was just that – romantic – taking it’s time and it was worth the wait. It was terrific to see a leading couple that respected each other. The secondary lead’s romance also hit the mark. The chemistry between the leads, the second leads, and the leads as a foursome was superb. The writers deftly balanced the military missions, the medical team’s deployment, and a delivered real romance between two couples. This drama isn’t perfect, but it has intangibles that mitigate many of the negatives.
The OST was released in 10 parts during the series. The compilation OST has 37 songs on two discs. I was not fond of the plain covers of the two compilation OST discs. My favorite song of the OST is How Can I Love You by Xiah Junsu. OST details are available at dramawiki. Check out the OST via the playlist link or embedded below.
Vocal Songs on Disc 1
1. Always by Yoon Mi Rae
2. Everytime by Chen featuring Punch
3. This Love by Davichi
4. You Are My Everything by Gummy
5. Come Again by Mad Clown and Kim Na Young
Vocal Songs on Disc 2
1. Say It! What Are You Doing? by K.Will
2. With You by LYn
3. Let’s Fall in Love by SG Wannabe
4. The Wind Beneath Your Wings by M.C. the Max
5. How Can I Love You by Xiah Junsu