“Why didn’t i know before? There are so many beautiful things in the world.”
Regrets always come late. Sometimes too late to turn things around. But nothing is ever too far gone — in exception of one-dimensional characters sans a slightest hint of conscience. Hence my pet peeve of characters saying they’ve gone too far to stop whatever plot they’re executing. Because no matter how deep they’re into the dark path, they can always stop now so as not to create further damage. Why insist on keep going when only endless regret or complete destruction awaits at the end of the road?
Or in this drama’s case, (even) when Moo-young has realized how beautiful the world is, after the fact notwithstanding? Also because that goes against his nature as a character, not to mention the drama’s spirit that’s all about redemption and second chances.
That, however, is my last gripe about this series. It lost me shortly after the midway point and i was really pushing myself to finish it despite several timeouts i gave and major spoilers i’ve seen/read of the ending, even if it was already a couple months since the finale was aired.
And that isn’t even my biggest disappointment of the show. That would be how the leads turned out less than what they had appeared to be. Moo-young showed intrigues and ulterior motives, which turns out all tease, no game. Well, he does treat life as if it’s a game and does something just because — dating Seung-ah, provoking Woo-sang, or nettling Jin-kook — without any hidden mystery behind it all. Him mentioning about Jin-kook’s past sin and meeting Jin-kang a long time ago end up not cryptic at all either: in fact, he has no idea about the former and doesn’t remember the latter.
Jin-kook came off as an observant cop and a warm brother; and while my impression of him didn’t change till the end, he did cross the line at some point which might negate his positive traits. He’s been quite hostile toward Moo-young for reasonable reasons, but i thought he might soften up upon suspecting/learning that the problematic guy was indeed the missing boy from back then. Yet, instead of trying to embrace the strayed kid, he pushes him further through the stabbing incident. Jin-kook is someone who wouldn’t have the heart to hurt a fly, but his brotherly love is strong enough to blind him. (At this stage, i questioned his burning desire to separate Jin-kang from Moo-young when he might have adopted him too and raised the two as siblings.) That when he finally softens up, it was already too late.
Then there’s Jin-kang, a seemingly smart and independent woman at the outset who turns out to be a love-struck crybaby. One thing she’s consistent about is saying things she doesn’t mean. I already lost count of her lies in the first half that i wonder how anyone can still believe her in the second half when she never keeps her word. Or listens to anyone. Literally everyone is telling her to keep her distance from Moo-young, even the kindest guy Cho-rong who deals with her cheating with grace, but she does the exact opposite. She’s so love-blind that i was itching for Jin-kook to point-blank tell her his valid reasons for opposing the relationship: because he is an accomplice to a murder who then kills her best friend!
I still can’t believe how quick she dates the guy who allegedly drove her bestie to death, or worse, how the incident seems to be the impetus. And when i thought i couldn’t deduct any more points from her, she ditches the yearly family-ritual date for an escapade with him, for which he no-shows a scheduled interrogation. What a couple. She becomes so helpless and annoyingly whiny toward the finale (case in point: her desperately banging on Moo-young’s door after being dumped) that i didn’t feel an ounce of sympathy for her at the height of the noble idiocy arc. Because that’s how Moo-young treated all of the other girls before Jin-kang; that’s the cold unnerving side of him shown to everyone else; the opaque side that intrigued me.
That’s why when the drama focused on the romance in the second half, my interest nosedived. Moo-young is interesting when enigmatic yet utterly boring once he turns out a plain apathetic guy learning how to be a good guy. There’s nothing wrong with the latter; it could actually be a nice development… in a different drama. It wasn’t the kind of male lead who lured me in. So much so that it felt like a bait and switch. Because this show built its narrative around Moo-young’s possible sociopathy… only to drop it without a trace halfway.
The double car crash was used as a plot device and the murder case investigated for more than half the series doesn’t have a proper closure. Only circumstantial evidence against Moo-young can be found and nothing against Yu-ri (if i remember correctly); he’s also accused of being the accomplice (who fed her of necessary details like the house’s lock code or the CCTV-free escape route) which is never followed through after Yu-ri confesses to the crime. How can she be convicted if she herself has no recollection of what happened that night, let alone without a smoking gun, though?
Ironically, when he’s starting to be a decent guy, he gets played and eventually pushed over the edge. Frankly, Jang Se-ran (Kim Ji-hyun) asks for it when she threatens to tell Jin-kang on him. Burning question is how Moo-young knows the gun was kept in the drawer, but the big mystery surrounding her character is her obsession with him, especially after her brother’s death. What was her real motive: trying to get him on her side or ruining him?
Which brings me to the incest angle. This part was mentioned everywhere without spoiler warning, which might contribute to my coldness to this second half. Without it, however, we could have still guessed the leads were related based on the hints dropped here and there: Jin-kang ‘adopted’ after the case no one’s talking about, Moo-young having a younger sibling, they having matching burn scars. Going by k-drama standards, they could easily be childhood sweethearts. Yet, judging from Jin-kook and Tak’s negative reaction to the two dating, there must be some kind of forbidden connection between them. Although the ultimate revelation didn’t feel like a cop-out to me, it did make me wonder what the vehement objection was for. They shouldn’t be together because his father killed her parents, even if they were each other’s pillar back then?
As for the ending, i have no words. It’s been a long while since my last ‘tragic’ drama ending; it felt so early 2000s. I’ve never understood why they had to end that way, including this one. Moo-young wasn’t hell-bent on finding his family, so i don’t understand why the revelation and his crime wrecked him so much. But you know, if he doesn’t have the will to live anymore and Jin-kang claims that she can’t live without him, then it kinda makes sense? What hurt the most is the sight of Jin-kook breaking down upon losing the one he’s treasured and protected the most.
For a melodrama, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes never really swept me away or made me cry; i never really warmed up to Moo-young and i only liked Jin-kang less by each episode. The siblings’ love was adorable (in the beginning) and the guy/girl friendship was rock solid (even if Tak wants more and Jin-kook is dense as heck). The performances were great, especially Seo In-gook who portrayed the many faces of Moo-young really well, although the plot development bored me out. Not to mention the lovelines which were all problematic.
If there’s anything to take away from this drama, though, is to listen to others’ advice. If everybody tells you to stay away from someone, then there must be a good reason why you should. And if everybody tells you to not dig deeper into something, that you are better off not knowing, don’t succumb to your curiosity and think you can handle the truth.
Director: Yoo Je-won
Screenwriter: Song Hye-jin
Production: tvN, 2018
Cast: Seo In-gook, Jung So-min, Park Sung-woong, Jang Young-nam, Yoo Jae-myung, Kim Ji-hyun, Go Min-si
Genre: Romance melodrama, Mystery, K-drama (16 Episodes)