I pretty much rolled out the red carpet for The Master’s Sun with a whole lot of hope and nary a shred of restraint. I want to love it because I’m jonesing for that feeling of being swept up in a story. Call it a drama addicts high, if you will. Rom-coms are the easiest place to get that fix because narratively its got a built in advantage in that its headed towards happily ever after. The return of the Hong sisters after last year’s critically and ratings panned Big premiered today already leading the pack if live ratings are to be believed. Did the actual product actually live up to the promotional promise and fan excitement for it? It was a dodgy hit-and-miss for me, with a ghostly mythology lacking any semblance of supernatural internal logic and the plot lines manipulative and based wholly on coincidence and more coincidence. So in short – the writing kinda sucks. It’s like the Hong sisters thought their concept was 90% of the end product and then didn’t have a good way to execute it so just did took the easy way on every plot point.
So what’s good about it? PD Jin Hyuk does tonal shifts fantastically with a keen eye on setting the mood so he effortlessly brings this story from scary to quirky to melodramatic without any bumps in the viewing. The leads are fantastic as expected, So Ji Sub is more relaxed than I’ve seen him in years and he appears to be bouncing off of Gong Hyo Jin’s expertly perfect turn as a girl who can see ghosts. She’s the acting star of this drama right off the bat and pulls out every bit of arsenal at her acting disposal and effortlessly breathes life into her Taeyang. I know my track record with the Hong sisters, if they can convincingly build up a gripping emotional journey for the two leads, this drama will work for me in some capacity and I’ll be happily along for the ride. Episode 1 could have been better but doesn’t wholly suck. That’s about as short and sweet an opinion I can give on the start of the TMS ride.
Episode 1 recap:
It is a dark and stormy night. Hur, I can’t believe I get to use this sentence in earnest in a recap. Tae Gong Shil (I’ll use her nickname Taeyang which means the sun) is cleaning the apartment lobby when the landlady asks her to clean a certain room which constantly has new tenants. Taeyang looks uncomfortable doing it but trudges upstairs.
Taeyang enters the empty room and looks around fearfully. She turns on the lights and starts cleaning when suddenly the lights turn off. She can see a ghostly presence hovering in the corner.
The ghost zooms towards Taeyang and she scrambles out of the room and runs down the hallway. She runs up to the roof and into a small room. Taeyang holds the room door shut and yells for the ghost to go away.
The door stops moving and Taeyang sits down, only to turn around and see the ghost right behind her. The ghost looks scary at first and then the face morphs into that of a halmoni. I’m not sure why ghosts can go from freaky demons to pale versions of their alive human face at will. Other than to be scary when needed and sad and sympathetic when required.
Taeyang, wearing a white raincoat, walks into a home in the countryside that is currently having a wake. She looks at the picture and it’s the same halmoni ghost. Taeyang scares the homeowners with her white raincoat and downcast head.
Taeyang walks over and hands them a packet, saying its from their deceased halmoni. It’s a bank deposit book and the son opens it and is shocked at how much money is in it. Taeyang says the halmoni’s wish is to use it to pay for the funeral expenses and pay off any debt.
Taeyang then seems possessed by the halmoni and grabs the son by the scruff of his neck and yells that he better not gamble again or else she’s cut his entire hand off and not just a finger. The son starts to fight with the rest of the family over the money. Taeyang walks away and sees the halmoni ghost outside looking in. The ghost nods and then disappears.
Joo Joong Won (I’ll use his nickname Joogun which means the master) is sitting in the house of a homeowner trying to persuade the guy to sell. The man won’t sell because he’s convinced his dead wife’s spirit is still in it. He points to a white rose placed before his wife’s picture and says that her favorite flower wilted when he agreed to sell and bloomed again when he changed his mind.
Joogun scoffs at his superstition. He walks over to the flower and picture and tells the dead wife to make the flower move right now if she doesn’t want to sell. Nothing happens as Joogun snips the rose, but he glimpses for a second that the wife’s eyes in the picture widen. Joogun makes the guy sign.
Joogun leaves and the man races out to yell at him for being a heartless bastard who doesn’t acknowledge what cannot always be explained. He cautions Joogun that he will get struck down by lightning for being such a bastard. Joogun walks into the rain and welcomes the lightning strike but nothing happens, because Joogun only believes what he can see.
Joogun and his driver are driving back in the pouring rain. His driver asks if Joogun isn’t scared of ghosts and he isn’t since humans are even scarier. They pass Taeyang standing by the roadside trying to flag them down. Joogun tells the driver to keep going but suddenly the driver brakes when he sees a flash of light and Taeyang gets in.
Taeyang explains a halmoni told her to wait there and a car will come. The driver teases that the halmoni must be a ghost to know and Taeyang says softly that she was a ghost but of course her words are taken as a joke.
She sees Joogun’s contract and asks if he’s president of Kingdom Group. When she touches him there is a frisson of energy that both feel. Turns out she lives near Kingdom Mall but Joogun wants her dropped off around here and not take her all the way back to Seoul.
Taeyang suddenly sees a ghost in the road and screams, which causes the driver to brake. The ghost is suddenly in front of Taeyang and she turns to grab Joogun’s arm and the ghost vanishes. Joogun pushes her away.
They stop at a rest stop and Taeyang goes to the bathroom and looks at her hand in confusion, remembering how the ghost disappeared when she touched Joogun. We see the ghost standing outside the ladies room and Taeyang grimaces before heading out. Joogun sees Taeyang squatting and pouring a cup of soju and talking to no one in particular. She takes a sip and laughs that she was just complimented for being pretty.
Taeyang sees Joogun standing there and runs after him. The ghost chases after Taeyang and she grabs Joogun’s arm and the ghost disappears.
Joogun chastises her for grabbing him explaining that the two things he loathes are people touching his money or his body. Earlier he cut off a rose for getting in the way of his money. Taeyang smiles and keeps stroking his arm, explaining that she was scared because an ahjusshi chased her but he’s gone when she touched Joogun’s arm. He thinks she’s daft and tells her to go drink with the ghostly ahjumma and ahjusshi then. Joogun shows her his ability to run away from annoying people.
The driver pulls up and Joogun removes her hand from his arm and then gets into the car alone before driving off and leaving Taeyang there. She runs after him and then stops and sighs. Joogun looks at the seat next to him and finds Taeyang’s white raincoat. He picks it up and sees that she has a white rose cut off at the tip. He remembers the white rose he cut off at the homeowner’s house. He tosses the rose out of the window.
A man in a white raincoat is digging at a plot of land. He gets frustrated and yells where is it? Suddenly a ghost zooms down from the tree above him. Taeyang wakes up in bed having dreamt that scene.
Joogun watches a video about top model Tae Yi Ryung getting married soon at his Kingdom mall. He walks through the mall with his employees and tells them to make it big and film enough footage for CFs since he’s paying for it. Joogun gets an anonymous envelope with a picture of Yi Ryung’s fiancée next to a bride with her face scratched off.
Yi Ryung is preparing for the wedding and asked about whether to invite Tae Gong Shil. Yi Ryung scoffs that they weren’t close.
Taeyang walks up the stairs and freaks out when she comes across two little boys. They are human and holding up cans. Taeyang takes them to the roof and feeds them food. They think she’s weird and she explains that she got in an accident and since then has been plagued by creepy things.
Taeyang remembers being a secretary and bringing tea and seeing a dead guy next to the guest and her freaking out. Taeyang remembers being on a date and almost kissing a guy when a ghost shows up behind his head. Taeyang remembers being a taxi driver and having a ghostly passenger get in. She runs through the city and passes by a ghost. She looks around wondering where she can find a place to rest.
A little boy suggests she find a man to protect her and Taeyang flashes back to Joogun.
Joogun brings the defaced picture to Yi Ryung’s fiancé and asks him about it. The guy says the girl was his former girlfriend and reveals that he still wears a bracelet she gave him. Taeyang is at the office of Kingdom Group and sneaks in after seeing the driver walk out. She walks up to the conference room where Joogun sits inside talking with the fiancée. She sees the back of the head of a girl sitting next to the fiancée.
The girl is a ghost and zooms in to stare at Taeyang, who screams and runs away. Taeyang is hiding but a ghostly leg descends down behind her. Taeyang stares at the fiancée and the ghost stares at him as well. She asks the ghost if all she needs to tell him is that it was buried under the tree.
Taeyang sees the fiancée about to get in the elevator and she rushes behind him, when suddenly Joogun walks up and grabs her by the hair. He asks who she is and realizes it’s Taeyang. Joogun walks away and Taeyang asks if he doesn’t remember her?
Taeyang and Joogun talk in the mall and Taeyang keeps trying to touch him and he keeps dodging her hand. She wanted to see him again and he asks if she’s a golddigger? He offers her a ride out of here, her choice of either am ambulance or police car. Taeyang says neither, she’s been in both before. Taeyang takes her leave since she’s fully able to commiserate the pain of being followed by someone not welcome.
Joogun’s aunt Joo Sung Ran and uncle Do Seol Chul have dinner and chat. They check out a picture on the phone and turns out Joogun’s dad is in Spain and has a hot new girlfriend. Uncle notes that Joogun is nothing like his dad and never has any interest in women. Uncle thinks that Joogun’s past will make it hard for him to ever get married.
Joogun sits at home and searches the web. Suddenly he gets dizzy when all the letters blur together. He takes off his glasses.
Kang Woo is getting shown his apartment by the same landlady that asked Taeyang to clean the apartment earlier. She tells him that the roof is open for laundry. Kang Woo walks up to the roof and sees Taeyang sleeping on a chair with sunglasses on. He goes to take down the sheets when Taeyang wakes up and thinks he’s a ghost and pushes him.
Kang Woo falls on his butt and gets up. Taeyang helps him with the sheets and explains that a halmoni used to live there but is gone now so he can stay there peacefully. Kang Woo jokes that she seemed like a cat sunning as she slept.
Taeyang makes a cute meow. Kang Woo leaves and Taeyang smiles at him. She suddenly sense something and turns around and the ghost girl is behind the sheet.
Yi Ruyng and her fiancée are taking wedding pictures for the media and discussing his potential move to a new agency. Yi Ryung and her fiancée go talk in private. She’s annoyed he’s not into it and calls themselves Korea’s David and Victoria Beckham. He would rather stay true to his start as a soccer player before being a star now.
Suddenly the mirror shifts and when it moves back in place, the ghost is reflected in the mirror instead of Yi Ryung and the fiancée appears to see it. He tries to walk away but looks back at the ghost walking through the mirror and facing Yi Ryung.
The fiancée talks with his manager while at a soccer field and asks him to keep looking for the girl. He sees the picture again and reads the words on the back. He flashes back to being with a girl and burying a box under the tree. She hands him a bracelet with a key on it and teases that if he ever left her she’ll use this on him. He teases back that he would never leave her. The fiancée leans against the goal post looks sad.
Taeyang is in the parking garage by Joogun’s car. She runs into the driver and hands him something to hand to Joogun. She hears footsteps and runs away.
Taeyang sits under the tree and sees in the distance the Kingdom mall. Suddenly Joogun shows up behind her and she scrambles up. He hands her back the paper which is a drawn picture of a girl asking to meet under the tree. He thinks this girl is threatening Yi Ryung’s fiancée now. Taeyang says no, the girl just wants to convey her heart to him.
Taeyang tells Joogun that the girl in this picture is dead. We see the fiancée sitting in a bar drinking alone and the ghost is behind him. He looks at the picture and takes a drink. Taeyang tells Joogun that the girl only ever wanted to protect the fiancée.
Taeyang hands him back the picture and Joogun tears it apart and tosses it into the air before walking away.
Taeyang walks down the street and sees a man sniffing a wad of cash and recognizes him as the son who got the money from the dead halmoni. He is going to gamble and Taeyang tries to stop him reminding him what the halmoni said. He angrily tells her dead people’s words don’t matter and to mind her own business!
Taeyang walks to the train platform to catch a train and sees the dead girl on the other platform watching her. The train passes and the ghost is gone and then suddenly she is next to Taeyang. Finally she’s had enough and yells at the ghost to leave to her alone! The other passengers stare and Taeyang runs off crying.
Joogun is having dinner with the fiancée and the manager and hears the manager say he saw the girl recently lurking around. He remembers Taeyang saying the girl is dead.
Kang Woo answers the phone and promises to keep watching the situation. Taeyang sees an envelope on her door and it’s a wedding invitation for Yi Ryung’s wedding at the Kingdom Mall.
Wedding preparations are underway and Joogun walks around making sure everything is ready. He orders that everything be done bigger and better. Yi Ryung primps in front of the mirror.
Taeyang goes to the memorial hall where the dead girl’s ashes are being kept and she takes out a box, which looks like the box she buried in the ground with the fiancée.
Taeyang walks through Kingdom Mall holding the box and Joogun and his driver spot her. He orders Taeyang to be removed. The call goes to the security room where Kang Woo happens to be a security guard.
Yi Ryung is sitting with all her former classmates and friends and wonders where Taeyang is? Turns out Tae Gong Shil was Big Taeyang in school while Tae Yi Ryung was Little Taeyang. Yi Ryung hears that Taeyang is a weirdo now. Taeyang shows her wedding invitation to the security guard and gets in because she actually is on the guest list. The Uncle sees her and Joogun is told that Taeyang is actually an invited guest.
Taeyang walks into the waiting room where the fiancée is waiting alone. His eyes widen when he sees the box in her hands. He asks where his ex-girlfriend is and why she’s not here? He asks if they want money from him!
He grabs the box out of her hands. He screams and tosses the box to the ground saying all he wants is to see her! The box opens and inside is a pair of soccer cleats. Taeyang tells him that the girl is dead. She died after they parted and she is here today to relay the girl’s real feelings for him.
Yi Ryung is nervously waiting for her groom to arrive when she’s told that he’s gone. Joogun goes to the security room and hears the truth from the manager that the ex-girlfriend is dead. He realizes the manager has been manipulating the fiancée.
Taeyang sits with the girl ghost under the tree and they both look towards the Kingdom mall. Her fiancée’s picture is on a soccer ad on top of the mall.
The girl sits in her hospital room and cries as she looks at the picture of her and the fiancée. She says that she misses her. Turns out that she walked out of their little wedding and lies that she was just playing with him. She tells him to go play soccer in Europe and dumps him.
The fiancée is wearing the soccer cleats and walks towards the tree. A flashback to when they were dating when she picks him up and puts the cleats around his neck.
The fiancée walks towards the tree and the ghost walks towards him. He reaches out his hand and a flashback when she put a ring on him at their little private wedding. He raises his hand and she reaches for him.
He leans in to kiss her like he did at their wedding but this time he passes right through her ghostly form. He reaches out to touch the tree and cries that he misses her. Taeyang watches them and cries.
The ghost touches his shoulder and he seems to be able to feel her. He turns around and sees her and they smile at each other. The camera pulls back and we see Taeyang watching the fiancée and Joogun watching her. She turns around and sees Taeyang and glares at her.
The fiancée walks back into the wedding where there are tons of screaming fans. He punches out his manager.
The fiancée tells Yi Ryung that he can’t marry her and won’t be a star and will continue to play soccer. He says that he still loves another woman. She cries, tosses her bouquet at him, and then slaps him. The fiancée talks with Joogun that he already had a real wedding before and holds up the wedding picture with the dead girl. Joogun thinks he’ll regret this. The fiancée says he has a message for Joogun from Taeyang.
Joogun goes to Taeyang’s apartment to look for her and finds her sitting out on the rooftop. She’s got a bucket of clothes with suds that are blowing bubbles at her.
Joogun flashes back to his conversation with the fiancée. A flashback to a young Joogun screaming as a girl sits by a car which then blows up. The fiancée told Joogun that Taeyang says when someone dies but lives on in the heart, that person will remain by the side. She sees that next to Joogun.
Joogun grabs Taeyang up and shakes her and asks what she sees next to him. Taeyang is simply exhausted and mumbles that she wants to sleep next to him.
Taeyang falls into Joogun’s arms and falls asleep.
Thoughts of Mine:
My biggest gripe with the writing in TMS is how sloppy it is in constructing the internal logic of this supernatural tinged tale. I wholly dislike the fact that ghosts in this story can morph from freaky to normal looking without any rhyme or reason, other than to scare Taeyang (and the viewers) when required and then turn into sad souls in need of help and serve tell a quickie moral tale. Joogun’s view that humans are scarier than ghosts will clearly be the overarching theme of this story, so why work in all the disgusting spectral special effects which especially makes no sense since if Taeyang can see them for many years now and always accepts they are harmless and are asking for help. I love that she’s a sleepless and reluctant ghost seer but I already see the writing as writing towards plot devices rather than feeling organic to the story. I’m also disappointed at the bajillion coincidences it took for Taeyang to quickly meet Joogun and then for him to learn her ghostly sight ability when he seems to need to communicate with a dead former love. At least Jin Yi Han’s cameo wasn’t wasted here in having him play a potential douchebag, and instead he was the heartbroken one who is still pining over a lost love rather than an opportunistic creep.
The best part of this drama so far are the two leads. So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin elevate the haphazard and much too obvious writing and make it feel calm and natural. There is a grounded comfort in their acting that takes even the most extreme of characters, from Joogun’s cold heartless personality to Taeyang’s ghost seeing walking zombie, and makes it come alive. They aren’t caricatures even if their characters are mostly written as one. The Hong sisters really lucked out here with the casting. I think everyone is doing well but the second leads Seo In Guk and Kim Yoo Ri don’t make any impact thus far to help or hurt this drama. I do hope each episode tones down the ghost-of-the-week stories that are meant to be moral tales. Episode 1 already did piety and longing, but I can do without such ham-fisted lecturing wrapping in dearly departed last minute lessons. Despite all the drawbacks that jumped out at me, I did enjoy the first episode more or less. The pace was very slow, even slower than the first episode of Big which I loved with its moodiness, and definitely nothing like the typical Hong sisters’ mile-a-minute start out of the gate. I’m sad its not a love at first sight for TMS but I’m in it with a tempered expectation that ought to be able to sustain me for the duration of its run.