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Ji Chang-wook plays devil-may-care Yoon Gyeo-rye in a still from If You Wish Upon Me, streaming on Viu.

K-drama If You Wish Upon Me: Ji Chang-wook leads heartwarming and often cloying hospice melodrama

  • Ji Chang-wook plays a devil-may-care young man who causes a car crash with an ambulance taking a dying man to fulfil his last wish
  • He ends up doing community service at a hospice, where he meets MMA trainee Seo Yeon-joo, played by Sooyoung of K-pop group Girls’ Generation
A few short months after his charming turn as a troubled magician in Netflix’s The Sound of Magic, Ji Chang-wook is back on screens confronting a new set of personal demons in the heartwarming hospice melodrama If You Wish Upon Me.

Whereas Ji’s magician buried his pain under smiles and parlour tricks in the Netflix show, with If You Wish Upon Me’s wayward protagonist, Yoon Gyeo-rye, the pain is plain to see.

Cycling through juvenile institutions and prison sentences after a childhood in an orphanage, this young adult lives like there’s no tomorrow, spends money by the fistful and tackles just about everything else in his life with the same devil-may-care attitude.

Just released from prison at the outset of the series, Yoon is immediately chased by thugs to whom he owes money. After giving his pursuers the runaround, he picks up that money at a veterinary clinic run by an old orphanage pal – as well as Sonny, the dog that he left in his care.

The vet tells Yoon that Sonny is dying and recommends that he be put down to ease his suffering. But Yoon isn’t ready to make that decision. Instead, he opts to book the two of them into a swanky hotel suite and buy a flashy imported sports car.

As he drives his shiny new red roadster the thugs catch up with him, sparking a car chase. Happening to share the road with them at that time is an ambulance from the Woori Hospice carrying a dying elderly patient and several members of the Team Genie volunteer group, who aim to carry out the man’s last wish.

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Yoon’s driving causes an accident, which forces the ambulance off the road. Team Genie leader Kang Tae-sik (Sung Dong-il) suffers a leg injury. Kang hobbles over to Yoon’s car, yanks him out by the collar and forces him to drive them, since he can no longer do so. The unlikely group then leaves the scene of the crime.

Team Genie succeed in taking the elderly patient to the beach in his hometown on the east coast. Meanwhile, a thoroughly distraught Yoon takes Sonny in his arms and starts walking into the sea, until Kang grabs his shoulder.

This unusual episode doesn’t escape the attention of the police and Yoon is slapped with a fine. But since he hates the government he refuses to pay it, which leaves only one option: community service.

Sung Dong-il as Kang Tae-sik in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

Kang pulls a few strings and the next day Yoon shows up for duty in a gaudy shirt and jacket, kicking up dust with his speedster as he roars up to Woori Hospice, several hours late.

Yoon’s flashy attire and surly attitude don’t earn him many friends among his new colleagues, who include the kind-hearted but hard-headed MMA trainee Seo Yeon-joo (Girls’ Generation’s Sooyoung), who walks around with weights in her hands and starts her days exercising on the roof.

Only Kang senses something worthwhile in Yoon, and it doesn’t take very long for his cheery colleagues and the heart-rending cases they tend to to worm their way under his gruff exterior.

Ji Chang-wook (right) plays Yoon Gyeo-rye in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

Beyond his concealed heart of gold, Yoon appears to have some other secrets yet to be revealed.

With the debonair Ji, the sanguine Sung and the unflappable Sooyoung leading its cast, If You Wish Upon Me has plenty going for it, and so far the trio have gelled well on screen.

The story they’ve been tasked with conveying is a classic tear-jerker, though, and, given the palliative care setting where the dying have their last wishes granted and the cheery disposition of the carers and patients at Woori Hospice, the tone is treacly and cloying.

Yet If You Wish Upon Me knows exactly what it wants to be, and for the right audience – or indeed any viewer at the right moment – has a mix of ingredients that work together to good effect in certain scenes.

K-pop star Sooyoung as MMA trainee Seo Yeon-joo in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

Straddling the fine line between sentimentality and mawkishness, the show offers some familiar melodramatic tropes. Among those are Sonny, the sweet little dog whose slowing heartbeat plays with our emotions early on as the stories of different patients in their final days play out in the foreground.

However, most of the latter are given superficial treatment. While the stories of the leads will surely get fleshed out, we won’t learn much about the lives of the episodic characters we meet at the tail end of their journeys, save for nostalgic memories of snow or persimmon trees.

The missions of Team Genie, as they grant the last wishes of dying clients with sunny dispositions, are highly contrived, but even within this forgiving melodramatic formula the show’s writers opt for lazy exposition.

Yoon with his dog Sonny in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

In episode two, Yoon and Kang try to get a woman’s attention outside her home. The impatient Yoon hops over the wall and sees the woman holding and contemplating a noose, a sloppy entry into what becomes a parallel side plot.

If You Wish Upon Me looks to be pleasant and sentimental; whether its emotions are manufactured or sincere will be in the eye of the beholder.

If You Wish Upon Me is streaming on Viu.