Korean drama reviews
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Ji Chang-wook as Yoon Gyeo-rye in a still from If You Wish Upon Me. This hospice drama about an ex-convict has lost its way in recent episodes.

K-drama midseason recap: If You Wish Upon Me – bland hospice drama starring Ji Chang-wook employs tired tricks to tug at heartstrings

  • Korean drama series about an ex-convict is let down by trite plot devices, predictable character arcs and an avoidance of messy issues that render it bland
  • A lazy attempt to manipulate viewers’ emotions, the cloying scenes of hospice patients and the protagonist’s dog dying are no substitute for strong storylines

This article contains mild spoilers.

When the heartwarming hospice drama If You Wish Upon Me kicked off its run last month, the Korean series seemed at first to be a redemption story about the wayward Yoon Gyeo-rye, a recently released jailbird played by Ji Chang-wook, star of the romantic comedy series Backstreet Rookie.

Gyeo-rye retrieves a bag of money following his release and immediately begins to evade the criminals trying to take it. This path leads him to Kang Tae-sik (Sung Dong-il) and his Team Genie volunteer group at Woori Hospice, where Gyeo-rye winds up doing community service.

Compared to the cheery optimism of the Team Genie members, Gyeo-rye’s misanthropic attitude at first raises eyebrows, but before long the good in him shines through.

As well as getting close to the dying patients whose final wishes Team Genie tries to grant, he also steadily develops a romantic attachment to the plucky Nurse Seo (Choi Soo-young of K-pop girl group Girls’ Generation).

We know Gyeo-rye has had several stints in jail and other reformatory institutions and that he feels guilt about things in his past, which is made crystal clear when he contemplates dying in the ocean in an early episode. Yet as the series has gone on, it becomes less clear if what we are watching is truly a redemption story.

If You Wish Upon Me: Ji Chang-wook leads heartwarming K-drama

Gyeo-rye dresses like a gangster, but beyond loud shirts and being a profligate spender he doesn’t really behave like one.

It becomes obvious over time that his behaviour is mostly the macho masquerade of a troubled young man in a great deal of pain.

We’ve seen this type of character before, and as such we can more or less anticipate his changes of heart. The writers employ the familiar technique of flashbacks to fill the audience in, piece by piece, on what makes him tick.

Choi Soo-young as Nurse Seo in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

Its repeated use of such plot devices, which have been employed by TV shows time and again, demonstrates that the writers and producers of If You Wish Upon Me never aspire to originality. This makes it easy-going television, but by avoiding messy subjects almost entirely it’s also a bit bland and insipid.

The show’s most effective motif, particularly as it relates to Gyeo-rye, has up to now been the beloved cooking of Team Genie chef Yeom Soon-ja (Yang Hee-kyeong). She makes hearty everyday dishes which are not only delicious, but restorative for those who eat them.

All season long the kindly cook has been trying to get Gyeo-rye to eat her food, but he normally walks away without trying a morsel while his new colleagues busy themselves at the dinner table.

Sung Dong-il (left) as Kang Tae-sik, and Ji Chang-wook as Yoon Gyeo-rye, in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

Resolute, Soon-ja makes Gyeo-rye her project, and decides she will keep making different dishes for him until she’s found the one that opens his heart.

The thing is, she actually found it on the first go when she made him a plate of curry, a meal that connects with an important moment in his past, but it’s that very connection that makes him dismiss the food. By not indulging in Soon-ja’s cooking, Gyeo-rye is denying himself pleasure.

The other major symbol of Gyeo-rye’s guilt is his small dog Sonny, who is dying of cancer and may be in pain. In episode eight, we learn that Sonny was abandoned by a careless young YouTube couple, who bought him as a cute puppy and discarded him when he had served his purpose.

11 new Korean drama series to look out for in September 2022

Animals are generally an easy way into the audience’s heart, but If You Wish Upon Me wanders into mawkish territory when it devotes part of the episode to Sonny’s last moments. Team Genie has put together a video of various landscapes for the dog, which he watches on a big outdoor screen before dying in Gyeo-rye’s arms.

Sonny’s death may have been a trifle manipulative, but at least the canine presented a semblance of a story for us to latch onto. The stories of the various patients that Team Genie look after are given far less attention.

Early in the show, these characters were presented as episodic protagonists and we even got to know a thing or two about them, but after a while their stories were boiled down to saccharine scenes of their last wishes.

Ji Chang-wook as Yoon Gyeo-rye in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

In the same episode that Sonny dies, a former zookeeper who we know nothing about is briefly reunited with a giraffe. It’s an image that’s designed to be cute and emotional but – as it is built on nothing and leads nowhere – it rings completely hollow.

Ji, Sung and Choi’s performances make the characters enjoyable to watch, but they’re stuck in a show that coasts along on autopilot, playing on our emotions without ever giving us any food for thought.

If You Wish Upon Me is streaming on Viu.