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Ji Chang-wook as lead character Yoon Gyeo-rye in a still from If You Wish Upon Me, a Korean drama series set in a hospice that also stars Sung Dong-il and Choi Soo-young.

Review | K-drama review: If You Wish Upon Me – hospice drama starring Ji Chang-wook ends season with new beginnings

  • K-drama If You Wish Upon Me, starring Ji Chang-wook and Sung Dong-il, concludes where the series began – at the beach and fulfilling a patient’s last wishes
  • Though it started strong, the show’s contrived plot, sentimental send-offs and lack of development for some characters means it ultimately fails to deliver

This article contains spoilers.

3/5 stars

Hospice melodrama If You Wish Upon Me has spent a lot of time showing us the end of life’s journey – admittedly through rose-tinted glasses.

With the help of the Team Genie volunteer group at Woori Hospice, patients have been able to see their last wishes fulfilled before gracefully shuffling off their mortal coils.

These last wishes have often involved going back to earlier, happier moments in their lives. Some patients, including the first we met in the opening episode and the last in this week’s finale, opted to go to the sea.

Beginning and ending by the ocean, If You Wish Upon Me reminds us that it is not merely an end-of-life drama, it is a cycle-of-life one, too.

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We met many of the elderly supporting characters in the series at the end of their journeys but for some people, like lead Yoon Gyeo-rye (Ji Chang-wook), life is just beginning.

Gyeo-rye was a bitter and wayward young man when we met him. Newly released from prison and with a bag of money in hand and thugs on his tail, he soon found himself in a car chase and crash – at which point Team Genie leader Kang Tae-sik (Sung Dong-il) forced him to drive an ambulance to a beach to carry out an old man’s last wish.

There, his dog Sonny in his arms, Gyeo-rye seemed ready to end it all in the sea – but Tae-sik stopped him and this moment became something of a beginning.

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

Gyeo-rye reluctantly joined Team Genie and slowly began to open up to his colleagues and become sensitive to the needs of their clients.

The show had more surprises in store – we realised that not only had we witnessed the start of Gyeo-rye’s redemption story, we had joined Tae-sik midway through his own.

Tae-sik is the beating heart of Team Genie, always eager to lend a hand or an ear. But behind his crinkly smile was a long story of woe, filled with tragedy and bad decisions.

Nam Kyung-joo as Gyeo-rye’s father, Yoon Ki-chun, in a still from If You Wish Upon Me.

Tae-sik, who had escaped his own downward spiral and turned his life around by using his wealth to fund Team Genie, realises that Gyeo-rye’s father, Yoon Ki-chun (Nam Kyung-joo), was a criminal that Tae-sik had previously worked with.

An even more contrived connection to the past manifests itself when a mystery comatose patient at the hospice is revealed to be Ki-chun himself.

At first, Gyeo-rye’s father appears to be suffering from amnesia. When his memories trickle back in, he appears to have turned over a new leaf. This illusion does not last for long and he is soon back to his old tricks, manipulating the people around him.

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Everything comes to a head one evening at Woori Hospice, as Ki-chun steals the building’s supply of morphine. Tae-sik, who is by now very ill – his cancer has returned with a vengeance – Gyeo-rye and nurse Seo Yeon-joo (Girls’ Generation singer-songwriter Choi Soo-young) are all present for this explosive climax to the story.

This sequence spells the end for Ki-chun and it is another key moment for Gyeo-rye, who can finally move on from the trauma he faced as a child at the hands of his father.

This all happens just in time for Tae-sik to be admitted as a patient at Woori Hospice. His final wish returns them all to the beach, where they first spent time together at the start of the show. But his desire is not to see the beach, it is to throw Gyeo-rye his very first birthday party.

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

While this is a fitting end for Gyeo-rye, and an emotional one for everyone else as we say goodbye to Tae-sik, If You Wish Upon Me is not without its problems.

Gyeo-rye and Tae-sik each benefited from their deep backstories, which gave them fairly complete character arcs, but poor Yeon-joo was left out in the cold.

Presented as a lead character early on, Yeon-joo steadily faded throughout the story – even more so after she got together with Gyeo-rye, suggesting that she only mattered in so far as how she affected the male lead.

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

The contrived plot and sentimental send-offs made for a series that occasionally lacked the sincerity to convey the story it set out to tell.

In the end, life and death continue at Woori Hospice – and with Tae-sik gone, Gyeo-rye assumes his place as the leader of Team Genie, this time with a smile and sunny disposition.

This leaves room for a new character to take the place of Gyeo-rye – and, at the very end, we get a glimpse of a new volunteer, played by Squid Game’s Lee Yoo-mi, with metal studs all over her face and a pet turtle under her arm tearing up to Woori Hospice on a bike.

If You Wish Upon Me is streaming on Viu.