Kdramaland in 2017 was rife with prosecutors, judges, science fiction and fantasy, and SBS’ “While You Were Sleeping” was no exception. This September to November drama was a romantic fantasy courtroom drama with an exceptional cast that had all the usual tropes one would expect in a Korean drama, but also managed to subvert it in a very natural way. Because of this, this breezy and addictive drama, with its ability to utilize its cast exceptionally well, although not perfect, enjoyed good ratings and gained enough popularity to become one of the most talked about Korean dramas of 2017.
“While You Were Sleeping” aired on SBS from September to November 2017, was written by Park Hye Ryun (“Dream High”, “I Can Hear Your Voice”, “Pinocchio”), and was directed by Oh Choong Hwan.
The drama starred Lee Jong Suk (“School 2013”, “I Can Hear Your Voice”, “Doctor Stranger”, “Pinocchio”, “W-Two Worlds”) as a rookie prosecutor named Jung Jae Chan, Bae Suzy (“Dream High”, “Uncontrollably Fond”) as a reporter named Nam Hong Joo, Jung Hae In (“Bride of the Century”, “The Three Musketeers”, “Night Light”, “Prison Playbook”) as a policeman named Han Woo Tak, Lee Yang Seob (“The Innocent Man”, “Give Love Away”, “Listen to Love”) as a prosecutor turned lawyer named Lee Yoo Bum, and the hard working Kim Won Hae (“Chief Kim”, “Black”, “Strong Girl Bong Soon”, “Hwarang”, “Criminal Minds-Korea”) as an investigator for the prosecution named Choi Dam Dong.
The drama follows Hong Joo, Jae Chan, and Woo Tak, who all experience having dreams about the futures of either random or particular people. Among the three, Hong Joo was the first to gain this ability, while Jae Chan and Woo Tak develop the same ability after a very particular experience in their lives. Together, they try to navigate friendship and love, while making difficult decisions and choices, especially as they do dream about each other, and as their dreams usually coincide with “the case of the week”. These cases usually see them clash with Lawyer Lee Yoo Bum, a prosecutor turned lawyer who becomes the main antagonist of the series.
The fantasy or supernatural element of the dreams was a very interesting and clever plot device to use, especially when we see the characters making particular choices based on their dreams, whether it be to stay the course or to try to prevent something horrible from happening. However, as the drama went along, it wasn’t really touched upon too much and there were some things that were never explained about it, such as why Hong Joo, the original dreamer, had it in the first place. This was a little bit disappointing, as world building is important in dramas like this, and dramas like “W-Two Worlds” have proven that it can be done.
Another thing that might disappoint viewers is the fact that the romance isn’t as heavy, and that some characters’ backstories never got truly explained.
However, the drama is enjoyable and addictive because the show’s writer was able to blend romance and all the legal procedural bits seamlessly, gave us likeable characters, gave us a light and beautiful romance that wasn’t too complicated, and a second male lead that was likeable and didn’t have to end up being the source of many problems.
I thought that the acting in this show was superb, from the main cast all the way down to the secondary characters.
Lee Jong Suk’s performance was refreshing as it was the first time I’ve seen him in a more laidback role, and I commend his ability to always have good chemistry with the female lead in his dramas. Also, it gave him something different to challenge himself as an actor, and I thought he gave a great and more nuanced performance than in his previous roles.
This was also the first time I’ve seen Suzy in a drama, and based on what I’ve seen, I liked her light and breezy performance here and the fact that she and Lee Jong Suk have a great an easy chemistry with each other. (I am on the fence about her more cry fest scenes, but I’d like to see more before I come up with a judgement or bias).
Lee Yang Seob was great as the main antagonist of the drama, as he created a villain that wasn’t too over the top, was smart enough until he got desperate, and who represents all those who make the choice to keep on making excuses instead of owning up to their mistakes.
Kim Won Hae has to be the most hard working actor of 2017 in Kdramaland, as he’s appeared in more than five dramas in that year, and nails each performance all the time.
Jung Hae In was a revelation to many in this drama, and his nuanced performance as Han Woo Tak landed him opportunities that he definitely deserves, such as becoming part of the main cast in “Prison Playbook“, and a leading role in the upcoming romantic drama “Pretty Sister Who Buys Me Lunch”. I am pretty sure that I’m not alone in saying that this actor has a bright future ahead of him, and I am looking forward to each project he will be in.
Finally, Shin Jae Ha and Nam Da Reum also had great performances in this series. Shin Jae Ha will definitely get more roles after this; and I’m not surprised anymore to see Nam Da Reum pop up in most dramas lately, as he seems to always be the younger versions of the main characters. However, their emotionally charged performances really did blow me away.
All in all, “While You Were Sleeping” had a wonderful cast who gave exceptional performances; and was a refreshing breather in a drama season full of heavy thrillers, legal procedurals and romantic supernatural fantasies.
You know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!
As I mentioned earlier, there were some elements of this drama that I really enjoyed, and there were some elements that were disappointing, which didn’t stop me from enjoying the drama as a whole.
I liked how light the romance was here, and that it naturally weaved itself into the story. I liked that Hong Joo was a likeable heroine who still could have a life of her own, even when Jae Chan wasn’t around, and I loved how Jae Chan and Hong Joo are the better halves of each other. Even though the romance was light, there was also still enough for all the romantic “feels”. This drama also proved that you can have a good romantic story arc in your drama that doesn’t have to be too complicated, and too over dramatic.
I did like the supernatural and fantasy element of our three leads having dreams about the future, and I liked how, even until the end, they and other characters made decisions based on these dreams.
However, as mentioned earlier, I didn’t like the fact that it felt that somewhere along the way, the whole dream thing ended up becoming a very convenient plot device for them, and that they didn’t bother to explain certain rules about that particular ability at a particular point in the drama. They did show some of the rules and how several events were changed and how that affected the characters involved in those particular circumstances, but that was only predominant in a few episodes. These instances included when Jae Chan saved Woo Tak, when Woo Tak stopped a horrible incident from occurring to both Park So Yoon (Kim So Hyun) and Hong Joo, and when Hong Joo decided to save that barista’s life. The rules of the dreams weren’t also explained well enough, and we were never given an explanation as to when these dreams will stop happening and why Hong Joo had that ability to begin with.
They played it rather safe with this particular element, and that is disappointing, especially when you have ambitious shows such as tvN’s “Circle” or another Lee Jong Suk project, “W-Two Worlds“. These shows stuck to their guns, and were able to lay out the fundamental rules that work in their particular worlds without losing sight of the main plot.
However, I think that the whole point of the having this particular ability was to ultimately talk about the power of choice, how those choices affect others, and how one either sticks to it and accepts the consequences of their choices and actions.
This can be seen in the choices that our three leads, the main antagonist, and a secondary character makes, and we see how each of them contrast each other by how they deal with the choices they made and how they accepted their consequences.
I felt just a little bit disappointed that we never got the true backstories of Yoo Bum and Woo Tak. We sort of get the sense of why Yoo Bum is the way he is, but I would have liked more. Same goes for Woo Tak, as the reveal about his own family life was saved for the very last episode.
I also appreciated the fact that they did try to put some layers into the complex character of Yoo Bum, and I especially liked the fact that they showed him washing his hands after he defends people he knows are definitely guilty of their crimes. I also found him to be a smart villain who ended up getting caught after becoming desperate and too emotional.
Surprisingly, I was alright with Woo Tak’s big secret being that he is just color blind, and not a bigger secret that would upend everything in the drama. I also found it interesting how he was also able to navigate things, when he was giving his testimony against Yoo Bum, and was able to turn his color blindness to something that the prosecution could use, even though it meant giving up his job as a police officer.
Interestingly enough, I did want to see Woo Tak challenge Jae Chan a little bit more, not as a romantic rival, but as an intellectual rival, especially as we see that Woo Tak is smart enough to beat Jae Chan at his own game in that wonderful interrogation room scene.
I also loved the fact that despite everything, these three remained friends until the very end, and even beyond the story itself.
I absolutely loved Lee Jong Suk’s performance here, and I loved that Jae Chan, although he does look like the stereotypical perfect Korean drama lead, is given enough room to show us his dorkier, messy, and bumbling side. I think that is very refreshing as Korean dramas go.
Also, it gave a very satisfying ending that left me smiling, and that didn’t leave any threads hanging.
In the end, I thought that this drama was an addictive and light- hearted drama that had a great cast, and that ultimately talked about the power of choice. Regardless of whether you have the power to change someone’s future or not, we are all faced with difficult choices everyday, and our true character does come out when we make our own choices and either live up to them or accept the consequences that come with it.
Have you watched “While You Were Sleeping”? What did you think about it? What did you like about it and what didn’t you like about it? Also, what other Korean dramas would you like me to review in the future? Let me know in the comments below!
Image Source: Official SBS Facebook Page