Saturday, August 11, 2018

REVIEW: Last Minute Romance (live action TV series)

[This review includes a major spoiler, the answer to the question that I, and I imagine lots of other viewers, had: Does the series end with Baek Se experiencing a miraculous recovery from her cancer? There are aspects I can't write about without answering this question. If you'd like a spoiler-tagged version of this review, please see my cross-posting on LibraryThing.]

Last Minute Romance is a short South Korean drama, a little over two hours long. Dramafever posted it as two episodes, but I think it might have originally been a web series composed of several very short episodes. I'm guessing those short episodes were stitched together to create two hour-long episodes. It worked out, I guess, because I didn't really notice or suspect this until I started writing this review.

Now for the summary. Baek Se is a terminally ill suicide hotline operator. She's been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has been given 3 months to live. There's really only one thing on her bucket list, but it's an impossible dream: she'd like to date her idol, a popular actor named Ji Seol Woo. Since she knows she's never going to be able to date him, she decides to try the next best thing, dating someone who looks like him. It takes quite a bit of searching, but she finally finds her fake dream guy in struggling actor Yoon Dong Joon.

Dong Joon hates the way people constantly see him as the fake Ji Seol Woo. He wants to get roles on his own merits, but the only way to do that would be to get plastic surgery. Unfortunately, that's going to cost him 30 million won (approximately $26,500, according to a quick online conversion). Luckily for him, a weirdo fangirl is offering exactly that amount to anyone willing to pretend to be her boyfriend as Ji Seol Woo.

I realized I hadn't used my Dramafever account in ages and figured I either needed to cancel it or dust it off and try a new show out. I watched this on a whim. The series' short length made it less daunting than many other shows, but most short K-dramas I've seen have been stinkers. There was also the issue of the premise (I'm not a fan of cancer-focused stories), and the graphic Dramafever used for the series looked awkward as heck.

This certainly had some rough moments - for example, I was repulsed by the way Baek Se acted after she learned of Dong Joon's existence. He called the suicide hotline to vent about his Ji Seol Woo frustrations and, when Baek Se learned that he looked like her favorite actor, she raced to his location to offer him her dating contract. If he had truly been suicidal, she could very well have pushed him over the edge in her desire to get her perfect Ji Seol Woo lookalike. I also wasn't a fan of some of the more off-the-wall roleplay stuff, like the bit where Baek Se had Dong Joon pretend to be Ji Seol Woo in the role of an action hero trying to save her from captivity. It didn't even really make sense - she hired him to pretend to be her boyfriend, not to roleplay scenes from Ji Seol Woo's dramas.

That said, this was surprisingly good for a short series. Once Dong Joon relaxed into his new role, he and Baek Se turned out to be really cute together, and Baek Se scaled back some of the creepy fangirl behavior. A lot of the "getting to know you" stuff was done in wordless montages, a necessary evil due to the shortness of the series, but there were still some good scenes. I liked the way Dong Joon looked beyond Baek Se's numerous Ji Seol Woo decorations and noticed that she had no pictures of herself on her own, and his solution to that was sweet. They also had several conversations about the way Baek Se talked about being an orphan, and her cancer diagnosis. Baek Se's discovery at the theater was also handled well.

When I started the series, I wondered how Baek Se's cancer would be handled. In some ways, it was better than I expected, and in other ways it was as bad/simplistic as I feared it would be. I disliked that Baek Se viewed her chance of survival as bad not because she'd tried treatments and they'd failed, but because Steve Jobs had died of the same thing. I started to wonder whether she'd even bothered trying treatments.

She took lots of pills, but it was unclear what they were for. During one part, she was a little late taking them and began to act like she was in a lot of pain, so I assume at least one of the pills was pain medication, but what about the rest? Also, it bugged me that the pills didn't appear to have any kind of side-effects. Baek Se was able to go out to eat, do her roleplay stuff, and everything else, without having to take into account, say, digestive issues.

There was also one line where Baek Se talked about a new dress she was wearing, saying something to the effect of "I'd never have figured I'd be able to fit into [the equivalent of a US size 0]." I'm sure it was supposed to be an indicator of Baek Se's positive mindset, but I'd love to see people stop praising weight loss due to serious illness.

But at least the series didn't entirely sugarcoat Baek Se's illness. She dealt with occasional nausea and struggled with a lack of sympathy for suicide hotline clients (particularly one who said she'd prefer having cancer because it'd offer an easier death than any method of suicide she could think of).

And then there was the ending, which is where I get into enormous SPOILER territory. Dong Joon and Baek Se's best friend had a conversation that seemed to indicate that Baek Se had died but was vague enough that I prepared myself for a "Psych, she's actually still alive!" moment. A show I watched a while back about a son and his secretly ill father did just that. However, Last Minute Romance subverted that and had the conversation be exactly what it looked like - a friend and boyfriend talking about their deceased loved one. The moment where the show cut to a shot of Baek Se's grave (shrine? not sure what to call it) was a punch in the gut, since I'd been expecting the exact opposite.

Even so, the ending was surprisingly upbeat. Dong Joon missed Baek Se but wasn't drowning in his grief, and scenes at the end let viewers know Baek Se would have been happy about the way Dong Joon's acting career was finally starting to take off. Although I'm sure she'd have preferred still being alive to see it...

I'm not entirely comfortable with the role Baek Se's cancer played in parts of the story, and the ending was so gentle and light that it felt weird, but overall this was a lot better than I expected.

Additional Comments:

How does insurance work in South Korea? It was stated that Baek Se got the 30 million won from her insurance after her cancer diagnosis. The way it was said, it sounded a bit like this was a health insurance payment, but if that had been the case, then the money should have gone towards medical bills and prescription costs. She used it to pay for her Ji Seol Woo lookalike, but if that had left her nothing for medical expenses, she wouldn't have been able to afford her medications and eventual admittance into the hospital.

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