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The Weekend Binge: "If You Wish Upon Me"

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Ji Chang-wook’s latest post-military outing, based on the real life Ambulance Wish Foundation that fulfills the last wishes of terminally-ill patients, ended quietly, with ratings of 2.0% on September 29, 2022. In this review we explore what we think went wrong with what could've been a simple heartwarming drama about life at a hospice care hospital.

The Plot

Yoon Gyeo-rye (Ji Chang-wook),a cynical ex-convict, is sentenced to community service at Woori Hospice Hospital. Though he initially resents having to work for Team Genie, which is a group of volunteers led by the fatherly Kang Tae-sik (Sung Dong-il) who grant the dying wishes of patients, his daily encounters with kindness, as well as the affections of nurse Seo Yeon-joo (Girls’ Generation’s Choi Sooyoung) soften his heart over time, and allow him to heal from his own troubled past.

The Review

A common sentiment among many long-time k-drama fans is that Ji Chang-wook has yet to pick a good project since his military discharge in 2019. Reception for his four previous dramas (Melting Me Softly, Backstreet Rookie, Lovestruck in the City, and The Sound of Magic) has been mixed, at best, with many fans hankering for his return to the action-romance genre that launched him to Hallyu stardom. It's been years, but who isn't still swooning over the "night courier" codenamed Healer (2014) and mercenary-turned-bodyguard Kim Je-ha of The K2 (2016)?

When the main cast and premise of If You Wish Upon Me (IYWUM) were announced last year, I felt cautiously optimistic that despite the lack of action, this could be his drama that finally "lands." But here I am, a week after forcing myself to finish it just for the sake of writing this review, mildly annoyed that I'm never getting back the 16+ hours I spent watching it.

Before I go into what I believe went wrong, I do have some nice things to say. IYWUM is at its strongest when it focuses on the bittersweet stories of Woori Hospice's patients and volunteers. Inspired by the work of former ambulance driver and Ambulance Wish Foundation founder Kees Veldboer, the drama sensitively portrays the final days of a variety of patients whose final wishes range from the simple (visiting a personally meaningful place) to the elaborate (performing in a musical -- could someone please cast Park Jin-joo in a leading role already?).

The patients themselves are believably flawed and human, displaying various attitudes towards nearing the ends of their lives-- a mixture of anger, regret, and physical pain that can only be alleviated by morphine, but also acceptance and peace. Their stories not only tug at the heartstrings, but impart valuable life lessons about forgiveness and letting go.

Then there's Team Genie, a lovable group of volunteers who, despite their own personal struggles, are committed to fulfilling the wishes of their patients, whatever it takes. The motley crew of young and old led by the ever-reliable Sung Dong-il has great chemistry, and when the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Gyeo-rye and the fitness-obsessed nurse Yeon-joo inevitably starts to blossom into romance, you can't help but root for them all to be happy.

Between these two groups, there are plenty of unique, interesting, and touching stories to tell, and if If You Wish Upon Me's showrunners had mined the 10,000+ real-life wishes that AW's worldwide chapters have granted over the past 16 years for material, there is certainly more than enough to meaningfully fill up 16 episodes.

Which brings me to the real head scratcher: the bizarre decision to turn what could have been a simple, heartwarming slice-of-life drama about healing, community, and love, into a mishmash of drama, mystery, gangster violence, and organized crime.

While I understand that Gyeo-rye is the main character here and IYWUM is also the story of his personal redemption and growth, at some point his complicated backstory and the truly god-awful personalities from his past completely take over the drama, making it unwatchable for myself and apparently, many others (I actually know more people who dropped this than those who finished it). Not even the strong ensemble cast nor the sparkling chemistry between Ji Chang-wook and Sooyoung could save it, which brings me to another point: that the charming Sooyoung was grossly underutilized in this drama. Instead, to my bewilderment, the character played by Won Ji-an, a toxic, twisted ex-girlfriend/little sister-like figure (ewww, right?) from Gyeo-rye's past, was given far more exposition, and it took all of my willpower to not fast-forward through her numerous scenes.

To wrap this up, I really don't have much else to say except that I hope that by reading this, I just saved you 16 hours that could be better spent on other things. Unless you're that die-hard a fan of the show's leads, in which case I would say, as the Koreans do: "Fighting!"


STREAM: If you love Ji Chang-wook to the ends of the earth.

SKIP: If you have other more highly-recommended k-dramas on your watch list. Need suggestions? Look here.

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