Girls’ Generation fans, rejoice! Not only is the legendary girl group back but they’re hitting it out of the park in every avenue including dramas! Sooyoung returns to the small screen in a drama led by Ji Chang Wook, the multi-faceted actor who is a favorite of many K-drama fans. “If You Wish Upon Me” is the much less glamorous but no less lovely sister of “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.” It spins a story of three broken people in a small town, striving to make the dreams of palliative care patients come true, all while figuring out their own.
Here’s what we loved about the premiere episodes!
Warning: mentions of suicide and spoilers for episodes 1-2 below.
1. Yoon Gyeo Rye
The first couple episodes focused more on giving us a feel for the characters rather than telling us their backstories, so there’s still a lot to delve into on who they are. But everyone comes off as wonderfully nuanced and so human. We’re introduced to Yoon Gyeo Re (Ji Chang Wook) right off the bat as he leaves prison. For some, this might be the start of a new life. For Gyeo Re, it’s a reminder that his old life hasn’t forgotten him because the gang he worked for is still after him for stealing a ton of money from them before his incarceration.
Having successfully stashed the stolen money (and his dog Sunny) with a friend while he was in prison, Gyeo Re immediately uses it to get the swankiest hotel room and flashiest car he can buy. But it all rings hollow. During Gyeo Re’s time in prison, Sunny has gotten sicker and sicker despite medical care and is now dying. Plus Gyeo Re has no friends and no one to lean on. Literally chased from place to place by gang members, he ends up crashing his car into an ambulance—the very one headed by Kang Tae Shik (Sung Dong Il) and Seo Yeon Joo (Sooyoung), who were in the middle of fulfilling a very dear patient’s last wish. And just like that, Gyeo Re finds himself in the oddest situation, roped into driving said ambulance in a race against time to fulfill the patient’s last wish.
Something about the experience seems to be a trigger for Gyeo Re. He pauses by a lake, holding his dying dog in his arms and attempts to walk in and end their lives, only to be stopped by none other than Kang Tae Shik. Gyeo Re isn’t pleased at being saved, especially because in the aftermath, he faces consequences for crashing into the ambulance. But life has a funny sense of humor because Gyeo Re is given a very specific task for his community services: being ordered to volunteer as an ambulance driver at Woori Hospital’s hospice with Tae Shik and Yeon Joo. And in the blink of an eye, Gyeo Re’s life turns upside down.
2. Kang Tae Shik
Like Gyeo Re, Tae Shik is a bit of a live wire, albeit with the edges softened. Formerly homeless, Tae Shik volunteers at the hospice as an ambulance driver—or at least he did until Gyeo Re slammed into the ambulance while fleeing from his ex-gang, injuring his leg. The patient whose wish they were fulfilling that day was actually Mr. Yoon (Jung Dong Hwan), the former head of their unit Team Genie. Mr. Yoon created this program to fulfill last wishes and seems to have been a mentor to Tae Shik who is heartbroken when he passes away.
But that doesn’t stop Tae Shik from still trying to do good. As the victim of Gyeo Re’s car crash, when he finds that Gyeo Re is caught between paying a fine (which Gyeo Re refuses to do because the government’s never done anything for him, so he sees no reason to pay them) and going to prison again, Tae Shik steps in to request that Gyeo Re do community service in lieu of a fine by driving the ambulance in Tae Shik’s stead for Team Genie. The court approves, and Gyeo Re finds himself signed up without knowing Tae Shik’s role in this. But Tae Shik’s motivations seem to go beyond just a desire to do good. He looks horrified to see the burns on Gyeo Re’s back, recalling an instance in the past where he was being threatened by a man while a terrified young boy looks on. It seems that Tae Shik suspects the boy to be Gyeo Re. The identity of the man, along with what Tae Shik and Gyeo Re’s history is, is something we’ll have to wait to find out!
3. Seo Yeon Joo
Yeon Joo is the latest major member of our trio. A nurse at Woori Hospital, she has a love of boxing and one heck of a fiery temper surpassing even Gyeo Re and Tae Shik. While Gyeo Re wears his anger and pain on his sleeve, Yeon Joo hides hers in small smiles and brushing things off too easily. Take her budding romance with Doctor Yang Chi Hoon (Shin Joo Hwan). Dr. Yang joined Yeon Joo and Tae Shik on that ill-fated ambulance trip where Gyeo Re crashed into them, but his relationship with Yeon Joo crashed only a few minutes earlier.
Mr. Yoon had signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR), presumably quite long ago, but when he flatlines while being transported to the location of his last wish, Yeon Joo breaks every rule in the book to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and successfully resuscitates him in time to fulfill his last wish. That moment is a breaking point between her and Dr. Yang. He informs her afterwards that he cannot accompany her if she continues to break the rules this way and seems to break off the fledging romance between them. Afterwards, when the wards’ residents joke with Yeon Joo about her romance with him, she just covers her pain by laughing and saying that Dr. Yang has no interest in her.
For someone as forthright and selfless as Yeon Joo, Gyeo Re represents her worst nightmare. Irritable, hotheaded, and with no regard for anyone but himself, he gets off on the wrong foot with her immediately, first with the crash and second when he almost runs her and an elderly woman over in his snazzy sports car on the way to community service. She retaliates by damaging said sports car, and the two decide that they hate each other immediately. But while much of the first two episodes is character-centered, the show finds a way to weave in moments of subtle reflection on life and its brevity, and it doesn’t take long for all of Yeon Joo and the rest of Team Genie to start seeing something in Gyeo Re, the same way he (reluctantly) does in them.
4. An uplifting look at the end of life
Coming to the end of your days doesn’t necessarily have to be depressing, and “If You Wish Upon Me” makes certain to impress that upon its viewers. Mr. Yoon and Team Genie’s most recent patient Pyeon Yong Ho (Jun Moo Song) are shown to have lived fulfilling, joyous lives. Their last wishes aren’t to rectify long-time regrets but are simple things: like Mr. Yoon wanting to go to his wife’s grave and Yong Ho wishing to spend a night in the home he last shared with his wife. It’s a farewell to the world, not a desire to cling to it.
Not that Gyeo Re understands at first. While driving Yong Ho to his former home, Gyeo Re mutters that none of this matters because Yong Ho’s going to die anyway. That earns him a sharp rebuke from Tae Shik and Yeon Joo. But as Gyeo Re spends time with Yong Ho, he comes to see that the older man isn’t afraid of death and is visibly moved when Yong Ho thanks him for everything.
Gyeo Re might be brash, but he has a ridiculously soft heart. The next day, Tae Shik and Yeon Joo are surprised to see that he spent all night fashioning paper persimmons to hang on the tree outside the house so that Yong Ho could see the tree “bloom” one last time before he left the world. Yeon Joo softens to him after this, and Tae Shik muses that he knew Gyeo Re had a core of goodness in him. But this isn’t to say that everything about Team Genie’s wish-granting runs smoothly.
5. The ethical complexities of palliative care
Who decides when and where someone gets to pass away? This question plagues the first couple episodes of the show. Yeon Joo is reprimanded for performing CPR on Mr. Yoon despite the DNR in place, and Gyeo Re’s vet friend yells at him when he refuses to have Sunny put down. Mr. Yoon’s family (who ignored all of the hospice’s calls) yells at Tae Shik and Yeon Joo for having their father pass away in such an undignified location by his wife’s grave – even though it was his last wish.
The show demonstrates that sometimes the worst part of passing away can be the fact that your decisions are no longer your own. Hospitals, doctors, family, and others who mean well can take agency from patients in a manner that disrespects or even directly contradicts their last wishes. While Mr. Yoon had signed a DNR, Yeon Joo understood more than his family that to him, fulfilling his last wish trumped the DNR. And that’s why she performed CPR. Gyeo Re understands the same. While euthanizing his pet is presented as the best course of action, Gyeo Re knows that he’s taking Sunny’s agency away. He doesn’t know if Sunny wants to live longer or would prefer a release while not understanding why his owner is putting him down. All he can do is trust his dog’s evident affection for him and try to make what time he has left as easy as it can be.
And that’s where the opening episodes leave us! “If You Wish Upon Me” packs a lot here, veering from introspective to somber to hopeful. Ji Chang Wook, Sooyoung, and Sung Dong Il are hitting it out of the park as their characters bond toward the promises of a pretty awesome found family. Here’s to the start of a wonderful ride!
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What did you think of this week’s episodes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she works as a lawyer, fangirls over Ji Sung, and attempts to write the greatest fantasy romance of all time. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!
Currently Watching: “Adamas,” “Alchemy of Souls,” “Big Mouth,” “If You Wish Upon Me,” and “Extraordinary Attorney Woo.”
Looking Forward to: “Island,” “Little Women,” “Chaebol’s Youngest Son,” “Queen of the Scene,” “Blind,” “One Dollar Lawyer,” and “Black Knight.”