Premise: A single 30-something crotchety reporter meets inappropriately much younger man. Shenanigans ensue. Love blooms. The End
Those who have watched their fair share of dramas, rom-coms especially, will know that many many shortcomings can be forgiven if the pair of lovers at the centre of the story is perfection. Perfection may be defined many ways but for me, at this point in my drama watching life, it’s the combo of that mysterious magical thing called ‘chemistry’ between actors, and quality of the writing behind the characters. The former is mostly luck but talented performers can make up for it with skill. And obviously, chemistry is an entirely subjective thing–one pair might sizzle to some, while to others they might run ice cold.
Good writing is also in a way, luck, because as viewers, we never know what we’re going to get even from writers who have a track record. Good writers can churn out turds as so many of us who’ve sat through promising stories turned trainwrecks know all too well.
A Witch’s Romance then is the kind of rom-com where the spark of its OTP carries all the weight of it’s flimsy narrative on their shoulders. Apart from the undeniable skill of its lead actors who bring charisma and believability to the screen, Uhm Jung Hwa and Park Seo Joon enjoy an enviable chemistry, and sparks fly from the outset that it’s almost blinding. Just see my initial frothing at the mouth for proof!
As a noona romance and as a rom-com, you could do much, much worse than Witch’s Romance. While that doesn’t sound like a resounding endorsement, and it isn’t, I think the drama gets the most important thing right for a rom-com: it writes a convincing case for why two people should be together despite the many obstacles in their way, and despite being at different stages in their lives. That is a rarity in dramaland where we are expected to accept a pair as pre-ordained by ‘fate’ who then ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
The older-woman-younger-man trope isn’t new and this drama doesn’t go out of it’s way to flip the script. But what is refreshing is the romance’s lovely warmth and grounded nature. Ji Yeon and Dong Ha triumph through open and honest communication. It’s at the very core of their relationship. Also, Ji Yeon and Dong Ha raise each other up and aren’t reduced by their baggage or hang-ups. This is what true OTPs are made of in my book.
How refreshing then is it to see adults behave like adults! And with adult sexy times too! (Although, the show might have held back too much for my taste.)
If anything, this drama argues that tacky grand gestures and declarations are the trappings of true love; the promise of a flashy wedding and big house, mere tinsel. What really counts is someone you can be yourself with, someone who’ll love you, all of you.
The best moments of the drama then, belong to its early episodes when Ji Yeon and Dong Ha are in the early stage of their courtship. As so much of Ji Yeon is defined by her career as an ace reporter, the workplace arc of the show is crack-tastic mix of breaking-news shenanigans and a fizzy and flirty (with doses of bickering, of course) mating dance. It’s like the adventures of Lois Lane and her trusty sidekick photographer-love interest. The drama here is a pitch perfect blend of everything I like in rom-com–spirited, funny, sexy and with a touch of depth and even delicacy in it’s core relationship.
Bolstering the drama’s charm is a host of secondary characters who unquestionably love and support this pair. They cheer-lead and harangue equally, and offer sage advise or a swift kick in the behind like true besties do. Ji Yeon and Dong Ha each have best friends who add heaps of humour to the mix. Na Rae (Ra Mi Ran) and Soo Chul (Heartless City‘s Yoon Hyun Min) steal scenes, entire chunks of the show even, and help elevate its more mundane patches. It helps that these two are also incredibly likeable performers who attack the slapstick with gusto.
Ji Yeon also has a wonderful mother (Yang Hee Kyung) who is–shockingly–completely devoted to loving her daughter at the expense of her own need to see her daughter safely married off. Mama Ji Yeon also gets her own little arc which affirms the drama’s good-natured assertion that everyone is worthy of love. Even Ji Yeon’s boss is unflaggingly encouraging of her!
There aren’t any outright villains in this drama, and the ones who are antagonists are really just shadows of rejection or echoes of the past.
Which brings me to the drama’s main drawback–the dreaded love triangle. The entry of Ji Yeon’s ex Shi Hoon (Han Jae Suk) sucks all life out of the story and snuffs out it’s spark from which it never quite recovers. Here, I charted the Shi Hoon aka ‘Polar Bear’-effect on this drama:
What could have, and should have been, a way for her to figure out why Ji Yeon had outgrown her past instead just throws her character into a morass of confusion. She doesn’t emerge out of this seemingly more enlightened, at least directly. And that is what I find most disappointing about that soggy middle–that Ji Yeon had her choice made for her, rather than emphatically making one.
Which isn’t to say the drama threw the ‘witch’ under the bus. Ji Yeon is far from being a ‘witch’, and the drama goes a long way to establish how likeable she is to such an extent that it hesitates to make her the one to walk away from a relationship. But aside from this the drama could’ve filled in it’s substantial narrative gaps–we could have heard or seen more of Ji Yeon actively considering Dong Ha as a viable partner through their work together had the drama kept him as Ji Yeon’s co-worker, because the drama tossed out so much of what made Ji Yeon who she was–a driven reporter. And this would’ve kept its fun-tastic Lois Lane element intact.
The drama also could have delved into the impact of Dong Ha’s ex’s death on her sister Eun Chae (Jung Yeon Joo) and her mother’s relationship, and Dong Ha’s relationship with his family, and how all of them had to work to get over the trauma, including Soo Chul who it seems, was friends with her. This would’ve beefed up Eun Chae’s role, and it would have honoured her sister’s ghost as a presence who had a hold on Dong Ha for so long.
Alas, once that dreadful love triangle is (unsatisfyingly) resolved, the rest of the plot fizzles out spectacularly, and with it the early promise of Ji Yeon and Dong Ha’s growth as two people essentially being dogged by their past. At least the drama throws in lots of cute and cuddly as the relationship corrects its course. It works as a pleasant distraction, and I can’t whinge about seeing two madly attractive, sexy people enjoy being hopelessly in love. Skinship FTW!
But it’s not enough to buoy the drama’s later decline, and downgrades what could have been a marvelous rom-com to a modestly successful one. And it’s probably testimony to how good it was in the beginning that I’m more than a shade disappointed. Damn the Polar Bear!
Still A Witch’s Romance has oodles of charm, wonderful leads and lead actors, a great supporting cast, and a warm affirming message that celebrates the love of partners, friends and family. That I believe, still counts for something.
A Witch’s Romance
Starring: Uhm Jung Hwa, Park Seo Joon, Han Jae Suk, Yoon Hyun Min, Ra Mi Ran
Overall rating: 3/5
Recommended: If you have time on your hands. You could skip the middle episodes to avoid Polar Bear and head for the cute at the end.
Director: Lee Jung Hyo (Heartless City, I Need Romance 2)
Screenwriter: Lee Sun Jung