Korean historical dramas in recent years have gone from grand, formal proceedings to flashy action and special-effect heavy productions. No longer confined to the walls of grand palaces, the so-called fusion saeguks have brought high flying stunts and a contemporary appeal to once, what some might call, a stuffy genre.
SBS’ newest period drama Faith/신의 seems to be strangely stuck between both.
The series stars Lee Min Ho as Choi Young, a talented warrior during the Goryeo Era in the 1300s who serves as Captain to the group of men protecting the King and his wife. But he isn’t just an ordinary warrior, he possesses a special power allowing him to control some sort of energy that can, among other things, work as a defibrillator and a paralyzing electromagnetic wave.
When the Queen is injured after an ambush by Yuan secret agents, Choi Young is sent on a mission to the heavens (yes, up there). According to legend, he’ll be able to pass through a wormhole/portal to fetch the divine healer or God’s Doctor and bring them back down to Earth to help the injured Queen.
He passes through the door and he’s arrived at a strange place… 2012 Seoul. A Psy-less, Gangnam to be exact. Bewildered by the strange surroundings (or not, we’re not really sure), an earphoned monk points him to a plastic surgeon convention happening at COEX nearby. Drawing glances and whispers from the people as he walks by in full warrior outfit, he stumbles into a seminar on plastic surgery given by Yoo Eun Soo (Kim Hee Sun). He sets his sights on her, thinking she’s the divine healer. But after being taken into custody then unknowingly creating a hostage situation after he approaches Eun Soo to come with him, he manages to bring her to the portal and they arrive in 1351.
Eun Soo, a former general surgeon, now plastic surgeon, has no idea where she’s been taken, but fearing she’ll be killed if she doesn’t follow her kidnapper’s orders, she follows him and eventually treats the Princess using modern-day instruments and gadgets Choi Young had scooped up before they left 2012.
But now Eun Soo is stuck in the past (though by the end of episode 2, she doesn’t know it yet). Despite Choi Young promising to bring her home safely, the King has his own plans for her, hoping to use this divine healer with all her magical contraptions to maintain his power in a vulnerable Goryeo.
The premise itself, a doctor getting dragged back in time and likely falling in love while getting caught in the crossfire of a battle for the land is interesting. But the first two episodes of Faith were surprisingly dull and slightly convoluted.
The series starts with a nicely animated introduction to the legend that sets up the catalyst that allows our warrior and good doctor to time travel. But the first half of the premiere episode, instead of laying the groundwork for the story, came across as a low budget historical drama production. It doesn’t help that what is supposed to be a fantasy series as well as a period drama isn’t as slickly produced as other similar and recent productions. Its overall look feels like it was made a couple of years ago instead of 2012. Sometimes that’s actually charming. Here, not so much.
Choi Young is supposed to be a brilliant and powerful warrior, yet the fight choreography has been dull and amateurish.
The series perked up when Choi Young arrives in the present day, but then that presents what might be its biggest problem. Is Faith supposed to be an action-packed period drama or a fun lighthearted fantasy? Once Choi Young is in present-day Seoul, the series becomes the latter, furthered by flashbacks that introduce us more to Eun Soo in the days before she gets hauled off to ancient times.
Even when the series returns to 1300s Goryeo, Eun Soo’s fish out of water confusion maintains the series’ now lighter and more charming tone. But the abrupt tonal changes return when the mix of CGI and live action assassins return and we suddenly get scenes of royal political intrigue miles away in Goryeo’s capital. All the invasion and hostile takeover talks feel greatly irrelevant and the least interesting plot point.
My original expectations, without reading much on the series beforehand, was of a big, epic, flashy drama. Maybe that’s my mistake. This definitely isn’t Lee Min Ho’s last series, the big budget action-heavy City Hunter. But the series’ premise seems more suited to being a comedy and adventure than a serious action and political thriller.
Maybe that’s how the series will develop, but the first two episodes had two contrasting views that did not mesh well together.
Instead, the comedy that would ensue when Eun Soo finds out she’s time traveled and will now have to adjust to ancient times or on the flipside Choi Young having to adjust to a modern world with cars and cell phones and electricity feels like a much more enjoyable show that what we’ve been presented so far. There were definitely glimpses of that, but not enough, especially when they were the only enjoyable moments.
Lee Min Ho has been a solid actor who’s proven he can do both romantic comedy and serious drama. He’s proven his action hero skills too. But the writing in Faith has definitely not helped his performance. His character is supposed to be this sort of laid back, yet skilled fighter, as evidenced by his constant sleeping and yawning. But like I mentioned earlier, we don’t even know his feelings when he first arrives in 2012 Seoul. His stoneface could be all part of his character, but even that, we can’t be sure of.
It’s one thing to hold off on exploring and peeling off your main character’s layers, but we got absolutely nothing character-wise from Choi Young in the first two episodes and instead got plot-driven moments that together didn’t amount to anything we might want to care about.
On the other hand, Kim Hee Sun is great and might be the only thing worth watching on the show so far. Her frustration and confusion is believable. And it’s very relatable too, maybe because we feel the same exact way from watching the series. Kim Hee Sun helps you sympathize with her and her situation. It’ll be interesting to see Eun Soo’s reaction when she actually realizes where she is. But when that’s the only interesting thing to look forward to, then we’ve got a problem. Kim Hee Sun is charming and energetic, which greatly contrasts 2/3 of the other characters.
Since this is a First Impression Review, I have faith hope that Faith works all of its numerous kinks out because I like Lee Min Ho and have quickly become a fan of Kim Hee Sun. But it has so far been one convoluted, tonal seesaw that unfortunately can’t rely on shiny production or thrilling action to prop it up.