The 2019 MBC drama series Extraordinary You (어쩌다 발견한 하루) is a fun, romantic slice of life adventure with a twist. Poking fun at some Korean romcom tropes, the series gives new flavor to familiar themes with the help of an irresistible cast and the perfect amount of magic and fantasy.
Eun Dan Oh (Kim Hye Yoon) is a high school student at an elite academy who thinks she has been living a normal life, but soon discovers she actually lives in a manhwa or Korean comic book. Unlike the other characters around her, she has become self-aware and must learn to adjust to the jarring quick cuts between the “Stage” and the “Shadow.”
The Stage are the moments that are actually illustrated in the pages of the comic itself with every aspect of those scenes controlled by the manhwa’s writer. The Shadow is all the other moments off-page where Dan Oh (and other characters who may be self-aware) have more freedom to do what they want. But everything locks back into place whenever it’s time for the next Stage. And the non-self-aware characters do not remember a single thing from the Shadow.
Initially believing she is the main character of the manhwa, Dan Oh learns she is a supporting character. In reality, a mere extra with the main purpose of propping up the actual main couple of the comic. She is annoyed by her character’s set-up: she has a heart condition and is expected to die soon while also being engaged to her long-time crush (Lee Jae Wook) who hates her.
But she is soon drawn to a nameless classmate to whom she gives the name of Haru (Rowoon) and who she believes is the key to changing her fate.
Extraordinary You follows Dan Oh’s quest to do just that. Along the way, secrets and pasts are revealed, there’s danger around every corner, but there’s also plenty of fun and romance.
The series starts off a little frenzied and confusing, but it quickly settles when the situation is laid out for Dan Oh and the audience. That initial jumpy nature of the first episode accurately illustrates the basics of what is actually happening in this world.
As things begin unraveling for Dan Oh with the realization of what’s happening, everything becomes more fun and amusing. Initially, the series is a funny and creative way to play around with the idea of a comic book world and using that to poke fun at cliché storytelling that may often be found in many series. Dan Oh’s meta-like commentary on the proceedings echo what many people in the audience feel sometimes when watching their favorite show. The series, by way of Dan Oh, partly aims to take those clichés and tropes and try to offer maybe a different take on those familiar aspects.
As much as the series tries to subvert common Korean romcom tropes, it does indulge in some as well. But that interestingly adds to the charm of the series. As self-aware as the characters are, the series itself seems to be self-aware of what it is too. Even if they may play around with some clichés, everything else around them keeps things fresh and enjoyable.
But Extraordinary You unexpectedly comes with a lot of depth as well. At the heart of the story is the idea that we can choose to create our own destiny. No matter how much things may feel like they’re set in stone (or the pages of a comic book), just the right amount of determination and passion can maybe change that destiny.
In turn, that also lends to the idea of being yourself and not letting others dictate who you are as a person. The idea of freedom and free will is a motivator for our characters who all have their own goals and aspirations they hope to achieve with that freedom.
There’s also a bit of a butterfly effect to discuss, but not really in the traditional sense.
As more of the mystery unravels, the series actually gets a little more eerie and odd. But in a good way. The series does a good job of balancing both its characters and its high concept plot.
While some details of this world are never really fully explained, there is a certain amount of a “Just go with it” attitude needed to enable you to just enjoy the ride. In other shows, such details are necessary. But here on Extraordinary You, there’s plenty of other things that more than make up for what is lacking in terms of intricacies.
The cast of characters carries a lot of that necessary weight. And considering the most of the cast are young actors with limited experience so far, that is a major accomplishment.
One of the actors who isn’t a rookie, however, is Lee Tae Ri (formerly Lee Min Ho). As the mysterious Jinmiche (aka Dried Squid Fairy), he is the first person Dan Oh meets who is also self-aware in this world. His smiley, positive façade hides a more secretive and sometimes worried nature. He knows much more than he lets on. Lee Tae Ri’s experience is definitely put to good use here as he is able to effortlessly switch between almost contrasting emotions effectively. Many, if not most of his scenes are actually monologues where it is only him in the scene. But he carries these scenes so well, allowing the character to be more than just a simple color commentator. He is an integral character to the story and Lee Tae Ri’s performance commands that attention.
SF9 member Rowoon takes on his first lead role as Haru and it is a showcase for his talent and charisma. He is a natural as the romantic and heroic leading man, able to portray the strong features of the typical lead. But he is also required to take care of his character’s own emotional story while effectively supporting the heavier stories of Dan Oh and the overall arc of the series as well. And he does that very well. Immediately endearing himself to the audience, even without saying a single word for a few episodes is quite an accomplishment. But when Haru’s story gets going and the series shifts into high gear, Rowoon handles the challenge without a problem.
Lee Jae Wook as Baek Kyung has an even tougher challenge. Kyung is the typical tsundere heartthrob. Initially cold, even cruel. But the series does a great job of developing his character in a way that possibly gives him the most complete growth of anyone on the series. That requires Lee Jae Wook to give a carefully nuanced performance that will allow that growth to feel believable. And he absolutely does that.
Lee Na Eun and Kim Young Dae play the actual main characters of the manhwa, Yeo Joo Da and Oh Nam Joo, respectively. Their set-up is very much the typical rich boy-meets-poor girl scenario and even a pretty obvious nod to the likes of Boys Over Flowers and other high school idol dramas.
Kim Young Dae gets the least amount of material of the main cast. As one of the characters who isn’t self-aware, he must play the character straight unlike the others who can have a little bit more fun between the Stage and Shadow. But he does get a chance to show what he’s capable of later on in the series and does a similarly great job as Lee Jae Wook in allowing the character to grow over the course of the series.
Lee Na Eun did a great job in web series A-Teen and she has a similar character here. Her real opportunities to shine come later in the series as well and the twist in her character is handled very well both by her and the writing.
Jung Gun Joo is the scene-stealer of the series as Lee Do Hwa. Though his main “set-up” is being the second lead for the main manhwa couple, he is actually best as Dan Oh’s reliable and hilariously enthusiastic sidekick. He is able to deal with the more emotional and dramatic moments when part of the main manhwa couple’s Stage and even Shadow happenings. But Jung Gun Joo is absolutely charming and loveable as Dan Oh’s sidekick and the first person who becomes self-aware after her.
The friendship they develop feels very sincere, even if it is by circumstance at first. But it’s even better once Haru joins the mix and their friendship is definitely one of the best parts of the series.
And finally Kim Hye Yoon as Eun Dan Oh. Though she began acting many years ago and had a few supporting roles, she had her breakout moment in the hit drama Sky Castle for which she won a Baeksang Arts Award for Best New Actress. In this her first lead role, Kim Hye Yoon is positively magnetic. When we first meet Dan Oh, we the audience share a similar confusion to what’s happening in this manhwa world. That allows an immediate connection to her and it just takes off from there.
Dan Oh goes through a rollercoaster of emotions through the course of the series. In dealing with both real world problems and this strange, fantastical comic book world, Dan Oh must switch emotions on and off at the drop of a hat. Or in this case, the turn of a page. The quick cuts between the Stage and the Shadow are never as jarring as they could be thanks to Kim Hye Yoon’s performance being the steady and grounding force to the entire series.
When things get a little too crazy, look no further than Kim Hye Yoon as Dan Oh to refocus you in the moment. She is able to balance the lighter, more over-the-top moments with the quieter and more emotional and dramatic moments. Having to deal with everything from romcom to family drama to high school angst to other genres that can’t be said here for fear of spoiling a key twist in the series; Kim Hye Yoon handles that all with a strong, confident performance that at the same time charms and endears.
You wouldn’t know this was her first lead role.
The series is by no means perfect. The middle section of the series could’ve used some tightening up. And there’s really never a clear understanding of the rules of this manhwa world.
But those are minor inconveniences for what is ultimately a fun and heartfelt ride. The series culminates in a thoroughly satisfying, even if expected fashion. And it is full of emotion and nostalgia as well. Being a comic book world, there is a sense of finality that hits hard at the end. And that striking metaphor for life in general is especially affecting after the final scenes.
Extraordinary You is able to discuss being confident in your own skin, knowing who you are and who you want to be and understanding yourself. That you can be something extraordinary by just being you. And how friendships and relationships can help you along that journey.
With an engaging fantasy mystery, irresistible romance, fun comedy and relatable real world emotions, Extraordinary You indeed makes for one far from ordinary drama experience.