It is an outright crime that we were robbed of four more episodes of the tvN drama A Piece of Your Mind (반의 반/Half of a Half). This beautifully poetic and character-driven look at healing, strength and courage most definitely had enough material to fulfill the standard 16-episode order. And with a talented cast at its disposal, the biggest disappointment is not only how it was sadly overlooked by audiences, but how it was inexplicably derided as well.
Much was made of the series getting cut short by four episodes by the powers that be due to low ratings. Alongside the low ratings were a truly inexplicable shower of derision by audiences who criticized it for a myriad number of reasons. Many of which were unfair.
A Piece of Your Mind is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. After all, there isn’t one drama series that will appeal to everyone. But the series was at its least inoffensive and at most emotionally profound. For it to have been disparaged so much as it aired puzzled me. And now after finishing the series, I’m even more baffled.
At the heart of this truly character-driven series is a group of surprisingly deep characters all having to deal with different types of loss. At the forefront are Moon Ha Won (Jung Hae In) and Han Seo Woo (Chae Soo Bin).
Ha Won is an artificial intelligence programmer developing a device that when infused with a person’s personality, memories and emotions can evolve into something you could eventually talk to as if it were a real person. Ha Won’s company hopes the device can be used with patients who need help with their mental and emotional health such as dementia or those overcoming a trauma
Seo Woo is a sound engineer at a recording studio who is a happy and positive person, but still feels the weight of her parents’ tragic deaths from a forest fire. She meets Ha Won one day when he is drawn to the classical music piece being played from the studio.
But they are drawn together even more when Seo Woo meets Ha Won’s childhood friend Kim Ji Soo (Park Joo Hyun) whom he has feelings for. A tragic event greatly affects Ha Won and Seo Woo’s lives. And together they search for answers, but more importantly, search for healing and strength to move forward.
Loss plays a major role in pretty much every character’s story. For some, that includes life and death. On the surface that might seem like a somehow grim or sobering theme for a drama series. But on the contrary, A Piece of Your Mind very directly offers something very hopeful and positive.
Sure, audiences love to dive into stylized, perfect worlds as an escape from everyday life. But A Piece of Your Mind‘s clever balance of light science-fiction and very tangible real-world obstacles allow that exciting escapism with grounded clarity.
Through Seo Woo and Ha Won’s main story along with the equally intriguing stories of the supporting cast of characters, the series takes a sincere and honest look at different ways people grieve and cope. Everyone will be different of course.
But what is constant with all our characters here is that moving on does not mean turning your back on or forgetting the past. That it is okay to feel that pain and cry while on the path to healing.
And genuine connections with other people can help in that process. Knowing you are not alone is a huge first step for anyone on a journey to healing wounds, whether physical or emotional.
Seo Woo and Ha Won are two grieving and broken souls who find each other and are able to guide each other through those difficult emotions. This is certainly a romantic drama as well. But that is only one part of the whole series. (A Half of a Half, if you must!)
The title of the series doesn’t necessarily refer to a “better half”-type of romance. But the idea that maybe everyone we may meet has a part in our lives, for better or worse. And specifically, how those same people can help find and provide the strength and courage needed to move forward.
Currently watching Kamen Rider Zero-One seems to have helped me coming into this series. Zero-One has focused on artificial intelligence and examined its pros and cons in interesting ways within the confines of a Sunday morning children’s program. It sort of gave me a foundation to understanding the unexpected, but fascinating science fiction aspect of this series.
What’s most fascinating is how a considerably advanced piece of technology such as a comforting AI device can draw out the most real, raw emotions out of humans. Similar to a recently introduced Ai-chan device on Zero-One, the device developed by Ha Won’s company too serves as a comforting voice for someone who may need it. A Piece of Your Mind takes it a step further by infusing the device with the thoughts, memories and personality of actual people.
The emotions that are drawn out with the help of the interesting device are sincere and never contrived. And it allows the characters to take those emotions and run with them along their journeys in the series.
The series more than had enough material to fill the four episodes removed from its original 16-episode order. As I mentioned earlier, A Piece of Your Mind actually has a relatively brisk pace compared to similar series.
Criticism of its pacing is confounding, especially when other series have struggled much more with finding the right pace, tone and enough material to maintain over 16 episodes. Look no further than Jung Hae In’s two most recent series before this one for good examples of solid plots hindered by their difficulties in maintaining its tempered stories for their full run.
A Piece of Your Mind features an excellent cast headed by Jung Hae In and Chae Soo Bin.
Park Joo Hyun makes a big impact with a small, but integral role as Kim Ji Soo, a character so far removed from her breakthrough role on Netflix’s Extracurricular. Kim Sung Kyu as Ji Soo’s husband Kang In Wook spends much of the series really with the most difficult emotional hurdles to overcome. The biggest twists involve his character and his performance allows those surprises to hit the mark every time.
Lee Ha Na as Ha Won’s niece Moon Soon Ho is a fun, strong character who provides some fierce and lighthearted moments. But it’s also sadly obvious that Soon Ho was the most affected by the reduced episode count as her story was only starting to truly unfold by the time the cut was made.
Lee Sang Hee makes an impact as Jeon Eun Joo, the owner of the homestay where Seo Woo lives which has several intriguing characters as well. That includes Lee Jung Eun who delivers with another moving performance as Kim Min Jung.
But Jung Hae In and especially Chae Soo Bin provide a pair of emotionally affecting performances that elevate the already strong story even more.
Another of the unfair criticisms of the series is Jung Hae In’s acceptance of the role of Ha Won. Perhaps certain fans wish he would choose something different and compare this role to that of his previous two drama series and even one of his recent films. But Ha Won is considerably different from any of those characters (young man in love with an older woman, a single father who falls for an older woman). While one can compare the relative slow nature of the series itself, Ha Won provides Jung Hae In what could be considered a mature, yet age-appropriate role. It may even be his most relatable and accessible role.
There’s no question Jung Hae In is a dependable leading man who can more than carry a series on his own. But he delivers his most nuanced performance here in which he goes through a number of different emotional milestones while maintaining Ha Won as a fully realized character. Sometimes other series sacrifice a character’s logical development to cater to shock and awe plot points.
This series, however, partly surrounds Ha Won’s character, his decisions, growth and ultimately his connection to Seo Woo. To have the series’ many moving parts fall into place, Jung Hae In’s performance is a critical piece and deserves the praise.
His chemistry with Chae Soo Bin is stunningly effortless and a true highlight of the series.
An even bigger highlight is Chae Soon Bin as Seo Woo. Having just completed I’m Not a Robot a few weeks ago and remembering her great work on the KBS Drama Special If We Were a Season, it is such a wonderful experience seeing her in this excellent role.
As the layers of Seo Woo’s story slowly unfold and circumstances test her resolve, Chae Soo Bin effortlessly brings an incredibly wide range of emotions to vivid life.
An emotionally climactic moment towards the last third of the series is an absolute showcase for Chae Soon Bin’s talent and is one of the most memorable scenes (of many) in the series.
This is a really a stunning performance that commands attention right from the start. But even more so by the end of the 12 episodes.
Excellent cinematography and directing turns urban Seoul into a soft dreamland and allows the relatable and resonant story the space to truly land every emotional punch.
A Piece of Your Mind may have been treated unfairly. But that does not take away from the 12 episodes we did get. Those are 12 episodes of a refreshingly comforting and heartwarming slice of life drama that encourages, provides hope and strength and offers some important reminders for our everyday lives.