On the surface, the 2019 KBS drama Angel’s Last Mission: Love (단, 하나의 사랑) is the almost-epic forbidden love story between two beings who go against the odds to be with each other. But beneath the surface is a bewildering mix of half-cocked religious themes used merely as some sort of mystical twist to an otherwise familiar story.
The series as a whole is fascinating to dissect, though certainly not in this review. And I will offer the disclaimer that my being Catholic confused me while watching the series more than anything else.
Dan (Kim Myungsoo) is an angel who deals mostly with sending dead animals into the afterlife. But when he saves the life of jaded, bitter ballerina Lee Yeon Seo (Shin Hye Sun) against the rules of “the deity,” he is in danger of being punished by getting turned into dust. Giving him the opportunity to redeem himself and get his wings back (figuratively and literally), Dan must help Yeon Seo find true love.
It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that the mission results just how you would expect it to: Dan falls in love with Yeon Seo who appears to feel the same way. But of course, an angel and a human can never be in love with each other. Thus the dilemma. Along with the fact that Yeon Seo does not know Dan is a heavenly being.
On the surface, the story plays as an epic romance. But beneath the surface, the series is an interesting amalgam of religion and fantasy. It plays a little too fast and loose with Christianity and specifically Catholicism to the point that it feels like it is working to undermine the central plot. That is, the Romeo and Juliet-ish forbidden love between Dan and Yeon Seo.
Angel’s Last Mission: Love has a fascinating foundation that would allow for a truly epic, romantic adventure. But its fascinating interpretation and use of faith and religion ends up taking certain stage.
There’s certainly room for creative interpretations of religions that are respectful while offering up something different and interesting. Supernatural has done just that over 15 seasons.
But the main crux of this series is the love story between angel Dan and human Yeon Seo. And as the series progresses, several twists and revelations further that romance, but flow right against the core beliefs of the religions the show may or may not have been inspired by. (Though the show very specifically references Catholicism throughout, including having a Catholic church as an important location.)
Some basic ideas such as what angels even are to begin with already raise some flags that require some suspension of religious disbelief.
Of course, not everyone who watches the series will come in with a religious background or experience. But like I mentioned at the start, I’m coming into the series from that perspective.
Questioning faith and God is very much fair game. And can definitely be ripe for great stories.
But the series seemed to merely want the mystique of God and angels without really much thought about actual teachings and beliefs. Which actually would’ve given the series a fair amount of depth and substance. Instead, the series takes that “mystique” to give the series a relatively refreshing twist to the genre. But then stops there instead of fleshing it out.
It’s even more obvious that was the intention all along when you notice the odd teasing of some demonic force as a counter to the good angels by way of Slytherin-like whispers whenever our antagonist was on-screen.
That didn’t lead to some battle between angels and demons. Nor did it even lead to a battle between simple good and evil in humanity. Or the idea that humans can be just as evil on their own without a malevolent force whispering in their ear.
I feel like the series could’ve been stronger if there actually was a battle between angels of the light and the demons from hell. This may have been a KBS drama as opposed to an OCN drama, for example. But that kind of back and forth in the background of a familiar romantic story in the front could’ve been the ideal blend of fantasy, adventure, religion and romance. And that’s a combination not often seen on Korean television.
The series also features some overt romantic comedy which in other series has been to their detriment. But the romcom elements here are limited in such a way that doesn’t overpower the perceived dramatic weight of Dan running afoul of the so-called “deity.”
The biggest reason why Angel’s Last Mission: Love isn’t a complete disappointment is the cast. Most especially its two leads Shin Hye Sun and Kim Myung Soo.
They are both able to elevate the material in a way that gets you to care about their struggle and forget about the details. Their chemistry is so that you’re resigned to the fact that you’re watching them to see if they end up together rather than labor over the details of the grander arc of the series.
There’s a fair bit of character development for Yeon Seo which Shin Hye Sun manages very well. She starts off the series getting blinded by what appears to be an accident during one of her biggest ballet performances. That experience and the loss of her parents turns her into a bitter, jaded and rude woman. One that feels very much alone despite there being genuine people around who care about her. That feeling even drives her to attempt to take her own life. But Dan’s arrival helps her to change for the better. And it is a full journey from first episode to the last.
Kim Myungsoo has emerged as a dependable actor in lighter, more youthful roles. But he has the opportunities for meatier material here, while still allowing him to maintain that bright, youthful personality. He does have chemistry with Shin Hye Sun and it is their relationship that carries the series.
Lee Dong Gun is certainly no stranger to being the romantic second lead. But his role as the third wheel to Yeon Seo and Dan felt contrived and unnecessary. The whole subplot of Kang Woo’s obsession with Yeon Seo and the revelation about his past to explain it never takes off. And the whole plot again suffers from the loose interpretation of the basic tenets of the religion they base the entire premise on.
Overall, a strong cast carries the weight of the series on its shoulders. A great premise is bogged down with half-hearted attempts at something that would’ve set it apart from other romantic stories on Korean television. The potential for something truly epic was there. But unfortunately, the series ends up mostly an awkwardly confusing and overly familiar story.