This feature is full of major spoilers. You’ve been warned.
K-dramas usually have a curse. They start well but then enter into a downward spiral during the second half of the series. It’s the case for most overhyped dramas as the pressure of outdoing a previous episode is always present. When the audience starts tuning in to the story, they reckon to engage. This constant expectation to beat something so well received often results in disappointment.
BUT The Light in Your Eyes hits different. It is in a league of its own – a melodrama about life that hides under the guise of a whimsical fantasy premise. The story keeps getting better with every episode. The events flowed without needing the suspension of disbelief. It’s a risky move for everyone, especially with the thought-provoking twist in the last two episodes. But the drama delivered its promise of a heartfelt story about life’s radiant moments.
“Everything in life costs something.”
The drama revolves around the life of 26-year-old Kim Hye-ja (Han Ji-min) who owns a mysterious wristwatch that has the ability to turn back time in exchange for her own. This means she can manipulate the flow of time but this doesn’t stop her from aging. She meets Lee Joon-ha (Nam Joo-hyuk), an impoverished young gentleman who dreams of becoming a reporter but is struggling on his own.
One day, Hye-ja was forced to use the watch to rewind time in a desperate attempt to save her father from a car crash to which she fails repeatedly. Her bid to prevent the accident caused her to age herself, becoming a 78-year-old halmeoni (Kim Hye-ja) overnight.
As Hye-ja wakes up from this agonizing reality, she sets on a mission to undo everything – to the confusion of her own family and friends. As Hye-ja fights to put her life back on track, she and Joon-ha form an unlikely but special bond. The story followed Hye-ja’s adventure to find the watch and reclaim her life. She made new friends at the hospice center for the elderly, rescued Joon-ha from danger, and saved her family’s miserable situation. It was honestly filled with amusing moments, perfectly laid out for the grand reveal.
The story takes a devastating turn when the major plot twist unfolded. As it turns out, Hye-ja is an Alzheimer’s patient. The present Joon-ha is a vague memory of her own husband, who died in the line of duty as a reporter. Her “dad” is his real-life son Dae-sang (Ahn Nae-sang), while her “mom” is her daughter-in-law Jung-eun (Lee Jung-eun). The friends who come to her house regularly were her friends from the ‘70s who have also aged.
Everyone was aware of Hye-ja’s deteriorating condition and they played along with her – imagination and all. The quest to find the missing watch is the representation of Hye-ja’s memories taking the central stage. It is somehow her way of letting go of any resentment, pain, and regret. It’s profound storytelling delved into the dazzling moments of life as a person’s saving grace.
Kim Hye-ja, Han Ji-min, and Nam Joo-hyuk shared the spotlight in telling the beautiful love story of Kim Hye-ja and Lee Joon-ha. It’s one of my favorite dramas of all time because everything blends so well, like a puzzle with colorful pieces that complement each other. There’s no doubt Kim Hye-ja sonsaengnim is the star of the show. I’m not sure if the character is named after her but watching her give justice to the role is so satisfying. Han Ji-min is the perfect counterpart for the younger Hye-ja, resilient and full of hope.
Nam Joo-hyuk and Han Ji-min’s chemistry is natural. It’s not trying hard, and their partnership and respect towards each other radiated onscreen. You won’t ship them hard like other drama pairings, but their team-up brings the good in each other. They blend so well as young lovers, a married couple, or bickering acquaintances!
But Nam Joo-hyuk – this is his show, too. It’s written in the stars that he was meant for the role of Joon-ha. He has been on the receiving end of backlash due to his previous acting roles. The Light in Your Eyes erased his model image and sealed him as one of this generation’s top actors. I don’t know if acting alongside Kim Hye-ja and Han Ji-min gave him so much pressure to get better, but his portrayal in the drama shut down the naysayers. He is the original good boy, and always will be.
The drama also has the best plot twist of all time! It’s rare to find dramas or movies that depict Alzheimer’s from the point of view of the patients. It’s always the families. How they struggle through the pain and discomfort of being forgotten by their loved ones. It’s never the patient’s perspective… but The Light in Your Eyes crushed the status quo. Hiding under the guise of a “fantasy romance” plot lies a poignant narrative that we all failed to see. And as it unfolded right before us, all we had to do was applaud and stop questioning the events of the first 10 episodes. The “plot holes” were not inconsistencies in the drama’s storytelling. It’s the playful imagination of Hye-ja who has been living in her past, her present, and her subconscious.