Romance, dressed up as fusion sageuk
What it’s about
After being kidnapped and brought back in time by a noble Goryeo warrior bent on saving his Queen, a modern plastic surgeon finds herself at the center of political turmoil and mysterious legends about a heavenly doctor from a thousand years earlier.
Is it possible that the team behind Arang and the Magistrate created this show on the sly with the intent of making Arang look even better than it actually was? Because that’s all I’m getting from the first episode, which looks and feels chintzy and makes some risible narrative decisions right off the bat. Smart writers don’t go from the tensest, most exciting moment in an entire product right to boring, character-establishing flashbacks. Right?
Here’s what you should watch Faith for: Its compelling pair of love stories and the humane, multi-faceted treatment of its four leads. (Also, there’s the matter of Lee Min Ho’s luscious, kissable mouth. Just saying.)
Here’s what you shouldn’t watch Faith for: Logic, narrative flow, or a satisfying overarching storyline.
It’s possible to enjoy this show for its swoony, slow-boil romance, but the second you give your brain cells free reign everything falls to pieces.
Time travel is a notoriously difficult narrative element that requires careful thought and advance planning, and I suspect that the makers of Faith were in short supply of both. As soon as you start dabbling in Möbius-strip storylines where the present depends on the future and the past, you’d better tread carefully. Faith is a textbook example of what happens when you don’t: it vaporized any hint of narrative tension by revealing too much of the big picture.
Thanks to the interplay of Faith’s three time periods, it was always clear that nothing was really at stake. As someone from the future, the female lead knew from the beginning how the story would end for all the major players in the past; she’d memorized their fates for a school exam, for the love of God. This spring’s similarly themed Queen In-hyun’s Man managed to neutralize the same problem by making it clear that the time traveler’s actions in the past could impact the future. But Faith never figured out how to do this, leaving it with three main characters who were never in jeopardy, and whose ultimate paths were always predetermined.
The show then had one possible source of tension: the question of whether Eun Soo, its female lead, would decide to leave the past. But it blew even that.
It’s true that Faith’s animated opening sequence was fun and eye-catching, and even reminiscent of some scenes from 2010’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But it was also the root of this show’s undoing. In order for it to happen, the female lead’s trip to the Goryeo era could only end one way. It strapped the plot into a straight jacket, and these writers were no Harry Houdinis. When your entire story hinges on constantly rescuing a character from mortal peril, it’s unwise to rule out the possibility of that character’s death with your opening sequence. This also applies to big decisions: if a character is going to spend multiple episodes deliberating over something, the thoughtful writer makes sure it’s not an utterly moot point.
Faith’s cast of thousands and poorly incorporated magical elements brought even more pointless wheel-spinning to the table. When one good guy can fearlessly take on twenty or thirty bad guys and emerge without a scratch, what’s the point? It’s all just meaningless, cartoony violence. (Which, might I add, looks particularly clumsy and poorly choreographed when seen in such close proximity to the dazzling acrobatics of Arang and the Magistrate.) The defanged main antagonists were also no help. I’m sure the writers wanted them to come off as nuanced and flawed, but all the back and forth just made it hard to take them seriously.
You can tell that Faith wanted to be more than just a distraction—it wanted to be good. It gave us lovely little character moments, like when the male lead watched his opponents remove their dead from a battlefield. Many of its actors did fine work with well-drawn characters. Ultimately, though, its many macro failings overcame its few micro successes.
Episode 4. Lee Min Ho’s on-screen fighting skills have certainly improved since Boys over Flowers—not that that’s saying very much. Even in this drama, though, most of his action scenes involve more showy wire work than impressive choreography.
Episode 5. Faith continues to be cheesy and lower-rent than Arang, yet I continue to watch it. It’s easier for a comedy to deal with this kind of high-concept storytelling: as soon as the impossible situation starts to be taken too seriously, the show feels ridiculous. Goryeo X-Men? Time-traveling plastic surgeons? Killer flutes and great white whales . . . erm . . . wigs? At its heart, though, Faith is reasonably compelling and has a good deal of forward momentum. But as is always the case with sageuks, I could live with more epic love story and fewer political machinations.
• Episode 5. I sure hope the female lead has some hair dye and tampons in that huge purse of hers. Otherwise, her year in the past is going to be awkward at best. And I have to say that bathroom humor isn’t really my favorite trend in Korean dramas, but is this ever a missed opportunity to have some discussion of old-school toilet habits. What would an outhouse be like that served all the people in the palace? Ick.
• Episode 6. This is the first sageuk I’ve seen that’s set in an era other than the Joseon period. The Goryeo getups aren’t quite as appealing as the Joseon hanboks—the actors all look like extras from a Star Trek episode.
• Episode 7. Daylight savings time, you rock! I thought it was 4:40, but it's actually 3:40. I have a whole extra hour to watch dramas before bed! ::does pathetic dance of victory::
• Episode 14. The female lead should have just erected a billboard reading “You’re totally going to die in childbirth. But on the bright side, your husband will be really torn up about it.” It would have been more subtle.
• Episode 17. I’ll say one thing for this show: its female lead isn’t an idiot, and is refreshingly free from the cutesy, ineffetual mannerisms of so many Kdrama girls.
• Episode 21. Thank heavens you traveled back in time, Eun Soo. The thought of all these tragic Goryeo women being cursed to live their entire lives without professionally formulated makeup and skin care products is too horrifying to consider. You are truly God’s doctor.
• Episode 21. This show needs more metaphorical swordplay and less actual swordplay, if you get my drift.
You might also like
Queen In-hyun’s Man, a time-travel drama that was better than Faith in essentially every way
Arang and the Magistrate, a fusion sageuk that was better than Faith in essentially every way