Thursday, November 15, 2012

Drama Review: Faith (2012)

Grade: B-

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.

First impression
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?

Final verdict
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.

Random thoughts
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.

Watch it

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 


  1. I have to admit, I did watch this solely to look at LMH's face, swoon over his low sexy voice, melt from his stare...
    The story was, well... It was ok in the begining, but got so boring in the middle, then picked back up towards the last few episodes. I did actually love the ending.
    Don't know why they had the super powers. Besides in the very begining where the Gen. had to blow away the police to get the doc to the time travel door, there was really no use for it. Those 3 villains with their own powers were just irritating. They should have just stuck with the Chinese invasion threat. oh well at least I got a some great skinship moments. mmmm.... minho.....:)

    1. The ending made me happy as a fan girl who always wants true love to win out, but I think it was tacked on at the last minute to avoid traumatizing people, rather than really belonging with the rest of the story. Ah, well. At least it was packed to the rafters with cute boys ;)

    2. LOL. Yes, cute boy pack for sure :9

  2. I still feel like I would have appreciated Faith more if I hadn't seen A rang first. Arang was just so entertaining!

    1. Arang is one of my most favorite K-dramas. I can't wait for enough time to pass so I can watch it again. :D

  3. This was 1st foray into Korean Dramas thanks to a Hulu recommendation. I guess Dr. Who + Castle + Once Upon a Time = Faith?

    The opening sequence story sucked me in and I stayed for Lee Min Ho. Watching it on Hulu I ended up stuck without episodes about halfway through it's run and decided to see what else Lee Min Ho has done. In the last month I've watched City Hunter, Personal Taste and Boys Over Flowers. These shows are like crack! I find myself thinking about them days later. I haven't had an American show that has stuck with me in the same way. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I like about them because there are a lot of reasons not to.

    I enjoyed Faith even though it got slow in the middle. I'm a sucker for a cute guy and a bit of time travel. ;)

    In exploring my new addiction I came across your blog. I really like your post about K-Dramas and feminism. The wrist grab is one of the things that I really have a hard time with.

    Thanks to your strong endorsement just I watched Coffee Prince (my 1st no Lee Min Ho show) and I loved it! I now am keeping a list of shows to look watch in the future but think I'm going to have to limit myself to vacations or I will never be unglued from my computer.

    1. Yay! A new Coffee Prince fan! In the past year, I've watched that drama no fewer than four times, I love it so much.

      I just signed up for Hulu, and was surprised to see how prominently it actually features Korean dramas. I suspect it's going to lead a lot of people down the road of Kdrama obsession—one that I myself have mapped pretty thoroughly at this point ;)

      Whatever their weaknesses may be, as far as I'm concerned Korean dramas are more compelling and emotionally gripping than 95 percent of what's on American TV. The fact that they can actually have endings might explain this, or maybe someone in Korea has figured out how to actually lace television programs with addictive drugs. Either is possible...

  4. Hulu was where I stumbled onto Korean dramas, the first being Prosecutor Princess. I was absolutely fascinated. Next was Coffee Prince and I've been lost to American TV ever since. Faith was a great show. I did not like Boys over Flowers at all, couldn't even get past episode 10, didn't like LMH at all. In City Hunter he began to grow on me. And Faith really sealed the deal on him. I think part of the reason is that he has matured more now as an actor and a person and it shows.

    1. I totally agree with you, you need to watch the whole show of Boys over Flower. I also started watching it and stopped, I did not like it at all. Then I noticed that everyone was talking about it. So I decided to look at it again, but mostly of KHJ, he is such a cutie. And I hated LMH, I did not like him at all!! When I finished watching the whole show, I looked at LMH in a different way, and started searching for all his drama, and now I love him to pieces!! Great actor!!

  5. This is a great series to watch. When I first watched it, I instantly fall in love with this k-drama.

  6. That was one great review :D I haven't watched Arang and the Magistrate yet so I wasn't very disappointed in the show - fact is I did enjoy it, even when it went slow. And then there is an even better news in the fact that there exists a better show (Arang) that I'll probably enjoy! :D

    LMH has improved a lot.. If we compare his acting even with City Hunter, I have to say he's evolved a lot. In his previous roles I could never see him as anything but LMH, but in this one I could see a young soldier (though that wasn't what was intended: he was supposed to be a seasoned warrior but oh, well... it's a step forward :D )

    I watched Queen Inhyun's Man till only the 7th episode, but I didn't like it as much as Faith though. The male lead was supposed to be a genius, but his reaction to the future was just too bland. The speed with which he took up to dressing and even acting modern (check out his body language when in jeans) as well as his constant thieveing with which he ended up with COORDINATED and FASHIONABLE outfits? Unbelievable. However, I loved when LMH tried to get to the doctor through thhe CCTV display - and yeah that is exactly how a soldier from the past would act :D The credit probably goes to better writers than actors, though :D

    I started watching this series purely on account of LMH, and I'm really glad I did :)

  7. Great review :D, my best part was

    "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."

    I mean it's like those light novels you read that you know has some messages but is not a brain twister and im pretty sure that's what they were aiming for.

    I love this series and then some!! though a lot of people i know watched it mainly cause of the leading man LMH(i wasn't really familiar with him, yes yes am one of those who live under a rock lol). I actually saw a photo the main villain Gi Cheoul and i got interested(weird huh).

    My instinct was spot on seeing as i really loved scenes with him in it, i write short stories and he reminds me of one of my favorite villain(childlike, mean and tough)

    That said i read reviews before watching and many were going on bout how slow the story was in th beginning , that wasn't so for me, i liked the story's flow from top to bottom though some things were off(oi nothings perfect) I was so happy with the ending(especially someone's facial hair call me weird while you can ).

  8. Yes, like many people I also watched it because of Lee Min-Ho, He's just so..addictive? In a totally none stalker way. (awkward cough)

    I loved this drama, the political stuff were a bit hard to get through so I just skipped them because it was easy to tell what was happening. Other then that is was a thumbs up.

    I liked the contradictions in this story how at first she hated it and couldn't wait to go back but in the end she was fighting to stay. I also like the breezy relationship with the woodalchi soldiers, it made the drama fun and interesting. Monkey man and 2nd in charge were my favorites, but y'know you cant really choose with the woodalchi's

    Lee Min Ho's character was so well played, his personality is hard to capture in words, but I guess that's what makes it interesting. He fights to protect the king and the High Doctor but is torn between the loyalties he owes to both and I was just waiting for that moment he snapped like he did with the kings uncle (forgot his name) that scene was just...whoa. Actually that's a good word that sums up this drama. whoa.

    Yoo Eun-Soo was a really good actress like you said, she doesn't act like a ditzy bimbo like many girls in Korean drama. She suited that role so well and played it even better! I don't think I could've handled another drama where the lead actress is annoying the hell out of me. what a relief!

  9. I loved this drama, I also watched it more because of LMH. I just can't help it, he is such a great actor. at the beginning I did not like him much, but you can't deny that he has grown as an actor. No wonder he won best actor because of this drama, in which he also did a great job. I've seen this show a couple of times, and still makes me cry and makes me sigh as well. Great drama!

  10. Seems i am quite late in watching Faith, but i liked it... Being LMH fan that could be a reason. But the actress also performed her role very well. It was indeed worth watching series.

  11. I became a Lee Min Ho fan after watching Faith... that's when i wished I was also back in time..

  12. The role of the doctor should have been well researched and well portrayed medically speaking even though this is a historical drama, since, the doctor came from the modern period (she should still uphold what she learned from medical school, from hospital internships, and as general surgeon to have a more realistic role) . I believe, to be a good drama series it should be well-rounded not only in the romance and action aspect.

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