PUBLISHED 1 JULY 2016
HAVING received a significant amount of critical acclaim and audience demand for a second season, what is it about the 16-episode South Korean drama DESCENDANTS OF THE SUN (양의 후예 KBS2 2016) that has made it such a global success? Is it the nail-biting medical scenes? The war-torn setting? Or is it the return of popular actor Song Joong-ki from military service, best known for THE INNOCENT MAN (KBS2 2012) and A WEREWOLF BOY (Jo Sung-hee 2012)? While these are all contributing factors, the most subtle yet powerful tool in the breakthrough success of the action/medical drama is the portrayal and development of the protagonists’ romance.
DESCENDANTS OF THE SUN comprises all of the stereotypical components of an onscreen relationship: instant attraction, playful back and forths, the element of “fate” and many trials and tribulations. It is the nature of these trials and tribulations that makes the romance between Doctor Kang Mo-yeon (Song Hye-kyo) and Captain Yoo Si-jin (Song Joong-ki) as intense and compelling as it is. Throughout the series their feelings for each other are obviously present and blossoming, but not without its pesky interferences upon which romance drama thrives. Rather than being played out in its conventional form – a love triangle, disapproving parents – this particular interference is internal.
The origin of this interference is explicitly acknowledged by Mo-yeon in the third episode: as a doctor, she does everything in her power to save and protect lives, but in Si-jin’s case, as a soldier, he kills others in order to save more lives in the long term. It is this moral dilemma, stemming directly from the pair’s occupations, that triggers a rift in their relationship. But what is even more intricate about this internal conflict is its ability to turn on its own head and in fact bring Mo-yeon and Si-jin together in both emotional and intellectual terms.
The most prominent example of this occurs during a heated confrontation with the series antagonist, whom is gravely injured at the hands of Si-jin. In a shock turn of events, despite how much Si-jin wishes to see his foe, Argus (David Lee McInnis), bleed to death, he instructs Mo-yeon to treat him instead. Si-jin’s face paints the internal struggle he is confronted with in potentially risking many lives as a consequence of this decision. Even more startling is the sudden change of heart by the normally headstrong Mo-yeon who initially rejects giving aid in favour of allowing Argus’s death.
Both characters defy their own principles for the sake of preserving and respecting those of the other. Although Mo-yeon eventually caves in and administers care while Si-jin returns to his hostile, defensive state, the couple’s relationship is solidified as a result of the incident. Their love has reformed their minds, enabling them to explore and perceive each other’s moral perspectives, giving them the confidence to not only fully commit to their relationship but to undertake their work with more tenacity.
Although masked beneath gunshots and emergency surgeries, this internal conflict continually pushes and pulls at the protagonists yet their love eventually stands tall against the debris of the war left behind them, exemplifying the strength of the heart over the mind. Rather than allowing their romantic feelings to be dictated and undermined by the horrors of war and their deep-rooted principles, they instead boldly adapt to and overcome the conflicts set before them.