In this episode…
We meet Yoon Se-ri, a clothing and accessories entrepreneur who uses her charm and looks to keep her brand public in the minds and imaginations of consumers with a celebrity-like lifestyle. She’s estranged from her family (2 good-for-nothing brothers with requisite greedy spouses, a sour-faced mother, and shady-ish CEO father), but has made something of herself since leaving home 10 years ago. In testing out new products, she is caught up in a storm and finds herself across the border in No Man’s Land — North Korea. There she meets Captain Ri Jung-hyuk, out on a routine patrol on his last day in the sector before a shift change. He’s got a reputation for being a by-the-books stickler, looks damn fine in uniform, and has command over a small squad of goof-ups. Now, how can she get back across the border?
Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin are going to make one exceptionally appealing couple; and they hit the ground (pun intended) running with their immediate chemistry. It helps that they already have had a chance to explore that chemistry in their film The Negotiation, even if they had little face-to-face acting time, but the way she boldly plays him and he, in turn, focuses those knife-sharp cheekbones and laser-like evaluating eyes on her worked for me from the start.
While it seemed initially as if Se-ri was somewhat frivolous and shallow (setting up a faux-celebrity romance with an actor – cameo Jung Kyung-ho – for publicity purposes), it seems like they’ve put some thought into her character and are giving us tidbits to build on and perhaps form a backstory of our own with the conversations with her family. She’s the one who walked out of the family, doesn’t take handouts, and there appears to be some deep, longstanding issue with her prune-faced mother (who, to be fair, is the only one who looks sick as a dog when Se-ri goes missing). I liked the fact that she’s fully invested in the success of her business, wanting to be there at the forefront, confidently trying that paraglider to demonstrate its placement in her sporting goods line. Son Ye-jin, standing on that hill with a smile on her face, excited by the experience to come, looked 10 years younger!
As for Captain Ri (which would be Lee or Yi, south of the border)… I’d like to know how his uniform (and him in it) looks ever so much finer than the South Korean counterpart’s, because it does and he does. His brief encounter with the apparently-venal State Security Officer played by the nicest guy, Oh Man-suk, was a fairly predictable set-up (especially in light of what we learn later in the episode about that guy at the end of the episode) to establish Jung-hyuk as a “Dudley Do-right” kind of guy, the type who excels at everything he does, and always stands by his principles. I like that he’s stern but tolerant of his squad’s foibles and shares the blame when things go a little pear-shaped. He also appears to be a pretty fine mentor to his young squad member (letting him deactivate an old landmine). Oh, and tolerant even of the one on guard tower duty who was distracted by a scene from Stairway to Heaven (yes, I recognized that scene with Choi Ji-woo and Kwon Sang-woo)!
This is Storytelling Set-up 101 kind of stuff, introducing characters and their worlds in quick, broad strokes, but it’s done with a light touch and a big dose of quality in terms of casting, costuming, sets, camera-work, and direction. Sign me up for more!