The Korean drama blockbuster Descendants Of The Sun is an essential watch for all K-drama fans and can be enjoyed by both women and men, since, unlike many other K-dramas, it cannot possibly be confined to just a "chick flick" description; it has many delicious ingredients that will delight both sexes: romance for the gals, military skirmishes, lots of action shots, international politics, and criminal intrigues for the guys, and both sexes love humor in their shows. Descendants Of The Sun also features a significant portion of its story filmed on location in Greece (these were my favorite parts since I'm of Greek descent and have been there twice), adding a sense of exoticism rarely found in most other K-dramas today. I feel that traveling to other locations to shoot part of a story always adds interest to a K-drama because Koreans tend to be an insular people, so when their television dramas are set in locations around the world that makes their people more curious to check the stories out.
The main writer, Kim Eun Sook, has a great track record of big hits under her belt, for instance Secret Garden and Heirs and Lovers In Paris and A Gentleman's Dignity. Descendants Of The Sun had national ratings topping out at about 35% to 38% nationally and about 40% to 41% in Seoul. It's also been exported to 32 countries, so it has the capacity to bring in millions more fans to the already burgeoning number of K-drama aficionados around the world. In September 2016 Instant Netflix picked it up there and I hope it stays there for a long, long time because their visuals and audio quality leaves ALL other streaming sites in the dust.
The four main cast members are long term acting pros and have been in hit shows before: Song Joong Ki who starred in hit K-dramas like Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Will It Snow At Christmas? and the worldwide hit film A Werewolf Boy, Song Hye Kyo, to my mind the most beautiful actress in Korea for the last 16 years and counting (Autumn In My Heart, That Winter The Wind Blows, Full House, Worlds Within), Jin Goo (All In, Swallow The Sun, Spotlight, Falling For Innocence and the haunting film Epitaph), and Kim Ji Won (Heirs, One Sunny Day). They all had perfect chemistry together as a great team of players.
The extended cast members were all fun to watch too, and in fact I feel that many of the extended cast characters grew more as individuals during the course of the show than did the four main characters; the four main lead characters fell in love more deeply than they were in love at the beginning, but basically their inner cores as characters were set from episode one to episode sixteen.
They were already strong as people and became stronger. Whereas a secondary character like that played by actor Onew (below), a rather childlike doctor with a lot to learn, grew tremendously as a person through the trials and tribulations he went through during the earthquake scenes and afterwards. I really enjoyed that young man's performance. He essentially played "shell shock" for several episodes and did a great job depicting the symptoms.
The action begins in North Korea where Captain Yoo Si Jin (Song Joong Ki) and Sergeant Major Seo Dae Young (Jin Goo), who are a part of an elite South Korean Special Forces unit named Alpha Team serving the United Nations, are engaging in a secret military operation against North Korean soldiers. Si Jin undergoes a hand to hand combat fight with a North Korean soldier (actor Ji Seung Hyeon - a star is born, loved his deep voice and unique facial features) but essentially they agree to stop the fight before anyone is killed, with Si Jin allowing the soldier to leave with his comrades in peace. (Interesting that communist China insisted this scene be cut before they would allow the show to be seen in their country!).
Ji Seung Hyeon's scenes ended up on the
cutting room floor in communist China! - Boo!
Back in Seoul, Captain Si Jin and Sergeant Major Dae Young are on leave after their exhausting mission, and enjoying their vacation together in the city. While playing an arcade shooting game (hosted by actor Lee Kwang Soo in a cameo) they catch a motorcycle thief named Kim Gi Beom (Kim Min Seok) and knock him to the ground. He yells out in pain and an ambulance is called; while this is going on Gi Beom steals Dae Young's cell phone and pockets it. Once the thief is in the hospital Dae Young realizes his phone is gone and who took it: off he and Si Jin go to that hospital to try and retrieve his phone from the thief.
In the emergency room, Si Jin meets Dr. Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye Kyo) for the first time. He falls in love with her at first glance and she's intrigued with him as well. Mo Yeon mistakenly assumes Si Jin is part of thief Gi Beom's pickpocket gang of bullies. Si Jin proves to her that he is a soldier with the help of visiting Army doctor and First Lieutenant Yoon Myung Ju (Kim Ji Won). She knows both Si Jin and Dae Young very well from the service; in fact she had dated both of them at different times and she's obviously still smitten with Dae Young, who pretends he has no feelings for her when we can tell that's just nonsense.
As for the bicycle thief Gi Beom, he is inspired by Dae Young's kindness toward him to try and change his life around and he signs up for the military and becomes a soldier. He even starts working toward earning his high school diploma. We shall see him again, transformed.
Later, Si Jin, unable to forget Mo Yeon's beauty, bluntly asks her for a date to go see a movie together ... and she says "yes!" At this point I thought to myself, "I guess this must be a new record for a main couple in a K-drama going on a date ... in the first episode!" However, their date is interrupted before it can begin when she gets all dressed up, arrives at the hospital to meet him, and he phones and tells her he is on the rooftop of the hospital building! Up she goes, only to find him about to get on a helicopter to a secret mission, essentially leaving her in the lurch, wondering where he is going and if she'll ever see him again.
While he's gone (the mission is to Afghanistan this time to rescue hostages) Mo Yeon has some serious thinking to do as to whether or not she wants to get involved with a soldier who kills people for a living, when she herself is a doctor who tries to save people's lives instead. When he returns and he has to leave her yet again during the same movie she is really upset but tries to hide it.
Next they meet at a coffee shop and she honestly tells him her feelings: that since he's so secretive about his work (he has to be, it's part of his job), and that they seem to be so different and have different outlooks on life, that she doesn't feel comfortable in beginning the relationship with him. She leaves the cafe, leaving him sitting there looking sad, but at the same time he is understanding her reasoning completely.
At work in the hospital, Mo Yeon becomes upset when she fails to become a professor due to a selfish, petty female colleague (Park Ah In) getting in her way. She decides to appear before the cameras on a medical talk show and becomes famous giving advice on health. Then the hospital chairman Han Suk Won (Tae In Ho) makes advances on her and she rebuffs him. In order to get even, the chairman "volunteers" Mo Yeon to work for Doctors Without Borders, as the head of a team of health professionals he had planned to send to a war torn country named Urk (Greece). She doesn't fight it because he "nominates" her during an official public meeting and it would look bad if she said "no". Several of her best friends at the hospital agree to go with her, not fully understanding at first the real reason she was picked to go, that it's more a punishment for refusing the Chairman's blatant sexual advances.
I'm always happy to see actor Lee Seung Joon in
a K-drama: he always makes me laugh!
Off Mo Yeon and colleagues go to Urk, including Dr. Song Sang Hyun (funny actor Lee Seung Joon from Nine: Nine Time Travels), resident doctor in training Lee Chi Hoon (Onew), ER nurse Ha Jae Ae (Seo Jeong Yeon), and ER nurse Choi Min Ji (Park Hwan Hee), where they will be stationed at an Army camp off the beaten path away from any front line actions. This stay in Urk is about to dramatically change their lives.
Of course who should be stationed at this camp but Captain Si Jin and Sergeant Dae Young! Surprise! Surprise! Mo Yeon is quite shocked when Si Jin picks up her fallen scarf after his military helicopter lands at a runaway, and hands it to her. Later the medical staff settle in and get adjusted to their new surroundings. They soon realize the area is a complicated one: there are children who run around where land mines could be buried, there are refugees with little to eat or drink, there are criminal gangs, political unrest, sex trafficking, diseases, you name it.
Ladies: would you like these "doves" running
past your bedroom window every morning?
There is little time for recreation, but when there is a break in duties Si Jin is most likely to be found teasing Mo Yeon in some way, or trying to volunteer for local missions where he has to accompany her and drive her around. It's obvious the chemistry between them is still very strong and Mo Yeon still tries to be on her guard, although she doesn't mind watching "the doves" in the morning with her female colleagues: their term for the soldiers at the camp who jog shirtless every morning.
Eventually the ice begins breaking between Si Jin and Mo Yeon, as she begins to understand him better and the work he has pledged to do: to protect the weak from the bullies, even if that means to kill the bullies. In one altercation guns are pointed at her in case she operates on a Muslim politician to save his life: they want her to wait until their own male doctor shows up to operate, but she tells them in broken English that he will die immediately without intervention. Si Jin tells her to go and operate on him to save his life. Later the Muslims actually thank Si Jin and Mo Yeon and praise them, giving them rewards that will figure in later during a daring rescue mission.
Army doctor / First Lieutenant Yoon Myung Ju arrives at the medical camp just as her loved soldier Dae Young is leaving for a break to fly back to Korea for some RandR. He manages to hug her to let her know he still cares about her. It turns out that physical demonstrativeness will have to hold her for a long time -- he's not very verbal and when she calls him long distance he just holds up the phone to his ear, saying nothing. But just the fact that he doesn't hang up consoles her. It turns out that he is obeying his senior officer, who just so happens to be Myung Ju's father, General Yoon (Kang Shin Il). He doesn't want his soldier daughter to be involved with a member of Alpha Team; he wants a son in law who is not in the military and who wouldn't die at any time. So this young couple have a lot of rocky moments ahead before they can possibly have a chance to be together.
During the course of the show Mo Yeon even relishes getting involved in a few battle skirmishes herself! By the end of the drama she has wrecked 3 cars ... and 1 wheelchair. LOL! After another mission is completed she inadvertently lets the entire camp hear her love confession to Si Jin over the public radio (she thought she would die when she recorded the message earlier -- while hanging off a cliff!), and then she runs like heck to the radio station to pull the plug on it! But it's too late. Si Jin has heard it, as well as everyone else -- and it becomes his favorite thing to listen to, after recording it for his own cell phone. LOLOL!
Soon Captain Si Jin discovers that an American compatriot he had at one time rescued from death during a stealth operation, David Agus (American actor David Lee McInnis), a rescue operation which had resulted in the death of Si Jin's own dear Army buddy, has turned into an international gangster and crook, weapons' and diamond smuggler. He will kill anyone who gets in his way. Si Jin had told Mo Yeon about him in the past, calling him "Private Ryan", nicknamed from the American film about WW2.
When he learns Agus had turned bad he is grieved but still stands up to him in several confrontations. Agus also doesn't fail to notice how beautiful Mo Yeon is and has his eyes on her from that moment on. (I just wish that another nationality could have been chosen for the main villain other than American. I really get tired at seeing how many times Americans are portrayed in Korean dramas and films as bad guys. I wish the K-drama producers would remember who their real enemy is: North Korea, not America).
Agus, who sold his soul to the devil
after Si Jin had saved his life
An earthquake hits the portion of Urk where the medical and military camp is, and huge rescue efforts are under way to save lives. Many civilians die, and a nearby solar power station built by the Koreans is destroyed, with many engineers and builders buried underground. The station is run by the arrogant Jin Young Soo (Jo Jae Yoon) who is a stooge for the evil Agus. He illegally gives stolen diamonds to Agus for money, but recently has been trying to hide a big stash from Agus, wanting to keep them for himself to sell. Right before the earthquake he had hidden them in a certain place in his office and when the earthquake hits the first building he wants to be looked at during rescue operations is his office. A big argument results between the Alpha Team and Young Soo that human lives will come first, and Young Soo puts others at risk, including Si Jin, by grabbing a bulldozer and trying to plow through his office to get his secret diamonds first. The guy is so stupid that when he finally retrieves his diamonds, in order to hide them from Agus, he swallows them one by one, and later tries to escape Urk by dressing as an Arab! What a doofus! Of course the airport can see right through his disguise and fake papers. LOL!
Diamond thief Young Soo, completely
selfish, puts many others at risk
Young doctor Lee Chi Hoon (Onew) panics when, during a rescue attempt, he runs out of a crushed building that is collapsing further, leaving his patient behind, a young worker at the plant named Lee Yi Kyung (Kang Min Jae from Nine: Nine Time Travels and Because It's The First Time). The patient is eventually saved but poor Chi Hoon is filled with guilt that he deserted his patient and he questions his whole dedication to becoming a doctor. Hit by a kind of shell shock, he spends a lot of time alone, shaking, and being comforted by a homeless refugee boy who doesn't speak his language. Chi Hoon nicknames him Bleki.
As he is undergoing all his stress, Mo Yeon is undergoing guilt for not being able to save an older male victim, Manager Go (Nam Moon Chul), who had his legs crushed during the earthquake; he eventually understands that a younger man near him is suffering badly too, although he cannot see him; the younger victim has a metal spoke through the right side of his chest, is in excruciating pain to the point of delirium and is having trouble breathing. Because of the way both men were injured during the disaster it's not possible to save both of them; Manager Go understands this and tells Mo Yeon it's okay if he dies, that he had lived a full life. He just has one request, and it's for Mo Yeon to call his wife and tell her he said goodbye and I love you. Mo Yeon is devastated. Si Jin tells her she has to save one or the other and that only she can make the decision as a doctor. She eventually chooses to save the younger man, and the older one dies. She grieves that she couldn't save him, and she grieves when she calls his wife. Boy, did I cry during those scenes. Heck, I'm even tearing up while I type this, remembering those poignant moments. Later, Si Jin tries to comfort her, but she feels that even the beauty of the stars is mocking her during this tragedy.
Once the fallout from the earthquake lessens, another problem is a spread of a rare form of meningitis (thanks for nothing, Young Soo!) which almost causes the death of Army doctor Myung Ju: she is quarantined and an antidote provided by American doctors. Sergeant Dae Young becomes even more determined to be with Myung Ju, even telling her father the General that he will give up his uniform and resign if he can marry her.
Then Agus kidnaps Mo Yeon and Si Jin asks permission to rescue her, but he is denied: he puts down his dog tags and goes on an independent mission to save his beloved. She has become his "nation" now. Dae Young quickly figures out where he has gone and follows him with his own army team. Si Jin calls in a favor to the Muslim politician whose life Mo Yeon had saved earlier and he is granted a helicopter team to come rescue Mo Yeon along with himself and Dae Young's supplemental team.
Mo Yeon ends up having a bomb planted on her chest by the dastardly Agus, and Si Jin grabs her, covers her eyes with his hand, and shoots Agus several times until he's dead. A soldier experienced in dismantling bombs saves Mo Yeon from being blown up. Everyone is rescued by the helicopter and brought back to their base.
Eventually the medical team and later the military leaders are returned home to South Korea. They leave behind people they care about including Dr. Daniel, who seems to love car repair more than being a doctor, his girlfriend nurse Ri Ye Hwa (Jeon Soo Jin), and Fatima (Zyon Barreto), a teen girl they had saved from being sold into prostitution by Agus, and various refugee children like the boy Bleki who just wanted a pet goat.
There are more missions ahead for Si Jin and Dae Young, but their ladies are determined to be with them, and support them regardless. Even still, there are troubles ahead that threaten the two soldiers' lives, and the peace of mind of the two ladies who love them. There are more arguments, misunderstandings, separations, and fears of death. We also have another surprise visit by our North Korean soldier whom we saw at the beginning of the drama. (Time for the communist Chinese to get their scissors again!).
However, friendships had been cemented forever between all these dedicated people. Almost all the characters in this drama are very admirable; the show is also deeply romantic and rewarding to watch, with gorgeous cinematography. More surprises are in store for the audience, and the tension doesn't really let up until near the very end of the last episode, with a very apropos epilogue, typical of this writer's ironic style of humor.
Descendants Of The Sun is truly a not to be missed experience, not just a drama. Because of its worldwide exposure it will probably be the most watched Korean drama in history when you count up all the millions of hits the show has already seen internationally online. I am sure I will be watching it multiple times in the years to come - it's in my Top Ten and will probably always be there. The music is also excellent, although I could have done with fewer vocal songs and more of a concentration on instrumental pieces; these pieces of music support the scenes instead of overwhelming them like vocal songs can easily do. My favorite vocal song by far was Always, sung by Yoonmirae.
ENJOY this magnificent show!
Descendants Of The Sun Picture Gallery