Probably the strangest Korean drama I've ever watched, totally unpredictable, throwing twists and turns at the audience constantly in the plot, Radiant (2019) was a K-drama I started and stopped several times in 2019, before I decided to bite the bullet and finally finish it, in early 2020 no less, no matter what was in store for me. For quite some time I struggled with its supernatural, time jump qualities, finding it confusing, but after the half-way point I suddenly decided I was understanding its direction more, and warming to it after all, despite its complexities. Plus there was one of the best scenes ever in a K-drama in the very last episode, and I am so glad I stayed the course just to see it. MAGNIFICENT ACTING!!! Honestly, it's worth watching the whole drama just to see that unbelievable scene! The power of forgiveness and penitence and understanding in one ten-minute scene, that literally explained and summed up the whole thrust of the drama from the beginning! I will never forget it as long as I live. This is why Korean dramas are so superior to anything on television from any other country. Koreans are not afraid of spiritual matters in their stories, nor of sentimentality.
I had missed actress Han Ji Min (Padam Padam, Cain and Abel, Rooftop Prince, Hyde, Jekyll and I) in more recent dramas (she's always so busy, for instance she made FOUR movies in 2018 alone!), and I wanted to see what she would do with such a different and unique drama character, one who mystically seems to age five decades because of a magic watch that comes into her possession, and then who suddenly reverts back to her younger self without any warning, then back to an aged woman again, the last time revealed to be suffering from Alzheimer's.
I also knew the veteran actress Kim Hye Ja, who played her character when old, and knew she was outstanding, having starred in the unforgettable 2009 film Mother, and the excellent Korean drama focusing on old people, 2016's Dear My Friends. Lead actor Nam Joo Hyuk (School 2015, Cheese In The Trap) also delivered a complex, fascinating performance, especially for one so young. Maybe collaborating with such fantastic, experienced talents rubbed off on him. To be honest there were times I actually hated his character, but then he would make me sympathize with him again because his life seemed so empty most of the time. He needed the love of a good woman and he often didn't seem to appreciate it when it began to come his way. I was also thrilled to see two more veteran actors I love in everything I see, playing Han Ji Min's character's parents, Lee Jung Eun (When The Camellia Blooms and the hit film Parasite) and Ahn Nae Sang (May Queen, Lawless Lawyer). For necessary comic relief at times there was the actor playing the lazy but handsome brother, Son Ho Jun (Terius Behind Me). Altogether a great cast - starring in a sometimes confusing, sometimes upsetting, but ultimately beautiful, supernatural family thriller.
We first meet twenty-five year old Kim Hye Ja (Han Ji Min) when she is beginning a career as a radio announcer, but unsure if she wants to continue in the profession. She still lives at home to save money. Her busy, chatty mother (Lee Jung Eun) runs her own hair salon, and her quiet father (Ahn Nae Sang) is a security guard who walks with a limp. (We are to learn later he had a bottom part of his leg amputated after a car accident as a child and walks with the help of a wooden prosthesis). Since childhood Hye Ja has had a testy, somewhat comical relationship with her computer addict brother Kim Young Soo (Son Ho Jun), who rarely leaves his room, preferring to make a pittance of money on the computer running chat schemes on various topics. Their parents seem to have long ago given up on him, and focus all their hopes and dreams on Hye Ja and her success.
Hye Ja has two best girlfriends she hangs out with on her off time, Lee Hyun Joo (Kim Ga Eun from Because This Is My First Life) and Yoon Sang Eun (Song Sang Eun, from Catch The Ghost, with the highest pitched, anime girl voice I've ever heard!). Hye Ja has a not so secret crush on a handsome young man who lives in her neighborhood, who also dreams of becoming an announcer but who has no experience in the field, named Lee Joon Ha (Nam Joo Hyuk). He seems a bit jealous of her success. He ends up working in a senior center but he doesn't much care for it, and even starts up a surreptitious, nefarious side business there, privately selling drugs and supplements to the seniors with Alzheimer's, and then taking the money and not delivering the goods, figuring the old people will just forget what they ordered and he can pocket the money. Although Hye Ja puts out feelers that she likes him, and tries to encourage him to live a better, cleaner life, he seems depressed most of the time. (Small wonder, he has a chip on his shoulder the size of the Verrazano Bridge!).
When Hye Ja had been a young girl she had found a mysterious watch on the beach and kept it in her possession for all the years since childhood ended. Then suddenly one day the watch displays magical powers and she discovers to her horror that its time shifting magic had turned her into an old woman in her seventies (actress Kim Hye Ja, yes I know, with the same name as the character!).
Eventually her family believes that it is her and try to shelter her, and then her girl friends accept her new persona as well. Inside her old body she is still twenty-five, she has the brain and heart of someone much younger, but on the outside she is old.
She starts volunteering in the same senior center that the boy she still cares for is working at, and discovers unpleasant things about him for the first time. Will her love for him be able to help get him on the straight and narrow path, or is he doomed to destroy himself with the dark side of his nature? He does not recognize her when she's old, and when they have confrontations he insults her. She tries not to show that she is bothered by his reactions but she clearly is. (So many times I wanted somebody to throttle that kid, and eventually it happens, when thugs knock him to the ground and bloody him up. I can't say I felt too sorry for him, he needed it!).
A few brief times young Hye Ja is able to escape being old and return to her twenty-five year old self, but then someone steals the watch at a time when she is old again and she finds she can't go back to her younger self.
At this point the drama takes some poignant twists and turns into the pasts of all the family members, as well as certain seniors living at the senior center, and we learn some shocking things about them which made them the complex people that they are in adulthood, and as they approach their senior years too. I won't reveal all those mysteries to you: you really need to watch and discover them all on your own.
In many ways the last two episodes are the best episodes of the entire drama, and then there's that unbelievable scene in episode twelve; you'll know which one I mean when you see it. I burst into tears.
Don't miss Radiant. Enjoy, and learn from it.
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