The prodigal romantic hero of K-dramas has returned home! Melting Me Softly is Ji Chang-wook’s comeback drama after his mandatory military service and it couldn’t be more on-brand for the actor who is best known for Healer (2014-2015), The K2 (2016), and Suspicious Partner (2017). It has everything we’ve come to associate with Ji Chang-wook dramas—an absurd premise that lends itself well to both romance and comedy, a thrilling plot twist, and a sprinkling of the Russian mafia on the side. Joining him is Won Ji-ah, who has already impressed us in Rain or Shine and Life. (Note: this article is about the first episode of the drama.)
Despite the show’s premise sounding both rehashed and bizarre, I was excited. I don’t mind formulaic plots with this one, especially since Ji Chang-wook’s dramas tend to leave a lot of room for variation in romance, comedy as well as plot twists. Based on the first episode, however, this show doesn’t seem interested in rising above the formula. A lot of the punchlines fell flat for me and the interaction between the leads didn’t make my heart flutter with the possibility of a romance. I’m still hopeful though because some things are bound to change if you’ve been frozen for over 20 years, right?
The first episode takes place in 1999. Our leading pair are already frozen in cryo chambers when we first see them, so the episode is basically a series of flashbacks that introduce the characters. Ma Dong-chan (Ji Chang-wook) is a star variety show PD with a perfect life, while Go Mi-ran (Won Jin-ah) is his exact opposite—a struggling job applicant who sometimes works as a test subject for variety shows to test new pranks/games. The only thread connecting these two individuals is their passion for variety shows, which in Dong-chan’s case I found absurd. Ignoring government regulations, health and safety concerns, and your girlfriend’s fear just to volunteer for a potentially dangerous science experiment? This is taking job dedication to a whole new level.
Not only is Dong-chan obsessed with the experiment, despite being unsettled by the scientist’s shady past, he even ropes in his junior, Hyung-gi (Lee Hong-ki) to film it, and later, Mi-ran, to be the female subject. I liked that Mi-ran’s first instinct is to refuse the offer, which already proves that she’s the smarter of the two. What finally makes her say yes to Dong-chan’s suggestion is that cryogenics could be the key to developing a cure for incurable illnesses, which makes her think of her little brother Nam-tae (Park Min-soo) who has a developmental disorder. I’m already feeling for Mi-ran because all her reasons for taking part in these bizarre experiments are emotional. Dong-chan, however, is simply a man possessed.
Dong-chan’s emotional anchor is his announcer girlfriend-turned-fiancee Na Ha-young (Chae Seo-jin), a role that Yoon Se-ah will be taking over post the time jump. Honestly, I was a tad bit disappointed by the lack of emotional depth in Dong-chan. Both his passions—variety shows and his girlfriend—seem very misplaced to me in the sense that all I saw was a desire to be the first one to do something. Maybe, this lack of depth will be resolved through character development? I’m not sure, but I definitely expected to be more invested in this, and also Mi-ran’s dynamics with her brother, because these relationships will form the bedrock of their return back to the present.
The narrative choice to introduce Mi-ran and Dong-chan’s stories through flashbacks was appreciated, because it was kind of like seeing things in hindsight—we already know that Dong-chan and Mi-ran are tied together through an irreversible fate—and gave the viewers a chance to focus on details as well as trace a trajectory for their first meeting and the similarities between them, which will later become the foundation of their relationship.
The flashbacks also gave the show a chance to explore a slight 90’s nostalgia—from Nam-tae asking Mi-ran to get him 90’s girl group Fin.K.L.’s autographs to mentions of H.O.T. Meanwhile, the comedy bits of this rom-com fell flat and recycled to me, including the scene of Mi-ran dramatically beating up her cheater boyfriend Byeong-shim (Baro). Although I’m hoping that was just a side-effect of the era they’re trying to replicate and the gags will get better as we progress.
As with the best-laid plans in dramas, everything goes horribly wrong on the day Dong-chan and Mi-ran are to be thawed (there’s a word I never thought I’d use to talk about people). The scientist, who already has the Russian mafia on his trail, is blown to bits minutes before the experiment concludes, throwing the fate of our leads for a toss. This is where I thought the show was probably sticking too much, almost off-puttingly so, close to the “plot twist” formula because I could have been asleep through the show and still been able to pinpoint the twist.
Everything depends on how this show handles this botched-up experiment that will change everything for our leads. If done right, Melting Me Softly has the potential to be an enjoyable watch with equal parts romance and old-school slapstick comedy. My favorite change, which hasn’t happened yet but I’m expecting with bated breath, is Yoon Se-ah‘s appearance in the show, possibly romancing Ji Chang-wook. I mean, imagine waking up twenty years later to find that your girlfriend is Yoon Se-ah. I think I’d consider my time frozen in the ice pretty worth it, to be honest.