Never judge a drama by its synopsis.
I have started so many dramas in the past couple of months, prepared to watch a certain story line or genre based on the plot synopsis. After beginning, though, I come to find what I was promised and what I’m actually watching are two entirely different things. Sometimes, unfulfilled expectations can be super frustrating. And sometimes, they can give you the gift of a fantastic drama you may not have pushed play on otherwise. Radiant is one of these dramas. Nothing could have prepared me for the journey I embarked on. (And that’s probably a good thing!) Come join DramaGeek and I as we share our thoughts on this hidden gem.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead – full drama review!
I repeat, if you have NOT watched this drama do not go any further unless you want a major plot twist SPOILED!
Kim Hye-Ja (Han Ji-Min) hopes to become an announcer. She is honest and has a positive personality, but she suddenly becomes a 70-year-old woman. 70-year-old Kim Hye-Ja (Kim Hye-Ja) gains the special ability to manipulate time. Lee Joon-Ha (Nam Joo-Hyuk) wants to become a reporter. He has worked hard to achieve his dream, but he now lives his life hopelessly. He gets involved with Kim Hye-Ja. (AsianWiki)
The story starts out from the first person narrative of Kim Hye-Ja and we are led to believe she has a magical watch. This watch is able to reverse time, but has the adverse side effect of aging Hye-Ja when it’s used excessively. After using the watch repeatedly, in an attempt to save her dad from dying in a car accident, 25 year-old Hye-Ja wakes to find herself looking like a 70-year old woman. Only her family and close friends know who she is, however because of her appearance, those around her think she is an elderly grandmother. She begins navigating this new life as a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body. The young man she was interested in no longer recognizes her, yet she still tries to help him as he stumbles through his lonely life. She also becomes the resident busy-body at the local senior-center. However, in a stunning turn-of-events we come to find out that our story’s heroine is actually suffering from Alzheimer’s. The last two episodes of the drama are from an outsider’s perspective, as well as the memory of the Hye-Ja, when she was a young woman in the 1970’s.
MiataMama: I don’t know about anyone else, but going into this drama, I was totally preparing myself for a light-hearted, time-travel romance. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I was utterly unprepared for what ultimately unfolded. While initially it stung a bit to be so blindsided, stepping back, I can fully appreciate how well the story was written. This was a very poignant, personal memoir and a little bit of a love letter, all rolled into one. I plan on going back and watching the first portion over again, because there were so many layers there, that were not obvious on the first viewing. To see the story from the perspective of her family (Hye-Ja as the struggling Alzheimer’s patient, vs. Hye-Ja as the struggling time-traveler) will be very different.
Drama Geek: After the first few episodes, I was prepared for a heavier drama than the previews and synopsis promised. The part that resonated with me was how the parents woke up and suddenly their daughter had changed overnight, and there was nothing they could do to make her feel better. Then, as the show progresses, that feeling of her losing so much of her life and suddenly being treated like an old person really hit home. She was still young and vibrant on the inside and wanted to be useful. I loved how the show kept emphasizing how important her and her friends were, even though they were older. Then the big reveal happened and I had to sit back and think about everything that came before. It was still the same message. Still the same sorrow and pain. Yet, it was so much deeper because they’d suddenly stolen that magic watch away from us. There was no turning back time to when she was younger. No restoring those fifty years that she’d suddenly lost.
MiataMama: I love, love, LOVE that the older cast was able to shine in this drama. Kim Hye Ja, who played the older character (of the same name), did a phenomenal job! She was so believable as the young woman in an old body. And my heart broke as she fluctuated between lucid moments and re-living her memories later on in the story.
Drama Geek: I agree. Rarely in a weekday drama does someone her age get so much screen time, and she really lit up this show. She was perfect as the sassy lead, convincing all of us that there was a 25-year-old trapped inside. She also conveyed the pain and sadness she was going through, and the bewilderment when some of the fog lifted and she realized who she really was.
MiataMama: Nam Joo Hyuk, as Lee Joon Ha, really surprised me in this drama. Although this was a predominantly older cast, he brought the charisma and acting chops needed to keep up with his more seasoned counterparts and TOTALLY eclipsed my expectations. I hope this will open the door to more serious roles for him in the future.
Drama Geek: I confess that I’ve always thought of him a model actor. He was not up to the task in Bride of Haebok and was part of the reason I was hesitant to watch. He proved that with the right director and role, major growth can happen. I loved his scenes with the older actress and her crew, but one of my favorite scenes was when he couldn’t bond with his baby, and the follow up where Hye Ja helps him see that he can connect. They didn’t glamorize these characters in the past, and I really appreciated that.
MiataMama: Han Ji Min, also did a great job portraying the younger Hye-Ja in the present, as well as her younger self in the past. Her inner-monologue narration was also key in tying the time jumps together. While I have no complaints about her acting, I do think her role would have been better suited to a younger actress.
Drama Geek: With Han Ji Min, she is at her best when they allow her to be serious. I loved her in Padam Padam. That came out in the last two episodes. I really felt everything her younger self was going through, whether it was falling in love or losing her husband.
MiataMama: I absolutely adored all the supporting cast— they were both memorable AND integral to the story that unfolded. From the mom (Lee Jung Eun) and dad (Ahn Nae Sang), to the elderly crew at the senior center, to younger versions of her best friends. But I have to admit, I had a soft spot for her doofus of a brother, Kim Young Soo, played by (the totally underrated) Son Ho Jun. He totally brought the often over-the-top comedic relief in the story!
Drama Geek: The entire cast was amazing. The actress that played her mother/daughter-in-law really tugged at my heart. I was so happy that such a variety of ages were at the front of this drama. The younger crew kind of stepped back and let the rest of the cast have a blast, and that really set this show apart from others.
MiataMama: Overall, this beautifully woven, sometimes meandering, story really made me stop and think about aging, memory loss, and loved ones. I’m thankful that I watched this drama as it aired. It needs to be digested slowly, not in a binge watch. And I’m thankful for my box of tissues, as I literally sobbed my way through the last two hours of the drama. So. Very. Powerful. I really, really love when a drama catches me totally off-guard, exceeds my expectations, and leaves me with such a lasting impression. Radiant is one I won’t soon forget.
Drama Geek: Rarely can a drama really get you inside someone else’s life. You always feel like you are the outsider watching things unfold. Radiant managed to put me inside Hye Ja’s head so that I might be enlightened to something I do not understand. It helped me appreciate my elders just a bit more, and made me want to cherish the happy moments as they are happening, because they may be the only thing I have left one day.
How about you, drama fans? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Until the next time – Love Radiantly,
MiataMama & Drama Geek
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi