Heck, it was an intense drama summer and not least because of these two shows, which kept us company for so many weeks and made Monday to Thursday drama-expectation days. And if you like the romance aspects of KDramas, both Faith and Arang and the Magistrate made you get your money's worth.
FaithThe Imja-couple doesn't exactly start off on the right foot. He kidnaps her from modern Seoul and she is terrified of him for the first few episodes. Well, at least until she stabs him with his sword and almost kills him - not because of the stabbing, but because she operates on him, which causes sepsis. Choi Young has great healing abilities and a strong inner ki but she messes with it. I am not sure whether there's a bigger message in this, because it is one of the million little things the drama didn't pick up or clarify (like anything to do with the different ki-powers). Was it a statement pro ancient medicine contra modern medicine? Or not a statement? Then why did she need to stab him and almost kill him? I have no clue how this advances the story, unless it was all about the bottle of Aspirins, which is one of the most consistently used props/items in Faith. Let's assume it was.
She realizes her feelings for him much, much later than him ... only when she gets her hands on the diary of her future self and realizes the warning in it refers to Choi Young. She admits to Jang Bin that she has never been able to love and trust anybody before - which is a character trait of strong and independent women, who have to fight for recognition in their careers, and therefore deny themselves a certain softness, which they think would be read as weakness in the male dominated worlds they live in. When she realizes that it's Choi Young that she loves, and that it's him who is always behind her, protecting her, she is ready to sacrifice everything for him - even her own life.
I will not pretend to understand the time-travel aspect of this show, because it simply doesn't make sense to me (if she needs to go back into the past to leave clues for herself, then shouldn't she have experienced a future in which Choi Young has died? That doesn't seem the case, however). Faith's ending, which was entirely centered on the romance, was satisfying nonetheless. Her travelling through the time portal again and again, until she hits the right time and finds him again is very sweet. In fact, if I had to pick the best part about this show (which was greatly lacking in many departments in my opinion), it would be the romance.
Arang and the MagistrateKim Eun-oh's and Arang's love is obviously doomed from the beginning. She is a ghost, he is a human. He doesn't like ghosts (because he can seem them and they constantly want things from him) and she doesn't like him, because he is cold, rough, and uses her rather obviously to find his mother. Nonetheless, he falls for her very quickly ... well, who wouldn't she is drop-dead-gorgeous, sassy, funny, ... and holds they key to finding his mother.
The cruelest part of this drama was how the aspect of fast passing time was made so palpable (the moon, the moon!) - and the aspect of inevitable heartbreak and doom so clear. In a drama which was fundamentally about death, about being dead, and about not wanting to be dead, the love between the two leads came with a bitter-sweet aftertaste at all times. There were so many sweet, heartwarming moments - and so many heartbreaking ones right after. I obviously like that there was a happy ending ... but in a way, this happy ending doesn't feel as satisfying as the one in Faith. In Faith, there was no cheating life and death; just a little time-travelling. In Arang, there is major cheating: re-incarnation, and in the exact same bodies at that! Sure, they deserve it, for ridding the world of a huge imbalance in the forces of the universe. But still. I find time-travelling much more believable.
Who Wins?Faith! Wow. Is that a first?
Even though there is a lot I didn't like about Lee Min-ho's acting, he deserves the highest of praise for making this romance work so well. Sure, Kim Hee-seon certainly was helpful (and I remember him mentioning this in some post-Faith interviews); but she did not change much as a character throughout the drama - whereas Min-ho grew into a man capable of love in front of our very eyes. And, as I said above: The romance worked so well because there was a feeling of comfort and familiarity between them; one that wasn't just acting, but real. These two people really liked each other (though not romantically) - but as friends.
Shin Min-ah and Lee Jun-ki are both exceptional actors and they never disappointed, not once. Particularly Jun-ki's acting was intense from beginning to end and he really gave his all. They are a well-matched couple, no doubt about that. And while the acting during the romance scenes was also exceptional, it did not touch me as much as the romance in Faith. In hindsight, I think it is the friendship that I felt between Lee Min-ho and Kim Hee-seon that I didn't feel between Shin Min-ah and Lee Jun-ki. I felt a lingering distance between them, a slight discomfort, which may be super subtle, but enough to tip the balance.
This might sound weird, but it might have helped that one of the actors in Faith is married with child. You can act as lovey-dovey as you want, and you can feel safe. When both are unmarried and not otherwise liaised (and one just came back from serving in the military for two years), not going full-out might be a sign of caution. From what I have read about 'scandals' in Korea, not much is need to make life for public figures very, very difficult. The other option is that Shin Min-ah and Lee Jun-ki just don't really like each other - which would be a pity, because they sure look good together.