Every time I even think of this drama I get such a heavy ache in my heart.
It was such a beautiful and moving and heart-wrenching story, but there was a certain plotline that I was just DESPERATE for that never eventuated, and that kind of broke my heart.
I don’t know if that was the drama’s fault however, more that my hoping and wishing went in a different direction (slightly) from the way the writers decided to end their narrative.
But on the whole, this drama for me was absolute gold.
It is atmospheric and creepy as hell, sad and tragic (oh so tragic) and just so utterly moving. It looks at the disintegration of families, of trust, of hope. And it explores the way our world works, how easy it is to just simply overlook someone small and vulnerable who is in trouble, and the immense bravery and sacrifice it can take to stand up and do something in the face of something awful.
I also did a long Podcst discussion on this Kdrama, so if you want to check it out you can listen on your favourite podcast platform, or follow the link below:
Listen to the Lee Evie Korean Drama Podcast
The Setting, Tone and Story
To me, this story is essentially a horror.
But it isn’t the supernatural kind of horror, it is the kind of realistic and gritty horror that truly exists in the world we live in, the kind that crawls beneath your skin and stays there, because you know for certain, not only could a story like this truly happen, it has, and many times before.
This drama is about a cult.
I feel like it is told in two parts, the first section which explores deeply the circumstances around one family being drawn into a cult. And part 2 is about attempting to escape.
I loved this look into how easy it is to be sucked into a cult. What circumstances would you need for a seemingly normal family to be drawn in like this?
It is so easy to stand on the outside of a community and look inwards and think to yourself; those people are nuts? How can they believe that crazy rubbish? How is it not obvious to the members that they have joined a mental cult?
And yet, people do get sucked into communities like these.
All the time.
All through history.
And even right now, all over the world. And that is why I think of this story as a horror, because it is about a family that is normal, nice, happy and filled with love, and then the narrative breaks down the circumstances that need to occur to destroy that family, turn them into the most desperate vulnerable and isolated people ever, and then slowly, ever so slowly, turn them into believers of something that from the outside, just seems so unbelievable.
I found this look into the culture of cult recruiting to be both ominously terrifying, yet also fascinating.
The first part of the story ends with the walls closing in around our heroine, Sang Mi, as she follows her family into the clutches of the cult. (I LOVED that scene, the way she looks up at the half-built church in all its menacing glory, and with absolutely no options left to her, Sang Mi slowly walks up those steps anyway, even though she knows that only terrible things will come from it. It was such a ‘Oh my gosh’ moment for me, and just so powerful.
And just so utterly sad.
This story is a tragedy, to be honest. It is unutterably sad, but just oh so compelling as a horror and mystery too.
The second part of this drama is a flash forward, and that is when the rescue stuff kicks in, which is just as compelling and tragic as the initial set up.
Gosh I LOVE this drama, it was absolute heart in your throat, edge of your seat thrilling stuff. The kind of thing you think about all day at work (and consider pulling sickies for! Ha!), dying to get home to watch just another episode to see how the story unfolds.
Also ….. aaaah. The way this kdrama is shot! It is stunning!
I am such a huge fan of beautiful dramas. I LOVE when the shots look like photography stills, I LOVE when they use natural light like the blue-light of pre-dawn and the dusky gloom of twilight, I love when we get to see unadorned countryside, the crumbling buildings and country lanes. A different side of Korea to the often glitzy escapism kdramas (which I still adore too!) that are usually set in nice cities.
This drama is a good looking and atmospheric show, which is evident from the very initial opening scene, and draws out throughout the entire story.
Rescue Me Characters
SPOILERS ABOUND FROM HERE ON OUT – YE BE WARNED!!!!
There are a hell of a lot of fascinating and complex characters in this kdrama, from the leader of the cult, his very deep and dark lackeys, right down to Sang Mi’s parents as well, but I am only going to focus on the absolute main players.
Okay, let’s start with Sang Mi.
She is certainly a damsel in distress, but she is so much more than that too, and even though she is most certainly a victim in this drama, it never once felt like that was all she was.
I felt like she was actually a pillar of strength, a kind of extreme inner strength I love to see portrayed in characters, and she was constantly tested, each day she was pushed just a little bit further than anyone should ever be pushed. She endured a little more every day over and above what anyone should ever have to endure.
She was beautiful and tragic and she was suffering, but she was also strong as hell, with a mind and heart of absolute steel. I am not sure I’ve ever seen such a strong character before, that she could live through what she does and still stay true to who she is, still remain herself when she is pushed so far and tested so much, it was incredible.
I’ll also just mention here how much I love this actress too, Seo Ye Ji, she is wonderful, vulnerable and strong all mixed in together and she gives such a complex and subtle performance here that I found truly moving.
I want to watch her in everything!
The sort of male lead in this is, Sang Hwan, as played by Taecyeon.
Now I know everyone is constantly upset whenever this dude is cast in anything, but to be honest, I really felt his earnestness absolutely to a tee suited this role. And I really liked him in it.
He plays (at the start a teenager and later a college student) who is sort of the leader of a little group of friends in his country town, a good upright boy who is wrestling with his own family demons, and though he has the opportunity to help Sang Mi out with some truly extreme school bully shit directed at her brother, he just …. doesn’t.
He walks away to protect his father’s reputation, and boy if that isn’t the worst mistake of his entire life.
And you better believe it haunts him.
I really liked the character of Sang Hwan, it made sense to me how doggedly he needs to solve this mystery and save Sang Mi, he is so burdened with guilt and the knowledge that he owes this girl.
But I also definitely didn’t want them to end up together!
Which leads me to my next point! WARNING – rant ahead!
Rescue Me – The Love Story
I really felt like the drama sort of started pushing a Sang Hwan and Sang Mi outcome towards the end. Even though I felt very strongly it was pushing Sang Mi in the direction of someone else (the tragic and gorgeous and committed Dong Cheol – played by the luminous and a bit good-looking Woo Do Hwan) for most of the run time…. just letting all that foundation the drama built just sort of …. fizzle out!
To me, the narrative arc for Taecyeon’s character should have been to gain forgiveness from Sang Mi for what he did. But it still seemed way too big a leap for him and Sang Mi to actually end up together!
I felt like forgiveness would have been way cathartic enough for an ending place, and it would have felt like a big deal anyway.
So I guess I found the push of Taecyeon towards Sang Mi to be a little tacked on, and it didn’t feel organic to the rest of the show.
But hey, maybe I am just biased because …..
This guy. Gosh.
Basically I fell in love with the tragic Dong Cheol straight away.
When Sang Hwan ignores Sang Mi at her point of distress at school on the roof, Dong Cheol runs straight into trouble to help her, and boy does he get the short end of the stick. Circumstances just keep pulling him down and down and the poor boy is shipped off to freaking juvenile detention and just every single time he was on screen my heart just ached for him. It was just so unfair and so freaking tragic!
And okay, yeah, I am totally biased. I love Sang Mi and I love Dong Cheol, so I wanted them to end up together. Like I desperately wanted it.
And yes, this is the first time I ever saw Woo Do-Hwan in a drama, and okay, he was pretty spectacular, as admitted by every single person who ever watched this show, he was an absolute standout. I’ll watch him in anything because of this (and oh boy, have I ever watched him in some stupid shows!), so yeah, I admit I am utterly biased in the way I wanted this love story to unfold.
But I also don’t feel like I fabricated that possibility out of complete thin air either! The bloody show get pointing at it. Like a lot.
They had these really drawn out moments between the pair.
It was damn obvious he was into her from the very start, which was made very clear, but by the time all the characters begin to become reunited, and Sang Mi is finally faced with Dong Cheol after knowing he went to jail basically for her, because he helped her, there is this long slow moment where he walks towards her and she is staring at him, and dude, it has all the beats of a love story moment.
And there was more of that stuff, peppered through the story, except by the end, it was always, always Taecyeon who happened to be around to do the saving instead of Dong Cheol, which just felt…. weird.
And that brings me to the ending.
Rescue Me ENDING
Sang Hwan saves Sang Mi from the evil cult (along with the help of everyone else) and then there is this moment where Sang Mi faces him and smiles and says ‘thank you’, and it is such a big moment. It is basically the point where she forgives him, and it is lovely. It is wonderful.
Dong Cheol was literally standing right behind her with fucking blood pouring down his face because he got hit in the head with a shovel while trying to save her, and that happened because he had been risking his life by infiltrating the cult for a really long time, nearly being murdered at every turn. Which happened because the boy went to jail for her.
Does Dong Cheol not deserve a thank you?
The boy joined a cult for her! He went to jail for her!! He got hit by a fucking shovel! what the fuck!???
Sang Hwan wasn’t the only freaking one who risked his life to save her!!! Bloody hell
Okay. So rant over.
I will leave you with this.
I was very excited to do a little guest post on the mega amazing Korean Drama blog, DRAMABEANS (potentially the best website in the entire world?) for their theme of the month series. And now I have taken an excerpt from that piece about how I would have re-written the ending of this show to make it absolutely perfect.
Here is an excerpt from that article:
So my ideal ending for this otherwise utterly compelling and heartbreaking drama would have been for Sang-mi to thank Sang-hwan after the police raid on the cult, and for him to get in the ambulance with his mum and drive away. At this point, Dong-chul and his blood-covered face would have asked Sang-mi and her mum where they were going to stay. After all, they have no home, no money, no belongings… so he would offer for them to come home to his old empty house.
The final scene in my imagination would have been Sang-mi waking up in the morning to a sunshine-filled yet dingy room, after sleeping the full night through peacefully for the first time in forever. She hears talking and laughter and looks out through a gap in the door to see Dong-chul and her mum getting breakfast ready on the floor in the main room. She watches Dong-chul being sweet to her mum. And then slowly she smiles. For the first time in a long, long while.
The end.Written by ME on Dramabeans (using a pen name)
My Rating of Rescue Me!
Okay, to finish, I say again how much I just ADORED this show. I LOVED it. It was my favourite show of the year.
It wasn’t perfect. I am aware of that.
It had some storylines that sort of went nowhere (I’m talking about the dirty detective with the nice grin and the dancing crim (cool dance scene… weird! But cool!) and some other random side stuff that was fascinating but felt unfinished), and obviously I had an extreme reaction to that ending. Extreme I say!
I award this drama 5 out of 5 shovel-smacked, head-bleeding gorgeous tragic Woo Do-Hwans!
If you have time to chat with me, I would absolutely LOVE to know:
- Did you watch this drama?
- Or will you watch it after reading this?
- Do you love Woo Do-Hwan? Did you want Dong Cheol to marry Sang Mi? (I did!)
- How many tragic bleeding overlooked Woo Do-Hwans would you give this drama out of five?
- Are you creeped out by cults?
- Are you in a cult?
- Tell me your feelings!!!!
I want to know ALL your feelings!!!!
Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!
LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea. Discover Lee Evie’s historical fiction novels by clicking on the images below!