Drama Review: Innocent Man (Nice Guy)

This is pretty subjective and biased as a review so take from it what you will.

Note: this review contains both a spoiler-free review and a review/analysis WITH spoilers. The spoiler-free review will be first, with the spoiler-ific one after it. 

Non-Spoiler Review

Oh, man, what a ride this drama was. I’d like to say right from the start that I LOVE this drama. I think it’s currently my all-time favorite. And hopefully it’s not because I just finished it and am just on a drama high. Or the fact that I love Song Joong-ki.

This drama focuses on betrayal, revenge, and romance. We start out with Maru, a medical student, who is in a relationship with the love of his life, Jae-hee. One day, things go awry, causing Maru to give up everything for Jae-hee. In the end, however, he is betrayed by her, so he decides to get revenge using Jae-hee’s step-daughter, Eun-gi.

Before watching this drama, I had been picking up a few dramas but ended up dropping them because they were just predictable and I didn’t really feel for the main leads—the main leads are so vital for me to like a show. I think what drew me to this drama was that the synopsis, while potentially frustrating because of all the misunderstandings, was intriguing. I know that this show doesn’t exactly break any grounds in the melodrama genre; a lot of the drama is just waiting for secrets to be revealed, that we as the omniscient audience already know, so there weren’t exactly any mind-blowing twists or surprises. However, there were quite a few things that this drama did differently from other shows that I’ve watched that makes me love this show so much.

One thing I loved was the characters (and the actors who play them) and how multi-layered and well-developed they were. They displayed themselves in a very mature and remarkable way. This show made me a fan of Song Joong-ki—he’s a great actor. I knew about him before, but I never actually watched his works. Joong-ki is just so convincing that I had trouble not separating Maru as a person from Joong-ki. I was watching parts of Running Man episode 39 before watching the last episode of Innocent Man, and it was so hard for me to fathom that the Joong-ki in Running Man is the guy who plays Maru in Innocent Man. Joong-ki was able to make Maru come to life on his own. Also, I liked how the characters all were flawed and sometimes made bad decisions. No one was completely black or white; most were in the gray, even if they have twisted perceptions of what they’re doing (I’d say Jae-gil and Choco are exceptions, but that’s a given). Even the villain has a fulfilling arc with motivations that run deep and make sense.

Another aspect I loved about this drama was how things were revealed. The drama didn’t beat around the bush or drag anything out unnecessarily. There was always some twist or something important happening. I think that’s what made this drama so addicting (at least for me), because I had no idea how things would play out, how people would react, or how this drama would end. I liked how the first half of the drama was full of deceit and plans on top of plans on top of other plans. The drama purposely kept us in the dark about Maru’s motives and thoughts, which I thought was a superb move, in the first half, and in the second half, we were in the dark about other characters. Also, the characters were able to figure things out quickly. I loved how Maru was portrayed as a genius (he really is), and he was able to figure things out pretty quickly. The main thing is I just liked how nothing really dragged. There’s always some dragging in the third or fourth quarter of a drama over conflicts that have been pulled out for way too long, and fortunately, Innocent Man did not follow this trend.

Overall, I thought this drama was handled very well. Since this is a melodrama, the focus is more on the relationships and drama, so it’s best to just take things as they are. The characters are memorable and realistic, and the plot is addicting and intense. It takes a look at the consequences of obsession–whether it be with love, money, or power, of when one sacrifices too much, and of using other people . The path that Maru takes in this drama is a dark one full of suffering, and it’s interesting to see how he develops on his journey.

Click here to see my final verdict.

Warning: From here on out we will be entering the spoiler part of the review. There will be MAJOR SPOILERS about this drama. 

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Spoiler-ific Review

In this spoiler section part of the review, I’ll go in more detail about characters, story, and other aspects of the drama.

Maru is hands down my favorite character in this drama. It was interesting to see Maru go from the nice guy who was studying to become a doctor and who would have lived a “bright” life pre-betrayal to someone who was heading down a dark path of revenge, even if that meant completely and utterly destroying himself, as long as it meant him achieving his revenge (of pulling Jae-hee down). It was almost frighteningly fascinating how much of a nice guy Maru is—he’s always willing to sacrifice himself for people he loves, which is honestly scary, because it means he’s always willing to sacrifice his happiness/life/well-being. I think this was his fatal flaw, and I would have liked the drama to directly address this at the end (we’ll talk about the end later). It was also great to not have him as the typical arrogant-jerk-who-has-heart-of-gold. Sure he was a jerk to many girls (especially Eun-gi), but there was always a motive behind his actions, no matter how twisted they were. I also dislike it when the main guys try to control the main girl’s life, such as forcing a kiss (cough, Heirs), or always grabbing the girl and forcing them to go somewhere (this did happen in Innocent Man, but were far and few in between), but Maru was always supportive of Eun-gi to stand up for herself and solve her own problems (such as the part where he drops her off at a CEO’s house so she can apologize). Of course, there’s the question of when Maru actually started falling in love with Eun-gi. I think he’s always been at least intrigued by her, since she’s so cold and rude to everyone. He might have even disliked her personality, but as Eun-gi started falling in love with Maru, he begins to see how sincere she is toward him and how rarely she actually opens her heart and develops relationships like this. I think it’s her confession to him in the rain that moves him and that’s when he starts caring and being sincere toward her. Also, I love the moment when they’re driving from a vacation date (after the accident) and he’s saying he regrets ever hurting her and getting her involved. So much lub for Marugi. I’d say a big factor of my love for this drama is because I love the main pairing so much. I just love how their relationship is much more than just feelings; there’s a lot of sacrificing for the other’s happiness. It was too bad that their relationship developed the way it did, with all the revenge baggage.

Another character I loved was Eun-gi. Usually, the main heroines are difficult for me to root for because 95% of drama heroines are the ditzy-silly type that are “loud” and “strong” to seem to the audience like they can stand up for themselves, but really they can’t, and this façade is usually dropped after a few episodes. AND THIS ALWAYS IRKS ME TO NO END. Sometimes, the main girl is completely and utterly incapable of handling their own lives and standing up to whatever mean girls or conflicts that are thrown in their way. I especially dislike some of the expressions they make, such as the typical surprised-innocent-look-with-quick-blinking-while-unable-to-say-anything. I don’t know if it’s written into their part, but I just don’t like that kind of acting. Luckily, Eun-gi was not in this 95%, or else I probably would have dropped the drama, especially since this is a melo. I liked how the drama subverted the trope of rich-guy-poor-girl and gave Eun-gi the “cold-arrogant” role while Maru was the poor guy. And the best part is, she does it in a way that is completely awesome. She knows what she wants and how to get it. And it makes sense how she became this way—her father was trying to train her to handle taking over Tae-san one day, but this causes her to have severe trust issues and create her cold exterior as a guard to her true self. I felt so much for her; she was truly lonely and isolated, and I’m so glad she was able to find someone like Maru. So many people were lying to her after the accident, too, so it’s completely understandable why she would feel so angry at everyone. After the accident and Eun-gi gets her amnesia (also love how her amnesia isn’t the selective-amnesia-trope in dramas, she actually loses cognitive and mental abilities), it was wonderful to be able to see Eun-gi as her true self without any of her walls that she usually puts around herself. Some say that she becomes too clingy and depressed, but I think it’s completely within character. She’s never truly loved someone or opened herself to someone else other than Maru. It was a relief, though, when the awesome-Eun-gi came back, because I had really missed her. Before that, too, it was cool to see parts of the original Eun-gi come out in amnesiac-Eun-gi. It was so awesome when she was regaining her memories and tricking everyone in the process.

Another character I liked was Jae-hee. In the beginning, I actually was on the edge about her—I didn’t know whether to dislike her or root for her. It was after she continually made bad decisions that I really didn’t like her, but I think what was so empathetic about her was that she wasn’t necessarily an evil person, but just someone who makes terrible decisions. Her arc was one of the best I’ve seen for drama villains. In the beginning, she was a sweet girl who did love Maru with all her heart, but she put power and money above love. Which, of course, started off this entire drama. It was so satisfying to see herself finally realize (and not just suddenly or randomly, either) that she needed to take responsibility for her own actions, and that her own actions were actually *gasp* bad. And also for her to realize that money and power are not everything to your happiness. To see her turn herself in without anyone forcing her was definitely something I enjoyed to see.

The only issues I had with the characters (and this is a minor nitpick) is that the amnesia plots threw me off a loop about the character’s personalities, particularly Eun-gi. It was never really clear, at least for me, when Eun-gi gets her memories back. We do know when she realizes that Maru was the one she was in the car crash with and also the memories of their break up and his “betrayal” at the beach, but when did she regain memories of her dad (if she even had forgotten about him)? There was so much conflict between Eun-gi and her father in the first half of the drama; I know they loved each other, but it didn’t seem like either character knew that the other loved them. So when Eun-gi was making a big deal about how her father died and instead she was with Maru, I was iffy about it. I mean, I get the pain (not being there when your father is dying?!) but a) it’s not like you could have REALLY done anything even if you were with him and b) I thought you were kicked out and had some misunderstandings with your father? Also, there was that moment when Eun-gi lost her memory again(?) (after Jae-hee visits her and Eun-gi remembers Park Joon-ha telling her that Maru had used her to get revenge at Jae-hee) and then she was angry the next day, and then the next day after that she was back to the original amnesiac-Eun-gi (so many Eun-gi’s, lol). It wasn’t clear how exactly this helped her (because apparently this was “the biggest hurdle” she had to pass to regain her memories). So it was just difficult for me to see where the old-Eun-gi came back, but I guess this was to seem gradual and not like a 180. It was also hard for me to grasp who Eun-gi was as a character while she had amnesia. It sort of bothers me when movies or shows have a different timeline (such as Cinderella 3 or other movies that I won’t name just in case of spoilers) where someone changes the past so now there’s a different future, and the characters don’t remember what happened. Experience and memories make people who they are, so without them, it’s like the characters aren’t the same. But this is just something on my part, and I was willing to let it go because it really is just a personal preference. Also, I was confused by the whole Eun-gi-remembers-her-memories-and-wants-revenge. She reveals the “scandal” between Maru and Jae-hee before their wedding… there’s the fallout where they talk at the Han River and Joon-ha comes to pick Eun-gi up… and then Eun-gi tells Joon-ha she can’t hate Maru… What I don’t get is that Maru’s persepctive would still think Eun-gi is angry at him. There wasn’t a scene where Eun-gi was like “oh, I still like you, Maru” straight to his face. Oh, I guess Joon-ha tells Maru she still likes him sometime off-screen. (I hope). It was just confusing because wouldn’t Maru not want to see Eun-gi if she wants to have revenge on him?

   

Jae-gil and Choco were also very endearing. Their scenes were so funny. Although they seemed out of place and like filler in the beginning of the drama, in the latter, Choco actually saves Maru’s life from Jae-sik. And Jae-gil is one of the best in the history of best friends. It was so touching to see him worried about Maru—it was like they were brothers. Plus I love Lee Yu-bi and Kwang-soo xD I like how Yu-bi, Secretary Hyun, and Maru’s doctor-teacher were Cheong-jo, Suzy’s lady teacher, and Suzy’s father, respectively, in Gu Family Book.

I also loved Joonha’s and Maru’s mutual respect for each other. Usually I get second lead syndrome, but luckily this time, I evaded it! Joon-ha is such a caring guy for Eun-gi, and I loved how he realizes that letting Eun-gi go is also love. I feel like that should be what all second leads realize. It was great to also see not a significant love triangle between the two guys and Eun-gi. Sure, there’s probably a love pentagon in this drama, but you didn’t really notice because it was so focused on the actual story.

Now, let’s talk about juicy stuff: the last episode and the end. Oh, the end. I was so worried that Maru would die (there was so much foreshadowing!). I just want to say I am an avid shipper of Marugi (they are my drama OTP, Joong-ki and Chae-won have such amazing chemistry), and it would have been so sad if they didn’t end up together *sniff sniff*. There was SO much speculation and people were saying the writer had killed previous main characters in her previous dramas, so needless to say, I was beyond worried. Some possible endings I was preparing myself for was Maru getting hospitalized (I honestly thought he would’ve been hospitalized a lot earlier than how they did it in the drama) and then him dying after the surgery (this is what I thought before I watched the last few episodes of the drama). Then, the drama didn’t really mention Maru’s hematoma that much, so I had hopes for a happy ending. Then, in the beginning of the last episode, someone was like “Good, Maru is dropped by both girls” and I was like WHAT. It would have been terrible (for my Marugi heart and also how Maru doesn’t get anything) if he was made to just move on with his life without being with who he loves, or if he was forced to sacrifice himself for Eun-gi and just live with Jae-hee while Eun-gi misunderstands (now that would be a TERRIBLE ending for emotional satisfaction). However, we find that Maru gets stabbed by Ahn Min-young by sacrificing himself to save Eun-gi, before he goes and falls to the ground in some dark area (hopefully near the hospital?!). Then we go seven years later… My first reaction to Maru alive was YESSS!! Then when we find out he had “amnesia” and is a doctor, I was like WTF, not again. Then as we got to see more, I was like okay, okay, I can deal with this. By the end of the episode, I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVEEE the ending subjectively, although I do know that objectively, it’s not GREAT. I didn’t like how they sort of rushed things in the end. I felt that there should have been more time to register character reactions to reveals. They could have definitely hospitalized Maru a lot earlier than they did.

I thought it was great during the conversation Maru had with Jae-hee that he reveals he doesn’t want to die. This is so significant, at least to me. He has lived most of his life post-betrayal not caring if he died or not, and now he wants to actually live, and better yet, he says he can live without love. I think this goes to show that he is willing to let go for other people’s happiness, and it’s a way for him to have Jae-hee lose her influence on him.

I think it was also great to see Jae-sik influenced by Choco to not wanting to kill Maru. It reveals how both Jae-hee and Jae-sik may have warped motives, but they both are used to lack family love. The fact that Jae-sik was moved by Choco doing something as simple as making meals for him and celebrating his birthday with seaweed soup struck a chord in me.

I really liked the epilogue, even considering the rushed pacing of the last episode. It was cute how Choco and Jae-gil are married and have a kid, and I liked seeing Jae-sik working at a chicken place and interacting with Secretary Hyun and Jae-gil. I liked the scene where Jae-hee is waiting for Min-young who was just released from prison (and Park Joon-ha makes an appearance! He’s alive! And I thought he was Maru at first too xD). Like I said before, I was so relieved that Maru is still alive, but then again, the epilogue music was so happy that there’s no way there could have been a visiting-cemetery scene, haha. I liked how it came full circle, that Maru, who used to not believe in God and never had anything he wanted, was given a second chance to have the love he wants (ordinary, normal love).

[By the way, this is going off on a slight tangent here, but I’d like to address Maru’s original disbelief in some higher deity. This kind of thing is always important in revenge, in my opinion, and the characters have thoughts on this a few times throughout the drama, so I think this merits some discussion. I think there’s an important reason this was in the drama. Maru had suffered a lot and always gotten the short end of the stick, and Jae-hee’s several betrayals to him have hit him hard enough that he wants revenge. If he had believed in higher deities or afterlife, Jae-hee would suffer her consequences in hell or receive punishment in the afterlife (or, in the Korean viewpoint, she would probably be reincarnated as someone in a low station in life or something of that sort. But I’m not an expert on what Koreans believe about reincarnation so correct me if I’m wrong). The fact that he didn’t believe in God in the beginning shows part of his motivations for his revenge. If there are no consequences for Jae-hee’s actions after this life, then Maru must take it on himself to bring justice to her actions. Of course, there’s also the fact that he wants to bring Jae-hee down from that world so she can live the life she was meant to live. And Maru praying and believing(?) in God at the end is so significant because it shows he has relieved that burden of revenge off himself (which probably also happened when Jae-hee turned herself in) and does not feel like he needs to avenge what Jae-hee has done to him. End tangent.]

Maru’s voiceover during this scene in the epilogue is beautiful: he talks about why he didn’t avoid Eun-gi’s car when she was speeding toward him in the tunnel and why he was smiling. He says that he was just exhausted from life and was hoping that if he and Eun-gi died, they would be able to have another life where they end up together and have a normal life. I was so happy that Maru could have this chance, since he has lived such a dark life full of suffering and misery. He loves Eun-gi so much, and he finally ends up with her. At first I was frustrated that he had amnesia, but it turns out he remembers everything since he gives Eun-gi the ring that he had wanted to give to her before (also, he keeps stalking her haha), which I’m so happy about, because it’s just not the same if he didn’t have his memories. It was a chance for Maru to start over and have the life he’s always wanted. I really do love this ending and I can’t stop thinking about it. I like how it’s more open ended (sure, I wish we could have more, but it means it leaves much to the imagination!). It makes my heart feel all cozy and like it’s about to burst. Maru’s voiceover describing this second chance is so sweet and really gives me warm feelings inside. Also, this IS seven years after Maru’s hospitalization (I was wondering what if it was a different reincarnation) because they mention the accident, Jae-hee talks about Eun-gi and Eun-suk getting along (yes! Eun-suk is the cutest thing ever), and of course, there are Maru’s rings.

There are a few qualms I do have about the ending, though. One obvious one is what happened to Tae-san? Eun-gi is shown to have a bakery in the epilogue, and Jae-hee had only gotten released from prison a few months before. People were making speculations about how Jae-hee or Joon-ha is still running the company, and Eun-gi is someone they consult for major decisions (like as a chairman), but not for the daily actions. I think this is plausible, but I still find it unsatisfying to not have this aspect resolved. We spent 19 episodes trying to get Eun-gi back to her position. I realize that Eun-gi might have not wanted that position anymore, but at least show us she doesn’t want it anymore! Perhaps the writers left this out on purpose, but I still feel like it is too open ended for it to be a “good” open ended thing. I wish they showed something of how Tae-san is today, and whether or not Eun-gi or Jae-hee are still involved with it or not.

Secondly, it feels like Maru’s hematoma problems were something of a red herring, especially since he survived. I guess it was to help get Maru and Eun-gi back together, but it was just too quickly resolved. There was too much crying (on Jae-gil’s part, haha) and foreshadowing for the drama to be like: “Yeah Maru procrastinated on surgery so he only has 50% chance of living! And Maru and Eun-gi’s meeting before the epilogue basically means he’s going to die! (when you say you’re going to tell someone something tomorrow, it means it ain’t gonna happen. ‘cause you’ll die.) Not to mention he was stabbed when he saved Eun-gi! And Maru falls in some quiet, dark sidewalk where there’s no one in sight! Except haha you’ve been tricked! He’s actually alive!” It’s like the drama was trying to make us anticipate his death (and cause us viewers suffering and grief of the possibility of our Maru dying), only to pull out the biggest (unbelievable) “plot twist” ever, that Maru doesn’t die. Which is actually pretty typical for dramas (City Hunter, anyone?). Also, there is the whole thing of Min-young trying to kill Eun-gi, only for Maru to save her and get stabbed instead (one of my favorite scenes from this drama, and I actually cried but trying to be objective here, haha). I thought he was actually going to die. Throughout the entire drama, Maru has been shown to be something of a martyr, always sacrificing himself for others. I think it would have been a nice touch if Eun-gi sacrificed herself for Maru to take him out of that sacrificial loop/mindset, but that didn’t happen. It just felt contrived, meant to get a few tears out (and it worked lol) but otherwise, it doesn’t contribute much to the story (in my opinion). There’s also the question of why Maru tried to hide his wound from Eun-gi, and there’s an answer I found in the comments of Dramabeans’ recap: Maru knew his injury didn’t affect any vital organs (or even if it did, he was more concerned for Eun-gi’s safety), and if Eun-gi had found out, she would have gone after Min-young, or at least Min-young would go after them, so Maru wanted to get her out of there ASAP. And when Maru collapses to the ground, it’s on a sidewalk that is very near the hospital (it’s not like Eun-gi and Maru wondered far from the hospital to begin with). Also, and this is kind of again a light tangent, I found the kiss Maru and Eun-gi had outside the taxi so sweet—it was like Maru was trying to remember everything about her.

I would also have liked to see Choco, Jae-gil, and Maru interactions at the end, or at least something to show that they are in touch. Are they still in contact? I’d like to think so, but it seems as if Maru is in some obscure area (is he still in Seoul? Or is it some countryside area?).

I’d like to also consider Maru’s revenge path in this drama. He goes after Eun-gi to get close to her and pull Jae-hee down from her position, but it seems that in the last few episodes of the drama, Maru has a change of heart about Jae-hee. I suppose his nice guy side comes out, but it still feels sudden. I also would have liked more of Eun-gi’s mom’s accident—about who exactly orchestrated the accident (why Joon-ha’s dad was the one to do the actual action), and why the accident occurred.

Random thought: When I was watching it, I thought it was strange since I didn’t cry or really tear up even in really touching scenes. Maybe I have been too conditioned to dramas? Haha. But I did end up crying in the last episode! In the part where Maru was stabbed and also in the epilogue.

Another random thought (too lazy to place this where it’s supposed to fit): I think the Maru and Jae-hee “date” in episode 19 was so touching. We got to see an instance of the Maru he was pre-betrayal (and does anyone else find him saying “noona” super cute?). Maru and Jae-hee could have lived a ordinary, quiet yet fulfilling life yet all that changed with a few bad decisions (on both Maru’s and Jae-hee’s parts). It gave me a lot to imagine: what their life would be like if Jae-hee had just turned herself in, and also the period of Maru’s time in prison and when he just came out.

I just love this drama so much, all of the characters, the story, the journey. It really gives me “nostalgic feels” and that gut feeling you get when you have second lead syndrome and made me continually think about the characters. Even now, writing this, I’m getting goosebumps and sort of have my heartstrings tugged as I think of Maru and Eun-gi and all the characters. Their journey was one full of suffering and hurt, but it all ended happily! This really makes me wish Maru and Eun-gi are real! It feels like a real story.

Final Verdict: Even with some minor grievances and the fact that this is a pretty typical melo, Innocent Man is still an amazing drama, with flawed characters that come to life for which you’ll root for, a compelling and addicting storyline, superb acting, and a great OST. Currently my favorite drama.

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