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K-drama ● Review: Doom at Your Service

English Title: Doom at Your Service

Korean Title: 어느 날 우리집 현관으로 멸망이 들어왔다 [lit. one day destruction entered the front door of our house]

Director(s): Kwon Young-il

Screenwriter(s): Im Me-ah-ri

Studio: Studio Dragon, Studio&NEW Released: 2021

Runtime: 16 episodes, min. 1h – max. 1h 12m

Starring: Park Bo-young, Seo In-guk, Lee Soo-hyuk, Shin Do-hyun, Kang Tae-oh, Dawon, Jung Ji-so, Woo Hee-jin


My Verdict: Lacks plot. Themes are apparent but under-developed. Mostly looks good. Relies too much on Park Bo-young and Seo In-guk to carry the show.


Doom at Your Service

● Tak Dong-kyung (Park Bo-young) is a fiction editor who works hard at a publishing house. She has one younger brother and their parents died when they were young. They were subsequently raised by an aunt (their mother’s sister). One day, her doctor tells her that she has about three months to live due to glioblastoma and then she finds out that her boyfriend of three months is a married man. At her rooftop apartment that night, after some drinking, she sees shooting stars and wishes doom and destruction on the world.


● Myul Mang (Seo In-guk), literally “destruction” or “doom”, hears her wish and makes a deal with her since it is his birthday. He wants to grant her wish before she dies in 100 days and will, in the meantime, take away the physical pain due to her condition. But she has to make the wish.


Tak Dong-kyung (Park Bo-young)
Tak Dong-kyung (Park Bo-young)
Myul Mang (Seo In-guk)
Myul Mang (Seo In-guk)

● Dong-kyung is crudely set up as the “sad pitiful victim”. Almost everything is thrown at her, short of actually getting hit by a car. With Park Bo-young playing the role, one doesn’t need to go that far as she is capable of selling that image but that is not even half the problem.


● Even for a character- or relationship-driven story, the series simply lacks a plot. The premise is fine with two strong leads but they’re given little to work with. The below examples can be considered minor spoilers in the sense that these things are not revealed in the first episode but are apparent enough in the first few episodes.

  • For example, the so-called deal is not entirely clear even though it is discussed: Myul Mang offers to grant her wish but she has to make one. If she doesn’t, then someone she loves dies. That part is clear. However, it sometimes seems she has to wish doom on the world but sometimes it seems she can wish for something else or both…

  • Dong-kyung doesn’t truly want to destroy the world and it doesn’t take much to figure out a loophole. If she loves Myul Mang, then she can backpaddle on her wish and he “dies” instead of a relative or a friend. The plot basically goes in that direction.

  • For way too many episodes, Dong-kyung and Myul Mang merely go through the whole “like and dislike cycle” typically used in romance or romantic comedies. Myul Mang wants Dong-kyung to rely on him but she resists, then she changes her mind and he resists because he doesn’t think it is right after all. It takes about six episodes before things take a relatively more dramatic turn and even longer for Dong-kyung to utilize other ways to deal with her problem.


● The series also lacks focus in two or three ways:

  • The premise and the way the series opens is quite dark but then Dong-kyung and Myul Mang’s meeting is presented as a comedy with the use of the “comic xylophone soundtrack”. The way they annoy each other also plays the comedy too much. The performances are generally excellent as expected and it is also meant to be a romantic comedy, but the overall tone changes too often and much.

  • How the deity figure (Jung Ji-so) is written also lacks focus. It is apparent enough that the writers do not intend to present this god according to any one particular religion, so she varies quite a bit. This is fine except the writing is a thematic mess. At first, she is the indifferent Mother Nature who merely watches, then she is a god who exists because people believe it, then at times she is one who demands obedience to the point of threatening her creatures, or one who constantly suffers and “dies” for the world, or one cares and nurtures.

  • More generally but related to the above, the idea of birth, death and re-birth as well as fate/destiny and free will are also apparent. These themes are all worthy of exploring in fiction but they are almost just thrown out there. It’s not pretentiously done like The Matrix Reloaded (2003), as if the writers simply grabbed a heap of stuff from nonsensical modernist philosophy textbooks just to look smart. But still, the themes are not sufficiently developed because there is a lack of plot to express them.


The Deity Figure (Jung Ji-so)
The Deity Figure (Jung Ji-so)

● As already mentioned, Dong-kyung is the “sad pitiful victim”. She is mostly resigned to her so-called fate. Her problem is her deal with Myul Mang. She doesn’t want to destroy the world, she still has loved ones. Myul Mang is a version of Death, a conveniently handsome and immortal anthropomorphic personification with powers. He has a low opinion of humanity and doesn’t mind seeing the world gone. Even when the two value each other, it’s as if the two have too little to lose and therefore not enough dramatic tension. Admittedly, it is difficult to find threats against either the dying or an immortal.


● If Dong-kyung and Myul Mang is the A-story, then the B-story is the love triangle between Na Ji-na (Shin Do-hyun), Lee Hyun-gyu (Kang Tae-oh) and Cha Joo-ik (Lee Soo-hyuk). Ji-na and Hyun-gyu dated in high school but haven’t seen each other for years. Joo-ik is Dong-kyung’s team leader at work, and Ji-na and Dong-kyung have been friends since high school. It’s good the audience is shown Dong-kyung’s circle, it makes one care about those who Dong-kyung cares about.


Na Ji-na (Shin Do-hyun)
Na Ji-na (Shin Do-hyun)
Lee Hyun-gyu (Kang Tae-oh)
Lee Hyun-gyu (Kang Tae-oh)

● It is also good that the writers avoid getting this B-story heavily involved with the A-story as that would be cheesy, like Dong-kyung’s friends offering to die in her place. That said, the two arcs could intertwine a little to help explore the themes in depth instead of merely providing mutual relief by alternating between one romance and another. It is a fantasy of sorts, so a “mini-quest” to help Dong-kyung is not implausible.


● The performances for the supporting roles are sufficient even if the writing is lacking. Too often they are token characters. As already mentioned, the two leads are excellent. Park Bo-young overdoes it in a few scenes but as a theatre graduate with little to work with, what else is she going to do? Lee Soo-hyuk as Joo-ik is amusing as the stereotypical “cool jerk who is actually a decent guy”. Dawon as Dong-kyung’s annoying younger brother plays too much on the comic relief at times.


Cha Joo-ik (Lee Soo-hyuk)
Cha Joo-ik (Lee Soo-hyuk)

● In terms of both writing and performance, the best supporting character is Dong-kyung’s aunt Kang Soo-ja (Woo Hee-jin). She has already lost a sister and is about to lose a niece. There is no need to emphasize that and, thankfully, the writers take the “less is more” approach. Her character isn’t complex and she does not have that much screen time but the character works.


Tak Dong-kyung's aunt Kang Soo-ja (Woo Hee-jin)
Tak Dong-kyung's aunt Kang Soo-ja (Woo Hee-jin)

● Visually, like many K-dramas, it mostly looks good. It avoids over-stylization. If anything, it needs to go further in terms of palette, lighting and camerawork. The main character is dying and she meets Doom knowing her condition can cause hallucinations—if that is not reason enough to play with odd camera angles, perspective, shot composition and handheld, then I don’t know what is.


● There seems to be more attention to cinematography and editing in the first half of the series, using more creative shots before it gets lazy later on. There are indeed some beautifully shot scenes in the earlier episodes.


● The makeup for the guys can be subtler, in most cases looking like it’s just been caked on.


● The music composed by Lim Ha-young is not bad. There is the nice use of sparse chorus guitar and the usual block chords on the piano for melancholic themes. Unfortunately, there could be more of it and more variation.


● Overall, the production is good in all respects but both the plot and the exploration of the themes are lacking. Is it a waste of time? I am tempted to answer No, that it’s not entirely pointless, but that could be only because it has two strong leads, particularly Park Bo-young, to carry the show.

 

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