Sadly, Hwarang is another one of those shows that started off with lotsa promises, but ends up in the gutter. I admit I lost interest in Hwarang from ep12 onwards, but the narrative almost redeems itself with the Hwarang boys’ peace treaty mission. The entire clan rushing in to help the skeleton peace treaty crew at Shilla’s borders is both heartwarming and exhilarating – cos unlike their annoying fathers who continue to picket from differing camps, Hwa-kong has achieved what he sets out to do, which is to unify the future generations of Shilla’s aristocracy.
Similarly, I’d consider those bits in Hwarang which focus on the boys putting aside their differences to work together to be the gems in the narrative. For example, the earlier Hwarangs’ song and dance performance for the commoners, as well as in the finale, where Sun-woo leads the Hwarang boys to pledge their allegiance to King Jinheung (Ji-dwi). But Hwarang is extremely stingy with its narrative’s gems! We only have short snippets here and there of the boys fighting then banding together to form a cohesive whole. What we get to see of their training is mainly Sun-woo/ Ji-dwi and gang getting into scraps together and being punished together. While being the main leads guarantee the focus to be on them, I’d still like to see a little bit more of how the other boys turn from fighting amongst themselves to fighting for Shilla.
Instead, we get more of the not-so-interesting romantic scenes between Ah-ro and Sun-woo, or Ah-ro and Ji-dwi. Even though it is standard fare for Kdramas to HAVE a love-line, the OTP somehow juz doesn’t click (for me at least). My takeaway from Sun-woo/ Ah-ro’s romance: Sun-woo perpetually ignoring Ah-ro (then hollering his head off in frustration, alone), and Ah-ro leaves me with the impression of her quivering, pouty lips with tear-brimmed eyes. I think what failed in the writing of Ah-ro/ Sun-woo’s romance is the unexplained hot-cold behaviours from Sun-woo. I am left wondering with Ah-ro on what is wrong with Sun-woo again (and again). To the point I stopped caring.
As for Ji-dwi/ Ah-ro; initially, Ji-dwi is fairly annoying – like a teenage boy who has some language disability and somehow doesn’t understand “I don’t like you, pls go away”. As the narrative progresses, and Ji-dwi sheds his puppy love for the bigger role as King Jinheung, his one-sided love-line with Ah-ro gets more bearable and dignified.
Besides Hwarang’s lack of focus, I’m also disappointed that even with 20eps (4 more than usual for a Kdrama), Hwarang fails to deliver a tight plot. I find the drawn out revelation about Sun-woo’s true identity to be pointless. We all guess that he will be Somebody, so I have no idea why it takes 19eps for Hwarang to finally come right out to say he is Ji-dwi’s cousin, and also a Sacred Bone level nobility.
In addition, there are plot movements which (I assumed) happened behind the scenes. If anyone noticed, Dan-se suddenly gets promoted to Hwarang, even though he is previously a Rang-do. I suppose his granddad caved and let him replace Han-sung after his younger brother’s death? And for someone who loved his younger brother more than himself, we never get to see how or who pulled him through the trauma of accidentally killing Han-sung.
Certain characters are also forced into a black hole in the penultimate and finale eps. For example, Sook-myeong. After protesting against her marriage to Ji-dwi (and shamelessly asking him to let her have Sun-woo at the most inappropriate time when Ji-dwi is facing a political crisis), she suddenly poofs into non-existence. So how did Ji-dwi handle her? Did he eventually marry her?
But most glaring in terms of plot holes would be Sun-woo’s fainting spells. Ah-ro’s dad did mention that he needs to seek treatment asap, if not “something dire” will happen and he will be beyond medical help. And up till ep16, Sun-woo continues to faint at inopportune times. Suddenly there’s no mention of this strange ailment in the finale. So did Ah-ro’s dad cure him? Or he juz grew out of it? Hwarang doesn’t even tell us what causes it in the first place – is it congenital and related to Hwi-kyung’s polio? Answer: dunno.
If Hwarang has played up on its strengths – the eye candies and the bromance/ bonding – it may not have flopped so badly at the end.