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Review: Blood Free – The Fangirl Verdict


If you’re familiar with my taste in dramas, you’d know that this isn’t a genre that I would typically reach for.

Even though I have a great deal of fondness for both Han Hyo Joo and Joo Ji Hoon, I was honestly ready to sit this one out – that is, until a fair number of you started squeeing about the chemistry between our leads, over on Patreon.

That, and the fact almost everyone seemed to fan themselves over how hawt 🔥 Joo Ji Hoon is in this, made it pretty much a given that I would succumb to FOMO and press “play” too, heh.

Now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I’m here to report back on how this drama experiment went, for me.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. Show’s opening minutes can be quite confronting

First of all, I feel it is my duty to mention to the squeamish (like me!), that the opening scenes can be quite confronting, because there are slaughterhouse scenes.

The upside is, it’s clear enough that this is all CGI, that it’s possible to mentally categorize it as “not real,” and thereby push through.

If you’re game to do that, let me also just say that after the CGI romping cows turn into slaughterhouse carcasses, don’t let your guard down just yet, coz Han Hyo Joo’s character Ja Yu is going to talk about animals being skinned for their fur, and that’s going to be pretty (CGI) graphic too.

If you want to skip over all that (which is perfectly fine to do, honestly, you just need to know that she’s talking about this), then jump right to the 3:46 mark, which is when the camera pans to Ja Yu’s silhouette onstage, after she’s talked about all these things.

You’re safe from this point onwards.

2. This is pretty sci-fi, all things considered

This is something that took me a bit by surprise, once Show get deeper into its sci-fi leanings.

It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the show, but I thought it might be something that’s helpful to know upfront.

3. This is not a romance

Despite what I said about folks on Patreon squeeing over the chemistry between our leads, this is not actually a romance, and therefore, it’s best not to expect overtly romantic developments, in this story.

To put things in perspective, the folks who were shipping our leads over on Patreon, christened themselves the Crumb Squad. 😁

That said, Show does offer a very nice range of crumbs, which I will talk about later.

4. A social commentary lens might be useful

On hindsight, I feel that a social commentary lens might be the most helpful, because where specific narrative outcomes get rather murky with Show’s open ending, the social commentary still stands, regardless of that.

Therefore, I think you might feel most satisfied with how this drama ends, if you’re viewing this primarily as a piece of social commentary.

At the same time, I do think that it’s useful to not expect Show to comment on any social issue in a deep manner, because Show surfaces the issues, almost as if to bring them to our attention, but it does not tend to dwell on them.

STUFF I LIKED

Show’s pace

Show moves along at a pretty good pace, and I found that I basically didn’t have time to get bored, even though this is not my usual drama wheelhouse.

I count that as one of the good things about this show.

The social commentary

There’s a fair amount of social commentary embedded within the happenings in our story, and I found that good food for thought.

The question of self-interest vs. the common good; the difference between the haves and have-nots; the question of where to draw moral and ethical boundaries.

You can find these threads and more, woven into Show’s narrative fabric, and I found it all quite fascinating.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. It hadn’t occurred to me – but it makes complete sense – that with Blood Free being a company that produces fake meat, many primary industries would be directly affected, and therefore, Ja Yu (Han Hyo Joo), as the CEO and driving force of Blood Free, would be targeted by lots of people

There are people whose livelihoods are impacted by the subsequent reduced demand for actual meat, and there are also people and organizations whose profits are hugely affected by the reduction in market share.

It makes perfect sense that Ja Yu’s become a walking target, and therefore needs the protection of someone like Woo Chae Woon (Joo Ji Hoon).

E3-4. One of the things that I found interesting and thought-provoking, this set of episodes, is the question of what is acceptable, ethically and morally speaking. Like, does the magnitude of your goal &/or the stakes make it ok to do morally gray things?

One instance is when Seo Hui (Jun Suk Ho) reminds Ja Yu that it’s illegal to track their employees’ locations without their consent.

Seo Hui pushes ahead anyway, because she is that intent on tracking down the people who are behind the inside job.

Another instance is when we get that flashback, where Ja Yu had pushed ahead to test her developing technology on her own sister, despite knowing that it would likely kill her anyway.

She’d justified it, saying that this was the only way forward, because they weren’t allowed to test on animals, and that they needed live human subjects.

It’s all very murky, to be sure, because as we see from the flashback, her sister had suffered some pretty traumatic seizures.

It does seem like this testing on humans had helped Blood Free to make the strides forward that it’s made, thus far – so the question is, is it therefore justified?

[END SPOILER]

The sci-fi stuff

Now, granted, I’m far from being a sci-fi connoisseur. In fact, count me more as a sci-fi noob, and take my words on this with a pinch of salt, but I found myself rather enjoying the little futuristic touches in our drama world.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3-4. Maybe this technology exists and I just didn’t know it, but I was quite taken with the idea of the virtual screen that Ja Yu and Seo Hui use, to discuss classified employee data.

They – and Chae Woon – can only view the virtual screen with those special glasses, and I like how this detail makes it impossible for Chae Woon’s shirt button camera to record any of that classified data.

Chae Woon’s so confident and accomplished at his job, that it feels like an unusual thing, for him to be foiled – and that little beat, where he takes off the glasses and then puts them on again, as if to check the technology, is definitely an instance where he’s been foiled.

I’m definitely on Chae Woon’s side, to be clear; it just somehow feels good, that he’s kept on his toes? 😁

E5-6. It actually makes sense to me, that the idea of cell culture can expand beyond cultivating food – to cultivating organs and other things that the body needs, like blood (although, that does make the title of this show a little ironic and inaccurate? 🤭).

E7-8. I do love the little nuggets of technology, that prove BF’s capability, like Ja Yu’s spy glasses, which give San access to the data that she’s viewing at the police station – which enables San to track down the suspect using BF’s technology, even before Ja Yu’s left the police station.

That’s pretty impressive for sure.

[END SPOILER]

Show’s touches of humor

One of the things I found myself unexpectedly enjoying, was Show’s sense of humor, which I found to be of the wry and rather deadpan variety.

It often showed up unexpectedly, which just made the funny funnier, I feel.

Here’s one example of when Show made me chuckle, pretty much when I least expected it. 😁

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3-4. I was quite entertained by the scene where Chae Woon approaches the illegal labor brokers.

First, the fight scene is quite nicely done, and I like the idea of Chae Woon being able to hold his own against a group of guys wielding bats.

Second, it’s quite amusing to me, how Chae Woon has to hold a guy hostage, in order to have them listen to his offer. I also chuckled at how he had to correct his hostage, to reach into the left side of his jacket.

Heh. Altogether it makes me feel like Show isn’t without a sense of humor.

[END SPOILER]

Han Hyo Joo as Ja Yu

There’s a camp of viewers who find Han Hyo Joo’s delivery of Ja Yu very flat and boring, but I’m absolutely not in that camp.

I think Han Hyo Joo is awesome, and I also think that she does an excellent job of the role of Ja Yu.

Watching her as Ja Yu, I feel that all the facets of her character were decided on in a very deliberate and intentional manner, so that it all makes narrative sense for the character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. Ja Yu’s under a tremendous amount of pressure, not just from the business standpoint, but also, from being targeted by what feels like most of the inhabited world, for daring to upset the balance of the societal ecosystem that we as a civilization have constructed for ourselves.

Given the sheer amount of criticism and death threats that are thrown in her direction on the daily, I can see why Ja Yu would steel herself, and perhaps also shut down certain parts of her heart and brain, in order to cope.

She can’t afford to crumble under pressure, particularly when so much is riding on her, and neither can she afford to appear weak, and that’s why she’s chosen this unflappable, impassive facade, to show the world at large.

But, despite this poker-faced mask that she puts on, I do think that there are traces of emotion that are visible to the careful viewer.

Like, in the occasional wrinkle in her brow, the tiredness in her gaze – and the very fact that she bothers to tune out the world, with her sunglasses and earbuds, because if she feels nothing, why would there be a need to tune it all out, yes?

I find myself on Ja Yu’s side, if only because she feels like the one being unfairly targeted by a world of individuals and industries who all think that she owes them a living.

In this sense, she does strike me as an underdog sort of character, kind of, even though she’s the CEO of Blood Free, and is able to command the transfer of billions of won, at the drop of a hat.

I’m sure my pre-existing affection for Han Hyo Joo is playing into my sympathy for Ja Yu as well. Can you blame me, though, coz Han Hyo Joo is just awesome 🤩?

E3-4. It does look like Ja Yu’s conscience is unsettled with regard to BF’s illegal testing, judging from how the memory of it haunts her, and is apparently triggered as part of her PTSD symptoms.

This definitely gives me something to chew on, when thinking about her as a character.

Like, I want to believe that she’s a good person, and yet, at the same time, it gives me pause that she has these ambiguous moral boundaries. It’s.. interesting.

It also adds a layer of narrative tension, because I feel bad for her that she’s being targeted willy-nilly, it feels like, for her work in Blood Free, and this makes me wonder if perhaps some of that targeting is warranted – maybe?

It’s a little unsettling when I think about it too much, but otherwise, I do find myself rooting for her as a character, because it does feel unfair that people are targeting her, not only to steal from her, but to take advantage of her – or take revenge on her.

Like I mentioned before, this makes her feel like an underdog, and I have this built-in soft spot for underdogs.

E5-6. I feel like this set of episodes, we actually get a proper glimpse behind Ja Yu’s usually impassive persona.

Previously, our glimpses of her vulnerability had been more subtle, but this time, we actually see how broken she is, behind closed doors, like when she goes to that empty room, instructs A.I. Jang Yeongsil not to allow anyone in, and then collapses to the floor, holding her head, and asking for the noise to stop. 💔

I’m getting the idea that Ja Yu has these mini meltdowns on a more regular basis than she would want anyone to know, and afterwards, she puts on her impassive businesslike brave front, and faces the world again.

That’s how she’s able to appear so calm and unruffled, when everyone, from her colleagues at Blood Free, to Woo Jae, when he speaks to her at his faux camping ground, had expected her to be deeply affected by the gun attack.

On this point, I’m also coming to understand that Ja Yu’s wardrobe, which consists of large, oversized, boxy garments, is to make her appear as large as possible, kinda like how some animals puff themselves up when they’re threatened, in order to appear larger, to ward off predators.

I feel like, in the same way, Ja Yu is trying to ward off predators, and that just makes me feel more sorry for her, because she looks so.. fragile, honestly, being targeted like this.

E7-8. I do find Ja Yu very interesting as a character, this pair of episodes.

I thought the way she tells Hae Deun that she’s been reported missing to the police, was clever – but also, quite devious / ruthless?

I suppose Show has demonstrated to us before, on several occasions, that Ja Yu is willing to go rogue, and break the law, when it suits her purpose, like when she’d run those clinical tests in the past, and then more recently, when she’d ordered the operation on Chae Woon.

It just somehow lands differently, now that we see that quality manifest as her being threatening towards Dae Heun, but y’know, that’s just how fiercely Ja Yu guards the people and things that are important to her.

[END SPOILER]

Joo Ji Hoon as Chae Woon

I figure many of you would be wondering, so I’m going to address this upfront: yes, yes; Joo Ji Hoon is very appealing, as Chae Woon. 😁

I do think that I’m not quite as smitten as some of you are, but I am definitely on board with the quiet unintentional smolder, the sharp intelligence, the focused intensity, the general badassery – and of course, not forgetting the observant consideration that he shows to Ja Yu.

For the record, I do have a big soft spot for Joo Ji Hoon too, since he was the male lead in my gateway drama, Goong (review here!). 🥰

And, I absolutely see why everyone seems to be getting all hyped for him in this role.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. I love that Chae Woon’s such a cool badass.

What I mean is, he’s badass in the sense that his fight skillz are top-tier and not to be trifled with, AND he’s very smart and very strategic in his thinking. The way he combines those two things is already a thing of beauty to behold.

On top of that, he’s as cool as a cucumber, doing it all; he’s so centered and focused that it seems like nothing actually fazes him.

This is most apparent, so far, in the entire screening process that he goes through, for the position of Ja Yu’s bodyguard.

The VR stuff is one thing, but it’s a whole other ballgame, when the whole thing springs a “live” surprise in his own home, where the role-players come off as real terrorists who are out for information about Ja Yu, and want to use Chae Woon’s family – including his cat! – as hostages.

Chae Woon’s just so badass, the way he fights through each situation, using as much brawn as he does his brain, and the move that took my breath away, was when Seated Terrorist calmly offers him money, while using the picture of Chae Woon’s family on his laptop, collateral.

The way Chae Woon closes that laptop and pulls that knife and points it at Seated Terrorist’s neck, is pretty darn impressive.

Not only does it demonstrate his ability to turn a bad situation around, it also demonstrates that he’s not easily intimidated or tempted – all important qualities in a bodyguard, especially the calibre that Ja Yu requires.

Of course, it’s interesting that Chae Woon’s reason for wanting to be Ja Yu’s bodyguard, is because he wants to determine whether she was behind the terrorist attack that had injured him, killed others, and cost the previous Prime Minister his legs.

I was suitably taken aback (though I really shouldn’t have been), to realize that Chae Woon had been recording his entire day at Blood Free, via a hidden camera in his shirt button.

Because, of course our Badass Bodyguard has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve – and in his button (sorry, couldn’t resist 🤭)!

E3-4. I really like how Chae Woon’s demonstrating himself to be a very sharp and intelligent character, and I enjoy all the little moments where Show proves it to us, just a little bit more.

For example, the way Chae Woon picks up on how Professor Kim is very likely behind Manager Hong’s accident, is practically instantaneous, and we see it when he tells Ja Yu that, given the fact that the site of the accident is 20-30 minutes from Professor Kim’s home, it’s impossible that she could have been with him at home at 5:50pm, just 10 minutes before her accident was reported.

It’s all very logical, sure, but I do think that it’s harder to sift out the important pieces of relevant information, when there’s so much going on.

And, the way he states, to Ja Yu, that time spent together rarely guarantees a bond of trust, makes me think that in their case, the opposing statement could also ring true: that a lack of a long history, doesn’t mean that they can’t have a bond of trust.

I do think that as the rest of these episodes unfold, this is exactly what Chae Woon is going to prove, to Ja Yu – that she can trust and depend on him, without question.

I like that detail, that as Ja Yu deals with getting Professor Kim on the no-fly list, Chae Woon head straight to the car, and come back with that drill kit, to gain entry to Professor Kim’s apartment.

The focused, matter-of-fact way that he moves to action, makes me think that he’s just mentally prepared for any situation, which makes him pretty cool in my eyes. 🤩

E3-4. I think it’s after the riverside scene where Ja Yu indicates that it’s ok for Chae Woon to take things more personally, that we start to see more shades of Chae Woon doing exactly that.

Like the way he approaches those labor brokers to ask for information about Professor Kim, and puts up a reward using his own money.

And the way he basically puts himself in danger, in order to put out that notice, as well.

[END SPOILER]

Ja Yu and Chae Woon

Like I mentioned earlier, the chemistry and tension between Ja Yu and Chae Woon was a big highlight of my watch.

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, since this show comes from the writer of Stranger (Open Threads here!), Lee Soo Yeon, who gave us the fantastic pairing of Shi Mok and Yeo Jin, that left such a deep impression on many of us, despite it not being a romantic relationship.

Here, Show gives us regular, if smallish, indications that there is a meaningful connection forming between Ja Yu and Chae Woon.

I really liked this a lot, particularly after Elaine expressed during our Patreon discussions of this show, that the dynamic between Chae Woon and Ja Yu reminds her of that between Pil Joo and Mal Ran, in Money Flower (Review here, Open Threads here!).

I had been completely transfixed by the interactions between Pil Joo and Mal Ran, in the hands of Jang Hyuk and Lee Mi Sook, and I absolutely agree that the lines that Chae Woon and Ja Yu are crossing in this story, are reminiscent of the lines that Pil Joo and Mal Ran crossed in Money Flower.

I very much enjoyed being on the hawk-eyed lookout for crumbs of OTP-esque goodness, and here’s a sprawling look at what Show gave us. (Crumb Squad unite! 🥰)

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. Everything becomes even more interesting to me, with the turn of events, where the CitizenX ransomware incident, looks to be an inside job.

This single fact suddenly makes Ja Yu suspicious of her entire inner circle at Blood Free, and since this fact had been brought to Ja Yu’s attention by Chae Woon, suddenly, it looks like Chae Woon is the only person she can trust, right now.

Ooh, what a deliciously complicated web this is turning out to be!

I’m really curious to see how things pan out, now that Ja Yu is unable to trust anyone but Chae Woon.

E3-4. The most interesting relationship in this drama world – to me, anyway – is that between Ja Yu and Chae Woon.

They don’t inherently trust each other, he because he’s investigating her to see if she had been responsible for the terror attack, and she because she finds it necessary to be suspicious of everyone around her.

Despite these things, they are quickly finding themselves in this space where they need to trust in and rely on each other. This does make for some interesting tension.

Like the way Ja Yu instinctively trusts Chae Woon – like with the perspective that he brings to her, about the ransomware incident likely being an inside job – and then, later, turns around and questions why she’d trusted him in the first place.

The way she shows her displeasure towards him and asks him why he lied to her, kinda-sorta has some echoes of a woman questioning her husband or boyfriend of being untruthful, I feel like?

I do like that Chae Woon is very quick to pick on the fact that she’s not quite herself, when he calls her to report on his situation tailing Seo Hui, even though she typically doesn’t talk much anyway.

This makes me feel like he’s very attuned to her, and understands her better than she might think. And, well, the shipper in me likes the idea of that, not gonna lie. 😅

Of course, another layer of tension here, is that Chae Woon really has been sent to Blood Free by ex-Prime Minister Lee Mun Gyu (Jeon Gook Hwan) as a plant – which makes Ja Yu’s suspicion of him completely valid.

Yet, I do believe him, when he tells Ja Yu that he doesn’t snitch.

And it does look like he’s telling the truth, because he doesn’t tell Lee Mun Gyu anything about the ransomware incident at the lab, even though it’s a pretty big thing. This is why Seon Woo Jae quickly concludes that Chae Woon isn’t a very useful mole, if he’s that tightlipped.

To me, it sounds like Chae Woon’s taken up this bodyguard position for his own investigation, and would cut ties with ex-Prime Minister Lee Mun Gyu, if he found out that Lee Mun Gyu had a dishonorable agenda.

That said, this still means that Chae Woon is lying to Ja Yu, to some extent, and I’m interested to see how this continues to evolve, as we get deeper in our story.

E3-4. I really like how observant and responsive Chae Woon is, of Ja Yu’s mental and emotional state.

When she starts hitting her own head in the car, at the memory of how they’d come to use their technology on Professor Kim’s wife, Chae Woon immediately winds down the window for her, so that she can get some fresh air.

And then, he’s quick to offer to stop the car, so that she can take a break, and once she’s outside, he’s also quick to go back to the car to retrieve a blanket, and put that around her shoulders.

That mix of businesslike efficiency and respectful professionalism, with unexpected moments of care and gentleness, is intriguing, and honestly quite special.

Also, isn’t it quite unexpected, the way he remarks, “Professor Kim.. is one son of a bitch, isn’t he?”

I mean, that’s a personal remark, not a professional one, and it feels like he’s crossing a boundary there, doesn’t it?

And when he asks Ja Yu if he should take that back, the fact that she indicates that he doesn’t have to, with a tiny smile playing oh-so-briefly at her lips, makes me think that she’s quite ok with the idea of him crossing a few boundaries.

E3-4. Once Chae Woon reports Professor Kim’s location in Vietnam, we get another one of those scenes where it almost kinda-sorta feels like Ja Yu and Chae Woon are in some kind of romantic relationship.

Like that beat where he’s about to leave, but stops and asks her if he’s done something wrong, because he can feel that she’s being colder towards him than usual. That’s totally the kind of thing I’d expect to see between an actual couple, so it does give me a slight thrill, that we’re getting this kind of flavor, between them.

ALSO. What about that beat when Ja Yu asks Chae Woon why he hadn’t asked for money from Blood Free to fund the reward in the search for Professor Kim?

The way he states in that deadpan manner, that it wouldn’t have been cool, makes me giggle.

It actually makes Chae Woon land as a touch dorky, because of the fact that he actually thinks about looking cool, tee hee. 🤭

And, it makes me wonder exactly why he feels the need to look cool – does he perhaps want to impress Ja Yu, as a man..? 😉

And then, how about the way Ja Yu states that she can’t allow him to work for another company, as she personally puts that watch on his wrist? It almost feels like she’s claiming his as hers, with that watch?

Of course, this begs the question why she felt the need to put the watch on him personally, when I’m sure she doesn’t do that for anyone else in the company. Ahem.

After that, there’s also the way Chae Woon observes Ja Yu’s state of shock at hearing the news that Professor Kim has died on the way to France, and then, gently but firmly grasps her wrist to steady her hand, while taking that steaming cup of coffee out of her hand, so that she won’t accidentally scald herself, in her shock.

He really is very observant and considerate!

Later on, we get more OTP-esque vibes, when Chae Woon takes Ja Yu to his own home, when the hotels are full and they can’t find a suitably safe place for her to stay, on New Year’s Eve.

I feel like you can’t help but grow a step closer, when you invite someone into your personal space, and that’s, in effect, what Chae Woon does with Ja Yu, even though the reasons are businesslike and circumstantial.

Plus, even though it makes perfect sense that he would give Ja Yu the bedroom, as the VIP guest, the idea of her sleeping in his bed still somehow feels quite personal, doesn’t it?

And, I can’t help but love the fact that Samsik the cat takes so well to Ja Yu, and that Ja Yu smiles so well, in response to her new feline friend.

It makes me feel like this visit is allowing us to glimpse a more personal side to Ja Yu too, and I like that.

I also appreciate that we are getting snippets of conversation that feel like they’re more personal than business.

Like those moments when they ask each other why the other person is or isn’t upset.

In episode 3, Chae Woon asks Ja Yu why she’s upset about her time in AZORAN, and then in episode 4, Ja Yu asks Chae Woon why he’s not upset that she’s doubting him instead of being grateful, for tracking down Professor Kim.

And then now, in this scene, Chae Woon asks if Ja Yu is ok, and then remarks that she should be more upset at being wronged.

This opens up a conversation about how she’s been slandered, and what she should do, in her own defense, and I feel like this is the kind of dialogue that helps them understand each other better, as people.

I mean, yes, there’s still wariness and suspicion in the undercurrents, but having these conversations is a great first step towards getting on the same page, and I’m for it.

It does admittedly hit a wall, when Chae Woon asks Ja Yu whether she would kill someone for the sake of her business, but I’m not surprised about that, because as we’ve seen, that is a raw nerve with Ja Yu.

E3-4. In terms of Chae Woon protecting Ja Yu during the shootout, I like that he’s quick to check on her and assure her that he’s there to protect her, in the midst of the chaos.

E5-6. I can’t help but feel that Ja Yu’s concern for a seriously wounded Chae Woon, and her urgency that he get treated quickly, landed as being quite personal; my gut felt that she was worried about him in a personal capacity, and not just in the capacity of his employer.

I also get the sense that Ja Yu’s primary concern is saving Chae Woon, rather than the chance to test their research with a clinical test.

I think if Chae Woon hadn’t been so critically wounded, to the point of likely not surviving his injuries, Ja Yu wouldn’t have taken such a drastic measure, to use experimental technology on him.

She doesn’t seem him as a chance to experiment – unlike San, who took the opportunity to experiment with treating Chae Woon’s ear.

The way Ja Yu decides to go back to Chae Woon’s house, so that Mansik wouldn’t be all alone, makes me feel that she’s doing so out of empathy, because she knows what it’s like to be all alone, and she doesn’t want that for Mansik.

It’s quite gratifying, honestly, to see Ja Yu tend to Mansik’s needs, by thinking back to how Chae Woon had done things, when he’d been around. 🥲

I can understand Chae Woon’s visceral horror at the sight of BF’s cultured organs, when he wakes up and wanders around the secret basement, and why he would conclude that Ja Yu’s doing all this for money, and how that sentiment would come out in the form of harsh, angry words.

It doesn’t really show up in the subs, but I can’t help noticing that instead of addressing Chae Woon with some kind of professional title like someone in her position would do, like “Manager Woo,” for example, she’s addressing him as “Chae Woon-sshi,” which is a distinctly non-professional term of address that people usually reserve for non-work settings or connections.

The way she addresses Chae Woon most definitely reflects how she views their connection, so I do get a bit of a thrill from this realization, that she’s addressing him in a personal manner, even though their conversation is so strained.

E5-6. The most significant OTP-esque moment we get, this pair of episodes, is, I think, that night at Chae Woon’s house, when Ja Yu gets a fright from hearing his footsteps, and he sees her collapse in relief, through the frosted sliding glass door.

The way he approaches her, with care, to express his concern, and then the way he sits down on the other side of the door, to talk with her, feels so respectful, caring and personal, at the same time.

And importantly, he acknowledges the validity of her mission, and also, the validity of her experiences, up to this point.

What a poignant reveal, honestly, that part of the reason Ja Yu is so keen to develop cell culture, is because her own twin sister had succumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, while she’d watched helplessly.

It somehow feels extra sad, that the sister that she’d lost, had been her twin. It makes me feel like Ja Yu must feel extra isolated without her twin, and must also feel the burden of living on her twin’s behalf. 😭

The fact that Ja Yu even talks with Chae Woon about this, makes me feel like they’ve become significantly closer, as a result of this conversation. They might not see everything in the same way, but they’re communicating, and that’s important. 🥲

E7-8. Because we are shippers at heart (heh), let’s revisit the OTP-esque fragments, for our own comfort?

First, there’s the lowered tones in which they speak to each other, when Ja Yu goes to see Chae Woon, while he’s being detained. There’s a note of.. gentleness there, that borders on tenderness, I think?

Also, there’s how Ja Yu keeps saying regretfully, that she shouldn’t have sent Chae Woon there.

This clearly isn’t just about preventing Ho Seung’s death; this is about keeping Chae Woon out of danger.

And then when Chae Woon’s released from detention, and is summoned to Seonu Jae’s little faux camping hideout, Ja Yu is quick to hurry there herself, as if to protect him.

Like Seonu Jae points out, this isn’t Ja Yu’s usual mode of operation, and therefore it does indicate that Chae Woon is more special to her, than the average person.

I mean, I’m sure that if she’d believed anyone in her inner circle to be in trouble, Ja Yu would have done everything possible to protect them too, but this just feels a little more.. personal, I think.

Her entire manner hints at a strong sense of urgency here, which suggests that she’s more personally invested in Chae Woon’s safety than one might expect.

I do appreciate that detail, that when Seonu Jae flicks his head, in a silent command for Chae Woon to get out and leave him alone with Ja Yu, Chae Woon only complies after locking eyes with Ja Yu to get her assent.

I was on tenterhooks the moment Chae Woon reveals, while questioning Hae Deun, that he’d been sent there by Seonu Jae, because – ahhh!! 🙈🙈 – this would absolutely damage the bond of trust that we’ve seen them build so painstakingly.

I’m not surprised that Ja Yu takes the deception personally, and lashes out at Chae Woon.

The whole way Chae Woon remains calm and tries to explain to her that he’d only come because it had been his own choice, gives me vibes akin to a man trying to explain to a woman with whom he’s romantically involved, a misunderstanding between them that’s threatening to drive them apart.

It’s.. kinda-sorta giving me the kind of energy you’d get in a scene where a woman finds out that the man she’d thought she’d chosen for herself, had actually been sent by her parents, and now he’s trying to assure her that, even if that were the case, he wouldn’t have come, if he hadn’t been drawn to her in the first place. 🤭

Also, the language that Chae Woon uses in this scene, is extremely personal.

I definitely sat up and took notice, when Chae Woon leads his explanation with saying that he hadn’t known her back then; hadn’t known the kind of pain she’d gone through, or how much she’d endured, or what her dream was.

I mean, that’s very, very personal language, isn’t it?

At the same time, the hurt in Ja Yu’s eyes is so clear, that I’m not at all surprised that she’s unable to forgive Chae Woon for his deception, even though he’s come clean and asked for another chance to be useful to BF.

Honestly, the scenes that follow, where Ja Yu doesn’t want to go to Chae Woon’s house to pick up her things but has to, anyway, because she can’t ask Hae Deun to do it for her anymore, smacks of post-breakup.

It basically feels like our OTP has broken up, and now Ja Yu needs to go to Chae Woon’s house to pick up her things. 💔

It’s so poignant watching her look in on Mansik, and then think back to all the conversations that she’d shared with Chae Woon and Ho Seung, while she’d stayed there. 🥲

And how about that moment, when Ho Seung had remarked that Ja Yu would be fine to send her kids abroad, even if she had a hundred of them, and when Ja Yu balks, Ho Seung turns to Chae Woon for confirmation that perhaps a hundred kids is too many.

I mean. That moment does lend itself to the interpretation that Ho Seung had believed that Ja Yu and Chae Woon were in a position to eventually have kids together, yes?

E7-8. Of course, everyone springs into action the moment Ja Yu makes that announcement, but I am most drawn to Chae Woon’s reaction.

Again, the entire vibe of the scene, is that of a man come to see his lover, when their relations are strained, and said lover has bodyguards at the ready to come to her defense – but she waves them aside because she does actually want to see him. 🥲

The way he reaches for her arm, and then the way she later reaches for his arm, as he walks away, is, again, very reminiscent of the vibe between estranged lovers wanting to reconcile.

I think it says a lot, that Chae Woon is asking Ja Yu to use him as her evidence, so that she won’t have to subject herself to unnecessary risk.

The way Ja Yu actually voices her reasons, says a lot, I think, about her estimation of Chae Woon; she isn’t talking to him as an employer would her bodyguard – she’s talking to him like he’s an equal.

It’s too bad that neither of them will listen to the other, right now; she insists on going ahead with the radical test, and he insists that he must complete his mission.

But – isn’t he so gentle, as he brushes away her hand that is holding onto his jacket? It’s not in the shot, but it’s implied that he kind of holds her hand for a long second, before brushing it away?

A Ja Yu-Chae Woon edit

Because this pair is just better in motion, here’s a Ja Yu-Chae Woon edit that I came across, to feed our shipper hearts. Please enjoy.

[END SPOILER]

The faux love triangle

If the tension between Ja Yu and Chae Woon is akin to that of an OTP-in-waiting, then the tension coming from San (Lee Moo Saeng), with regards to the connection between them, feels akin to that of a second male lead, in a love triangle situation.

Heh. The idea of this amuses me somewhat, because if there is no actual romance in this, then writer-nim really has gone to some lengths, to give us vibes of some classic romance tropes. 🤭

Here are a couple of the love triangle moments that tickled my imagination.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3-4. I got an inordinate stab of satisfaction from the scene where San shows up Ja Yu’s room, only to find that Chae Woon’s already there and is literally sitting down to breakfast with her, after apparently spending the night with her.

I just kinda love the discomfort on San’s face, juxtaposed so plainly, with Chae Woon’s matter-of-fact manner, like this is the most natural situation in the world, to be making Ja Yu a cup of coffee and handing it to her, as he sits down to his own breakfast.

San is clearly disgruntled at the sight, and tries to probe Ja Yu about whether she’s just woken up, which she pointedly ignores, heh.

This feels like a slight on Ja Yu’s part, which in turn makes me feel a little gleeful, even though I know that it really was all business between her and Chae Woon the night before, and that she’s basically on her guard because she doesn’t know if she can still trust the people in her inner circle.

And then, the fact that she’s been discussing the ransomware incident with Chae Woon, while not informing San of it, is absolutely a bit of a slap in the face for San, who clearly thinks that he should be her confidante, and not Chae Woon.

I think I rather enjoy this faux love triangle dynamic, heh.

E5-6. Doesn’t Ja Yu look a little wistful, when San tells her to leave and get some rest, and she responds that she has nowhere to go, since the owner of the house is here, in the basement.

And doesn’t San look terse, as he asks when Ja Yu’s house will be ready?

And then doesn’t he look rather cheesed off, when Ja Yu concludes her answer, that it’ll be a few more months, by saying that she will stay here (with Chae Woon)?

I’m slightly amused that Show manages to give us faux love triangle feels, even when Chae Woon’s completely unconscious. 🤭

[END SPOILER]

Chae Woon and Ho Seung

In episode 6, we get a pretty good spotlight on the relationship between Chae Woon and his fellow bodyguard, Kim Ho Seung (Kang Ian), and it’s surprisingly affecting; at least, more affecting than I’d originally expected.

Mainly, Ho Seung’s such a gregarious kinda guy, that he basically tries to be friendly with anyone he works with; we’ve seen him try to be friendly with Ja Yu, and we’ve also seen him try to be friendly with Chae Woon – with minimal success, on both counts.

It’s only really in episode 6, that we get a proper spark of connection between Chae Woon and Ho Seung, and I’m counting this a plus, because Show managed to make me care about this connection, despite the short runway.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E6. I knew that Ho Seung would get suspicious once he saw Chae Woon walking around all fine, after being so critically wounded, but what I hadn’t expected, was for Ho Seung to get so emotionally invested.

He takes it personally that he doesn’t get the same level of security access as Chae Woon, and he also takes it personally when Ja Yu assigns tasks to Chae Woon that don’t include him, and Chae Woon is tightlipped about the nature of the assignment.

I kinda loved it when he blurted out that he’d worried for Chae Woon for nothing, and then Chae Woon soon backpedals, saying that he hadn’t realized that Ho Seung had been worried.

Aw. At this point, I can already smell the reluctant bromance, y’know?

Especially when Chae Woon asks Ja Yu if Ho Seung can join him in going to the address that she’d given him.

That gives me the kind of vibes that I’d imagine we’d get, of an older brother asking Mom if he can bring baby brother along to the store, because Baby Bro’s been whining. 🤭

Ho Seung getting so into the whole acting gig, pretending to be Professor Kim’s son amused me too – which is why I feel so gutted, really, that Ho Seung looks like he might not make it, as we close out episode 6.

I really hope Ho Seung makes it, not only for his sake, but also, for Chae Woon’s, because Chae Woon’s already experienced the trauma of losing his comrades in that explosion; he shouldn’t have to lose another one, especially one that he’s just now finally come to accept. 🥹

E7-8. Ho Seung doesn’t make it!! Wahhh! 😩😩

I get why Show would make this choice, because this gives Chae Woon a mission; to find Ho Seung’s killer.

Ho Seung’s death is now personal to him, and that is a very poignant, powerful thing.

BUT – hear me out – wouldn’t it have been pretty awesome, if Blood Free had been able to save Ho Seung, the way they’d saved Chae Woon? 🥹

Coz then they could’ve been superpowered bros, fighting side by side against the enemy. Just the idea of that fills my heart with a wistful sense of awe, because I think I would have loved that.

Clearly, though, Show has other ideas of what it wants to be, and well, fair enough, y’know? Just excuse me while I mourn the could’ve beens, here in my corner. *wipes tear*

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

The mystery-thriller stuff

Lest I misrepresent Show, I thought I should mention that there’s a good chunk of screen time dedicated to the mystery of who our real baddie is.

I felt reasonably engaged by this, even though this really wasn’t my primary interest, which is why this is in this section.

Let’s just say that there are several worthy candidates, who are each odious in their own ways. 😑

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

The abrupt screen transitions

The way this show is directed, we often get an abrupt cut to a black screen, which stays for a moment, before we are shown a new scene.

I find that an interesting / odd choice, because I personally find it disruptive and distracting, and I am wondering what PD-nim’s intent was, for this choice.

Show kept this up all the way to the end, and even though I’d had 10 episodes to get used to it, I still found it unnecessary and distracting. Did not like.

When Show is cringey

There is a particularly cringey scene in episode 5, that I found particularly awkward, both in its scripting and delivery.

I would even go so far as to say that the inclusion of this scene cheapened the show.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. That scene where Seonu Geun talks about wanting to be immortal is just really, really cringey. Eep.

I wondered if it was just the clunky English (both in the writing and delivery) that made it cringey, but I’ve concluded that while it absolutely adds to the cringe factor, this whole thing would also be cringey, even if spoken in Korean. 🤪

[END SPOILER]

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

So, full disclosure: I came into this finale already having heard vague but distinct cries of frustration, bemusement and general befuddlement, over the finale that Show serves up.

Even though I didn’t know the details around what happens in this finale, I knew to lower my expectations, and that did help.

Did this make the finale a good one, for me? Well, no.

It still felt pretty rushed and messy to my eyes, to be honest.

At the very least, however, it did help to temper any disappointment or frustration that I felt at the happenings in these last two hours. 😅

Mostly, it felt to me like writer-nim had been writing for a 16-episode story, and only found out, at the episode 8 mark, that there were only 2 episodes left.

And so, in my head, writer-nim was like, “Well ok, I guess I don’t mind having my story split into 2 parts. I guess I’ll just treat this as Part 1, with Part 2 as something that’s coming in the near future.”

The only problem with that, is, there’s currently no promise of a Part 2, and this is very likely going to be the only part there is.

..Which presents a problem, I feel.

Before I summarize and talk about the main events in these finale episodes, I wanted to shine a quick spotlight on the scene which was my personal highlight, and that is, when Chae Woon asks Ja Yu for her word, that she will not go through with the multiple-organ transplant until he comes back from Dubai.

The way he has that subtle but very distinct concern in his gaze, and the way he refuses to allow Ja Yu to evade his request, but keeps pressing her for her answer, tells us how important this is, to him.

And the way she actually gives him her word, when she’s been unmovable in response to every other person who’s attempted to reason with her, tells us how much he affects her as well.

Additionally, I’d say that the fact Chae Woon gets so involved in the final shootout, also tells us how personally invested he is, which I personally would connect to his care and concern for Ja Yu, over and above his sense of duty, as part of the BF team.

As for the key events in these last two episodes, in summary, everything goes to pot, with:

1, Seonu Geun being confirmed as the person behind the terrorist attack,

2, Ja Yu getting critically injured when Seonu Geun’s men force her car off the ledge in a bid to stop her from taking Ji Sun Won with her, and,

3, Seonu Jae ordering a search and seizure of BF, which turns into a legit shootout, where everyone, including Chae Woon, gets killed or shot – or, in Ja Yu’s case, left on the operating table, midway through a life-saving multiple organ transplant.

In the end, Seonu Geun gets put in prison, and Seonu Jae resigns as Prime Minister and takes over DORSON as Chairman – and we also see that he has, in his possession, all the BF files and data.

Meanwhile, in our last few seconds, we finally hear Ja Yu’s voice, as she asks Jang Yeongsil where she is, and we see Chae Woon awaken from his coma. And.. that’s the end.

The key reason I see this as a Part 1 instead of a potentially standalone Season 1, is that in the end, it’s the baddie who wins the day, while it’s our good guys whose traces surface, in a hint that all is not over.

If Show had been planned as a potentially standalone Season 1, it would have been the other way around, with our good guys winning the day, and our bad guys’ traces appearing in the last moments, suggesting that they will be back, when the time is right.

This way, whether we get a Season 2 or not, we’d have the consolation that our good guys won the fight, and have victory and security, at least for a while.

In Show’s chosen ending, however, we don’t have that.

Instead, we are looking for a continuation, where we see that our good guys eventually triumph against greed and evil – but Show’s not giving us that.

Ultimately, this leaves us with a pretty depressing message, that:

1, Human greed will always get in the way of pure scientific advancement, and

2, It’s the ones who are willing to play dirty, who get the upper hand, while idealists get relegated to the fringes, if they get to exist at all.

..Which would be cutting and quite troubling social commentary, certainly.

However, given the fact that writer-nim has stated that she’d like to write a Part 2, I’m guessing that that might not actually be the message that writer-nim wants to give us.

The problem is, if Part 2 never gets greenlit – which honestly looks to be the case, given Show’s less than impressive ratings – then unfortunately, that’s the message that she’s going to end up leaving us with.

Which would be a very regrettable turn of events indeed.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Engaging and interesting for the most part; pity about the ending.

FINAL GRADE: B+

TRAILER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’m covering on Patreon, in place of  Blood Free, is Hold My Hand At Twilight [Japan].

You can check out my episode 1-2 notes on Hold My Hand At Twilight on Patreon here.

Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!

Foundation Tier (US$1): Entertainment Drop (Sundays) + the first set notes of all shows covered on Patreon (that’s 2 episodes for kdramas and 4 episodes for cdramas)

Early Access (US$5): +Hold My Hand At Twilight [Japan]

Early Access Plus (US$10): +Will Love in Spring [China]

VIP (US$15): +The Atypical Family [Korea]

VVIP (US$20): +Dreaming of a Freaking Fairytale [Korea]

Ultimate (US$25): +The Midnight Romance in Hagwon [Korea]

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️



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