While You Were Sleeping
Oh Choong-hwan (director and writer), Park Hye-ryun (writer)
Lee Jong-suk, Bae Suzy, Lee Sang-yeob, Ko Sung-hee, Jung Hae-in (cast)
Released September 27, 2017 (VIKI international premiere)
It’s said that the faces of people we see in our dreams aren’t products of our imagination, but real faces we’ve passed. Maybe we don’t remember them right away. Maybe we never do, and they remain just figures in dreams. In SBS’s new supernatural romance drama While You Were Sleeping, dreams literally come true for two strangers, tying their fates together before they even meet.
I’ve known for a while now that supernatural romance kdramas have a siren song I can’t resist, but rarely am I pulled into a story within the first episode. Not only did While You Were Sleeping accomplish that, it did so with a plot twist that I would have maybe expected halfway through the season. Writer Park Hye-run has no time to waste, however, and the twist upends everything you thought you’d learned about our main characters in the first 30 minutes. What doesn’t change is the fact that Nam Hong-joo (Bae Suzy) and Jung Jae-chan (Lee Jong-suk) are irrevocably connected.
There’s an ordinariness to Suzy and Lee Jong-suk’s portrayals of their characters that makes you sit up and take notice. Hong-joo and Jae-chan feel like regular people, both trying to get through their lives with minimal discomfort. Their “normalcy” provides an excellent foil to the astonishing things that happen to them, and grounds the characters in moments that feel lived in. When Hong-joo begs her mother not to die and leave her, you can feel the panic. When Jae-chan comes face-to-face with an old class bully, his leashed frustration is palpable in a glance. Even their initial interactions feel like they could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. It’s easy to care about them individually before you ever see what they could be together.
When Hong-joo and Jae-chan do meet in person, you notice the actors’ comedic timing almost as quickly as their chemistry. I laughed out loud several times during the first two episodes, something I hadn’t expected based off the trailers and sneak peeks. With such an emphasis on the supernatural/time shift elements, it was lovely to know that the writing wouldn’t be weighted down by its serious themes. The developing romance is similarly nuanced, and it feels organic to the overarching plot, not a small feat for a drama juggling challenging timelines.
I’ll leave you with this final thought. I watched the first two episodes a day after the premiere. It’s been almost a week now, and I’m still thinking about Hong-joo and Jae-chan, and where (and when) their story will go next. Not being able to binge While You Were Sleeping is going to be a difficult adjustment, but one I’m quite willing to make for what this drama promises.