A national runner protests against internal violence at the cost of his job. In the meantime, a struggling translator coincidentally meets a handsome, famous stranger who turns out to be her favourite actress’ son. Finally, an orphan and a silver spoon fall in love and must fight against the wealthy father’s disapproval.
Such premises are not new to dramas. There are many that follow a protagonist standing up against injustice (Itaewon Class, Chief Kim, Signal). Or the glamour that comes from a fan and celebrity meet-cute (Record of Youth, Radio Romance, 7 First Kisses). Or the classic, poor meets rich and family objection story arcs that we are all too familiar with (What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, Secret Garden, Coffee Prince). Run On contains all these plots, and so much more that one premise alone is inadequate to describe it. At the same time, the show deftly steers the plotlines away from cliches, even to the extent of retracting weight from them.
Note: This review contains spoilers.
For example, a typical family objection story arc in dramas pops up after the socially mismatched couple has formed, so that the plateaued, honeymoon phase can be reignited with obstacles to drive the narrative forward. In Run On, Ki Seon-gyeom (ZE:A‘s Im Siwan) and especially Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung) face the opposition of Assemblyman Ki, Seon-gyeom’s father, to their relationship in all the classic, K-drama ways–Assemblyman Ki bribes Mi-joo to snitch on his son (which she reluctantly accepts), he sends a photographer to stalk both of them, and even insults her with humiliating words so that she will leave his son. As a final hurdle to their relationship, Assemblyman Ki arranges for Seon-gyeom’s marriage with chaebol and sports agency CEO Seo Dan-a (SNSD‘s Sooyoung).
This conflict seems to be going in an all-too-familiar direction, except… it doesn’t. It doesn’t snowball into a grand finale showdown between father and son. Instead, Seon-gyeom says, “Our marriage was never the issue. He [Assemblyman Ki] just needs Chairman Seo’s [Dan-a’s father’s] support. So let’s just buy some time and back out last minute.” It is a deflating solution to all the family objection stories we have seen, but it works.
The family objection is solved arbitrarily in the last two episodes. Chairman Seo passes away unexpectedly, making Seon-gyeom’s marriage with Dan-a politically meaningless. Seon-gyeom and Mi-joo can now live happily ever after without his father breathing down their necks.
While this may sound like wasted airtime, it is the perfect progression for the couple. After all, the heart of the drama was never, “How are they going to win his father over?” Instead, it was all about the main characters.
Continuing the above example, the father’s objection does not drive the main couple’s actions. Rather, it acts as a catalyst that works effectively with two proactive main leads. When Seon-gyeom and Mi-joo encounter their first major obstacle in episode 5, Mi-joo cuts ties with Seon-gyeom–not because Assemblyman Ki’s bribery of her was humiliating, but because of the disparity between herself and Seon-gyeom, which the bribery throws into sharp relief.
You may be embarrassed, but I feel like a wreck, so just stop it. I normally don’t mind taking that kind of money. That’s not even me at the lowest. It’s just who I am. But this time, I kept feeling uneasy about it because of you. You make me feel like I’m worthless. I would feel like a good person, but then I would feel worthless. You make me feel that way. But you see, I really hate feeling that way.
There is no overly drawn-out misunderstanding from her accepting his father’s money. He forgives her easily. Why? Because he just wants to, he says. Yet it is this very ease that Mi-joo is upset about and conflict arises. The disparity between his easygoing manner of talking about the incident, and her humiliation that prevents her from even broaching the topic, becomes a solid obstacle that prevents them from growing closer as romantic interests. She breaks it off herself, not because she is forced to by an oppressive father, but because she values herself and does not want to feel humiliation from this relationship.
Essentially, the conflict that drives Run On comes from the disparity between two individuals who want to be in a relationship (which makes for a narrative that viewers can easily relate to). The plotlines that weave in and out of the narrative are but train cabins; the locomotive that drives the story is the growing connection between two distinct individuals. More than their class difference, this also includes their lifestyles, fields of profession, upbringing, familial background and interests. In episode 1, the two have a conversation at the police station where they constantly fail to understand each other:
“But why a pervert?”
“Are you a pervert?”
“No. What I mean is… When we were talking about guns being illegal… Forget it.”
The scene, while adorable, illustrates how both of them started off on different wavelengths. At the final episode, Mi-joo reminisces on this scene and comments, “Don’t we click perfectly now?”
In the course of the drama, they exchange interests–Seon-gyeom learns to appreciate the movies that Mi-joo loves, while she completes a marathon that he invites her to. They exchange lifestyles–Mi-joo as a night owl wakes up early to see Seon-gyeom, and he cooks for her when she pulls an all-nighter. And they also exchange values–Seon-gyeom who grew up sacrificing for his father learns how to live for himself, while Mi-joo who grew up with no one to rely on learns to rely on him.
Yet at the same time, the drama recognizes, in the final episode, that the couple remains as two distinct individuals as much as they learn from each other:
We’ll probably never fully understand each other, right? . . . But we could align our worlds next to each other, couldn’t we?
It’s a comforting and beautiful message, one that simultaneously hints of growth rather than a static resolution to the couple’s differences.
Run On may not have intense, blown-out-of-the-portion stakes. But this makes for a stress-free viewing experience, and with its brilliant writing and highly relatable stories, viewers will be comforted by this drama. At the same time, the drama deters boredom as it is driven by heartfelt, personal internal and relational conflicts. Overall, the drama’s refreshing reinvention of cliche plotlines, with proactive characters that are too smart to fall for such traps, makes this an absolute joy to watch.
(Images via JTBC.)