“Love is a collaboration of timing and destiny.” An apt statement, this line delivered in Episode 16 of Destined With You, directed by Nam Ki-hoon, summarizes what the series itself lacks. From beginning to end, Destined With You struggles to properly collaborate with timing in building out its romance and mystery in this latest starcrossed lovers Kdrama. Focusing more on building the will they/won’t they romance between Jang Shin-yu (Rowoon) and Lee Hong-jo (Jo Bo-ah), the tempting lure of the series’ supernatural mystery is wasted and, towards the end, rushed to solve, making Destined With You a more frustrating than compelling watch.
At the beginning of the series, Shin-yu is cold, putting up barriers between himself and the others around him. He’s an intelligent, highly effective lawyer who can cut to the quick. His health, on the other hand, is not good. Caused by a curse passed down through the generations, a blue hand and a bloody red hand caress his face without warning, causing medical incidents to occur. The possible cure? Hong-jo and the spellbook left behind by shamaness Aeng-cho.
Hong-jo is an incredibly naive civil servant. Transferred between two departments, she frequently handles citizens’ complaints. She has a huge crush on Kwon Jae-kyung (Ha Jun), but he does not reciprocate. At least, not yet. When she investigates a shrine belonging to the Jang family in Mount Onju, she comes face to face with Shin-yu. After it is revealed that Hong-jo is connected to Shin-yu by destiny, the lawyer is begrudgingly determined to get her to find a cure for him. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned.
Rather than infusing the mystery surrounding their past lives throughout the series, Destined With You waits until Episode 9 to do anything meaningful connected to it. For the most part, Shin-yu spends the bulk of his time being pushy towards Hong-jo, either to help her fix him or with his own feelings. This manifests in surprisingly dramatic personality shifts that still don’t make sense when taking into account the whole of the series. It isn’t until things escalate to the extreme for our two lovebirds that Shin-yu settles out in personality, and the love feels more genuine.
For Hong-jo’s part, her character has a consistency that provides stability for the viewer. A lonely naive woman at the beginning, part of the pleasure of her journey is not only finding her tribe but also developing a backbone against those who continually try to subjugate her. Whether it’s her own coworkers, the narcissistic Yoon Na-yeon (Yura), or the delusional stalker Na Jung-beom (Ahn Sang-woo), she slowly and then more assertively pushes back against them rather than biting her tongue.
As a couple, the constant push and pull between the two lovebirds proves frustrating. For a couple doomed for tragedy, their conflicting personalities, more often than not, make one question whether or not destiny is playing a prank. Making matters more confusing, Ha Jun’s chemistry with Jo Bo-ah’s Hong-jo is incredibly obvious. They vibe so well together onscreen, making one question if perhaps destiny is wrong. With Shin-yu’s constantly fluctuating moods and personality, the argument gains further strength.
Unfortunately, with so much time taken watching them go back and forth on their feelings, it takes away from not just the story but an overall pleasant viewing experience. It creates a drag on the flow that is also further exasperated by plots surrounding side characters. The one plotline that does end up helping move things along is the stalker storyline. But even that gets the short end of the stick towards the end of the series.
With the threat of Jung-beom looming for the second half of Destined With You and Ahn Sang-woo appearing in the past lives’ storyline, you would think there would be some more-developed connection that would make his focus on Hong-jo click more effectively. But by the series’ end, there is nothing tangibly developed that explains the interest. With such an emphasis on destiny, it reads as a missed opportunity.
Destined With You isn’t a complete loss, however. The actors all work with what they’re given, delivering strong performances when needed. Rowoon, in particular, is a standout. Even when some direction in character baffles, he fully commits and delivers. For the side characters, Son Sae-Byeol (Park Kyung-hye), Yoo Su-jeong (Mi-Ram), Gong Seo-goo (Hyun Bong-sik), and Ma Eun-young (Lee Bong-ryun) provide a necessary levity and comedy that lightens up the tone of things. You’ll go from disliking them initially to adoring their quirkiness by the series’ end, highlighting that when the writers get it right, they can get it right.
There are also some incredibly stunning scenes in Destined With You. The framing of Shin-yu and Hong-jo on the bridge when the sparklers are going off is honestly breathtaking. It creates that magical romantic feeling that, leading up to that moment, the series had been lacking. When we go back in time, there is a beauty to the outdoor scenes. Whether in the snow or in dried grass-laden fields, it captures the natural beauty of the countryside and evokes the feeling that what’s happening between our lovebirds is bigger than they could ever know.
As a tale of love and destiny, the ending we receive is adequate, albeit expected. The end goal was always for Shin-yu and Hong-jo to be together. Had the path been less dragged out and the mystery been better developed rather than dumped in the final episodes for time, the love and connection between these two characters might have felt more earned. As happy endings go, it is expected but reads hollow.
Destined With You highlights the rocky, frustrating road of destiny. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, it’ll have you shaking your head at characters and their odd choices or lack of chemistry. But, regardless of anything, it proves that even the most unlikely of couples can, if timing and writers’ stubbornness come together properly, persevere in the end.
All episodes of Destined With You are now available on Netflix.
Destined With You
Destined With You highlights the rocky, frustrating road of destiny. But, regardless of anything, it proves that even the most unlikely of couples can, if timing and writers’ stubbornness come together properly, persevere in the end.