I’m not really sure what spurred tvN to adapt the nearly two decades old Japanese television series Hundred Million Stars From the Sky into a K-Drama of the title The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, a work that borrows the bare bones structure of the original show. Both works tell the story of a deeply flawed man who shows no remorse in manipulating others for his entertainment, only to be changed by the appearance of a woman in his life. While I have yet to watch the Japanese version in full, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes delivers exceptionally well on the disheartening subject matter presented. Unfortunately, it fails spectacularly to include the intrigue you’d expect from a mystery thriller.
Korean Name:하늘에서 내리는 일억개의 별
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Romance
Number of Episodes: 16 episodes
Episode Length: 60 minutes
Recommended For: People interested in slow-paced, barely-there thrillers with a sideline romance
NOT Recommended For: Anyone looking for a happy ending, or just any kind of feel-good fluff
Seo In Guk as Kim Moo Young
Jung So Min as Yoo Jin Kang
Park Sung Woon as Yoo Jin Gook
Yoo Jin Gook is a seasoned police officer whose detective unit is currently in the midst of investigating a suicide case that only Jin Gook believes may actually have been a murder. Jin Gook’s only surviving family is his younger sister Yoo Jin Kang, whom he dotes on and protects fiercely after a traumatic childhood that she cannot remember. When Jin Kang and her close friend Baek Seung Ah cross paths with an assistant at a microbrewery named Kim Moo Young, Seung Ah is immediately attracted to him. She and Moo Young begin a whirlwind romance despite her family’s disapproval and her previously arranged engagement. However, Jin Gook’s investigation is leading him to suspect that Moo Young is the murderer of the supposed suicide case. And it may lead him even further to realize how deeply Moo Young’s history his tied to his own guilt of 20 years and the tragic events of Jin Kang’s childhood.
My feelings for The Smile Has Left Your Eyes are… complicated, to say the least. I wanted to love it because I love thrillers with a romantic subplot and I love Seo In Guk in virtually any role. But this drama fell flat for me despite all of the promising aspects it had going for it. I’ll touch on the good and the bad in my review, so spoilers be warned, as it’s difficult to address critical parts of the story without revealing a few major plot points.
I don’t have glaring issues with the plot of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. It’s a story about fundamentally flawed people finding heartbreak and solace in each other, set under the pretense of a thriller. I wouldn’t call it thrilling, and the murder-mystery aspect of it really only has a play in the first third of the drama, but it is at least consistent in tone, that being: incredibly gloomy. What I really struggle with is the pacing. The runtime could be cut in half, if all the montages of characters looking distressed to sad piano music was chopped from each episode. We spend an inordinate amount of time watching these people wallow in their own misery, and while I understand this is done with the intent of pulling the heartstrings of the viewers, it serves no actual narrative purpose. And it left me mostly just bored.
In some ways, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes surprised me. I thought it would be a thriller, or at least a mystery, but the actual “mystery” that surrounds how connected Jin Kang, Moo Young, and Jin Gook are during their time in Haesan many years ago is rather predictable. The “childhood friends who have forgotten they were friends” trope is something that is played out in K-Dramas and it’s not used in a particularly inventive way here. The rather gratuitous use of flashbacks, even flashbacks of events shown in the exact same episode, only exacerbate this problem because it feels like I’m being spoonfed clues that are all too easy to put together. It’s clear who the real murderer behind the “suicide” case is the minute she makes her first appearance in the drama. And trying to paint Moo Young as a red herring isn’t clever so much as it is frustrating because it’s so obvious who the actual culprit is. It’s almost insulting, actually.
The way the police work in this drama is handled completely baffles me. The fact that Moo Young gets released from prison during an investigation where the actual murder weapon is found in his possession and has given a verbal confession before the police, simply because another person confessed to the crime, is absurd. Even though this confession came from the actual murderer, Moo Young is still an accomplice to the murder. Him being released so immediately felt like an easy way to wrap up one plotline and let his relationship with Jin Kang begin to develop in the second half of the story. For a drama that spends such an inordinately long amount of time building up to this big reveal, it wraps things up ridiculously fast.
I will say, however, that I do like how the Korean adaptation of this story took the incestuous aspect of the main couple’s relationship that was portrayed in the original Japanese series and twisted it to be a misunderstanding. As this misunderstanding does result in the couple’s terrible fate, it is admittedly tragic either way, but also a little less uncomfortable as an audience member to witness play out. I can see the ending being polarizing in responses, but I found it to be incredibly fitting. There’s really no evidence hinting at a happy ending for our couple, not even from the dark tone set in episode one, so I didn’t feel let down when the writers didn’t give me one. I even like how the fate of the supporting cast and Jin Gook is left so open-ended, because I think the neat way that grief and mourning is sometimes tied up after endings like The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is entirely unrealistic. So for all it’s struggle to get there, the ending of this drama did not leave me disappointed.
You absolutely do not need relatable characters to tell a compelling story. And I tend to be drawn in by characters that are deeply flawed in any case. But you do need interesting characters, or at least characters with interesting motivations. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes delivers a whole cast of deeply flawed characters but their actions, rather than driving my interest in the story, had me pulling my hair out instead. The same characters make the same endless circles around each other and countless confrontations end in no further plot development. It comes across as a cheap trick to prolong the drama to sixteen episodes, and every character suffered for it.
I don’t dislike flawed characters, and don’t believe they need to end the story any less flawed than they began. However, I do find it hard to watch a character regress in development, and that’s mostly what I felt watching Jin Kang’s romance with Moo Young. She begins the series doubtful of his sudden relationship with her best friend Seung Ah, and rightfully frustrated by the flippant way Moo Young treats Seung Ah’s intense feelings for him. She’s a protective friend, and never willing to cave to Moo Young’s advances, which she actively calls him out for. But Seung Ah’s death is a turnaround for her, and in the ugliest way possible. She recovers from the death remarkably fast. And, even more jarringly, entered into a romantic relationship with Moo Young soon after, even knowing the way he manipulated and was directly responsible for her best friend’s death. And while this was passed off in the drama as evidence of their deep emotional connection, it was uncomfortable to watch. It made me respect Jin Kang much less as a character, and watching her entire personality basically devolve into “I love Moo Young and am going to save him” by the end of the drama put a bad taste in my mouth.
Moo Young gets notably more development, but none of Jin Kang’s initial likeableness. I’m not sure I could suffer to watch his character do anything if it wasn’t for Seo In Guk’s performance. Moo Young begins the story with no conscience, and he gets all of his satisfaction in life by toying with others. This ranges from romancing a wealthy heiress to being an actual accomplice to murder, and is somehow passed off as the result of childhood trauma he can’t remember. Yeah, I’m still trying to puzzle that one out too. In any case, it is Jing Kang that teaches Moo Young to be more human, which is all well and good unless the idea of a romantic relationship healing years of apathy and suppressed trauma rankles you. This is exactly the kind of “healing” I find to be counterproductive to showcasing a character undergoing personal growth and I can’t say I liked Moo Young much more by the end of the drama as I did from its onset.
While our main couple is Moo Young and Jin Kang, Jin Gook is equally as important to the story and its progression. His development is almost a foil for Moo Young’s as he begins the drama as the likeable “good cop” of his department and doting older brother to Jin Kang. If you told me halfway through the drama he’d start knifing people on the sidewalk in an actual murder attempt, I wouldn’t have believed you. And if you told me this would somehow be passed off as totally forgivable by the other characters and he’d keep his job after confessing, I would have laughed in your face.
Yes, both of those things happen unfortunately. I’ll leave my impressions of his character at that.
Jin Kang’s friend Baek Seung Ah, for all her minimal screentime, was important to the plot and so I feel like I should address her character. She’s the type of person I intensely dislike in real life, someone who ties her own identity rather frustratingly to another person and dreams big without thinking of how realistic those ventures are. She is naive and easily duped by Moo Young’s manipulation, and I would consider him the primary reason for her untimely demise. Despite this, I can’t really hate her, only that she never got a chance to learn from her mistakes. Seung Ah deserved better. (all the Viki commenters that celebrated her death so your ship could live, that one’s for you).
There are a number of different “antagonists” that appear as obstacles for our main characters, but I’ll focus on Jang Se Ran, because I find her the most interesting. I actually really enjoyed Se Ran as a villain, mostly because it is so rare to see a competent female antagonist in a K-Drama, and even more rare to see one not driven by petty reasons like jealousy or revenge. Se Ran simply seeks chaos – she’s bored and shows a total lack of moral abandon in pushing Moo Young into terrible situations for her own amusement and I honestly loved that for her. She wants to find someone as twisted as herself, and is ultimately disappointed when she realizes Moo Young is not that person. I can’t say I felt bad for her when the consequences of her actions finally caught up to her, but I enjoyed watching her scheme her way through the drama nonetheless.
I can definitively say the performances delivered in The Smile Has Left Your Eyes were the saving grace of this tedious drama. I’m not sure I could have stuck out this show for anyone’s portrayal of Kim Moo Young other than Seo In Guk. I can’t really vocalize just how engaging Seo In Guk is as an actor, and watching him here really highlights the complete and utter lack of nuance and overacting that is so typical in other K-Dramas. Seo In Guk has an incredible knack for understanding how simple expressions can convey so much emotion, and I love that his distinctive character allowed him to explore this type of acting.
I’ll admit – I surprisingly loved Jung So Min as the female lead Yoo Jing Kang. The only other drama I’ve seen Jung So Min in was Playful Kiss, which also happens to be my most hated K-Drama of all time. I had a certain amount of trepidation to see her performance here because of that, but she has effectively brushed aside the cursed memory of her acting in Playful Kiss by the simple amount of heart and natural ability she brought to The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. Jin Kang’s character demanded the most emotional range of any of the cast, and Jung So Min was just as capable of showcasing a woman faking a smile to her friends and family as she was falling apart in absolute hysterics. I feel a bit bad, actually, with how leery I was knowing she was the female lead and am glad she proved me wrong in every sense of the word.
Park Sung Woong is the final character in our trio of leads, and while his performance is perfectly adequate, his portrayal of the character was the least compelling. Besides a few vaguely unnatural drunken scenes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with his performance, but I won’t be singing his praises from the rooftops either. He’s a respectable actor with a lot of experience, and it shows here. I do think the ensemble cast of our main trio played off each other’s strengths well, and made these performances more believable.
There were a number of times where the background music in The Smile Has Left Your Eyes was weirdly uplifting for the actual tone of the scene. Overall, however, the instrumental pieces themselves were nicely composed, though lacking a certain memorability. The most noteworthy track of the OST in my opinion is Ahn Ji Yeon’s “Lost,” which is one of only a few songs in the soundtrack to actual feature a vocalist.
It’s really Ahn Ji Yeon’s vocals that make this song for me. Her voice is hauntingly sweet in a way that isn’t all that typical to hear with Korean artists. If there’s one good thing that came out of the overly long scenes of characters moping throughout the drama it’s that “Lost” is usually the track to play during them, which let me listen to this song more often.
I will say The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, for all its inconsistency in pacing and character development, was executed beautifully with regards to its visuals. The color palette of this drama is suitably muted and dull to reflect the distinctive melancholy tone that seems to saturate even the happier scenes of the show. It is incredibly fitting, and the atmospheric consistency is something I really applaud the director for. The grimness of the tone let the audience know, even from the first episode, that we weren’t in for a happy ending. The cinematography coupled with the stellar performances of the cast, really made it feel like I was watching these people live out a series of very twisted events, rather than actors in a role.
Despite a stellar cast and outstanding performances, "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" is a thriller without any thrills and a melodrama with a whole lot of melancholy. It could have benefited remarkably with a significant cut to its runtime, and thus I would only recommend it to the exceptionally patient.