Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 13 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 14 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 15 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 16 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 17 -| Review Score – 2/5
When Sky Castle aired on network TV, few people could predict this would grow to become one of the most successful Korean dramas of all time. The perfect blend of characterization and important themes were wrapped up in a soapy, melodramatic tone that made for quite the delightful cocktail of influences.
With Korean networks hungry to find the next big thing, on the surface Graceful Friends looks like a surefire winner for JTBC. Taking over from The World Of The Married, this steamy late-night murder mystery manages to do a lot right. Unfortunately it also slips up quite badly along the way.
The result is a show that nosedives toward the end, with numerous big highs followed by disappointing lows and a lacklustre ending that leaves a bad taste after 17 episodes.
The story wastes absolutely no time getting right to the crux of the drama. Loving husband Goong-Cheol shows up at an apartment late one night and bursts inside. As he does, we cut to the dead body of a man named Kang-Sang. With his friends all covering for Goong-Cheol and the real killer unknown for now, a game of “guess who” begins as the events of that night slowly unravel over time.
Alongside Goong-Cheol are a whole array of characters with their own problems and issues that flesh out these 70 minute episodes. Choon-Bok worries about aging while boasting a trophy wife in Eun-Sil.
Former adult movie star Kyung-Ja stands by her movie director husband Hyung-Woo while he tries to bag a better deal and break out his typecast role. Interestingly, his son Ji-Wook winds up romantically involved with Ae-Ra – one of the adult movie stars working with Hyung-Woo.
You’ve also got Goong-Cheol’s wife Jung-Hae who’s previously had an affair with Goong-Cheol’s best friend Jae-Hoon. All of this is made even more dramatic by the men’s first love Hae-Sook returning. As we quickly find out, the murder of a Professor back in University years ago binds all of these characters together.
And thus begins our murder mystery. Across 17 episodes we’re left guessing over who’s involved and why. There’s a few red herrings along the way and lots of intriguing bouts of drama but it all feels drawn out and overlong. It’s a shame too because some scenes really hit the dramatic highs.
An infamous dinner scene is one such example of a high. Hae-Sook stirs up drama among all the characters and receives a face full of wine for her troubles. Another time Goong-Cheol loses his temper toward his wife as their relationship is tested. These moments are definite highlights but there’s a few moments that really sour the whole experience.
The rationale behind the killer and a sloppy investigation make for a really unsatisfying conclusion to the tale. That’s to say nothing of the finale itself which really undermines the drama and ends things on a low rather than a high. In a way, this show almost bears some resemblance to Vagabond which also started brightly and ended pretty poorly, dragging the score down.
Stylistically the series does well to interweave the past and present together, with a decent musical score. However, the same two or three songs do crop up constantly and after a while this become tiresome. When you binge-watch this one it’s even more noticeable too so that’s definitely worth bearing in mind.
Thematically, Graceful Friends touches on some important issues. Family, relationships and loyalty are all brought to the foreground here and do well to keep everything consistently entertaining. That’s to say nothing of the strong early season which hones in on the subject of mental health for men.
All of these ups and downs combine to make Graceful Friends a bumpier ride than it perhaps should be. Compared to other murder mysteries of its kind, Graceful Friends fails to end on a high which may disappoint some people.
Despite a lacklustre finale though, Graceful Friends is a pretty good murder mystery and definitely keeps you guessing until the end. It’s not perfect but it’s a decent enough Korean drama to watch if you fancy something a little more mature and edgy.
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Verdict - 7/10