Inspired by Goethe’s tragic play Faust, When the Devil Calls Your Name is one of the most thought provoking, philosophical dramas I’ve seen in quite some time. The story speaks to our heart, asking for our personal thoughts on mankind’s free will, forcing us to contemplate on the things that are most important to us.
In his college years, Seo Dong-Cheon was part of a group known as Liver and Gallbladder (Americans would call that Heart and Soul) which was slightly popular for a short time but dwindled to just a memory when the group split up. Seo Dong-Cheon struggled to make it on his own but luck was not on his side and in his mid-fifties he was forced to admit his short time with Liver and Gallbladder might have been all that music, and life, had to offer him. At that most desperate and pitiful time he warily signed a contract with the Devil, agreeing that after ten years of wealth, success, and youth Dong-Cheon would loose his soul.
Since that fateful day life has been wonderful for Dong-Cheon, now known as Ha Rib. But just as he’s reached the top of his game he is soberly reminded of the fact that the contract’s time is almost fulfilled and the Devil is anxiously waiting to collect on Dong-Cheon’s debt. Desperate to not loose his soul, Dong-Cheon makes a new deal with the Devil and this time it’s not his soul that hangs in the balance but the soul of someone very dear to him.
Music was everything to Seo Dong-Cheon and he was angry and heartbroken when his Liver and Gallbladder buddy, Lee Choong-Ryeol, stole a song he had written and discarded and made it into a hit. That betrayal ended the friendship, and the band, and the two men went their separate ways. Choong-Ryeol married into a rich family and became the CEO of a humongous pharmaceutical company while Dong-Cheon was never able to attain the fame and fortune he so desperately desired. His depression drove his live-in girlfriend away and he spent the rest of his life alone, battling the feeling of being a washed up has-been. Then…
Upon signing a contract with the Devil Dong-Cheon physically regains his youth and goes by the name Ha Rib. He claims that as Dong-Cheon, music was always a one-sided love for him but as Ha Rib he feels like his love is finally being acknowledged. One of the most talented and successful songwriters in the country, Ha Rib is considered to be the Midas of contemporary music, and works as a composer and producer at Seoul Entertainment. He received the Presidential Award for expanding the Korean entertainment industry and more than 90% of Korea’s youth listen to his songs. A friend admits Ha Rib is difficult to get along with but has a tender heart. The man owns a huge house, several cars, a few buildings, and has everything his little heart desires – or so he thinks.
Ironically, it was the movie The Devil is Alive that turned actor Mo Tae-Kang into a Hallyu Star one year ago, and now his body is the host of a real devil known simply as Ryu. He is in the human world because of a bet he made with God and Ryu seeks to collect as many human souls as he can. Dong-Cheon often berates the “Devil bastard” for ruining people’s lives but Ryu is always quick to remind him, “You chose to make a contract with this wicked bastard. The Devil lives off of people’s desperation. Your greedy desire is my food.” And when things are crumbling around Ha Rib and it seems like all hell is conspiring to not just ruin him but also all those around him Ryu chastises, “Don’t think I am responsible for everything happening around you. There are more things done by humans in your world. When it’s a matter of being vicious, humans are more capable than [devils] us.”
Kim Yi-Gyeong is a woman in her mid twenties who has been forced to battle many difficulties during her life. She and her mother were often the victims of her drunken step-father’s physical abuse and at the age of 18 she was convicted of excessive self-defense (hitting her step-father over the head with an ashtray which caused him to become a quadriplegic) and robbery and was sentenced to six months in custody (jail) and probation. Dong-Cheon describes her as being “pitiful, shabby, hopeless, and desperate.” In spite of everything she’s been through the woman remains emphatic, kind, selfless, and optimistic. She writes and performs her own songs in a little café, dreaming of the day she’ll make it big in the entertainment world.
Ji Seo-Yeong is the CEO of Seoul Entertainment. Ten years ago Ha Rib signed with her little company and together they have managed to turn it into one of the biggest and best in the industry. But Ha Rib is more than just a P.D. to Seo-Yeong, he is a friend. CEO Ji and actor Mo Tae-Gang secretly dated for five years but broke things off a year ago. She blames herself for the break up, realizing she had put her career ahead of their relationship. Seo-Yeong would love to begin again with Tae-Gang but he is keeping his distance and seems like a completely different person from the man she loved a year ago.
Luka Aleksevic is just 20 years old and has come to South Korea on his own in search of the man he believes is his biological father, a once popular singer named Seo Dong-Cheon. Luka runs into Kin Yi-Gyeong on the street and eventually the two end up living in the same building. Because Luka is a musician he is able to secure a job at Soul Entertainment. Unfortunately, he has a very serious heart condition and although he should go back home and have an operation he doesn’t want to leave without meeting the man he thinks is his father.
One rainy night, three years ago, Ha Rib found a man lying in the street and ended up bringing him home. Because the man had lost all memory of who he was, sympathetic Ha Rib gave him the name Kang Ha and allowed him to live in his home until he was ready to venture out on his own again. Kang Ha cooks and cleans for Ha Rib and the two have a kind of working relationship mixed with friendship. Kang Ha is gentle and sincerely cares about others.
Lee Chong-Ryeol walks into Soul Entertainment as its new co-CEO and, as you can imagine, Ha Rib is not happy about it. He is the guy that took the song Dong-Cheon had written and thrown away; tweeked it, put his name on it, and turned it into a hit. Chong-Ryeol can’t seem to understand why Ha Rib is so contentious towards him.
Jung Kyung-Ho, the man who so effortlessly plays the part of both Seo Dong-Cheon and Ha Rib, is arguably one of the best actors South Korea has to offer. It doesn’t matter whether he’s in a comedy, a drama, or a mystery, Kyung-Ho’s acting is nonexistent – and by that I mean it is so natural and he is so much at ease that it doesn’t seem like he’s acting at all. For a little information about Jung Kyung-Ho you can go to my Missing 9 review.
My Man to Man review contains some information about Park Sung-Woong, the man who plays the part of the Devil, Ryu, who has taken possession of actor Mo Tae-Gang’s body.
The part of Kim Yi-Gyeong is beautifully played by Lee Seol. She is fairly new to the acting profession, beginning her career in the 2018 feature film Herstory. That same year she appeared in the movie I Have a Date with Spring and the short film A Room of One’s Own. She won a Best New Actress award for her performance in 2018’s Less Than Evil, which is on my watch list but still have yet to see. When the Devil Calls Your Name is her third Kdrama.
Lee El, the actress who plays the CEO of Seoul Entertainment, Ji Seo-Yeong, has been in so many really, really good Kdramas – Wild Romance, It’s Okay, That’s Love, Liar Game, I Remember You, Goblin, Hwayugi, and Black to name just a few. She began acting in 2009 and has been in film, theater, and on TV.
When the Devil Calls Your Name might be a bit difficult for some atheists to sit through, although I think people who believe in God and the Devil will love it. Here are some really good lines from the show that will make you think – Ryu’s father tells him, “The reason God let you do whatever you’ve been doing is because he believed in humans. He believed they would find the light in the dark.” When Dong-Cheon is telling Ryu how horrible and unfair their contract is Ryu asks him, “What will humans full of despair think of my offer? Will they be frightened or pleased?” which leads Dong-Cheon to realize, “There are more people who fall into the Devil’s temptation than we can imagine. They find the Devil themselves and sign the contract.” There is also a part in the story where Ryu explains how he sees us humans. He says, “Hiding behind your foolish attachment is dirty greed. You disguise your unrealistic and selfish greed as a hope. It’s …convenient and delusional… You call disguised greed a hope [and] you forgive yourself [for] chasing that dirty desire.” That one made me feel a bit guilty. I think Ryu hit the nail on the head when he said that. How much of what we “hope” for is really just selfish, greedy desire? Something to think about.
As I was watching this show I couldn’t help but talk about it to my roommate who happened to be familiar with Faust (I wasn’t) and became very interest the more I explained what was going on. By about halfway through the drama (which is 16 episodes) my friend said if they ever decided to take the time to watch a Korean drama it would be this one. That’s pretty high praise, especially considering the fact that we’ve been roommates ever since before I became hooked on Kdramas and my friend has never seen a single one!
Sadly, I noticed two glowing “oops” in this very entertaining drama. The first is when Yi-Gyeong is sitting in a hot room in a bath house. We see she has a towel around her neck which has been tucked into her shirt, but a split second later one end of it is out and she reaches down and grabs it to wipe her face. The other occurs a little more than halfway through episode ten. Mo Tae-Gang and his manager walk up to Lee Choong-Ryeol as he is having dinner in a restaurant and his manager stretches his hand towards co-CEO Lee to indicate the number three and we see his thumb and first two fingers are out. However, in the blink of an eye, at another camera angle, his thumb and index finger are together and his last three fingers are out, making it look like an “okay” sign. It’s noticeable.
An ending can either make or break a story and this one was perfect, slightly hurried but perfect nonetheless. I told my friend I was going to be really upset if the ending wasn’t good and this one came as a complete surprise. There’s no way I would have ever guessed it would have wrapped up that way! A+!
I was extremely impressed with the music in this drama. There’s lots of songs sung throughout the show, as you would expect with a story that centers around a composer/singer but what I wasn’t expecting was the fact that Jung Kyung-Ho was doing his own singing. And he was either really playing the guitar and piano or he is amazing at pretending to play them. They even have him conducting a huge orchestra at the beginning of the drama and he did a fantastic job. As someone who played in a school band for several years I can admit I would have found it very easy to following his conducting. Everything pertaining to the music in this drama looked beautifully authentic – Luka playing the piano, Ha Rib playing both the piano and guitar, and Yi-Gyeong playing the guitar. Lee Seoul must have lip synced the songs Yi-Gyeong sang because she is not on the soundtrack at all. Jung Kyung-Ho is credited as the artist for two solos and two duets but every song Yi-Gyeong sang has Sondia as the singer. A few of my favorite songs are Where is Your Dream, The Street You Left (duet with Kyung-Ho and Sonia) You Bring Me No Sadness, When I Am in Busan, and The Day We First Met. You’d be doing yourself a great favor by going to YouTube and listening to them.
The aesthetics in this drama are wonderful. Ryu in his true form is creepy but it broke my heart to see that the handsome, young man he was in “heaven” was reduced to the lava-type monster he became. The special effects are very good, especially for a TV drama – black smoke that comes from Ryu, heavenly swords that resemble Star Wars lightsabers, angels and demons appearing and disappearing, the fiery furnace of hell, and Jung Kyung-Ho’s old man make-up. Everything is thumbs up good.
Please, oh please take time to watch this drama. Everything about it is excellent! I’ve decided that for the rest of my life I’m going to put my hands over my ears and stay as far away from greed and hopelessness as I can. Even though I enjoyed every minute of this show and want you to watch it I really hope you’ll ignore that “evil bastard” When the Devil Calls Your Name.
Lessons we learn
Great talking points that make us think
Slightly rushed ending