Doom at Your Service (2021)
Directed by Kwon Young-Il
Kwon Young-Il's 2021 Fantasy-Romance, Doom at Your Service immerses its audience in a seemingly impossible romance between a terminally-ill woman and the entity known as Myeol-Mang, or Doom. Despite checking the box for most romance tropes, Doom at Your Service delves deeper, showcasing both the brighter moments of being in love and the pain loving someone can sometimes cause, which creates a surprising level of reality in a world where the fantastic exists.
The drama starts on a somewhat unromantic note as Dong-Kyung, faced with the knowledge that she can either live for about three months without treatment or live another year with treatment, experiences a nightmarish day. She drunkenly pleads, "Just bring Doom to this world!" which intrigues Myeol-Mang. He offers her a deal: she has one hundred days to live, during which time he can stave off any pain she might feel, but in return, she must ask him to destroy the world. Breaking the contract results in the person she loves most at that moment dying in her stead. To protect her aunt, brother, and best friend, Dong-Kyung vows to love Myeol-Mang so that he dies instead, failing to consider that once in love, she will regret this choice. Thus begins a star-crossed love in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
The two leads, played by Park Bo-Young and Seo In-Guk, carry the drama with their on-screen chemistry. Seo In-Guk manages to portray Myeol-Mang as a roguish, yet jaded, individual seeking to destroy human life because he has become alienated from and bitter toward humanity. His character's many smiles are easily distinguishable as true happiness or self-deprecation. As he interacts with Dong-Kyung, his behavior becomes gentler and more considerate. Park Bo-Young's Dong-Kyung is similarly expressive, often using her eyes to convey her emotion and managing to convey various scenes of crying or screaming in pain in ways that appear realistic.
Doom at Your Service also follows a secondary romance in the form of a love triangle between Na Ji-Na, Dong-Kyung's best friend, Cha Joo-Ik, Dong-Kyung's senior at work, and Lee Hyun-Kyu, Ji-Na's ex-boyfriend and Joo-Ik's best friend. While this romance appears less compelling and emotional when compared to Dong-Kyung and Myeol-Mang's star-crossed love, it serves as a complement to the main couple. Rooted in reality, viewers witness the struggle to let go of the past for Ji-Na who is suddenly faced with the ex-boyfriend she never got over, as well as his friend who stole her first kiss. At the same time, viewers witness the struggle between friends with conflicting interests as Joo-Ik and Hyun-Kyu attempt to maintain their friendship despite pursuing the same woman. The simple complexity of their story is less devastating than the leads, which allows the audience to take a short break from heavier emotions.
One of this drama's strengths lies in its masterful use of music to heighten already emotionally-charged scenes. All of the main songs from the original soundtrack, performed by top artists, such as Ailee's "Breaking Down" and Tomorrow x Together's "Love Sight," occur during poignant moments between Dong-Kyung and Myeol-Mang. The scenes themselves generate a powerful emotional impact by either panning across the two leads or by providing a montage of flashbacks, highlighting significant moments. "Breaking Down" plays during scenes where Dong-Kyung and Myeol-Mang fight the connection between them, and "Love Sight" plays during scenes where the two acknowledge their feelings for each other. While one might expect the repetition of a handful of songs to grow boring, the songs frequently appear in different arrangements, sometimes with an echo effect, sometimes as an instrumental, and sometimes as the original, which keeps the soundtrack feeling fresh and impactful.
Similar to the soundtrack, the drama also makes exceptional use of symbolism. Myeol-Mang is frequently described as a butterfly in the "garden" of humanity, always on the outside. The Deity, portrayed as a young woman with a heart condition, serves as the gardener tasked with caring for the flowers in the garden. She carries around a pot, trying to grow her own flower. As Myeol-Mang learns to love and becomes more desperate to save Dong-Kyung, the flower sprouts and grows. At the same time, there are scenes where viewers see a dying butterfly that seems weaker the stronger the budding flower becomes. Myeol-Mang is the butterfly, but his ultimate goal is the flower, representative of humanity.
As masterfully created as Doom at Your Service is, it does have potential discrepancies. The Deity is a potentially problematic character, serving as a sort of deus ex machina to provide a happy ending. Her powers seem inconsistent as she separates the leads from each other's fates but forgets simple things like deleting phone contacts and images. Yet, by the end of the drama, she is capable of altering images and memories to plug Myeol-Mang into society as "Sa-Ram," his new name, which coincidentally means "human." However, it is possible the "oversights" she makes earlier in the drama are intentional on her part and, rather than an error, a clever move by the writers.
Although not perfect, Doom at Your Service is a creative, complex fantasy-romance that shows both the selfless and selfish sides of love. The various types of love portrayed have something for everyone. Fantasy-Romance lovers will enjoy watching the journey of love between Dong-Kyung and Myeol-Mang as they experience a rollercoaster of emotions.
— Jessica Charest
California State University, Stanislaus