‘If You Wish Upon Me’ review: Ji Chang-wook leads an empathetic K-drama about fulfilling final wishes

This human-centric drama offers insight into the work of ‘wish granters’, and how they support end-of-life patients in their last moments

What’s on your bucket list? This question is more than a mere dating app description or thought experiment, particularly for organisations around the world working to make the dreams of the terminally ill come true. One such group, the Dutch non-profit Ambulance Wish Foundation, inspired If You Wish Upon Me, a new Viu Original series that focuses on a group of hospice volunteers who devote their lives to this work.

We follow Yoon Gyeo-rye (Ji Chang-wook), a brusque ex-convict on the run from gang members who ends up having to complete community service hours to offset a massive traffic fine. He gets involved with the hospice-based group Team Genie, known tongue-in-cheek as the “the Avengers of wish-granting”. This committed, enthusiastic team spares no effort in ensuring that the final wishes of their terminally ill beneficiaries come to fruition. As leader Kang Tae-sik (Sung Dong-il) tells one hospice patient, “We started this to bring comfort in one’s last moments, when people need each other most.”

If You Wish Upon Me
Choi Soo-young as Seo Yeon-joo in ‘If You Wish Upon Me’. Credit: Viu

Though outwardly resistant towards being ordered around by Tae-sik and spirited hospice nurse Seo Yeon-joo (Choi Soo-young from Girls’ Generation), Gyeo-rye comes to realise how meaningful and impactful it is to make these final wishes come true – for the beneficiaries, their loved ones, and the Team Genie members and even beyond.

The charm of If You Wish Upon Me lies in the chemistry and teamwork of Team Genie, and how everyone comes together selflessly to fulfil the beneficiaries’ final wishes. From creating a winter wonderland in summer, to putting up a full-scale musical at the hospice, no request, it seems, is too far-fetched or impossible for them.

If You Wish Upon Me
Members of Team Genie in ‘If You Wish Upon Me’. Credit: Viu

Instead of focusing only on Tae-sik, Gyeo-rye or Yeon-joo, other Team Genie members are also shown taking ownership in uplifting and supporting each other. Hospice chef Yeom Soon-ja (Yang Hee-kyeong), for example, lovingly whips up homely dishes, serving them to hospice patients and their loved ones with a side of warm, encouraging words. Through these moments, we learn how each member came to be involved with Team Genie, and how they channelled the pain of losing their respective loved ones into becoming a force for good.

Even within a short span of four episodes, writer Jo Ryeong-soo embraces a refreshing pace for the storyline, having Gyeo-rye warm up to Team Genie’s purpose instead of dragging his stubbornness and reluctance out for the sake of drama. As much as Gyeo-rye seems like a tough cookie, thanks to his defiant demeanour and gangster-like appearance, we gradually come to discover that he isn’t at all a hard nut to crack. Beneath the young man’s proud, callous exterior is a loneliness and a softheartedness that had likely been suppressed by his challenging personal circumstances.

If You Wish Upon Me
Yoon Gyeo-rye (Ji Chang-wook) and Kang Tae-sik (Sung Dong-il) in ‘If You Wish Upon Me’. Credit: Viu

To his credit, Ji (who most recently appeared in Netflix’s The Sound Of Magic) manages to capture aspects of Gyeo-rye’s duality: his guarded front and fleeting moments of vulnerability. Veteran actor Sung also turns in a sturdy and reliable performance as Team Genie’s leader, who’s fiercely protective of the cause while tender-hearted towards the beneficiaries.

Even with other personal subplots running in tandem – Gyeo-rye’s troubled past and how it haunts him in the present, hints of a possible tragedy related to Tae-sik’s son – If You Wish Upon Me ultimately grounds itself in its inspirational subject: fulfilling the final wishes of end-of-life beneficiaries. It’ll be interesting to see what other stories emerge as the series progresses, and how Team Genie help bring peace and closure to these beneficiaries in their last moments.

Amid the current K-drama landscape of mystery thrillers (Big Mouth, Adamas) and lighthearted fare (Today’s Webtoon, Good Job), If You Wish Upon Me is an empathetic, down-to-earth offering. It showcases altruism without being preachy, and offers a subtle, underlying message that each of us have the ability to help and comfort each other as fellow human beings.

If You Wish Upon Me airs every Wednesday and Thursday on KBS2 and is also available for streaming on Viu in selected regions.

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