Alternate Way Better Ending for CRASH LANDING ON YOU
Updated: Apr 4
WARNING: The following post contains massive spoilers for the 2019-2020 K-drama Crash Landing on You (Netflix). DO NOT READ THIS if you haven’t already watched Crash Landing on You from beginning to end. Also, if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend you get on it immediately, then come back here for the alternate, way better, ending.
(Aside #1: I’m about to rant for 3 pages. If you just want the ending, scroll past the rant and get into it.)
Okay, first let me say that Crash Landing on You is one of the best things I have ever experienced. It’s only slightly less cathartic than my wedding day and the first time I held each of my children as newborns. The series is about 24 hours total in 16 episodes, and I was 130% in my feelings that whole time.
SERIOUSLY, IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, STOP READING NOW. It’s about to get super spoilery. Do not let me spoil this for you.
I’m not saying the show is perfect. But it’s perfect in all the ways that matter. I was happy to suspend my disbelief in the laws of physics and biology and allow for Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok to go for days without sleeping or eating, dodge bullets, emerge from a helmetless motorcycle crash unscathed, heal from a bullet wound within 24 hours, and out-maneuver the entire North Korean military industrial complex. Yes—I’m here for it. Let’s do all of that.
Sure, I struggled to understand at first why Ri Jeong Hyeok was bending over backwards to help someone so completely devoid of redeeming qualities as Yoon Se-Ri seemed to be in episodes 1-3. But even there, I was willing to go along with it because maybe he’s amazing enough for both of them. And watching them dance around each other was so glorious that it was almost physically painfully. Plus, I mean, she did just accidentally get trapped in North Korea and was understandably a little self-absorbed because of that. Plus, tragic family backstory. Anyway, eventually she figures her mess out and starts to redeem herself around episode 7. So, what the heck, I am ready to love Se-Ri too.
You know who else I’m ready to love? Four communist soldiers, a conflicted wire tapper, all the village women, the haunted and repentant mother, about 100 very silly South Korean intelligence officers, a con man, and the freaking Director of the General Political Bureau of the most tyrannical government in the world. This has to testify to the quality of the story telling. They had me fully invested in every character. Brilliant.
But THAT ENDING. What. The. Actual. 지옥 jiog??
THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING – POINT OF NO RETURN ON SPOILERS. I’m going to break down the problems I see with the last 20 minutes of Crash Landing on You. This may literally ruin the whole show for you if you haven’t already seen it. And you want to see it.
(Aside #2: I acknowledge that I may be judging this ending with too-western sensibilities. If you are Southeast Asian and want to tell me why this was actually the most satisfying ending possible, I would like to understand. Everyone else, these are my opinions, and I stand by them. If you disagree, “buzz off.”)
Problem #1: It breaks the promises of the story. Maybe Se-Ri was too drunk to remember that Jeong Hyeok said, “I want to marry you and have babies and grow old together.” But I sure as heck wasn’t. When the writer has a heroic, self-sacrificing character secretly confess his deepest longings, that writer has made a pact with us to let them have fulfillment in the end. And Ri Jeong Hyeok maybe, kind of got one out of three. Unacceptable.
Problem #2: It isn’t faithful to the character of Ri Jeong Hyeok. He’s willing to crawl on his hands and knees for 20 hours, face-off with armed gangs, take a bullet, risk execution for himself and his entire family, and potentially spend the rest of his life in prison to be with the woman he loves. And, yes, he does it to protect her. But you saw the look in his eyes. You saw the tears. You heard the drunken confession. So you and I both know that 49.5% of the reason he does all that is just to be with her. In fact, he proves it when he gives up the “I’m the bad guy” farce to run out and check on her when she collapses; if his only motive was protection, he could only protect her by maintaining the lie. But when he has to choose between protecting and being present with her, he goes to her. How would a guy who would do all that be satisfied with anything less than life together? How would that person be stymied by any obstacle in the way of being with her always while he still has one breath left in his lungs? He wouldn’t. He would find a way.
Problem #3: It disregards the magic system. There is a major plot thread of Fate throughout the show. Fate is so strong that, for the purposes of this story, we have to consider it a magical force—maybe it’s even sentient or a tool of God. Because Fate brings them together at so many critical moments of their lives—to prevent Se-Ri’s suicide twice, to prevent Jeong Hyeok from having any chance of falling in love with his parent-appointed fiancé, to bring Se-Ri to his front door when she ends up on the wrong side of the DMZ…. Ultimately, Jeong Hyeok even says that he found Se-Ri again simply because he got on the wrong train and it brought him right to her. It’s FATE, baby. And it just doesn’t make sense to me that Fate would go to all that effort to bring them together time and again only to lock them into a life of long-distance longing 50 weeks of every year. Sure, it’s sweet that they get to see each other once a year. It’s better than nothing. But it’s not satisfying at all. They won’t be there for each other’s triumphs and heartbreaks, for the day-in and day-out stuff of life. That’s not the relationship that any of us really longs for. Seriously, what’s the point, Fate?
Somebody is going to say that I’m underestimating the power and importance of family loyalty. That the story ends this way because Ri Jeong Hyeok has to stay in North Korea and be a loyal son. To that I say, “Don’t tell me porkies.” During the course of the story, Jeong Hyeok straight up accuses his father of murder, threatens to break from the family, and yells in his face. So there’s obviously some wiggle room on the loyal son front. Beyond that, he endangers his family a crap load of times—starting by hiding some rando he has known for less than 3 minutes—and proves just as many times that his dad is so powerful (and crafty) that he is practically untouchable. They could figure something out.
It’s not just that I wanted a different ending. The story demands a different ending. But I’m not here to stand in judgement. Endings are hard. They are the most exacting and unforgiving part of every story. Screen writer Ji Eun Park gave us 23 hours and 40 minutes of story magic, and I will be forever grateful. But, as Yoon Se-Ri says, “In life, it’s always the end that matters the most.” And the end sucked. There, I said it.
Thankfully, I’m an author. And I’m here to help. It’s always easier to fix someone else’s ending than to write your own (which I am actually procrastinating doing at this very moment, thanks).
In service to my own heart and as a gift to every person who invested 24 hours of their life only to be let down in the last 20 minutes, here is the alternate, way better, ending to Crash Landing on You.
(Aside #3: This ending only follows Ri Jeong-Hyeok and Yoon Se-Ri, because that's what wrecked me. But for those of you who were broken by Seo Dan's double disappointment, here you go: Gu was a con man. Do you really think he died? No. He faked his own death. The paramedics were in on it (why else did they not even try to resuscitate him?) He paid them 10 million won to sneak his body out of the country and nurse him back to health in Fiji. He'll call Dan from the beach as soon as he's back on his feet. So don't worry about it.)
Let’s pick up right before it went off the rails, Episode 16, one hour 35 minutes in:
(Se-Ri has just landed her para-glider rather roughly and is tangled in the fabric and ropes.)
SE-RI: I always do this. I do well until right before the landing. In life, it’s always the end that matters the most.
JEONG HYEOK (off camera): I don’t think your landing was that bad.
SE-RI (not realizing who she’s speaking to): I mean, I did land successfully, but the ropes are all entangled.
JEONG HYEOK: I think you fell on the right spot.
SE-RI: Look at this.
(She looks up and sees him. Music swells.)
JEONG HYEOK: No, let me correct myself. You didn’t fall. You descended.
(They share a long look.)
JEONG HYEOK: I’ve missed you.
(Se-Ri, crying, runs to him. They embrace.)
Alternate (way better) ending begins here.
SE-RI: I’ve prayed fervently for you, just as you told me to. And you found me. You always find me.
JEONG HYEOK: Did you think I could break my promise?
SE-RI: But now I’m in real trouble. Because I can’t bear to say goodbye to you again.
JEONG HYEOK: You will never need to.
(Cut to interior of Ri family home. Ri Jeong Hyeok sits with his mother.)
MOTHER: My son, I will always be grateful that you came back to us alive. But you’re still giving me pain.
(Jeong Hyeok shifts uncomfortably, trying as always to hide his heartache.)
MOTHER: It’s not enough for you to be alive. You must live. That’s what your father and I want for you.
JEONG HYEOK: Yes, ma. I will try.
MOTHER: You leave for Switzerland soon. Don’t come back.
JEONG HYEOK: Ma?
MOTHER: Find Se-Ri and be happy. Live, and play piano, and stay by her side.
JEONG HYEOK: How could I do that, knowing that you and father would suffer the consequence of my defection? No, I won’t be happy knowing that I brought you harm.
MOTHER (waves him off): The new Director of the Military Department is so in debt to your father for raising him to his new position. They have already planned it all and agreed—nothing will happen. We will be okay. We will be happy knowing that you are living a happy life.
(Cut back to Jeong Hyeok and Se-Ri embracing on a hill in Switzerland.)
(Jeong Hyeok opens his hand to reveal two simple gold bands.)
SE-RI: My ring! You thief! You had it this whole time?
JEONG HYEOK: Do you know how hard it was to find you? You shouldn’t call me names. (Puts the ring on her finger.) I’ve had them since the night you were injured. I didn’t think you’d want your family speculating at that time. And I didn’t know…what would happen. But now I can be sure. I will always stay by your side.
SE-RI (crying): How can that be? How can you be certain?
(Cut to interior of Ri family home. Mother sits at the window, looking out with the wistfulness of a woman who is watching for someone she knows is never coming. Suddenly, her expression changes to slight puzzlement. The housemaid leads a soldier into the room. It’s Captain Pyo Chi-Su.)
MOTHER (confused, a little worried): What is this? Who are you?
CHI SU (looks smug): Madam, I am Pyo Chi Su, the new captain at the front line, and Jeong Hyeok’s most trusted comrade…and friend. I''m like a brother to him, really. Before he left, Jeong Hyeok asked me to take his place as your son, to look after you and honor you. If you will allow me, I will be your son.
KIM JU MEOK (enters): Me too.
PARK KWANG BEOM (enters): And me.
GEUM EUN DONG (enters): And me.
(Cut to interior of a hotel lobby in Switzerland. Se-Ri is on the phone with her ever-faithful assistant, Hong Chang Sik)
SE-RI: Mr. Hong, from this time on, you will be the manager of all of Se-Ri’s Choice in Seoul. I am staying here in Switzerland.
(Cut to interior of Se-Ri’s choice Seoul offices. Mr. Hong immediately breaks into tears as well as hives.)
(Que scene montage:)
1. Interior Ri family home. Jeong Hyeok’s Mother and Father look at a photo. Camera shifts to show the photo, where Jeong Hyeok and Se-Ri beam in their wedding clothes. Se-Ri’s family (except for her second brother and sister-in-law) are clearly seen happily in the background. Jeong Hyeok’s Mother and Father tearfully smile at each other. We see that both families have experienced healing and reconciliation.
2. Interior Ri family home. Pyo Chi Su hands an envelope to Mother and Father. They open it to find a newspaper clipping with the headline: “Up-and-Coming Se-Ri’s Choice Europe Delights at Fashion Week Milan.” The article includes a photo of a triumphant Se-Ri with Jeong Hyeok by her side.
3. Interior, concert hall. Camera pan around piano as JEONG HYEOK plays to a packed and rivetted audience. Se-Ri is in the front row, eyes gleaming.
4. Interior Ri family home. Mother and Father Ri look at a photo of a newborn baby. Father looks very ill, but happy.
5. Interior Ri family home. Candles and a framed photo of Father show us that he has passed away. Mother cries. The four soldiers enter the frame, come around her, and she embraces them.
6. Interior Swiss chalet. JEONG HYEOK looks at his phone and begins to weep. He has received the news of his father’s death. Se-Ri and a young child embrace him.
7. Interior airport. Mother comes through the security gate and sees Jeong Hyeok, Se-Ri, and their child. The child calls, “Grandma!” and they meet and embrace for the first time. Camera pans up to Jeong Hyeok and Se-Ri, looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. They are truly happy. (Sparkly glamor shot freeze frame and beautiful music.)
P.S. Someone told me that Ji Eun Park wrote a happier ending that couldn't be used for political reasons. (I did zero research to verify this, but it certainly explains why a master story teller would set us up for one ending and then give us something else.) So I trust that even the show's creators would side with me here. This was the ending that Ri Jeong Hyeok and Se-Ri were meant to have.