Overall Rating: B+ (really this should be a B but I feel I cannot rate it lower than Memories of the Alhambra so we are artificially inflating it)
Subtitles: I liked these subs but they tended to translate more literally than I’m used to, rather than translating meaning. The result was that we had to do some interpreting in some key scenes which maybe wasn’t ideal.
Brief Synopsis: A rich playboy who happens to be a gifted chef opens a restaurant in Jeju for fun to impress his crush, and his life is turned upside down when a hard-working, down on her luck woman from his past shows up and takes over the restaurant to try to make something out of it. Watch it on Viki here.
**Full show spoilers below the image. If you do not wish to be spoiled, do not proceed**
Ending Type: !!!!!! How to define this. It was a happy ending by all conventional standards. Our main characters are together and happy, the secondary couple is together and happy, and even the Mayor seems to have a love interest (even if she was. the actual worst). However the entire concluding episode was a mess and created problems that hadn’t previously existed so the whole deep breath you take thinking everything will finally be OK is a very brief one and, in my opinion, way too brief considering how long it took this show to let the main couple be together.
Characters: The best thing about this show was the setting on Jeju and the delightful relationship between the people who lived in the town and the “outsiders” from Seoul. I loved all of the side characters so much (special shoutout to that one really moody Jeju diver lady, to Jung Geun’s secretary (bless him), to that one guy who had every job on the island (you are a champ), and to our delightful sous chef. Y’all are the bomb). The characters were also great, overall.
Our main character was Lee Jung Joo (Kang So Ra), a hard-working girl whose life imploded on her in one terrible day (she lost her long time job, got screwed by her real estate agent and ended up buying a shack in disrepair on Jeju instead of her dream home in Seoul, and found out her boyfriend (who she sent money to regularly) was actually marrying someone else). She ends up in the village of Sorang on Jeju island where her terrible excuse for a house is and where she is reunited with Geon Woo, the boy she thought was her twin brother but discovered was actually not related to her. Geon Woo owns a restaurant and gives it to her one night when they’re both very drunk and she takes over with gusto. Jung Joo is literally the cutest and most tenacious lead–I freaking adored her, and Kang So Ra is officially one of my new favorite actresses. She hit all the notes perfectly, from Jung Joo’s adorable sweetness to her determined courageousness to her emotional vulnerability to her moments of toughness and playfulness. You felt everything she felt, and my favorite thing about her was how open she was with her feelings and desires and how honest she was with the people around her about what mattered to her and what she wanted.
I also loved Baek Geon Woo (Yoo Yeon Seok) a lot, even if I found the third act of the season frustrating for his character. Geon Woo was presented as a typical lazy rich playboy who just does what he wants and doesn’t care what that means for the people around him, but he never quite was that character. Yeah he was out of touch and overall a bit lazy, but he also jumped through hoops EVERY time someone around him needed him. When he thought Jung Joo was terminally ill he dove head first into helping her and protecting her, and he didn’t let go of that even when he found out she was OK. He literally actually was a character who seemed like a jerk but had a heart of gold, except that he wasn’t really a jerk? Like he was kind of a big baby at times and needed to face the music and get a big dose of reality on more than one occasion, but on the rare occasions when he was mean or did something hurtful he immediately realized the issue and did what he could to atone for it so I don’t feel comfortable throwing him in the bucket of leading jerks in K Dramas. Yeon Seok brought a lot of extra charm and warmth to the character and you can’t help but love him, and feel for him, especially as he starts to grow up and also becomes cut off from the few people who are in his life. I loved his character overall, but I was annoyed when he left for a year and stayed out of touch (why????) just to move the plot along and prolong the moment when our leads finally got to be together. Ugh.
Our secondary love interest was the town Mayor, Hwang Wook (Kim Sung Oh), who was a classic second lead–sweet and helpful to a fault, totally head over heels for the main female character, absolutely screwed in the end. I adored this character and every scene he was in. Sung Oh is one of my favorite lesser-known actors and I love the charm and comedy he brings to his roles. This one was especially painful because of the lengths he went to to care for Jung Joo and show her how much he loved her, even when she was clear she did not return the feelings. It was heartbreaking to watch, and I am really upset that the conclusion for this character was for Geon Woo’s awful, shitty sister to basically bully her way into a relationship with him (HE NEVER ONCE INDICATED EVEN THE SLIGHTEST INTEREST). I will be mad about this for probably the rest of my life. I think it was supposed to be funny but like…. it wasn’t.
Relationships: I need to start by talking about our secondary love story, and the only relationship that was written well and progressed normally on this show. Geon Woo’s brother, Song Jung Geun (Lee Sung Jae), and the head of the Lady Diver’s school, Kim Hae Shil (Kim Hee Jung), meet when he falls into the ocean trying to catch his cigarette and can’t swim, so she has to save him. This whole scenario is the show’s misunderstandings done well: President Song is alone sneaking a cigarette because his employees think he quit and keep praising him and Hae Shil thinks he’s in the water because he tried to kill himself. After she pulls him out she feeds him and gives him a talking to and he immediately becomes obsessed. Through a series of hilarious encounters and multi-layered conversations the two establish that they care about each other. There is a minor hiccup when she thinks he has done something to humiliate her and then his sister treats her like crap, but when she gets sick and almost dies in a diving accident they immediately rekindle their relationship and remain strong. They get married and, even when she learns his mother might have been responsible for her first husband’s death, she lets the past and the anger and the resentment go and decides to leave Jeju to start a new life with him in Japan. They are the cutest, and the best, and what kept me going throughout most of the show, to be honest. When the rest of the plot stagnated and the main relationship became boring, these two wonderful humans and their truly adorable and heartwarming romance made it worth the watch. A+, and A+ to this show for giving us a more mature romance to watch and root for, with our characters both middle aged and both having had previous relationships. It was new and different and beautiful.
Ugh what to say about Geon Woo and Jung Joo? Here’s the thing–they had amazing chemistry. They have WONDERFUL moments together. Overall their dynamic is cute and warm and fuzzy. But for them what starts off as a cute and hilarious misunderstanding (Jung Joo keeps her mints in a Fentanyl container, Geon Woo thinks she has terminal cancer, she has no idea he thinks this, he is constantly worried about her and everything she does thinking she may die at any time and wanting the end of her life to be nice) turns into a series of increasingly obnoxious misunderstandings. The problem was it got to a point in like episode 7 or so when Geon Woo learns that Jung Joo is not a terminal cancer patient and the romance plot turns into “we are into each other but Geon Woo hasn’t figured that out yet/isn’t confident about his feelings so we will repeat this process of ‘cute moment leading to fight/disappointment/misunderstanding leading to end of episode cute moment’ and repeat ad nauseum.” Honestly I was cheering for these two and found most of their interactions so cute and the stuff that was supposed to be mean didn’t even feel that mean because there’d be a quick apology and making it up to each other, but it got SO BORING. Like every ridiculous reason under the sun appears in this show to keep these two from actually being together until the final episode, and it did not feel earned or natural, it just felt like trying to fill space to get the correct episode count. The little growth and development that happened could have been very condensed and we could have seen these two actually together much earlier on and experienced the very real issues they may have encountered and would have had to work through. That would have made sense for the story progression and been very satisfying. But by the end of the show I didn’t even feel good about them finally being together because I’d been on the “anything just to make them not together” plot cycle for so long that I barely cared anymore. It was just not my cup of tea.
High Points: The characters were great and lovable across the board (except for Ji Won and Geon Woo’s sister, they were the worst). The setting was GORGEOUS and the humor was absolutely on point. Our secondary love story was bomb and all the main characters were delightful. Plus this show had so much delicious looking food in it–I was HUNGRY while I watched. I need to go to Jeju, basically.
Low Points: The plot and the main romance? Ouch. But also…. yeah those things.
Final comments: Y’all know how much I love Yoo Yeon Seok and if you haven’t checked out my Korean Odyssey post yet feel free to mosey on over there and experience how freaking in love with the Hong sister’s writing I was in that. I figured one of my favorite actors plus my favorite writers plus a plot that was right up my alley in a setting I loved was basically perfection. What could go wrong, right? Never think this friends. Thinking this is what makes things go wrong.
The thing is Yeon Seok was great and Kang So Ra was perhaps the most adorable human ever and they had good chemistry but the story was just so…. why. So many things about this were great, such cute little nuggets and fun moments and wonderful characters and delightful settings. But the whole of it, when it came together, just felt like a mess to me. I was never quite sure what the plot was, or what was propelling us forward in the story. Was it the romance? If so it was not very compelling due to the fact that each episode had basically the same plot: things are cute with our main couple, Ji Won gets in the way, Geon Woo says something stupid/hurtful, the Mayor does something sweet, Jung Joo has a crisis about her feelings, then Geon Woo shows up and interrupts Mayor time, the end. If it had just been a couple episodes of the repeating pattern that would have been fine to establish characters and move us in the right direction, but that was literally the whole show up until the penultimate episode. Meanwhile there was this whole plot about Geon Woo’s father and what he’d done that maybe Geon Woo’s mother had done that was left oddly unresolved (I actually like the writing of the scene between the father and Hae Shil but also found its use as a conclusion to that entire plot baffling) and also was not very present throughout the story. It arrived here and there and then left and came back in the very final episode which was very ehhhhhhhhhh overall. Like the pacing of the end of the season was…. not great. It took until the end of the second to last episode for our couple to finally admit their feelings to each other (after a year with no contact for??? no reason???) and then in the last episode we get this whole plot where Jung Joo realizes Geon Woo maybe has a future outside of Jeju and she has a crisis about it, and it’s like…. for real we’re going there? If we had to go there, could we not have done it like…. several episodes earlier so this felt like a real plot and not like a last minute effort to make enough content for a final episode? Plus the Mayor was done super dirty in this and really just…. after the first couple episodes there was nothing at all to it. It was the same BS over and over and over again to give our main couple cute moments but keep them from actually being together and it just got old fast even though both main characters were adorable and were especially adorable together.
I don’t know friends, this one was just not for me.