TYPE OF REVIEW : HINDSIGHT REVIEW
As this is a Hindsight Review, there are major spoilers. Here is the non-spoiler First Impression Review.
I had said KBS drama Smile, Donghae (Smile Again/웃어라 동해야) was the perfect example of a frustratingly addicting drama series.
But now that the series has officially finished its run on KBS America, I see that that statement is true only until they finally hit their stride.
It started around the episodes in the 120s with Donghae finally proposing to Bongi in Episode 127 and Episode 128 probably being the best episode of the series in which Anna finally reunites with her parents and the big bombshells hit the villains like a train. It was an incredibly emotional and excellently written and directed episode.
That episode did a few things. As soon as the reunion happened, the story quickened its pace. Things began moving and the drama was ramped up. The episode also showed off the show’s potential to be something greater. That it could be more than just a “frustratingly addicting” soap opera.
If only the series had moved quicker in the 120 or so episodes prior, we could’ve had a really excellent series.
I compare Smile, Donghae to Baker King, Kim Tak Goo. Donghae is what Takgu would be like if Takgu were a daily drama. Likewise, Takgu is what Donghae would be like if Donghae were a 30-episode weekly series.
Indeed, both series achieved national drama status with their blockbuster ratings, both starting off with decent numbers before quickly growing to 30 and 40+ ratings.
And both shared very similar qualities. Underdog stories about charming and handsome young men, both talented in the kitchen, both with complicated relationships with their fathers, both who would do anything for their mothers, both with moody, arrogant half-brothers, both heirs to corporate fortunes.
Very similar, yet both worked in their own ways. Smile, Donghae, especially in its second half, proved to be exciting and satisfying.
After a yearlong fast forward, everyone got their happy ending. And while it may be an easy way to wrap everything up, the 158 episodes before the finale were filled with such a roller coaster of emotion that the series couldn’t end without everyone getting their happy ending. Not perfect, but hopeful, happy endings.
The series’ best performances certainly came from drama veterans Do Ji Won (as Anna/Dongbaek) and Jung Ae Ri (as Hyesuk), but Ji Chang Wook in the title role did a strong job in his first starring role. An overall good cast and Chang Wook’s sweet chemistry with Oh Ji Eun (as Bongi) helped ease any frustration the show may have caused in its early days.
Smile, Donghae was a great ride, making you laugh, cry, and throw things at the TV in anger. But all for a satisfying experience in the end.