One of the biggest problems a 16 episode or more Korean drama can have is being able to find the right tone and know what kind of show it is and wants to be. Sometimes, dramas are able to balance heavier and lighter material if they so choose. Other times, valiant attempts turn into a disastrous mish mash of ideas.
Indeed, two current Korean dramas are struggling with the latter. While SBS’ Faith is slowly trying to find its footing, the network’s other new drama To The Beautiful You has only gotten more off the rails.
Which makes KBS’ Haeundae Lovers that much more of a winner. Here’s a show that gets exactly what “tone” means and quickly sets it as soon as the first episode begins. So far, the series has managed to balance fun comedy, slick action and emotional drama. Other series that might attempt to the same might just result in giving its viewers whiplash several times an episode.
But Haeundae Lovers doesn’t; instead, presenting a bright, summery getaway that surprisingly has a lot of heart and depth.
The series centers on Lee Tae Sung (Kim Kang Woo), a hotshot prosecutor who’s just gotten married, though you wouldn’t know it from seeing him engrossed in his hunt for a notorious drug lord. His investigation leads to a riotous meeting and equally hilarious misunderstanding with Go So Ra (Jo Yeo Jung) whom he believes is the drug lord’s girlfriend.
Truth is, So Ra and her family run a small fishing company and restaurant down in the port city and tourist magnet of Busan. But they weren’t always just fishermen. So Ra’s father and three uncles are reformed mobsters, once one of the most notorious gangs in Busan. But they lost everything when a rival group of gangsters yanked the Haeundae Hotel, which they owned, right from under them.
Now they live a mostly simple life, but the bad blood between their family and the ones who stole their hotel are still there.
Thinking So Ra is his key to finding and capturing the drug lord, Tae Sung follows her down to Busan and rents a room from her while coming up with a brand new identity to keep them from finding out he’s a prosecutor. But right after he realizes So Ra isn’t the woman he thought she was, he gets into a fight with the man he’s been hunting for all this time and ends up getting amnesia.
With his family and new wife back in Seoul thinking he has died, Tae Sung remains in Busan, now adopting the identity he had originally made up, but the only one So Ra knows to tell him about.
An Easy Balancing Act
It was a very full first six episodes with a lot of legitimate twists and turns. But those twists are only the catalysts for the hijinks that ensue and likely romance we’ll see between Tae Sung and So Ra.
Maybe one of the more exciting surprises is the identity of Tae Sung’s birth parents, father specifically. Tae Sung was orphaned at a young age, separated from his father (whose identity is another surprise) in the middle of a fight when he and his mother run for safety and his mother subsequently getting hit by a car and dying.
He is adopted by a wealthy, political family and has spent his life wanting to prove himself to a father that already thinks very highly of him. That’s part of the reason he is so engrossed in this specific case that has now put him in the situation he is in. And it really is the catalyst that gives Haeundae Lovers its reason for being.
Kim Kang Woo as Tae Sung shows his versatility. Maybe known for more tough guy and heavily dramatic roles, he does great here with scenes requiring him to go from being a hardnosed crime fighter to an almost smart aleck-y, good looking USA Network-type of hero; the kind of guy who is tough, but witty and endearing as well.
Jo Yeo Jung is equally pitch perfect as So Ra, the daughter of a former mob boss, equally tough as nails, but also warm hearted and especially charming. She along with Lee Jae Yong, Park Sang Myun and Park Gun Il who play her uncles, have an excellent chemistry as a close-knit family of reformed gangsters who sincerely want to live a better life and wholeheartedly care for patriarch Joong Sik (Im Ha Ryong) who suffered brain damage back during their gangster heyday.
And of course, you want your main couple to have chemistry and Kim Kang Woo and Jo Yeo Jung immediately show that spark.
Big Thumbs Up
The talented cast helps set the tone for the series and them being capable of conveying both lighthearted, sunny fun with some heavier and deeper material is enjoyable and rewarding. Episode 6 may be the best episode so far as it opened up a lot of backstory, loosened the characters, tickled your funny bone and displayed a lot of heart as it led up to the big cliffhanger where you realized that the all-important connection had already been forged. You might not have even noticed it, but at the end of the episode, you really feel for the characters and easily want to stand up and root them on.
It isn’t often that you can find such a well rounded series that seamlessly threads together great story and endless fun. On the surface Haeundae Lovers may be a simple, summer getaway, but its bright and consistent tone helps highlight a genuinely deep story and great characters.