First Impression Review: The Hilarious and Heartwarming Absurdity of Welcome to Waikiki

No spoilers. But not really a First Impression as I’ve already watched 11 episodes. =D

For various reasons, it’s been a while since I’ve been excited and engrossed in a Korean drama. Not the least of which being there hasn’t been a series that’s truly caught my attention enough to warrant following the series all the way through as it airs. That may be one reason why I love KBS Drama Specials so much because while they’re excellent stories, they don’t require a long commitment.

But that all changed with JTBC’s Welcome to Waikiki (으라차차 와이키키).

The series has been equal parts hilarious, absurd, dramatic, cute and heartwarming. Literally nothing like I expected going into it.

I was initially interested in the series since I’m a fan of Lee Yi Kyung and have enjoyed seeing his blooming career over the years. Having watched about half of (the solid) School 2017 and the beautiful KBS Drama Special, Love of a Buzz Cut, I was also interested in seeing Kim Jung Hyun in another role.

The series premise was also interesting: “The story of three men who run a failing guesthouse called Waikiki. Complications spark when their guesthouse is visited by a single mother and her baby.”

It’s a familiar setup and it appeared from teasers that this could be a fun show.

Little did I know that’s about the most modest way to describe the series.

Welcome to Waikiki is a most unique Korean drama series. Like I mentioned above, the series has found an incredibly perfect balance of several genres and themes. At its most basic, it is a comedy-drama. A guesthouse run by 20-something friends and the shenanigans they find themselves in or get themselves into.

But at the halfway point of its (extended) 20-episode run, the series has been so much more than that.

Welcome to Waikiki is an unexpected slice of life story. Six distinct characters, all in their 20s, each with their own set of joys and pain. All of them may be down on their luck, but they’re certainly not out. Not out of luck or hope or out of life in general. The series presents their relatable struggles and gives it all an extra bit of slapstick and amusing absurdity.

And that may be what’s endeared the characters and the series to many viewers.

While we see the realistic portrayal of everyday life for a 20-something Korean in the big city, we also see them get into almost fantastical situations. Many of them absurd situations, but all of them hilarious.

The hour-long episodes are essentially two half-hour episodes paired together, which means very brisk pacing and quick resolution to the slice of life, standalone stories.

There isn’t so much a series-long arc as there is the natural progression and growth of each character and their relationships with each other. So conceivably, the series could go longer than the 16-turned-20 episodes that have been ordered.

The glue that holds the excellent writing and execution together though is definitely this amazingly perfect cast.

Having to navigate between the extremes of both comedy and drama and everything in between, this cast has done it all and done it well.

Kim Jung Hyun has really shown a different side to him from his most recent roles, particularly his broody hero character in School 2017. Lee Yi Kyung has had a diverse body of work so far, but may be best known for his lighter, comedic recent roles. And he proves once again that he can do it all, including excellent comedic timing.

Son Seung Won, Jung In Sun, Go Won Hee and Lee Joo Woo may not get the loudest or most outrageous scenes or material like Kim Jung Hyun or Lee Yi Kyung, but they’ve also shown what they’re capable of. Each of their characters have had pivotal moments (both hilarious and dramatic) and they’ve stealthily handled them with ease.

The breakout star of the series though is Han Yeo Reum aka Baby Sol. The cute and adorable baby has pretty much stolen every scene she’s in with Sol’s wordless yet expressive reactions to the insanity around her.

Overall, Welcome to Waikiki is simply a fun and enjoyable series. But looking deeper, the series is a perfect combination of genuinely good writing, excellent and charming cast and being so out of the box and different from what most Korean drama fans are used to. There are dramatic moments, there are downright hilariously absurd moments. But most of all, the series has a lot of heart. And that heart and the relatable, though sometimes exaggerated, situations are what grounds the series and helps it endear and fully entertain.

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