The 2016 KBS romantic comedy Sweet Stranger and Me (우리집에 사는 남자/Man Living at My House) doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel. But thanks in part to its charming cast, it is a fun, lighthearted series that knows what it is and does it well.
Sweet Stranger and Me tells the story of Hong Na Ri (Soo Ae) who returns home to find out her recently passed mother was married to the mysterious Go Nan Gil (Kim Young Kwang). Not only is Nan Gil younger than Na Ri, she learns her new stepfather is now the legal owner of their home and adjacent dumpling restaurant.
The peculiar situation comes at a time when Na Ri feels a little stagnant in her career while she also tries to move on from her fiancé Jo Dong Jin (Kim Ji Hoon) who cheated on her with her co-flight attendant Do Yeo Joo (Jo Bo Ah). Meanwhile, chaebol heir Kwon Duk Bong (Lee Soo Hyuk) has been trying to buy the land from Na Ri’s mother and stepfather in order for his family’s company to build a resort in town.
In trying to make sense of the whirlwind events, Na Ri slowly warms to Nan Gil as she tries to uncover the secrets he is hiding, including the truth about his relationship with her mother. And all while also navigating love and friendships as well as family and rivals.
Sweet Stranger and Me has a fitting title. It is a light and fluffy series. It is a series that knows what it is and what it wants to be and does it well. You are in a for a fun, easy watch.
The story is not short of twists and turns. But it’s the likeable and charming cast of characters that carry the weight of the series.
Though the mysteries and plot points are legitimately interesting on their own, the series is always about the characters and how they respond or serve as catalysts for those unexpected situations. It is a bit of a slice of life story. And any tension and conflict, big or small, lies in the characters.
The series features a large ensemble, all contributing to that slice of life aura. Especially with its rural, countryside setting.
Soo Ae and Kim Young Kwang share a great chemistry. They play off each other well. Especially with the stepfather-daughter relationship. That part of the mystery does get figured out maybe earlier than expected in the series. But that’s when the romance begins and it’s a fun and sweet ride. Even if there may be a few frustratingly familiar romcom hurdles along the way.
Lee Soo Hyuk is perfect as Duk Bong. He too has good chemistry with Soo Ae. But he has even more great chemistry with real life best friend Kim Young Kwang. I’ve been a fan of both of them since their excellent turns on the KBS masterpiece White Christmas. And knowing that they are friends adds an amusing and fun element to their rivalry in the series.
Jo Bo Ah, who will go on to some strong lead roles after Sweet Stranger and Me, has the best and most unexpected bit of character development over the course of the series. As Yeo Joo, she is able to take the character from someone who is at first contemptable to later empathetic. It’s an engaging journey for her.
And each character, including Kim Ji Hoon’s Dong Jin, Shin Se Hwi as Duk Bong’s sister Duk Shim, Woo Do Hwan as gangster Kim Wan Sik and others, contribute to form a wide and charming cast of interesting, amusing and well-developed characters. They come together to help make Sweet Stranger and Me a fully realized story.
Being light and fluffy is not a bad thing when you do it right. Other series have tried and unfortunately failed when they try to do more than what is necessary. A familiar and simply enjoyable story and series is much better than an overcooked attempt at trying to be something new, yet failing miserably.
Sweet Stranger and Me is familiar and simple on the surface. But in that lies its charm and appeal. The sincerely interesting twists and turns, sweet romance and charming cast make the series a wonderful escape.