Strongest Deliveryman (최강 배달꾼) may indeed be one of the strongest Korean dramas I’ve ever watched. The 2017 KBS series is a well-rounded story that touches on many familiar themes, but does so in a fun and emotionally affecting way. The depth that is given to its characters make for a thoroughly engaging and ultimately satisfying story that leaves you wanting more.
Go Kyung Pyo is Choi Kang Soo. Working as a deliveryman in Seoul, he never stays in one neighborhood for more than two months as he searches for the mother that abandoned him and his father. Through his work and his natural generosity and kindness, he has amassed a large number of friends and acquaintances all over the city. Many of whom he’s either saved or helped in some way as he takes on injustice in his own little ways.
His neighborhood-hopping brings him to a Jajangmyeon restaurant along a food alley where he meets fellow deliveryman, or deliverywoman in this case, Lee Dan Ah (Chae Soo Bin). Dan Ah is a prickly, no-nonsense, but hard-working young woman who works to save enough money to escape what she calls “Hell Joseon” by finding better opportunities abroad.
Kang Soo, however, finds himself motivated to help the small, family-owned restaurants in the food alley against the encroachment of a large conglomerate that aims to monopolize the food options in the area and force the closure of those small businesses.
Kang Soo’s efforts lead him down a difficult path against a formidable foe and many hurdles, even from unexpected places. But his unwavering positivity, hopefulness and sincerity keep him going and even rubs off on the cynical Dan Ah and the new friends he meets in the neighborhood.
Strongest Deliveryman is, at its core, a David vs Goliath story. And it is so in two different ways. At the most basic level, it is the story of small businesses trying to survive against a multi-billion won conglomerate. But deeper, the story illustrates the unfortunate realities of today’s society and the class divide.
Dan Ah calls Korea “Hell Joseon” in reference to the almost prohibitive nature of the country’s business and economy. “The rich get richer while the poor stay poor” is essentially what Dan Ah believes. And she’s got life experience to support that belief. That is why she attends English classes with the hopes that she can immigrate to a different country that may have more opportunities for becoming upwardly mobile. Opportunities that are few and far between in Korea, if they even exist at all.
The series does an excellent job of illustrating the difficult lives of a large ensemble of characters. Each one suffering from that class divide and economic inequality in their own unique ways. That’s not to say the series advocates against capitalism. On the contrary, capitalism is what helps deliver wins to our heroes at various points in the story.
But the series shines a light on the struggles of everyday Koreans. Whether they are grandmothers running their own soup restaurant or young people in their 20s with college degrees, but no chance at good paying jobs without having connections or money to begin with.
The series includes familiar situations from the evil corporate playbook that is typically seen in a Korean drama. By now, one would easily assume that this is exactly how business works in Korea in real life. And perhaps it unfortunately is.
But even when accepting that harsh truth, Strongest Deliveryman offers a chance to see that it is not hopeless. In the midst of what can feel like a hopeless world, there is still enough positivity to win out in the end. And the series masterfully depicts that in exciting fashion.
Kang Soo is at the heart of that positivity in the series. Though a few characters point out to him that he can be too kind for his own good, Kang Soo continues to do what he can to be that person that can bring some light to others. From saving their lives to giving them advice, Kang Soo aims to always do the right thing and in an honest way. Even though doing the opposite can be much easier and more problem-free.
Strongest Deliveryman pulls back the curtains on the complicated and complex feelings that many people can feel. No matter how positive or hopeful they can be on the outside, they can still have many worries and struggles on in the inside. And vice versa. But no matter the situation, positivity and kindness can go a long way.
The series is one of the most complete series I’ve watched. With equal parts drama and comedy, Strongest Deliveryman finds a perfect tonal balance that allows for a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable ride. Fully developed characters and tightly-written stories come together for a fully satisfying series.
There is never a dull moment during the series’ 16 episodes. And by the end of the series, there’s plenty of material left for even several more episodes. That is a testament to the consistent writing and the depth given to the story and the characters.
Speaking of, Strongest Deliveryman definitely has a strong cast. Most especially its pair of strong leads.
Go Kyung Pyo and Chae Soo Bin are magnetic as Kang Soo and Dan Ah. Both have definitely proven themselves over the years. So their acting is never a question. Go Kyung Pyo especially goes through a wide spectrum of emotions throughout the series. You’d be hard pressed to find a K-drama hero as likeable, as kind and as sincere as Kang Soo. And Go Kyung Pyo’s performance is a major reason it works.
For both Go Kyung Pyo and Chae Soo Bin, their emotionally resonant performances immediately draw you in and never let go. But their chemistry here is off the charts. And the tight writing is able to support that chemistry and their performances.
In fact, Kang Soo and Dan Ah may be one of the strongest lead couples, in terms of story and performance & chemistry, that I’ve ever seen in a Korean drama. Their individual stories and their blossoming romance (which isn’t necessarily the main plot of the series) naturally develop at the perfect pace. And that allows for their pairing to truly resonate and lead to very satisfying and affecting moments.
Second leads Kim Sun Ho and Go Won Hee as Jin Kyu and Ji Yoon, respectively, also get excellent stories. Something you do not normally see for second lead characters. The rest of the large ensemble cast is also excellent. Whether it is heavier emotional moments or hilarious, over-the-top moments, they deliver. Well-written characters and talented actors bringing them to life are just cherries on top of the icing on the cake.
Strongest Deliveryman is a certified David vs Goliath story. But it is also the story of Koreans, young and old, struggling to get by, but never losing hope. An inspiring story that mixes the emotional and fun for one complete and thoroughly satisfying package.