The 2019 KBS drama Perfume (퍼퓸) is as hilarious as it is heartfelt. A fun and emotional journey of finding oneself and learning how to embrace who you are. An excellent performance from Ha Jae Suk leads a solid cast and brings to life a meaningful story with plenty of warmth and humor.
Middle-aged housewife Min Jae Hee (Ha Jae Suk) is furious with the world. With an impending divorce after learning of her husband’s infidelity and feeling self-conscious of her physical appearance, among other things, Jae Hee attempts to commit suicide. But a persistent delivery man delivers a mysterious package that stops her from going through with it.
Jae Hee opens the package to find a bottle of perfume. She puts some of it on and after loud claps of thunder, she finds herself younger and slimmer. Confused and unsure of what’s happened to her, Jae Hee stumbles upon an opportunity. Now with the face and body of her younger self (played by Go Won Hee), Jae Hee takes on the name Ye Rin and decides to make her once upon a time dream of becoming a model come true.
She meets the prickly Seo Yi Do (Shin Sung Rok), a fashion designer for whom she begins working for as a housekeeper while also training as a model at his fashion agency.
The series proceeds as Jae Hee/Ye Rin tries to figure out how the magical perfume works, while also trying to live this second chance at life to the fullest. Along the way, she learns how to fall in love again. And that is both falling in love with a significant other as well as learning to love herself.
Perfume features many hilarious moments. Most of them coming from Jae Hee/Ye Rin frantically trying to keep her fluctuating appearance a secret, as well as allergy and phobia-prone Seo Yi Do’s ill-tempered personality.
But the series is most effective in its calmer and more dramatic moments.
Jae Hee gains confidence and learns how to recognize her self-worth. Even after receiving this miraculous perfume, Jae Hee still feels this is her last opportunity at having a life. And how that life isn’t long for this world. But she slowly, but surely learns how to be comfortable in her own skin.
Perfume also features an ensemble cast. And in a similar way to Jae Hee, the series also touches upon the other characters’ own journeys to believing in themselves. The series allows them to grow by having them gain the various tools they may need for that growth.
It’s a fulfilling situation to see Jae Hee and the other characters grow as they meet people who are able to not only nudge them in the right direction, but are there to support them along the way as well. Most especially for Jae Hee as people around her who know her as Ye Rin learn of her true identity.
It’s difficult to balance comedy and drama. And this series includes the most slapstick, outrageous comedy and the heaviest of emotional drama. Yet they are able to do it. A solid, whimsical premise is able to be balanced with emotional character drama.
Strong, charming and deep characters are allowed to be both fun and insightful.
Shin Sung Rok and Go Won Hee have a great chemistry as the romantic leads of the series. Shin Sung Rok, usually the stoic, all-business character in many of his projects, gets to let completely loose here. Delivering an effortless comedic performance while also delivering on the deeper, more emotional moments as well. Go Won Hee, meanwhile, is able to convey both the feelings of Jae Hee as well as the persona Jae Hee must project as Ye Rin.
Kim Min Kyu is charming and charismatic as popular idol Yoon Min Seok. A character who at first may seem one-dimensional, but develops into a deep character as the layers unfold. Cha Ye Ryun as agency director Ha Ji Na does a strong balancing act in allowing the character to be both a rival to Jae Hee/Ye Rin as well as one of her pillars of support as well. And that’s in addition to some soapy plot threads involving both Yi Do and Min Seok.
But the star of the series is undoubtedly Ha Jae Suk as Jae Hee. She carries the emotional weight of the series and in such a powerful way. It is a performance that earned her a well-deserved KBS Drama Award. And it’s not hard to see why. The journey that Jae Hee goes on from the first minute of episode one all the way to the final minute of episode 16 is wholly satisfying thanks to Ha Jae Suk’s impactful, excellent performance.
She shares some wonderful scenes with Kim Jin Kyung who plays her daughter. It is in those moments where Jae Hee makes the biggest strides in her growth and learning. And Ha Jae Suk effortlessly delivers.
Overall, Perfume is a hilarious and heartfelt series. A great cast helps bring to life a meaningful and impactful story while allowing for a lot of fun along the way.