Once Upon a Small Town (어쩌다 전원일기/Accidental Country Diary) blends together the best of romantic comedy and small-town nostalgia to deliver a warm, fun and enjoyable time. Park Soo Young (Red Velvet’s Joy) and Choo Young Woo lead a charming ensemble cast in this breezy series that takes full advantage of its cast and beautiful location.
The series sees Seoul veterinarian Han Ji Yul (Choo Young Woo) being forced to relocate to Huidong village where he reluctantly takes over his grandfather’s provincial veterinary hospital. There, he meets young police officer Ahn Ja Young (Park Soo Young) who is always the first to help the town’s residents when in need and now helps Ji Yul navigate rural life.
Though Ji Yul is initially eager to escape the town as soon as possible, he soon warms up to provincial life. He takes his responsibility as a doctor seriously, even though he’s gone from treating cats and dogs to large livestock and farm animals. He also, naturally, grows closer to Ja Young who herself has a secret relating to their relationship. And their closeness annoys Ja Young’s childhood friend Lee Sang Hyeon (Baek Seong Cheol), a young peach farmer.
That love triangle and of course the romantic developments between our lead couple may be the focus of Once Upon a Small Town. But the series is able to effectively balance it with diverse stories about life on the farm and the dynamics of a small, close-knit town and its residents.
Like other series with similar provincial settings, Once Upon a Small Town captures that nostalgic and warm feeling of a community. The village is one where everyone knows each other and is there to help when you need it. (Or even when you don’t!) That’s one of the things that helps to support the fish out of water aspect to Ji Yul’s story, another familiar theme. But done very well here. A big city vet in a fancy, modern clinic having to now care for sick chickens and cows, among other livestock.
The rural setting also allows for many stories centered around the village’s residents that you wouldn’t normally see on a typical Korean drama. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to such series in the past. (See: Racket Boys, When the Weather is Fine, Hospital Ship) Moving away from the big city and setting some familiar stories in the more down-to-earth setting such as the provincial town offers up those great opportunities for something refreshing and different.
And Once Upon a Small Town definitely does that.
The ensemble cast does a great job to make the “world” of the village one that feels very real. There is a warmth and sincerity in the writing, direction and performances that quickly draws you in.
Baek Seong Cheol does a great job as Sang Hyeon. He shares a great chemistry with Park Soo Young that isn’t always about something romantic. And that allows Sang Hyeon to be a character beyond being just a traditional 2nd lead. Definitely a bright future for him as he gets bigger roles.
I’ve only watched Park Soo Young/Joy on The Liar and His Lover where she did a fine job in her acting debut. Ahn Ja Young allows her to use her youthful charm to compliment the character needing a more mature and grounded personality as well. And it’s that charm that fosters great chemistry with all her co-stars, not just her two leading men. Though I haven’t seen her in more straight dramatic roles yet, it’s not hard to see what she’s capable of. And being able to effectively and confidently give life to the relatively straightforward character is an accomplishment. She helps to make Ja Young more interesting and engaging than another actress might do with the character.
Choo Yeong Woo has had two supporting series roles in Police University and School 2021 which were both similar characters. He did a good job on both, but the characters weren’t necessarily ones that allowed him to stretch his acting muscles. His best role so far might be his acting debut in the webseries You Make Me Dance where he was the lead. That is, until this role as Han Ji Yul. Like his debut role, Choo Yeong Woo is able to balance his leading man charisma with an endearing charm. The characters aren’t all moody angst all the time. And that allows him to show he is capable for much more complex roles.
Overall, Once Upon a Small Town is a delightfully easy watch. A fun, warm romantic comedy that uses its quiet, provincial setting to tell stories of family, friendship and community. It’s hard not to enjoy this lighthearted, breezy series.