Netflix’s Doona! (이두나!) is an interesting melodrama focusing on the rocky romance between the titular Doona, a former idol and Won Jun, a boy next door university student. The series relies heavily on its dreamy visuals and appealing main cast as its narrative floats through predictable scenarios and contrived tension. And yet, the relatively short nine episodes never feels like the series is moving too fast. Nor does it feel like the series is moving too slow. But that brings up what might be the series’ biggest shortcoming.
Lee Won Jun (Yang Se Jong) has just moved into a boarding house in Seoul to avoid the long commute to his university. That is where he meets Lee Doona (Bae Suzy), a mysterious young woman who also lives at the boarding house. Though she is at first irritating with her simultaneously cold and pushy attitude toward him, Won Jun ties make sense of what he begins to feel for her. All while he deals with lingering feelings for high school friend Kim Jin Ju (Ha Young) with whom he recently reconnects with.
Won Jun quickly gathers that Doona has some issues she is dealing with in her life, further muddling their developing relationship. Won Jun is an ordinary and kind young man whose life gets the unexpected spice from Doona.
Of course, romance develops between the two. And Doona’s past as a K-pop idol provides the clues for her emotional and mental struggles while throwing an even bigger wrench into her and Won Jun’s undefinable relationship.
The title Doona! is quite interesting considering the series’ pacing is anything but deserving of an exclamation point. The dreamy visuals establish the story’s slowburn pace. It is less a wild ride and more of a contemplative journey. One that is very suitable to the melodrama tag.
The romantic feeling itself develops quite fast between Won Jun and Doona. The pivotal points in their relationship coming at the right time in the series. Yet still somehow lacking the depth to firmly support what is supposed to be a complex and multi-faceted character-driven story.
Instead, the series’ overall narrative feels better suited for a feature film-length presentation. The shorter runtime would contain pretty much the same exact amount of depth as this series ended up providing. Which is why it is actually in the series’ favor that the nine episodes come to a total runtime of just under six and a half hours. Any longer, and the series would have easily overstayed its welcome.
The rest of the series’ runtime is filled with supporting characters in the form of the boarding house’s three other tenants and Won Jun’s hometown best friend. All of which are curiously featured in the opening credits enjoying the seaside, yet are never actually all on screen together in the series.
Save for the boarding house tenants themselves whose potential for stories about a found family or the friendship of young adults is curtailed by merely relegating them to almost small vignette-style instances. That is, rather than using this group of friends to tell a fuller story about the lives of university-aged friends. Which in turn could potentially help add the necessary depth to the main romance between Won Jun and Doona that the series lacks.
Doona’s idol background and the tumultuous world of Korean entertainment becomes more and more relevant to the story as the series progresses. And coincidentally or not, that coincides with the series’ increasingly arduous path to the finale. A solid start gives way to a rougher and slower road.
This is despite the solid chemistry between Bae Suzy and Yang Se Jong. Solid, though not strong, partly due to the thin writing for their relationship. As individual characters, they are relatively stronger. For a lot of the series, the romance and their relationship is one of you knowing they are supposed to be together and you expect it right from their first meeting. But the Why? and the How? gets left unfortunately hanging.
Sometimes, love might be like that. Sometimes it just happens and you can’t explain it. But while that is certainly fine, especially when you are offering a sort of fairy tale-like approach to such a romance, Doona! includes many contrived bumps and hurdles that feel all too predictable. Maybe expected from a melodrama. But that in turn takes you out of the story instead of the story absorbing you into their world, such that a good melodrama is supposed to do.
Doona! is still wonderfully directed by Crash Landing on You director Lee Jung Hyo. Again, the visuals really help establish a certain feeling and cinematic aura to the proceedings. And the solid cast (with a particularly standout performance by Ha Young portraying the perpetually smiling Jin Ju) carries a lot of the weight that the writing unfortunately increasingly manifests as the series progresses.
Overall, Doona!‘s relatively short runtime can make for an easy watch. But the visuals, cast and bits of realism toward the end aren’t enough to provide the fulfilling satisfaction a dramatic series like this should deliver.