Knowing one's level and limitations is an important virtue for creators of any kind. While ambition is good, it is also crucial to not take oneself more seriously than is appropriate. One common issue in Korean dramas is that works often tend to present themselves as more than the light entertainment they usually are. Once in a while, however, come shows that know where they stand, be they melodramatic or comedic. 'Haeundae Lovers' is a romantic comedy drama and it is also fluff, something which it is aware and unapologetic of, allowing it to be fun.
Lee Tae-seong (Kim Kang-woo) is a prosecutor who is devoted to and passionate about his job. He has a rich and powerful father, a beautiful fiancée, but cares more about catching criminals than belonging in his circles. For his latest case, he goes undercover and attempts to infiltrate the family of Go So-ra (Jo Yeo-jung), the daughter and heir of a famous has-been gang in Busan. So-ra and her family are trying to get by and hope to one day reclaim the hotel that was stolen from her father, leaving him mentally challenged during the gang conflict. After losing his memory due to an accident, Tae-seong is taken in by the family and begins bonding with them and falling for So-ra in the process.
The central plot of and how things progress and wrap up in 'Haeundae Lovers' are really nothing extraordinary. It has its plot holes, has its noble idiocy, there are cliché happenings and characters and it really does very little differently to any other show of its kind. What the drama does well, though, is how nice a camaraderie it builds between the main characters and how lively and full their little world feels. So-ra's odd family is a lovely sight and it is very endearing to see a young woman as the leader of three men who trust, respect and admire her. Their household and the interactions between this family and Tae-seong, but also the chemistry between all the actors just give a very warm and pleasant feeling.
The amnesia bit might initially put some off, but this is a case where it is part of the premise and therefore used in a concrete way. It is very entertaining, but somewhat pitiful seeing someone who has clearly had a rich upbringing and developed the instincts of a prosecutor struggle with his current humble and gangster connected situation. It is also entertaining to see how the family acts around him. It is a bit of an obstacle in terms of likability that the family lies to Tae-seong and manipulates him, but the series does a good enough job at not making them too petty or unlikable. They are, after all, a family of former gangsters.
What is essentially a turf war with less violence over the ownership of the hotel So-ra is fighting over is another nice element in the series, but both from So-ra's and Tae-seong's sides, the figures of authority can and do get a bit too on the annoying side by the end. While things never become too dark, at least in comparison to most romantic comedies in the last couple of years, the final episodes can get frustrating with their villains and how the leads react to their scheming. The saving grace here being that to a degree, the decisions do not feel so much like noble idiocy, as the people making the threats are ones that actually have power to carry them out.
'Haeundae Lovers' is not trying to be anything new and it does not escape from some of the issues that are rampant in works of its type. However, the quirkiness of the characters and how easy they are to like and the fact that the world in which they live feels realistic and normal are things which make it very pleasant. The romance is cute and the actors have good enough chemistry for it, but it really would not be the same without all the secondary characters creating the setting it all happens in. For those who are bored of typical dramas of this kind, the usual romantic dynamics and just want to see regular folks caught up in greater things and a lighter take on a Romeo and Juliet romance, this is a good enough drama.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Haeundae Lovers""
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