[HanCinema's News] "Welcome to Samdal-ri" Shines Light on the Unfortunate Commonality of Drowning in Island Life

Recently, the ongoing South Korean television drama "Welcome to Samdal-ri" has gone into the backstory of Mi-ja, the mother of the lead character Yong-pil played by Ji Chang-wook. A diving woman by trade, Mi-ja met an unfortunate end in the ocean, which has stirred much resentment about the ocean in her surviving son. For Yong-pil's mother to have drowned is no melodramatic accident. Even in recent years, some 104 diving women drowned between 2010 and 2023.


Nor has the problem gotten better in recent years. Some 46 recorded accidents have led to 21 deaths just from 2020 to 2022. However, the problem is mainly with the women themselves than a lack of procedures. Diving women as a group are quite a bit older than they used to be. Some 3226 diving women were registered in 2022, with 91.75% of these women being over the age of sixty. Some 1328 of these women are in their sixties and seventies, with 762 being over the age of eighty.

The departed diving women are liable to have heart attacks in deep water. This circumstance makes it difficult to summon medical aid quickly enough to save them. The regulations behind registration present a further problem. Diving women must work continuously to maintain their license. If they stop diving for sixty days or more, they lose their license. Older women afraid of never being able to dive again thus must get back to work even if they aren't quite ready yet.

In any case, death of this sort is an unavoidable fact of life in such communities, and has been since antiquity due to the importance of the income diving women bring to their families through this work. In a particularly brutal moment of "Welcome to Samdal-ri" the father of Yong-pil, Sang-tae who is played by Yu Oh-seong, urges his son to hate him and not his dead mother. The symbolism of this past relationship is relevant for Yong-pil's own romantic anxieties.

In general "Welcome to Samdal-ri" has clear Jeju romantic tourism themes, with the core plot being how Yong-pil escorts a photographer, played by Shin Hye-sun to various spots on the island. But in contrast to other Jeju dramas, there are notable social themes at play to mark it as a serious discussion of island culture. Such theming has helped push "Welcome to Samdal-ri" to a ratings high of 10.068% in its most recent episode, the fourteenth, which aired on January 14th.

Written by William Schwartz