Hi! It’s Annie!
I’ve mentioned this one way too much to not actually write about it. This is one of the best romance dramas I’ve ever seen, and that’s because it’s meant to be. A lot of romance dramas exist for the fun of it; this one exists to simply be good and complex entertainment. Almost every piece of this felt like it had more thought put into it than any other romance drama I’d seen before. From the characters to the controversial plot to the shooting locations, this was meant to be both fun to watch and thought provoking. But that doesn’t mean this show was absolutely devoid of issues. If you are unfamiliar with this show, it’s about a rich woman accidentally finding herself on the wrong side of the border between North Korea and South Korea and then falling in love with a North Korean soldier. Which is why this show is so controversial. But this show pulls it off so well, that it gained massive acclaim in South Korea as well as many other countries around the world. Now before I get way too into talking about how much I loved this show, let’s actually save some stuff for the rest of the article. As always, SPOILERS ahead.
- The main female character. Yoon Se-ri is definitely a league above many of the female characters I’ve seen in romance dramas simply because of her development. She starts the show selfish and flawed, but you see through flashbacks that this is the way she was raised and felt she had to be. Even being in a rich family, she had to fight for everything she was ever given. And even though you do understand her behavior later, that doesn’t mean that she’s suddenly likeable upon re-watch. She’s definitely funny, I really liked that this drama wasn’t afraid to give their female character a sense of humor. Sadly, that definitely isn’t always the case in romance dramas. But funny doesn’t mean she’s a good person; that is something she has to learn as the series goes on. The audience is allowed to see her at her worst so we can truly appreciate when she’s at her best. I find that romance dramas often subvert character development in favor of constantly showing the lead female character in an innocent or smitten state. This didn’t happen here and it was incredibly heartwarming to see her become such a generous person.
- The main male character. Yes! Finally! One where I like them both! Ri Jeong Hyuk is a gentle giant. He does not agree with anything going on in North Korea (because who would and this is how they’re able to make the romance understandable), but none of the people in that army have much of a choice. They are all real people who did not choose to be born in the North rather than the South. Many of them are just doing what they’re told in order to get by and protect their families and villages. This is what this show tries to do more than anything else; humanize North Koreans. Ri Jeong Hyuk is immediately willing to help Se-Ri when he realizes that she’s on the wrong side of the border and then spends much of the series attempting to hide her and protect her. But none of this is presented as any sort of “macho man” and “weak maiden” type of plotline. She is in unfamiliar territory and he’s the one with military training. And even for that, they don’t do much of him saving the damsel in distress. He’s respectful, kind, slightly oblivious, and a generous soul who has not been dealt the best hand in life. He’s not here to be “macho” or “cool”. His main characteristic is that he’s kind, and that means so much to me.
- The side characters. This show doesn’t just humanize it’s main male lead. You get to meet many of the soldiers he’s in charge of that he’s close to as well. Every single one of them is endearing, but none so much as Kim Ju Muk. If you don’t end the series in love with him, then you weren’t watching the same show I was. He’s an innocent and almost child-like soldier with a fascination with K-dramas he bootlegs. All he wants is to meet the stars of his favorite K-dramas (which he actually gets to do in a very cute scene) and finish K-dramas he hasn’t been able to (which he also gets to do eventually). All you want is for all of them to be happy. I became more invested in these side characters than I ever have for any other romance drama. I loved them almost just as much as I loved the two main characters.
- The romance. It’s adorable. And the best part is, it’s based just as much on support as it is anything else. The series tells you from the get-go that the most important thing in their relationship is going to be looking out for each other. They begin the series not hating each other, but not getting along either. Se-ri is not accustomed to living in a place where it’s sometimes difficult to get shampoo. But as it goes on, they understand each other more than anyone else in their lives ever had. They experience so much trauma together in this show and they constantly have to pick each other up when the other is suffering either mentally or physically. By the end of this show, there is no one either of them could possibly be with but each other. This aspect of it does inspire some anxiety at times and it also means that, because of real life, the ending feels more like their own wish fulfilment. I did actually question several times if the ending was even real in the context of the story. But it does end hopefully which is what matters! Also, when Ri Jeon Hyuk steps across the border to kiss her for what they both view as the last time, I cried a lot.
- The side-plot romance. This is the one that I haven’t been able to quite get over. This romance takes place between Gu Seung-jun and Seo Dan; two people who have been romantically involved with the respective main characters in the past, but who are forced to get over them as they find new love. This storyline is pretty typical for a romance drama, but this ended up being one of my favorite parts of the show. Seo Dan at first only tolerates Gu Seung-jun and throughout their time together falls for him very slowly. She constantly asks him about what love is supposed to be and he answers her honestly, even when he thinks she loves someone else. She knows partway through that he loves her, but the more she thinks about love the more she believes she is unwilling to have it, so she doesn’t believe that he does love her. For her it’s too good to be true, so she forces her own feelings down too. She doesn’t admit to herself that she loves him until after he dies to protect her. I cried so much and I may just cry while typing this. In an absolutely heartbreaking scene, she goes to the place where she first realized she might love him and bursts into uncontrollable sobs. I am not ashamed to admit that I was right there with her. This romance was done so well and his death felt like a punch to the gut. Obviously, I’m still not over it. I might not be able to re-watch the series because I feel like I’ll cry even more the second time around.
- The BTS reference. Sorry, I had to. Se-ri runs into a BTS fan in a hospital and bonds with her over her love of BTS. The young girl is very excited about saying that her bias is Jungkook. I loved the reference and it was an adorable scene.
- The major death. Gu Seung-jun’s death was weird. This show is almost a war drama and a romance drama wrapped into one, so I can’t say I wasn’t expecting a death. My problem isn’t really with his death itself. It was just that the disconnected mafia-like kidnapping and hostage scenario was a little odd. Especially because we had established that he’s actually a pretty bad conman, so I don’t know why anybody was bothered enough with him to kill him. If he died because of war-related stuff that would have made more sense, even without him being a soldier. I’m not really sure why they went with this. Then again, if his death had meant more to the main plot, it would have made it that much more painful.
- The old love interest story. As I said before, both of the main characters have people they were with before. The story does explore some of those romances as well as add in the typical jealousy from the main characters that you would expect. That part is never my favorite, but I’ll at least give them that the jealousy is more understandable considering they are both convinced they could never be together and that the other is better off with their old love interest because of that. Still, they go too far with these stories sometimes. There was an entire piece of the story where Se-ri was basically forced to stay with Gu Seung-jun, and all this seemed to do was slow down the actual plot. Seo Dan, who was actually engaged to Ri Jeon Hyuk, tried various different ways to separate the main couple. The only time I felt these worked was when she was with Gu Seung-jun and they were setting up their relationship. I would have liked to see a little more of the side characters falling in love and a little less of them trying to get their past love interests back.
- Se-ri’s family. Seo Dan had a bit of a storyline with her mother, but her mother was enjoyable and this was used tastefully. Even the storyline with the villagers that lived near Ri Jeon Hyuk was given a pretty good amount of plot and wasn’t used to the point of annoyance. I was painfully bored whenever Se-ri’s family was on the screen. They needed way more relevant plot and way less screen time. There was nothing interesting about them, except for maybe Se-ri’s mother, and I wished those scenes were over as soon as they begun. I just wanted to get back to the actual plot.
This show is amazing, loveable, and heartwarming. It will make you sad, but it’ll immediately show you something sweet to combat your sadness. Whether or not it works is really up to the watcher. Considering the side-plot romance, it really only worked for me some of the time. But I still came out of this show absolutely unwilling to hate anything about it. That’s partly because the show was so good and partly because I thought their message was so important. I think we all know, now more than ever, that politicians are not necessarily a good representation of their people. Every innocent person who lives under a rule they did not agree to deserves to be humanized just like the rest of us, and I absolutely love how this show dealt with this in such a kind manner. Shows like this highlight how important humanity is and that good people can come from anywhere.
See you across the pond!