And so it goes, the start of 2024 glimmers with prospects of new beginnings and new opportunities. But how far can resolve go without some hope and inspiration to bolster it? Luckily, a few recent K-dramas deliver just that in the form of a K-pop superfan, an unlikely rookie doctor, a suddenly 7-year-old prosecutor, and a couple of avenging boxers.
Defying the odds in a thoroughly bingeable manner, “Castaway Diva”, “Dr. Cha”, “The Good Bad Mother” and “Bloodhounds” show what happens when you continue to fight the good fight even when walking away makes so much more sense.
Hope (and K-pop) overcome all obstacles in “Castaway Diva”
Can a series that unflinchingly begins under the spector of child abuse work as a romantic comedy? Surprisingly, yes. And if you’re wondering how “Castaway Diva” deftly goes back and forth from a pitch-black narrative to a frothy, delightful one, you’re not alone.
The answer can be found in the diva herself, Seo Mok-ha (Park Eun-bin.) In short, the true wonder of the series is how Park delivers the charm, the comedy, the romance and the darkest subplots with equal command.
Simply escaping her father’s abuse would have been an accomplishment in and of itself. But then there’s the 15 years alone on an island, followed by the slings and arrows of debuting in K-pop at the preposterous age of 31, all while being targeted by a sinister adversary.
It’s a lot. But after sailing off her island, she doesn’t want a prince to come to her rescue. Being a 21st century leading lady, Mok-ha saves herself, with some help from old and new friends.
It’s debatable whether love is a want or need. Either way, she finds her ideal match in Chae Jong-hyeop. Less a prince and more of a partner, Chae and Park are perfectly suited. And if you ever need a surefire pick-me-up, cue up the rooftop scene in episode 11.
“Dr. Cha” gets her groove back and then some
Living in purgatory at a much posher Seoul address is Cha Jeong-suk (Uhm Jung-hwa). We’re introduced to forty-something “Dr. Cha” amidst a 20-year hiatus from practicing medicine. Instead of using her medical degree, she’s a housewife to a philandering husband, a whipping girl to an insufferable mother-in-law, and a mother to a couple of entitled children.
Then, serving as a cherry on top of this lovely state of affairs is her failing liver. But things take a welcome turn after her transplant surgery. Taking stock and heeding the advice of a new friend, Dr. Cha becomes a first-year resident at the same hospital that employs her son, her husband, her husband’s mistress, and her new friend, Dr. Roy Kimberly (Min Woo-hyuk): an accomplished, attentive and dreamy young surgeon.
Agreeing with her husband that they should pretend to be strangers at the hospital, Dr. Cha relishes her second chance. Unencumbered, due to her husband’s infidelity, Jeong-suk reinvents herself and leaves her domestic cage behind.
Of course, a dormant medical license is not something a lot of us have just lying around. But specifics aside, Dr. Cha’s moxie and determination are infectious. You may not have gone to med school but sometimes being bold rather than practical is the only way to make yourself whole, the only way to live your life as the person you want to be and not the person you happen to be.
Second chances and sweet justice delivered in “The Good Bad Mother”
Choi Kang-ho (Lee Do-hyun) was raised on a pig farm by single mother Jin Young-soon (Ra Mi-ran), who resolved to do whatever it took for her son to become a prosecutor. Young-soon’s obsessive determination played no small part in Kang-ho reaching that goal. Her pitiless methods, however, resulted in complete estrangement between mother and son.
The two haven’t seen each other in years but after a terrible car accident, he awakens with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. At his bedside is his Good Bad Mother, who jumps at her second chance to raise her son differently. Regretting how harsh and strict she was when raising Kang-ho, Young-soon recalibrates to stress affection over achievement.
High stakes, legal maneuverings, small-town charm, mobsters and questionable parenting all have their moments in this compelling series. Never dwelling too long on either the light or heavy themes of the show, “The Good Bad Mother” is a roller coaster ride that’s well worth your time.
At center stage is the mother-son relationship enmeshed in a family history of tragedy and desire for revenge. But the chemistry between Kang-ho and his childhood friend, Lee Mi-joo (Ahn Eun-jin) captivates, and her twins delightfully steal the show in every scene they occupy.
“Bloodhounds” punches its way out of the depths
For K-drama fans looking for more action, “Bloodhounds” features a pair of idealistic boxers, Kim Gun-woo (Woo Do Hwan) and Hong Wooo-jin (Lee Sang Yi), falling prey to a ruthless loan shark. And not just any loan shark but a sadistic, clever one who has a seemingly endless supply of thugs at his disposal.
In “Bloodhounds”, justice is served hot and cold. There’s no romantic diversion but the extraordinary brotherhood that develops between Gun-woo and Woo-jin humanizes a show that doesn’t pull its punches. If you have the stomach for bone-crunching backstreet justice administered with a body count and a little torture along the way, this show’s for you.
The action is brutal and masterful. But leaving the killing (and torture) to others, Gun-woo and Woo-jin fight for their revenge, get to keep their integrity and walk away with some bank for their efforts. It’s a win-win-win for K-drama’s premier boxing bromance. “Bloodhounds” is, at times, hard to watch but the determination, loyalty and morality of our protagonists could strengthen whatever resolve you might need in your own conflicts.
And with that, Happy New Year! May 2024 bring blessings, inspiration and many happy endings.