I just concluded watching the Korean drama (K-Drama) “Hometown cha-cha-cha”. I have heard about K-Dramas and their popularity but only recently got into watching them. This is my second K-drama, with the Business Proposal being the first.
The Basics of Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
The Netflix drama, which was shot last year (2021) and contained 16 episodes, is a remake of the popular 2024 film “Mr Handy, Mr Hong”. It is set in a fictitious fishing village called Gongjin. In reality, most of the filming was done in Pohang, southeast of the capital Seoul, which gives the look and feel of Gongjin.
The Main Characters of Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
Gongjin’s has an eclectic group of characters who adorn the series throughout – the youngest are around ten while the oldest is eighty. In between, there are junior senior women living alone but hang out with the octogenarian all the time, bickering couples, a single woman who mourns the loss of her child, a single man who still misses his dead wife and melancholically thinks about his past career as a musician, and a teenager with a mad crush on a Korean star. Each person has their own challenges and joys in life.
They are nosy and gossip a lot which is a key character to the storyline.
Then there is our thirty-something hero Hong Du-Sik but popularly known as Chief Hong (Hong banjang). The role is played by Kim Sun-Ho. Chief Hong lost his parents and then his grandfather at a young age and grew up alone, with the help of the villagers. He is the handyman of the village who can handle almost everything – from being the realtor to painter to electrician to plumber and much more. Saying he is a jack of all trades might be somewhat an insult for he seems to be quite capable in what he is doing. He is jovial, kind and is very casual in a formal society.
But there is some secret to him – the five years he spent in Seoul after studying at the prestigious Seoul National University and then doing the draft remains a mystery. There are various rumors as to what he did those five years but what is a fact is that he returned to Gongjin a broken man, and took up doing odd jobs, living simply and insisting on nothing more than minimum wage.
The story actually begins with our female lead – the also 30-something dentist from Seoul, Dr Yoon Hye- Jin, played by Shin Min-A. Hye-Jin is scarred by the loss of her mother as a child and other events which makes her feel sad (whenever she sees happy families), lonely and guarded. She is a city girl who is formal, confident, uptight to the point of being rude, competitive and believes in social classes (and the belief it is best when you stick to them, particularly when it comes to romance). But she also has a sense of righteousness. The story starts with her challenging her boss for putting profit over ethics.
Going through a professional turmoil and, perhaps adding to that sense of inner loneliness, she takes a drive to, you guessed it – Gongjin – to relive the happy times when she visited the beach as a child with her parents.
And these polar opposites meet, and the real story begins. There are also side characters, including her best friend and a famous TV personality who had a crush on her.
Story Bloopers & Weaknesses
There are too many coincidences in the story regarding the run-ins between the star couple from their childhood.
Some viewers have complained her role was too ‘lovey-dovey’.
Some elements were left uncleared – the accusation a TV producer made in public should have been cleared up in public.
The story touches some social, gender and health issues – the supposed weakness of the Korean educational system, the issue of stalking, voyeurism, and the shortage of critical healthcare facilities in rural Korea etc. – but except for the last issue, the rest are touch and go.
Global Reaction to the Show
By the time the show starting winding down in October last year, it had become the top show in Korea and occupied the 8th place globally on the streaming platform Netflix. The show had occupied the top ten Netflix spot in more than 20 countries, from Australia to Saudi Arabia.
The Beauty of Life in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
And the viewers cannot be faulted for making it such a popular K-drama.
Because the show was about togetherness, compassion, kindness, friendship and, of course, love. Beyond all the noises, bickering and gossiping lies the basic humane features of the villagers who are ready to help each other and strive to enjoy life despite all the calamities they have seen.
The have frequent get togethers, keep their village clean and use every occasion to enjoy a good meal over copious amounts of alcohol. There is always something beautiful when people gather around a table, sharing local dishes with tongue-twisting names whose description and the time they need to be enjoyed (hangover soup, for example) alone can make the viewers’ get hungry.
Perhaps it was somewhat cheesy for a man and woman in their mid-thirties to be so “lovey-dovey’ – her longing to see him all the time, hear his voice all the time, create a bucket list which includes a visit “to a museum with your boyfriend” etc., would be considered as outdated for many. They reminded me of the Indian movies of the eighties and nineties.
But there is something so innately beautiful in those lovey-dovey moments. Perhaps it is a fact of life that when one finally meets someone who makes them so deeply happy and loved and helps them to heal from the past traumas, one would feel happy about the little things such as holding hands or cuddling. Courtship becomes so soothing and a tinge of sadness, a tinge of longing flows in and through the body. Age doesn’t matter here.
The city girl doesn’t change to accept him or the village life – it is just that the village, and he in particular, bring out the hidden good qualities in her. Goodness brings out of the goodness.
Many have commented that this is a K-drama is also about grief and healing; both stars of the series have emotional scars and built inner walls to guard themselves from being hurt.
Their coming together, along with the beautiful sky and the sea, as well as the kindness of the villagers, heals both. There is a poignant moment when she announces she doesn’t like him being lonely so wants to be his family. She also says that once they marry then neither of them will be lonely – emotionally and romantically, that is.
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is not the typical rom-com; it goes beyond that with a lot of nuanced themes where every player has a unique character which they play very well. Of course, the star couple delivers a great performance.
If the other Korean creation of 2021, the Squid Game, became famous for its dark and dystopian theme where people do anything to survive and/succeed, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is the opposite – that the universal themes of kindness, friendship and love (and good food along with a great scenery) still exist. Perhaps it is those feelings running through the series that made it such a popular one at a time when billions of people feel lost and looking for hope in the post-pandemic confusing world.