TV Series Review: Crash Landing On You (2020), Winsome Chemistry and Fascinating World-Building Make this a Must-See

The late 1970s to early 80s were my adolescent years, my formative years. My ideas of love were gleaned from watching countless Taiwanese mandarin movies on Saturday nights, featuring Brigette Lin (林青霞), Chin Han (秦汉) and others. Most of the storylines either fell into terminal-illness-of-the-week or the universe-doesn’t-want-the-couple-to-be-together narrative trappings. I learned that a girl will get pregnant if a guy kisses her or if they share an umbrella in a storm. I learned that it’s true love if you love the other person more than yourself and you should sacrifice your life for your significant other in the greatest demonstration of love. The image of a trickle of blood running down one’s corner of the mouth as the one you saved weep for you is the sexiest look ever. What a load of crock! But I think back to those movie nights with my family fondly. One of the most important lessons in love I have learned through those mandarin movies is that it isn’t true love if the journey of love isn’t arduous. Korean drama Crash Landing On You has lots of scenes of the principal couple taking bullets for each other and putting their lives in constant danger for the sake of the other, and their passage of love takes them from North Korea to South Korea in one of the most testing journeys of love ever.

The “what-if” is brilliant – a tornado sends a paragliding self-made young South Korean business woman and heiress Yoon Se-ri (Ye-jin Son) into North Korea. She then falls into the arms of a North Korean army captain Ri Jeong Hyeok (Hyun Bin). The typical Korean drama narrative strategy is then to make them gradually fall in love and to make it fraught with difficulties and danger. You can bet your entire fortune that only at the final episode will they truly be together and you look at your love life wondering why it isn’t as spectacular as theirs. That’s the game plan, the broad strokes, the Spark notes version.

The really great ones know how to make the seams disappear and make you so vested in their journey of love you don’t ponder on the implausibility of it all. Se-ri and Jeong Hyeok’s love story is impossible on paper. Think about it – one is a CEO in the south and one is an army captain in the north. It’s doomed from the start. It’s Romeo and Juliet all over again and we all know how that ended. But as great love stories go… theirs is fraught with many eleventh hour twists and dangers, but they stand firm. Jeong Hyeok loves her so much he wants her to go back home and he comes up with many outrageous plans to make that happen. A storyline like this can’t last sixteen 85-minute episodes and thankfully the story shifts to the south at the halfway mark.

Love stories soar or plummet on the chemistry of the leads. Here, it soars like a seraph to the heavens, which is not a surprise because I have seen Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin in The Negotiation (2018) and they were excellent. Incidentally, due to the popularity of Crash Landing On You, the movie is showing again in the cinemas. Cast against type, Hyun Bin actually plays a villain and dammit… he is so good. But in Crash Landing On You Hyun Bin plays Captain Ri in a nuanced and reserved manner, his mild-mannered reticence belies an unfathomable depth. When he looks at Se-ri, he sees into her soul. His broad shoulders not only offer comfort, they shield her from all manners of harm. Son plays her character as a feisty force of nature always wanting to stamp her opinions on any issue. But as days pass, her hard exterior melts away showing us a softer side. That’s how love works – it changes you; it makes you want to be a better person. How their characters are drawn is the classic opposites attract master-stroke. They are on two ends of the romance line and you are counting down the moments when souls will connect, lips will touch and bodies will collide. Cue the fireworks when it hits.

As much as I find the love stories endearing, I am in awe at how the series paints the world of North Korea. Movies with North Korea as the backdrop typically portray it as the nexus of evil, its citizens barely surviving in a totalitarian regime. Here, the writers take a nuanced stance and present a world filled with complex characters. The four lovable underlings of Captain Ri display distinctive character traits and are memorably portrayed. I particularly find the wiretapper’s story compelling and his character arc well-drawn and by that I mean I was crying my eyes out. I dare you to not giggle at the antics of the busybody ajummas (aunties) of the military village, each of them bringing something new to the plate. At times you will laugh at them, but sometimes you wonder why your community can’t be like theirs.

The last episode broke the records for viewership in Korea and I must say it nails the landing. The closures for the myriad characters are sublime, Jeong Hyeok and Se-ri earned their ending. A sigh of sublime relief permeated the air and it was time well-spent. Is it the best I have seen? Nope, not by a long shot, but it is up there with the best. For a while, I have lived a lifetime with these interesting characters in a world I can never and want to go. All this in the comfort of my living room which has become a cocoon of love. This one ticks all the boxes and then some.

Rating 4.5 / 5

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