Take a pinch of A Star Is Born, a dollop of Castaway, stir thoroughly with a generous dose of tragic-romantic melodrama, and you’ll get a confection resembling this Netflix K-drama. Castaway Diva begins with a prologue flashing back to 2007, where the teen version of Seo Mok-ha (Lee Re) is obsessed with K-pop star Yoon Ran-joo (Kim Hyo-jin). From entering radio contests to uploading a DIY music video, Mok-ha will stop at nothing to get the attention of her idol. Her desperate attempts draw the ire of pragmatic classmate Jeong Ki-ho (Moon Woo-jin), a hardworking boy who has no time for trivial pursuits because he’s too busy working odd jobs to support himself.
While the pair initially clash due to their contrasting dispositions, we learn that they have more in common beyond the surface. Appallingly, Mok-ha and Ki-ho are being physically abused by their respective single fathers. While Mok-ha finds solace in her dreams of following in Ran-joo’s footsteps, Ki-ho is labouring to earn enough to escape their small island town. When Mok-ha offers Ki-ho money to film and edit a video, the latter is struck by the former’s talent and passion. As their connection deepens, he’s forced to rethink his preconceived notions of her as a frivolous fangirl. Once Ki-ho discovers that Mok-ha is also being brutally assaulted behind closed doors, he submits the music video on her behalf, which does impress Ran-joo’s talent agency. Shortly thereafter, Mok-ha is given a shot to audition in Seoul, which both kids see as the perfect opportunity to run away together.
Unfortunately, Mok-ha’s alcoholic father, Seo Jeong-ho (Lee Yoo-joon), tracks them down as they’re about to flee on a ferry. Ki-ho heroically sacrifices his own getaway to physically prevent Jeong-ho from boarding. Sadly, Jeong-ho still manages to get aboard and chase Mok-ha until the distressed girl opts to plunge into the ocean. The next time we see her, we find Mok-ha awaking on an uninhabited island. This is where she’ll remain for the next 15 years, until her adult self (Park Eun-bin) is rescued in 2022 by bickering brothers – Kang Bo-geol (Chae Jong-hyeop) and Kang Woo-hak (Cha Hak-yeon) – who are volunteering to pick up washed-up trash on the island. Since both are employees at broadcast network YGN, the siblings see Mok-ha’s incredible story as a great angle for a news piece.
As Castaway Diva unfolds, much of the early episodes revolve around Mok-ha hilariously reacclimating to society, as she grapples with new technologies and the modern world. Meanwhile, Woo-hak slowly begins falling for the enthusiastic yet confused young woman. When Mok-ha tells him that she wishes to find out what happened to Ki-ho, he believes that he could be her long lost sweetheart, since a head trauma erased his memories prior to high school. He even helps connect Mok-ha with Ran-joo, who is now a forgotten has-been. When she finds her idol too drunk to function at a small town event, Mok-ha offers to sing for Ran-joo backstage, so that the popstar can lip-sync onstage. Seizing her long-awaited moment, Mok-ha delivers a breathtaking vocal performance for the ages. Although her talent is yet to be publicly recognised, this delayed audition wows Ran-joo so much that the bygone diva is determined to help Mok-ha achieve her K-pop ambitions.
While Castaway Diva is potholed by implausible beats (Mok-ha looking flawless after 15 years in the wild, Woo-hak’s insane delusion, etc.) and jarring tonal shifts (its shockingly dark backstory grinds against its effervescent rom-com vibe) – the series is a surprisingly smooth ride. Many of its bumps can easily be forgiven due to Castaway Diva’s penchant for creating flawed yet likeable protagonists, a brisk pace that makes each feature-length episode feel like a breeze and a talented cast who are able to reconcile the show’s incongruent elements through their emotive performances. Already, this show has set-up enough intriguing plot points to keep viewers glued, but it remains to be seen whether Castaway Diva will coast on bubblegum pop, or soar with more soulful ballads in the future.
New episodes of Castaway Diva are available on Netflix every Saturday and Sunday
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