welcome to samdal-ri review

A pair of kids – Sam-dal and Young-pil, who were born on the same day and have the same last name – stand on a talent show stage. When asked what they want to be when they grow up, Sam-dal confidently answers that she wants to be a “dragon”, leaving behind its “small stream” – her analogy for leaving her hometown of Samdal-ri on Jeju Island and flitting off to Seoul, where she’ll forge her own path. Young-pil, however, has no such goals: he’s perfectly content in his “small stream”.

Shin Hye-sun plays Cho Sam-dal, an ambitious woman who walked away from her small town and the love of her life – no points for guessing who that is – to make it big in metropolitan Seoul as a photographer. Just when she thinks she’s ticked off everything on her checklist, it all comes crashing down when her assistant accuses her of abusing her authority and attempts suicide.

While hiding in her flat, Sam-dal is reminded of a crucial lesson passed down by her haenyeo (a female Korean diver who ventures out to sea to harvest shellfish) mother. “Don’t get greedy in the ocean,” her mother had told her, reminding her to come back up and take a breath when things got too overwhelming. Ironically, it occurs to Sam-dal that she’d been doing the exact opposite. Now, life was forcing her to come back up – or go back home to Jeju, in her case. There awaits Cho Young-pil (Ji Chang-wook), who’s grown up to become a talented weather forecaster, and still continues to hold a candle for Sam-dal.

From the get-go, Welcome to Samdal-ri wears its story on its sleeve: It’s about two people bound together by fate, yet fundamentally different, learning to love in ways that set them free. Both of these characters also have their own complex relationship with the town of Samdal-ri itself – it’s the lighthouse to which all lost souls flock, whether they want to or not.

Samdal-ri also stands as the constant reminder of the death of a great love. For Sam-dal, being back finally forces her to confront the vulnerability and loneliness pervading her life. Young-pil, on the other hand, finds his wounds scraped and bleeding – for the same person, all over again. Yet, this makes the dynamic between Shin Hye-sun and Ji Chang-wook all the more potent.

The biggest credit for this, however, goes to writer Kwon Hye-joo’s sublime, beautifully layered writing. Kwon relies on simple, yet inviting narration – as if the story were being told as a recollection among friends than to an unsuspecting audience. Kwon also doesn’t throw issues and realisations at us so much as gently usher us towards them, making the moment of epiphany all the more sweeter and satisfactory.

Welcome to Samdal-ri is an intimate, beautiful and flawed depiction of love, where you find yourself vacillating between moments of frustration and instances of understanding. Everyone in town knows Sam-dal and Young-pil are still in love with each other, except the pair themselves, who are adamant in their refusal yet hopelessly find themselves in each other’s orbit. We’re not sure whether we’re headed towards a sweet reunion or a bittersweet end, but we sure don’t mind sticking around for this ride.

Welcome to Samdal-ri airs every Saturday and Sunday on JTBC in South Korea. The K-drama is also available to stream on Netflix internationally in select regions.

The post ‘Welcome to Samdal-ri’ review: end the year with this comfort watch appeared first on NME.


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