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When the Camellia Blooms

동백꽃 필 무렵


Director: Cha Yeong Hoon
Writer: Lim Sang Choon



Original Broadcast: Sept 18 - Nov 21, 2019

Original Broadcast station: KBS2

Genre: Romantic Comedy, Thriller






Main Cast:
Gong Hyo Jin - Oh Dong Baek
Kang Ha Neul - Hwang Yong Shik
Kim Ji Seok - Kang Jong Ryul
Kim Kang Hoon - Kang Pil Gu


Notable Supporting Cast:
Son Dam Bi - Choi Hyang Mi/ Choi Go Eun
Oh Jung Se - No Gyu Tae
Yeon Hye Ran - Hong Ja Young



Some background:
Anticipation was high for this drama since it was Kang Ha Neul’s first drama on returning from his military service. Kang Ha Neul’s return was eagerly anticipated as one of the leading men of his generation, truly comfortable on stage, musical theater, screen, and film, having both an exquisite timing for comedy as well as the acting gravitas to draw you into the darkness of a pained or flawed character, and an amazing singing voice. Gong Hyo Jin is a veteran actress who has been playing female leads for quite some time now, and is famous for having amazing chemistry with her leads and helping them shine in their roles. Kim Ji Seok has been steadily building his resume in a number of supporting roles as well as a few leading roles, going from strength to strength. The true revelation in this drama, however, may be the young actor Kim Kang Hoon who plays Kang Pil Gu. While having acted in quite a number of projects, this drama turned KKH into a star, and for a child actor, he receives significant screen time with all three leads as well as having solo scenes in this drama.

The set up and review:
Oh Dong Baek (Gong Hyo Jin) is the attractive single mother of Kang Pil Gu (Kim Kang Hoon) who is in elementary school and shows talent as a young baseball player. DB had PG with her first love/serious boyfriend, a professional baseball player Kang Jong Ryul (Kim Ji Seok), but had left him before he was even aware that she was pregnant. JR went on to marry another woman much later after DB had left him, but has never been able to forget her. Hwang Yong Shik (Kang Ha Neul) is a police officer who had grown up in the town that DB and PG now live in, and had moved to Seoul to work, but was recently transferred back t his home town. YS falls for DB as soon as he sees her.

DB and PG live in the fictional small coastal town of Ongsan where DB runs a bar, which leads to the other townswomen’s disapproval as both an unmarried mother of a child who also runs a bar. She is shown as being very nice and has an inferiority complex about herself, accepting most disapprobation directed at her, though she’s not spineless when it comes to the people she cares about. This leads her young son PG, though, to fight on her behalf with his friends and coming to her defense whenever he hears of his mother being under attack, having a fiery temper of his own. There is a rather heartbreaking scene in the second act where PG demands of his mother why he, a first grader, should be protecting his mother when his mother should be the one to protect him. When his flabbergasted mother asks him why he does that, he responds that it’s because he’s the only one in the world who likes his mother, and everyone else dislikes her. This scene speaks to the relative isolation and loneliness of DB which is also affecting her young son, though she wasn’t quite aware of that before. PG also has no interest in knowing about his father, because as he says, it’s better to not ever have one than to have one and then get him taken away from him.

Back during their first love days, DB and JR had been crazy in love with each other. They had been planning on getting married until DB left JR with a note and no way for JR to find her. The drama shows us the details of why they separated throughout the drama to explain how this passionately in love couple ended up separating, and it’s really a question of immaturity and a lack of self confidence with both DB and JR. Their relationship is such that it left its marks on both of them, though in different ways. JR has gone on to marry a young woman who married him for his popularity than anything else. The wife is shown as being very immature and narcissistic rather than truly evil. JR and his wife have an infant daughter whom JR takes on a popular variety program modeled after Return of Superman which is about dads taking care of the children. So, due to JR being a popular professional ball player as well as on a variety program, DB is aware of how JR seems to be doing and where he is, but has no plans to contact him. However, DB, when she left JR, had run to a town that JR had lived in as a child, and it’s JR’s elementary school that PG now attends and one of JR’s old school buddies who is now the coach of the elementary baseball team. JR comes back to the elementary school to film his segment for the show and meets PG and reconnects with DB.

YS is the most straightforward person ever. And, he admits that thinking is not his strong point, that rather he prefers to go with his instincts. Thus, when YS sees a crime in progress, he can’t help but tackle the criminals without thoughts of any costs or damages to himself. It was a nightmare for the police to have YS as a private citizen capturing criminals in the act, but when YS finally became a policeman, it turned out to be a mixed blessing since YS has no idea about politics and being accommodating to his superiors, nor can he restrain himself from teaching perpetrators “lessons” in having manners. It’s his straightforward nature that causes him to recognize that he’s fallen for DB as soon as he sees her, and then being extremely obvious that he likes her to everyone in town. Unfortunately, that also includes his mother who had been hoping that her son will settle down and get married to a nice woman, but her relatively progressive attitudes are put to the test when she realizes that YS likes DB who has a son by another man. Especially since previous to YS falling for DB, YS' mother had taken both DB and her son PG under her wing.

YS is also the son of a single mother, albeit a widow who had a total of 3 sons. YS had also spent his formative years defending his mother, so he’s quick to recognize a kindred spirit in PG. YS demonstrates a special affinity with PG even before YS finds out that PG is DB’s son. However, PG is highly suspicious of any man who comes sniffing around his mother.

So, some massive spoilers from the first couple of episodes, but the beauty of this drama is in the story of how these characters interact and how their interactions lead to growth and development not just between the main characters, but also their various neighbors and relatives. At heart, this is a family drama which explores various couple and family dynamics as it follows the relationship course of the three main leads plus PG.

There are some notable side stories. The most engaging is actually the relationship progression of the relatively not smart optometrist and momma’s boy No Gyu Tae (Oh Jung Se in a very different role to his role in IOTNBO) and the razor sharp lawyer Hong Ja Young (Yeon Hye Ran). No Gyu Tae obviously feels intimidated by his smart wife and has an inferiority complex which leads to some interesting behaviors from him. Because he comes from a wealthy family and is a landowner, GT does like to swan around being the Big Fish in the little pond. The townspeople let GT get away with his puffery because GT is an easy touch when someone needs money and is actually very generous. JY  is no nonsense and has become fed up with her husband’s silliness as well as his mother’s attempts to put her, JY, down. It’s not until JY becomes suspicious that GT might be cheating on her that she starts doing something about it, though. GT, for his part, is irritated that DB doesn’t give him the respect and preferential treatment that he feels he deserves, but that causes him to give even more attention to DB and demonstrate suspicious behaviors to his wife. GT is acted by the talented Oh Jung Se who most recently played the intellectually challenged brother in It's Okay To Not Be Okay, and is a bit of a scene stealer.

Then there is the issue of the townspeople of Ongsan who are initially shown as almost caricatures of small town people with their pecking orders and narrow points of view, but eventually are shown with a more realistic light of having both good and bad traits.

There are also a number of mysteries in this drama. It opens with a serial killer, dubbed the Joker because he leaves notes saying that the victim shouldn’t have joked with him, who has been uncaught for many years, and now seems to have set his sights on DB. Plus, Hyang Mi who helps DB in the bar is rather mysterious though we eventually find out about her tragic past.

This drama was a lot of fun to watch, with very few weak points. (A subplot regarding JR’s marriage to his wife being one of them.) The plot itself isn’t the main thrust of this drama either since it’s a rather straightforward rom-com with a bit of crime suspense twist to drive the story. Rather, it’s the various relationships that are formed, broken, strained, but are made resilient that is at the heart of this story. With characters who have flaws and only 1 true villain (the serial killer), it was fun watching their interactions evolve over the course of this drama. And Pil Gu is just adorable in his fierceness and love for his mother, fighting with his instincts to just be a kid.


One other note: K-dramas like to title their dramas after their lead characters. So, the Camellia in the title is not only the name of the bar that Dong Baek runs, it also refers to Dong Baek herself since a "dong baek" is a camellia, and this drama is about Dong Baek blooming and finding love, but also claiming her own sense of self.

Plot/story         8
Cast/acting        10
Production Value    8
Rewatch Value      8
Overall                  9


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Wow, I can't believe it's been almost a year since this drama aired! Thanks for writing the review. I have been on the fence about starting this drama because the plot doesn't interest me as much. I'll probably give it a second thought after reading this. =)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ending spoilers - only if you really, really want to know



In the end, there is a time jump where a grown up Pil Gu is seen talking to his mother telling her that he's busy and that if she wants to see him, she should watch her tv. He walks into a room full of reporters to hold a press conference about him joining Major League Baseball in America.


An older DB is watching PG's presser on tv, sitting hand in hand with an older YS. It's implied that the two of them are married and have a high school age daughter together.


It's a very happy ending for DB, PG, and YS.


We don't see JR after the time jump, but prior to the time jump, there is a reconciliation scene where JR's wife admits that she wants to continue to be Mrs. JR, and JR thinks that for the sake of their daughter, they should try to be a family again.


Also before the time jump, the Joker is apprehended. GT and JY are reconciled. There is the death of a major supporting character.


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