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Happiness [2021]

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Happiness (South Korean TV series).jpg




Director: Ah Gil Ho
Writer: Han Sang Woon
Broadcast: tvN  2021
Main Cast:
Han Hyo Joo as Yoon Sae Bom
Park Hyung Sik as Jung Yi Hyun
Jo Woo Jin as Colonel Han Tae Seok

‘Happiness’ was a bit of a double twist drama for me. Especially with a title like ‘Happiness’, I was not expecting a zombie drama with doses of blood and gore, but that is nominally what this drama is about. However, after preparing me to watch a zombie drama, the zombie aspect turned out to be more of a framing device to examine human nature and human relationships rather than a standard zombie flick where it is all about trying to survive the hordes.


This drama is anchored by a charming OTP. Park Hyun Shik, freshly back from the military and looking healthier than ever, plays Jung Yi Hyun, a former high school baseball star who blew out his knee and his hopes of a pro career and is now a police detective. Han Hyo Joo, looking more fierce than ever before, plays Yoon Sae Bom, a member of the police Special Operations Unit whose primary responsibilities are to deal with acts of terrorism. Yi Hyun and Sae Bom have known each other since high school where YH had been the focused star and SB had been the restless seeker who didn’t know what she wanted from life.

They had really met when YH had gone out to the roof of their school after finding out about his knee. The school authorities had been afraid that YH was contemplating suicide and called in the police. SB, who had been prevented from leaving school along with the rest of their schoolmates as this was playing out, got impatient and went to the roof where she confronted YH about whether he was thinking of dying or not. It turned out that YH had just wanted to some space and quiet, but SB pushes him off the roof anyway onto a giant inflatable pad that she saw had been set up by the police. The police wanted to arrest SB, though she protested that she was just controlling YH’s fall. When SB asked YH to tell them that she had not tried to kill him, YH instead asked whether SB will go out with him.

We find out later that she rejected him, mostly because her own personal life was so complicated and SB really had no idea of what she wanted or where she was heading. However, YH and SB stay good friends over the years and even till the present day.

While their romance may not be the biggest part of this drama, it is their romance that causes the viewers to care about their fate and thus keep watching. YH’s one-sided love for SB causes him to agree to a contract marriage and gives them some time for SB to realize how she feels about YH as well.


The Plot

A corporation comes up with an bio-engineered formula that is supposed to make people feel better and more energetic. Unfortunate side effect of this drug is that it causes people to have freak out zombie episodes where they want to attack and drink fresh human blood. The one who had run the bio-engineering program who came up with this drug is a military colonel who had worked for the corporation, but now that they are tracking the zombie side effect has been mobilized back into the military R&D.

A police recruit had been selling some of this drug called Next as a side hustle to some buddies, as well as ingesting it himself. Sae Bom and her partner Seung Hyun find the recruit having zombied and feasting on a fellow recruit. SB and SH help the recruits, but SB is scratched in the incident and considered potentially infected. She is taken to a government research facility which is run by Colonel Han Tae Seok.

After checking her scratch for infection, SB who has not turn zombie is released back to duties and told to report for a blood draw every 2 weeks. In return, SB negotiates for a glowing personnel performance review in order to get an apartment at a new apartment complex called Seyang Forest which has set aside a number of units for service members who meet criteria. In order to further meet criteria, SB decides she needs to get married and proposes a contract marriage to YH who agrees.

SB and YH start their new life together by moving into the apartment in Seyang Forest. Unfortunately, Seyang Forest is a location for an outbreak of the zombie disease, causing the entire complex to go into lockdown. It turns out that the apartment building where SB and YH live is populated with plenty of really repulsive people including more than one murderous person.

SB and YH have to figure out a way to keep everyone safe, some against their will even. In the meantime, HTS and his team are trying to find a cure as well as to keep the infected contained, all while battling the money and power elite who has had a hand in the spreading of the infection.

The Review

‘Happiness’ was an easy watch, even if the pacing was very uneven at times, making some parts quite draggy while others flew by without answering the questions that the drama itself had raised. Also, the plot doesn’t always make the most sense, but there are enough plot twists that the viewer is uncertain of what will happen next which makes it interesting for the first watch.  The cast do their job exceedingly well, especially the ones playing the annoying villains so that at times I was almost rooting for the zombies.

This drama tackles the question of humanity and human nature by enabling the zombies to be able to revert to their own selves periodically before completely succumbing to becoming zombies. The zombies are also able to hold onto their humanity and resist the virus by focusing on something in their lives. This allows us to sympathize with the infected as the characters grapple with how the infected should be treated. It also has numerous instances of the infected trying their best to hide their state, knowing that the infection will lead to ostracization or worse. The drama goes to the heart of this a number of times, including the question of having the OTP be possible infected and their actions in response to it.

It also examines the issues of self-interest and one’s nature, even in the face of extremes. One’s nature doesn’t change very easily, even when in danger, causing some people to discount risk in order to achieve personal gains. And the willingness to put others in danger for some perceived gains for oneself can strike at any socio-economic level.

However, basic decency can also come through in, as in a brother who may have no issues with trying to get money repeatedly from his little sister in normal times, and yet will protect her and others even from himself after he becomes infected.

The ending isn’t meant to be a realistic ending. Rather, it’s one that is supposed to give us hope for man’s better nature, and the ability of some of us to withstand the pull of going with the majority against our inner decency. It was a relatively satisfying ending overall, even though it felt as if 1 more episode was needed so that we can see how all of the various characters ended up. There were plenty of loose ends which they ran out of time to tie up.  


The Ratings
Plot/Story: 6  In trying to make its social commentary points, it twist the plots and the characters at times in annoying and unnecessary ways. Also, some plot elements disappeared while others showed up in belated fashion.
Cast: 10  A mostly veteran cast who do their jobs with relish, making us love or hate them.
Production Values: 8  It wasn't bad but it also wasn't that great. It felt as if they didn't have much of a budget, though they did the best that they could with what they had.
Rewatch Value: 8  I gave this drama a high rewatch value, because I did rewatch it a couple of weeks after I had finished watching it. The interaction between the OTP was what drew me back in, but the 2nd time around, I was able to appreciate some of the performances that I only paid cursory attention to the first time. However, I’m not sure that I will rewatch it again in the future. Maybe.



Link to the drama thread on JJ




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