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K-drama ● Review: Crash Landing on You

English Title: Crash Landing on You

Korean Title: 사랑의 불시착 [lit. love’s crash landing]

Director(s): Lee Jeong-hyo

Screenwriter(s): Park Ji-eun

Studio: Studio Dragon Released: 2019–2020

Runtime: 16 episodes, ~1h 20m each. (1h 10m – 1h 52m)

Starring: Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin, Seo Ji-hye, Kim Jung-hyun

My Verdict: Attempts to be the got-a-bit-of-everything romantic dramady. It somewhat achieves that, but the pacing is unnecessarily slow even for a K-drama.

Crash Landing on You (사랑의 불시착)

● Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) is a South Korean heiress who competently runs her own business. During paragliding, sudden bad weather sweeps her away and she crash lands in the DMZ. She comes across Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), a captain of the North Korean Special Forces, who tells her how to get back home. Not trusting his instruction, Se-ri instead runs deeper into North Korean territory, eventually entering a small village.

● Like many K-dramas, the premise is a little quirky and sufficiently interesting. One can see the fairy tale influence given the fantastical opening with Se-ri clearly as the “princess” figure and Jeong-hyeok as the “prince from another kingdom”.

Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin)
Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin)
Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin)
Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin)

● The tone of the opening is lighthearted—especially given the overtly fantastical bad weather that sweeps away Se-ri without hurting her—and one expects that tone to continue. But then the tone gets more serious and at times dark as she is stuck in North Korea for quite some time, perhaps longer than one initially predicts. It’s not a bad thing, just an observation.

● Se-ri lives in the North Korean village under the protection of Jeong-hyeok and the few men under his command. Although she distrusts him initially, a genuine friendship and romance develop over time.

● Se-ri and Jeong-hyeok’s relationship is generally handled well. This is where the slow pacing of K-dramas is beneficial, in this case allowing the characters to drive the story and their relationship to progress at a rate that feels natural to the audience.

● Of course, in an attempt to compensate for the slow pacing, the writers include other problems and conflicts. There is the love triangle: Seo Dan (Seo Ji-hye), a young lady of the North Korean elite, is supposed to marry Jeong-hyeok. More pertinent to our two leads, both have issues which do threaten their lives. In their respective positions, this is not unrealistic.

Seo Dan (Seo Ji-hye)
Seo Dan (Seo Ji-hye)

● If anything, the writers could expand and extend these problems to keep things interesting. The episode runtime varies, the shortest is 1h 10m and the final episode is the longest at 1h 52m. Typically, each episode is around 1h 20m. It’s good to see varying runtimes, to not have a story forced into a set length, but each episode can use more drama from the secondary problems and conflicts and/or be tightened to no longer than 1h 10m without losing any substance.

● Related to the above, some of the dramatic moments are repeated too much. A bit of slow-motion and the mandatory replay-from-a-different-angle is part of K-drama. Even when those moments are earned, and they are mostly in this series, there is such a thing as overdoing it.

● Although I have never visited North Korea, the atmosphere feels authentic enough in some respects. If reports from defectors are true, then there is less food around than what the series portrays. I suspect the producers were treading lightly, mixing reality with fantasy in order to avoid glamorizing North Korea without causing some (political) uproar either way. I think they should be commended for doing their research and trying to find that balance.

● I do appreciate that although Se-ri is the princess figure, she is not the helpless female lead. She has her strengths and vulnerabilities.

● I also appreciate that those who play North Koreans initially try to speak with a North Korean accent. It’s funny that it sounds like it goes away later on.

● Like many series and films nowadays, the writers reveal some sort of past connection between the main characters towards the end of the story. I won’t state specifically what it is, but one can guess from other dramas that it may be something like a brief encounter. Given all the time spent on these characters and their relationships, the story doesn’t need it. It can stand on its own without it being cheapened with something like that.

● Overall, it is a generally well-produced series. The point directly above and the slow pacing are the two main weaknesses. In that regard, I think it’s overdone and perhaps overrated. If one doesn’t mind the long runtime, then it’s worth a watch.


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