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K-drama ● Review: Happiness

English Title: Happiness

Korean Title: 해피니스

Director(s): Ahn Gil-ho

Screenwriter(s): Han Sang-woon

Studio: Studio Dragon Released: 2021

Runtime: 12 episodes, 1h – 1h 12m each.

Starring: Han Hyo-joo, Park Hyung-sik, Jo Woo-jin

My Verdict: Interesting enough take on zombies with obvious social commentary. Nothing special but well executed in most respects.


● Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo) is a medic in the police’s Special Operations Unit (SOU). Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik) is a friend from high school who is now a detective. He comes across a grisly murder in which the suspect has bitten the victim. The suspect also seems to not remember any of it. Yi-hyun leans towards drugs being a factor. Upon questioning, he gets a name, someone who is a trainee at SOU.

● Yi-hyun then calls Sae-bom to check out the trainee. She finds him in a zombie state attacking a colleague. She herself is exposed whilst trying to bring him under control. She is subsequently isolated and tested at a facility run by Lt Col. Han Tae-seok (Jo Woo-jin). She tests negative. As a form of compensation, she asks Tae-seok for credit points so she can qualify for a new apartment provided for select police officers. As these points are insufficient to qualify for the apartment and newlyweds are given consideration, Sae-bom asks Yi-hyun to marry her. He agrees and they move into their new apartment.

Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo)
Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo)
Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik)
Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik)

● Soon after, the zombie disease spreads and the apartment complex in which Sae-bom and Yi-hyun lives is under military lockdown. The story focuses on how they and other residents deal with the deteriorating situation.

● Set in late 2023, this is on the surface another zombie apocalypse but there are sufficient differences from other zombie shows which make this series interesting, possibly even for those who are not into this genre.

● For example, the cause is not some random virus or even a virus that some lab accidentally-on-purpose released. Instead, it is linked to an unproven drug from a big pharmaceutical company, an obvious criticism of Big Pharma.

● Like Sweet Home, it is set in an isolated apartment complex. However, the tone is not as dark or fantastical and the plot in Happiness does include the outside world, albeit in limited fashion, by following Tae-seok’s management of the crisis. This provides a sense of balance by not being stuck in the same setting for the entire series.

Lt Col. Han Tae-seok (Jo Woo-jin)
Lt Col. Han Tae-seok (Jo Woo-jin)

● Possibly inspired by All of Us Are Dead but taking it further, those infected are in a zombie state temporarily before reverting to their normal selves. In addition to initially having some control whilst in their non-zombie state, it seems that their character has some influence on their zombie state—that is, nice people don’t make nice zombies, but a-holes seem to make worse zombies.

● The series uses this characteristic and the application of quarantines and lockdowns to criticize, quite overtly, how the ill are treated and even demonized by not only the military but people in general.

● Sae-bom and Yi-hyun try to maintain order in the apartment. There are enough characters to keep it interesting for 12 episodes but the number is also conveniently low enough to be manageable. The setting being a new apartment that is not full is convenient but nonetheless plausible.

● There is a lot of friction between the characters as there are the rich who live on the upper floors and the less so on the lower floors, obviously more social commentary. Most of these characters are stereotypes, including a rich, snobby bitch who has ambitions to be the residents’ representative (and who also happens to be a protestant pastor’s wife), a rich unlicensed doctor who is suspected of murdering his wife and is the most toxic person ever, a lawyer who cares more about money than morality but his wife is wholesome, a weirdo prepper who nonetheless is generous, and a trio of cleaners, the married couple obviously not financially well-off but progressively get nastier and greedier and their mysterious employee who stays masked.

● Although the characters are stereotypes and lack dimension, they are handled well enough by the cast. At 12 episodes where the narrative spans merely weeks, one can get away with it. There is little character development which is expected. Instead, the series aptly adopts the “character mysteries” approach, gradually revealing more information about them, somewhat corresponding to Sae-bom’s and Yi-hyun’s knowledge.

● Even the romance between Sae-bom and Yi-hyun is thankfully not overdone. Park Hyung-sik plays Yi-hyun as the younger guy who is a bit mischievous. Han Hyo-joo plays Sae-bom coolly, perhaps woodenly at times even though the character is impatient and impulsive. At other times, she also overdoes her reactions. She is not a bad actress, there is nothing jarring about her performance, but the variance is oddly greater than what some may expect. Granted, some impulsive people are like that.

● Although lockdowns differing from one area to another is understandable given the circumstances, how and why this is this applied to Sae-bom’s and Yi-hyun’s apartment is a little unclear. [Potential Spoiler] When not in a city-wide lockdown, why cut power (and in turn water) to the apartment complex? Also, when not in a city-wide lockdown, then there should be enough resources to progressively send in personnel to deal with certain areas. In this respect, the premise is somewhat forced, even for a zombie series.

● The other weakness is the soundtrack. It takes the minimalist approach (or close enough). This is fitting and is a better option than being overly dramatic but it is noticeably repetitive in a way that distracts.

● Despite some weaknesses, the series is sufficiently captivating with decent production. It is nothing special but it is well executed in most respects, which is sadly already better than most. The pacing is good, somewhat helped by the fact that it is merely 12 episodes. For those who are interested in the genre, this is worth watching.


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