K-drama ● Review: Hotel del Luna
English Title: Hotel del Luna
Korean Title: 호텔델루나
Director(s): Oh Choong-hwan
Screenwriter(s): Hong Jung-eun & Hong Mi-ran
Studio: Studio Dragon, GTist Released: 2019
Runtime: 16 episodes, min. 1h 13m – max. 1h 34m
Starring: IU, Yeo Jin-goo, Shin Jung-keun, Bae Hae-seon, P.O, Lee Do-hyun, Lee Tae-sun, Park Yoo-na
My Verdict: An amusing supernatural-fantasy drama. Excellent cast. Beautifully lit and shot. But female lead’s past is not well handled.
● In the distant past, Jang Man-wol (IU), pulling a coffin, stops at a roadside stall for a drink and to rest. She indicates to the host that she is responsible for many deaths and she is looking for a place where these souls can rest. She clearly cared for these people and there is obviously way more to the story. The host tells her about a Moon Lodge which Man-wol ends up soon after and becomes its new owner to “pay for her sins”.
● In present-day South Korea, Hotel del Luna is only visible and accessible to certain people under certain circumstances. This is where souls who have passed away stay to resolve their issues before proceeding to the next step of their afterlife. Man-wol is still running it. She tries to recruit Goo Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo) to be her hotel manager. He initially resists, but it was a decision previously made by Man-wol and as part of a deal with his father about 20 years ago.
● One can simplistically consider Chan-sung to be the main viewpoint character in the series. Recently having returned to Korea, he obtains a good job at a prestigious hotel. He then starts “seeing ghosts”. He initially rejects Man-wol’s offer but eventually agrees. As he gets to know this woman and his new job, he comes to care for her and his responsibilities. His journey for the series is to be the hotel manager that sees Mon-wol finish hers and to see her off.
● There is meant to be some romance between the Chan-sung and Man-wol but, thankfully, the series doesn’t overdo it. If anything, there could be more.
● The present-day plot about Chan-sung and Man-wol is balanced by the personal issues of her three “dead” hotel staff who have yet to resolve their issues and Man-wol’s past that led to her being the Moon Lodge’s owner. These different plot threads keep it interesting although some of the longer episodes can be tightened.
● The main weakness is how Man-wol’s past justifies her “purgatory on earth”—after all, she has been around for over one thousand years, way longer than the souls shown in the narrative. [Potential Spoiler] In the past, Man-wol was part of a group of bandits, seemingly nothing worse than thieves. Through a raid on a convoy belonging to Princess Song Hwa (Park Yoo-na), Man-wol comes to know and somehow befriends Go Chung-myung (Lee Do-hyun), one of the princess’s guards. Later, with some intrigue, Man-wol’s people were killed with Chung-myung apparently having betrayed her. Given the circumstances, she was understandably and maybe even justifiably angry. However, it is not clear why any of those particulars justify her sentence. Also, by the time the viewer is shown all this it is in the latter episodes and there are still details that are unclear. On balance, this is quite dissatisfying. In short, one can’t help to think That’s it?
● There are glimpses of Man-wol throughout the centuries as the hotel owner. Her past needs to be clearly told—nothing can replace that in terms of storytelling—but, in a way, these glimpses are more effective in conveying her sense of loneliness. Even the pictures of her alone on the walls in her office speak volumes. This is something the series could have better utilized so, in this respect, it is a bit of a lost opportunity.
● The cast put on solid performances. IU does a great job as the ill-tempered and strangely materialistic Man-wol. Her character is generally cold, the only emotions she shows are ones related to annoyance and anger. It is a good contrast to the character of Chan-sung who is more emotionally balanced and Yeo Jin-goo does well, playing on the comedy in the earlier episodes before progressively getting more serious.
● No doubt Man-wol’s love for clothes and jewelry is an excuse for the use of rich colors. Generally, the series is beautifully lit with saturated colors and beautifully shot. It overdoes it in some moments but it is the type of show that one expects to do so.
● On balance, it is an amusing series with very good production. Like many K-drama series, it can be tightened. The main weakness is that Man-wol’s past, which is a significant part of the story, could be better handled.
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