15 March 2021

K Drama Review: Hotel del Luna (2019)

Oppa was extremely disappointed with the limited screen time Lee Ji Eun got on Dream High. So, naturally, he made sure that the next drama he picked would have IU all over it. And he chose Hotel del Luna, IU's most recent drama. 

I would have to admit that it took a while for me to warm up to this show. I dozed off several times during the first few episodes. But I ended up liking it in the end.

Plot


Hotel del Luna tells the story of Jang Man Wol (IU/Lee Ji Eun), a 1,300-year old woman, who has been tied to a moon tree and a hotel (Hotel del Luna) that caters to the dead who are on their way to the afterlife. Man Wol suffered that fate as punishment for killing a lot of people a thousand plus years ago. Her dreary/repetitive life turns upside down with the arrival of the hotel's newest human manager, Koo Chan Sung (Yeo Jin Goo of House on Wheels and Start-Up). Chan Sung surprisingly had connections to people from Man Wol's past. The drama shows us how Man Wol resolves her moral dilemmas - taking her revenge on the people who hurt her in the past and risk vanishing as an evil ghost or allowing them to pass by so she can go peacefully into the after life; and continuing to live her dreary life without any guarantee on how it will end so she can be with Chang Sung or leaving Chan Sung behind and hope that they get to meet again in their next lives. 

IU as Man Wol 

I was not surprised to witness another stellar performance from IU. This woman is just so talented that she always over delivers regardless of how big or small her role is. IU as Man Wol was the perfect angsty and badass boss lady. Her angry scenes were so scary and credible (and funny too). Oppa found those moments absolutely cute and adorable. 

But even if Man Wol's supposedly jaded after living a thousand plus years, IU is still able to convey Man Wol's fears and vulnerability through her magnificently dramatic eyes. She handles heavy drama really, really well. Some of my favorite moments were the scenes where her friend Yeon Woo (Lee Tae Sun of Prison Playbook and Suits) was executed and all of the scenes where she and her staff had to move on to the afterlife. Those were heavy moments but IU handled them with so much restraint (yes, no loud wailing) while still managing to deliver those emotions with a lot of intensity. 

I felt so sad for Man Wol. Living that long and unhappy life must have been really hell for her. But I also understood (and appreciated) where the Mago (various deities all played by Seo Yi Sook of Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol and Start-Up) was coming from. The Hotel was like purgatory for her - a place where she's given the opportunity to make amends for her past sins. She would have been vanished as an evil ghost but the Mago probably thought that her crimes were somehow justified because she did them as revenge for what happened to her people. I was glad that she got that chance because I knew she was a good person. 

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And on the quite superficial side, I super loved Man Wol's outfits and accessories.  

I always looked forward to her wardrobe changes. 

No, Man Wol still can't beat IU's Ji An in My Mister. That will probably always be my favorite and it's just too difficult to top. But IU's Man Wol was still a joy to watch and it's my next favorite IU character thus far. 

Yeo Jin Goo as Chan Sung


We enjoyed watching Jin Goo on House on Wheels. We felt that he was a perfect complement to Sung Dong Il and Kim Hee Won. Admittedly, he was quite shy there, probably because he was working with his seniors. But I was curious to see him in a drama setting. And I would have to say that he did not disappoint me. 

Jin Goo was perfect as the cute, confident, and very kind hearted Chan Sung. I loved how he always went beyond the call of duty to serve their guests. He was even willing to marry a ghost just so the lady can move on peacefully. 

And the things Chan Sung did for Man Wol just melted my heart. He worked so hard to make sure that she won't vanish or be reincarnated in a bad state. I loved how Chan Sung reigned in Man Wol. He never backed down even if she repeatedly pushed him away. But he also balanced that toughness with lots of love and care. He was always there for her as he had promised. 

Yes, Chan Sung is strong and self-assured. And that's the reason why it was heartbreaking to see him confront ghosts of his own past - the mother who abandoned him and an enemy who hurt his friends. 

No, Jin Goo was not as spectacular as IU. I felt he struggled quite a bit during the heavy drama scenes that required him to cry, hence, he had to resort to covering his face most of the time. But IU's in a totally different level and I don't think it would be fair to compare them. Over all, I was happy with Jin Goo's delivery. I loved his steady and reliable acting especially during the scenes when he had to persuade the feisty Man Wol. 

Chan Sung and Man Wol 

IU and Jin Goo looked good together as Man Wol and Chan Sung. Their love and concern for each other were so heartfelt and sincere. 

I loved how Chan Sung always reassured Man Wol that he would protect her, be by her side, and never allow her to go into the dark side. And how he kept that promise! I loved how Chan Sung would always hug Man Wol whenever she was doubtful or afraid. Those hugs were definitely one of the things I looked forward to in the show. They made me feel so secure. 

And Man Wol always did her best to protect Chan Sung too. I loved it when she said that although the dead are bound to lose their memories as they walk along the bridge to the afterlife, she would hold on to her memories of Chan Sung for as long she can. And I loved how she kept that promise when she sent off her first love, Go Chung Myung (Lee Do Hyun of Prison Playbook), on that bridge. Man Wol was not swayed and she never forgot her promise to go back to Chan Sung. 

And I loved that connection between Man Wol and Chan Sung - how Chan Sung was the one who found the dying Man Wol when she was a kid. And how a thousand plus years later, Chan Sung was still the one who saved Man Wol's soul from dying. 

And the best thing about Man Wol and Chan Sung's relationship was how maturely they handled everything. They never allowed their emotions to get in the way. They always chose and did the right thing. And they always looked at the bigger picture. They were never selfish. 

When Chan Sung travelled back to 200 years earlier, he could have chosen to stay so he can be with Man Wol longer. But he knew that if he did that, there might be no one to stop Man Wol from vanishing as an evil ghost. 

And that scene where they chose to spill the wine that would have enabled Man Wol to continue running the hotel. It would have been easier for Man Wol to drink it so the two of them can spend more time together. But Chan Sung refused, saying that he didn't want a 100th human manager to care for Man Wol. He wanted to be the last. Never mind if that made him extremely sad. His self-control, restraint, patience, willingness to let her go, and undying faith that he will meet her again in their next lives were just amazing. 

And that send-off scene was totally heartbreaking. I loved Man Wol's honesty when she said that she just wanted to stay and see Chan Sung. And I super loved Chan Sung's strong resolve in letting Man Wol move on to the afterlife peacefully. They could have defied the deities by Man Wol staying or by Chan Sung going with her to the afterlife. But they accepted their fate and they trusted that they will meet again. It was so painful to see Chan Sung stand in front of the Samdo River overnight after Man Wol left. 

And as a testament of how much he loved Man Wol and how he was still hoping that he would see her again, Chan Sung bravely refused to take the medicine that would stop him from seeing ghosts. 

Man Wol and Chung Myung 


I didn't pay attention to Lee Do Hyun in Prison Playbook. But he definitely caught my attention here. He's definitely oppa material. :D

Lee Do Hyun did well in this show. The way he looked at Man Wol made me believe that he really cared for her. But he also looked very convincing as a traitor when he thanked Man Wol for helping him make a big contribution. I was confused as to how he really felt towards Man Wol. And I was curious about his reincarnation. 

And I was relieved to know that Chung Myung really loved Man Wol. Imagine being stuck as a firefly for a thousand plus years just so he can watch over her. He also protected the people she loved, like helping Chan Sung get out of the Samdo River, even if it meant losing his strength. 

And I loved how he was given the opportunity to come clean with Man Wol and how they were able to resolve things before he finally moved on. 

If Chan Sung were not part of the equation, I would have definitely rooted for Chung Myung. :) 

The Hotel Staff


I enjoyed watching the hotel staff. It was nice to know their back stories, the grudges they've held on to for so long, and how they finally resolved those. 

P.O. (Encounter) was cute as Ji Hyun Joong, the receptionist and youngest hotel staff. It was tragic to know that he was shot by his friend and he had to leave his sick little sister behind. I enjoyed his love story with Yu Na (Kang Mi Na) and it was heartbreaking to see them part ways so soon. 

It was surprising to know that Mr. Kim (Shin Jung Keun of Encounter), the bartender and oldest ghost staff, was really a scholar during the Joseon Dynasty. I was happy that he was able to clear his name before the hotel finally closed down. 

My most favorite hotel staff would have to be Ms. Choi (Bae Hae Sun), the one in-charge of the rooms. I was also surprised to know that the ever sweet Ms. Choi held on to deeply rooted grudges too. It was heartbreaking to see her in pain after finding out that the last son of the family she hated left a child behind before he died. But it was so great to see her prove that kindness would still triumph over our most evil desires. She probably didn't care if she vanished as an evil ghost as long as she can get her revenge. But in her heart, she knew that she could not allow another mother to lose her child just because of her desire to get back at their family. And I loved how that other mother made Ms. Choi realize that her child does not have to be part of a family that didn't want her. The child can always belong to the mother. 

I loved the love-hate relationship Man Wol had with her staff. They always complained about her and she always scolded them. But at the end of the day, they really cared for each other and they got each other's backs. It was funny when they thought Chan Sung died. And I cried when they were reunited with Man Wol. I loved that they had that little graduation ceremony for Hyun Joong. All of their send-offs were bittersweet. I was sad that they had to part ways but I was proud of them for reaching that far, for resolving their grudges, and moving on peacefully.

Other Characters

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The Magos intrigued me. This was an interesting take on deities, like having many persons in one, and the role they played in keeping the world in order. 

I preferred the present-day Yeon Woo compared to the one from the past. 

The Grim Reaper (Kang Hong Suk) actually looked quite cool and funny. 

Sanchez (Cho Hyun Chul) was a good and funny addition to the show. I loved that back story on how he became close to Chan Sung. And it was heartbreaking to see him part ways with his girlfriend in the hotel. 

And who can forget my Oppa Kim Soo Hyun (Dream High, Crash Landing on You, and The Producers), who had a cameo as the owner of the new Hotel Blue Moon. :)

The Ghosts

During the start of the show, Man Wol kept on saying that Chan Sung was her cup of tea. And when I was trying my very best to be brave while watching the ghosts in this show, all I could think of was how ghosts were totally not my cup of tea. I am not a fan of fantasies. And the ghosts, especially the horrendous looking ones, really freaked me out. If I rate this show a bit lower, it's only because the ghosts ruined the flow for me. I had to keep looking away whenever they came out, which probably affected my over-all appreciation of the show. But I would have to say that this was probably the only element of the show that did not work for me. 

Execution

Although I initially dubbed the show as nap time because I always ended up sleeping while watching the first few episodes, I finally got hooked when it became apparent that Chan Sung was going to bring in a lot of people from Man Wol's past. I was interested to see how Man Wol would handle their return. And I wanted to know how Chan Sung and Man Wol's love story would develop and how they would resolve the various dilemmas. The first crossroad I saw was when Chan Sung had to choose between staying with Man Wol knowing that she would eventually have to move on to the afterlife or leaving her so she can continue living her long, unhappy life. It's like a question of wanting to die young but happy or live long but unhappy. 

Although they freaked me out, it was also interesting to see the backstories of the ghosts like the dead girl who had to get married before moving on but her boyfriend was still fighting for his life. They could get married but the guy would die. It was sad to see how the dead would often leave some things unresolved that prevented them from moving on peacefully. 

I liked how the show gave us bits of stories about Man Wol's past life through Chan Sung's dreams. It would have been too heavy to handle if the entire story was presented in one go. So it was nice to be given time to digest the hardships and betrayals Man Wol had to go through. It helped keep me hooked to the show.  

Although the topic is something that I still find quite creepy, I appreciate the show's interesting take on reincarnation and the afterlife. It must be tough for the dead to leave the world. But I felt that it was tougher for those left behind because they had to continue living without the dead. The dead, on the other hand, eventually lose their memory of the past. I just hope everyone will be given a Hotel del Luna in the afterlife to help get rid of unresolved grudges. 

I was happy with how the show ended. Yes, it was sad. But that was the right and logical thing to do. Chan Sung's love for Man Wol was so great that he no longer wanted to see her suffer while living her long and unhappy life. He let her go and he trusted that their love for each other will bring them together again in their next lives. 

Music

I loved the music in this show. They definitely helped set the mood, especially for the drama scenes. Here are some of my favorites:

All About You by Taeyeon. 

Remember Me by the wonderful Gummy. 

Can You See My Heart by Heize. 

Lean on Me by 10cm.


Oppa says...4.6

Noona says...it's a 4. Probably higher if it were not for the ghosts. :D

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