K-drama review: 'Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha' offers refreshing rustic romance

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 18 2021 01:07 PM

Shin Min-a and Kim Seon-ho. Handout
Shin Min-a and Kim Seon-ho. Handout

Pretty and idealistic dentist Dr. Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-a) had always held herself in high regard, both as an individual (she was fond of buying expensive dresses and shoes) and as a professional (she knew when to fight for her dignity as a dentist). One day, she boldly called out the malpractice of her boss which led to her being sacked from work and shunned by other clinics in Seoul. When she visited the laidback seaside rural town of Gongjin and found out that they had no dentist there, she decided to set up her private practice there. 

Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho) was the popular jack-of-all-trades in Gongjin, the man who was willing to take on all sorts of odd jobs. Despite being an engineering graduate from a prestigious university, he held no definite job title. He busied himself daily by making, fixing or delivering random things for minimum wage per hour and taking care of the elderly, earning himself the nickname of Chief Hong from his thankful neighbors. He had one day-off a week to go surfing, and on one such day, he met Hye-jin at the beach bringing the fancy shoe she had lost. 

Aside from Hye-jin and Du-sik, we are also introduced to the various townspeople of Gongjin and their own personal stories. Kim Gam-ri (Korea's National Grandma Kim Young-ok) was one of three grandmas Du-sik cared for. Oh Cheon-jae (Jo Han-cheol) was a one-hit wonder pop star from the '90s, who now owned a coffeeshop, raising his rebellious teenage daughter and K-pop fan, Ju-ri (Kim Min-seo), by himself. Jo Nam-sook (CLOY's Cha Chung-hwa), owner of the Chinese restaurant, was the town chatterbox and gossip queen.

Hye-jin's landlord Yeo Hwa-jeong (Lee Bong-ryun) owned the raw fish restaurant. She was divorced and had custody of her smart son I-jun (Ki Eun-yoo). Her ex-husband Chang Yeong-guk (In Gyo-jin) was a town official who was still pining for his first love, teacher Yoo Cho-hee (Hong Ji-hee). Grocery owner Ham Yun-kyung (Kim Joo-heon) and her husband Choi Geum-chul (Yoon Seok-hyun) had one spirited daughter Bo-ra (Go Do-yeon) and another baby on the way. Choi Eum-chul (Kang Hyung-seok) was a shy policeman who caught the attention of Hye-jin's assistant Pyo Mi-seon (Gong Min-jeung) for his "Hong Kong movie star" looks. 

There was a third party who came in Episode 7 in the person of successful TV variety show director Ji Seong-hyeon (Lee Sang-yi), who came to Gongjin to shoot his latest project. He was Hye-jin's friend at the university who now took this as his second chance to declare his long-time admiration for her. While he proved to be a worthy rival to Du-sik by being helpful in the community and even gaining the favor of Hye-jin's father (Seo Sang-won) and stepmother (Woo Mi-hwa) when they came to visit in Episode 9, we can easily predict his fate.

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This K-drama was 16 episodes long, with new episodes every Saturday and Sunday. At first each episode was an hour long, but later on, they became longer at an hour and 20 minutes or so. However, these episodes were very light-hearted and delightful, never feeling too serious or heavy at any time, so the series was a breeze to follow or binge-watch. There were entire episodes with nothing but humorous sweet-nothings between Hye-jin and Du-sik (like Episodes 11 and 12) which could make any cynical viewer smile. 

While everything was generally bright and positive, there was one dark aspect that was merely suggested throughout the first 13 episodes, the secret where Du-sik disappeared to for 5 years after graduating from the university before returning to Gongjin. Despite his sunny personality, it seemed Du-sik suffered from disturbing nightmares and declined jobs involving living things (like taking care of the kids' hamster). It was only after a frustrated Hye-jin confronted him about it at the end of Episode 13 that it will finally be revealed in more detail. 

Thanks to the bedimpled charms of Shin Min-a and Kim Seon-ho, the winsome chemistry between their two mismatched characters was quite irresistible. They were able to project giddy teenage romantic feels even when both actors (and characters) are already in their mid-30s. Kim Seon-ho, in particular, just came from his very popular breakthrough role as Han Ji-pyeong in "Start Up" (2020), and he parlays more of that good-boy goodwill here in "Hometown" where his fans expect him to finally win the girl he deserves. 

Episode 14 turned serious with deep conversations about love and commitment, understanding and forgiveness. It was skillful how these themes were woven into relationships of several characters, not only Hye-jin and Du-sik. Episode 15 brought back terrible ghosts of one fateful night in Du-sik's past to stir up and clear up the air at the same time, only to leave us in tears which went on up to the start of Episode 16. By the second half of the finale, through blatant pizza ads and even a cute "Squid Game" reference, we would smiling all over again. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."