All is Fair in Love, War and death

Cast of the show: in the middle hugging – Dong-baek (right) and her son, Pil-gu (left)

Can someone be your miracle?

This is what the Netflix original K-drama When the Camellia Blooms (2019) tries to answer. Dong-baek is a 30-something year old single mum who runs a bar in the small Korean town of Busan. Although she is super nice and meek, she’s an outcast in the town, stigmatised by her single motherhood and the fact her bar has become a popular hangout spot for all the local women’s husbands. Out of jealousy their assumption is that she must be selling much more than drinks to them to attract them there. Of course, the reality is much simpler than that – the men have looked all around for a viable refuge free from prying female eyes and Camellia – Dong-baek’s bar has slowly become just that.

Her son Pil-gu on the other hand, is anything but meek – he has a vicious bite and has become a very avid protector of his mum who is often not only teased by adults but sometimes gossiped about by his age mates at school. In one amusing scene he shouts at some kids for using his mum’s first name – an indicator that to them she isn’t worthy of respect. However, Pil-gu is slowly getting tired of being his mum’s defender, he’s aware the other kids don’t have to be as protective of their mothers and that he’s perhaps doing too much for what is expected of a child his age. He had his annoying moments (like being insistent on his mum not dating) but if I truly tried to see things from his perspective I could understand the fear behind his behaviour. His mum and him against the world is all he has ever known, so he was understandably worried about a disruption to this dynamic.

When it comes to miracles Dong-baek is very sceptical, after all life has been very hard to her. No matter how hard she works she can’t seem to catch a break or make enough to make ends meet. We learn that she suffers from abandonment and trust issues- these stem from the childhood trauma she has around her mum abandoning her. The drama digs more into this set of events later on towards the end, so the drama is worth a watch until the end.

To make matters worse, Dong-baek is being targeted by a serial killer, nicknamed in the town ‘The Joker’ who has stumped the local police force for several years. There is no common thread between the victims except for notes left at every scene with the same words –  ‘stop being a joke’. She has a few close run-ins with him which mess with her confidence and make her fear for her safety. I think the murder plot line helps to sustain the dramas pace and entertainment. We get to play a mental whodunnit as we try to figure out which character we knew had the most motive and means. All I knew was that it had to be someone local that we’ve been introduced to already as an audience. 

Dong-baek reconnecting with her estranged mum.

Overall, this is a heart-warming story of family, love, friendship and redemption. I cried and I laughed. Although Dong-baek seemed annoyingly coy at first, you do grow to love her; every time you put her in a box she defies expectation and surprises you which is something I really liked. Not only does she toughen up as the program progresses, she learns the true meaning of love and friendship through her relationships with Pil-gu, her mum and her boyfriend, Yong-sik. Dong-baek is played by the actress Kong Hyo-jin who starred in one of my favourite dramas, It’s Okay, That’s Love. To some extent the drama is self aware of k-drama romance cliches – at one point Yong-sik askes Dong-baek if they want travel to an island and she refuses, replying that its likely to lead to the cliche of them missing the last boat and having to share a room together at a random inn. And there is no doubt she is very right – that cliche is all too common.

Other dramas that may be of interest that look more at parenthood; Hi,bye mum, Love and Marriage, Was it Love? and One Spring Day. They’re all available on Netflix.

Trailer for When the Camellia Blooms.

For more Netflix reviews from me you can find some here and here.

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