“Everything is repeating.”
Legend of the Blue Sea has two parallel storylines, one set during the Joseon Era and the other in the modern world. A major theme of the show is history repeating itself and the desperate attempt to keep this from happening. In the Era timeline, the newly appointed townhead, Dam Ryeong, releases a mermaid who was captured by the local innkeeper back into the ocean. Before the mermaid, Se-hwa, swims away, she turns around and reaches her hand to Dam Ryeong, “which he briefly holds.” This connection sets off their intertwined destiny for both storylines.
In the present world, Joon-Jae is a conman, who works with Nam-Doo and Tae-oh. After completing a large con, the three separate on vacation, where Joon-Jae heads to a seaside resort. It is here, where mermaid, Shim-Cheong, is caught up in a tidal wave and washed ashore, and breaks into Joon-Jae’s hotel room. Despite Joon-Jae’s attempt to get rid of Cheong, she refuses to leave his side.
Overall, the show kept me consistently interested. It was a struggle to have to tell myself I needed to go to bed instead of watching another episode. Most of the characters were well written and fully fleshed out. Even secondary characters didn’t feel flat, as they often can seem in shows where there are so many moving parts.
The two leads, Lee Min-Ho (Joon-Jae, Dam Ryeong) and Jun Ji-hyun (Se-hwa, Shim Cheong) had excellent chemistry, apparently to the point where rumors spread about the nature of their off-screen relationship. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, and honestly don’t care much about. They played off of each other very well and it made their story feel genuine and increased my interest in watching the show.
Cheong was an incredibly naive character and though it often bordered on ridiculous it never wandered into being annoying. Her foolish behavior contributed to much of the comedic affect. Her friendships with a beggar and a young schoolgirl were ludicrous but fit her characters personality. I did have a slight issue with her character a few times; sometimes she appeared to be leagues above her usual maturity level, and since Cheong is supposed to be naive, the drastic change pulled me out of the story a little. Though her character did mature as the story progressed I think it bounced back and forth between innocent and mature in the beginning a bit much for my taste.
I loved Joon-Jae’s character and the level of growth he showed by the end of the show. He was an outwardly mean and selfish character in the beginning but grew to be compassionate by the end of the series. I particularly liked the depth of emotion Lee Min-ho was capable of showing, especially when it came to crying over the emotional strains his character face. It’s rare to see men crying on television over relationship trouble, whether its between family members or a significant other, on American television. This departure from my ‘norm’ was headily welcomed.
The two storylines were each distinct and emotionally compelling; though the Era storyline is resolved much earlier than the modern one, they still parallel fairly well and intertwine in a way that feels natural, instead of clunky and overdone. Though the show focuses largely on the modern storyline, I was completely swept away by the Era storyline. The passion Dam Ryeong had for Se-hwa engulfed me whole, as did his desperate need to stop their tragic story from repeating.
A negative for me, though not really, was each episode leaves off on a cliffhanger; though not typically a big one, it dropped off at a place where an important question is posed making it hard to stop watching! Which would be good, except I needed to sleep.
On the actually negative side, there were quite a few plot holes. I didn’t actually notice at first because I was so enthralled with the story, but when I started explaining it to my sister she poked a lot of holes in it. After that I definitely started to notice the gaps a bit more, but a lot of them centered around the mermaid lore. There were some questions that were never answered that made things a little frustrating but didn’t impact the enjoyment of the story as a whole.
Tae-oh was one of the supporting characters in the show, and one of my favorites. He was played by Shin Won-ho (Cross Gene) and I found him adorable, gentle and humorous. However, he also had one of the least defined backstories; I think part of this is due to him only appearing in one of the storylines, but it’s still bothersome. I wish I knew how he had met Nam-doo and Joon-Jae, but we’re never told and it just kind of hangs in the air.
The villains of the story take a while to appear in anyway that matters and when they do they did seem a little weak. Eventually, they became more serious and I did feel nervous as to a particular villain, which made things a little better. Some things that occurred in the story were pretty obvious, but that is the nature of dramas, as they depend heavily on well-used tropes. Nevertheless, it managed to keep me surprised and enthralled.
The Legend of the Blue Sea was my first experience watching a Korean or K-Drama. I had little to no knowledge as to what I was getting myself into. Yet, I loved the show. I connected with the characters and story deeply, which led to a pretty heaving weeping session towards the end of the series. As of writing this, I still haven’t started watching anything else, which is out of character for me. The show was so good that I’m afraid nothing will compare.
TL;DR Altogether, I loved Legend of the Blue Sea. The characters were well established and the chemistry between the leads both as their Era and Modern characters was palpable; the pair were well-casted. There were some weak spots, but not enough to damage the story for me. I would rate it 4.8/5 stars.
Legend of the Blue Sea was released November 16, 2016 and ended January 25, 2017. Each episode, of which there are 20, runs for about an hour give or take a few minutes. A special was also released for the show, which recapped the first half of the show, particularly focusing on the relationship between the pair.