In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, “Rats!” I had anxiously awaited The Legend of the Blue Sea for just shy of a year only to end up being disappointed with the outcome. Had I been expecting too much? Was the build-up too big? Was what I had imagined something unattainable? No. It definitely had the potential to be an awesome show – Lee Min-Ho and Jun Ji-Hyun together in a romantic, mermaid-fantasy love story. That sounds wonderfully dreamy. So where did it all go wrong? In my opinion, the writing was the main problem but there were lots and lots of little overlooked inconsistencies throughout the 20 episode drama that contributed to my disappointment. It just fell miles short of being the wow I was hoping for.
After completing a job well done, upscale conman Heo Joon-Jae decides to get away for a while and do some much needed relaxing in sunny Spain. While in his hotel room he is awakened by a sound and, upon investigating, discovers a strange woman eating in his closet. She refuses to tell him who she is or why she is there and when she accidentally knocks herself out, running into a glass wall, he takes advantage of the situation by tying her up and calling the police. He also takes some pictures of her, just in case, for evidence. After the police take her away he looks at the pictures and is fascinated by a bracelet she is wearing. To satisfy his curiosity he sends the picture to his conman buddy, asking the guy to check it out. Soon, a text comes back saying it seems to be over 400 years old and, if 100% jade, could be worth around six million dollars! Instantly, Joon-Jae decides to get the girl out of jail and befriend her in order to steal the bracelet. But as the strange woman and Joon-Jae begin to get close a sweet, real friendship blossoms. Things take a turn for the worst, however, when the last woman he coned decides to take revenge by sending gangsters to Spain in search of the conman and, in trying to get away from the thugs, Joon-Jae and the woman end up jumping into the ocean!
That’s just the very beginning of the show. It goes on, winding events from the year 1586 into it which are, more or less, the same story (romance) with the same people as the 2017 one, simply played out hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. But do the two stories end the same way?
Hoe Joon-Jae hasn’t seen or heard from his mother in 17 years. She left him at a lighthouse when he was just a boy. His home life was difficult, with his father always choosing his step-mother and her son over Joon-Jae. Although he was heir to a fortune things became so emotionally difficult he decided to give it all up, quit school, leave home, and begin to look for his mother. In the process, he became part of a three man con artist team that is quite sophisticated and very successful.
Shim Cheong is the name Joon-Jae gives the beautiful, strange woman that comes looking for him. She is really a mermaid who has come to Seoul all the way from her home in the sea off the coast of Spain to be with the man she has fallen in love with. Although Cheong is sweet, honest, and naive it’s quite easy for Joon-Jae to see there’s definitely something fishy about her.
The man that took Joon-Jae under his wing and taught him all about the art of being a con man is Jo Nam-Doo. He swindles Joon-Jae out of some money, agreeing to help him find his mother but doing absolutely nothing. However, when he is caught by the young man and finds out Joon-Jae had laid in wait for him almost a month, he takes a liking to the tenacious teenager and becomes his friend and mentor.
The youngest of the con man trio is Tae-Oh, a reserved young man who is a genius hacker. When he’s not helping Joon-Jae and Nam-Doo with their schemes, he is busy playing video games.
The main characters in the 1586 storyline are Kim Dam-Ryeong and Se-Hwa…
Kim Dam-Ryeong was saved from drowning as a little boy by a mermaid he named Se-Hwa. He often visited her as they grew up and eventually they fell in love. When he was ordered to marry, he and Se-Hwa were both heartbroken. In order to allow him to live a happy life with his new bride, Se-Hwa erased all his memories of her. Years later, widower, Dam-Ryeong becomes the new village leader. In order to impress him, a rich townsman shows him his new treasure – a captured mermaid! Will Dam-Ryeong recognize his childhood sweetheart or is his memory of Se-Hwa gone forever?
I would say the happenings in the Joseon Dynasty time is the main love story part of the drama and the 2017 storyline is the crime story. The problem is, there’s a lot more 2017 shown than there is in 1586. I wanted more love story.
Talented and handsome Lee Min-Ho has been in one TV drama a year, beginning with his official acting debut in 2003 on the EBS series Secret Campus. However, it was his role in Boys Over Flowers in 2009 that skyrocketed him to Hallyu star status. From there he went on to star in the romance drama Personal Taste the following year (2010) and then played the main character in the action drama City Hunter in 2011. Faith, a medical/historical/fantasy drama came the next year (2012) and then 2013 found him starring with Park Shin-Hae in the extremely popular teen drama The Heirs. He then decided to take some time off from the TV drama scene and co-starred along side Kim Rae-Won in the 2015 feature film Gangnam Blues. In 2016 he stared in his first Chinese produced film Bounty Hunters and then it was back to TV starring in The Legend of the Blue Sea. Lee Min-Ho received the Top Excellence Award, Actor in a Fantasy Drama; Best Couple Award (with Jun Ji-Hyun); and Top Ten Stars Award for his portrayal of Heo Joon-Jae and Kim Dam-Ryeong, the last characters he’ll play before enlisting for his mandatory military duty. Kdrama fans will certainly miss him. It’s sure to be a long two years – for us!
Jun Ji-Hyun wanted to be a flight attendant when she was young but at the age of 16 her high school friend, who was a model, introduced her to a photographer and her entertainment career began in 1997 as a model for Ecole Magazine. In 2001 she starred with actor Cha Tae-Hyun in the highest grossing Korean comedy film, to that day, My Sassy Girl. The movie launched her right to Hallyu star position and the media nicknamed her the “Nation’s First Love.” I wasn’t really crazy about My Sassy Girl. I much preferred her in Windstruck. By the way, I cried my eyes out at the end of that show! She was in six other movies before starring in the TV drama My Love from the Star which was a tremendously huge hit both in South Korea and abroad. Jun Ji-Hyun is one of South Korea’s top celebrity endorsers of all time. In 2012 she received 20 billion won for advertisements and endorsements alone! In April of 2012 she married banker Choi Joon-Hyuk and gave birth to their first child, a son, in February of 2016, just six months before donning her skin-tight mermaid costume! Wow! By the way, her swimming in this drama is spectacular! I was extremely impressed with the ease at which she glided through the water, twirling and diving. Just amazing.
The following are just a few of the many wonderful actor/actresses making guest star appearances in the 2017 part of the drama…
Cho Jung-Seok (star of Jealousy Incarnate) plays a merman who befriends Cheong in episodes seven and eight. Cha Tae-Hyun (who starred in the hit movie My Sassy Girl with Jun Ji-Hyun) appears for a brief moment in episode four, making a comment about Cheong being “sassy”. Kim Seul-Gi (who co-starred in the Kdrama Oh My Ghostess) plays a mermaid, in the last episode, who has just come up on land. And Krystal Jung (who plays the title role opposite Rain in My Lovable Girl) is a flight attendant who goes on a date with Joon-Jae in the first episode.
I was under the impression this was going to be a mermaid love story but I felt the storyline put more emphasis on the murderous, plotting, evil people’s scheme than it did the lovers. It was as though the writer thought, “There isn’t enough material to make this just a love story. I need something else to move the story along,” and the “something else” became the actual plot. Unlike the 1984 American mermaid love story movie Splash, which received an Academy Award for its writing, The Legend of the Blue Sea‘s writing focuses less on the “mermaid” and more on the “crime”. If someone asked me what the film Splash was about I’d say it’s about a guy who falls in love with a woman, unaware of the fact she’s a mermaid, and an obsessed man who wants to expose her real mermaid self to the public. If someone asked me what this show is about I’d say it’s got kind of a crime/thriller plot and the lead guy’s girlfriend happens to be a mermaid. The writer could have done much, much more to compliment the “fish out of water” (pardon the pun) aspect of the storyline but chose not to. It’s fun watching Cheong’s fascination with a tissue box, pulling out one tissue after another as she grins and giggles, and eating spaghetti noodles with her fingers. Why didn’t writer Park Ji-Eun give us more of those quirky, endearing, little moments? Rats, once again.
There are way too any mistakes in this drama to overlook. Here are just a few…
First, we learn pearls are made from the tears of mermaids, yet Cheong cries many times in many places and we don’t always see pearls in her lap or people commenting about pearls being around her. One scene shows tons of large snowflakes in Cheong’s hair as the camera shoots her from behind and then a second later, as the camera is facing her, there’s hardly anything there. A scene in the Joseon period has Kim Dam-Ryeong looking at Se-Hwa who is all tied up yet when he picks her up there’s not a single rope on her. Does it make sense that the policeman who arrests Cheong in Spain speaks perfect English without the slightest hint of any kind of accent? It’s the end of December, the clock shows 6:00 at night, and the sun is brightly shining overhead. Some shots have Cheong popping her head out of the water but when they show a close-up her face is dry and her hair isn’t soaking wet. If I mention another obvious mistake it will give away a surprise so I won’t do that one, but trust me, I noticed it instantly and said, “There’s no way…” when I saw it. It’s things like these that make a show seem less professional and when there’s so many obvious “oops” the show definitely looses points with me. And I wasn’t really thrilled with Jun Ji-Hyun’s mermaid costume. You’d think a drama that has a big enough budget to film in Spain could spare a little money to make the mermaid look more like a fish. Her mermaid costume looks more like a sequined gown with a flipper than fish scales. I know I’m being picky but I feel it’s a valid complaint.
The soundtrack has several songs I really liked. A World That is You is a pretty ballad sung by Yoon Mi-Rae, a singer/rapper in the hip hop trio MFBTY. Another ballad is Love Story performed by Lyn who also sang the haunting love song My Destiny for the drama My Love from the Star. Both those songs greatly aid in amplifying the romantic moments. Ken from VIXX sings an upbeat song entitled Fool . It’s one of my favorites. Why Would I Do This, performed by CoffeeBoy, has a soft, slow samba kind of feel to it with his voice adding a warmth that just makes you feel good inside. And vocalist Ha Hyun-Woo performs a great song called Shy Boy.
Aside from shooting in South Korea, they also did some filming in Spain. I know it costs more to take cast and crew to a different country but I always appreciate the change from the usual South Korean scenery. They could have had Joon-Jae vacation on Jeju Island, there’s ocean there and it would have cost a lot less, but having him go to Spain shows effort and the willingness to shake things up a bit. The scenery’s main focus on land is Joon-Jae’s house which happens to be awesome. He either has a tiny pool or a very large hot tub and the little loft room where Cheong stays, above Joon-Jae’s bedroom, is quite charming. Of course you’d also expect some shots of “the blue sea” and there’s plenty of those.
If you just happened across this show, haven’t heard a thing about it, and are wondering whether or not to watch it, I say go for it. If you’ve been looking forward to it, anticipating a fanciful love story, I urge caution. Not that it’s not good, it’s just not the tender, “love conquers all” fairytale plot you’re probably expecting. Of course it’s worth watching… it’s got Lee Min-Ho!
The Score: 7
Beautiful scenery in Spain
Lots of overlooked mistakes
Not enough fantasy love story