When the Camellia Blooms celebrates life – plain ol’ everyday life with its heartaches, trials, and miracles. If you’re someone who is wearily fighting the difficulties and tragedies that are so often overwhelming and seem impossible to conquer, this Kdrama is exactly what you need.
Orphaned at the young age of seven, Dong-Baek has had a difficult life, to say the least. As a single mother of a baby boy she moves into the little sea coast town of Ongsan and opens a windowless bar in a dilapidated building. She barely manages to financially survive from day to day as she deals with the whispers and stares of the neighboring town folks. After being there several years, she happens to encounter police officer Hwang Yong-Sik who was recently reassigned to Ongsan. He falls in love with Dong-Baek at first sight but her low self-esteem causes her to automatically ignore his subtle, friendly advances. Officer Hwang isn’t about to give up on his “Princess Diana” but while he is trying to find a way through the wall Dong-Baek has built around herself, he has decided to reopen a five year old serial murder case and catch the killer aptly named the Joker.
Dong-Baek’s dream job is to be the person who runs the lost and found booth at the train station. Why? Because whenever people find what they’ve lost they tell the worker there “thank you.” Two simple words but ones Dong-Baek says she has never once heard directed towards her. What she has heard countless times is that she brings bad luck. As a young girl, when she lived at the orphanage, the only thing she got for Christmas was pencils. The young man she loved and lived with for years refused to introduce her to his friends because he feared it would be too troublesome if a scandal broke out. In spite of all that, Dong-Baek has persevered in order to build a decent life for herself and her son. Yong-Sik says she reminds him of a Whac-A-Mole because she’s always smiling but always hurting, as well. Neighbors agree she’s hardworking and claim even if you lock her up in a room without any opening she’d discover a way to find the light. Although her self-esteem rating would read zero, she is kind and emphatic to others. Yong-Sik tells her, “You have a system that’s far simpler and more innocent than others, so it’s impossible for you to hate people.”
Hwang Yong-Shik cannot tolerate injustice. As a teenager he caught an armed bank robber by beating him with his lunchbox. He also caught a man burglarizing an apartment and another man in the act of stealing a scooter. One night, while driving a man home (as his substitute driver) he made a U-turn and stopped a mugging. He received so many commendations for catching criminals that he entered the police force without having to go through the regular channels. He claims when he sees a criminal he doesn’t stop to think, his body just reacts automatically. And it was that automatic reaction (punching a suspect while on camera) that got him transferred from Seoul to his hometown of Ongsan. Although Yong-Shik respects authority, he’s not the type to be intimidated by a superior with four stars. Some think of him as a country “bumpkin,” even stating he looks “like a big toe,” but the man is gentle, understanding, generous, friendly, determined, and has a bright, warm smile. He and his two older brothers were raised by their widowed mother, his father dying in a fire before Yong-Sik was even born. His mother owns and runs a small restaurant which he will inherit when she is gone.
Best Outfielder, Golden Glove Winner, MVP – Kang Jong-Ryeol is the youngest MLB player to ever win those awards. He is a beloved sports star who is also in the cast of the TV show Superman along with his wife Jessica and their baby daughter, whom he adores. Jessica is a young, insecure, attention-seeking celebrity-wannabe who pretty much married poor Jong-Ryeol for the fame and money.
No Kyu-Tae has a very high opinion of himself. He has an optical store and is also active in real estate, owning the building Camellia is in as well as other things. He craves respect and aspires to be governor of the area. Kyu-Tae is married to Hong Ja-Young, the divorce attorney in town. She is sophisticated and intelligent. Although she is mistreated by Kyu-Tae’s mother she is a respectful daughter-in-law. She has suspicions her husband may be having an affair.
Hwang-Mi is the single gal that has worked for Dong-Baek at Camellia for several years. She comes across as not too bright, immature, and the type of person who thinks only about herself. Dong-Baek considers her family and wishes she would stop smoking and drinking so much. She sees No Kyu-Tae is hungry for attention and decides he’s an easy target to extort money from. Hwang-Mi is a kleptomaniac who guards her privacy well and is very secretive about her history.
The only person to truly befriend Dong-Baek when she moved into town is Yong-Sik’s widowed mother, Kwak Deok-Sun. She raised three boys on her own and understands the difficulties of being a single mother. She often comes to Dong-Baek’s rescue when the other women in town try to belittle her. However, when she discovers her son is in love with Dong-Baek, she changes her tune and decides the young woman she has been friends with for so long is not a good match for her boy.
Pil-Gu is Dong-Baek’s eight year old son who has grown up quickly in hopes of being able to protect his mother. He has several friends but is also aware of the cruel things some kids say about his dear mother. He loves to skip going to academy and sneak off to the arcade instead. He is also on the school baseball team. Pil-Gu is not thrilled with Yong-Sik liking his mother and believes he is the only person she needs in her life.
Captain Byun has been a cop ever since Yong-Sik was a kid and has watched the young man grow up. He knows Yong-Sik is determined to catch the Joker but isn’t 100% sure he can do it since the killer has outsmarted the cops at every turn. He backs up Yong-Sik’s ideas and helps any way he can in the young cop’s investigation.
Sever years ago the little town of Ongsan was terrorized by a serial killer who brutally murdered one man, three women, and a child, always leaving behind a note with the body that read “Don’t be a joke.” The killing stopped five years ago but now, with recent fires (like what had happened before the killing began) it seems like the Joker may be ready to continue where he left off.
Jealousy Incarnate, way back in 2016, was the last Kdrama Kong Hyo-Jin had been in, so when I saw her face on the promotional poster of When the Camellia Blooms, I was thrilled because I had truly missed her. The first thing I ever saw her in was Pasta, and from that moment on she became one of my favorite actresses. I had no idea, until recently, that after her performance in that drama the press labeled her “Gongvely” (a combination of her surname and the English word “lovely”). At one point in her career she felt she was too often being cast in the sweet girl roles and wanted to be given a chance to play “real women” characters but refused to do any nude scenes. (Good for her!) In 2013, after working with her in the Hong sister’s Kdrama Master’s Sun, her costar, So Ji-Sub said she was “the best Korean actress currently working in romantic comedy.” The lucky gal has been able to play opposite a few of my favorite actors – Yoon Kye-Sang, Jo In-Sung, Lee Sun-Kyun, Gong Yoo, and Kim Rae-Won, twice! In 2010 she published a collection of essays on the environment entitled Gong Hyo-Jin’s Notebook which has sold over 40,000 copies. I thought her performance as Dong-Baek was excellent. Because of her amazing successful character portrayals, Gong Hyo-Jin is considered to be the “queen of romantic comedies.”
After just the first episode of When the Camellia Blooms I had fallen in love with darling Hwang Yong-Sik. It was around episode seven that I decided to check out this impressive, charismatic actor to see what else I may have seen him in and was not at all surprised when I discovered two shows in which he had left a very favorable impression on me. The first time I saw Kang Ha-Neul act was as the teenage Dong-Joo in Angel Eyes. In that review I wrote that his acting was worthy of an award and his smile lit up the screen. Two years later I fell in love with him all over again when he played complicated Prince Wang Wook in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. But his acting this time, as sweetheart Yong-Sik, just put him on my favorite actors list. I have my fingers crossed he’ll be honored with multiple best actor awards for the way he portrayed this lovable character. It reminded me of how I felt while watching Kim Rae-Won play Director Choi Seung-Hee in Which Star Are You From? Yong-Sik is a wonderful catch and any girl would be lucky to be loved by someone like him.
The story is told, in part, by the characters. We hear their thoughts as they narrate things for us. And it’s not just the main characters, everyone lets us in on their feelings, ideas, and points of view. At first I thought it was a bit strange but the more it happened, the more I appreciated it.
I love that Yong-Sik is secure enough emotionally to allow himself to cry with/for the person he loves. His empathy is such that he can’t help but physically respond to someone else’s emotions. It’s just one more thing that makes us adore this character.
When the Camellia Blooms’ blend of romance, comedy, and mystery is even and smooth with nothing feeling out of place or unnecessary, a testament to phenomenal writing. However, I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled with how Kang Jong-Ryeol was made out to be the bad guy. I understood why Dong-Baek and Yong-Sik saw him with less favorable eyes but because the show is set up in a way that the audience can hear the characters’ thoughts, I had a very favorable view of the man. I thought he did his best with a sincere heart, being honorable and upright in his words and actions, when he discovered he had been lied to about the most important thing that can happen to a person. He had definitely grown out of the selfish tendencies he had when he was dating Dong-Baek, but her life experiences with the man didn’t allow her to see that positive change.
I had no intention of writing this particular paragraph but decided to add it at the last minute for those of you who may have the same dislike my roommate has. As I was watching this drama my roommate walked into the kitchen (which is connected to where I was at in the living room) to make dinner. After a few minutes I heard, “What is that horrible sound they keep making? Why do they talk like that? It’s so irritating!” I knew exactly what sound my friend was talking about. Because Yong-Sik is an emotional country guy he very often uses that hyuuuuk sound to emphasize certain words. It’s just part of his enthusiastic personality I was instantly attracted to so his hyuuuuks were darling. However, if that sound bothers you as much as it does my roommate, consider yourself warned. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click on this link. Megan explains it much better than I can.)
This show did wonderfully well in the ratings department, beginning its run at 6.3% and gradually building viewers until it completed its last episode in first place with a 23.8% nationwide rating, which crowns When the Camellia Blooms as the 2019 mini-series drama with the highest rated episode. The drama also became the second highest rated drama of 2019 with a total episodes average rating of 14.83%, just behind The Fiery Priest. It had aired with 40 half hour episodes but I saw it on Netflix where it is aired with 20 full hour ones.
What’s the drama’s music like? Excellent. I encourage you to check it out on YouTube. My favorite song of the bunch is Destiny Tells Me, sung by Heize. It’s sort of a soft rock ballad. I also enjoyed Foolish Love, performed by John Park, which is an up-tempo ballad with great finger snaps for you to join in with. Punch sings Like a Heroine in the Movie, a song which charted in 55th place. It’s a slow, soft ballad.
The story takes place in a fictional coastal town called Ongsan but was shot in the real town of Guryongpo in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. Ongsan is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and anyone is welcome to dry their peppers on the ground in front of the police station and the town is very proud of its marinated crab. Camellia is in a rundown building that had been used for drying fish so there are no windows, which was disappointing to Dong-Baek. One interior wall has crumbled and people write comments on the others. It’s nowhere near “nice” but a decent number of people patronize the place in spite of its lack of aesthetics.
As we struggle with our own unique sort of individualized trials in life, the title of this drama brings hope to our exhausted spirits. You can take comfort in knowing it’s not if, but When the Camellia Blooms.
Hwang Yong-Sik’s lovable personality
Good feeling drama
Spot on directing and camera angles
Perfect blend of comedy, romance, and mystery
Couldn’t find a thing
One thought on “When the Camellia Blooms”
This definitely was one of my favourite shows, truly heartwarming, showing the challenges of life for a person in her situation, and all done in a perfect setting of simplicity and rough beauty.