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An Honest Review Of 'When The Camellia Blooms'

PHOTO: (LEFT TO RIGHT) When The Camellia Blooms/Netflix

The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

Gong Hyo Jin plays Dong Baek, a single mom who moved from Seoul to a small provincial town called Ongsan. She leased an empty warehouse, renovated it, and named it Camellia. The locals thought she was opening a flower shop, but it turns out, Camellia was a bar. It wasn't received well by her ajumma neighbors, but it became the refuge of their husbands, brothers, and sons.

Kang Ha Neul, on the other hand, plays Hwang Yong Sik. He was born and raised in Ongsan but moved to Seoul for a few years to serve as a policeman. After an incident where his hot-headedness gets the best of him, he gets reassigned back to his hometown. That's when he meets Dong Baek and falls in love with her at first sight. 

With Dong Baek's plate filled with parenting and just trying to survive the bullying of her neighbors, she isn't exactly ready for a relationship. But insistent Yong Sik resolutely tries to get close to her and prove his love, even if she rejects him repeatedly.

Their story is far from smooth-sailing, especially when Dong Baek's ex Kang Jong Ryeol (Kim Ji Suk) comes back into the picture. On top of the love triangle drama, there's a mysterious serial killer dubbed "Joker" on the loose. He (or she) threatens Dong Baek's life, which Yong Sik is determined to protect at whatever cost.

The Short, Honest Plot

A strong, independent orphan-turned-single eomma unintentionally attracts an overzealous country bumpkin. She rejects him at first but falls for his charms eventually. They try to weather the challenges thrown by the universe at them, including an ex-boyfriend-slash-baby-daddy and a serial killer who creepily leaves notes with his victims saying, "Don't be a joke."


The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them

Gong Hyo Jin as Dong Baek

This queen of rom-coms starred in two movies this year: Crazy Romance with Kim Rae Won and Hit-and-Run Squad with Ryu Jun Yeol and Jo Jung Suk. Her most recent K-drama series before Camellia was Jealousy Incarnate back in 2016.


Kang Ha Neul as Hwang Yong Sik

This cute oppa starred in movies like Midnight Runners (with Park Seo Joon) and Forgotten in 2017 before his mandatory military enlistment. His most recent K-drama series before Camellia was Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, which also aired back in 2016.


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Kim Ji Suk as Kang Jong Ryeol

This hunky actor starred as the lead in Top Star Yoo Baek (2018) with Jeon So Min and Lee Sang Yeob.


Supporting Actors You Might Recognize

Oh Jung Se as No Gyu Tae

He was the fanboy-slash-head lawyer in Touch Your Heart (2019) with Lee Dong Wook and Yoo In Na. He was also a villain in the movie Extreme Job (2019) with Ryu Seung Ryong.

Yum Hye Ran as No Gyu Tae's lawyer wife

She played Ji Eun Tak's aunt in Goblin (2016 to 2017) which starred Gong Yoo and Kim Go Eun. She was also the civil welfare department head in Miss and Mrs. Cops (2019) with Lee Sung Kyung and Ra Mi Ran.



Kim Sun Young as an ajumma who keeps bullying Dong Baek

She was also an ajumma in Reply 1988 (2015) with Lee Hyeri, Ryu Jun Yeol, and Park Bo Gum. This 2019, she appeared in five series (so far)! Here are three of her most notable roles: an editor in Romance is a Bonus Book with Lee Jong Suk, an art gallery director in Her Private Life with Park Min Young, and a surprise supporting character in Vagabond with Lee Seung Gi and Bae Suzy. What a busy woman!


Did You Know?

1. This power duo is behind When the Camellia Blooms: It's written by Fight for My Way (2017) screenwriter Im Sang Choon and directed by Uncontrollably Fond (2016) and Are You Human? (2018) director Cha Young Hoon.

2. The series is Gong Hyo Jin's seventh consecutive K-drama since 2007 that got double-digit viewership ratings in Korea. When asked about her string of success in a Soompi interview, she shared, "I choose good scripts and characters with high self-respect. I avoided helpless characters who cling onto love without their own jobs. Rather, I chose characters who are good at their jobs while laughing and crying over love. Whether it's a woman or a man, the character should love their job and be good at it while being in love in order to not be hated."

3. Thriller aspect aside, this is the first modern rom-com series that Kang Ha Neul starred in as the male lead. In his previous dramas, either he's just a supporting character or the genre was more dramatic (still scarred from Scarlet Heart after all these years, BTW). A rom-com movie he did star in (but also not as a lead) was Like for Likes (2016).

4. There's a 10-year age gap between Hyo Jin (39) and Ha Neul (29)! Can you believe it?!


5. Another Soompi article mentioned how Ha Neul became Hyo Jin's favorite acting partner so far. She explained, "Kang Ha Neul is bad at memorizing lines. We ask each other, 'What was the line?' and help each other out. Until now, all my acting partners have been really good at memorizing lines. Because Kang Ha Neul and I are similar in this respect, I feel comfortable."

6. The Camellia leading lady was visited on set by veteran actor Hwang Jung Min. His works include The Battleship Island (2017), A Violent Prosecutor (2016) and Veteran (2015), one of the highest-grossing domestic films in Korea. Their history? He was the lead in the film Happiness back in 2007, where Gong Hyo Jin was a supporting actress.

What My Friends Think:

"When the series started, I couldn't place whether this was a rom-com, suspense, or a melodrama. But one thing's for sure, the cinematography was excellent. Kang Ha Neul is a revelation for me in the drama. I knew he was a good actor but he impressed me in Camellia. There's no KHN in the drama, as all I saw was Hwang Yong Sik. Such an adorable geeky guy. Ang galing niya! Gong Hyo Jin is also a good actress. I don't see Dong Baek [being] played by somebody else other than her. Storywise, nakakaintriga kung sino si Joker. Still thinking kung pwede wala na yung angle na 'yon, but I'm interested enough to see what would happen." —Sunshine Sangalang

"I was already a fan of Kang Ha Neul before I got to watch the series, pero sobrang bilib na ibang iba siya from his other characters at sobrang natural niya as Yong Sik. And I was really amazed by the chemistry between Kang Ha Neul and Gong Hyo Jin. Kakaiba yung love story and parang sobrang innocent nilang dalawa kahit na yung characters that they play are [supposedly mature in age]. Also, yung small details and hints about sa thriller side ng story is something na nakaka-hook. They make it appear na everyone is a suspect kasi lahat may kakaiba sa pagkatao. Compared to other plots, hindi ko siya agad mahulaan. Both the story and the characters are really interesting." —Rozz Randell Cadavillo

What I Think:

Before When the Camellia Blooms came along, I was desperate for a K-drama that was full of kilig. I was pining for my main oppa (Kang Ha Neul) a lot, too, and I couldn't wait for his comeback drama. Oh boy, was it worth the wait! As of this writing, we're just half-way through the series, but I already can't count the times I laughed like a lovestruck fool and felt my heart skip a beat because of the story and the characters.

First, there's Gong Hyo Jin, whose portrayal of Dong Baek is so refreshing. You'll come to admire her resilience and her wits despite looking and being treated like a pushover. Let's not even talk about Dong Baek's heartwarming and adorable relationship with her son (warning: tears may be inevitable in some of their scenes). And Hyo Jin's chemistry with Ha Neul? It's insane how cute they are together, I tell you!


Then, there's Kang Ha Neul's Yong Sik, who definitely makes you swoon. He was such a dork during the earlier episodes, but he slowly unravels his talents for making anyone's heart flutter. Throughout the series, you'll be left in awe about how expressive Ha Neul's face is. You'll feel Yong Sik's joy when he expresses how head-over-heels in love he is with Dong Baek. And, you'll feel shattered by his pains when she pushes him away—masakit, promise!

Then, there's the extra-intriguing storyline. Based on the trailers, I did not expect that this rom-com would be laced with a serial murder mystery! But here I am, stressing about who the Joker really is and suspecting a couple of characters. TBH, it's making me feel like Dong Baek and Yong Sik will fall hopelessly in love only to end up being torn apart by a psychotic killer. It's such an irritating and heart-wrenching palaisipan that I'm just blissfully ignoring while they're still in the honeymoon phase.

I'm certainly looking forward to the development of the story. I'm wishing there's a happy ending in store for the couple (even if I'm expecting the worse already). But, as early as now, I can definitely say that it's one of the most entertaining series this year. So K-drama fans, DO NOT MISS OUT!

I'd Recommend It To:

Anyone craving a lighthearted rom-com (but dapat you're ready for the tears and the thrilling plot twists!)

Catch When the Camellia Blooms on Netflix. New episodes get uploaded weekly, every Wednesday and Thursday.

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