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‘Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha’ review: Romance and healing by the sea

The charming series on Netflix is a great example of how K-dramas can get romance right, even as it attempts to provide more nuance and depth into the struggles of its lead characters

In the K-drama Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, the picturesque seaside town of Gongjin is as much an integral character as anybody else on screen.

There’s bright, blue skies, stunning sunsets, an unending supply of fresh seafood, and a quaint red lighthouse in the backdrop. The K-drama’s female lead Yoon Hye-Jin is teased by her friend about how she constantly talks about Gongjin, as if all roads lead to it and you can’t help but empathise with her. The seaside town and its wholesome residents (especially one resourceful charmer) truly warrants an attachment of that kind.

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The series starts off on a relatively simple note; city slicker Hye-Jin (Shin Min-a) sets up her dental clinic in Gongjin and sparks fly when she meets resident favourite handyman Hong Du-Sik (Kim Seon-Ho).

It’s initially made out to be a classic tale of opposites clashing. Ye-Jin can’t fathom how Du-Sik takes up a host of odd jobs and insists on only earning a minimum wage. Du-sik thinks she can occasionally let her hair down and stop to smell the roses. The other residents of Gongjin are thrown into this mix as well; they’re wry, yet welcoming of Hye-Jin, and the show devotes its initial episodes to how they warm up to each other.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

  • Episodes: 16
  • Director: Yu Je-Won
  • Cast: Shin Min-a, Kim Seon-Ho, Lee Sang-Yi
  • Storyline: Sparks fly as a city slicker dentist relocates to a quaint seaside town and meets the resident Mr Fix-It

There’s a former singer who doesn’t waste any time telling you about his days of former glory, the bickering couple expecting a second child, an inquisitive restaurant owner who is the town’s biggest gossip, a shy cop whom Hye-Jin’s friend falls for, and (my personal favourite) three octogenarian grannies who are always up for a chat.

Without divulging much, it is impressive how Hometown… attempts to go beyond a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy as it explores grief, guilt, loss, and healing. While this is dealt with in a mature way, it would have benefited the show more if the intense themes weren’t all packed into the final two episodes.

But the drama still gets all its big rom-com moments right: be it the scene where Hye-Jin walks through the rain when she realises what her heart wants, Du-Sik handing over her lost shoe to her, or the couple working through Hye-Jin’s rather sweet bucket list.

Despite K-drama tropes aplenty (can we do away with the childhood connection and innumerable coincidental meetings already?), where Hometown.. leaves a lasting impression is also through its solid lead couple. Hye-Jin and Du-Sik radiate warmth, respect each other and are mindful of what they need to work on. For a large part of the show, Du-Sik’s past remains shrouded in mystery and even when there’s a big reveal, the couple deals with it, minus the theatrics and noble idiocy that one has come to expect of shows like this one. Min-a and Seon-Ho are extremely believable in their roles and have terrific on-screen chemistry, making Hye-Jin and Du-Sik a couple to root for.

The finale for the 16-episode show aired last weekend and since then, lead star Seon-Ho has been caught up in a raging controversy after allegations about a personal relationship surfaced.

Three cheers to the writer Shin Ha-Eun for also giving us a very likeable and large-hearted second lead in Ji Seyong-Hyun (Lee Sang-Yi). It is rather lovely how the show doesn’t unnecessarily drag out a love triangle and instead, gives us the two main male characters forging a bond.

Kim Young-Ok as Gam-ri, an octogenarian grandmother who Du-Sik is closest to, once again proves why she’s the best K-drama grandmother. The show, however, could have done without overtly focusing on some of the sub-plots, especially the one involving a divorced couple which is dealt with rather messily towards the end.

Ultimately, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is a good example of how K-dramas can get romance right, even as it attempts to provide more nuance and depth into the struggles of its lead characters. For everyone who has had their minds blown by Squid Game, this outing is a worthy representation of what else K-dramas excel at: slice-of-life goodness and wholesome romance of the best kind.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is currently streaming on Netflix


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