‘Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha’ and the healing comfort of being home

Photo courtesy of Netflix

For most of us who have tried to balance study/work and life, it definitely wasn’t easy. And time and again, all we need at the end of the day is some kind of healing. If truth be told, our current situation has taken a toll on our mental wellbeing. Thankfully, there’s a Korean drama that offers to comfort us.

After treating us with the cozy coming-of-age series Racket Boys, Netflix has given us another feel-good TV series: Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. Moreso, it’s just appropriate that the drama features a relaxing picture of coastal life. Set in a picturesque small seaside town, this healing drama is our sweet hometown escape amid mental breakdowns and quarantine restrictions.

Directed by Yu Je-won, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is a remake of the 2004 South Korean film Mr. Handy, Mr. Hong. This follows the story of the Seoulite Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-ah), an ambitious dentist who got fired from her work after questioning her boss’s way of overtreating patients to gain more profit. During her period of unemployment, she went to Gongjin, a place miles away from Seoul to celebrate her late mother’s birthday. There, she meets Chief Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho), an all-around guy who can be a fisherman, a delivery man, and even a real estate agent.

As obvious as it seems, the pair pose significant differences from their lifestyle to their beliefs. Hye-jin is pragmatic and wants to be successful, while Chief Hong holds many certificates and working licenses, but is technically considered unemployed. Unable to land a job, Hye-jin then decides to open her own dental clinic despite cultural differences with the tight-knit community of Gongjin. And that decision has completely changed her life.

Photo courtesy of tvN

Subsequently, we began to understand the lives of our captivating characters. When it comes to our heroine, she is a strong, straightforward, and independent woman. And it has been her nature to envision life, love, and career realistically — as most of us do. Evidently, these are observable in her actions. So initially, some viewers may find her personality intimidating, arrogant, and demanding, albeit unintentional.

But past these impressions, she accepts taking care of a hedgehog from kids, offers dental discounts to some of the villagers, and, together with Chief Hong, dances for a teenager who also loves her favorite fictional K-pop group during a contest. All of which she’s not related to.

Her perfectionist attitude changes little by little as seen in her interactions with the locals, particularly with our main man. I mean, I would also want to get rained on with someone I like, never mind the uncomfortable feeling of wearing wet clothes afterward.

Perhaps, what makes this drama more fascinating is how it tells us that we might already have found our soulmate on random brief occasions. Unbeknownst to our dimple couple, the two had already met a few times from childhood to adulthood. Such modest yet meaningful happenstance made me think of Wislawa Szymborska’s Love at First Sight — a poem about chance and fate.

On healthy masculinity, vulnerability and emotional intimacy

A year ago, Kim Seon-ho played fan-favorite “Han Ji-pyeong” in the hit 2020 Korean drama Start-Up, where he earned the nickname ‘good boy’. Because of Kim’s charming personality, the internet was divided, which led to a face-off between Team Do-san vs. Team Ji-pyeong and a lengthy intense debate of “Who’s better?”. But Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha begs to differ.

Only introduced later in the series, Ji Seong-hyeon (Lee Sang-yi) is a director who picked Gongjin as the setting for his variety TV show. After his meeting with Chief Hong who deliberately mistook him as an amateur mukbang video creator, it is undeniable that the two guys have a liking for each other.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Instead of the usual and repetitive trope where the two male leads fight for the heroine, the character of Director Ji is not treated as a regular love triangle device but rather a support, a lifebuoy. They could share their stories, experiences, and struggles. Definitely, that’s how men should be. Among all other second leads that I have seen, this is exactly what’s missing in the history of K-drama within recent memory.

Their relationship is wholesome and on top of that, they let themselves be vulnerable towards each other regardless of sexuality. As it happens, I have a favorite scene where he asked Seong-hyeon, “Do you want to eat ramen before you go?” which metaphorically is a sexual innuendo in Korean slang.

Without complicated and over-the-top narratives, this kind of storyline between two male leads is satisfying to watch. It has its own ingredients of showing mature love, in terms of companionship and friendship. Undeterred by the presence of unrequited love, not a single chaotic feud occurred between Chief Hong and Seong-hyeon. And there’s no doubt that Director Ji is our favorite ‘unproblematic’ second lead.

Breathtaking views and fascinations of rural life

Looking closely, the countryside of South Korea and the Philippines have so much in common. In fact, Gongjin outrightly reminds me of my grandfather’s coastal hometown in La Union. Both places reflect the images of warmth, serene, and simple life far from the asphalt jungle. So, as expected, the setting of this drama greets us with vibrancy, hospitality, and amiability.

Every episode, we are greeted with the stunning seascape of this seaside village. The calm undulation of waves splashing to the shorefront and returning to the sea are frequent mise en scène. As ubiquitous as the open sea, the ever-present red lighthouse is a constant witness of the development between Hye-jin and Chief Hong.

Remarkably, the beautifully rendered blue waters and the clear yellow skies quickly set off a laid-back experience. Verdant spaces are also conspicuous which, of course, is what’s normal in the provinces. Unlike the imported crushed dolomite sands at Manila Bay, everything in Gongjin is rather organic. And this visual splendor tells the audience to relax, take some time off to clear things, and just enjoy. Honestly, this is one of the things I yearn for as an urbanite.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

But it’s not only those picturesque attractions that greatly define the tranquility of rural life. Giving a top-of-the-world vibes, it’s a rare sight to find a rustic boat harbored not in the water, but on top of a hill. In other dramas, there will always be multiple scenes of eating samgyupsal, however, since this drama is located near the vast waters, showcasing fresh seafood delicacies on screen is a no-brainer.

Lastly, let’s not forget how the essence of rural life is unpretentiously depicted. Focusing on our Gongjin friends, I’m enticed by how close they are despite not being direct neighbors. On every occasion, they are present and available to help each other.

And on a lighter note, seeing how the tight-knit community of Gongjin embodies chismis culture has been my little source of happiness. Don’t get me wrong, being a Marites is not wholly a good thing. Yet, these kinds of supportive social networks truly make this drama preciously mellow.

It’s safe to believe that Gongjin is not just a place, it’s a safe space. And it’s for all of us.

On carrying on and what it means to be home

Suitable for all ages, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha teaches us numerous life lessons that we all need. In retrospect, it has given us a welcoming sense of comfort similar to that of an evening therapy. It’s like a pat on the back after coming home that reminds us to forgive ourselves for all our shortcomings. And that’s what Director Yu had in mind while creating this masterpiece.

What makes this drama really special is how their personal stories hit home. Each character is relatable and you don’t have to be too young or too old to empathize with their struggles. Personally, I have to admit that I cried a few times because of the social issues presented. All of which are also prevalent in our country.

I could still remember what Chief Hong told Hye-jin when he confronted her after denigrating Oh Chun-jae, a coffee shop owner whose singing career abruptly ended after getting scammed by his producer: “Life isn’t fair to all of us. Some spend their whole lives on unpaved roads, while some run at full speed only to reach the edge of a cliff.

These lines surely got many of us scared and anxious about what our future could be.

More than a romantic comedy, this drama teaches us that we are beyond our traumas and past mistakes. It tells us to be kind to ourselves and to others and that a little support or appreciation, in any form, can help a person. But most importantly, this is a show about acceptance. Because whatever we do, there are things we cannot change and undo anymore.

When I first watched the first episode, it didn’t come to my mind that the drama would also tackle mental health. And for everyone’s knowledge, Mental Health Week was recently celebrated. So it seems fitting as well that #TWKeepGoing coincided with this drama, perhaps, both share the same concept of carrying on.

To cha or not to cha

All of the cast performed exquisitely and deserved a standing ovation. They effectively portrayed their characters as expected, especially Kim Seon-ho’s emotive performance. Not as ambitious as most available Netflix TV dramas, it didn’t rely on overly dramatic actions vis-a-vis usual K-drama plots that we have seen frequently.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

This slice-of-life drama conveys an authentic representation of ordinary lives without paying attention to grandiose storytelling. Instead, its bragging rights against other contemporary K-dramas is its lightweight portrayal of familiarity. For this drama, life isn’t about big events but rather the small stories that we share and relate with.

So, of course, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha deserves the attention it receives from both Korean and international audiences. Besides, it has continuously stayed at number one, even replacing the most-talked Netflix series of the year Squid Game as most-watched in Netflix Philippines’ Top 10 shows. Because of the show’s popularity, it’s a no-brainer that a huge number of tourist fans have been flocking to the filming locations, which led the producers to remind the fans not to enter houses used in shooting scenes.

I am surely going to miss this dimple couple, with Car, the Garden’s catchy earworm-causing song, Romantic Sunday, playing in the background. If you haven’t watched the series yet on Netflix, make sure to add this to your bucket list.

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