Love is a simple thing. You do small things for each other. Support each other. And cry together. In the 12 years I’ve watched Korean dramas, I’ve been touched by a lot of love stories. I’ve seen all kinds of tropes play out. But Dongbaek and Yongsik’s relationship won me over. It’s a glowing, five-star relationship that’s an example for all lovers out there — I learned that much in the 16 riveting episodes of When The Camellia Blooms.
The two of them, with their stuffy fashion sense from 1994, showed us the endless comfort, support, and belief in one another, that should be in all relationships. No jealousy games, no lying, no yelling, or any of the usual melodramatic antics. Yes, that’s the way it should be.
Then beyond their partnership, we have all of Ongsan. The backdrop of this drama weaves a beautiful story about community and warmth of the human connection. As time passes, some of us have become extremely isolated from one another. We’ve forgotten how to live as a group that relies on one another to feel rooted, like we have a place on this earth. We’ve forgotten how to make a home out of people.
This drama shows us how to bring that back.
You extend your help without being asked first. You look out for people in trouble. You accept favours without worrying about paying them back. You go the extra mile whenever you can. And when you have nothing to give, you show up and give people strength with just your presence alone.
Dongbaek learned that lesson along with the viewers of this drama like myself. And seeing her growth was the most rewarding part of watching this drama. She transformed from someone who quietly accepted the awful things that life thrown at her, to someone who believed in creating her own destiny. I’ve only ever appreciated Gong Hyo Jin, but now I’m truly a fan. Her performance in these 16 episodes was poignant, and explosive. Even when I didn’t agree with her, I empathized and I rooted for her happiness.
Then of course, Kang Ha Neul made Yongsik into the most attractive male lead I have ever seen in dramas — without any of the fancy suits or great hair. To watch him look at Dongbaek, be in tears with her, and in awe of her growth was everything I needed to see. Men, in Korean dramas especially, almost always have to have nice clothes, lots of money, a fancy job, and some weird slant of aggression to be considered attractive. After a while it really starts to convince you that those things are necessary for a man to be attractive, but Yongsik is here to prove us wrong.
There is so much more to say about this drama. The cast is beautiful and they sparkle in every scene. The drama of the mystery was well-written and perfectly placed. The issues of poverty, motherhood, prejudice were explored without your usual tropes. When the Camellia Blooms showed all of us how to love ourselves, how to be a better neighbour, and most of all, how to find happiness in the smallest things that we have.
It was complex but yet so simple.
It is that simplicity that makes it beautiful. Because love was never supposed to be complicated.