When news broke out that South Korea’s two most famous actors, Lee Min-Ho and Jun Ji-Hyun, would be starring together in the new Korean drama Legend of the Blue Sea, many netizens, like us, were ready to witness an impressive performance. However, the drama’s premiere episode sadly failed to satisfy our expectations. Instead, as the inconsistencies grew, so did our unsurmountable confusion.
The very first scene took us back in time to Korea’s Joseon period, where a raging storm is passing over a fishermen’s village. While villagers are assessing the damage, they come across a mermaid (played by Jun Ji-Hyun) trapped in a cave. Soon, it becomes clear that there are no flowery beginnings for the mermaid. She ends up falling into the hands of a corrupt government official who takes her as his prisoner and plans on killing her for her rare and valuable mermaid oil. (Ew, I know).
The scenes that followed truly captivated us, most likely due to the classical K-drama romance and entrance soundtracks. We are then introduced to Lee Min-Ho’s character, the newly appointed town head who falls in love (or so it appears) with Ji-Hyun the moment he sets eyes on her. Their eyes lock, their gaze lingers. We witness a “love at first sight” moment that defines romance in K-dramas; even without any physical interactions we could see and feel their chemistry.
The corrupt official hands over the mermaid to Dam Ryung (Min-Ho’s Joseon era character) after Dam Ryung threatens to inform the King of his crimes. Min-Ho ends up releasing the mermaid into the sea and, to everyone’s surprise, she swims back to him. The scene ends as they hold hands under the bright moonlight. After this enchanting moment, we are hurled into present-day Korea. We are reintroduced to present day Dam Ryung, Heo Joon-Jae. Unlike his past life, Heo Joon-Jae is the upgraded version of your typical asshole. He cons people out of their money, has no qualms with manipulating women, and relies on a lighter that hypnotizes anyone he wishes. Since this Joon-Jae is such a stark contrast to his past self, we were afraid the initial magnetism between him and the mermaid, Sim Chung, would dissipate.
After Joon-Jae swindles a company president into sending him on a trip to the Mediterranean islands, we discover that his soon-to-be lover mermaid is also swimming along those shores. This is the moment when the typical K-drama inconsistencies appear. Sim Chung coincidentally happens to be swimming in the sea near his hotel, yet was last seen in the waters of Joseon Korea. She could have used voodoo or black magic to find him, but the drama was slightly unclear on this aspect. We spot Sim Chung swimming underwater when she suddenly notices a mysterious jade bracelet near the bottom of the sea. She puts it on her wrist and continues along her way. Out of nowhere, a random short storm occurs and ends up pushing her onto the edge of Joon-Jae’s outdoor hotel pool. When she wakes up, she is naked and has legs. Not only was the storm shockingly bizarre, her sudden ability to walk on land was also a confusing element that needed an explanation or at least a better transition. Another inconsistency that stood out was when Sim Chung spots Joon-Jae. She doesn’t seem to recognize him as the town head from the Joseon period, the man who saved her life, but instead, she just looks at him with great intrigue. Her intrigue soon leads to great exaggeration on her part. She breaks into his room, eats all his food, trashes his place, and then unashamedly hides in his closet. When Joon-Jae discovers her, he tries to make her leave, but in return, the mute Ji-Hyun power kicks him across the room twice. Keep in mind that all of this is happening while she is awkwardly wearing one his sweaters that is still attached to its hanger. Sim Chung senses that she is in a bad situation. She tries running away, but ends up crashing into the clear glass window and passing out on the floor. Although this scene was clearly meant to be funny, we could only cringe at her actions. Usually, first encounters in previous K-dramas between soon-to-be lovers are much more romantic.
When Sim Chung wakes up, she finds her hands tied and an angry Min-Ho calling the police (in his awkward yet adorable English). Although Joon-Jae is relieved to get the ditzy Ji-Hyun out of his hands, he looks at her with some regret as she is taken away to jail. Thankfully, she does not stay behind bars for too long. The slick Heo Joon-Jae discovers that the jade bracelet he saw Sim Chung wearing is worth billions. Using his magic lighter, he hypnotizes a police officer, and breaks her out of jail. Afterwards, he gains her trust by buying her clothes and food, later reverts to his asshole persona, he steals the bracelet without her knowledge and abandons her at the mall. At this point, we began to feel sympathetic towards Sim Chung. Joon-Jae abandons her like how a careless owner would abandon a puppy. She waits for him with such loyalty, even when the mall closes and security guards drag her out. Initially, we were having trouble warming up to her character because her hostile demeanor and inability to speak led her to have extremely cringe worthy moments. However, her actions in this scene portrayed her genuine innocence and faith in Joon-Jae. Big shocker, Joon-Jae strays away from his snake-like behavior and returns to the mall with an umbrella in hand and rescues Sim Chung from possible late-night mall thieves and the ever-threatening rain.
We were curious to see how Heo Joon-Jae and Jun Ji-Hyun’s characters warm up to each other as the drama progresses, considering that they are antitheses of each other. Jun Ji-Hyun’s character is dreamy and childlike when compared to the practical and insatiable Heo Joon-Jae. He is seen playing with fire on multiple occasions, most notably when he is spinning his lighter across his fingertips. On the other hand, since Sim Chung is a mermaid, she is undoubtedly partial to water. At one point, Heo Joon-Jae flips open his lighter to reveal the flame to Jun Ji-Hyun, and it appears to startle her. This symbolism could be hinting at future complications in their relationship.
Overall, despite awkward interactions between the two leads, Lee Min-Ho once again reminds us why he is worshipped by K-drama lovers worldwide. His ability to realistically portray two contrasting characters was impressive enough to hold our attention and keep us watching. On the other hand, Jun Ji-Hyun’s role as a space case mermaid did not do her justice. This role she played left us feeling cheated. Hopefully, as the drama progresses we will get to see more of Jun Ji-Hyun’s impressive acting skills instead of this poorly constructed mermaid character she portrayed. The Legend of the Blue Sea almost lives up to the hype of being a modern-day version of The Little Mermaid, except the characters were not as memorable and the story seemed rushed. To be honest, maybe the drama would have fared better if Lee Min-Ho was the mermaid.
This review was written by Bhavika Mullick and Claudia Paguay