You know what? If I get a scar here like this, it’ll look like I have a story to tell,” says Ji Chang Wook’s Cho Yong Pil in ‘Welcome to Samdal-ri.’
A poignant statement, if we regard the scars as badges of honor that we survived the symphony of life, which comes with its scales, tempos, and orchestration. ‘Welcome To Samdal-ri’ on Netflix hits all the right notes on various aspects and its core message of belongingness, strikes a chord. After all, how long can one keep running away from oneself?
Cho Sam Dal (portrayed by Shin Hye Sun) is a hot-shot fashion photographer in Seoul. She is living her dream. She calls herself, after all, “a big dragon in a small stream,” in this case, her hometown Samdal-ri. However, the Seoul dream comes crashing down when she is wrongly accused of bullying her assistant Bang Eun Ju. Cancelled by the very people who once celebrated her, she has lost everything she has built over the years. Her pride is in shambles, there is nowhere to turn to, but to return home. It’s the very place she has avoided for eight years, mainly to avoid the one person, who was her best friend and the only man she has ever loved, Cho Yong Pil (portrayed by Ji Chang Wook).
SLOW DOWN AND FIND YOUR WAY BACK HOME.
Broken and discouraged, Sam Dal who lives for what she does, realizes the very people in her hyper-competitive profession whom she had thought of as friends, now have little or nothing to do with her. We see her box away her camera, the lens with which she had created her world of dreams, little realizing that her talent is her own which no one can take away from her.
It is Yong Pil, who is like the anchor in a turbulent ocean, that nudges her to find her old self. What this means is for her to slow down, get her confidence back, and do those very things that brought her joy in the first place. Out with the old, and on with the new. Though she responds, “Finding myself and inner peace isn’t easy to do,” she knows that if she’s nudged in the right direction, it’s fairly simple.
As Sam Dal says aloud, “There are times when you want to open up your head and remove your brain so you can get rid of thoughts filling it up.” In those times, you feel better once you get some fresh air, and the road to healing begins with that one step. There is no place like home. In Yong Pil, we find the voice of reason, a friend, counselor, and lover. All Sam Dal needs to do is accept it, not only her innate power but also accepting that it is okay to seek help and rely on others. In this case, it is her family, friends, and her own power that she has given away.
FIND YOUR TRIBE, THEY HAVE YOUR BACK.
Yong Pil refuses to leave Jeju Island for Seoul and is clear-cut about what he wants. He became a weather forecaster to protect the ones he cared for, in this case, the “Haenyeos,” the female divers who also represent the semi-matriarchal society of Jeju Island. Yong Pil had lost his mother, a haenyeo, to the sea. Because of this, he has grown extra protective of Sam Dal’s mother (Mi Ja), also a haenyeo, who happens to have been his mother’s best friend and shares the same name as her. Mi Ja has been a constant mother figure his entire life.
Unbeknownst to Sam Dal, Yong Pil has been cheering her on all this while, proud of her achievements and being supportive of everything she has done. Through his character, we find the warmth of a fire on a cold winter day and the comforting embrace when the world around us falls apart. Sam Dal, to save face from her friends and the town folk in the aftermath of the scandal, avoids them since she thinks they would rejoice in her doom.
It is Yong Pil who tells her that their old friends are not at all glad she failed, they are just happy to have her back in Jeju. It is not just Yong Pil, her childhood friend Sang Do has cheered her silently at the wings, and so have the rest. In her success, they have seen the fulfillment of their dreams.
But, Sam Dal, so wrapped in her hall of shame, is not willing to share her troubles with anyone, including her mother Mi Ja (Portrayed by Kim Mi Kyung) since she does not want to burden her. But what she does not realize is that no one stands up for you the way your own family, and your tribe can. Her mother shows us that she is truly the tigress who can take on the world if they harm her cubs. We see it strong and clear when she throws a bucket of vinegar on Sam Dal’s assistant Eun Ju who ruined Sam Dal’s career, confronting Cho Sang Tae, Yong Pil’s father who has been responsible for Sam Dal and Yong Pil’s break-up eight years ago. Sam Dal, along with her sisters, also realizes that they were all so caught up in themselves that they forgot their mother might be suffering as well.
LET GO OF GRUDGES AND HEAL THE GRIEF.
Share your grief to release your grudges. Sam Dal and Yong Pil’s family, though bound by a common tragedy, have dealt with it in different ways. Sam Dal’s mother Mi Ja has been bogged down by guilt all these years, silently bearing the abuse, and disrespect from Cho Sang Tae, keeping her grief tightly gripped in her heart. Sang Tae, on the other hand, is weighed down by his anger and has refused to move on, his grief consuming his life. He has been unwilling to get closure all these years, rebuffing Sam Dal’s family, particularly her mother when she continues to care for him by making his favorite foods and asking for forgiveness. In Mi Ja, we see a woman who has held in her pain and heartbreak over losing her best friend, and in Sang Tae, we see a man heartbroken over the loss of his beloved wife and separates himself from his former best friends. Though Yong Pil tells his father the tragedy that befell them has had the same repercussions on him, that has not stopped him from continuing to stay close to the people who care for him. Sang Tae is unhappy. He is burdened and consumed by the unresolved trauma of losing his wife, who was the only person he unconditionally loved. But when he visits the temple, which homes her ashes, he has an epiphany of sorts. As he leaves the temple, he meets Sam Dal who comes to see him. She tells him that she does not resent him, and even if he is unable to bless her relationship with Yong Pil, she will continue loving him and be by his side.
In that conversation, Sang Tae recalls a moment when he had expressed his love to his wife, “You see this hackberry tree? Think of me as this tree. Even if none of the townspeople cares about it, it still shields us from the wind and gives us shade. Just like this hackberry tree, even if you don’t love me back, I’ll love you forever.” In that poignant flashback, Yong Pil’s father realizes Sam Dal and Yong Pil have the same kind of love and relationship as her did with Yong Pil’s mother.
To the surprise of both Sam Dal and Yong Pil, he gives them his blessing then and there. We see his brokenness begin to mend for the first time in the drama. He is even told by his mother-in-law, “In forgiving Ko Mi Ja, it does not mean you will forget your wife.” If you find yourself teary and clapping your hands in glee from that scene, we don’t blame you. It is perhaps the most endearing and heartfelt moment in the show.
K.I.S.S.: KEEP IT SUPER SIMPLE.
Sam Dal, who had even adopted the sophisticated name of Eun Hye while in Seoul, empowers herself. She not only takes pride in her own name, Sam Dal, but her hometown as well as the townspeople, who may not be as polished as the city folk but have hearts of gold. She decides to pay tribute to her people, her hometown, and its weather in a beautiful colorful, self-curated exhibition. Sam Dal, the pride in the eyes of her family, her friends who are true blue power rangers, and the town folk have filled her cup, and it begins to overflow with love.
In the meantime, the moment that had us waiting in trepidation was Sam Dal’s horrible assistant Bang Eun Ju getting exposed. She gets paid with the same coin, and though we only see her quivering hands, it is apparent she will get served what she deserves. However, Sam Dal in rejoicing about having her name cleared and Eun Ju’s downfall, is just pensive, she is neither gloating, nor is she celebrating. It drives home a point, sometimes the best revenge is no revenge at all.
The relationship between Sam Dal’s sister Hae Dal, a single mom, and her wise nine-year-old daughter, Ha Yul, is simple yet quite moving. The little girl, always looking out for her mother, wants her mother to fulfill her dreams. Hae Dal tells her to do what she wants to do, and not burden her little head with responsibilities that are not hers. It’s a beautiful example of a mother-daughter relationship of the ages.
The interpersonal relationships and belongingness in the community come with straightforward life lessons making “Welcome to Samdal-ri’ a heartwarming and comforting watch. It’s a celebration of friendship, love, and everything in between. As Sam Dal says, “Having a place to return to is an incredible relief.” Or, as Noona’s Noonchi translates, “How reassuring it is to have a place to return to.” With the superlative performances by Kim Mi Kyung, Ji Chang Wook, and Shin Hye Sun, and every character, plus the scenic landscape of Jeju Island, this K-Drama is like a perfect cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows on top for a cold winter day, or a juicy tangerine to soothe us on a blistering hot day. It really is a show for all seasons.