TV REVIEW: Hometown Cha Cha Cha

October 24, 2021

It has been a week since Hometown Cha Cha Cha has ended and if I am being honest, I myself am still processing my thoughts about the series in the aftermath. Trying to figure out how and why this particular series has left such a deep impression on so many hearts around the world for such a deceptively simple show.

The show had no gore, no bloody violence/killing/murders, no villians, no black hole type of depressing melodrama, no nudity, and yet, it managed to pull double digit ratings almost every single week it aired in Korea, and it landed itself if not number 1, at least a top 10 positioning in a majority of countries that Netflix was available in. With a high of #8 on the global network chart.

Ratings aside, it also has an entire fandom that created a whole world cheering it on and crying along with it each week on social media. For a show that did not involve the usual TV ropes to tie viewers to the screen, these are incredible statistics.

“For a show that did not involve the usual TV marketing gimmicks and ploys, Hometown Cha Cha Cha defied all rating odds.”

In fact, Hometown Cha Cha Cha has probably epitomised the word ‘cliche’ better and more often than any other series I have watched, with a lot of predictable K-drama tropes written in into every episode. From the surface, at a glance to someone who did not know better, most would have dubbed this show as boring and predictable. So what about this seemingly calm and quiet show captured so many hearts?

“Everyone watching was craving HOPE.”

If I had to put my finger on it, this show was something that came up during a time where I believed the world craved this: HOPE. The creators of HTCCC always labelled the story as a healing one, and I would say they delivered it in buckets. You see, COVID has ravaged our world for the last 2 years, tearing apart families, and distancing relationships and people in more ways than one. For the first time in history, we as a society have been forced apart and behind our screens even more than before. Pushing us in a more pronounced pursuit for the yearning for kinship and closeness. Gone are the days of carefree kisses, warm embraces without worry of infection, and gathering with your loved ones at a whim.

It felt like HTCCC brought us back to a world and a time where close knit communities were the norm. To an era where we grew up with next door neighbours like family, and an era where the support of families and loved ones are physically around us to see us through life changes, turning of seasons, hardships. To a place where perhaps we were not so on our own or so isolated. I don’t know about you, but every episode of HTCCC made me want to travel to gongjin and live the life of the villagers. They made the simple quiet life look so good.

It also opened up to us a world that lets us see what it would be like if we had the chance to talk to each other. Like, really really talk. To tell our side of the story. To listen to each other. To forgive each other. The chance to start over. These are some pieces of our humanity that I feel have been slowly lost over time in our individual chase for putting ourselves above others. I could go on further on this one but since this is a TV review, I will save this conversation for another day. 

HTCCC has proven to me that a show can be altogether ‘easy and predictable’, and still be completely enjoyable to watch. There were of course moments and episodes that let the cheese factor rise to a questionable level (especially in the last quarter of the series), but I felt like the writers always either used it to serve a meaningful purpose to the storylines or character growth, or they brought it back to the ground with down to earth turns in the way the episodes played out. And if they did not, it was left as a generous spoonful of positivity that the viewers needed in such a trying and difficult time while battling crises like Covid, job losses, separation, mental health decline, just to name a few.

And so, the insanely incredible response to HTCCC to me, was an insight to a world that is hungry for the things the writer was aiming to dish out. For hope and for healing. And in a universal way that society could relate to, through the peaceful seaside of gongjin and the villagers, the creators of HTCCC served those two things out to us in spades.

So while I really enjoy watching dramas that are gripping, and have me clutching my pillow while holding my heart in bated breath, such as Vincenzo and Crash Landing On You. I think this drama just came at the right time. It brought back the feel good things we adored about the romcom era of the late 90s and early 2000s (one I LOVED by the way. Some of my favourite movies of all time come from this period). An era that seemed to be almost lost forever. 

You then add all the other elements that HTCCC got right (and mind you, they did not just get it right, they blew it out of the ballpark completely) like their cinematography, the music, the top tier acting from every single cast member (side characters and even the kids included), and a script with some of the best dialogue I have seen ever seen in the k-drama world to date, it is then no wonder why this show has solidified its place in so many hearts, mine included. It is what I considered to be a light hearted series that has a wonderful well balanced blend of comedy, romance, warmth, and mystery.

Now was it a perfect show? No it was not. There were moments written into several episodes where the cringe factor got to a level that felt really unnecessary to still tell the story effectively. I would have loved to see these overly corny scenes reduced in number, with some of them written out completely, but these are honestly minor defects in a show that managed to get the important things right. It is like being served a 10 course dinner that is stellar in every course, with maybe one that lets us down. It does not ruin an overall fabulous experience you can walk away from extremely satisfied. And judging by the fandom on social media, I am not alone in thinking this way. There are literally millions of you who feel the same :)

Hometown Cha Cha Cha will go down in the books for being a drama that makes seemingly small moments FULL of heart. In the hands of a less experienced or talented writer and cast, this show would have flopped. And these episodes would have likely come across boring, and even slow to watch play out. But Shin Ha-Eun has a way of writing these scenes that make you feel EVERYTHING in a soul aching good way, while resonating far into our hearts. And with the majority of the cast coming from theatre backgrounds (these guys are SKILLED at live acting and making sure scenes are nailed in one take with full impact), they bring even mundane and often forgetful conversations to life.

Writing aside, high mention must of course be made to Shin Min Ah and Kim Seon Ho. As a leading pair, their chemistry was so believable it went from mere enjoyment to watch, to pure obsession by episode 10 and I know I was not alone. Memes were born from their love story every monday. When they hurt, you cried. When they were scared, you felt terrified for them. From joy to sadness, you really felt the entire full range of emotions as we watched their relationship evolve. It really takes actors at the top of their art to be able to carry a 16 episode love story as simple as theirs with almost no drama and have a fandom as huge as theirs utterly obsessed and smitten with them. 

No less mention must be made to the talented cast that played each gonjin villager. Usually supporting cast members get less attention and less interest in every drama or they are not as well fleshed out. But the wonderful thing about HTCCC is that each one of their stories gets a turn to be heard and seen, and felt. There was so much purpose to each and every character, even the kids. And because the cast were equally brilliant in this way, their stories were never seen as side pieces in this drama to fill in the cracks, but different chapters of the gongjin story you cared just as much about. This to me is proof of a very well written script/story, and an exceptionally skilful group of actors that bring those lines on paper to life.

To me though, apart from the breathtaking cinematography (which the photographer in me LOVED, thanks to the filming taking place in the gorgeous little town of Pohang in real life), and the beautifully matched music (from happy go lucky tunes, to some captivating ballads), one of the things that really stood out for me were the life lessons. It made HTCCC more than just some shallow slice of life piece. 

The number of quotes and screen grabs on social media and blogs that exploded online after ever episode with meaningful heart to heart talks that followed, were just concrete pieces of proof that HTCCC was more than just a show about two people falling in love. It was a drama that despite its simple premise, taught us so much about people, love, and about family, that we often forget today. 

Life is not fair. Some people have to walk on unpaved roads their entire life, while some run at full speed only to end up at the edge of a cliff.

Hong dushik

“If you can’t pick up spilled milk, you should at least apologize to them for spilling the milk, rather than avoiding them.”

hong dushik

It taught us that there are always two sides to every story. That we should not be too quick to judge who someone is, or their history before we know everything. That we should be patient with those we love. It taught us that pain is not linear. And neither is healing. But that both are possible to work through given time and the right help. It also taught us that while people should not be the sole source of our ability to heal, it taught us of the importance of having someone there to catch us when we fall – whether it is through therapy, your family, or your friends, and to always check in on those you love. People often hide their pain. So don’t be afraid to ask how they are. 

The beautiful dialogue in HTCCC showed us that family is not always blood related, and it opened our eyes to how a world would look like if people actually had healthy mature conversations with each other, highlighting how important it is to properly communicate. To talk things out with honesty even when it feels hard. It taught us that forgiveness is so significant for healing, and that while it is not always easy to give, it is something we should strive to extend and in turn, receive. It showed us that saying sorry will look different from person to person but that it does not make it any less valid. And finally it taught us that our past does not have to define us. How we write the next page to a better version of ourselves is always possible.

So, what started out like a simple romcom, turned out to be one of the best things I’ve seen in 2021 (only Vincenzo, Move To Heaven, and Youth of May sit on this list for me). And In 16 hours, Hometown Cha Cha Cha under its deceptively plain and uncomplicated story, managed to fill up our weekends with not just enjoyable entertainment, but with invaluable life nuggets that made you want to hug those you love, and cherish the people in your circle whether they are family or not. I believe this show resonated with so many because it reminded us of the things we’ve lost to the pandemic. Face to face conversations, the stability of a job, family, friendship. The pat on the back. Our first love. A hand to hold. Dinner with friends. The smell of the sea and sand in between our toes (travel). A kiss. Just simple normalcy.

And while we never got to see the lead pair walk down the aisle, I felt like the ending was quite fitting.  It left it open for us, as if to say – the story will continue. This is not the end. That final frame (which one clever viewer pointed out to us on social media) of the bouquet tossed in the air was as if Hye Jin was throwing it out to the audience, to all of us, wishing us all the best in love and life. I hope you all catch it :)

Goodbye Gongjin. You will be missed. But what you taught us I hope will stay in our hearts for a long time coming. I truly hope this drama will not be the last of its kind to grace our screens. While I don’t think this will win awards (award boards loooooove angst and melodrama fests *eyerolls*), I do think you were incredibly warm and feel-good, and you showed us that simple classics can be reinvented and still be thoroughly satisfying and mesmerising.

8/10

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! And thank you to those who messaged me requesting my review of this! I know there’s tonnes out there, so it means alot you wanted my thoughts. If you liked this review, or want me to write more, please drop me a message on IG to tell me you enjoyed this! It means so much to a writer like myself. So thank you again for taking the time to make it to the end of this piece. I look forward to writing more soon :)

JENNY

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