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Lee Byung-hun as the angry merchant Lee Dong-seok in a still from Our Blues, a K-drama now showing on Netflix.

K-drama midseason recap: Our Blues – Netflix’s Jeju Island-set ensemble drama keeps us hooked with its story after dazzling us with its stars

  • The communal and convivial feeling of the characters’ shared story has seen Our Blues already become one of South Korea’s top 20 cable shows of all time
  • Lee Byung-hun shows why he remains one of South Korea’s top actors with his charming and hilarious turn as a roguish merchant

This article contains spoilers.

On the southern coast of Jeju Island, the town of Seogwipo comes alive each morning in its bustling fish market. This vibrant location serves as the nexus for the many intersecting characters of writer Noh Hee-gyoung’s drama Our Blues to cross and collide in.

From seafood-hunting women divers to fishmongers to itinerant merchants and all the family and friends connected to them, this wet market heaves with activity. It also occasionally flares up into fiery conflagrations when frustrated characters lose their cool and come to blows, while other major characters step in to break up these fights, before receding back into their own stories.

One of those episodes was the long-overdue dust-up between ice seller Bang Ho-sik (Choi Young-jun) and the owner of a stall selling blood sausage stew, Jung In-kwon (Park Ji-hwan). They’ve been at each other’s throats since the beginning of the show, as their friendship soured years earlier thanks to Ho-sik’s degenerate gambling.

What finally brought things to a head was a new crisis growing between Ho-sik’s daughter Young-joo (Roh Yoon-seo) and In-kwon’s son Hyun (Bae Hyun-sung).

Young-joo is the top student in school and Hyun isn’t far behind, but their bright futures are thrown in jeopardy when the two fall for each other, and then, despite using protection, become pregnant.

By the time Young-joo learns of her condition and seeks out an abortion she’s already six months along. She must get parental consent, which involves spilling the beans to their parents, who don’t take the news well, especially when they decide to keep the baby.

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They’ve concocted a plan which will see Young-joo continue her studies after giving birth and then fulfilling her dream of going to Seoul National University, while Hyun plans to drop out and support their family through part-time jobs, and hopefully return to his studies later on.

They may have clearly mapped out their short-term future but, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the unforeseen challenges lying in wait for these promising youths is quietly heartbreaking, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their impressive grit and determination.

As we’ve seen through the older protagonists of the show, life is full of unexpected complications. Dreams are nebulous ideas that can be blown away with the slightest breeze. We won’t get to see what the future holds for Young-joo and Hyun, yet now that they’ve drifted into the background as other stories play out, hopefully we’ll catch a glimpse of them towards the end of the show to reassure us that they might make it.

Kim Woo-bin as ship captain Park Jeong-joon and Han Ji-min as diver Lee Young-ok in a still from Our Blues.

Also communicating with his fists in the market was the show’s angriest character, merchant Lee Dong-seok (Lee Byung-hun), whose already surly personality has been pushed to its limits through the appearance of his old crush Min Seon-ah (Shin Min-a).

Seon-ah suffers from depression that is so severe it cost her her marriage and now threatens to take her son away from her, as things aren’t looking good for her during legal custody proceedings.

Dong-seok’s reunion with Seon-ah is a frustrating one for him as he wants something that she isn’t in a state to give. Yet though he seeks her touch, ultimately she’s the one who needs him more, as Dong-seok gradually switches from aggressive machismo to selfless tenderness, particularly during a long day into night into day in Seoul during which Seon-ah loses her custody battle.

Shin Min-a as Min Seon-ah, a mother with severe depression, in a still from Our Blues.

Lee shows why he remains one of South Korea’s top actors with his sharp and charming turn as the roguish seller, while his eternally expressive eyes sell Dong-seok’s tender transformation. His performance is also hilarious, particularly during his day job, which may find him gruffly tapping his feet and clapping his hands to sell clothes off his truck.

Contrasting with all the hotheads on the show is Kim Woo-bin’s long-awaited screen comeback as the strapping ship captain Park Jeong-joon. Everyone warns him off flirty diver Lee Young-ok (Han Ji-min) but he courts her undaunted, politely letting her keep her secrets to herself until she’s ready to reveal them.

One of the show’s most magnetic characters, the successful and earthy businesswoman Jung Eun-hui (Lee Jung-eun) experienced heartbreak early in the series when her first love Choi Han-su (Cha Seung-won) appeared again and tried to rekindle their flame when he found out how rich she was.

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Following that story’s resolution, Eun-hui has remained in the background for several episodes, darting in on the edges of other narratives, but now the focus has returned to her as another figure from her past comes to the island.

Eun-hui’s childhood best friend Go Mi-ran (Uhm Jung-hwa) blows onto Jeju on a wave of energy, sweeping up everyone around her, except for Eun-hui. In the show’s cruelest moment, Mi-ran shows how loyal Eun-hui is to her friends in Seoul, but for the betrayed Eun-hui this is the last straw and a major confrontation is clearly in the offing for these very different personalities.

Already ranking in the top 20 cable shows of all time in South Korea with eight episodes to go, Our Blues drew viewers in with its dazzling cast, but it’s the communal and convivial feeling of their characters’ shared story that’s been keeping us watching.

Lee Jung-eun (left) as successful and businesswoman Jung Eun-hui and Uhm Jung-hwa as her childhood best friend Go Mi-ran in a still from Our Blues.

Our Blues is streaming on Netflix.