K-drama Curtain Call: Ha Ji-won, Kang Ha-neul headline comforting family melodrama set in high society
- Ha Ji-won plays a woman separated from her husband (Kang Ha-neul) in the Korean war, and the granddaughter of the same woman, who’s built a hotel empire
- Kang also plays the woman’s North Korean criminal grandson, and an actor hired to impersonate him, in a series where nearly every character is good at heart
An ageing hotel tycoon’s desire to reconnect with her long-lost North Korean family, and her grandchildren’s family business succession concerns, collide in new KBS melodrama Curtain Call.
Ha Ji-won, Kang Ha-neul and Go Doo-shim lead a cast filled with recognisable names in this high-society drama centred around a chaebol (family-run Korean corporation). Though most Korean dramas these days generally seek to vilify these powerful companies, Curtain Call is cut from more old-fashioned cloth.
This is a family drama where nearly everyone is essentially good at heart. At the centre of it is Ja Geum-soon (Go), a poor woman who was separated from her family during the Korean war, relocated in the south, and worked her way up to become the leader of the Nakwon Group, the top hotel chain in the country.
The series begins with a show-stopping sequence portraying a chaotic wartime evacuation during which families are torn apart as they try to board ships to escape to safety.
In this wrenching scene, Geum-soon and her husband, played by Ha and Kang, dramatically make their way to a boat, but while Geum-soon manages to get on, her husband and son fail to join her on the vessel.
The parallels don’t end there. The show later features a tearful reunion between Geum-soon and her grown-up son, which mirrors Ode to My Father’s emotional recreation of Finding Dispersed Families, broadcast in 1983, a landmark KBS programme that reunited families separated by the war.
After being separated, Geum-soon begins her new life alone running the humble Nakwon Inn overlooking a harbour on Korea’s southern coast. But every time she hears a foghorn her trauma is reawakened.
The Nakwon Inn and the 1950s shanty town that surrounds it then fade to the present-day, where the gleaming Nakwon Hotel towers above the sands of Haeundae Beach in Busan. This gleaming high-rise is the crown jewel of the Nakwon chain and is just about to open.
Geum-soon wanted to fashion her latest hotel after a lighthouse, to symbolically help her lost family find their way to shore.
Park Se-yeon (also played by Ha), the tycoon’s granddaughter and the manager of this new hotel, is devoted to Geum-soon, and works tirelessly to protect Nakwon’s name and keep the chain in the family.
Se-yeon’s siblings include the dilettante Se-gyu (Choi Dae-hoon) and eldest son Se-joon (Ji Seung-hyun), who thinks the family should look to the future and sell.
In fact, Se-joon calls a shareholders’ meeting on the day of the hotel’s opening, and Se-yeon only finds out at the last minute – her invitation was conveniently lost in the mail.
Se-joon controls enough shares to authorise a sale, but in the nick of time, Geum-soon, the firm’s top shareholder, makes a surprise appearance. It’s a surprise because she is supposed to be in hospital. Geum-soon doesn’t have long to live.
Meanwhile, Geum-soon’s long-time right-hand man Jeong Sang-cheol (Sung Dong-il) has secretly been looking for her North Korean grandson with the help of a detective. He succeeds in tracking him down, only to discover that he has become a violent criminal operating in China.
Determined to keep this fact from his employer but eager to grant her last wish to meet her grandson again, Sang-cheol comes up with a new plan.
Enter struggling actor Yoo Jae-hoon, also played by Kang, who works odd jobs and is currently performing as a North Korean soldier in a tiny play.
Sang-cheol approaches him with an unusual offer. In exchange for 500 million won, he is asked to play the part of Geum-soon’s grandson for three months.
Other characters in the mix include Se-yeon’s ex-fiancé Bae Dong-je, who, in a bid to get back together, becomes the first person to occupy the hotel’s VVIP room at a cost of 20 million won, for a period that also stretches to three months.
There’s also Jae-hoon’s friend Seo Yoon-hee (Jung Ji-so). Jae-hoon ropes Yoon-hee into his act, asking her to play his wife, though he seems oblivious to her real feelings about him.
Curtain Call has the unfortunate distinction of being the first Korean drama to debut in the wake of the deadly crowd crush that occurred in Itaewon, Seoul, on October 29. Given the panicked masses in its opening evacuation scene, the show briefly offers an uncomfortable parallel, before quickly adopting a softer tone.
With its familiar faces and its focus on a rich and powerful family that isn’t made up of tyrants, Curtain Call is comfort viewing through and through, and through Jae-hoon’s character in particular, offers us the vicarious promise of lifting us out of our lives and into the lap of luxury.
Curtain Call is streaming on Prime Video.