The national sense of a swoon worthy romance is variable. What may be sweet or endearing to one nation can seem hackneyed to another.
Hotel del Luna, the hit South Korean show where a mysterious hotel soothes the souls of the dead, falls into a typically Korean banding of romance: sincere and upfront man infuriated by harsh yet secretly vulnerable woman.
What Is Hotel Del Luna About?
The Hotel del Luna (or ‘Guest House of the Moon’) is run by one Jang Man-wol (Lee Ji-eun, Persona).
She loves the finer things in life, having ‘failed to die’ for over 1,300 years due to an egregious past sin.
Although her hotel is respite for the dead and barely perceptible to humans, it still exists in the real world and thus she needs a live manager to pay property taxes, and deal with the bereaved.
Luckily for her (or is it?) a destitute nearly dead thief makes the mistake of stumbling into her hotel and snapping off a branch from her sacred tree.
She offers him a deal: die for his sin, or survive and promise his 10 year son, Koo Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo) to her.
21 years later Chan-sung, having grown into an honest and educated man, is summoned to her to fulfil the duties to which he has been bound.
All of which fails to endear you to Ms Jang. Over the course of a 16 episode run there is plenty of room to bolster relationships and develop personalities, but it is hard to sink time into such an inauspicious start.
Hotel del Luna quickly uses all the tricks in the book to make you pre-swoon.
Ji-eun – a very successful K-pop star under the stage name ‘IU’ – is framed with slo-mo, soft focus, and lingering tracking shots.
The exasperated Chang-sung is forever going against his better judgement and giving her the benefit of the doubt, always within close-up as his expressions ripple across his face.
Hotel del Luna Official Trailer
Is Hotel del Luna Worth Watching?
Yet by the time we get to such a plot proper in episode 3 – the point at which any show needs to have set the standard for what is to come – Hotel del Luna badly missteps its tone.
When a rich bully schoolgirl recklessly pushes a poor classmate over a bridge, killing her, Ms Jang offers no comfort to the deceased.
Her main goal is to extort money from the rich girl’s parents to fund her extravagant lifestyle.
Constant references to the dead girl as a ‘parasite’ without challenge also fail to resolve the plot with any emotional power beyond Chang-sung’s disgust. There is no soothing of the dead, only profit.
Of course as the show goes on our leads rub off on each other: Ms Jang rediscovers her compassion; her ancient backstory works in the layers; Chang-sung gets to know the fun supporting cast of ghostly hotel employees; and the series flirts effectively with its horrific spectres. Hotel del Luna was a massive hit in Korea not for nothing.
For western or streaming audiences though the dangled promise of future heart warming content may not be enough to sustain you through the chilly opening 3 hours.
If you have already made your reservation with K-dramas then you will likely have a pleasant stay. The casual viewer may simply check out early.
Words by Mike Record
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