It’s not a whole new world.
- Jun Ji Hyun as Shim Cheong/Se Wa
- Lee Min Ho as Heo Joon Jae/Kim Dam Ryeong
- Lee Hee Joon as Jo Nam Doo
- Sung Dong Il as Ma Dae Young
- Lee Ji Hoon as Heo Chi Hyun
- Shin Hye Sun as Cha Shi Ah
- 20 episodes
- Original run: November 16, 2016 – January 25, 2017
In 1598 of the Joseon Era, a county official and mermaid fell in love. But due to the greed of those around them, the star-crossed lovers ultimately met a tragic end. In present day, the reincarnated version of the official is Heo Joon Jae, a conman. And by the powers of fate and destiny, he once again encounters the mermaid, Shim Cheong. As they get closer to each other, it becomes clear that history and their love story are repeating themselves. They must outrun their enemies or be at risk of losing each other again.
Okay, I’m just come right out and say it: Legend of the Blue Sea is the cheap knockoff of My Love from Another Star. At least, that’s how I perceived it. Right from the get-go, it seemed way too convenient that there’d be so many similarities between the two dramas. From the actors to the storyline to even the OST, I was having major (drama) deja vu. Was I watching Star in an alternate universe where Lee Min Ho replaced my beloved Kim Soo Hyun? Why am I hearing a Lyn song with a repetitive English chorus again? Are mermaids the new aliens? All these questions and more littered the way as I ambivalently watched. But despite trying to give it a fair chance, I only saw Legend of the Blue Sea as a derivative drama that lacked original creativity.
While there’s nothing new about dramas trying to copy the success of others by replicating the themes and stories, the similarities between Legend of the Blue Sea and My Love from Another Star are just far too many. The mythical creature falls in love with a human in modern time after sharing a tragic Joseon history. In the meantime, a psychotic murderer is on the loose and trying to do them both harm. Can you identify which drama I’m describing here? Probably not, right? Sigh. And I can’t even call it plagiarism because both were written by the same person and produced by SBS! Never did I think that I would experience Star fatigue, but I think this finally did it for me. Thanks a lot, Legend of the Blue Sea.
I hate to admit it, but the biggest weakness of Blue Sea was casting Jun Ji Hyun as the mermaid, Shim Cheong. Blasphemy, I know. Not because of her acting, but as her first drama since the wildly popular My Love from Another Star, this casting choice screamed laziness. Not enough time has passed between the dramas for the audience to forget about that other beautiful mythical creature known as Do Min Joon. And after playing such a memorable character in Cheon Song Yi, having her as Shim Cheong feels too much like a blatant role reversal that is not nearly as successful. Furthermore, it was kind of demeaning that even though she was the one possessing magical powers now, her character still played the damsel in distress. We’re really supposed to believe that Lee Min Ho, the basic human, is her savior? Like, no. All that being said, Jun Ji Hyun was also the best and most redeeming part of this drama because she’s the queen.
The villains in Blue Sea were so inconsequential and sloppily written that the drama had way too much time to focus on Heo Joon Jae and Shim Cheong’s relationship. If you disregard the whole fate thing they had going on, nothing about them made sense. She basically fell in love with him because…I don’t even know. Ditto with him. More than anything, it felt like the drama was trying to convince the audience that these two were destined (You are my destiny~…oops, wrong drama.) to be together just because Lee Min Ho and Jun Ji Hyun looked good as a couple. And to be quite honest, I found their chemistry lacking.
Legend of the Blue Sea attempts to wear many hats, but its most entertaining moments came when it acted like a comedy. Jun Ji Hyun proves once again that she’s as good of a comedic actress as she is a dramatic one. I especially loved her scenes with Hong Jin Kyung, and want to believe that they are also best friends in real life like they were in Star AND Blue Sea. Also, Moon So Ri was a delight in her role as the shallow but sweet society lady that Heo Joon Jae’s mom worked for. In a drama headlined by such big names, it’s the minor characters that really stole the show. Unlike Jun Ji Hyun who does no wrong, Lee Min Ho was disappointing as Heo Joon Jae. He never fully embraced the stoic, emotional or goofy sides of the character. Plus, he’s not a good crier. Less Heo Joon Jae, more of Shim Cheong and her ragtag band of friends, please!
Besides some writing issues, Legend of the Blue Sea is perfectly acceptable kdrama fluff. But because all I kept seeing in front of me were the more than obvious similarities between it and My Love from Another Star, I couldn’t fully enjoy the drama on its own merits. Jun Ji Hyun is charming and beautiful as always, but her supporting cast really didn’t step up to the task. Perhaps if you watch Legend of the Blue Sea on its own or thought of it as a legitimate remake of My Love from Another Star, you’ll really enjoy it. As for me, I’ll stick with the original.
(If you also thought the similarities between Star and Blue Sea were too obvious and numerous, tell me in the comments which was your “favorite.” Mine? The actor who played the teenage version of Kim Dam Ryeong looked more like Kim Soo Hyun than Lee Min Ho. And of course, Hong Jin Kyung playing Shim Cheong/Cheon Song Yi’s BFFL in both!)
This & That:
- Legend of the Blue Sea is based on a collection of mermaid stories by Joseon scholar, Yu Mong In. In them, a county magistrate released mermaids into the ocean.
- The underwater scenes were filmed in Palau.
- This is Jun Ji Hyun’s first drama since 2013’s My Love from Another Star and first acting role since giving birth to a son in 2016.
- This drama is Lee Min Ho’s first since 2013’s Heirs. This will also be his last acting role before entering the military for 2 years.
- Cha Tae Hyun makes a cameo appearance as a fake shaman in episode 4, marking his and Jun Ji Hyun’s first onscreen reunion in 15 years since co-starring in the hit 2001 film, My Sassy Girl.
- Jo Jung Suk makes a cameo appearance as a merman in episode 7.
- Krystal makes a cameo appearance as a flight attendant in episode 1. She and Lee Min Ho were costars in Heirs.
- Na Young Hee (Heo Joon Jae’s mom) and Hong Jin Kyung (Shim Cheong’s homeless friend) both acted alongside Jun Ji Hyun in My Love from Another Star as her character’s mom and best friend, respectively.