‘Happiness’ K-Drama review: Apocalyptic thriller is an unexpected surprise

A still from ‘Happiness’

“COVID-19 may be over but we don’t know when another disease may break out again” reads a banner in one of the first few scenes in Happiness. 

This ominous foreshadowing of things to come sums up the premise of the 12 episode K-Drama quite neatly. Happiness, however, has a lot more to offer than your average apocalyptic thriller. The writing ensures that the show goes beyond the expected gore, and trains its focus instead on human nature in the face of adversity. Spoiler alert: we don’t fare very well. Yet, the show stands on firm ground, and has a lot of heart thanks to its leads. 

In a post-COVID world, long-time friends, detective Jung Yi-Hyun(Park Hyung-Sik) and Special Operations Unit officer Yoon Sae-Bom(Han Hyo-Joo), strike a deal to secure an apartment in a newly-constructed high-rise building, just as an infectious disease breaks out. The disease, origins of which are traced back to a failed drug called ‘Next’, results in humans experiencing short bursts of insanity accompanied by an uncontrollable thirst for blood. 

Yi-Hyun and Sae-Boom soon find themselves sealed off from the outside world in their apartment complex after infections among the residents are on the rise. The building itself makes for an intriguing setting; the luxurious high rise is populated by a mix of renters, who occupy the first few floors, and wealthy apartment owners who inhabit the top floors. This class conflict is what a large chunk of the simmering tension among the residents is centred on. 

Even as Yi-Hyun and Sae-Bom struggle to bring about some sort of peace and order, every other resident has an agenda to fulfil; blood lust and insanity be damned.  There’s an adulterous doctor fervently trying his best to not land up in jail for murder, a scheming mistress, a vlogger who wants to stream the horrors of the outbreak and subsequent quarantine for his followers, and an infuriatingly uptight owner who is angling for the post of the apartment representative among others. As chaos reigns inside, there’s Lieutenant Han Tae-Sook (Jo Woo-Jin) who is managing the outbreak of the disease outside, with a seemingly shady strategy in mind. 

Cast: Park Hyung-Sik, Han Hyo-Joo
Synopsis: In a post COVID world, residents of a luxurious high rise suddenly find themselves cut off from the outside world following the outbreak of a mysterious new disease 

When the residents initially go into lockdown, there’s an eerie sense of familiarity. In one very telling scene, Yi-Hyun, his supervisor Jung-Guk, Sae-Bom, and their neighbour’s young daughter Seo-Yoon, who has been left in their care, go to the rooftop for a picnic under the skies, and are all smiles as they chatter away, unmindful of the horrors to soon follow. 

As the infection spreads and tensions rise, things begin to rapidly unravel as the degenerate, conniving residents there take matters into their own hands . The rare flashes of humanity are limited to a handful of central characters.  Sae-Bom and Yi-Hyun, for instance, try to reason with them about taking care of the infected, and how they need to do away with the stigma. It is this lack of empathy and humanity that Happiness often questions, given that the real threat seems to be from the many self-centered, heinous humans there trying to save themselves rather than those actually infected. 

However, while Happiness might seem heavy on paper, its treatment on-screen is far from dark. This is also one more show where the 12-episode format works perfectly, as the writing is taut from start to finish. 

Hyung-Sik and Hyo-Joo are pitch perfect as the voices of sanity among all the chaos, and their slow-burn romance is one of the high points of the show. It’s one among the many things that helps keep the tone of the show away from getting too pessimistic. Even as things slowly turn bleak, Happiness jumps up at every turn to reassure its viewers that there still is some humanity and warmth left in the world. 

Happiness is currently streaming on Netflix and Viki 

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Printable version | Apr 29, 2022 6:06:17 pm |