Shades of conflict in ‘Our Blues,’ a bittersweet anthology

A drama about everyday troubles, Our Blues brings together a strong cast and captures island life on Jeju

Updated - May 20, 2022 06:01 pm IST

Published - May 20, 2022 03:00 pm IST

A still from ‘Our Blues’

A still from ‘Our Blues’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

After a slew of dystopian and apocalyptic dramas — from Squid Game and Hell Bound to All of Us are Dead — South Korea’s trotting out its popular rom-coms and slice-of-lifers. The latest, Our Blues, a bittersweet anthology that follows the people of Jeju Island as they navigate through life, love and everything in between, is holding its own among series such as My Liberation Notes.

Simple stories — rekindling a long-forgotten romance or just getting though a day’s chaos — form the heart of director Kim Kyu-tae’s (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo) series. And it stars a stellar ensemble with Lee Byung-hun (Mr Sunshine), Shin Min-a (Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha), Kim Woo-bin (Uncontrollably Fond), Lee Jung-eun (Parasite) and Han Ji-min (Rooftop Prince).

The cast of ‘Our Blues’: (L-R) Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-a, Cha Seung-won, Lee Jung-eun, Uhm Jung-hwa, Han Ji-min and Kim Woo-bin

The cast of ‘Our Blues’: (L-R) Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-a, Cha Seung-won, Lee Jung-eun, Uhm Jung-hwa, Han Ji-min and Kim Woo-bin | Photo Credit: Netflix

“My character is cautious while at sea, but easy going and positive, too. His simplicity and honesty appealed to me,” says Woo-bin. The actor, who plays a boat captain, made his long-awaited comeback (he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer in 2017, and took a break to focus on his recovery) with the 20-episode drama. To prepare for his role, he made several trips to Jeju, to meet boat captains and conquer his sea sickness. “I had to take pills to combat my nausea, and do a lot of breathing exercises so as not to disrupt the shoot for others,” he shares.

Stories with heart

Our Blues also stars Woo-bin’s real-life partner, Min-a. Though fans were disappointed they weren’t partnered on the show. Writer Noh Hee-kyung admits it was intentional. “I told them they had different love lines” to explore various character dynamics.

Min-a in a still from ‘Our Blues’

Min-a in a still from ‘Our Blues’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

Playing a mother suffering from depression who loses custody of her child, Min-a says it was the humane stories depicted in the show — irrespective of gender and age — that appealed to her. “I think they’re made powerful because they’re not grandiose or dramatic, but can be found in our daily lives. Viewers can relate to each character in some way or the other.” She also appreciates how mental health issues are treated in the show. “Seon-a’s depressed state is portrayed as a fantasy. There is a scene where she is shown drenched, the water dripping from her body so aesthetically to capture her exhaustion and convey her pain.”

Living in the moment
Byung-hun is one of South Korea’s biggest international stars (think Days of Sunshine, I Saw the Devil, and G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra). Last seen as the Frontman in Squid Game, the actor plays the temperamental travelling salesman Lee Dong-suk, whose life spirals after the return of the woman (Min-a) who broke his heart. The actor, 51, says it was his desire to work with screenwriter Hee-kyung that had him saying yes to Our Blues. “I literally asked her to create a part for me,” he says, adding, “It was the perfect comeback piece because my character has many sides. He is moody and reactive one moment and quiet the other, but always true to his emotions. His rawness appealed to me, as did the fact that every person in this show is scarred. Our Blues is all about healing and living in the moment, which is something we need today.”

Strength on screen

The series not only succeeds in its well-orchestrated storytelling, but also in its portrayal of strong, independent women. From the competitive haenyeo (divers) who represent the semi-matriarchal society of Jeju, and the pregnant highschooler who decides to keep her baby despite the stigma, to the sexually-liberated Young Ok (Ji-min) and the feisty, unmarried businesswoman, portrayed brilliantly by Jung-eun, the characters are memorable.

“Eun Hi [the businesswoman] is a character viewers have not seen before. She is wholesome, both in her appearance and her thought process, despite her conflicted feelings,” says Jung-eun, best remembered as the housekeeper Gook Moon in Parasite. “Playing her was not easy, and I hope the audience will see these characters for what they are.”

Our Blues is currently streaming on Netflix.

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