Another big budget show for 2016, with big names and an overseas setting (Spain seems to be the “in” destination now).
- Gianna Jun (from My Love from the Stars) as Sim-chung (or the mermaid). She fell in love with Dam-ryung 400 years ago, and somehow inherited his jade bangle. Years later, she meets the reincarnated Dam-ryung when she got washed ashore after a storm.
- Lee Min-ho (from Heirs) as Dam-ryung and Heo Joon-jae. Dam-ryung (in the Chosun era) is an upright governor who fell in love with Sim-chung whom he released from captivity. In the present day, he is Joon-jae, a professional con-man (think Ocean 11). Sim-chung barges into his hotel room by accident, and he kinda “adopted” her after.
Flashback 400 years ago, in a coastal town in the Chosun era, a rich man (Lord Yang) captures a mermaid who was washed ashore by a terrible storm. Yang presents the mermaid (Sim-chung) to Dam-ryung, the newly appointed governor, thinking that she will earn him some brownie points. However, Dam-ryung releases Sim-chung out of pity and later finds himself attracted to her. When he meets her by chance again during a wish lantern festival, she promises to come whenever he releases wish lanterns into the sky. (which he promptly did…like a gazillion of them…the following night)
We do not know what happened to Dam-ryung and Sim-chung eventually (even though Dam-ryung’s jade bangle ends up with Sim-chung). But in the present day (in Spain), another storm washes Sim-chung ashore, she finds herself transformed – with feet. By coincidence (?) she sneaks into Joon-jae’s room.
Joon-jae happens to be taking a break in Spain after a successful heist. He is taken aback with Sim-chung’s appearance in his room, but helps to release her from police custody when he realizes the jade bangle on her arm is worth 6 mil. Although he manages to con the bangle out from innocent (and adorably ignorant) Sim-chung, he feels bad about it, and goes back to pick her up from the department store where he left her.
Joon-jae takes Sim-chung under his wings (and eventually returns the bangle to her), when they are both on the run from a very angry mob boss (whom Joon-jae conned earlier).
Maybe it helps that Gianna Jun is a new mother – her Sim-chung with wide eyed innocence and absolute delight at everything around her is like a toddler experiencing the big, big world for the first time. And yet, she is also the 400 year old wise, mythical mermaid. Amazingly, Gianna Jun manages to convincingly pull off both characters. Although her actions (like plucking out the hotel keycard juz so to turn on and off the lights) are slapstick and childish, when she speaks, her words cut deep into Joon-jae. For example, while he is pessimistic about the Tower of Hercules being the farthest “end” of the Earth, Sim-chung points out it is not an “end”, but a “beginning” of another world – the Ocean.
While Gianna Jun is endearing, Lee Min-ho isn’t too bad in his dual portrayals of Dam-ryung/ Joon-jae either. Although I find chivalrous Dam-ryung a tad more boring than colorful Joon-jae, cos the former is juz…too perfect? The typical hero who is so goody-two-shoes that he probably succumbs eventually to the machinations of his enemies. In contrast, Joon-jae isn’t your perfect gentleman. He is crook, but a more likeable crook than say, Jung-do, in 38 Task Force. While Joon-jae operates like Jung-do, all we have seen so far is him and his gang scamming the rich and corrupted. Plus, his softie side shows up so easily. Like Sim-chung adroitly points out, there are plenty of chances for Joon-jae to dump her, but he doesn’t.
Besides giving us two characters who are adorably easy to root for, Sea’s narrative is engaging as well. I like that the sageuk portion is weaved in at each ep’s opening for a short 10 or so minutes. The history between the mermaid and human makes their current love story bittersweet. Cos while the human likely has forgotten about his past (and his mermaid lover), the ageless and immortal mermaid hasn’t.
However, like Writer-nim’s earlier work (My Love from the Stars), it can take some balancing act and loads of convincing to pull off a good ending. Imo, the time-travel-worm-hole resolution from Stars was a little stretched. Let’s see how Sea fares in the end.