A predictable, fun ride that thrives in humility.
This review of the Netflix K-Drama series Once Upon a Small Town season 1 does not contain spoilers.
With its easy-to-follow, humble premise and a colourful village backdrop, Once Upon a Small Town certainly has a lot of surface level appeal. It stands out not in intricacy, but rather in idiosyncrasy, thriving in a dedication to breezy storytelling that sets the show apart from some of the more overtly complex releases this year.
The plot largely revolves around Han Ji-yul, a skilled veterinarian. The well-regarded professional has a developing life for himself in Seoul, but it’s soon turned upside down after an ominous call seems to suggest that his grandfather may be in grave trouble. As it turns out, he has just went on a cruise with his wife, though Ji-yul is now suddenly expected to cover for his relative’s veterinary hospital in humble Huidong during his elder’s absence.
Expectedly, this transition from cushty capital city living to village occupancy is not a seamless one. Laced with misconceptions, unforgiving work hours, and more, Ji-yul finds it tough to fit into a place where he is already noticeably popular by default. Elsewhere, there’s Ja-young, a police officer who was once “secret friends” with the temporary resident, and now wants to jog the vet’s memory alongside her more official duties. There’s Sang-hyeon too, a friendly peach farm owner who is undeniably good natured.
Put together, all of this makes for dainty viewing. Clocking in at 30 minutes an episode, nothing ever outstays its welcome, or lingers unnecessarily. Problems are swiftly dealt with, dynamics rapidly built upon, while the stakes are continuously inoffensively down-to-earth. In fact, during the first two instalments (all that has aired at the time of writing) you can get a strong picture of where things are going, making for predictable, yet nonetheless enjoyable, viewing.
Helping the show succeed is an enthused young cast, who all play their parts with a marked commitment. Choo Yeong-woo is strong as the lead character Ji-yul, layering his performance with versatility, in addition to an infectious charisma. You get a good sense of the vet’s struggle in adapting to village life from the start, and cannot help but feel invested in what transpires in his changing situation. Just as solid is Joy, who plays the role of the area’s reliable, confident police officer with efficiency. She is charming as the somewhat clumsy official, whose heart is always in the right place.
Continuing, the warm feelings evoked by the rural backdrop are always utilised by director Kwon Seok-jang. The experienced hand gives life to the village setting, painting it as a rustic yet colourful place, one that deservedly thrives in its purity.
Overall, Once Upon a Small Town looks like it’ll be a decent change of pace from the current slate of K-dramas. It’s not an instant classic, yet it doesn’t pretend to be, and owns its rather low ceiling by ensuring that each episode delivers something packaged with congruent quality. As such, this is an effort that remains worth watching, should needlessly lofty expectations be left at the door.
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