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A dentist with an impulsive personality makes some bad decisions and gets shut out of her tight professional community in Seoul. She’s forced to relocate to a tiny, charming seaside village, where she finds herself falling for a gentle local hero.
Kim Seon-ho, who played a snarky venture capitalist in Start-Up, plays the sweet romantic lead here. Baek Seung, of the K-pop group EPEX, has a cameo as In-Woo, a member of a fictional K-pop group who visit the tiny seaside town.
If you’re just newly scratching the surface of the current crop of K-dramas, you may have come to expect outlandish concepts and high stakes (like hotels for ghosts, Italo-Korean Mafia consiglieres, and metaphorical critiques of surveillance capitalism), but this gently funny series hinges on a much simpler conceit. Shin Min-a stars as Yoon Hye-jin, a stuck-up heroine with a kind heart who learns to grow into her best self when she falls for an unlikely suitor.
Though pretty, smart, well-educated, and successful, Hye-jin is also hotheaded, a bit snobbish, status-obsessed, and self-absorbed. But the first episode lets us see that she’s a diamond in the rough. Though she quits her job and insults her boss, it’s only because her boss pressured patients into expensive dental procedures they couldn’t afford. Realizing that her now former boss has blacklisted her—and that her own impulsive behavior is partly to blame—Hye-jin heads to a tiny seaside town to think things over. It happens to be the place where her parents spent a holiday just before Hye-jin’s mother died—and since the place is full of bittersweet memories she has no intention of staying.
But circumstance after circumstance piles up to keep her there, and it’s no surprise to the viewer when said circumstances also keep throwing Hye-jin into the path of the most beloved person in town, a humble and hardworking handyman named Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho). Before the second episode is done, she’s opened a dental clinic in the town—and managed to piss off all of the residents when her trash-talking comments are inadvertently broadcast over the town’s public address system. Only Hong Du-sik can help her now.
If problematic anti-heroes and bad boys aren’t your style, Hong Du-sik is almost comically perfect for you. Lovable and sweet, good at everything, he looks after the town’s elderly residents and helps everyone in town. Du-sik is brusque with Hye-jin, but it’s only because he’s concealing his deeper feelings toward her. That’s not to say that the course of their romance runs smooth. Far from it; Du-sik—like most perfect men in rom-coms—is chronically emotionally guarded due to a traumatic incident in his past. But that’s a minor snag which will take exactly 16 charming, sweet, and seaside-scenic episodes to resolve.
With a pretty, beach-y setting, two adorable leads, and a host of beguiling small-town characters, this is K-drama-as-comfort-food. The romance is sweet, but the show’s most gratifying arc is seeing Hye-jin evolve from a materialistic egotist into the kind and generous person she truly is.
Someone who doesn’t think romantic happy endings are “cringe.”
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha hit a snag with audiences when its male lead, Kim Seon-ho, was embroiled in a shocking scandal: his ex-girlfriend leaked text exchanges that seemed to show he’d coerced her into an abortion before their breakup. However, a more nuanced picture emerged later, so don’t let the scandal ruin this sweet rom-com for you.