I started watching Happiness with no expectations whatsoever. There were very few promotions for it compared to other South Korean shows I’ve seen this year. And if I were being completely honest with you, the only reason why I picked it up is that I was feeling a K-drama slump looming over me, and I thought it wasn’t a bad idea to get rid of it by seeing Park Hyung-sik and Han Hyo-joo on my screen on weekends — one, they’re gorgeous, and two, they’re really good actors as well. I consider myself a fan of both, so putting up with whatever this new show of theirs was all about wouldn’t be a problem. Little did I know, I was in for quite a ride.
Happiness, which was billed as an urban apocalyptic thriller, emerged as one of South Korea’s top domestic dramas on Twitter, ranking second on the website’s annual #OnlyOnTwitter report for 2021.
Many viewers — myself included — found the results (pleasantly) surprising, notably since the show fell just behind the hugely popular series Penthouse and bested Netflix exclusives like Sweet Home (#4), Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (#9), and even the global phenomenon Squid Game (#8) on the list, given such a short time. (The report was released last Friday, 10 December — just six weeks after Happiness aired its pilot episode on tvN and up-and-coming online streaming service TVING.) It also consistently reigned over other networks’ programs during its 10:40 PM time slot on Fridays and Saturdays.
So what exactly made Happiness an unexpected hit in K-Drama Land? The contributing factors are pretty clear:
With such a straightforward title, Happiness drew in scores of clueless people looking for a light and easy watch, only to treat them to a blood bath of infectious blood-sucking zombie-vampire hybrids and unassuming killers. Talk about contrast and irony.
The recently-concluded tvN thriller is actually far from what its title suggests. It follows best friends Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo), a member of a Special Operation Unit police squad, and Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik), an ex-baseball-athlete-turned-detective, who start a new life in a new flat under a contractual marriage. Just when they thought they’re closer to achieving their personal goals, a disease outbreak in their apartment complex sends their extraordinarily ordinary lives to a tailspin.
Those who were initially unaware of the premise of Happiness found themselves sticking around for more, along with viewers who had long been anticipating the series. Nobody can blame them, though, the show was virtually impossible to drop from the first episode.
Its accurate reflection of our current reality
Happiness is among the first K-Dramas to acknowledge the existence of COVID-19. In fact, it’s part of the plot! The story is set in the new normal, where tests and immunizations for the virus have simply become part of life. As the show opens, we get glimpses of the reality we are faced with today, which is part creepy and part fascinating, TBH.
The importance of wearing masks and washing hands get some screen time. There are acrylic barriers on the tables of common dining areas. Home-schooling has become a more acceptable option to get an education, especially for children with special needs. And, we also see professionals working from home, sporting WFH fashion—no less.
More than just a thriller, Happiness explored classism, worldliness, and materialism, and it had just the perfect villains to go with these themes.
We got Baek Hyun-jin as suspended doctor Oh Joo-Hyeong and Bae Hae-sun as ambitious resident representative Oh Yeon-ok leading a pack of nightmarish neighbors who are blinded by money and power in the middle of a zombie-vamp breakout.
As the story progressed, we met more cunning baddies, who made us want to grab a knife to stab our screens with. Really, the villains of this show are so good at being bad, they’ll make your blood curdle.
I’ll give it to the writer and editing team Happiness for keeping us *thirsty* for the next episode. Man, does the show have some of the most gripping cliffhangers in recent K-drama history!
While it was still airing, the days leading to the next episode were pure torture, and the grim-looking previews didn’t help either. If you ever decide to binge-watch this, “just one more episode” will be your default white lie—if it isn’t yet.
Heart-stopping action scenes
When you’re dealing with infected blood-thirsty humans who can contort their bodies and run fast AF, you gotta have some good combat skills up your sleeve to survive. Fortunately, the show’s heroes are total aces in their respective fields, serving action scenes that definitely kept viewers on the edge of their seats.
Its take on the concept of home and family
The heart of Happiness lies in its tender moments. Yeah, it packs a lot of action, all right, but it is also balanced with soft scenes that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
In the midst of all the chaos, Sae-bom and Yi-hyun find a makeshift family in each other and in the people close to them, including Yi-hyun’s senior detective Kim Jung-guk (LeeJoon-hyuk) and their next-door neighbor Park Seo-yeon (Song Ji-woo), who was left to their care.
As bonds are put to a test, the leads come to realize that having a place to live in is not everything—it’s whom you share it with that matters most.
Hope for a happy ending
When the series was drawing closer to its finale, fans just had one request: Give Happiness a happy ending—not just for the main couple, but also for the supporting cast members whom the viewers have come to root for. This includes Jo Woo-jin’s Han Tae-seok, who is heading the search for a cure, driven by very personal reasons.
Needless to say, for the fans to find out if what they begged for came into fruition, they had to stick around to see how the show was wrapped up.
On the 11th of December, Happiness ended on its highest ratings throughout its run at 4.2 percent, minting a personal record all the while dominating across all channels—cable and public—in its time slot.
Han Hyo-joo and Park Hyung-sik’s on-screen chemistry
The true MVPs of Happiness are, without a doubt, its lead actors. While the show isn’t exactly a romance drama, Han Hyo-joo and Park Hyung-sik’s fiery on-screen chemistry had everyone sold with their characters’ subtle yet sincere expressions of affection for each other. Sae-bom and Yi-hyun didn’t see the need for grand gestures to make one another feel safe and reassured as the world around them crumbled. Their years-long friendship built upon love and trust is the foundation of their healthy relationship, and it remained unshaken until the very end.
On a side note, it would be great to see Han Hyo-joo and Park Hyung-sik pair up again for a rom-com. Y’know, a show without zombie-vamps and killing sprees? Gotta maximize their overflowing chemistry!
— HAPPINESS GOT A HAPPY ENDING (@anbyeolii) December 9, 2021