Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Welcome to Samdalri narrates the journey of a protagonist who, after plummeting from the pinnacle of life, returns to their hometown to heal wounds, reflect on life, and rediscover lost love. Set against the backdrop of Jeju Island, the drama portrays those who, having soared high with dreams only to have their wings clipped, return to their nest, finding solace in laughter, tears, bickering, and warmth. The drama warmly embraces viewers’ hearts with stories of those living in or returning to Samdal-ri, full of a hometown embrace. It particularly resonates with those who have lived away from home for work or study.
Sam Dal (Shin Hye Sun) could be considered the most successful individual from the fishing village of Samdal-ri, Jeju. A celebrated photographer collaborating with international magazines, her life takes a nosedive when she discovers her boyfriend cheating with her assistant, who then leaks their private conversation and falsely accuses Sam Dal of power abuse. Witnessing her life crumble, Sam Dal flees to her hometown to escape from those coming after her. However, she didn’t really want to return to Samdal-ri, not just because of her wounded pride and the villagers’ gossip, but mainly because of Yong Pil (Ji Chang Wook), her best friend and ex-boyfriend, still residing there.
Welcome to Samdalri is a drama devoid of any “spicy” elements—no shocking twists, provocative dialogues, or thrilling revelations. Instead, it offers a “savory” experience. The beautiful landscapes of Jeju and the laughter of its inhabitants add to the charm. However, it’s not just a visually pleasing or laugh-filled drama. After the first episode, which portrays the fall of Sam Dal, aka photographer Jo Eun Hye, each episode evokes deep emotions. Whether intentional or not, the emotions depicted through scenes, dialogues, situations, and close-ups of characters are comforting.
Another charm of the drama lies in its characters and their relationships. Sam Dal and Yong Pil, born and raised together, share an inseparable bond. Their love was passionate as adults, and even after breaking up, they couldn’t fully get over each other. Their complex relationship, where they can’t bear to show each other their ugly sides yet know each other inside out, is as intriguing as a reality dating show. Sam Dal, who was “too busy for the food her mother sent,” now has a new quest—to find her new identity after losing everything. Her quest and their love story are organically intertwined, making it impossible to discuss one without the other.
Moreover, the special chemistry of the “Five Eagle Brothers” also stands out. These five besties, who once shared similar dreams but returned home with pain, understand each other’s hearts best. A scene in Episode 5 where Sam Dal’s friends fiercely defend her against a journalist who came to Jeju to dig into her past highlights their enduring friendship. Additionally, the drama is filled with colorful characters and relationships, such as the “crazy sisters”—Jin Dal, Sam Dal, and Hae Dal—their mother Mi Ja, and the haenyeo (female divers) and village elders who have closely watched their growth.
One of Welcome to Samdalri‘s strengths is its script, which opts for a winding path of self-reflection over exhilarating narratives, and its direction, which captures the essence of humanity. On top of that, the actors’ performances add a familiar yet fresh depth. The unique relationship of Yong Pil and Sam Dal, who have been “buddies” since birth, come to life through the realistic portrayals of Ji Chang Wook and Shin Hye Sun. Ji Chang Wook’s mastery of romance, previously admired in Lovestruck in the City, shines once again. Shin Hye Sun’s control of emotional intensity through understated acting is also notable. Each episode features scene-stealers who perfectly embody their characters, with Lee Jae- Won, who plays Wang Gyeong Tae, leaving a particularly strong impression.
So far, Welcome to Samdalri has established itself as a drama that delivers deep flavors and natural emotions instead of shocks or exhilaration. The hope is that it maintains these charms while also delivering justice to those who tormented Sam Dal. And before it concludes, one burning question has to be answered: Who is telling the truth—Sam Dal, who says Yong Pil dumped her, or Yong Pil, who claims Sam Dal wanted to break up? Where did such misunderstanding come from? (7/10)
Editor Seo Hae Lan: I’m not picky and like all genres. I am in constant search of a balance between criticism and a fan’s heart.