Updated: December 15, 2021
“Happiness” (2021) is an apocalyptic-thriller Korean series, starring Han Hyo-joo, Park Hyung-sik, and Jo Woo-jin. The story revolves around residents in a high-rise apartment building locked down by the government due to the spread of a deadly disease.
Since its premiere through Korea’s TVN cable channel on November 5th, it consistently took the second highest nationwide viewership rating in its time slot across all channels. The finale episode attained the highest record of 4.1% according to Nielsen Korea.
It also gained attention and popularity from international audience through the streaming platforms, Viu and iQIYI.
Here are three points why it was loved by many:
1. The screenplay is timely and relevant.
“It’s harder to endure the warmer days, but isn’t it nice to be able to breathe in fresh air without wearing a mask? The world is a bit different from how it was before COVID-19, but thanks to that, we learned how precious an ordinary day can be. Smile when you see people’s faces without masks on and take a deep breath as you look up at the blue skies. I hope your afternoon is filled with happiness.”
One screenplay content that viewers tend to engage with as they navigate shows across multiple platforms is relevance. As the world has battled with COVID-19 pandemic, “Happiness” reflects on this experience and takes its viewers to another challenge of fighting apocalypse in the form of a new infectious disease.
Its timely message serves as the paramount driver of the show where each story, struggle, conflict, and emotion fit into people’s current life. For example, the spread of disease, mandatory quarantine, use of masks, grocery hoarding, finding cure, study of antibodies, and vaccine needs are part of the series.
It also depicts the psychological battle on how the government, pharmaceuticals, the elite, and ordinary citizens respond to crisis, showing the disparity between social classes.
“The earth is in danger right now. Even without a contagious disease, unusual weather, global warming, nuclear war, artificial intelligence, the end of the world is nearing,” reflects one resident.
2. The plot is interesting, thrilling, and unpredictable.
“The cure is most important. How we’ll survive after is a whole different subject.” – Lt. Han Tae Seok
As “Happiness” navigates cure for the infected, the plot shows some promise on giving the story suspense, thrill, and a sense of continuity. The series of conflicts amid survival draw and engage the audience’s emotions, which make the story interesting and compelling to watch.
Pacing is just right—not too slow nor too fast. Every episode provides motion, tension, character development, and direction.
How will the story solve the problem? Where will “Happiness” take the lives of the infected, isolated, and non-infected? It is unpredictable, never boring, keeps you thinking about the story, and wanting for more.
“Do you know what we learned from COVID-19? Getting by is more important than a few people biting and killing each other,” states Lt. Han Tae Seok.
The apocalyptic thriller is written by Han Sang-woon and directed by Ahn Gil-ho, known for his famous projects such as the “Stranger” (2017), “Memories of the Alhambra” (2019), and “Record of Youth” (2020).
3. The characters reflect realistic human behavior during crisis situations.
“At times they’re courageous and at times they’re cowards. Humans are so hard to understand.” – Corporal Sae Bom
How far can humans go to survive life when comfort is shaken and halted? “Happiness” takes us to the lives of multiple interesting characters representing various human behavior in response to crisis.
As the apocalypse hits the city rock bottom, it also breaks every character’s happiness into pieces, subtly exposing the human nature’s ulterior motives amid disease combat.
“I’m getting more disappointed in humanity everyday,” states Corporal Sae Bom as she encounters difficult people.
The issue on skyrocketing apartment rates, exercising condemnation or compassion to the infected, negligence on the harmful effects of science, and survival tactics for personal gain are just some of the show’s tension that reflect how divided and chaotic the society is.
Whether protagonist or antagonist in character, each resident is engaging to watch as they find ways to survive and escape from the barricaded territory. “If you break that, your life will break apart, too,” Ms. Oh warns a resident.
This year, “Happiness” happens to be the only Korean drama that serves a dose of present reality related to COVID-19 pandemic with its storyline revolving around pursuing happiness amid sickness and strife.
It has minor flaws in some parts but overall, it’s a great show and worth the stream on Viu and iQIYI for international viewers.
Photo cover: TVN Drama