The Hong Sisters return with another fantasy series, this time about a hotel where its occupants are the dead.
Jang Man-Wol (Lee Ji-Eun/IU) is a mysteriously aloof and charming woman with a convoluted past that stems from almost a thousand years ago. Bearing resent and vengeance, she finds her hands covered in the blood of others and seeks the Guest House of the Moon where the souls of the dead are consoled before heading into the afterlife. The guest house is concealed from the world of humans but it materializes before her, choosing Man-Wol as its next owner. Neither dead nor truly alive, Man-Wol finds herself ageless and bounded to be the proprietress of a hotel in modern-day Seoul where the dead find comfort and fulfill their lingering human desires.
A successful and young hotel Assistant Manager, Goo Chan-Seong (Yeo Jin-Goo) begrudgingly becomes the Manager of Hotel Del Luna after being given the capability to see ghosts. His father’s promise to Man-Wol years ago binds Chan-Seong to the hotel but he finds himself drawn to the peculiar woman. A perfectionist, rule-abiding, and soft-hearted soul, Chan-Seong wants nothing to do with ghosts or the supernatural but fate has other things in store for him and a cursed Man-Wol with a blackened heart.
I’ve only been waiting for this for months on end! This has been on the top of list once the premise of the show was revealed and had me anticipating good things when casting was finalized. It’s great to see the Hong Sisters return with a supernatural-fantasy drama similar in tone to Master’s Sun which remains unrivalled as one of the best supernatural series for me personally. The Sisters did however, ruin Hwayugi for me so I remain optimistically cautious as Hotel Del Luna progresses but with a great start and positive reception, this is shaping out to be a hit series. I’m going to take a wild guess that the Sisters mauled over the constructive criticism they received and stepped back to see the larger picture, blending the lines of supernatural-fantasy and storytelling to give us something singularly fluid.
And I say singularly fluid because Hwayugi felt like it was dishing out various concepts that could not integrate with one another to give us a concrete story even if the mythos was coming from an already existing mythical story. When it comes to supernatural and fantasy as genres, it’s almost blatantly obvious when things are being shoved in your face forcefully, which is why it can be difficult to fuse them with a more intricate plot or storytelling but the Writers have found an equilibrium in Hotel Del Luna to do just that.
It’s much darker and complicated than I ever expected which is a nice surprise, giving us a fashionista of a cold soul that’s self-deprecating when it comes to her existence and a young man scared to his core from the frightful ghosts he can now see. It’s the characters themselves that make this feel like a dark comedy of sorts with noir components due to the supernatural elements and as a result, we get a unique series. The intricacies presented in relation to Man-Wol from the very start add to the mysticism and the idea of destiny which forms a connection between our main leads.
The revelations of Man-Wol’s past makes the show more interesting as she’s shrouded with an air of opulence in the present, a striking contrast to what we see her as in the beginning of the pilot episode. There’s no confusion or guessing as to how Man-Wol became the owner but rather what prompts her to travel far distances to a mythical house that’s only rumoured to exist, so we’re left to guess the why aspect. She’s an individual that’s unique in the sense that there’s a constant countenance of indefinite sorrow from having lived so long and having to emotionally detach herself from humans in order to continue existing without really living. Her slight obsession and single determination to have Chan-Seong as head Manager of her hotel seems a little odd considering her personality but it goes to show how much she needs someone else at her side.
Yeo Jin-Yoo is on a roll with his projects this year and I hope he doesn’t burn himself out from taking one role after the next but I’m just as delighted as the next person that he took on Chan-Seong. As the pilot episode does a few time jumps, we immediately sense how much of a stickler Chan-Seong is in the present as a hotel Manager with a few cracks to his reasoning and logic as curiosity and his humanistic side get the best of him. What makes the actor perfect for this role is how effortlessly he transitions from shaking with sheer terror to confronting Man-Wol and her unapologetic scheming. Coming from humble beginnings, Chan-Seong takes pride in what he’s accomplished but knows when to be conscientious of others as an occupational habit or personality trait, counteracting any of the indelicacies delivered by Man-Wol. It’s a tall glass to fill but Yeo Jin-Yoo easily pours his acting abilities into the role, making him one lovable male lead.
What I absolutely adore about the show is the direction the Writes and production team have taken in portraying the supernatural-fantasy elements with a modern twist. The hotel itself looks like it came right out of The Great Gatsby but each of its rooms is unique and designed for its individual occupants, one door may lead to an actual beach while another to wintry mountains, or a library large enough to hold every single book in existence. The journey to the afterlife requires souls to cross an actual bridge, driven there by ‘heaven’s’ car once a Grim Reaper comes to accompany them. It’s all these instances that make the show extremely fun to watch and open to endless possibilities of the imagination.
Even the more intentional supernatural elements that are vital to the drama’s plot are noteworthy. Man-Wol’s sword which she uses to exact her revenge is engraved with ‘Full Moon’ being engulfed by a mystical tree which is the foundation and central ‘heart’ of the guest house/hotel. The sword isn’t hers (most likely considering the information we’re given so far) but it captures her life’s essence and deepens the bonds Man-Wol and Chan-Seong have since the tree comes to life and bears flowers in the presence of Chan-Seong and his father. The tree is otherwise lifeless and I somehow get the feeling that it’s a direct reflection of Man-Wol’s soul and Chan-Seong’s past life. I like how the show can be unpredictable with the daily operations of the hotel and its guests but the nuances when it comes to the core supernatural story, is compelling and distinctively drawn out for us to interpret. And this gives us a change of pace to what we’ve been getting lately with a lot of other K-dramas so this series is clearly out to shake the drama world along with the fashion industry.
A magical world full of imagination and ghosts, Hotel Del Luna is unique in style and tone, full of charms and concepts of life and death with clear conditions. The visuals are stunning with a sprinkle of spookiness and conflicting characters to keep you thoroughly entertained.
Release Date: July 13, 2019 (Eng Sub available on Viki)