‘Crash Landing on You’: An axis of evolution
Son Ye-jin (left) and Hyun Bin in the K-drama 'Crash Landing on You,' now showing on Netflix.

A romantic comedy about North Korea? The country that, if some are to be believed, wants to bomb us back to the stone age? Our supposed sworn enemies who have disrespectfully, if not inaccurately, referred to our president as a dotard?!

What could one of the world’s least developed nations have to offer in the realm of humorous love story telling? How can Crash Landing avoid crash and burn?

Netflix

Wealthy South Korean businesswoman Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) escapes to the mountains for a paragliding adventure that mistakenly lands her in the North Korean end of the DMZ. Se-ri is captured by a curious North Korean border patrol. After some consternation and deliberation, Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok (Hyun Bin) and his unit stalwarts decide to hide the wayward CEO until they can get her safely back over the border.

As Se-ri hides out in the North, her jealous family schemes to take over her company. Who needs Bond villains when one has family like this!

Will Se-ri be able to evade North Korea’s border guards? Will she be able to return to Seoul to rightfully rescue the company she worked so hard to build? Will she endanger the brave principled soldiers trying to return her? Or after 16 episodes of constrained bucolic Northern village life and the charmingly stoic and very attractive Captain Ri . . . will she even want to return?

Crash Landing has been a massive critical and popular success across Asia and globally. Clearly it has reached more people than all Kim Jong Un’s missile launches combined. Its last episode received almost half a billion views in China alone, as well as topping the charts from Japan to the Philippines.

Of course, a show about two sides of a border could be expected to generate controversy. But Crash Landing gracefully paraglides above politics. Its depictions of government and corporate corruption in both the North and South are generally recognizable as articles of faith. The series was greatly assisted by consultants from the North who, according to most experts, lent great authenticity to the project.

One important advance of Crash Landing is its humanization of North Koreans, cutting through the dogma-driven construct of the once popular “Axis of Evil” demonization. We see normal people who love their families, culture, and country, and act as well and poorly as anyone would in similar situations.

The direction by Jung Hyo Lee is sure-handed, often circling back around plot development to fill in some context for us more linear, cause-and-effect-driven Americans. The acting is superlative, particularly that of the two “Greek choruses” of North Korean village women and of North Korean Army soldiers. Son Ye-jin’s Yoon Se-ri is superior in a smart, funny, vulnerable characterization. Whichever side of the border she is on, I’m heading there! The series is streaming on Netflix. The trailer can be viewed here.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has worked on Wisconsin recalls, Occupy and other local movements that give promise of social change. He has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for the last 18 years. After studying at Yale and Stanford, he taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU. He has served as a supernumerary with the San Francisco Opera for years without getting to sing a single note on stage!

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