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Love beyond borders

South Korean romance series Crash Landing on You hits big with audiences for all the right reasons


Love beyond borders
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Crash Landing on You, a stirring South Korean series on Netflix, smashed viewership records throughout Asia last year. While winning over viewers, it expertly navigated a diplomatic minefield with its deft telling of forbidden cross-border love.

What’s perhaps most stunning about the show is that in the middle of a pandemic, when millions of Americans were bingeing on anything—even Tiger King—to jump-start our socially distant hearts, this gem went largely unreviewed and unwatched.

The 16-hour serial does what few American romances do: It refreshes the soul-sick without expletives, sex, or liberal politics. Its characters are faithful, its depictions of North Koreans and South Koreans are dignified and heartening, and its finale sticks the landing. The dialogue may all be in Korean, but Crash Landing on You communicates a love so universal that it transcends the subtitles.

You do have to jump through some far-fetched plot points, though: A poorly timed paragliding attempt and a well-placed tornado launch South Korean fashion mogul Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) across the Demilitarized Zone and into the arms of Capt. Ri Jeong-hyuk (Hyun Bin). Days before she left Seoul, Se-ri had leapfrogged her brothers to helm their chaebol (read: filthy rich family business), but trapped in the North she finds herself suddenly without status and devoid of the distractions that made her life bearable.

The sympathetic Jeong-hyuk stretches every North Korean won to buy her creature comforts and smuggle her back to the South. As it turns out, Jeong-hyuk is no ordinary soldier, and Se-ri’s heart is not as shallow as we’d imagined.

Seeing Se-ri transform through Jeong-hyuk’s love is what makes this drama so special. Everybody knows the cruel fate that awaits any North Korean who risks his life to save an enemy. The cost is real—even if this show isn’t. That’s why, after he rescues her time and again from North Korean villains, we lose our collective breath when Yoon Se-ri looks at Jeong-hyuk’s wounds and realizes, “Your life might be shattered because of me.”

That’s love: Not that Se-ri loved Jeong-hyuk, but that he loved her and nearly died for her. Sound familiar?

Of course, there are side plots and comic relief to break up the heaviness. The ragtag soldiers in Jeong-hyuk’s command are hilarious yet loyal accomplices. The gossipy but harmless North Korean neighbors serve as delightful foils to Se-ri’s predatory family members.

Crash Landing on You is rated TV-14 for subtitled crudities and glimpses of torture and murder—this is North Korea after all. Beyond that, there’s nothing here a teenager couldn’t watch.

Juliana Chan Erikson Juliana is a correspondent and a member of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area with her husband and 3 children.


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Steve Shive

Thanks. These reviews are helpful as we look for something worthwhile to watch. And of course those to avoid. It is a minefield.