K-Drama/K-PopVideo

9 reasons Castaway Diva is a must-watch

We highly recommend it, not for binge-watching, but to be savored an episode a day

Castaway Diva
Castaway Diva official poster

CASTAWAY DIVA
Starring Park Eun Bin, Chae Jong Hyeop
12 episodes
Netflix

The first episode of Castaway Diva streamed on Oct. 28, 2023 with a fairly good viewership rating of 4%. However, by the fourth installment of this 12-part series headlined by Park Eun Bin, viewership has climbed to 10.2%. Flix Patrol, which follows Netflix programs worldwide, put it at No. 4.

A few days ahead of its finale on Dec. 4, 2023 (viewership rating 11%), it ranked No. 1 on Good Data Corporation’s list of Most Buzzworthy dramas; its lead actors Park Eun Bin (PEB) and Chae Jong Hyeop (CJH) were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 among the Most Buzzworthy actors, respectively.

Any drama headlined by 2022 Grand Baeksang awardee PEB is expected to create a buzz and audience reaction to Castaway Diva, stretched across a wide demographic.

A confluence of factors led to the drama’s success. Teasers released in the run-up to its playdate stoked audience’s interest in the story of a 16-year-old girl from a laidback seaside village with an ardent dream to be a K-pop star like her idol, the then reigning diva Yoon Ran Joo, the toast of the entertainment scene in Seoul.

Through its tightly written 12 episodes, Castaway Diva also explores the friendships that develop among the characters as they face challenges and adversities.

1. Cerulean skies and a fantasy setting 

With viewers most likely basing their first impression on teasers and posters showing the incandescent hues of the lakeshore and the somnolent atmosphere of Chunsam Island, Castaway Diva has a lot going for it. This also worked well, marketing-wise. All these were reinforced by video clips of PEB playing her guitar and singing in the island amid lush foliage and cerulean skies, with cotton-like white clouds drifting by. Castaway Diva has that Robinson Crusoe x A Star is Born vibe.

2. Violence amid a placid landscape

However, before viewers could retreat to fantasy island, PD Oh Choong Hwan (Big Mouth, 2022; While You Were Sleeping, 2017) went right down to business in Episode 1. In that dark hovel they call home, the policeman-father Joong Bong Wan (Lee Seung Joon) of teenaged Joong Ki Ho (Moon Woo Jin) is mercilessly beating him to a pulp because he dares stash away money. The reason for the rage—he suspects that Ki Ho would run away to find his mother, Song Ha Jung (Seo Jung Yeon).

Also in Episode 1, we cut to another brutal scene. In their ramshackle house, Seo Jung Ho (Lee Yoo Joon), the drunken father of the teenaged Seo Mok Ha (Lee Re), is relentlessly thrashing her then cruelly smashes her guitar. As if this is not enough to send shivers down one’s spine, there is one more coming up before the first episode ends.

With the video clip of Mok Ha singing that Ki Ho submits in her name, she wins a fan contest that Ran Joo organized. Sharing the  experience of having abusive fathers, the two become friends. Ki Ho tells Mok Ha that if her father beats her up again, she should come to him. Ki Ho has been meticulously preparing for his escape with money squirelled away, and so with a backpack of handy snacks and food, the two prepare to make their night escape in the rain.

Just as they are about to board the boat leaving the island, Mok Ha’s father, acting on a tip from a nosey neighbor, comes after them. To forestall him, Ki Ho hands the backpack to Mok Ha, complete with a notebook of directions to Ran Joo’s studio in Seoul. In the pier, in full view of a stunned crowd, Ki Ho takes one blow after another. He is bloodied, yet no one dares to stop Mok Ha’s father. We are left gritting our teeth, a silent scream unable to escape.

Next, Mok Ha’s father runs around the boat to drag his daughter back to land. Desperate, she jumps overboard. Horrified, her father clutches her arm, then falls into the water himself. She swims through the rushing tide and finds herself in the uninhabited island. Her father is washed ashore—dead. Thus begins Mok Ha’s 15-year struggle for survival on the island. These stark and scary scenes are so effectively placed, so that even as we cringe, our rage slowly building up, we cannot punch the fast forward button.

3. The steadfast friend 

Ki Ho spends the ensuing years trying to find Mok Ha, believing that she has survived. Each year, he stands in front of the studio where Ran Joo is based in hopes that Mok Ha will show up. With his older brother, Chae Ho, now using the identity of Kang Woo Hak, a hot shot reporter, Ki Ho now Kang Bo Geol, has organized a yearly clean-up of the beaches near the deserted island in the surrounding the waters where Mok Ha fell. She is spotted by Chae Ho’s drone. From there, she is taken to the room in the rooftop of the house above the salon the brothers’ parents own. At this point, we are left wondering who of the two is Ki Ho.

4. Lighter moments overwrite violent scenes

Writer Park Hye Ryun (Start Up, 2020; While You Were Sleeping; and Pinocchio, 2014) skillfully offsets the brutal scenes. With Eun Yeol, she deftly keeps a balance between the lighter elements of the drama and the episodes of extreme domestic violence that are difficult to watch but viewers are unable to tear their eyes off the screen. This is one of the drama’s strengths, and what accounts for its popularity.

There are also scenes of Mok Ha enjoying meal times with the Kang family. Ki Ho, his older brother, and their mother have taken on the identity of a family that perished in an accident. Kang Bo Geol, now TV producer, and his brother, the reporter Kang Woo Hak (Cha Hak Yeon or N), their mother, and the civil servant Kang Sang Doo (Lee Joong Ok) who take them under his wing to form a new family.

5. Heart-pounding moments 

One episode comes after another, with the sociopath Joong Bo Wan stalking Mok Ha, after he spots her singing on TV with Ran Joo. To lure Ki Ho out, he sends Mok Ha flowers purportedly from Ki Ho. That scary moment Mok Ha realizes it isn’t Ki Ho but his abusive father who sends her the flowers. Bo Geol pulls her out of the scene. That moment Bo Geol takes matters into his own hands. Knocks on his biological father’s door to finally confront his fears.

Another episode when Joong Bo Wan storms into the salon of the Kang family. Mok Ha fearlessly confronts him, calls the cops on her stalker who has followed her home.

6. Elements and words that give clues 

As they make their escape, Ki Ho gives Mok Ha a pair of sneakers to wear. Marooned in the island for 15 years, Mok Ha keeps the shoes, no matter that it is tattered, carrying it even after she rejoins civilization.

The words their mother says that give Mok Ha a clue that one of the brothers could be Ki Ho—”If you wish with all your heart, it will come true, but I had no idea it will come in such an unexpected way.” Certainly unexpected is how her father meets his end. Unexpected as well is the end met by the brothers’ biological father. Their adoptive father, their rescuer’s words: “The revenge of a father, the happiness of my family.” This, as Bong Wan ends up—“no family, no friends” to claim his remains.

A compleat actor, Park Eun Bin sang the songs in the OST, practising from seven to 10 hours a day

7. A moving OST 

Any drama worth watching must have an OST that serves as hook for the storyline and moves viewers so that they hear in their minds the plaintive melodies even as the last episode rolls. Adding an emotional layer to the scenes, the OST consists of six beautiful songs that encapsulate the story of Castaway Diva. A compleat actor, PEB sang the songs in the OST, practising from seven to 10 hours a day when not filming. Have a listen to Someday, which she first introduced in the showcase in Episode 2. She sings this upon meeting her idol Ran Joo, who by then, is at the lowest point of her career. This song has steadily climbed the charts. Night and Day that tells her and Ki Ho’s back story. Here I Am, her first duet with Ran Joo.

8. Consistency of the narrative 

What Castaway Diva has going for it is that it never strays from the main narrative, in this case Mok Ha’s dream to be an idol. It is not sidetracked by a soapy romance or a love triangle, even though her friendship with Ki Ho endures and they find themselves together after the intervening years. That sweet scene when they finally embrace knowing their dreams have come true. How Ki Ho supports her dream from beginning to end. As she sings at her breakout concert with her legions of fans in the arena, Ki Ho is at the control panels, manning the lights, a fitting coda to him as a teenager shooting the video of a student Mok Ha singing, submitting it in her name, then preparing the backpack to take along in their life-changing escape.

9. No cliffhangers 

It is one of those dramas that resolves all issues, does not leave audiences wondering whether or not our OTP end up with each other. It also provides that cathartic feeling seeing how despite the odds, Mok Ha and Ki Ho prevail, and survive to realize their dreams.

 It is also most heartwarming to see them a complete family, with no more need to hide behind stolen identities. It gives closure to the one real family that nurtures the brothers and their mother. It is also proof that the strongest and most enduring ties that bind people are not necessarily biological; that the one who protects and nurtures those he loves is the one who deserves to be called father.

 As the final credits roll on, we are back where it all started—that brightly lit scene with Park Eun Bin strumming her guitar and singing Open Your Eyes. It is one drama we highly recommend, not for binge-watching, but to be savored an episode a day on a slow week.

Comments from viewers/critics 

“Sunshine-filled, joyous, and happy. For us that was definitely one of the warmest, most wholesome K-Drama kisses we have seen! (Mok Ha and Ki Ho’s final embrace.) There’s not much more to say about it. It was beautiful and I hope our readers (if they wish) can experience a love as warm and gentle as that depicted in that kiss!

Even though it felt like an extended happy ever after coda, Castaway Diva was from start to finish a very enjoyable series. Park was a delight, as was her relationship with Ran Joo, and there are many little satisfying beats along the way. — dojeonmedia.com

Yet, given the strong ingredients on offer, the show ends on a wistful note, not for its characters but for its audience. It feels like there could have been a better show somewhere. Perhaps we’ll find it, “someday” — scmp.com

On PEB’s decision to take on Castaway Diva: “I rather felt like I needed to choose my next project with a light heart… The attention I received last year after Extraordinary Attorney Woo was unlike anything that I have experienced so far in my career. Instead of letting that affect my choices, I thought of going back to page one and approaching my options candidly.” PEB in an interview with reporters in her agency Namoo Actors’ office in Gangnam District on December 4. — The South China Morning Post

About author

Articles

After saying goodbye to daily deadlines in 2009, WINNIE DOROTHEO VELASQUEZ worked from home editing manuscripts and writing on subjects close to her heart. She discovered the world of K-Drama in the early 2000s. Today, she cooks, does some gardening, and is training Cookie, da mutt-with-the-mostest.

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