Welcome to Samdalri: Why it’s one of Ji Chang Wook’s most memorable dramas….

.... and top-rating too, a story of love, pain and hilarity set on Jeju Island

When a 16-episoder is set in windy and laid-back Jeju Island, the first thing that viewers expect to see is a healing K-drama. Welcome to Samdalri indeed belongs to this genre, but it is a lot more than that.  

Cho Sam Dal (Shin Hye Sun) is at the top of her game in Seoul as fashion photographer Jo Eun Hye. Cho Yong Pil (Ji Chang Wook), her childhood friend, works as weather forecaster on Jeju Island. Sam Dal’s career hits rock bottom when she is accused of bullying her assistant and becomes the subject of a “scandal” (as any form of controversy or social media buzz is termed among Korean netizens or in the Korean entertainment industry). She returns to her native Jeju Island, which she left eight years ago, swearing never to return. There she meets Cho Yong Pil again.

Sam Dal is not the only one who has come home. Elder sister Jin Dal is also back after her divorce from the scion of a chaebol family; younger sister Hae Dal, single parent to smart kid Cha Ha Yul, rounds up the homecoming daughters of Ko Mi Ja, leader of the haenyeos (deep sea divers) and Cho Pan Sik.

Though she tries to sneak into town without any of the neighbors and her old friends knowing, she soon finds herself in the middle of the goings-on in the small town and its varied characters who have been the constants of her life before her move to the big city. Her first encounter with Yong Pil, with whom she broke up in a most hurtful fashion eight years ago, triggers the laughs. To her consternation, he is shouting the name “Samdal.” It turns out Samdal is the occupant of the doghouse near the entrance to the village.


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Though billed as a healing drama, the show is also a romcom that pairs two of the most versatile actors in K-dramaland. In the first few episodes, Shin Hye Sun’s over-the-top acting starts the drama on a rather off-putting note, but as she tones down and shares the screen with the handsome and earnest Ji Chang Wook, the drama hits its stride and gets viewers invested in the story of two young people separated for eight years in the aftermath of a tragic death. A haenyeo, Yong Pil’s mother Bu Mi Ja, drowned in the wake of a wrong weather forecast that caught her in a violent storm at sea. Bu Mi Ja is the bosom friend of Samdal’s mother, Ko Mi Ja.

Samdal and Yong Pil,  born almost at the same time and practically betrothed to each other at birth by their mothers, are inseparable as youngsters, their mothers being a tandem as haenyeo and each other’s support system. But after the accident, Yong Pil’s father, in his grief over his wife’s death, turns bitter and hostile to Ko Mi Ja, and tells Samdal to break off with his son Yong Pil. She does so in a very painful scene, but without really telling him why. Then she flees to Seoul and stays away for eight years. Yong Pil is left distraught, but through the years carries the torch for his childhood sweetheart.

What makes Welcome to Samdalri such a hit with viewers is the acting and chemistry between Ji Chang Wook and Shin Hye Sun. They light up the screen, giving off the vibes of having known each other since birth, so that rekindling the fires of their young love feels so natural and well deserved despite the intervening awkwardness between them. Yong Pil’s steadfast love for Samdal— unbeknownst to her, he’s been attending all her exhibits through the years—makes viewers cheer him on.

The drama also tackles themes of friendship in Yong Pil’s and Samdal’s circle of friends, pain, and how grief hardens people’s hearts.

What the show has going for it are the great shots of Jeju Island, the music, the friendship, and the love among these childhood friends. The strong bond of the three Cho sisters also adds to its appeal.

But, the drama has its weak points, too, and excesses—among these, the crying, especially in the middle episodes, drinking and blacking out,  breakdowns, hitting by the parents, and bullying by an out-of-control woman.

The writer Kwon Hae Joo and director Cha Young Hoon must have forgotten that cardinal rule, “Show, don’t tell,” in many of the episodes. For instance, instead of merely having Samdal talk about how Yong Pil’s father used to be like an uncle to her, they could have used flashbacks of actual scenes showing this dynamic.

The show concluded on a high note, reaching the highest viewership ratings throughout its run—12.3 percent in the finale. It also took the top spot in the K-drama and actor rankings and was the most buzz-worthy drama as it ended.

An early review, Dec. 3, 2023 on talkiescorner.com said, “Ji Chang Wook and Shin Hye Sun spark magic in this captivating rollercoaster of emotions.”

Midway into its run, a reviewer said on nme.com that viewers can end the year with the comfort watch that is Welcome to Samdalri.

In a surprise appearance on JTBC Newsroom on January 29, Shin Hye Sun revealed that most of the scenes in the drama were ad-libbed. She said, “I cried a lot in the scenes. There is a scene with Ji Chang Wook where we locked eyes throughout the filming and I couldn’t control my emotions. I couldn’t stop crying.”

Welcome to Samdalri is also one of Ji Chang Wook’s most memorable dramas after a long dry spell doing mostly forgettable projects. 

About author


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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