Review – What Happened in Bali

Review – What Happened in Bali

Overall Rating – 10/10.

Currently still in a trance from having just finished this perfect character study on love, obsession, ambition, greed, betrayal… and all those other adjectives you find in Bronte novels.  What an awesome show.  Definitely going into my top ten favs… will have to do some shuffling.

The plot in a nutshell:  Rich lady about to marry rich guy still has her old flame in her side pocket.  She runs off to Bali for one last fling, only her future-hubby follows after ruining everything.  While there, the three of them end up with a cheery tour guide.  They all end up back in Korea.  Tour guide girl asks rich guy for a loan… and a job.  Next thing you know, both the rich guy and the rich lady’s old flame start falling for the tour guide.


There is so much to love about this show it’s hard to know where to start.  Of course, the easiest thing is the cast.  Four huge stars form the basis of this drama.  Ha Ji-Won (one of my very favorites), So Ji-Sub (perfecting his melodramatic silent-type), Zu In-Sung (who ruled this show as the rich kid who couldn’t get his shit together to save his life.  Watching him fall apart was one of the most memorable experiences of the drama) and Park Yeh-Jin (as the stuck up princess who found her icy palace ultimately cold).  And let me say, though all these actors have gone on to make brilliant shows independently of each other – this should be a reference work for all their fans.  See Ha Ji-Won with lovely long hair!  See So Ji-Sub and Zu In-Sung when they weighed about 15 more pounds and glowed with healthy vitality (they’ve both become too skinny, if you ask me).  They each took these interesting characters and pushed it to the limit.  Nuances.  They nailed it.  If you watch the blooper real, their performances become even more amazing – they’re giggling up a storm and two seconds later are tearing their hearts to pieces killing their lines.  Oscar nods all around.

The soundtrack ruled, too.  I’m just starting to notice OSTs in shows – and this one was great.  And there were some unexpected musical moments –  like when an instrumental version of The Little Mermaid’s Under the Sea is playing while two characters go shopping!?  And the sweet folk song Time in a Bottle by Croce!  Cho En’s Can It Be was an epic, romantic theme song I never got tired of hearing.

The moms!  Oh, the moms.  All the moms were great.  I loved them, I hated them, I empathized and sympathized and understood them – even when they were acting like crazy bats from hell.


Ha Ji-Won’s brother and her ex-boss.  These guys served as comic relief, merely because they were so deliciously stupid and devious and shameless.  And though it seemed oddly goofy for this otherwise serious show – the running gag about how short the chairman was proved amusing.  Why is this chair so high?


Shin Yi.  Shin Yi was a scene stealer as the wild, karaoke singer who let Ha Ji-Won crash at her place indefinitely, despite the fact she never bothered to pay rent (even when she was making money).  I was reminded of Marisa Toemi’s characters… most of them.  Rough, loud, and ultimately a deeply human and loving woman.  In episode three she literally beats herself up – freaking out a group of gangsters to such an extent that they back away, letting her go as she destroys the room and beats her head against walls.  I died laughing.  From that moment on, she went from being a cool side character to one of the coolest side characters of all time.

The writing.  The plot was tight and the writing was perfect.  Though each character was developed and changed over the course of events, they all metamorphosed within their unique spheres of being.  In other words – they each reacted differently to the same thing and it felt 100% believable.  At the end of the show, you could still recognize each of them as the four characters who’d wandered around Bali together in the first episode.  I did not have a clear idea of how this show was going to turn out – and I was surprised and yet comfortable with the ending.  None of these people are like me, in any way… so I didn’t know what they would do or who they’d end up with.  Their motivations weren’t always clear.  This drama enjoyed indulging in a few tropes, enough to keep us from squirming uncomfortably for 20 hours, but abandoned most of them.  In a way, it reminded me of Que Sera Sera – another show about four odd people who constantly amazed me with unexpected behavior and twists and turns in the plot.  Both shows had deeply satisfying endings, too, in my opinion.  If you didn’t like the ending to What Happened in Bali – too bad – because that volcano had been churning up in Zu In-Sung’s character for about ten or more episodes – and that baby had to blow.

Epic Rivals! To the point of becoming bratty siblings fighting over a shiny toy… except its a pretty tour guide.

Zu In-Sung.  Let us talk some more about how awesome this character was and how wonderful Zu In-Sung was in portraying him.  He did almost EVERYTHING wrong, consistently.  It was painful to watch.  Your gut reaction is to get up off the couch, reach into the television and kick him in the shin or hit him with a newspaper saying “No!  Bad Dog!”  This guy’s interpersonal skills sucked.  He had absolutely no idea how to romance a woman – or even how to talk to one, really.  He wasn’t any better with men, honestly.  He was a mess from start to finish.  Pinocchio, the wooden boy, who found his heart and instead of it turning him into a human boy, it just burned him alive.  Even talking about him makes me want to rewatch the entire show – just to watch his crazy self-combustion again.

So Ji-Sub.  Use Your Words!  This guy didn’t trust anyone – which made sense as he wasn’t very trustworthy either.  I loved it when he’d slump into his mother’s restaurant like a wounded animal.  What a momma’s boy.  He was a big ole softy disguised as tin soldier.  Some truly great crying scenes that had me sniffling with him.  There are pros and cons to being the silent type.  Pros – when you finally do say something, you’ll probably be forgiven for all the sulky silence.  It’s like that old proverb about the quiet man having the heaviest words.  Cons – you create more problems than you solve.  Suffer in silence, buddy.  All you had to do was ask her!  All you had to do was say something… anything… use your words!  But nope.  Sulking in his dark apartment suited him.

Ha Ji-Won.  Poverty felt formidable through this gal.  For once, you got an especially vivid depiction of how hopeless and frustrating and unbelievably cruel the world can be when you’re at the bottom of the barrel.  She wasn’t your typical “poor” girl looking to upsize her life.  The girl was homeless, for crying out loud – and it really did feel like the world had conspired to ensure she stay that way.  The psychological effects of being screwed over, repeatedly, were clearly depicted by Ha Ji-Won.  For once, I didn’t even cringe when she bowed down in defeat, pride abandoned, in order to survive – even if it meant enduring horrible abuse.  I mean, I cringed, but I understood her and found myself firmly on her side.  She did some crazy stuff, too – but her situation would make anyone crazy.  I loved her character in this show.  Multi-leveled.

Park Yeh-Jin wasn’t in as many scenes and often slipped into the background of this show.  Her character was important – and a vital counter-weight.  When she did show up, you immediately felt her presence in everyone’s life.  She was a catalyst, often without meaning to be – and just as often on purpose.

As a romantic melodrama – this show held back on physical intimacy scenes between everyone.  All the tension and misunderstandings and confusion between all these people ended up being hours and hours of frustrating mental foreplay for us viewers.  I got so riled up that when a kiss or close encounter did occur – it felt like someone just threw a brick through the window.  It shook me up.  It literally startled me.  I think my heart stopped at least twice.  K-Drama kiss collapse syndrome.

I’ve given myself time to mentally process this show – and it just gets better the more I think about it.  I’m not sure if really young viewers would enjoy this show as much, but those of you over the drinking age will surely find this drama compelling.  So check it out.  Immediately.  And prepare to tear through it – because you will not want to stop this show until its last, unforgettable frame.


10 thoughts on “Review – What Happened in Bali

  1. Pingback: Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2hearts | subtitledreams

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  3. I just started watching this and wanted to see what other people thought of it. Lol I love the way you described Jae Min. He really does self combust.

  4. You nailed it LadyDivine ..

    My husband set me the link to your blog a week ago.
    ;-p He’s lost his wife to KDrama for the last month and half ..

    I’ve found my drug of choice to get through the Covid weeks and months ..

    Had not known the existence of this parallel universe until one day a friend bought it up when I asked her how she was doing during these lock down social distancing times 🙂

    She gave me a starter pack to run through ;-p
    I quickly realised that although Netflix had some good Kdramas (pore level pixels, neat subtitles ) a VPN gave me access to a far richer pasture to graze in.
    That’s when I started looking for recommendations and reviews in Kdrama blogs .. blogs that I enjoyed reading.

    My husband watched Snow Queen with me (my third viewing was with him, twice by myself) and he shared your review; we read it aloud lol-ing at how wittily written it was .. just delightful, distinct voice and along the lines of our reaction to the series.

    Since then this is a place I return to, AND that is how I picked up What Happened in Bali .. you had given it a 10/10 .. that plus your short intro had me excited, hooked.
    I’d expected to view it in bursts .. but ended up binge watching through the night and early morning without break.
    (That Winter The Wind Blows was the other drama that I did a overnight, red-eye straight run into next morning.)

    I agree with almost all of what you noticed in the drama (characters .. plot .. development).

    It brought me memories and feelings for me too, of reading the classics, Bronte novels, inscrutable characters like Heathcliff .. of Maugh’s Of Human Bondage .. of The Great Gatsby, of Henry James, and all those drama novelists ..

    After watching Hyun Bin’s versatility (it made go through his ouevre of his films and drama) I was caught by the complexity that Jo In Sung showed up in Snow Queen. His Jaewon made me alternately clutch my heart and whack him .. I laughed too .. watching those to with their toy so aptly put by you.

    It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions .. of constantly attaching to and detaching from Kang and Jaewon .. it was was difficult to predict what would come to pass ..which would be the OTP .. somewhere towards the last several episodes the Doom bell was sounding .. the foreboding of the powder keg exploding .. I held my breath through Ep 19 / 20 ..

    The shots rang out .. expected .. but still heart wrenching .. In the end the TTP seemed more like it instead of OTP. (midway I often fantasized cutting Ha Ji Won in two .. so each could get a share – SIGH!!)

    Thank you AGAIN for this wonderful blog .. I hope to use it as a map for my exploration in KDramaLand.

    p.s. The series of toons in your intro page .. ROFL .. you got me!! I think I will take a print and put it up on the wall ..

    • Wow! I’m so honored. And extremely jealous you have found someone to watch K-Dramas with. I started this blog because, like you, I stumbled on them and got completely sucked in!

      I’ve watched (or rather abandoned) a great deal of K-Dramas lately… but I’ll keep writing reviews when I have time. Especially if I find something to recommend. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Review – Time | subtitledreams

  6. This was the perfect description of this drama. I share all your feelings. This drama was a mess from start to finish and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Truly no drama has left me with so much to think about process as this one, I can see why it was such a hit in its time (and still is, shoot)

    Interesting enough, I had different ideas of who I wanted Lee Soo Jung to end up with while watching vs after completing the series, but it’s truly so weird feeling pity for each one of the leads. It’s usually easy for me to pick sides and root for the OTP, but Something Happened in Bali simply didn’t allow for things to be so clear cut. How human of the show.

    In any case, thank you for your effort and insight writing this article, it was a pleasure to read and share this ride with you.

    • Thank you for your nice words. There were a few dramas that came out during this period that had very dark tones and ambiguous (or just unlikeable) main characters. But few were as memorable as this one.

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