Doona! is a highly elaborate version of the 2001 mega-hit movie My Sassy Girl. They are different stories, but at the heart of both of them is a girl who finally has a chance to heal when she meets someone willing to be patient with her. Doona! in Korean is how men address a woman older than them. Doona is also the name of the protagonist, and it is wonderful because it is a clever detail that doesn’t allow us to know whether Won Jun, one of the protagonists, is addressing the titular character by her name or title. The purpose behind that veil is that Won Jun is shown as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, in contrast to his more mysterious partner. This one detail allows him some agency to hide how he is feeling in the presence of Doona’s more overwhelming emotions.
As the series starts, we can right away tell that this is going to be a very sweet watch. We have always said that the vibe is either there or it isn’t, and Doona! always has it, even during moments of tension. That is what makes this such a great binge. That is a surprise because, usually, when we call a story ‘sweet,’ it means we cannot watch more than an episode or two at a time. That sugary quality is taken up by inane conversations, thoughtful gestures, and just a lot of pretty visuals in romantic settings. It is a big reason we could never binge-watch dramas like King the Land, See You in My 19th Life, or even the recent A Good Day to Be a Dog, no matter how much we admire this quality. But Doona! sets itself apart right away because the sweetness is in the progression of the story and not just the romance. Each character has their own individual journey, and we love that their eccentricity is reasonable and not just a plot filler. Also, we are immediately biased toward characters and actors who have a pretty smile, and Bae Suzy’s smile can light up the room. We just wish she wasn’t given those severely cut, face framing bangs.
There is a lot to love about this drama, and the editing is a huge part of it. The way the characters’ past unfolds, in bits and pieces, giving us just enough for the next scene while withholding a lot, is a great way of keeping us on our toes, which is a quality we don’t expect when we call a story ‘sweet’. Has anybody on the Doona! team considered giving the editor a raise because he deserves it? Also, we must mention that we were initially apprehensive about the 9-hour runtime of the show. But it did not take us long to understand that even that was not enough for this story. It makes us wonder about the craze Doona! could have generated had it been released weekly instead of all at once.
Another reason we love this drama, and there are lots of reasons, is that it shows the beautiful difference between a brooding man and a brooding woman. The archetype of the brooding man is that his silence and eccentricity are a result of trauma, which places him in a position to be emotionally rescued by the sunshine female lead. But when you reverse the roles, brooding often becomes ‘crazy,’ and what makes the man attractive becomes a representation of a ‘flawed woman.’ There is nothing to be done about that, at least for decades to come, but we like how Doona’s character was allowed her moments of weakness. Reversing the roles actually allowed us to see how personal flaws can come in the way of perfect love, which is the reality for most people in relationships. Despite the angst, it was refreshing to see that the woman was not given the burden of being strong for the entire room and was allowed to stumble and fall to discover her own way.
A huge part of the story is driven by Doona’s mental health struggles, and for once, we liked that this is not a K-drama that presents love as a solution to that struggle. There is a certain struggle that partners of people with mental health issues go through that is not discussed enough. The way Won Jun learns to be there for Doona while understanding his own limits and boundaries feels like a novel thing for the Korean drama land.
Till the very end, what works so well for Doona! as a series is that despite the representation of these sensitive struggles, the drama doesn’t feel heavy. It is not binge-watchable because of the angst but because there is an easy flow to it that has us wanting to know more. Usually, when the going is ‘sweet,’ we assume that the story will be predictable, and it usually is. But the Korean drama series manages to surprise us many times, adding new layers to the story and the characters.
We must also comment on the character of Lee Won Jun. After all, he was the driving force of the story. Despite our love for onscreen brooding men, we have often wondered why characters like Won Jun are not the blueprint to be followed. Sweet and simple on the outside but strong and capable when the need arises, without being distant or emotionally complicated, Won Jun is a sensible woman’s dream. Doona is vulnerable with him right off the bat, and instead of shirking it away or saying it wasn’t his problem (he wouldn’t have been wrong either way), he treats it as a normal part of the person, and that becomes what sets him apart from the others.
Essentially, Doona! is a story about how the courage to live life can be found if you are in the company of people who mean well. They don’t have to be with you always, nor do they have to be someone who will always encourage you, either directly or from the sidelines. But just the fact that people can be kind without expecting anything gives them the emotional room and strength to keep moving ahead in life, knowing that if such kindness is around, love and acceptance cannot be far away. Korean drama series, Doona! is a must-watch, and we sincerely hope that it gets a lot more popularity than it currently has. This deserves to be one of those cult dramas that people always come back to, and we want it to get its due credit.