Photo Credit: Forbes.
Written by Seren Stephen.

With the spooky season creeping upon us, I thought it was only relevant that I looked back to a chilling drama that kept me entertained during these past few months, Hotel Del Luna. It’s a 2019, 16-episode, supernatural Korean drama from the Hong sisters.

In short, the story surrounds the story of Jang Man-Wol who owns Hotel Del Luna, a hotel in the heart of Seoul, South Korea. Man-Wol is played by the ‘princess of K-pop’, Lee Ji-Eun, better known as IU. Hotel Del Luna isn’t your average hotel though, as it’s only accessible to the dead, a place for them to rest between life and death before they inevitably move onto the afterlife. Man-Wol’s soul is tied to the hotel by Ma-Go and is forced to work there to re-pay for a terrible crime she committed when alive, the only problem is that she doesn’t remember what it is. Ma-Go is a goddess that appears in various forms and controls the people transitioning from life to death.

The gloomy yet beautiful aesthetic of the show was what first drew me in. The deep royal blue and purple colours make it look rich and tie in well with the underlying darkness of the death-filled storyline. I think that the show is worth watching just for the stunning vintage costume design, especially Man-Wol’s purple silk dress and black floppy hat duo in that scene. The aesthetic is complemented by the ethereal soundtrack of the show, including the serene ballad ‘All about you’ by Taeyeon, which regularly plays through the peaceful scenes. 

The supporting character Koo Chan-Sung is played by Yeo Jin-Goo, often nicknamed ‘Nations Little Brother’ as he debuted as a child actor. We learn early on that Chan-Sung and Man-Wol are somehow connected, but the reason isn’t revealed until the last episode. Chan-Sung’s father, Chan-Seong, was unknowingly very close to death when he accidentally stumbled upon Hotel Del Luna. Once he became aware of his situation, he practically begged Man-Wol to spare his life. She agreed to do so on one condition, only if he agreed to have his son work for Man-Wol when he reaches adulthood, to which he agreed. Chan-Seong warned Chan-Sung that Man-Wol would come for him and urged him to run, however she finds him in a significantly creepy train scene where she gives him the power to see ghosts. Chan-Sung declines the offer but his new ability to see the dead becomes so overwhelming for him that he eventually gives in and works as Man-Wol’s full-time assistant and companion.

There is a melancholy feel to a certain aspect of the drama which is the fact that if the guests hold any type of grudge or feel that they failed to fulfil a goal whilst they were alive, they aren’t able to move onto the afterlife. Hyun-Joong, Seo-Hee, and Seon-Bi are all staff members at the hotel having been there for 70+ years each. Seo-Hee must let go of a grudge she holds against a family whose ancestors were the cause for her daughter’s death centuries ago. Hyun-Joong was accidentally shot by his friend during WWII and decides to wait 70+ years waiting for his little sister, Hyun-Mi, to join him on the path to the afterlife. Seon-Bi, the longest-running employee at 500 years, must make sure that a book that would slander his past life isn’t published, otherwise, he would leave a damaged reputation behind.

One of my favourite themes in the show is the inclusion of reincarnation, specifically Man-Wol’s past life characters showing up centuries later in 2019. It’s quite entertaining watching her hold grudges towards oblivious people that affected her in their past-lives, such as Mi-Ra and Yeon-Woo. In their past-lives, Yeon-Woo was Man-Wol’s best friend and Mi-Ra was her sworn enemy. However, in their new lives, Mi-Ra and Yeon-Woo are a couple, to which Man-Wol doesn’t take well. I have to say that I kept waiting for Yeon-Woo to get a more interactive role in his new life, maybe develop a heart-warming friendship with Man-Wol again to help her cope with the 1000 years of isolation and loneliness she endured being bound to the hotel.

There are a lot of twists and turns surrounding Man-Wol’s love-life, with constant flashbacks to her previous life relationships we develop an understanding that she is waiting for her past love interest, Chung-Myung, to return to her and walk the path to the afterlife together. However, throughout the drama, there is a slow-developing relationship between Man-Wol and Chan-Sung that could seem forced to some or just inevitable, but it results in Man-Wol having to choose between the two further on in the drama. 

Without giving too much away, the obscure final scene of the drama stirred up many theories and opinions and potentially left room for a second season. Did Chan-Sung enter the afterlife? Is it his imagination? Is Man-Wol gifted the ability to live an average life by Ma-Go? 

Overall, I think that IU well presented the beautiful yet avaricious character of Man-Wol and will forever be a fashion icon for me. It’s a show where you must pay attention to the plot and make up your own theories and conspiracies, which just makes it all that more exciting. The cinematography reminded me of something you may see in a Tim Burton feature, and along with the magical and supernatural themes, it’s a perfect watch for this time of the year.  

Overall Score: 8.9/10