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The Weekend Binge: Happiness

This k-drama zombie thriller with Park Hyung-sik and Han Hyo-joo goes beyond neck-biting scenes, intense fights, and edge-of-your-seat moments to try to deliver a commentary on the craziness of these pandemic times.

The Plot

The Covid-19 pandemic is over and people are just getting used to the new normal, when a new, more deadly disease emerges. This time, the infection targets the brain, creating a rabies-like condition among patients that triggers cravings for human blood.

This is where Happiness takes place. Police detective Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik, Suits, Strong Woman Do Bong Soon), a former baseball player forced to quit due to an injury, and his high school friend Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo, W: Two Worlds Apart), a member of an elite police squad, are among the first to encounter infected patients. Because of this, they meet Han Tae-seok (Jo Woo-jin, Mr Sunshine), the lieutenant colonel in charge of containing the outbreak and finding a cure to it.

But against this backdrop, the two high school friends decide to pretend to be a couple and get married to become eligible for a unit in a new high-rise apartment building (This is Korea, after all, where owning property is a major life goal).

In Building 101, however, where less affluent tenants who occupy the lower floors are discriminated against by the wealthier unit owners on higher floors, they find happiness to be elusive—especially after the apartment complex is placed under strict lockdown to contain the spread of the disease.

The Review

The title alone should be your first clue that Happiness is not the usual zombie thriller. Yes, this show has its requisite share of neck-biting scenes, intense fights, and edge-of-your-seat moments. But instead of a thrilling roller-coaster ride, the show takes its bloody time.

Over 12 episodes, Happiness explores how people can turn—not into literal monsters—but into the worst versions of themselves when stuck in a confined space, resources are slowly taken away, and uncertainty is gradually increased. Building 101, which was populated with more than its fair share of detestable human beings, was a Petri dish of sorts for a social experiment.

But instead of unexpected outcomes, the plot turned into something familiar: A reflection of our lives over the past two years. It was easy to recognize some of the experiences and behaviors triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic among the residents of Building 101, and even from authorities: Panic buying to hoard food and supplies at the expense of others. Inhumane lockdown rules. The privilege of the affluent to complain about or even violate rules meant to protect the weak or vulnerable. The innate selfishness of people, regardless of status. The loneliness of quarantine.

All of these are told through the stories of the show’s motley cast of characters: A doctor having an affair with his wife’s employee. Cleaners. A vlogger. An obnoxious lawyer scrounging for clients. A grocery part-timer. Real estate speculators. A retired couple. A sick daughter.

A moral complication was even thrown into the mix, as those infected by the disease are still human most of the time, and only turn into monsters when they give in to their thirst for blood. If they’re still human, then would it be wrong to kill them when they’re under a monster seizure to protect others? If they kill another person while they’re monsters, can they be held liable?

Throughout all this, Park Hyung-sik and Han Hyo-joo make for formidable good-cop/bad-cop tandem trying to keep things within the building in order. But—to manage the expectations of those looking for heart-fluttering scenes—this is a zombie thriller, so their romance takes a backseat to staying alive.

The narrative tying all this together, however, is not the most tightly woven of k-drama plots, with characters making questionable decisions seemingly for the sake of story development. But if you can look past these and find the profound, then this might be a happy weekend binge for you.

STREAM: If you can look past plot holes to enjoy a commentary on the craziness of these pandemic times.

SKIP: If you're looking for a hard-core zombie thriller.

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