[Kdrama review] 웃어라 동해야 Smile Donghae

This show is LONG. I only watched this because of Ji Chang Wook, and because our local tv station was airing it at dinner time. I complained a lot as I was watching it, but somehow, the show did not want to let me go.

Genre: Family, romance, MAKJANG!

Synopsis: Carl Laker (Ji Chang Wook), also known as Donghae, is a Korean who grew up in the USA under the care of his mentally-challenged mother, Anna Laker (Do Ji Won). He comes to Korea as a member of the American short track speed skating team to take part in the competition and also to wed his TV announcer girlfriend Yoon Saewa (Park Jung Ah). However, Saewa disdains him because of his poor family background and his autistic mother. She therefore dumps Donghae for Kim Do Jin (Lee Jang Woo), a rich heir to Camellia Hotel instead. Donghae’s career as an athlete comes to an abrupt end when he gets involved in an accident while trying to save Saewa. Donghae and Anna meet Lee Bongyi (Oh Ji Eun), a kind-hearted hotel chef who help them settle down in Korea as Donghae begins his search for his father and roots.


I’m honestly not a fan of 1) Makjang, and 2) LONG weekend family dramas that never seem to end. And this show just had to be a combination of both. Double “eww”, and a small “yay” for Ji Chang Wook and Lee Jang Woo.

Up till now, I still don’t quite understand how this drama managed to achieve sky-high ratings in Korea back in 2010, and it even succeeded in propelling Ji Chang Wook and Lee Jang Woo from rookie to leading men status. But I’ve never agreed with the taste of Korean audiences anyway.

The story essentially can be broken down into 4 parts:

1. Carl Laker coming back to Korea but gets ditched by his girlfriend Saehwa and hurts his leg.
2. Carl Laker’s journey in becoming a chef and locating the whereabouts of his father, James (or Kim Joon). By now, people also started to call him by his Korean name, Donghae.
3. Donghae learning about the identity of his grandparents, who coincidentally, are the parents of Kim Joon’s wife (aka Kim Do Jin’s mother), who is actually adopted.
4. This makes Donghae the rightful heir to Camellia Hotel instead of Do Jin (since he’s not related to the old couple by blood), so the two end up fighting for ownership of the hotel.

As you can see, the countless birth secrets link everyone in the show to one another somehow, so you get a very messy relationship chart.  Granted that such unrealistic story lines are not uncommon, I can turn a blind eye to it, but what really frustrated me were the slow pace and repetitiveness of the story. The flow of the story often begins with Person A witnessing an event and relates said event to Person B, who then relates the same incident to Person C…and this chain continues until everyone knows and someone decides to give another kind of response, then the story inches forward a bit. Also, many of the characters had this annoying habit of saying “할말이 있어(I have something to tell you)” when they have something important to say, only to get interrupted before he/she can say anything, so the story gets prolonged since it will take quite a while for said character to broach the topic again.

The level of acting by the cast was also less than stellar. I have seen some of the cast members in other shows previously, and they CAN act, but somehow most of them seemed to be under-performing here. I won’t say that they were stony, but their acting just did not touch my heart. Maybe the director was not skilled enough to bring out the best of his stars, or maybe because many of the young cast still lacked acting experience back then, but I was quite disappointed since I know Ji Chang Wook and Lee Jang Woo are capable of doing much better.

The show was not entirely bad though as there were cute and comedic moments here and there. I initially liked the cute romance between the main couple, but somehow their chemistry seemed to fizzle out as the story went on. The show also made me care enough for the characters to want to know how matters will get resolved for them, and yell at them for being stupid.


Heart-warming with light-hearted moments. Good as dinner-time entertainment, but probably not worth your time otherwise. Too many unrealistic plot developments, but compelling enough to make you curious about the ending. I may like Ji Chang Wook, but I probably wouldn’t want to spend days watching this online.

Overall: 5/10

Enjoyment level: 5.5/10



2 thoughts on “[Kdrama review] 웃어라 동해야 Smile Donghae

  1. This was a fun blog to read, I just barely finished watching Smile, Dong Hae~ Your review gave me nice insight to think and ponder over. I am writing a somewhat of a review regarding this show as well. It’ll be my first time ever writing a Kdrama blog so it would be a bit awkward but your blog really gave me inspiration so I really want to thank you for that~

    1. Thank you! Your feedback is good encouragement to me. I’m busy with real life stuff so I haven’t posted in a long time. Sometimes I look back at some of my reviews and wonder if I was overly critical or too generous in critiquing the shows I watch. Wishing you all the best for your blog!!^^

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