Hello? It’s Me!: Series review
Hello? It’s Me! is a warm, lovely drama about regaining your self-worth and finding your mojo again, featuring a charming cast of characters and a simple but heartfelt story with plenty of humor. Its two heroines, teenage and adult Bahn Ha-ni, not only transform each other, but inevitably everyone else in their orbit as well.
I wasn’t sure what to think of the premise of a time-traveling teenager from twenty years ago who suddenly appears in her older self’s life. I initially checked this show out solely out of love for leads Choi Kang-hee and Kim Young-kwang, but I was sold almost immediately. The humor can be silly, and the plot and dialogue are highly predictable—every development as slow and obvious as the oncoming Truck of Doom that makes not one but two pivotal appearances in the story. But there’s a core of sincerity and grounded emotion that makes the drama feel anything but slight.
Even hilarious moments like Ha-ni being “saved” from jumping off a bridge by gangsters hold a kernel of sadness, because not too long ago, she did want to die. (I also love that these “loan repayment experts” become Ha-ni’s friends.) At its heart, it’s a story about allowing yourself to heal and believing you’re worth something—and trusting the people around you to catch you when you fall. I loved it unreservedly.
37-year-old Ha-ni and Han Yoo-hyun have a very un-cute meet in neighboring jail cells on the worst day of both their lives. Her Worst Day Ever is far more dire than his, given that she’s newly fired and almost died—and is DONE with life, actually mad that the doctor revived her. Yoo-hyun has simply been kicked out by his rich father and told to finally get a real job at the age of 30. Being locked up in the same police station, and then running into each other repeatedly during a series of low moments, bonds them early on as comrades of a sort, even if he’s more of a helpless, awkwardly tall duckling that she repeatedly bails out—and who imprints on her like the adorable pest he is.
But the heart of the show is the crash-landing of 17-year-old Ha-ni into present-day Ha-ni’s life, bringing about a series of healing catastrophes. The scene that lingers in my mind is young Ha-ni, after witnessing her older self repeatedly demeaned and discarded by society, asking adult Ha-ni, “How dare you give me such a miserable and humiliating future?” It’s a fantastical premise rooted in a poignant truth: we never grow up to be the kind of shining, successful people we dreamed we would in high school. There’s an inevitable adjustment that’s part of the maturing process, as we take our lumps and realize that the world is a much harsher place than we imagined.
For Ha-ni the contrast between now and then is even more extreme, because of the first time she gave up on life, right after her father died. All the glow went out of her, and she’s been living under that shadow of self-hatred and recrimination for the last twenty years. Ha-ni’s worst day is not a sudden strike of lightning, but the exhausted culmination of twenty years under her own personal raincloud.
And that’s when the twin suns of Baby Ha-ni and Yoo-hyun enter her life, and innocently cause enough trouble to completely upend Ha-ni’s miserable routines of being ground down at work by her weaselly boss, and ground down at home by her vicious older sister. Young Ha-ni is still the bright, shining girl who knows in her bones that she’s the next Lee Hyori and won’t let anyone tell her otherwise, and it’s beautiful to see that confidence and energy—as much as it initially grates on her—unstoppably bleed over into older Ha-ni and give her a new lease on life.
Their dynamic was my favorite part of the drama, although the Ha-nis’ relationship with their mom is a very close second. (Mom made me cry multiple times.) Both Lee Re and Choi Kang-hee are absolutely radiant in their roles, Lee bringing an incandescent charisma that makes it absolutely believable that she’d be the center of her world wherever she goes, and Choi slowly blooming before our eyes as she regains her will to live, her determination to succeed, and finally her self-worth. And along the way, both Ha-nis spur a true healing of the barely-scabbed over wounds that have been hurting their family for the last twenty years.
At first, Yoo-hyun might seem like a boring redux of the spoiled chaebol manchild, but unlike his too-rich-to-have-a-heart predecessors, he’s a ball of sunshine that spreads light wherever he goes. His wealth and privilege have sheltered him from the everyday difficulties of life, but it’s made him naive and immature, rather than cruel and superior.
He carries zero malice, and never uses his power to hurt or exploit people—the exact opposite. And he doesn’t reserve his kindness solely for his crush, like the many Gu Jun-pyos that have come before him. (Nor is he a bully, but is bullied himself.) He takes over the executive lounge for his cafeteria noonims; he seeks out and helps the grandma of the secretary he befriended, even though the man was secretly spying for Yoo-hyun’s evil aunt.
When it comes to Ha-ni, he never lets his interest or help become creepy or burdensome; they build an organic friendship based on mutual liking (and a bit of hero worship on his side for “Superman”) and common goals. And then he gently lets her know that’s he’s been noticing her that way, and quietly backs off and lets her think about it. If you’d told me it was possible to have a non-toxic second-generation chaebol hero, I’d have scoffed, but this cinnamon roll has proved me wrong. (Another thing I’m shocked at: here be so many childhood connections, and I don’t care one single fig.)
If Ha-ni’s journey is about finding the confidence and purpose of her youth again, Yoo-hyun’s is about leaving childish things behind, facing adult responsibilities and heartbreaks without losing his big heart. I know we often roll our eyes at how K-dramas play with opposites in their romantic pairings, but it’s so well-executed here, and both actors embody their characters perfectly.
The chemistry between them is warm and comfortable rather than fiery, which is perfect for this subtle love story. There’s never any doubt that they’ll end up together, either—that’s not where the tension lies in this admittedly low-angst drama, because the romance is only a side bonus in this story of personal growth for not only the leads, but everyone involved.
Which brings us to Anthony/Chun-shik (Eum Moon-seok), who is immediately, delightfully disqualified as a romantic prospect in childhood, and in every single scene since. He starts the majority of the drama as an obnoxious comic relief character, but by the end his arc made me tear up a little. I keep referencing Boys Before Flowers, but it’s been on my mind lately as I think about school bullying in real life vs. how it’s portrayed in dramas, and what true redemption would actually look like. Anthony is another type of anti-Gu Jun-pyo. Ha-ni not only never falls in love with the school bully who pursues her, but Anthony is forced to face his victims and the consequences of his actions. The drama never lets him off because of his status; in fact, he gives up his money and career and spends all his time serving (and defending) kids.
The theme is in such diametrical opposition to Boys Before Flowers and its many imitators—where wealth, good looks and being obsessively generous to one poor girl somehow fly as repayment for all of F4’s abuses—that it can only be deliberate. Anthony even has the same tendency to misremember popular idioms that Lee Min-ho so charmingly made famous. It gives me a warm feeling to see that evolution in what K-dramaland sees as heroic.
The show comes close to becoming preachy and sentimental given its uncynical belief in the possibility of redemption, even for Yoo-hyun’s cartoonishly villainous aunt as the human incarnation of late stage capitalism. What saves the drama is its recognition that growth only comes through pain, and no journey of self-actualization is complete without acknowledging what you owe to those you’ve hurt.
I was pleasantly surprised that young Ha-ni sought out Anthony after his scandal broke not to comfort him, but to pull him out of his self-pity and remind him that he was guilty of every allegation. Ha-ni is the kind of friend who pushes him to have the courage to own up to his mistakes. Do-yoon (Ji Seung-hyun), too, has the realization that true loyalty to his mother isn’t blind obedience, but justice and accountability. I wanted to stand up and cheer this message that saving someone you love doesn’t mean shielding them from consequences, but standing by them as they face the fallout—and thus finding it in yourself to forgive them, too.
It dovetails beautifully with the drama’s other theme of not letting yourself down. What young Ha-ni brings her older self, Yoo-hyun, and even Anthony is the power of self-knowledge, and the courage not to run away from their own lives, even if it’s painful. And in return, she receives the courage to face the most devastating loss of her young life—and the assurance that she’ll make it to the other side stronger.
Seeing Ha-ni literally facing her younger self, apologizing to her, protecting her, and comforting her—and promising to prove herself to her, is such a beautiful representation of the way we often forget the bright idealism of our youth, and how important it is to remind ourselves of that small light inside us, even when life feels hopeless. (And how delightful is it that in this drama, it’s young Ha-ni who sits on a couch and critiques her older self’s wardrobe choices?)
My only caveat to this is Ha-ni’s sister, Ha-young (Jung Yi-rang), who is monstrous to her until the final act of the drama, and has clearly been cruelly blaming Ha-ni for their father’s death and denying Ha-ni’s own suffering for twenty years. At the beginning of the drama Ha-young is rich, happy and well-loved, and condescends to keep downtrodden poor-relation Ha-ni as a live-in housekeeper. (Yes, it’s exactly that Austenesque.) Even worse, we find out later that Ha-young knows Ha-ni was on antidepressants and didn’t leave the house for years after their father’s death. I really wanted to see Ha-ni confront Ha-young properly and receive the groveling apology she deserved. Grandma dissing Ha-young for her looks is not justice, it’s just uncomfortable.
Still, that’s my one complaint of an otherwise beautiful viewing experience. What stays with me is the joy of watching Anthony do the squid dance, or squabble with Yoo-hyun, first over clothes and then over Ha-ni. Or Yoo-hyun pulling out his 80 licenses at every opportunity. The hilarity of teenage Ha-ni cowing Anthony with a single glare. Yoo-hyun holding his father’s hand, silently acknowledging it’s time for him to grow up, but allowing Dad his pride by not losing his brattiness completely.
Mom, hugging her baby and her slightly more grown up baby, apologizing for never telling her she was enough when it mattered the most. The two Ha-nis holding hands and walking down that tunnel at the end, singing to give themselves courage—I’m pretty sure I was ugly crying at that point. This drama was all about the bitterness of regret dissolving into peace and healing. It was exactly the comfort watch I needed in this spring of existential anxiety, and I won’t forget this warm hug of a show anytime soon.
- Hello? It’s Me!: Episode 1
- Premiere Watch: River Where the Moon Rises, Hello? It’s Me!, Sisyphus
- Kim Young-kwang and Choi Kang-hee in latest stills for Hello? It’s Me!
- Kim Young-kwang to star opposite Choi Kang-hee in Hello? It’s Me!
- Choi Kang-hee headlines new KBS fantasy rom-com drama Hello? It’s Me!