K-drama midseason recap: Happiness – Han Hyo-joo shines in breezy zombie survival drama that remains appointment television

Cold Eyes, Taxi Driver, The Devil Judge

This article contains spoilers.

Given its bright apartments, sunny days and occasionally ebullient characters, you could be forgiven for mistaking Happiness for something other than the survival- horror drama that it is. Zombies lurk around every corner, but they only appear sparingly and in well-executed set pieces that punctuate a series that remains breezily enjoyable two-thirds of the way in.

Soon after they move into a public housing unit in Tower 101 in the Le Ciel flat complex, Yoon Sae-beom (Han Hyo-joo) and Jung Yi-hyun (ZE: A’s Park Hyung-sik), along with their neighbours, are forced into a 10-day lockdown when a resident became afflicted with a virus that prompts its hosts to intermittently manifest zombie-like symptoms.

The tables turn when a mass infection spreads through the other buildings in the complex, which has been sealed off from the outside. Suddenly, the danger within is superseded by the danger without.

Sae-beom and Yi-hyun lock the doors in the lobby and the basement and tape drapes on the windows over the protests of some of the other residents, including the hoity-toity Oh Yeon-ok (Bae Hae-sun), who acts as the representative of the building – a position she doesn’t yet hold, but desperately covets.

Oh Joo-hyung (Baek Hyun-jin), a wealthy resident of one of the upper floors where Le Ciel’s privately owned flats are, and who is suspected of murdering his wife – but whose perp walk to the police station was interrupted by the lockdown – continues to be the chief instigator of strife in the building.

He toys with residents of the public-housing apartments on the lower floors, not to mention the workers trapped in the building by the outbreak, waving 50,000 won (US$42) bills in their faces to get volunteers to go out and investigate what’s happening.

Sae-beom and Yi-hyun end up leading a small group outside, where they meet residents from another building behaving strangely, before venturing to the complex supermarket for supplies. Supplies aren’t all they find, though, as they and a rattled cashier narrowly escape from a small pack of zombies.

Back in the building, the residents now accept the need for caution, but more internal problems soon surface. First among these is the discovery of Kim Seung-beom (Joo Jong-hyuk), the trainer that Yi-hyun has kept locked up in the downstairs gym after suspecting that he’s infected.

Cold Eyes, Taxi Driver, The Devil Judge

Park Hyung-sik in a still from Happiness.

His symptoms suddenly manifest and his presence in the building divides the residents into two groups: those who opt to keep an eye on him, and those who want him out.

Han Tae-seok (Jo Woo-jin), the head of the national agency tasked with containing the outbreak, appears in their midst around the time a small group of zombies manages to find their way into the building.

To sequence a possible cure, he wants a new sample of Sae-beom’s blood, as she is the only known infected individual who has yet to show any symptoms. He secretly tells Yi-hyun that even though she seems OK now, it’s only a matter of time before the infection crosses the “blood brain barrier” and turns her.

Soon after that, with Yi-hyun distracted downstairs, Tae-seok pits a zombie against Sae-beom and then tranquillises her after she overcomes the attack.

He tries to drive her out of the building, but Yi-hyun catches wind of his deception and runs after the car through the car park, out into the open, jumps over it as the barrier opens up and lands on the bonnet with gun drawn, sparking a Mexican stand-off with a battalion of soldiers outside.

Though the whole sequence doesn’t make much sense, and at the very least could have easily been avoided, it makes for a thrilling and convincing display by our heroic lead pairing of Han and Park, who are on great form in Happiness.

Cold Eyes, Taxi Driver, The Devil Judge

Bae Hae-sun in a still from Happiness.

Though they clearly care about each other and engaged in a sham marriage to get into public housing – setting the scene for what would normally be a cohabitation romcom – there’s been very little outward signs of romance between the pair.

While something more concrete is likely to happen on that front before all is said and done, this unusual romantic restraint has been to the show’s benefit, as the pair work best as a wisecracking duo standing up to the snooty elite and facing off with the occasional zombie.

Of the two, Han has been the VIP, giving a magnetic performance in what is one of her best roles since the 2013 action-thriller hit Cold Eyes.

Cold Eyes, Taxi Driver, The Devil Judge

Baek Hyun-jin in a still from Happiness.

Another bright light in the cast has been Baek Hyun-jin, the composer and artist who has made a terrific late-career switch into acting; he has turned into the Korean drama industry’s go-to elitist jerk after scene-stealing turns in Samjin Company English Class, Taxi Driver and The Devil Judge.

Meanwhile, for the residents of Le Ciel 101, their sojourn in hell is renewed when the end of their quarantine is delayed indefinitely. Tensions run high in the building while a solution to the crisis outside remains elusive.

With two weeks to go, supplies are likely to dwindle for these stranded survivors, escalating tensions further, but after a strong midseason run, Happiness may need something a little punchier to bring this entertaining season of television to a strong close.

Cold Eyes, Taxi Driver, The Devil Judge

Park Hyung-sik (left) and Han Hyo-joo in a still from Happiness.

Happiness is streaming on Viu.

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