Since Train To Busan (2016) set the trend for Korean zombie apocalypse shows, we have seen several Korean dramas and movies with a similar concept in recent years, including Rampant (2018), Kingdom (2019), and #Alive (2020).
The latest addition is Happiness, although there is nothing happy about the apocalypse in this K-drama. If you notice the poster for the dramas, the title is faded towards the end which shows how the happiness faded after the apocalypse hit.
Yoon Sae-Bom encounters a trainee at the Special Operations Unit who is affected by mad person disease. In the struggle to subdue the trainee, she is scratched in the process, leading her to meet Han Tae-Sook at a research facility.
The facility houses many of the "patients" where they are kept under observation in order to understand and cure the disease. It is revealed that the symptoms of mad person disease are first accompanied by unabated thirst, followed by the pupil turning white, and then the biting of human necks.
The disease is not airborne, but spreads through scratches and bites, with Yoon Sae-Bom seemingly immune to the disease. Some of those who contracted the disease are ultimately able to return to their former selves temporarily.
Yoon Sae-Bom makes a deal with Han Tae-Sook which leads her to secure an apartment in a newly constructed building, however in order to do so, she must be "married" to someone and she asks Jung Yi-Hyun, her high-school friend, who was a star baseball player, but now a Corporal Detective and he agrees to be her fake husband.
The building is luxurious and highly stratified, with the public rentals consisting of the lower five floors, and the upper floors for those who own their apartment. Class discrimination is evident where the upper floor resident Oh Yeon-Ok struggles to be the apartment resident while keeping everyone in check.
Yoon Sae-Bom meets many interesting and strange residents, forming a close attachment to her neighbor's young daughter.
Through Jung Yi-Hyun's detective work, he encounters a diseased person who he believes became this way due to a failed pneumonia drug called Next, that has been widely circulated in order to promote attentiveness and strength. This assumption is later confirmed when a resident member who consumed the drug, secretly sold to her in the building's gym, ultimately became infected with the mad person's disease and succumbed to the illness.
This begins the outbreak in the building. In an effort to protect the residents in his building, Jung Yi-Hyun and Yoon Sae-Bom establish quarantine rules, while securing the building from the outside with the help of his Captain, Kim Jung-guk. Jung Yi-Hyun conflicts with building resident Oh Joo-Hyung who seems to encourage destructive behavior in the building.
The question of humanity and whether to view those infected with mad person disease as human beings form a psychological battle for Sae-Bom, Yi-Hyun, and Tae-Sook.
Han Tae-Sook initially tries to keep the mad person's disease a secret, but with more cases progressing and people getting panicked, it is revealed to the public. With the increasing number of people getting infected, Han Tae-Sook along with his military team are struggling to determine whether to preserve these people or to kill them off.
Han Tae-Sook ordered the complete quarantine of the new building complex where Yoon Sae-Bom and Jung Yi-Hyun live, offering them a chance to leave the building before it becomes completely sealed to anyone going in or out of the complex area, however, they decline the offer.
Yoon Sae-Bom's blood contains antibodies that could hold the cure for the disease, which Han Tae-Sook seeks to exploit. It is revealed that Han Tae-Sook's pregnant wife was bitten by the president of the pharmaceutical company that supplied Next, and ultimately became infected with the disease. His search for the cure is in part motivated to find a cure for his wife and to save his unborn child.
1. Isn't Supernatural, Zombie-like behavior seems to be a severe side effect of a drug.
The zombie-like behavior is contagious and can spread through bites and scratches. However, after the investigations by Yi-Hyun, the evidence seems to suggest that an overdose of a particular drug is causing this adverse reaction in people.
This adds a layer of complexity to the zombies we are used to and can be a double-bladed sword.
Lieutenant Colonel Han Tae-Seok (Jo Woo-jin), who is part of the Central Disaster Countermeasure, oversees the containment of the disease outbreak. He is full of mystery and seems to know a thing or two more than he has revealed.
If anything, Tae-Seok is a character with great potential — he can either be the mastermind behind the outbreak, or pivotal assistance to Sae-Bom and Yi-Hyun. His future development will be something to look forward to.
2. Set in the near future, gives a realistic view of life during a pandemic
While most zombie apocalypse shows have a dystopian and dark nature, Happiness has toned that down and shifted its setting to something closer to home. The story happens after the coronavirus pandemic when infectious diseases are the new norm. In a way, it makes the story more realistic and relatable, as if this can really happen.
The way the story has unfolded so far makes it feel like it won't be a simple and superficial apocalypse drama.
3) Doesn't have an intense thrill right off the bat
Most zombie apocalypse shows tend to paint a more somber picture, with chaos quickly taking over the world, and no apparent exit or solution. This is not the case for Happiness though, as it contains more mystery and suspense regarding the rabies-like disease.
As such, the pace of the story is relatively slower, and the tone seems to be more optimistic for a start. Exciting scenes are rolled out gradually, like bread crumbs to keep you going, while the bigger picture brews silently in the background.
Happiness also explores other concepts like class discrimination. In the apartment block that Sae-beom and Yi-Hyun move into, the lower floors are public housing, while the upper floors are for the relatively wealthier.
The inequality has been pointed out several times, which makes it difficult to miss, and likely lays the foundation for the upcoming events.
4. Balanced with Comedy, Romance, and Thrill
As thrilling as Happiness is it has one of the best comedic moments as well. Starting from the very first episode, when Sae-Beom pushes Yi-Hyun from the roof or when she straight away pulls a gun at the people from the office administrative building.
Not just that, both Jung Yi-Hyun (Park Hyung Sik) and Yoon Sae-Beom (Han Hyo-Joo) have a very simple yet beautiful love story. Unlike other dramas, the story isn't centered around the couple but is balanced in all aspects.
Happiness is a perfect ending to the year. It's a really good drama with a great cast and storyline.
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