You know the feeling when you stumble upon something by chance, but that small bit causes some kind of stirring inside you and then out of curiosity, you want to see more… until not before long, you find that it’s a journey so worthwhile it manages to hit you at the right moments? That was my experience with Hi, Bye Mama! because if you’ve known me for a while now, I don’t really fancy shows with fantasy elements (like Please Come Back, Mister) but this hit different and is much more closer to life than I thought. I think this is definitely credit to some effective storytelling and good acting from the whole cast (which I must say, is star-studded). Early on, I had already seen the poster on Netflix (which makes it all the more accessible!) and read the synopsis; I was not planning to pick it up until I saw a funny bit and felt an itch in my heart at the same time. And I’m so glad that I didn’t regret my decision to continue watching, in fact I am thankful that I met this drama.
It has been quite some time since the drama has aired, and I personally think that knowing spoilers wouldn’t have much of an effect in the case of this show because you would have to watch it to feel the emotions and what it aims to communicate in full. Hence, this post would include spoilers in terms of quotes from the characters. There aren’t any specific reasons for choosing them, they could be simple lines that matter to the person saying it, or just words that I felt were impactful on my watch.
To start off, I’ll go with some random musings and rambles. This is Kim Tae-hee’s comeback drama after 5 years (the number five is such a coincidence though, hah) and boy, she’s GLOWING. Still as gorgeous, does she even age at all? It wasn’t hard to like Yuri, and likewise with all our characters. They are such a lovely bunch, like my heart is so full just looking at them. ❤
With Mama 마마 in the title, which literally means “mother”, the theme of a mother’s love takes centrestage in the drama. And certainly, we are shown how noble, unconditional and strong this love is.
- Kim Tae-hee as Cha Yu-ri
Yuri goes around addressing her daughter, Jo Seo-woo (played by child actor Seo Woo-jin) as uri 우리 Seo-woo even in ghost form and continues after she was reincarnated. The way she fusses over Seo-woo, worrying about whether she is happy in kindergarten and her safety, etc. Just being able to see Seo-woo made her happy. It shows that this love is enduring, which is also evident in the situation when her daughter’s safety was more important than her own, and her desperate plea for her child to be saved before anything else. Upon reincarnation, she embarks on a quest to chase away other ghosts and ‘beings’ around Seo-woo, who can see them. As a small example, she stops dogs from barking at Seo-woo since she would get frightened.
- Go Bo-gyeol as Oh Min-jeong
Min-jeong is steadfast in her love for Seo-woo. Despite not being her real mom, she raises Seo-woo like her own. Although some other mums in the neighbourhood (whose kids go to the same kindergarten) were being unsupportive, she acts in a way she deems best for Seo-woo’s wellbeing. I like that she does her own thing, regardless of what others say. One small example would be when she brought Seo-woo to see a child therapist. This shows that she is concerned, and wants to help Seo-woo as much as she can. She knows Seo-woo’s needs, as well as likes and dislikes. That is also why Seo-woo likes Min-jeong a lot, evident when she is always running towards her excitedly.
- Kim Mi-kyung as Jeon Eun-suk
Actress Kim Mi-kyung has got to be one of our favourite kdrama ommas, and there is no exception here as Yuri’s mother. She understands Yuri well, knowing her heart. Yuri doesn’t even need to say much, but she just knows. I guess this is a mother’s instinct? But she keeps this love to herself, even to the rest of the family. She watches over her granddaughter Seo-woo from afar, keeping a distance; but that love is in abundance.
There’s a part when Yuri tells her mom that it is okay even if she is not living in this world, because she would always be living her mom’s heart. And Madam Jeon concurs with that saying, and it hit me. Heartbreaking, but there was also the warm and fuzzy feeling. On a tangent, there was a scene in Chinese drama Nirvana In Fire, when Consort Jing tells her son Jingyan that Xiaoshu lives in his heart. However, he weeps silently and replies that he doesn’t want him to live in his heart but in this world instead. The feeling here is similar, but was being played out in the opposite manner. Breaks your heart, and yet fills it all at the same time.
From the premise, we would know that in our drama world the characters grapple with feelings of loss, grief and loneliness. In the present, they are dealing with repercussions from what happened back then and leading their lives.
- Lee Kyu-hyung as Jo Gang-hwa
“Then, what is the real me like?”
Gang-hwa poses this question in response to Hyeon-jeong’s remark that he’s not being himself. Comparing the present and glimpses of the past, we see that the way Ganghwa acts and behaves is a stark contrast. He doesn’t express himself much, keeping to himself. He is withdrawn, and avoids dealing with his pain. I feel that this is a very human reaction, we tend to avoid situations that cause us feelings of pain or fear. This is most evident in his remarriage to Min-jeong – they don’t argue much, and he lets her decide pretty much everything with regards to Seo-woo and their family as she deems fit. He doesn’t reveal his pain in front of her, out of consideration. As a result, there is a distance between them although it is a largely peaceful marriage.
Back to his question about his real self, I think he is uncertain himself. This is a very real thing, it happens when we have doubts to the extent that we become unsure of the individual persons we are. Gang-hwa has lost a part of himself, and just enduring to get by day to day. Lee Kyu-hyung has portrayed him with the right amount of gravitas, and delivers in comical parts as well.
- Shin Dong-mi as Go Hyeon-jeong
“The person next to him is lonely because he’s straining himself.”
Hyeon-jeong comes to this conclusion regarding Gang-hwa’s marriage with Min-jeong. Seeing him like this pains her as well. She has always been strong and independent, but we know that she misses Yuri dearly although she does not say it. She was the most objective in the whole situation between Yuri, Gang-hwa and Min-jeong. Despite being Yuri’s closest friend, she looks at the big picture although it probably hurt her as well. The thing that stands out for me would be encouraging Gang-hwa to pursue Min-jeong upon knowing that he has fallen for her. She tells him patiently that Yuri would want him to be happy and to move on with his life. And she was right. Shin Dong-mi was lovely as Hyeon-jeong; I’ve always liked her, and this time is no different. She’s tall, which helped to bring out the ‘unnie’ aura in her character as well.
Her loneliness stems from the emotional distance between her and Gang-hwa, and the fact that she does not dare to go closer. She also does not have many friends in the neighbourhood (seeing how the gossipy kindergarten mothers are always gossiping behind her back). As such, Min-jeong does not actively engage with others around their estate. It is understandable that she feels this way, its almost like you don’t really belong anywhere in spite of doing your best. I’m sure she is able to feel Gang-hwa’s pain, although he does not state it explicitly. At the same time, she feels that her life is lonely and perhaps unfulfilling to an extent; hence she decided to start working again after stopping to have more time to take care of Seo-woo. I think Go Bo-gyeol has done well in putting up walls around her character, seeming exceptionally aloof (more so in the initial phase) before we find out that she’s just a softie inside. It was really nice seeing her warm up to Yuri and Hyeon-jeong over time. Before that, she would always smile to herself when she sees or hears someone standing up for her, having her back.
- Oh Eui-sik as Gye Geun-sang
Although Geun-sang appears in scenes for the purpose of comic relief for majority of the time, there is always a tinge of sadness in his eyes in solemn situations. This shows that he can be serious when the time and space calls for it. He does things in an over-the-top manner, but he really manages to bring in the laughs. I think funny and sad can make a good combination sometimes, if done well. This is one of those times. There’s a small part where he gives a friendly hug to Yuri, and I thought that was really nice even though the scene made a funny turn very quickly. I enjoy Geun-sang and Hyeon-jeong on screen together – they’re one of my favourites, as a married couple and parents of Ha-jun. There’s lots of bickering but they’re also deeply concerned for each other. On one of the set interviews, Shin Dong-mi made a remark that she couldn’t stop laughing because he kept calling her ‘Noona’ (as he does in the drama) and she needed time to compose herself for the scene, haha.
Friendships are recurring and newly forged throughout this drama. Some of the best moments in Hi, Bye Mama are created because of these friendships.
- Hyeon-jeong and Yuri
Hyeon-jeong is probably the next person who knows Yuri well after her mother. They are like soulmates – each knows the other’s heart. After Yuri came back, they hugged it out tearfully in Misaeng (bar and restaurant run by Hyeon-jeong). Seeing them best friends hug each other made me miss the idea of physical affection amid the current global pandemic situation.
- Geun-sang and Gang-hwa
As colleagues and good friends, both have a unique dynamic. At work, Geun-sang is always there to support Gang-hwa under the watchful eyes of Professor Jang (Ahn Nae-sang). They also give each other advice, and engage in much good-natured banter. I like watching their scenes together. In a behind-the-scenes interview, Lee Kyu-hyung said that Oh Eui-sik is totally unlike Geun-sang in real life; but he managed to pull it off well.
- The Quartet (Hyeon-jeong, Yuri, Gang-hwa, Geun-sang)
When four of them hang out together (as we see from the past scenes), there is a palpable sense of them enjoying each other’s presence. It’s always a good time spent – I’m really glad we got to see their past outings. I really liked the camping one. It also carries on to the present, with Yuri’s return. Things might have changed, but they’re still good friends; friends for life.
- Hyeon-jeong, Yuri and Min-jeong
This trio became close after Yuri was reincarnated, and it felt really precious to watch them bond and team up together with a common goal in mind. Min-jeong in particular was happier when she finally became friends with them. My heart broke when she asked Hyeon-jeong and Yuri, “We are friends, right?”. It shows a lot about her character, that she is truly sincere and delighted to have them as friends, as well as her insecurities since she didn’t really have many friends in the neighbourhood. Hyeon-jeong was always supportive of Min-jeong and Seo-woo, even when the other mothers at the kindergarten left her out. She would try to help, in her own way wherever possible. Yuri as well.
- Yuri and her ghost friends
Yuri is fortunate to have her fellow ghost friends by her side supporting her; likewise they are also lucky to have her. Yuri being able to meet them as a ghost, knowing about their different life stories, then relating to them and the sentiments behind; it is lovely to see their interactions and bubbling friendship. They all add a warm touch to the drama. I’ll mention some: the first would be Jang Pil-seung’s (Lee Si-woo) family, namely his parents and sister. Yuri helped them to cook him a homecooked meal under his mother’s (Park Eun-hye) directions after she became human. I also liked the story of ghost Kim Pan-seok (Lee Dae-yeon) and his daughter, who was able to get a message from Dad thanks to Yuri.
Another ghost, Kang Sang-bong (nickname Kang Bin, acted by Lee Jae-woo) also said something that hit: “If we only did things we wouldn’t regret, we’d be deities.” He’s right, because it is only in human nature that we make decisions we’d only regret later, or say things we may not actually mean.
There is something in common about all our characters, whether humans or ghosts, that is they are selfless. Like when Yuri tells Min-jeong that the latter is “way too nice” a person whilst sharing her umbrella on a rainy day. Even Seo-woo, who puts a plaster (known as band-aid in kdramas) on Min-jeong’s hand seeing that she looks hurt. The thing is, everyone is nice cries Whether it is towards a spouse, parent, friend, sibling or child, that devotion permeates through the screen. Of course, all these is understated or somewhat hidden beneath amusing lines and scenes but with the (obvious) backstory and through our characters’ actions, we are constantly reminded of this quality.
On the note of Yuri and the ghosts, it is impossible not to mention shaman Midong-taek (Yoon Sa-bong), who is like a bridge between the real world and the ghosts since she is able to see them. She is the mediator and messenger for the ghosts, giving them advice and helping them gain a peace of mind. Being the only one who is a third party out of the main picture, she has the most unbiased lines based on her own experiences and people she has met.
“Everyone who’s alive is like that. They think about tomorrow more than today. That’s why they have a lot of troubles, sigh and regret a lot. If they thought that they’d just live another day like you or the other ghosts here, there’s no need to worry at all.”
Midong-taek says this to Yuri in reply when she laments that everyone is having a hard time because of her coming back. Hearing that, you just have to agree that as humans we have lots of worries. It is lines like this that makes the show grounded and close to life. Having said that, I believe that there is life after death; possibly like Yuri and the fellow ghosts. One can imagine, right?
The last thing I’ll touch on is the writing. Hi, Bye Mama is penned by writer Kwon Hye-joo who did Go Back Couple back in 2017. She does well in combining comedic moments with the solemn parts. Sometimes it is purposefully funny and sad, while sometimes it is done in a matter-of-fact way such as through conversations between the characters. It is then up to the viewer to feel the emotions, and interpret the message behind. This is a well-written drama overall, with the beginning and premise aligned with its end. However, writer-nim has a tendency to drag on certain sequences which result in some scenes being overly long. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor flaw for this show because I was still invested in the characters’ life journeys; felt happy and sad along with them before realising that it was beyond reincarnation like in its premise and the humour. Most importantly, it looks like the cast had lots of fun on set and the filming process was enjoyable. Check out some pictures below! ❤ There is also a particular soundtrack in the OST that I like, and I’ve linked it above.