Why K-drama Happiness isn't your typical zombie apocalypse series

In Happiness, Park Hyung-sik plays Jung Yi-hyun, and Han Hyo-joo plays Yoon Sae-bom. (Photo: iQiyi)
In Happiness, Park Hyung-sik (left) plays Jung Yi-hyun, and Han Hyo-joo plays Yoon Sae-bom. (Photo: iQiyi)

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.

Happiness follows the story of Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo), a decisive and determined woman in the special ops team, and Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik), a smart and honest police officer. The two of them move into a newly constructed apartment, where an infectious disease breaks out.

We've watched the first two episodes of the 12-episode series, which is available on iQiyi and Viu. With Train To Busan achieving great results, and Kingdom receiving critical acclaim, it may seem like the hurdle is too high for Happiness. But here’s how it stands out from the other zombie apocalypse shows.

1. It doesn't have intense action right off the bat.

Most zombie apocalypse shows tend to paint a more sombre 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-bom 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.

2. The zombie-like behaviour seems to be a severe side effect of a drug.

The zombie-like behaviour 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 a pivotal assistance to Sae-bom and Yi-hyun. His future development will be something to look forward to.

3. It's set in the near future, when infectious diseases, like the coronavirus, are no stranger.

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. With only 12 episodes in total, I’m curious to see how everything will play out.

New episodes of Happiness are available every Saturday and Sunday, on the iQiyi International app or iQ.com, and Viu.

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