The Hotel Is Now Open
As Arthdal Chronicles bows out for its first season, Hotel Del Luna fills the missing time slot perfectly, beginning with a charming, mysterious and surprisingly gripping episode, one that gets things off to a promising start here.
The episode begins in the past with main protagonist Jang Man-Wol, looking for a guest house known for consoling the dead. On her way there, she meets an old woman who tells her that she knows the place, the Guest House of the Moon, but there’s a catch; only the dead can get there. Willing to kill herself in order to access it, she explains that she takes responsibility for all the people she’s killed. After having flashbacks of a previous battle, she plunges her sword in a tree which turns into the fabled Guest House of the Moon.
Flash forward to 1998, and we see a young Chan Seong told by his father that he couldn’t afford much for his birthday. After a brief encounter with an old woman trying to sell them flowers, the body of a dead woman is found in the lake. We then see her ghost looking up at the moon with a purpose. It turns out Man-Wol has been stuck in Hotel Del Luna for 1000 years. As it’s now the full moon, the Manager of the hotel tells her they will be busy tonight, but she replies that she doesn’t want anyone who has died a painful death to be allowed in. He begrudgingly accepts which allows us to see the hotel come to life in a majestic and grandiose way, as lights flicker on and the hotel towers into the sky.
We then cut back to Chan Seong’s Father who’s on the run from the police with a stolen till. He falls down some stairs, hitting his head and finding himself at the front doors of Hotel Del Luna, indicating that he may have died in his fall. The drowned lady arrives at the same time and checks in but when the manager sees him, he claims that he shouldn’t be here, explaining that he’s still alive.
As Chan Seong’s father wanders around the hotel, he finds an old tree and picks a flower for his son’s birthday. Man-wol arrives soon after and tells him that she knows he tried to steal it and sentences him to death. However, Man-Wol has second thoughts because the tree gave him a flower. She decides to spare him but in exchange she tells him that he will need to give her his son in 20 years’ time. He agrees to the deal and comes back to life in hospital.
Man-Wol later speaks to the drowned lady about what will happen to her and asks if she wants revenge on who killed her before going into the afterlife. She refuses explaining that she only wants to catch her killer. Elsewhere we see Park Kyu Ho (her killer and the Mayor) at an award ceremony. Suddenly all the cameras stop working and Man-Wol appears with a gun, shooting him with the same bullet that killed his victim. However, it doesn’t kill him but does prompt him to have a vision of Detective Lee, the drowned woman.
From here, we cut forward to the year 2019. A grown Chan Seong finally comes back to Korea after 20 years to accept a new job in the hotel but his father warns him about the deal he made all those years ago. Every year on his birthday he receives an evening primrose. In the card, a message reads that he’s been hired in the Hotel Del Luna, prompting him to realize that the stories his Father told him were true.
However, he decides to ignore the invitation which leads to Man Wol finding him in the subway. She tells him that since he’s refusing to come, she will give him a different kind of present his year. The gift happening to be the ability to see dead people. As he gets chased by a spirit with no eyes, Man Wol comes to help him and tells him all about ghosts and why they’re not moving on.
While they talk and eat, we see the Mayor she shot all those years ago. He’s now homeless and as he passes by, he suddenly recognizes her. Waiting for her to be alone, he tries to stab Man Wol which prompts her to have more flashbacks of her past sins. She then tells Chan Seong to go if that’s what he really wants. Instead, he returns with a cart to help her. She removes the wooden stake from her chest and sends it flying at the homeless Mayor who disintegrate into dust. After calling Chan frail, she tells him that he lost his chance to run away and if he now tries to, she will kill him.
Hotel Del Luna begins with a dazzling flurry of fantastical world building and solid plotting. The stylistic ticks and creative cuts between scenes are partly why the show works as well as it does. This promising Korean drama boasts great acting from the two main actors, Jin-Goo and IU, who are both faces I’ve recognized from previous shows. Seeing Jin Goo in a more comedic role is certainly a far cry from his impressive dual role in The Crowned Clown and there’s enough here to see some promise, even if he doesn’t quite hit the emotional peaks in a few of the scenes, especially in the subway.
The mischievous musical score is really well written too and complements the action on screen perfectly. Hotel Del Luna really flirts between the ideas of horror, goofy comedy and fantasy and somehow blends them all together in a pretty harmonic way. If the show carries on with the same tone and pace, we could bear witness to something really special here. Hotel Del Luna sets its pieces up perfectly to win but whether it can follow through and deliver the goods, remains to be seen.