Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 12 – | Review Score – 5/5
Dementia is a horrible disease. It’s a nasty, debilitating virus that eats away at everything that makes you unique. For those who have lost a loved one to this, the process is not nice – or quick. It’s perhaps surprising then that we haven’t seen more small screen shows exploring this topic and its effect on loved ones. Well, wonder no more. Korean drama Navillera is here to bring the heart-wrenching feels.
Split across 12 episodes, Navillera is ultimately a healing drama about two lost souls. Sim Deok-Chool is a recently-retired 70 year old who has always had dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. However, he was forced to give up these dreams to support his growing family. After being given the diagnosis of early-onset dementia, Deok-Chool makes a big decision to pursue his lifelong dream.
Helping him out is Lee Chae-Rok, a tortured soul who’s incredibly talented at ballet. With his Father arrested and his family stuck going through hard times, Chae-Rok’s passion and love of ballet soon turns to one of necessity. Thanks to Deok-Chool’s impassioned love of dancing, he slowly starts to rekindle those lost flames of passion.
Complicating matters further however are Deok-Chool’s family. His wife Hae-Nam is not happy about his dancing while eldest son Seong-San is embarrassed by his Father’s antics. In fact, it’s only Seong-Gwan, the outcast Uncle, who actually supports Deok-Chool’s dream.
As the episodes progress, this tension between ballet and family reaches fever fitch and leads to some pretty big drama late on. All the while, Deok-Chool’s condition continues to worsen and looks set to chip away at his memories at any moment.
The story itself plays out in a really compelling way but it’s ultimately the characters that make this such an enthralling watch. Both Park In-Hwan and Song Kang have great chemistry on screen together. The screenplay is also clever enough to know when to turn the drama toward comedy and when to lean into the melodrama.
Tonally, this 12 piece ensemble is perfectly balanced between these two states and the show does an excellent job throughout to keep things engaging and dramatic. There’s a few occasions where Navillera looks like it’s going to descend into full-on melodrama but the show just about restrains itself from that.
In fact, Navillera only gets better with time. The closing chapters are emotionally draining and will almost certainly see you reaching for the tissues when the dust settles. There’s a wonderful message in all this about following your dreams and keeping your passion; both of these themes woven perfectly throughout the show.
It’s not just the main cast who are given compelling arcs here either. Keeping those ideas about passion and dreams at the forefront are several other characters who convey this too. The aforementioned Seong-San finds himself reflecting on his own life choices, partly thanks to daughter Eun-Ho’s desire to follow her dreams.
The real stand-out star here though is Yang Ho-Beom. What starts as bitterly jealous bullying soon evolves into something far more beautiful and profound. I won’t spoil that here of course but suffice to say his journey throughout the season is outstanding.
And that is ultimately the one word that best describes Navillera – outstanding. The show is a wonderful example of how to take such a sensitive subject and spin it into something wholly beautiful and heart-wrenching. This is an outstanding Korean drama and a 12 episode beauty that deserves to be watched. An absolute must-watch for sure.
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Verdict - 9/10