Castaway Diva
무인도의 디바
tvN / Netflix (2023) 12 Episodes
Family Drama / Suspense / Romance / Music
Grade: A+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

Another brilliant, sparkling performance by beautiful Korean actress Park Eun Bin (Extraordinary Attorney Woo, Do You Like Brahms?, Operation Proposal, The Legend, Stained Glass, Glass Slippers, My Love Patzzi) helps this unusual drama story Castaway Diva (2023) flourish with great style and pizzazz. I was completely hooked from the incredible first episode to the last, the twelfth! Many fans online expressed that they wished the drama had gone to the more typical sixteen episodes in length. They didn't want to say goodbye to the delightful characters so soon! I heartily concur!


Also, it has to be noted that the young actress who played Park Eun Bin's character as a teenager, Lee Re, was outstanding as well. I had been mightily impressed by a previous performance of hers when she was much younger, in Super Daddy 10 (2015), playing Lee Dong Gun's little daughter, and I was thrilled to see her on the cusp of adulthood here in Castaway Diva. Her singing scenes, especially, were amazing, as you can see and hear in the video posted below!


Both adult male lead actors were sweet to watch, Chae Jong Hyeop (See You In My 19th Life, Sh**ting Stars) and Cha Hak Yeon (The Stain, Tunnel); both did an excellent job with difficult roles. (My own personal preference went to Cha Hak Yeon, who had played the piano so beautifully in The Stain K-drama Special the year before. If you loved him in Castaway Diva make sure you don't miss The Stain!).

Once I discovered who the writer was for this unique inspirational drama, Park Hye Ryun, who had written a masterpiece drama that will always be in my Top Ten favorite K-Drama list, I Hear Your Voice (2013), I was even more excited to watch Castaway Diva, even though the plot was admittedly far-fetched: a young girl stranded on a deserted island for fifteen years, who is rescued and then becomes a K-pop idol singer! Between the talent of this writer, and the outstanding cast, I knew I had to watch it the moment it was added to Netflix.


The Story:

On Chunsam Island two eighth grade students become close friends due to their love of music, girl Seo Mok Ha (Lee Re) and boy Jung Ki Ho (Moon Woo Jin, excellent sensitive performance). Mok Ha is an aspiring singer and has a huge celebrity crush on an older popular K-pop singing idol named Yoon Ran Joo (Kim Hyo Jin, film Genome Hazard, dramas Lost, Secret, Mary Stayed Out All Night - lucky Kim Hyo Jin is married in real life to one of my favorite actors Ji Tae Yu, who was in the Korean film Ditto that I still love so much to this day; they have two sons together).

With Ki Ho's help they film a video of Mok Ha singing and send it to Ran Joo and her manager, Lee Seo Jun (Kim Joo Hun, Encounter, Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol, Soundtrack 1). They are very much impressed by her performance and communicate to her that if she can make it to Seoul and audition for them in person that they can help start her on a singing career of her own.

Fate intervenes in Mok Ha and Ki Ho's secret travel plans, however: both children come from abusive homes, with overly-controlling, violent, psychopathic "fathers": Mok Ha's "father" Jung Ho (Lee Yoo Joon), a fish shop-owner, hits her whenever she crosses him, and Ki Ho's "father" Jung Bong Wan (prolific actor Lee Seung Joon, Behind Your Touch, Nine: Nine Time Travels, Hyde Jekyll and I, Item) is an abusive cop who becomes enraged when he discovers a secret stash of money Ki Ho has been saving for his trip to Seoul with Mok Ha.

Both kids still manage to trick their "dads" and escape to go to Seoul by ferry. However, once on the boat, Ki Ho spies Mok Ha's "dad" attempting to board, and after putting Mok Ha in a less visible spot on the boat, he runs off the ship to try and prevent her "dad" from reaching his daughter. Jung Ho severely beats Ki Ho until he's practically unconscious on the ground (I had to wonder why none of the "men" standing around watching a minor kid being beaten to a pulp by an adult did nothing to intervene!).

The ferry leaves without Ki Ho, but Mok Ha's "dad" managed to board the ship before it set sail. He goes all over the boat looking for his daughter and when he finally spies her he runs toward her, with Mok Ha jumping up and running to the front of the boat outside. She ends up jumping into the water, figuring the water was her only escape route from being beaten to death by "dad". He jumps overboard after her. Will either of them survive?

We transition to a deserted island that Mok Ha had swam to, and soon she realizes she sees her dead "dad" on the beach as well. She weeps, not for his death, but for his wasted life as a brute. So now it's Survival Time. Mok Ha has to look for food to eat and remembers that Ki Ho had told her about potatoes that grew under a certain flower; she finds a field of them and is able to survive on those potatoes until she can learn to fish, or in a rare case, sadly eats the two eggs of a bald eagle she had made friends with. A starving girl has little choice, in reality. Over time she finds objects washed ashore and makes a kind of shelter home for herself using these objects. She also has the presence of mind to create a gigantic SOS on the beach out of rocks, so that if any plane flew by she might be seen and rescued. 

However, incredibly, fifteen years go by before Mok Ha is rescued! One day she sees a flying metal object coming toward her, but she has no idea what a drone is!

Then she sees some young men in the distance and starts running toward them joyfully! Human beings, after fifteen years alone! What would you do? She joyfully throws her arms around one of them, a boy with glasses whose name we learn is Kang Woo Hak (Cha Hak Yeon). She also meets his brother named Kang Bo Geol (Chae Jong Hyeop). They bring her back to the mainland and take care of her, introducing her to their kind family, their mother Song Ha Jung (Seo Jung Yeon) and Dad named Kang Sang Doo (Lee Joong Ok), who run a barber shop / hair salon in Seoul. She fits in with them perfectly and takes an attic bedroom that is offered to her.

Because Woo Hak is a news reporter he writes a story on Mok Ha that receives national attention, and Mok Ha eventually gets up the courage to call her singer idol Yoo Ran Joo, who remembers her! She and her manager had waited to meet Mok Ha all those years ago but of course she never showed up at their meeting place in Seoul because she was considered lost due to falling overboard on that ferry.

The two ladies meet up and hit it off well. Ran Joo was not considered as popular a singer anymore because she was fifteen years older, her voice had weakened, and her career had faltered. They come up with the idea of letting Mok Ha sing for Ran Joo offstage during a performance, and it works. Suddenly Ran Joo is wildly popular again, and Mok Ha is thrilled; she doesn't even seem to care that her own beautiful voice deserves its own support and recognition from the people behind RJ Entertainment who sponsor Ran Joo and other pop singers, including CEO Seo Jun, techie Park Young Gwan (Shin Joo Hyup), and producer Bo Geol, Woo Hak's brother.

Eventually Ran Joo feels compelled to make Mok Ha a K-pop singing idol, her dream since she was a young girl. Mok Ha finally achieves some level of fame after a televised singing performance showing off her amazing voice.

Then Ran Joo confesses publicly during a performance that it was Mok Ha singing for her recently and she bows out of public performances, letting Mok Ha achieve the fame she had always deserved all along.

While all the upheaval is going on at RJ Entertainment, who should resurface but Ki Ho's violent "dad", Jung Bong Wan, who had been fired from his job as a cop for repeated acts of violence. He now has a lowly security guard job in Seoul and has spent years trying to find out what had happened to his son Ki Ho, who had disappeared after the ferry incident. Now that he sees Mok Ha on television he begins to follow her around, hoping she will eventually lead him to Ki Ho. Mok Ha had been looking for him, too, with the help of some of her newly adoptive Kang family members, including the two sons, Woo Hak and Bo Geol. However, the mystery of Ki Ho's whereabouts is ultimately solved in a most dramatic way: Mok Ha learns that the Kang family had changed their names from Jung to hide the fact that the mother had been married to Jung Bong Wan. She had been the victim of repeated domestic violence and had even suffered a permanent limp from his repeated attacks. She had run away from her "husband" to save her life and the lives of her sons. So that means that one of her own sons is the long-lost Ki Ho! Which son will it turn out to be, Woo Hak or Bo Geol? One had lost his memories of his earlier life, and the other had known all along who Ki Ho was but felt he couldn't reveal it, in order to protect his family from the evil revenge of Jung Bong Wan!

To get back at his estranged wife and sons, Jung Bong Wan sues them, but the wise prosecutor in charge of the case Lee Ji Gwang (Min Sung Wook) sees through his lies. "Who is the real father?" he asks. Is it the one who offered love and protection freely, Kang Sang Doo, or the biological "father", Jung Bong Wan, who seeks revenge? (Once again I was reminded of a moving scene from the classic 1961 film Fanny, where Horst Buchholz angrily asks Charles Boyer, who played his father, "Who is the real father then? The one who gives life ... or the one who buys the bibs?" and Boyer answers simply, "The father ... is the one who loves.").

Who Is The Real Father?
The Father Is The One Who Loves

There are several other intriguing characters in this marvelous story of Castaway Diva, and you will enjoy getting to know them. You will also enjoy all the singing scenes. Many fans were surprised how lovely lead actress Park Eun Bin's singing voice was. However I was not surprised! Years ago I had enjoyed her singing in Operation Proposal (2012). In this series her music talent shines even more.

Do not miss this great series if you are her fan. There is something for everyone to love here: pretty music, adventure, intrigue and suspense, romance, humor, and a solid family story with sweet devotion between the characters. Enjoy!