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The Legend of the Blue Sea

The Korean TV fantasy-romance serial The Legend of the Blue Sea is inspired by a Korean Joseon-era story about a fisherman who caught and freed a mermaid. This serial, however, takes place primarily in present day, though it's interspersed with a parallel story that's set in the Joseon era. The show had 20 episodes that aired from November 2016 to January 2017.

At the center of the show is a love story between Heo Joon-Jae (Lee Min-ho), a con-artist with a troubled past, and the mermaid (Jun Ji-hyun) who meets him while he's on holiday in Spain and is so captivated by him that she follows him all the way back to Seoul. The mermaid, whom Joon-Jae names Shim Cheong, tries her best to pass as a human, and although her level of success is arguable, she won't let small things like human societal norms get in the way of trying to get Joon-Jae to fall in love with her.

In the meantime, there are other subplots going on around them, mainly tied to Joon-Jae's estranged family. In between all of this are glimpses of Joon-Jae and Shim Cheong's doppelgangers in the Joseon era, and how their love story is similar in places.

There's a couple of underwater scenes that were filmed in Palau, some of them featuring groups of mermaids. These are striking because of the environment: the open ocean and wildlife are beautiful, though Ji-Hyun's CGi-enhanced tail is a bit distracting. Her tail itself has some interesting coral-like detail on it, and as a level of differentiation the tail is golden in the Joseon era and white (silver?) in modern day. Like most modern mermaids, Shim Cheong gains legs when dry and transforms whenever she is splashed with water, though she also has other abilities such as telepathy as her "true" voice, her tears turn into pearls, and she can erase people's memories with a touch.

The Hans Christian Andersen story gets mentioned a few times, especially as a warning to Joon-Jae and Shim Cheong about the cost of a mermaid's coming on to land for love. A nifty touch has Shim Cheong naturally empathizing deeply with the little mermaid, framing the character's "greed" as what brought to her land, instead of a tragic mistake.

Although a mermaid is a main character, I'd describe this show as a romance that has a mermaid, instead of a mermaid-centric romance. This is because a big chunk of the show is about Joon-Jae, his character growth and investigation into the strange connection he has with Shim Cheong, and his complicated familial relationships. And while Shim Cheong enters and interacts with Joon-Jae's world, she doesn't bring much of her world into his, and her secret status as a mermaid doesn't come into play in the non-romance storylines. That said, this depiction of the familiar mermaid-on-land trope has some fresh angles to make it interesting, such as how Shim Cheong's cluelessness sometimes works directly to her benefit, Joon-Jae discovers Shim Cheong's true identity before she realizes it, and there are other merfolk on land who help out when they find each other.

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