Korean Movie Stories

Legend of the Blue Sea: Episode 20 (Final)


It’s time to say goodbye to this show, which has been a sweetly funny ride all the way through and retains those qualities through its final hour (and regains some of its earlier lightness too, which I enjoyed). It ends a little quietly, but in a way that feels well-suited to its themes, and on an uplifting note that leaves me in a good place as I leave these characters and wish them well for whatever’s around the bend after the show drops its curtain.




Joon-jae asks Chung not to erase his memory before she leaves, reminding her that it’s better to remember love even if it hurts than to remember nothing. She doesn’t want him to suffer in case she can never return, but he assures her that even if she couldn’t, his love would outlast his life and go into the next one.

Ultimately, he leaves the choice with her, and after she decides, she kisses him.

A short while later as Chung leaves the house, she runs into Nam-doo, Tae-oh, and Joon-jae’s mother at the front gate. She says she’ll just be going somewhere for a short while, but her goodbyes have an air of finality to them as she thanks them for everything.

Chung visits Jin-joo and Shi-ah’s house just as the two sisters-in-law are arguing over whose coat was more cruel to the animal sacrificed for it (mink versus duck). Shi-ah gets in a dig about Chung not only being Joon-jae’s girlfriend but also the object of Tae-oh’s affections, saying that his phone was full of her pictures. Chung tells Shi-ah to delete them, and Shi-ah retorts that she already did, ha.

Then Chung explains that she’s going somewhere for a while and wanted to say goodbye, extending a hand to the surprised family.

Next on her list is little Yoo-na, and as they sit in a convenience store window drinking yogurt, she tells her that she’ll miss everything she ate here. She offers a handshake to her too, and then gets up to go. Yoo-na asks why she’s leaving so soon, and Chung is surprised that she still remembers her—ah, she’s been using her mermaid memory-loss handshake on everybody.

Chung wonders why Yoo-na’s different, and why she could hear her thoughts. Yoo-na explains seeing Chung in a dream, and we flash back to Joseon, when a freshly caught Se-hwa had sent out a call for help as the children heckled her. Yoo-na had heard her then, and she explains now that in her dream, unni was a mermaid—and so was she, as the daughter of a fisherman father and mermaid mother.

Yoo-na explains how in her dream, she could communicate with the mermaids in the sea and warned the fishermen not to go out to sea when bad weather was on the way. Chung asks what happened next, and Yoo-na just says that in her dreams everything seemed happy and good, and that whenever she wakes from that dream, she feels happy all day.

Chung says she’s glad: “It must not have been just a folktale. It must have really happened.”

A bit later, Chung stands on the beach, looking out at the waves. “He said that memory is the road back,” she thinks. “Our story that only I know… So that it doesn’t turn sad, that it doesn’t disappear, I will protect it. I’ll cherish it. And I’ll return.”

With that, she goes back into the sea.

Joon-jae wakes with a start, and finds one lone pearl on his nightstand. He picks it up curiously and stares at it for a while. Yes, but did the memory-wipe work? Do you remember or not?! They’re going to make us guess for a while, aren’t they?

Three years later.

Everybody’s still living in Joon-jae’s house, and Mom calls the boys to the table for breakfast. There’s good-natured bickering about when the others will finally move out, although Mom tells them all affectionately to stay until they get married.

Nam-doo and Tae-oh both say they enjoy having someone to call Mom for the first time, and Joon-jae gets mock-jealous when Mom hands over his favorite egg dish to Tae-oh instead.

Nam-doo wonders why they’ve fallen into the pattern of keeping one seat open, as though someone belongs there. He calls it strange, and Joon-jae’s face clouds over as he replies, “There are a lot of strange things.”

Joon-jae pulls up at the prosecutor’s office looking sharp, scanning the lobby much like the last time, when he cased the joint to scam a target. Today he scans a badge and arrives at an office, where he knocks on the door and enters.

He introduces himself to the prosecutors inside, using his real name—he’s a law student who’s been assigned to this office as a trainee.

Jin-joo enjoys bragging on Mom’s behalf about Joon-jae to their social circle, telling them all about how he went back to school to complete his degree and is now aiming to be a prosecutor. Moreover, Mom has donated half her company holdings to set up social welfare programs and alternative schools for runaway youths.

Jin-joo praises Mom to the high heavens, especially grateful to have finally found a place to invest her funds, thanks to Mom’s help. She says that she and Mom must have been sisters in a past life, which is hilarious since we know she was her servant. And then Jin-joo jumps up to bring Mom more coffee and snacks, happy to serve her.

At lunchtime, one prosecutor invites Joon-jae to eat with him, while the other remains behind. Joon-jae wonders why they don’t all go together, and the prosecutor asks what the most important thing is for a prosecutor.

“A sense of justice?” Joon-jae asks. “That’s important,” the prosecutor informs him, “but there’s something that’s more important. Never leave the office empty.”

He confesses that their office was infiltrated by con artists three years ago during lunch break, and Joon-jae feigns ignorance as the prosecutor gripes about the scammers who dared to sit in his own seat and pass themselves off as prosecutors. Moreover, they deleted the security footage and messed with the traffic lights to cover their tracks. Acting affronted, Joon-jae denounces those scam artists and vows to catch bad guys like them.

Later, Joon-jae sits with the main prosecutor as they question a businessman who’s under investigation for fraud. The man confidently asserts his innocence, stating that everything he’s been charged with is just a normal part of doing business.

Joon-jae notices that the company address and all its subsidiaries are listed as the man’s home, and that their finances were in shabby condition. Then he looks over the casefile and list of transactions and pokes holes in the man’s defenses, one by one, getting to the heart of the man’s fraud at one swift glance.

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It’s clear that the businessman didn’t anticipate anyone seeing through his various cover tactics and false fronts, but Joon-jae sees exactly how he constructed his fraudulent business practices. The man starts to fidget in his seat, and Joon-jae even recognizes one of the names involved as a money launderer and says he’s well aware of his current activities and how deep this operation runs.

The businessman is shocked that Joon-jae sees everything so easily—and so is the main prosecutor, for that matter, who asks later on their way out if Joon-jae really knows people connected to the case. Joon-jae says that he just picked up the information here and there, but the prosecutor eyes him shrewdly, not buying it.

Just then, Joon-jae spots Detective Hong waiting for him in the lobby and excuses himself. He runs up to join the detective like an excited little boy, and the two of them awkwardly scuttle through the revolving door. Omg, that’s adorable and hilarious. *rewind, replay*

Over dinner, Detective Hong asks about his studies and says that he’s glad Joon-jae found his path, admitting that he got scared for him during his rough patch when he’d started saying weird things and disappearing for spells. “What you suffered wasn’t something that could be mentally handled by ordinary standards,” he reminds him.

Joon-jae says he doesn’t remember “it” very well anymore, not even if he tries. (I presume they’re talking about the whole stepmom-killed-my-dad ordeal, though they don’t name it specifically.) Then Detective Hong asks what Nam-doo’s up to these days…

…and we find Nam-doo giving a lecture about navigating that gray zone of life between fully legal activities and evasion of the law. Today’s lecture is on taxes, and he does so glibly and entertainingly to a room of appreciative ajummas.

Nam-doo joins the other two at dinner, and assures the detective that he’s not scamming anyone these days. He reminds him that he’d be crazy to, knowing he’d get caught by Joon-jae when he becomes a prosecutor, then recalls how surprised he was when Joon-jae suddenly decided on this path. Detective Hong says it must have been after Joon-jae met him and was inspired by what a good person he was, though Joon-jae drily assures him that wasn’t the case.

Nam-doo asks what did spur his decision, and Joon-jae tries to think of the exact reason. He’s unable to pinpoint it, saying only that it feels like there was a particular reason, but he can’t recall it.

The guys continue drinking at home, where Detective Hong nags Tae-oh to make sure he’s also living clean. Nam-doo assures him that Tae-oh works on the right side of the law now, hacking into companies legally to find bugs and strengthen security.

When Nam-doo looks around for his cell phone and Tae-oh produces it, the boys sigh that “it” has started again. Everyone reaches into his pockets to ensure nothing’s missing, and reveals that Tae-oh swiped the detective’s handcuffs without him noticing. Ha, was he always a klepto, or is that just a side effect of going straight?

Then when Detective Hong stands up, Joon-jae drunkenly grabs his hand and tells him not to leave, slurring, “Tonight, nobody goes home!” He slings an arm around his neck and refuses to let him go. Man, I love drunk Joon-jae.

Annnnd then drunk Tae-oh tries to stuff a coffee mug in his trouser pocket. Meanwhile, Nam-doo tipsily chats up a lady on the phone, only to realize she’s married.

All of a sudden, Joon-jae’s mood plummets and he starts to cry, repeating over and over, “I miss you.”

Nam-doo notes that this crying habit is new, and that he won’t even remember when asked later. He asks who Joon-jae’s always so sad about missing whenever he gets drunk, but Joon-jae just keeps crying to himself.

Far away in the ocean, Chung curls up to herself among a bed of coral, wiping away tears that roll away as pearls.

Joon-jae opens a locked safe in his closet and pulls out a journal, while outside, Nam-doo notes that it was after “that incident” that Joon-jae became strange. He started driving to the sea all the time, but when asked why, he’d reply that he doesn’t know. We see Joon-jae driving out to the seashore and looking out at the water, which his friends puzzle over.

Then, in the sea, Chung starts to swim up toward the surface…

In the morning, there’s a single set of footprints in the snow heading away from the shoreline. A courier arrives near the snow-covered beach and leaves two bags on a bench, although he can’t see the customer who requested the delivery.

A hand grabs the bags, and in a nearby public restroom, a woman dries her wet hair on the hand-drying machine, dressed in a suit. It’s Chung, her human transformation complete, and she boards a tourist bus that takes her to Seoul.

She takes a look around at the familiar surroundings, heading first to a jewelry shop where she sells her collection of pearls. Walking by a seafood restaurant, she crouches to look at the fish tank up front, next to another woman doing the same thing.

“Which sea did you come from?” Chung asks. Ha, another mermaid? The woman gasps in shock (aha, it’s Kim Seul-gi in a cameo), surprised to be found out so readily.

Chung asks if she’s hungry and Seul-gi nods, but tries to run when the restaurant owner calls out to them. Chung holds her back and indicates that they’ll be eating.

Ha, now Chung is the one who has to teach the rookie how to eat like a human, warning that grabbing with her hands will make people think she’s dumb. And when Seul-gi talks lovingly about the man she met who drew her to land, Chung is the one to put the brakes on her excitement, now the seasoned veteran.

Her words of caution are familiar, as she tells Seul-gi about the heart-hardening effects of coming to land, and how she’s better off returning to the sea than chasing a man who never gave her solid confirmation of his feelings. Aw, Jo Jung-seok would be so proud.

Seul-gi asks if Chung ever met a man who returned her feelings, and Chung affirms that she did, and that his love kept her heart beating. Seul-gi asks why she returned to the sea, then, and Chung replies that even a healthy heart is no match for a gun, and that she had to go deep into the sea and eat the best foods to recover her health.

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Seul-gi asks why she got shot. Chung says, “I wanted to protect that man. In the end, I protected him, and I don’t regret it.” Seul-gi asks, “Where is that man now? Does he know you’re back?” Good questions.

Chung makes her way back to Joon-jae’s house and rings the doorbell, and it’s Nam-doo who steps out, although he reacts as though she’s a stranger. He turns her away, thinking she’s selling a religion or a service, but Chung calls him back and asks for Joon-jae.

Assuming she’s one of many women who’s fallen for Joon-jae unrequitedly, Nam-doo gives her the advice to get over him and leave, saying that he’s treating her like a sister because she seems familiar.

Then Mom arrives, and while she also has no recollection of her, she invites Chung inside to wait for Joon-jae.

Chung looks around at the familiar home with emotional eyes, and Mom and Nam-doo are surprised when she knows exactly where everything is. Nam-doo figures that Joon-jae brought her by without the others knowing, then calls him to let him know about their guest.

Nam-doo eyes Chung warily as he asks her name and hometown, wondering how she knows his hometown. Then he spots the jade bracelet on her wrist and gets excited over its potential value, which makes Chung smile at how little people change.

Shi-ah’s next to arrive, and Chung’s eyes widen when she hears that Shi-ah intends to propose today. With intensity, Chung asks if Shi-ah’s getting married, and to whom. Shi-ah flashes her couple ring and replies, “The man who lives in this house.”

Chung points out that three men live here, and asks which one. When she asks if it’s Joon-jae, Shi-ah smirks and asks what she’d do about it, then advises Chung to give up on Joon-jae, because she can’t beat out the woman in Joon-jae’s memories.

But Chung’s just glad she’s not marrying Joon-jae, and the smile returns to her face.

Joon-jae speeds home after getting Nam-doo’s call, and when he steps inside, everyone watches closely to see his reaction to Chung. Staring intently, Joon-jae approaches cautiously and asks who she is.

Chung thinks to herself, You’ve grown more handsome, Heo Joon-jae. I’m glad that you’re looking well. She doesn’t have an answer to his question, and thinks, I’m the person you said you would love for longer than all of your time.

The others tsk-tsk in pity as Joon-jae asks why Chung came here, and she can only say, “I… just…”

I wanted to let you know I’m okay now, that I’m healthy, and that I missed you,she thinks, looking at him with her heart in her eyes. When he asks if she knows him, she thinks yes, that she knows him better than anybody, but answers aloud, “No, not very well. In the past, I knew you for a very short while. You may not remember.”

He asks what she came to say, and she thinks, I love you. His expression flickers for a brief moment, and Chung says that she doesn’t have anything specific to say, and that she’s glad he’s looking well.

Joon-jae abruptly says that he has a meeting to go to and excuses himself. A moment later, Chung excuses herself and heads out looking for him, though he’s nowhere to be seen.

Snow starts to fall, and Chung looks over to the nearby courtyard where she’d once waited for him. She rears back when a passing motorcycle nearly splashes her with puddle water, then sinks into a crouch dejectedly. Should I not have come back? she wonders.

All of a sudden, Joon-jae appears holding an umbrella, which he extends over her head. Do you remember? Do you remember?

“Why, so you’d go back?” he asks. Then he extends a hand out to her, just like he did that first night in Spain, and she takes it.

“Is this what you wanted?” he asks. “To be forgotten completely from the world, and even for me to lose you?” He reminds her that he’d asked her not to erase his memory.

In disbelief and hope, Chung asks if he can really remember her. “Yes,” he says. “In this world, only I remember you.”

Chung doesn’t understand how, but Joon-jae pulls her in an embrace and tells her he’d remember her even if she erased his memory a hundred times. He tells her she missed one thing—that even if she could erase all the specific memories of herself from his mind, “My body remembers you, and you were engraved in my heart. You couldn’t do anything to that.”

He says he worked to remember her anyway, afraid time would chip away at his memory. “Every day, I worked at it, so I wouldn’t forget you.”

We see now that he’d recorded everything in the journal he’d locked away in his safe, starting even before she’d left him: “So that if something like this happened, even if my memories disappeared, I could at least find you in my records.”

We see him reading over those journals repeatedly, and he says he spent the first year clinging to his fading memories, and the next seeking out every seaside where she might be. He spent the third year looking for the perfect house near the sea where they could live together.

And today, when Nam-doo had called him about the sudden visitor, he’d teared up in immediate recognition at her description. “Finally,” he’d said in relief, and rushed home.

Chung asks why he did all that when there was no guarantee of her return. What if she never came back? He says, “Then for the rest of my life, only I would have remembered you. And only I would love you.”

They return home together, and Chung notes that her loft was left the same, even though his original rental period expired. Joon-jae tells her that since she wasn’t here to help him move, he ended up just buying the place.

“Thank you for waiting,” she tells him. He replies, “You worked hard, taking the long road back and not giving up.”

The moment deepens, and Chung starts to lean in toward him… except he steps back and checks that she won’t erase his memory again. Chung pouts and says she won’t, and he teasingly says she can take back this memory (of him doubting her). He leans in for a kiss, and this time she moves away with a laugh, and then they settle on the bed, holding each other.

The next day, Chung comes upon Homeless Fashionista digging in the recycling bins, and surprises her by already knowing her tips about where to get good clothes and shoes. She says she’s here because she missed Fashionista, and Fashionista says warily that she didn’t miss Chung because she’s never met her before.

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Chung agrees that this is their first meeting, calling it a chance encounter, and adds that life is full of chance encounters—but it’s when you value those chance encounters that they can turn into good connections. Fashionista sees a kindred spirit in Chung and agrees to be friendly with her, although she gets a little weirded out when Chung knows too much about her habits and asks if she’s a stalker.

Chung assures her that she has a boyfriend, and Fashionista asks which stage they’re in. Chung cuts her off to finish her explanation of the romantic-hot-dirty love stages, and says she thinks she’s progressing from romantic to hot, with her eye on trying out dirty at some point in the future. Fashionista is gobsmacked at how well Chung suits her (since Chung is parroting back her own words at her, heh), and asks if they’re soulmates.

Soon enough, there are wedding pictures on the table (you skipped showing us the wedding?!) and Chung is studying to take her high school equivalence exam. Joon-jae tries to lure her away from her studies and into bed, and when she wants to keep studying, he just picks her up out of her chair and carries her to bed. Rawr.

Then Joon-jae is being interviewed for his prosecutor’s appointment, having flown through his exams, and is asked if he has dreams of being a particular type of prosecutor. Joon-jae replies that his dream is to be appointed to a branch office out in the provinces, perhaps near the sea. It’s an unusual response (since everyone wants to be in the big city), but his preference for an out-of-the-way office has his interviewers nodding in approval.

Joon-jae and Chung make the scenic drive out along the coast, smiling happily at each other, and he narrates, “At last, our dream came true. In an insignificant village with no particular news and nothing much to it, we’re living quite insignificantly.”

Joon-jae and Chung walk home with grocery bags, arms interlocked (hers wearing a pearl wedding wing), and when he comments that she’s eating too much, she indicates her big pregnant belly.

He sighs that it’ll be tough to feed her on his government salary, and she assures him teasingly not to worry, since she has her tears.

His narration continues: “We live, crying and laughing and being happy and sad over insignificant things, calmly watching every day, every hour, every minute and every second passing by. Cherishing the love that traveled far and wide and returned to my side at last…”

They laugh together at home, watching a simple TV show, then sit outside quietly looking at the sea.

“…and remembering our far-off, beautiful, secret legend.”


Aw, it’s a thoughtful, somewhat contemplative ending, taking a step back from both the wacky comedy and the epic background story, which I think works quite well for this story. I’d thought we were going to end with more fanfare, given the thriller elements of the villainous-murderer plotline and the sad grandeur of the Joseon storyline, but found this ending more moving and intimate—I was glad to have things close on the couple only, without doppelgangers or criminal chases, and finding the beauty in sharing their lives and memories together.

I particularly love the detail about Chung’s memory-wipe affecting everyone but Joon-jae (well, he did experience the erasure but overcame it), leaving their story for only the two of them to know. I wouldn’t have minded a resolution that didn’t require her to erase the bonds she’d made with everyone else, but at least the finale showed us that it’s entirely possible for Chung to rebuild those bonds, assuring us that nobody changes from their true nature that much. And it did leave us with the nice poetry of Chung and Joon-jae having this secret between themselves. It’s not like anybody would have discovered or believed their Joseon-era parallel life, so it was already half their secret anyway.

In closing off that circle, it actually heightens the ordinariness of their lives now—they’ve gone through the full gamut of dramatic experiences, and all that matters is getting to live a completely unspecial, unremarkable life like two normal people.

I’ve enjoyed Legend of the Blue Sea a lot, but if I’m perfectly honest I’ll admit that I did think it missed having that extra spark of energy (say, like there was in You From Another Star). It’s hard not to compare it directly to its predecessor, especially with the similarities of format and character and lead actress, but mostly I think it’s a writing thing, where the drama did everything I expected it to, down to the clever twists and plot reversals. It wasn’t by any means badly written, just a tad predictable, which is why I think that spark wasn’t quite there—that spark that comes from feeling like you’re being led down a crazy, funny, unpredictable ride where you enjoy all the twists and bumps. When you see the road clearly before you, it’s just a little harder to deliver that feeling of surprise.

Even so, I did think Legend of the Blue Sea held its own as a drama independent of that baggage, and one that I thought was sweet and heartfelt at times, and fun and zippy at others. And because I’m satisfied with the way the romance played out and how it resolved, I’m content with the overall experience and left with a pleasant glow. Not all happy encounters have to be wildly original; comfort food is good precisely because it’s warm and familiar.

I have to also give Lee Min-ho some extra props for driving this show along, which was a total surprise since I think everybody was expecting it to be Jeon Ji-hyun who blazed through with the force of her charisma like she did in You From Another Star. Plus, I didn’t even know that Lee Min-ho had it in him to be self-deprecating and funny, and to commit to a romance in a way that I really appreciated, because there were a lot of times when I thought, “Man, Joon-jae’s dialogue could be so cheesy but Lee Min-ho is being magically earnest and somehow I’m moved, rather than cringing.” It’s a combination of a lovable character and a performance that was in tune with the role, and while this world was wholly fantastical, as long as Joon-jae was onscreen it felt tangible and real, making the problem at hand always a very universal human issue and not a crazy supernatural one. It’s been a fun ride, folks!


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1 Comment

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