A love letter to mothers

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By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

Television Review
Hi, Bye Mama

Hi, Bye Mama presents an intriguing concept from the get-go: what if your dead wife returns after five years but you’re already married to someone else? That was how the Netflix series was marketed in its early days before it aired in March, but as a person who bawled through all 16 episodes, the show is much more a love letter to parents (mostly mothers) than a love story.

The show marked the return of South Korean actress Kim Tae-Hee to the small screen after a five-year hiatus during which time she married K-Pop star Rain (Jung Ji-Hoon) and had two daughters. Her last series was Yon-pal in 2015.

The return to TV of one of South Korea’s great beauties was met with much fanfare and high expectations. The show has steadily ranked in the Top 10 trending shows in the Philippines.

Is the show any good though? Well, it is — and sometimes it isn’t.

(I will try to keep the review as spoiler-free as possible for those who still haven’t watched the show until the end.)

The premise of the show has Cha Yu-Ri (Kim Tae-Hee) inexplicably coming back to life after spending five years as a ghost trailing her loved ones.

At first, she is happy people can finally see her and relishes the feeling of being able to eat everything she missed, but the kicker comes when she was told by a local shaman that her return is only for 49 days and that if she doesn’t get back her place — as the wife of Cho Gang-Hwa (Lee Kyu-Hyung) and mother of Cho Seo-Woo (Seo Woo-Jin) — she will reincarnate to a new life, but if she does, she will get to live again. The problem is that Cho Gang-Hwa has a new wife, Oh Min-Jeong (Go Bo-Gyeol).

For much of the series, Cha Yu-Ri isn’t overly concerned about getting her husband back and concentrates all her efforts in interacting with the daughter she knew only as a ghost. She says that her overarching goal is to stop her daughter from seeing the ghosts who have been tormenting and presumably delaying her growth — we see in later episodes that Cho Seo-Woo is a bit slower than her peers as she gets distracted and only plays with ghosts.

It is a simple enough premise but Yu-Ri eventually learns that she has to fix more things beyond her daughter’s third eye: her husband, a surgeon, was so traumatized by her death (she was in a car accident days before she was due to give birth) that he hasn’t stepped foot in the operating room since; and her family which has been trying to live normally after her death but can’t.

While undeterred, Yu-Ri does try to hide from her loved ones because of the time limit (she doesn’t want to hurt them again when she has to say goodbye). In fact, she has quite a cheerful personality and tackles the problems head-on.

There are no shortages of tear-jerking moments as the series tells the story of how people grieve when someone passes unexpectedly and how a mother’s love transcends living. Beyond the story of Yu-Ri, we are also treated with side stories from her ghost friends, most of them mothers, who still linger in the mortal world as they continue to guide their children. There’s a family of ghosts who linger around their son, an airline pilot, because they’re afraid he isn’t eating well enough because he was left all alone after their death in an accident.

Each episode has three parts: a prologue, the episode itself, and an epilogue which works well in story-building as the prologues show Yu-Ri before she died and the epilogues are also flashbacks, but this time showing how people grieved her death.

Sixteen episodes and more than a box of tissues later, the series ends on what I think was the original intent of its creators — director Yoo Je-Won and writer Kwon Hye-Joo — but if they were given a bit more time or if they managed their time better, some side stories wouldn’t have ended half-baked.

But all in all, it is a heartwarming (sometimes funny) story of tying one’s loose ends after an untimely death and how parents are still parents even after death.

Is it worth watching? Yes, especially in a time of pandemic when you need to keep your family closer.

Hi, Bye Mama streams on Netflix.