The idea of characters who can see ghosts interacting with those who can’t is a staple in K-dramas, but what if the lead character is the ghost and she’s been following her husband who has now remarried, and her daughter? And what if, somehow, she is brought back to life? That is the crazy premise behind Netflix’s “Hi Bye, Mama!,” a series made with SBS that surprised everyone with its charm and went all the way to no. 1 on the Netflix Philippines’ Most Watched list. But as you’re about to find out, the show had one huge thing going in its favor: Its fantastic cast.
There’s no other way to say this, but Tae-hee is one of the OG K-drama stars, having risen to stardom as the original evil stepsister Yoo-ri in the iconic 2003 series “Stairway to Heaven,” Soo-in in the charming 2004 campus romance “Love Story in Harvard” (just love this genre’s naming convention) and the National Security Service agent Seung-hee in the immensely popular 2009 spy-action series “Iris.” She won awards, did a bunch of films and was so popular she played the lead role of the Korean actress Yoon-na who who dates a very ordinary Japanese security guard played by Hidetoshi Nishijima in a Japanese romantic comedy series in 2011 titled “Boku to Star no 99 Nichi.” And, of course, in 2017, she married yet another OG Hallyu superstar, Rain, with whom she has two daughters. She began her TV comeback in 2015 but “Hi Bye, Mama!” is true start of her comeback. The show is her first streaming international project. It is similar to the career bump that Son Ye-jin got from “Crash Landing On You,” but is different because Tae-hee was a much bigger name before she slowed down her career and it can be argued the 40-year-old even more popular now around the world because of this show. She plays Cha Yu-ri, the compassionate, vigorous young woman who is killed in a tragic car accident and has been a ghost for five years now, watching her husband and daughter but unable to touch or help them. In 2019, she is suddenly brought to life and must deal with the consequences of this event.
The 36-year-old Kyu-hyung is a true star on the Korean stage because of his acting and singing talents, but he should be a familiar face because of his film and TV appearances. He had small parts in “Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth,” “Goblin” and “Stranger.” But he had much bigger parts in “Prison Playbook,” “Life” as a doctor colleague of Lee Dong Wook and an award-winning turn as Seok-ki in 2019’s “Doctor John.” He plays Cho Gang-hwa, Yu-ri’s cardiothoracic surgeon husband, who is left heartbroken after losing his wife to the point he can no longer even operate. He has tried to move on, even marrying someone new, but his world is turned upside down when Yu-ri returns from the dead.
Of all of the actors in “Hi Bye, Mama!,” it is Bo-gyoel’s career which should have the biggest boost. You’ve seen the 31-year-old actor before, usually playing much younger characters because of her petite size, tiny eyes and delicate features. She had small roles in everything from “The Producers” and “Bubble Gum” to “Cinderella and the Four Knights” and “Arthdal Chronicles.” Her most memorable roles were as the kind class president Yoon-na in “Goblin” and the lone female rebel in 2017’s “Queen for Seven Days.” Here, she plays Oh Min-jeong, a nurse who falls in love with Gang-hwa and winds up married to him, raising his daughter. She tires her best to be a good wife and mother, but finds herself isolated from others and from Gang-hwa, and all this before Yu-ri shows up again. This is Bo-gyeol’s biggest role yet so it would be good to see what else she can do.
Now here is an actress with a LOT of credits to her name. Her most recent hit was the editor Joo-young in “She Was Pretty.” In K-drama after Dong-mi usually plays the best friend, and she is the same here, playing Hyung-jeong, who is Yu-ri’s best friend and runs a quirky café, Misaeng, that npbody goes to but serves as the hangout for the main characters in this series. She is the first one that Yu-ri says what is really going on to, and tries to find ways of helping her. She also finds herself in a close friendship with Min-jeong AND Yu-ri so she’s conflicted as well.
Another familiar face, Eui-sik is a comedic actor who basically does only K-dramas. He was—deep breath—“Oh My Ghost,” “Fight for my Way,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Wok of Love” and “Touch Your Heart.” You’d probably recognize him as the weightlifting team senior Woon-ki in “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo.” Here, he is Geung-sang, Gang-hwa’s best friend, a psychiatrist in the same hospital and Hyung-jeong’s husband. He is, however, not a very good psychiatrist, very quick to be scared and not very sensible. The idea of ghosts really frightens him.
Woo-jin is just frickin’ adorable as Seo-woo, Yu-ri and Gang-hwa’s 6-year-old daughter who never met her biological mother and grown up thinking of Min-jeong as her mom. Because of her mother’s constant unearthly presence, she can see ghosts. Here’s the best part: Woo-jin is a boy! He was chosen because he looked like a young Tae-hee, has done modelling and this is already his fifth K-drama.
Even if he appears towards the end of the show, there’s no way you’ll miss Kyung-won. Yes, he plays the funny Sgt. Piyo Chi-su in “Crash Landing On You,” as well as previous smaller parts in “Fight for my Way,” “Let’s Eat” and “Arthdal Chronicles.” Here, he plays Guk-bong a menacing exorcist, who has come to clean up another shaman’s mess—and that includes Yu-ri. We will certainly be seeing more of this guy.
“Hi Bye, Mama!” has a HUGE cast, unusual for a romantic comedy. This is because there is a large cast of actors playing ghosts at the charnel house Yu-ri was at. But there are formidable actors in supporting roles as well. Veteran actress Kim Mi-kyung (“Healer”) is Yu-ri’s mother. Yoon Sa-bong is excellent as Ms. Mi-Dong, the shaman who is assigned to the charnel house and winds up trying to protect Yu-ri. There are a series of cameos, and it doesn’t get better than Lee Jung-eun (the housekeeper in Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”) playing a nameless shaman.
All 16 episodes of “Hi Bye, Mama!” is streaming on Netflix.