I used to think that dying was the worst thing that could happen to a person, but I now know that to no longer be the truth. Never did I think that this fact would be confirmed to me via a Korean drama, but it’s never about the messenger, so much as it is the message.
Hotel Del Luna is a little different from most hotels that you’ve heard of, and it’s probably not for the reasons that you’d think. The thing that sets Del Luna apart from other hospitality establishments is the fact that all of its guests are ghosts, as they are the only ones who can see it. Humans can also see the hotel under certain circumstances, but for the most part, Del Luna is a hotel made only for the spirits of the dead. Visiting Del Luna is a truly paranormal experience!
Ran for 1000 years by the eternally moody (much like the moon) Jang Man-wol (written as ‘full moon’ or 滿月 in Hanja), Del Luna’s main purpose is to heal its guests before they move on to the afterlife; and as it turns out, most people have a lot of unresolved trauma that they don’t even begin to process until after they have died. After the guests have finished their process of healing, with a little help from the Grim Reaper, they are then transported to a bridge to the afterlife, so that they may cross the River of Death on a 49-day journey towards their next incarnation. During this journey, a person loses all memory of their previous life to make room for their next one.
But, the hotel’s owner, Man-wol is a little bit different from all of her guests and staff in that she is neither dead, nor alive. She just is. After being betrayed 1000 years ago and losing the then love of her life to a deal made outside of her knowledge, Man-wol ends up killing an army of men in a fit of rage that she soon after regrets. As punishment, Man-wol’s spirt is tied to the Moon Tree inside of the hotel by the god Mago (a deity with twelve different faces in the form of a lively group of sisters), and she is cursed to run the Guest House of the Moon (Del Luna’s previous name) until she is able to resolve her past resentments.
Over the course of a millennium running the hotel, Man-wol is brought into contact with a number of characters, some very briefly, and others for quite a while. The core hotel staff are quite an interesting bunch, and their backstories very rich, as well. But my point is that Del Luna, much like life, is a very transient place, and no one can stay there forever.
Finally, after 1000 years, Mago decides to shake things up a bit, as Man-wol is refusing to make any progress in resolving her past hurt and pain. Man-wol would much rather spend her time indulging in worldly possessions like new cars, fancy clothes, expensive champagne, and trips to popular restaurants (even 1000 year-old spirits can’t resist these sort of things it seems…); so in order to get the ball rolling, Mago brings a human into Man-wol’s life in the form of Gu Chan-sung (written in Hanja as 燦星, or ‘brilliant star’). Chan-sung is tied to Man-wol in a way that transcends their current lifetime, but for the sake of time, I’ll spare you the details and give you yet another reason to watch this spectacular show.
In her own words, Man-wol asks, “How can humans never know their own sins and blame others?” But the irony of her not even being to apply those words to her own life is not lost on the viewers. I think it’s a common thing for people to give advice that they don’t even apply in their own life, but when Chan-sung appears in Man-wol’s life, things start to change for the better. The more that Man-wol’s past memories are unlocked, the more the Moon Tree blossoms, as the two are spiritually connected. And when the tree fully blooms and all of its flowers die, Man-wol’s time on Earth will finally be up; so Man-wol’s healing process, much like life, is quite a bittersweet one.
When we recognize the true ephemerality of life, we are also made to appreciate each moment for how precious and fleeting it truly is. Your life is what you make it, and the only way that it ends is when your soul ceases to exist. As each hotel guest realizes this fact, most of them make it their Life’s purpose (and I’m talking about ‘Life’ as in life and death, not just the process of living, which is only one side of life) to ensure that they are on the most favorable side of God.
As I mentioned before, Mago has twelve different faces, and while people may not always be visited by the face of God that they want to see, they will always get the form of God that they deserve (on a Karmic and Universal level), as God is both merciful and merciless. And Mago herself even says, “For a flower to bloom, it should go through harsh winds and rains. ” For what doesn’t kill a flower (which isn’t the end of its Life anyway), only makes its stronger. Man-wol is no stranger to leaving things to God. She even tells Chan-sung at one point, “Do your best, and God will handle the rest,” since she is well aware of how the Universe works, even if she is too stubborn to accept this fact most of the time.
Jang Man-wol is truly one with the moon, and if you’re into tarot (yes, I brought it up again), she is much like The Moon card. The Moon card shows us the importance of working with our shadow side, so that we may embrace our full selves. You have to go quite deep sometimes to find your shadow self, but the journey there and back is always worth it. The only way out is through, and that way is through the shadow self. You cannot hide parts of yourself and still expect to be whole. It just doesn’t work like that. (And for all of my Avatar: The Last Airbender fans out there, if you remember Sokka’s girlfriend Yue, who became the Moon Spirit, this archetype may be quite familiar to you.)
All in all, Hotel Del Luna is an amazing show, that you must absolutely watch! I don’t usually spend time philosophizing about Korean dramas, but this one literally took me places and forced me to take a look at myself.
The ambiance of the show is dark, fantastical, and dreamy, complete with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata being played in various situations throughout the series. The costumes are stunning, the music is moving, and the characters are eternally endearing. You cannot watch this show and not, at least, feel a little something. If you are able to make it through all sixteen episodes without shedding at least one tear, then maybe you truly are without a soul. I cried watching every single episode, not out of sadness, but because Life is truly such a beautiful experience, and we should all be honored to have such a gift.
Watching Hotel Del Luna made me appreciate my own Life more and want to make the most of each and every day. Life is an entire process, and it does not end when you die. Death is inevitable. It is change, and it only leads to new life. Change is hard, but we all must do it, whether we want to, or not, for it is the only constant of Life.
In the words of Mago herself, “You need a stronger will to let go than to hold on.” So if you’re holding onto something today that no longer serves you, let it die, so that you can make room for new life. You owe it to yourself, and in turn, the Universe. And you also owe it to yourself to watch Hotel Del Luna. It’s truly out of this world!