Woooh! We’re back on the romance bandwagon! The first episode was fun and surprised me more than I expected. I guess I had certain expectations about the drama, but the first two minutes completely threw it out the window. Based on the trailers leading up to this drama, you’d think that it’s the same-old leads’ meet-cute that leads to a bitter love-hate-relationship as a love triangle forms. There are certain things about the episode that stayed true to previous seasons of I Need Romance, but I’m glad the writer decided to throw our expectations out the window.
And the OST!
“Don’t Cry” by Lee Hyo Ri and Lee Sang Soon for I Need Romance 3 OST [download]
Episode 1 – The Woman Who Resembled Shing-Shing
We start off with a young 7-year-old girl in a bright red coat, traipsing through the snow to a nearby hospital where a baby boy has just been born. The baby boy is Joo Wan (Sung Joon) and the little girl is Shin Joo Yeon (Kim So Yeon), nicknamed Shing-Shing. Joo Yeon doesn’t take to Joo Wan very much, viewing him as a sweet potato – meaning an ugly little baby. HAH! But he’s so cute!
Fast forward to present time, and Joo Wan is back in Korea waiting in the airport. Older, and definitely not ugly. Though he’s been abroad in the States for most of his life, growing up as ‘Allen Joo’, he returns to Korea wondering about his beloved Shing-Shing.
Joo Yeon is now a highly successful fashion director for a home shopping network. Her two best friends are Lee Min Jung (Park Hyo Joo) and Jung Hee Jae (Yoon Seung Ah). Hee Jae is in a long-term relationship, and she and her boyfriend spend one day a month sneaking off to a motel to fulfill their desires. The other days? They just end up making out in the alleyway. For an hour. Min Jung on the other hand is a free spirit, preferring singledom to marriage and willing to meet guys for a night of fun in fancy hotels as long as they’re as equally commitment-phobe as she.
And then there’s the “fourth wheel” in this trio of friends: Lee Woo Young (Park Yoo Hwan, in the most atrocious 90’s haircut I’ve ever seen). He’s the eager little brother to all these women and so cute. Except for the hair, of course.
Our story really starts when Joo Yeon’s mother calls her, hoping that she can house Joo Wan while he’s in Korea for about a year. Without telling her mother, Joo Yeon calls Joo Wan, and tells him not to bother coming. She has a boyfriend, and the two of them like to have sex all night long. Listening to Kim So Yeon moan as she “climaxes” is a really strange scene… Anyways – Joo Wan is really hurt because he’s missed his noona all these years. But it turns out Joo Yeon never saw him as a dongsaeng no matter how much she helped take care of him. Her mother was just a housemaid and nanny for him and his family, so she resents the fact that to this day she’s expected to “serve” him. It’s not like Joo Wan is a helpless rich kid though. Turns out, as Allen Joo, he made quite a name for himself in the music world as a genius songwriter and DJ.
She hangs up on Joo Wan, even though he confesses missing her, and it’s back to business. Joo Yeon organizes her team for the day’s broadcast as they sell long winter jackets. The show starts, and the coats are a hit. In ten minutes time, every coat in their inventory is sold out and it’s another show win for Joo Yeon five seasons in a row.
Her team celebrates, but Joo Yeon reminds them that they now have to work harder because the expectations are now greater. As soon as she gets a chance though, Joo Yeon runs off to her senior’s office, Kang Tae Yoon (Nam Goong Min). It’s only there that she lets loose and jumps on the couches, squealing over her victory. Tae Yoon is amused by her bragging rather than annoyed. After all, he’s the one who trained her and made her the success she is today. He reminds her that PD Lee Jung Ho (a cameo from Alex of Clazziquai) is waiting for her out on the balcony.
Lee Jung Ho is Joo Yeon’s said-boyfriend. She greets him happily and asks him to kiss her back. He does so, giving her the best kiss ever except somehow you know that he’s just appeasing her. He asks to have dinner later, as they need to talk. Joo Yeon and her friends immediately come to the assumption that he might be proposing. After all, Woo Young caught him in the mall the other day buying a two-ring necklace from the same jeweler that made their couple rings.
Meanwhile Joo Wan goes on a photo shoot with his friend/stylist Oh Se Ryung (Wang Ji Won). He seems bothered by the fact that Joo Yeon said she was “creeped out” by him, since he has nothing but affection for her. A flashback reveals that when he was younger, he learned about music from her. Joo Yeon would play a few tunes on the piano that would depict different emotions, from joy to happiness to pain to sadness. Clearly it left an impression on him as he still plays those same tunes on his keyboard and is now working in the music industry.
(We haven’t strayed far from I Need Romance 2012 in this aspect.)
The flashbacks are interspersed with the present as Joo Yeon and Jung Ho share dinner. Just after the entree is done, Jung Ho tells her he wants to break up. Joo Yeon orders ice cream instead and doesn’t seem too fazed by the break-up. Jung Ho is a little hurt by her lack of interest in why he wants to end it. Joo Yeon has no interest in clinging on to a person who wants to leave her, but Jung Ho seems to view the “clinging on” part as a gauge for how important that person is to the other. With Joo Yeon so cold-heartedly and calmly reacting to the break-up it seems like she never truly valued Jung Ho. And we do see a couple of signs of her putting work first over her boyfriend earlier: (1) Min Jung needed to remind her that she has him as an excuse to not host Joo Wan at her home, (2) Tae Yoon needed to remind her that Jung Ho is waiting for her in the balcony.
Jung Ho leaves and Joo Yeon is left to think about her past relationships over ice cream. Her first boyfriend turned out to be more interested in music than her or Se Ryung. This first boyfriend gives us a clue that Joo Yeon and Se Ryung were classmates and most likely rivals for this guy’s affection. The second boyfriend dumps her because he has to go study abroad and then the army, and he doesn’t want her to wait. After he leaves, Joo Yeon runs after him, swearing to always wait for him. Except she finds him hanging around a pojangmacha eating fish cake skewers. A month later, she discovers that the study abroad was all a lie.
At this point in her life, Se Ryung is a famous model who’s also gained a reputation as a seducer, willing to take and then leave men as she sees fit. Joo Yeon swears to not be as selfish as Se Ryung, but after her fifth relationship ends (where she breaks up with a guy who only wants to sleep with her), Joo Yeon gives up being too emotionally invested in her boyfriends. Which brings us back to why she doesn’t even cry when Jung Ho leaves. Or even ask why.
Joo Yeon leaves the restaurant after paying a 200,000+ won bill for dinner. Hehe – she even yells at the waitress for stopping her to pay instead of Jung Ho, who clearly dumped her and should have been chivalrous enough to pay the bill. (I agree.) Outside it’s the first snowfall of the winter, which is when people are supposed to spend time with the one they love. Unfortunately for Joo Yeon, it won’t be anyone.
Joo Wan calls her up, wanting to meet her since it’s the first snowfall. She still doesn’t want to talk to him, which prompts Joo Wan to give her some advice. The Joo Yeon he knew wasn’t so mean, so if she really were in love with someone she would have treasured her memories more than she does now – even memories of him, whom she supposedly dislikes. He suggests that she break up with that guy because clearly this love isn’t good for her. And he promises that he will see her again, somehow somewhere.
Well that’s some food for thought.
Joo Yeon seeks solace in Tae Yoon. She visits his apartment late at night, knowing that he can’t possibly have a girl over anyways. The two drink his expensive wine so she can drown her sorrows away, and then go on to make fun of other home shopping networks and their low-quality products. Tae Yoon = friendzoned for life.
The following day, Hee Jae, Min Jung, and Woo Young tread carefully around Joo Yeon after they hear of her break-up. But Joo Yeon is all smiles since she just got exclusive invitations to designer Michelle Jang’s two-year anniversary party. And it’s going to be DJ’ed by none other than Allen Joo, whom Joo Yeon conveniently does not know.
They head off in their best clubbing party wear, take pictures, grab drinks and dance their hearts out on the floor. Joo Wan is up onstage getting the party started, and when the lights flash over Joo Yeon, he becomes entranced. He hasn’t seen his Shing-Shing in years, but the woman dancing before him looks very much like her.
Joo Yeon and her team get off the floor for a water break, and that’s when Joo Wan finds her. Woo Young catches him staring in their direction. The girls try to catch his eye, but it’s clear that he only has eyes for Joo Yeon. Well, she is single now…
He walks over, but is stopped when Se Ryung appears to hand him a drink. Suddenly, Joo Yeon isn’t so flirtatious anymore. What’s more is that Se Ryung is wearing that two-ring necklace that Jung Ho was seen buying. Womp womp…
Se Ryung introduces Joo Yeon as a “friend” but Joo Yeon gets her straight. They’re not friends at all, and seeing Se Ryung has ruined her night. Se Ryung tries to brush it off and says that she’s happy to see Joo Yeon after all these years. Joo Yeon: “I bet you’re happy to see me, since you’ve always been a loose woman.”
Joo Wan is sorely disappointed with Joo Yeon’s attitude and calls her out for her cattiness. He kisses Se Ryung on the forehead, clearly showing that he sides with Se Ryung whatever the story is. Joo Yeon laughs it off since he clearly knows nothing and leaves the party first. Joo Wan believes that he mistook another woman for his beloved Shing-Shing, but wonders if Se Ryung really did something wrong to her to make her so bitter.
Se Ryung: “I’m not sure, but she’s making a mess of her life that Shin Joo Yeon.”
At the mention of her name, Joo Wan does a double take. So that really was his Shing-Shing. He runs out after her but it’s too late, she’s in the cab driving off to wallow in her misery.
Can I say that I LOVE that this episode is only 45 minutes long? Makes things move so quickly! I love the brisk pace for set up for the series. We learn just enough about everyone to understand how they became who they are. A few things have stayed pretty consistent from the past two seasons:
– The male lead character is usually in the Arts & Entertainment industry. And it’s most likely that the female lead will end up with him.
– There is the more “innocent” girl of the trio whom you could call the “Charlotte” from Sex and the City.
– There is the best friend who is a seductive “Samantha” who likes being single.
After that, the differences start to come to light. There’s a boy that makes the Three Musketeers into Four, and I find that adding a boy as a permanent member makes the dynamic a little more interesting because we’re going to have a permanent male voice when the girls go into their discussions about relationships, men and love. Even though he’s “one of the girls” we know that Woo Young and Hee Jae are supposed to fall in love. So what happens when you have a group of friends and two of them hook up? Instead of being awkward I think this group would be highly supportive. But I wonder if Hee Jae and Woo Young would go about hiding it initially, and if Hee Jae is going to cheat on her boyfriend while in love with Woo Young.
Another thing is that for our leading lady, her ex-boyfriend is not going to play a huge part in the drama. Yay! Finally the ex who’s been around for forever will have no chance with her! Instead we have Tae Yoon and Joo Wan set up as her love interests. For Joo Wan it’s quite obvious that she’ll end up with him, but it’ll be an enjoyable journey to see her realize that Allen Joo is the boy from her past, overcome her prejudices against him, and see the pair overcome any obstacles the age gap may present. As for Tae Yoon, he’s not being set up quite strongly as another love interest, but he is close to Joo Yeon’s age and the two of them clearly get along. If anything Tae Yoon might have the crush on Joo Yeon.
And finally, we have a really viable second female lead. I thought that the “other woman,” Kang Hee (Ha Hyun Joo) was a really viable threat to the main couple in I Need Romance. Na Hyun (Kim Ye Won) wasn’t so much of a threat in I Need Romance 2012. But this time we have a real threat. Se Ryung is seductive, unscrupulous, and seems to be devoid of any guilt for stealing Joo Yeon’s previous boyfriend(s). She’s also already good friends with Joo Wan. Though it’s likely Joo Wan will never fall for Se Ryung it’s too early to say what kind of relationship they had before or have now. It’s also clear that Se Ryung will do anything to have Joo Wan since she thinks she “got to him first”.
Joo Wan and Joo Yeon knowing each other from his birth was an interesting spin to their story. It wasn’t clear from the trailers that that was the situation. However the fact that they were childhood friends, who were separated before they could really see each other grow up and change, gives their story a little more depth. More than I expected. It’s not like they met in high school or college, when hormones are a-raging. Rather when they were innocently just friends. And the fact that they didn’t see each other for years makes their story less melodramatic (like a fateful reunion) because they are practically strangers to each other once again. So it’s basically a re-learning process for the both of them since they’ve had to have changed.
As for the actors, I find that Kim So Yeon and Sung Joon are well-suited for their roles. Kim So Yeon does look quite obviously a bit older than everyone else, but her personality and rapid-fire speech patterns make her seem energetic and younger. So when it comes to noticing the age difference between her and Sung Joon, it’s not that obvious. He acts older than he really is to offset her acting.
I found myself really enjoying this first episode, so here’s to hoping that the following episodes are just as enjoyable and good.