Main Cast: Bae Suzy, Nam Joo-hyuk, Kim Seon-ho, Kang Han-na
Writer: Park Hye-ryeon (While You Were Sleeping, Pinocchio)
PD: Oh Choong-hwan (Hotel Del Luna, While You Were Sleeping)
Timeslot: Saturday and Sunday / 21:00
Genre: Romance Drama
Set in the fictional tech investment hub, Sandbox, Start-Up follows the life of four different young entrepreneurs: Seo Dal-mi is a struggling part-timer who only has her pride and grand life plan in her arsenal; Nam Do-san is a child genius who is struggling to keep his tech start-up from falling; Han ji-pyeong, a brutally honest venture capitalist who wants to pay back the goodwill of someone who helped him when he was young; and Won In-jae, a second-generation chaebol who wants to get away from her rich kid image and be acknowledged for her own skills.
Major trope: Underdog Heroes, Pretend Relationship
I thought I already have a solid top three K-dramas to write about for our year-end specials. But Start-Up is looking like a bias-list-wrecker.
To be honest, I never paid attention to Start-Up before its premiere. I had little to no expectation about this series at all. So I was surprised that its premiere episode captured me instantly. I’m not usually fond of childhood flashback stories but I definitely liked how Seo Dal-mi’s (Bae Suzy) back story was presented. It made me cheer for her after that hour-long backgrounder. It intrigued me. And so, I decided to do my background research, and viola, I discovered that it’s written by Park Hye-ryeon (aka one of my go-to K-drama writers). And she once again teamed up with While You Were Sleeping and Pinocchio PD Oh Choong-hwan. I literally had a face-palm moment when I saw their name on the credit. I had no idea why I didn’t know about this fact beforehand. Not having that pre-drama prejudice made this discovery a nice surprise.
Park-writer-nim is fond of flashbacks and rich backstories for her characters. That’s what our main four characters have. Seo Dal-mi is your typical hardworking dreamer heroine that wants to find her place in the world. Same goes with Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk), a child genius who wants to see his venture Samsan Tech become a successful company. What’s not so typical about them is the setting of the drama.
It was set-up in Sandbox, a fictional tech hub that supports the dream of young entrepreneurs. Emphasis on fictional because Sandbox and the whole setting for Start-Up didn’t feel like fiction at all. And I think it’s because even though Sandbox sounds like a company from a utopic society, the audience could definitely relate to one of the characters’ woes.
One would definitely cheer for Seo Dal-mi after watching what she had to go through. I doubt there was one living soul whose heart wasn’t tugged when Dal-mi’s father Seo Chung-myung (Kim Joo-hun) died. Kim Joo-hun is a good supporting actor. It was mostly because he can make the main character shine. But in his short stint on Start-Up, he’s the one who definitely shined. Combined that with how the scene played out and we got an impactful heartwrenching scene. I don’t know anything about cinematography but I always love how Oh Choong-hwan PD-nim makes a picturesque frame out of tragic scenarios. That’s what he definitely did on the peak point of the first episode.
Another character with a tragic background is Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho), an orphan Dal-mi’s grandmother Choi Won-deol (Kim Hae-sook) helped out. In return for Won-deol halmoni’s goodwill, young Ji-pyeong (Nam Da-reum) assist her in creating an imaginary friend for the lonely Dal-mi. The supposedly one-shot letter became a year-long exchange because Dal-mi found comfort in her pen pal. But before I delve into the complications of that white lie, let me just say I love the interaction between Won-deol and Ji-pyeong. I teared up while watching that bus stop scene and the same thing happened when they finally get reunited. Also, I just realized Nam Da-reum always tries to match the acting style of his adult version. Because that crying scene on the bus stop was so similar to Kim Seon-ho’s style during his break down scenes.
Now going back to the letters and Dal-mi’s pen pal. Ji-pyeong randomly chose a name from the newspaper and use it as the imaginary child who befriended Dal-mi. Even though Ji-pyeong insist that it was Won-deol’s idea, I believe he did like writing those letters as well. Dal-mi’s replies were so sincere and filled with warmth that it could definitely melt the jaded hearted Han Ji-pyeong. The same sincerity is what made Do-san decide to help Dal-mi and be his pretend boyfriend for a night to impress her sister Won In-jae (Kang Han-na). That little detail of why Do-san changed his mind is my favorite bit during the premiere episode. Because I could definitely see what kind of complications this pretending gig could bring in the future. At least, we all know that Do-san didn’t really do it for the money. And with that ending scene for episode two, Do-san might be a real successful CEO soon.
I feel like these summaries of the highlight scenes didn’t give justice to how good the first two episodes are. Start-Up definitely has the potential in changing the future or at least the future look of my year-end list. Because if they played their cards right – meaning they’ll end with well-develop characters and plot (I’m trusting Park Hye-ryeon to write another good K-drama anyway) – then I’ll definitely see this title on my top three list.
-The Samsan trio is adorable!
-Also, it’s nice to see Kim Do-wan again.
-An ost from Red Velvet? Yas!
[Image credit: tvN]