First off, let me get this out of the way: Yes, I caught the first episode of City Hall, which premiered this week in the same time slot as this show (which has gone through so many titles I think I’m just going to pick one and stick with it). I’ll probably write about City Hall after I’ve seen the second episode, but I can tell you that I thought the first episode was terribly boring. Like, eyes-glazed-over boring. I found it rather cold and indifferent, despite having a really solid cast, both lead and supporting. But it’s Kim Sun-ah and Cha Seung-won, so I’m going to hope for better with the next episode.
As for this drama, in a nutshell: Accidental Couple is a sweet, pleasant show that is a little predictable so far (we all know the setup so nothing comes as a surprise in these first two episodes). It wasn’t a perfect start, but this drama’s charm rests largely on its two leads — but thankfully, Hwang Jung-min and Kim Ah-joong are wonderful. Hwang in particular is marvelous at making you feel for his character — already he made me cry twice in the first episode, and not even in sad scenes.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lena Park – “나 같은 사람 너 같은 사람” (A person like me, a person like you) [ Download ]
This drama has one Korean title (“그저 바라보다가”), which somehow spawned three English translations. Literally it’s “Just Looking,” but it’s like the producers really just wanted to call it “그바보” or “That Fool” and added those extra syllables to be cute. And then, “Accidental Couple” is what KBS World is using, which is probably the official English title.
Kim Ah-joong is movie star Han Ji-soo, who is like a more famous version of Kim herself. Actually, although I got the sense that Choi Ji-woo was essentially playing herself in A Star’s Lover, I don’t really think Kim is playing herself here; but in any case, Ji-soo is a normalish type of star, if that oxymoron even makes any sense. By “normal” I mean that she doesn’t appear to have a traumatic youth, a melodramatic life, a dark past, etc. She’s famous, but pretty well-adjusted for all that. She’s almost always with her manager, Cha Yeon-kyung (Jeon Mi-sun), who’s like a wise older sister.
Ji-soo’s personality is interesting, perhaps, in that it isn’t extreme in any sense. She can turn on the charm to smooth over a disagreement or handle the press with savvy, and she can also fall into moments of sullenness, but she’s not especially nice or especially bitchy. She’s not even particularly angsty about her fame and its trappings. (Of course, she can be angsty when the occasion calls for it, but she isn’t defined by it.) She’s a nice girl (though sometimes she might need a little coaxing to let her good-heartedness show itself), and would be happy but for one thing — her only secret, which is her boyfriend. More on that in a minute.
Hwang Jung-min is Gu Dong-baek, and he’s such a good person. A good-natured, good-hearted, GOOD guy. I suppose he’s the “fool” of the title, but he’s not really dumb. It’s not that he is unaware of people being selfish or mean, but that he prefers to see the best in people.
Dong-baek works at a post office, where he isn’t particularly noteworthy, and has a crush on the receptionist Kyung-ae. (She’s kind of bitchy and doesn’t return the sentiment.) He lives with his hilaaaarious younger sister Min-ji (Lee Chung-ah), who is nosy in a very cute way and worries her brother will never have a relationship or get married. Min-ji’s friend Seung-eun is played by singer Lee Soo-young, which is a nice surprise because I think Lee Soo-young is a really good budding comic actress.
Dong-baek is a huge fan of Han Ji-soo, so when his sister gives him tickets to an awards ceremony (hoping this’ll land him a date), he happily joins the screaming teenagers to cheer for Ji-soo.
Ji-soo has a longtime boyfriend in Kim Kang-mo (Joo Sang-wook), but they’re keeping their relationship hidden for several reasons, none of which have to do with her star status. They were together since university, but Kang-mo’s father opposed their desire to marry, so they continued to see each other secretly.
The problem is, he’s been coerced by his father into an engagement, for purely political reasons. Because his father is running for mayor of Seoul and the election is approaching, Kang-mo has decided that he will wait until it’s over to defy his father’s wishes, then come back to Ji-soo. As both are in love, Ji-soo is willing to wait, although it hurts her to see him with his fiancée.
Even though Ji-soo is a big star, she and Kang-mo have been able to date without too many problems, until one particular reporter starts snooping around. The guy, Reporter Baek, isn’t after mere gossip; he’s motivated by bigger, political-minded reasons and has been ordered to catch the Seoul mayoral candidate’s well-off son in a scandal. So Baek follows the couple around, trying to get proof that Kang-mo is sneaking around on his fiancée.
After the awards ceremony where Ji-soo wins a Best Actress award, they leave in separate cars to avoid attracting attention, but Kang-mo switches places with Ji-soo’s manager Yeon-kyung when they’re a distance away. Baek pursues in his car, and when Kang-mo sees that they’re being followed, he tries to lose their follower. This results in a chase, and their car blows a tire. Losing control of the vehicle, they plow into trash cans on the sidewalk, barely avoiding hitting Dong-baek, who is walking home after the show.
Time is ticking and the reporter is sure to show up any minute. Thus when Dong-baek approaches the car to ask if the passengers are safe, Ji-soo asks for his help.
A few minutes later, Baek arrives snapping photos furiously, getting proof of this secret relationship — but when he looks inside the car, Dong-baek is sitting in the driver’s seat.
Ji-soo makes up a story (that he’s her fan, they met at the awards show, he offered to drive because she forgot her license) and Dong-baek agrees. Baek is certain he’s lying and tries to threaten Dong-baek into spilling the truth, but Dong-baek nervously but firmly sticks to the official story.
When Ji-soo tries to pay him for his trouble, however, he refuses to accept — he’s honored to be able to help and doesn’t need anything. But this makes Ji-soo uneasy — she feels that she must pay him to feel safe that he can be trusted to keep everything a secret.
This is the first time Hwang Jung-min made me cry, because he tells her with a mix of earnestness and emotion that even if she may not remember him in the future, he will remember her forever. He adds that also, it’s his birthday, as though to say that this was a really nice present to help him commemorate the day.
Ji-soo’s manager again asks for him to name the price so they can repay him. Dong-baek thinks about it, and then comes up with his request — nine autographs. When Ji-soo sees how thrilled he is to have them, she’s touched at how something so small could make him so happy.
In fact, the second time Hwang Jung-min made me cry is when he goes home and carefully looks through the nine autographs, designating each one to go to a particular person — one for his boss, one for his boss’s son, etc. And the last one is for him — the one she wrote the darkest.
Unfortunately, nobody at work is impressed. They think they’re fake, and his boss crumples up the autographs Dong-baek had been handing him so enthusiastically. When manager Yeon-kyung drops by to talk to Dong-baek, she witnesses the end of this exchange, and inadvertently manages to offend Dong-baek by offering — at Ji-soo’s instruction — to repay him again. Ji-soo really doesn’t feel she can have closure unless she pays something, but he is insistent that he only wanted to help and will take nothing for his trouble.
Yeon-kyung reports back to Ji-soo, saying that she felt like a horrible person at his reaction to her trying to buy him off. She also mentions that his co-workers were mean to him about the autographs, and Ji-soo remembers how happy he was to help her, and how it was his birthday.
Thus she shows up at his office to wish him happy birthday and creates a stir. Everyone realizes he must have been telling the truth, and are gobsmacked when Ji-soo confirms that not only do they know each other, Dong-baek occasionally drives her around. (Receptionist Kyung-ae (the tall one in red) is miffed, because although she didn’t want Dong-baek’s attention for herself, now she’s feeling threatened that it’s been diverted elsewhere.)
But things take another turn for the worse when the persistent Reporter Baek goes through his photos of the accident and spots a figure in the background. It’s not easily discernible, but he knows that this is Kang-mo, which confirms his suspicions that Dong-baek is just a cover. With him threatening to make a stink, and Kang-mo’s father supremely displeased at any whiff of scandal clinging to his son, Kang-mo can only think of one possible fix.
It’s kind of an extreme thing to ask of his girlfriend, but Ji-soo is willing to go along with it to save Kang-mo, and that is to create an even larger scandal involving Ji-soo which will take the bite out of these other allegations. She orders her manager to let loose a scandal immediately.
The problem with that is finding a suitable, trustworthy man for her to be scandal-ized with. They could use a rookie actor who would benefit from the exposure, but if he refuses the offer he might talk afterward, and that would spawn even worse gossip. We at home see the obvious coming from miles away, but it isn’t until they’re desperate and clutching at straws that they consider Dong-baek.
He’s shocked when Ji-soo proposes that they fake-date for six months, and tries to turn her down. He’s just not up to it, although he’s honored to be asked. But Ji-soo says very insistently that she knows she’s asking a lot but she really needs his help and has no one else to turn to. It’s Kim Ah-joong’s particular talent that Ji-soo can do something outrageously selfish like this and yet come across sympathetic.
Dong-baek isn’t very good at acting like a fake boyfriend, but it doesn’t take much to get the media in a frenzy — and he’s a normal, unremarkable private citizen to boot. Soon the news is everywhere, and Dong-baek finds himself at the center of attention at work as his colleagues swarm around him and ask questions.
It doesn’t take long for his co-workers to prod Dong-baek for favors, like asking Ji-soo to attend their employee sports day. Dong-baek really, really doesn’t want to impose, but they force him to ask, and she agrees graciously.
But Ji-soo’s emotions take a hit when Kang-mo doesn’t show up to a dinner date as they’d planned. Instead, he had been dragged by his father to meet his fiancée and her father for dinner and drinks. When she calls him, he’s passed out from drinking and his father answers. He proceeds to give Ji-soo a harsh set-down, telling her not to call anymore because Kang-mo is an engaged man now.
Therefore it’s really bad timing for Dong-baek to arrive unannounced — although with the best of intentions — bearing a small gift. He’d read in the news that Ji-soo won another award (from a media group).
Ji-soo is in a bitter mood, and her harsh response startles Dong-baek — she asks, “Why should I accept that from you?” They’re nothing to each other. Feeling the need to make her point clear, she takes him to a car dealership and tells him to pick one out.
He doesn’t understand — they already agreed that he doesn’t want anything from her. She gives the set-down coldly — this was a business transaction, and all their interactions are strictly business, not personal. She only agreed to go to his company sports day to be nice, not because she meant it: “You should have picked up on it. Or do I have to explain everything to you one by one?”
Those words sink in, and Dong-baek asks in a heartbreaking sort of way, “Were we doing business? I just thought I was just acting as a fan. You said you needed my help, so I helped you, and in return I thought maybe we were becoming friends.”
Ji-soo says that she can’t be his friend. For what it’s worth, I think she feels bad for saying these things, but she’s also frustrated by his gentle responses. It’s like she’d prefer a fight, but he meets all her complaints with unassuming acceptance, and that makes her lash out in annoyance.
He responds, “Then I can’t help you anymore. I could lie to people, including my sister, and smile while doing it, only because it makes me happy to help you. It just made me happy that you made such a special request of someone like me. If you want to trade my feelings for this car, I can’t help you anymore.” If she must pay him back somehow, he would rather have her agreement to come to the sports day instead of the car.
Hwang Jung-min could have very easily made his character too stupid, but he doesn’t — he makes him sweet and thoughtful, but also possessing quiet dignity, which we see in this scene. Despite how it looks, he’s not a total pushover — he does have his standards and his limits.
So on the morning of the athletic day, Dong-baek calls Ji-soo to tell her that athletic day is canceled, so she doesn’t have to come.
Yeon-kyung notes that the cancellation is last-minute and the weather is fantastic. She suspects that Dong-baek lied about the cancellation, and that is in fact the case — at the event, things are proceeding as scheduled.
Dong-baek’s colleagues are miffed that Ji-soo didn’t come, having eagerly looked forward to it. Their irritation quickly dissipates when Ji-soo shows up unannounced, which stuns Dong-baek.
Ji-soo’s feeling a lot sorrier today, while Dong-baek’s still feeling wronged over her treatment of him, so he keeps quiet. Ji-soo takes out the present he had given her — a simple cell phone chain — and jokes that it’s totally passé. That lightens the mood, and things tacitly regain some of their former polite friendliness.
When Dong-baek comes home that night, he finds a man sleeping off a liquor haze in his front yard — it’s Reporter Baek. He’d been drinking with Dong-baek’s sister, presumably to get information out of her, and had told Min-ji drunkenly that her brother’s relationship is fake.
Hearing this sends Dong-baek into a panic, and he hurriedly calls Ji-soo’s manager to let her know. After he hangs up, he turns to find Reporter Baek now awake.
Toward the end of the second episode, Ji-soo takes a meaner turn that could have made her seem irritatingly bitchy, but I think it’s Kim Ah-joong’s warm presence that keeps Ji-soo likable — her actions are understandable, given the context, even though it’s kind of heartbreaking to see Dong-baek’s sweet response to all the verbal stings she delivers.
Also — if Choi Ji-woo is the reigning queen of anguished melodramatic tears, you’ve got to set aside a subcategory and call Kim Ah-joong the princess of suppressed, smiling tears. The shot below looks like she’s just smiling, but in fact she’s tamping down her pain while their relationship undergoes yet more tribulations. Kim is a natural crier, but, importantly, she also doesn’t overdo it. (A lot of starlets try so hard to cry that they miss that crucial aspect of crying, which is that a person who tears up in front of another person is usually trying NOT to cry.)
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much in these first two episodes, plot-wise, to stir up excitement. This drama so far shows itself to be competent — but not outstanding — in its directing, its music, and its overall storytelling. So Accidental Couple, to me, is really brought to life by its actors.
Happily, they deliver on that score. The actors are perfectly cast, and both Kim Ah-joong and Hwang Jung-min possess that certain je ne sais quoi that makes their characters pop — it’s that elusive spark that you can’t quite describe, but which either you feel or you don’t. Hwang Jung-min in particular gives this drama heart — and it’s a large, beating, nervous, exposed heart. It’s lovely and wonderful how he makes his character real and complex, when he could have played him so simply. It’s a character that could have been brought to life in broad strokes, but Hwang gives him depth. (Film actors turning to dramas = hurrah!) Dong-baek isn’t a simple fool, and he’s not a “what you see is what you get” type of guy. He’s adorable and endearing, and he makes your heart twinge along with his.
Accidental Couple is sweet and pleasantly amusing, and shows promise of being solidly heartwarming, too. It’s kind of like a funny, lighter Star’s Lover — which actually makes it what I had hoped A Star’s Lover would be. But it’s not a total smash hit for me, and I’m not completely convinced yet. It’s pleasant, but if it loses the least bit of edge, it could fall into a muddle of mush — so it’s up to the writer to keep the plot moving and the energy up. It could go either way, but I want to think optimistically.