I had a mixed reaction to today’s premiere episode of the SBS drama Dream. Perhaps viewers agreed, as the first installment drew a low 5.4% rating against MBC’s Queen Seon-deok (32.7%) and KBS’s The Man Who Can’t Get Married (8%).
Note that this number was marginally better than its predecessor Ja Myung Go‘s opening number (4.1%), but lower than its finale last week (7.2%). But I’ve said many times that a first episode rating number doesn’t necessarily mean much; it speaks more to the anticipation, not the quality.
SONG OF THE DAY
Bobby Kim – “Maybe” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Nam Jae-il (Joo Jin-mo) was once a successful pro baseball player who is now a hotshot sports agent at the company Super Star Corporation. Just in case we wouldn’t get it, his English name is Jerry Nam, hammering in the fact that this is a character molded in the pattern of Jerry Maguire.
Super Star Corp is headed by Jae-il’s boss and mentor, the clever but cold-hearted bastard, President Kang Kyung-tak — he taught Jae-il everything he knows. While their relationship is seemingly cordial, there’s tension just below the surface that hints that the boss is as proud as he is threatened by his protégé’s success.
Right off the bat, we see just how much of President Kang’s influence Jae-il has absorbed in the way he deals with two problem athletes. The first is a reckless, hard-drinking, womanizing soccer player who wants to join an overseas team and ditch Super Star. Jae-il crushes that attempt by blackmailing the client into staying, threatening to go public about his philandering ways, which his fans (and fiancée) would not be happy to hear. The soccer player renews the contract.
Second is Jae-il’s old teammate and friend (and now client), Kang Ki-chang (East of Eden‘s Yeon Jung-hoon), who wants to switch teams. Now that he’s nearing the end of his career, he doesn’t care about the money and would rather play with a reputable, winning team. Jae-il once again goes for the jugular, tossing out mention of Ki-chang’s steroid use, which infuriates the athlete. Ki-chang accuses Jae-il of masterminding the idea to sneak him steroids, lying to him that they were merely medicinal supplements. Jae-il removes the hidden digital recorder Ki-chang has worn in hopes of catching Jae-il saying something incriminating, and takes it. The bottom line is, the agency has Ki-chang cornered, so Jae-il wins again.
Thus our impression of Jae-il from the get-go is that he’s a mean, shrewd businessman willing to use any dirty tactics necessary to get his way. Yet after he’s done his job, we see glimpses of self-doubt, and when Jae-il reports back to his boss, he’s less assured. President Kang has taught Jae-il these strategies of manipulation, molding him in his own image, so he approves. He tells Jae-il that he’s done a good job. Jae-il is less certain of that.
He’s also having a relationship with Jang Su-jin (Choi Yeo-jin), a reporter for a sports-entertainment TV program, although they have kept their relationship quiet. Jae-il’s relationship with Park So-yeon (Sohn Dam-bi), on the other hand, gets off to a much more contentious beginning. At a shoot featuring one of his athletes, Jae-il assumes she’s an employee and asks her to fetch him a drink. She takes offense, which escalates into a full-blown shouting match. She walks away thinking he’s arrogant and self-important, while he’s turned off by her smart mouth.
Lee Jang-seok (Kim Bum) is released from juvie after spending a year in incarceration. He breathes in the smell of freedom, and vows to live the straight and narrow from now on. That determination is tested almost immediately as Jang-seok arrives at a terminal in his hometown and runs into an old acquaintance — it’s a young boy who has just stolen a wallet out of a lady’s purse. The boy tosses the wallet to Jang-seok and runs away, evading his pursuer: Jae-il.
The pickpocketed victim is Su-jin, who has accompanied Jae-il here on assignment. Jae-il is unable to catch the little boy and looks around in frustration. Jang-seok watches with amusement before speaking up, holding up the wallet and handing it over. He tells Jae-il he considered keeping it, but has decided to live a proper life now. Yet Jae-il sours the encounter by arrogantly pushing bills in Jang-seok’s face as reward; put out by Jae-il’s sneer, Jang-seok turns down the money.
Next, Jang-seok meets up with an older man, but first he must help him escape from being chased by debt collectors. Once they’re safe, the man tries to slip away from Jang-seok, who angrily stops him.
This is Jang-seok’s good-for-nothing, troublemaking, thieving father. Jang-seok is angry (and hurt, though he covers that up) for multiple reasons: His father has slipped back into his stealing ways, although he promised to give up crime for good; he let his son take the blame for him and get locked up in juvie; he didn’t visit him once in the year he was there; and he didn’t greet him upon his release.
Jang-seok has one question to ask, something he has realized over the past year as he thought his life over: “You’re not my blood father, are you?”
Jang-seok accuses the man of pretending to be his father, obviously hurt at the idea of the life he’d lost — a real father would have made his son study instead of pulling him out of middle school, ignoring his son’s wishes to finish high school. He also wouldn’t have taught him how to steal or initiated him into a life of petty crime.
The man admits that he’s right, he’s not his father — he found him when he was only a toddler and raised him. However, he’s not completely uncaring, and he tells Jang-seok that he couldn’t visit him because he found out he is dying of lung cancer. He had truly meant to keep his promise to stop stealing, but he had hospital bills and loan sharks to repay. He wants Jang-seok to understand that he didn’t break his promise on purpose.
Jang-seok seems a little shaken by this, but it doesn’t change his mind to leave and never see his father again. He strikes out alone, wandering the streets, which is how he comes upon the Dream Boxing Gym, drawn by the music blaring from within.
As it happens, So-yeon is leading her boxing-aerobics class in a workout, and he watches with interest from the window. She notices the figure lurking outside, and looks over as she wraps up the class.
She grabs Jang-seok as he peers inside another window — which turns out to look into the women’s shower — and punches him, assuming he’s a pervy peeping Tom. (And he is, kind of, since he obviously didn’t mind looking in on the shower.)
At the commotion, a group of guys rushes out, and Jang-seok jumps over the fence hurriedly to escape confrontation.
Jae-il is called to settle an emergency with one of his athletes — his foolish womanizing client has been caught romancing an actress by a reporter. Disgusted, Jae-il calls their contract void and tells the guy to retire, but the player begs him to save him just one more time.
Jae-il agrees to rescue him one last time, and bribes the reporter into giving back the pictures. President Kang again tells him he did a good job, but cautions him for not acting severely enough: He should have either been warm and inspired gratitude, or struck harshly to teach him a lesson. People will seek revenge when the injury is too light. One must act strongly to ensure that they won’t dare fight back. Words to remember.
Just as soon as that catastrophe is averted, another one erupts. Kang Ki-chang, the baseball player, has given a press conference announcing his sudden retirement. Worse yet, he has openly admitted to steroid use — but outed his agency as deceiving him into taking the drugs.
Jae-il scrambles to find a solution to the problem, insisting he can fix this. President Kang, however, feels that trying to spin this in a sympathetic light is a weak solution that will not convince anyone. He wants Jae-il to resign from his position and take some time off, and Jae-il finds that his office has already been cleared. Basically, he’s been given up as a sacrifice to save his boss and the company.
He calls Ki-chang, who explains that he is going to do his best to honestly reflect on his mistakes, and people will eventually forgive him. Ki-chang tells him, “But you’re out forever. Do you know why I risked everything on a gamble? Because if a thug like you stays around, it’ll be the death of all the younger athletes.” Jae-il bursts out, “I didn’t do it!”
Ki-chang guesses he means that it was the president’s doing: “If you’ve got courage, risk everything yourself, you agent piece of trash.”
And so, Jae-il does. He gathers all his data and evidence, and we see that he had been wearing the hidden recorder in his last confrontation with his boss. This gives him proof — his boss admitted to masterminding the steroid plot — and Jae-il contacts the reporter he’d previously bribed. He supplies the reporter with information to release to the public.
But Jae-il didn’t learn from the best for nothing, and he is one-upped at every turn. First of all, his laptop is swiped and brought to President Kang. When Jae-il confronts him, President Kang tells him that he should have just listened to him and done as he instructed. If he’d cooperated, Jae-il could have come back to work after a brief time away, but instead he turned on his mentor. For that, he deserves the worst punishment.
Seeing that he’s been outmaneuvered, Jae-il pleads for one last chance to stay with the company he poured his youth into. When President Kang refuses to budge, Jae-il resorts to his last-ditch effort, and calls the reporter to give him the okay to make the story public.
But Jae-il has been outplayed again, because the president has already gotten to the reporter and bought him off.
I was not that impressed with this first episode, but I didn’t dislike it, either. I think “underwhelmed” might be the most apt descriptor. Or unmoved. Meh.
After the first fifty minutes, I was considering dropping this drama without much disappointment. Perhaps I’m different from other viewers in that I wasn’t really expecting much to begin with. But the last ten minutes ramped up the conflict as Jae-il is kicked out of his lofty position, setting off the series of crosses and double-crosses. Presumably, he will be brought low, which we can also recognize as a take on the plotline of Jerry Maguire.
Speaking of which, I was dissatisfied with how closely the drama was riffing off the Jerry Maguire setup (one might call it ripping off), down to the way Jae-il strong-arms his clients and looks up to a boss and is unceremoniously kicked to the curb. I suppose this makes Kim Bum his Cuba Gooding Jr. But after all was said and done, I think there are differences in some key areas, so it ceased to bother me. The good-versus-evil conflict is a lot more blatant in Dream, and Jae-il’s facing a more evil opponent. Jae-il is a bit of a jackass in the first part of the episode, but that changes pretty quickly after he is turned into an underdog, since we all love us some underdog stories, right? Add that to Kim Bum playing another underdog — and a misunderstood delinquent to boot — and we’ve got some pretty effective conflicts in the making.
The acting is fine, and I’m pleased that despite all the pre-show buzz focusing on Kim Bum and Sohn Dam-bi, this is really Joo Jin-mo’s story to carry. He does that competently.
I think this is a much better-suited role for Kim Bum than Boys Before Flowers — well, as long as he keeps from overdoing the yelling. Kim Bum has a tendency to get very shouty when he’s doing an emotional scene, and that sometimes feels cheesy. But when he pulls back and does understated angst, he’s actually quite good.
Sohn Dam-bi is okay, although she did very little in this episode and her character is somewhat bland so far. (Compared to the inner angst of Jae-il and Jang-seok, for instance, she’s a blank slate of calm.) She’s had little to do — she’s been perky (in her gym class) and hot-tempered (when she argues with Jae-il) and that’s about it — so we’ll have to see how she does when the story calls for more acting.
All in all: Dream is fairly watchable. I watched Episode 1 without feeling the need to stop in boredom, but also without much pull to keep going. If Episode 2 engages the conflict more quickly, it might be headed somewhere interesting. If, on the other hand, it feels like a mere extension of Episode 1, I’m probably out.