Personal Taste: Episode 1
The ratings for the Thursday episodes shifted slightly, but the order remained the same as the first day. Cinderella’s Sister was first with a 14.5%, Personal Taste remained in second with a 12.5%, and Prosecutor Princess crept up slightly to an 8.7%.
Since I outlined the basic plot in the first impressions post, let’s dive right in to Episode 1.
SONG OF THE DAY
Personal Taste OST – “말도 안돼” (It Can’t Be) by Younha [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Morningtime is a vastly disparate experience for our two leads: one awakens in a crowded workshop and scrambles to get ready, while the other awakens in a spacious room and leisurely prepares for the day. Hers is an old-fashioned Korean-style house; he lives in a modern, upscale home.
Let’s start with PARK KAE-IN (Sohn Ye-jin):
Kae-in jumps up clumsily at the sound of her alarm clock, already late. She’s a furniture designer and has worked through the night, sleeping on the floor of her woodshop.
She darts around her place while dressing for today’s special occasion, ditching her usual loose-fitting sweats for a little black dress. It comes out of her special armoire, which is still taped shut to indicate how rarely she makes use of anything fitted or pretty. But even dressed “up” like this, she still manages to ruin the LBD effect by tossing on a puffy blue jacket and serviceable boots (after breaking the heel on what is probably her only pair of pumps).
JEON JIN-HO (Lee Min-ho), on the other hand, occupies a chic, orderly room, and finds himself with an unexpected bedmate. He’s not the type to get worked up over surprises and dryly tells his companion to give up pretending — he knows she’s not sleeping. This is NA HYE-MI (Choi Eun-seo), whose little joke has not produced its desired shock effect. From Jin-ho’s non-reaction, we can suppose that he’s used to Hye-mi’s childish pranks and forward advances.
Hye-mi pouts, asking how he can reject a sexy woman like her. She asks teasingly, “Do you maybe like men?” Jin-ho banters back, “Didn’t you know that I do?”
Jin-ho’s mother calls out from the hallway, and despite his own nonchalance at Hye-mi’s appearance, he moves quickly to hide her presence from Mom, shoving her out onto the balcony. When Mom asks where Hye-mi is, he fumbles for an answer — shouldn’t she still be in Canada?
(Trivia: Jin-ho’s mother is played by musical actress Park Hye-mi, who by the way played the mother to Lee Min-ho’s best buddy Jung Il-woo in Unstoppable High Kick. Take that, Kevin Bacon! In Korea everything is measurable by two degrees.)
Kae-in is running late and Jin-ho’s car is blocked in, so both end up on the street hailing taxis. The very same taxi, in fact. While they argue over who was technically first, someone else slips in and claims the cab. Both are relegated to the bus.
The mutual annoyance kicks up a notch when Jin-ho claims the sole available seat. (Kae-in is expecting some show of chivalry, but Jin-ho suffers no such scruples.) Sitting down, his eyeline falls upon Kae-in’s visible panty line (ah, that scourge of modern womanhood!) — and although he’s regarding it with distaste, Kae-in catches him looking at her butt and thinks he’s being a perv.
She self-consciously adjusts her dress, but just then the bus lurches and she stumbles backward. Jin-ho, keen to protect his building model, throws his hands up in front of it… connecting squarely with her butt.
Jin-ho defends himself by saying it was to protect his model. Affronted that his hunk of plastic is more important than her body part, she insists on the bus taking her to the police station to report the pervert. Jin-ho once again demonstrates his coolheadedness, pointing out calmly that she’s being far more of a public nuisance by inconveniencing everyone on the bus — is her butt more important than everyone else’s time?
Aggravated, Kae-in returns the favor and grabs HIS ass. (If only we all had such excuses.) In shock, he drops his model, which crashes and breaks. Oops! Kae-in didn’t mean for that to happen, and quickly ducks off the bus.
The reason this is a big day is because she is launching her own line of furniture at an expo. (The brand’s name — Kae-in Story — like the drama’s title, is a pun that also means Personal Story.) Her furniture is tailored for the “happy single” and features innovations like making a single table function as dining surface, workspace, and vanity in one.
Kae-in is pleased at a congratulatory flower arrangement that her boyfriend Chang-ryul has sent her, waving off the fact that he didn’t come in person. Her sole employee, LEE WON-HO, clearly doesn’t approve of Chang-ryul’s indifferent gesture, especially when his big work presentation is in the very same building.
It’s the same presentation for which Jin-ho has been preparing with his work partner, NOH SANG-JUN (Jung Sung-hwa). With little time to spare, Jin-ho and Sang-jun get to work repairing the model.
They’re interrupted by the appearance of a rival architect — Kae-in’s own HAN CHANG-RYUL (Kim Ji-suk) — who smirks and tells them there’s no use bothering with the model, since he’s going to win. The guys trade barbs back and forth, Chang-ryul mocking the teeniness of Jin-ho’s firm, Jin-ho insinuating that Chang-ryul’s only successful because he has everyone else doing his work for him.
Chang-ryul hands over two invitations for his wedding tomorrow, and can’t resist adding the barb that he’s only doing so to give the guys a rare taste of hotel food (which in Korea is shorthand for fancy and expensive cuisine, not dinky Continental breakfasts and free refills of Sanka).
The two are part of several firms bidding for the contract to build the Dream Art Center, and Chang-ryul presents first for his firm, Mirae Construction. He’s smooth and confident — until a minor hiccup stymies him completely, proving Jin-ho’s point that he’s only good when he can take credit for someone else’s work, but on his own he falters.
Jin-ho presents for his company, M, incorporating the model into a hologram — that’s right, a hologram! — as he emphasizes his focal point of harmony, blending nature with people and culture.
To ensure that our main couple dislike each other as thoroughly as possible before being forced to change their minds, we get Round 3 of the Kae-in/Jin-ho clash while the architects take a break while the winner is decided. Jin-ho and Sang-jun wander over to the furniture booths, stopping in front of Kae-in Story. Sang-jun thinks the multi-function pieces are ingenious, but Jin-ho scoffs, calling the designer an egoist who has clearly never cooked for someone else, who cannot communicate, and is likely a “hysterical spinster.” I don’t even know what a hysterical spinster would be (screaming cat lady?), but it must be bad from the disparaging way Jin-ho says it.
And yes, Jin-ho’s kind of a pretentious prat. He’s got a point that the table isn’t suited for proper dining, but he’s also missed the point that it serves a different purpose than formal diningware, and is tailored to the space-saving single person. Kae-in had hidden away to avoid encountering the perv again, but at his criticisms she pops out to set him straight: There are some people in the world who don’t have someone to eat with, you know.
The architects head back to the convention hall for the results, and here is where I decide I love Sang-jun, who prays to his almighty God to win this account, then threatens to convert to Buddhism if they don’t. (The humor is all in his delivery.)
Alas, Mirae (hence Chang-ryul) wins the bid. A man sitting nearby — whom we will later learn is CHOI DO-BIN — takes note of Jin-ho’s disappointed reaction. This character, played by a dandified Ryu Seung-ryong (snerk, for those of you who’ve read the novel), will surely figure in the upcoming episodes.
Kae-in congratulates her boyfriend on his successful presentation. Since it’s been ages since they’ve been out, she suggests they go on a date the next day, not knowing that he’s got quite a different activity prepared for tomorrow. Fighting his cowardly nerves, Chang-ryul attempts to break up with Kae-in, trying to ease into the discussion by first pointing out all his flaws as a boyfriend. It’s too bad that Kae-in jumps to his defense and contradicts him, saying that even though he USED to be a big playboy, he’s not one anymore since he’s with her!
Chang-ryul looks increasingly nauseous, and forces himself onward. To make his point clear, he gets down on his knees in front of Kae-in and reaches in his pocket for the wedding invitation.
There are only two reasons for someone to kneel in front of you — to beg forgiveness or to propose — and with all this nervous stammering about the progression of their relationship, Kae-in thinks it must be the latter. Surely he’s reaching inside his jacket for the ring, right? Flustered (but pleased), she gasps that this is so sudden! She needs some time to think about it — can he give her some time?
Chang-ryul sees that this has taken a horrible turn and tries to get up and protest (she pushes him back down, ha). Serves you right, cheating liar!
This scene is interrupted by a grim-looking Jin-ho, who has recalled Chang-ryul’s pre-presentation comment that fixing the model was useless. Chang-ryul must have worked out some kind of backdoor deal to win the PT before it was even given. Jin-ho asks if he or his father messed with the process again.
Now we get a bit more insight into the bad blood here. Jin-ho’s now-deceased father used to be the president of Mirae, but now Chang-ryul’s father has taken a senior position. (Hence Chang-ryul’s success despite what appears to be a tainted work ethic.) At some point afterward, Jin-ho set up his own small firm.
Chang-ryul walks away, leaving Jin-ho stewing. Kae-in gripes that Jin-ho ruined her proposal by butting in at a crucial moment — and this strikes Jin-ho as odd. Obviously she must be deluded, since he knows Chang-ryul is marrying tomorrow.
Jin-ho has bigger worries, though, because construction on one building is running behind schedule and is in danger of not being done on time. Jin-ho has used all the company money on paying the workers and preparing their PT, and they’re in dire need of funds.
With a sigh, Jin-ho suggests they take on a museum project that they wouldn’t otherwise do — it’s their only viable source of work. Sang-jun warns that he may be getting over his head, but Jin-ho is firm. He wants to meet the museum’s Director Choi. They don’t know him, but Sang-jun remembers Chang-ryul’s wedding. Not only is it a good opportunity to network with contacts, the bride is also a curator at the museum. Therefore Choi ought to be there.
The meeting is broken up by the arrival of KIM TAE-HOON (Im Seul-ong), who bursts in and asks, with great indignation, how Jin-ho could dare lock Hye-mi out on the balcony.
Tae-hoon calls Jin-ho “hyung,” indicating that they’re on a pretty friendly basis. He is also an employee at the firm, though it seems to be a running line that Jin-ho wants Tae-hoon to quit.
Over drinks, Jin-ho assures Tae-hoon that he only thinks of Hye-mi as a little sister. This is not at all convincing to Tae-hoon, who is greatly aggrieved that Jin-ho supposedly stole a look at Hye-mi’s bosoms (according to Hye-mi), and that he’d promised to marry her. No matter that he only said that to shut her up when she cried and kicked up a fuss, and at age 14 to boot. Overwrought with jealousy and the angst of youth, Tae-hoon drinks.
Girls’ night at Kae-in’s house. She drinks with her two friends, LEE YOUNG-SUN (a photographer and mother, played by Jo Eun-ji) and KIM IN-HEE (Wang Ji-hye), the latter of whom is marrying tomorrow. In-hee has been living with Kae-in in this house but has recently moved out in preparation for her marriage, which is something of a whirlwind affair with a man she began dating only a month ago.
In-hee acts a little uncomfortable every time the girls mention her mysterious groom, whom they have never seen. When In-hee hears Kae-in announce brightly that Chang-ryul almost proposed to her, she excuses herself to make a phone call. She hisses to Chang-ryul that he was supposed to tell Kae-in the truth!
Chang-ryul works up his courage and calls Kae-in out to a restaurant, mustering the nerve to break the news. She, of course, thinks this is a nice romantic date, and that he’s going to finish the proposal that he started.
He starts by highlighting all his negative points, as though to soften the blow, saying that he’s hurt her a lot. Kae-in is happy to let that slide, because he’s the first man to see someone like her — not pretty, dense — as attractive. Her comments just make him feel worse, and he fights through this conversation wearing a worried constipation-face.
Finally, he dives right into it and gets to the point: “Kae-in, I beg you… Now… With me…” She waits in breathless anticipation, just as he finishes, “…let’s break up.”
Stunned, she asks if she did anything wrong. He says he didn’t love her, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for thinking he might have loved her initially. He says she was like a puppy that followed him around: “I think I felt pity for you.” She was the girl who always messed things up and had never loved before, and he’d felt sorry for her.
Hurt, Kae-in gets up and walks away from the table without another word. He calls her back — so she stops in her tracks and storms back. (Nervously, Chang-ryul scoots his water glass closer, keeping it out of her reach.) But she’s angry at herself more than him, and says with difficulty, “I’m sorry. You were trying not to hurt me all that while, but I was so thick I didn’t know.”
The three men have relocated to an outdoor pojangmacha, where Tae-hoon challenges Jin-ho to a drinking battle. If Jin-ho loses, he has to date Hye-mi.
Sang-jun says that’s all backward, but Tae-hoon means it — Hye-mi has to be happy for Tae-hoon to be happy. That’s what love is! Jin-ho retorts, “So have that love between the two of you. Leave me out of it.” Still, he agrees to the drinking match under the condition that if he wins, then Tae-hoon has to quit working at the office. Commence soju!
Depressed, Kae-in calls out Won-ho (her employee) for drinks and gets very drunk, drowning her shame in alcohol. Rather than taking out her anger on Chang-ryul, she’s upset at herself for being so blind and stupid.
Nervous Won-ho takes this as his moment to confess his feelings for her. His comments don’t register with her, partly because it sounds like mere consolation words and partly because she’s in that mumbly, half-conscious phase of drunkenness. Perfect for wooing!
So it is that both Jin-ho and Kae-in wind up at a motel. Jin-ho has taken on the task of mopping up after Tae-hoon — a duty that he apparently trades off with Sang-jun — and deposits Tae-hoon on the bed. The jacket and shirt come off because Tae-hoon has unceremoniously vomited over himself.
Jin-ho leaves after scrawling a note on the mirror: “Congratulations on being fired. You go on the date!” (Meaning with Hye-mi.)
Meanwhile, Won-ho looks down on a sleeping Kae-in, and sneaks in a kiss. Then, getting carried away with his emotions, he starts to unbutton his pants — at which point Kae-in opens her eyes and groggily asks, “What are you doing?”
Won-ho bursts out, “I love you!” and jumps on top of her. Kae-in feels betrayed — she confided in him, and he takes advantage of her? — and lets her dissatisfaction be known. She chases him around the room, kicking and hitting as best she can in her tipsy condition.
She chases Won-ho out of the room, where he collides with Jin-ho before scurrying on. She looks up in recognition: “It’s the pervert.” He also recognizes her: “Proposal?” Mockingly, he notes that her groom has changed.
But he gets knocked off his high horse soon enough, because just then a voice cuts in, “Hyung!” It’s Tae-hoon, still a little addled from the liquor but conscious enough to have read Jin-ho’s parting message. In an anguished tone, he asks, “Do you mean what you wrote on the mirror? You can’t do this!”
Tae-hoon falls on his knees and begs, “Hyung! Please don’t do this! My only crime is loving!”
Kae-in naturally thinks this is a lover’s quarrel, and chides Jin-ho for being really mean. Jin-ho sighs that she’s got the wrong idea, but doesn’t bother to clarify the situation. As he leaves, Tae-hoon cries after him, “Don’t go!”
Feeling sorry for the heartbroken guy, Kae-in offers some consolation words: “They say that the one who loves more is the weaker one.” Clinging to this source of sympathy, Tae-hoon grabs her in a hug, crying, “Noona!”
(Law of Kdrama says: Just as there is a tacit rule that actors must be shown shirtless at least once in their first drama after army service, so must there also be a rule about idol stars and the same.)
Kae-in comes up to Jin-ho in the street and apologizes for misunderstanding in the morning. She makes grabby hands in reference to the butt incident, thinking that he must be clear of such an offense now because he’s gay. She sighs, “You have a difficult love.”
He retorts that hers is worse. He asks what she’s planning on doing today, to get an idea of how much she knows of her ex-boyfriend’s perfidy. She says her friend has a wedding, so he figures she’s still in the dark and starts to share a story of a “friend.” This woman didn’t know her boyfriend was marrying another woman, and showed up at the wedding. Kae-in laughs at that — who could be so dense?
She asks to know what happened to the woman, and Jin-ho answers, “You’ll find out.”
Having drowned his cowardly woes in drink, Chang-ryul stumbles to Kae-in’s house with the wedding invitation, which he slips inside the gate. He also leaves a voicemail message: “The one marrying In-hee tomorrow is me. Kae-in, I’m really sorry. I know this is asking too much but it’s my last request — don’t come to the wedding tomorrow. Please.”
Being lazy on top of spineless, Chang-ryul therefore thinks he has done his duty and assumes that Kae-in got the message (literally). And you know what happens when you assume!
The next day, In-hee is worried because she hasn’t heard from either Kae-in or Young-sun — and she’s sure she’d be hearing a LOT if they knew the truth. Chang-ryul promises her that he absolutely, positively took care of everything. But just to make extra-sure, he gives a photo of Kae-in to his secretary and orders him to keep her out of the venue.
And now another highlight: Jin-ho and Sang-jun come to the wedding as a networking opportunity, and on the way up to the wedding hall, Sang-jun fiddles with his zipper. He’d gone to the bathroom and his shirt got stuck, and he can’t get it free. Jin-ho takes over the task, and Sang-jun can’t help from cracking a joke at the compromising position, fake-moaning things like “Mmm, aw, good.”
The joke backfires when the elevator doors open silently behind Jin-ho, to reveal Young-sun (and her young son) standing in shock as Sang-jun continues his joke-groaning.
They don’t notice that their conversation just confirms Young-sun’s wayward thoughts, and Sang-jun asks what happened with Tae-hoon last night. Jin-ho says, “Don’t even ask. I took him to the motel, and thought I was gonna die.” Sang-jun laughs, “Two men at a motel — must’ve been fun.”
Of course he means this sarcastically, but tell that to Young-sun, who covers her son’s virgin ears in shock.
Young-sun arrives at the hall, and the instant she sees the bridal photos, she is furious. In-hee and Chang-ryul? Fuming, she storms into the room to confront the couple and tears into them. She asks In-hee scathingly, “Did you Botox your brain?” (which is an insult I’m totally tucking away for future use). In-hee has lots of men — why did she have to steal Kae-in’s?
In-hee seems to feel genuinely sorry to hurt her friend (though not sorry enough to have done the right thing, but whatevs, it’s twoo wuv!), and promises she’ll make it up to her. Young-sun says harshly, “Listen up. If I were you, I’d stop this wedding immediately.”
Kae-in had in fact missed seeing the wedding invitation and shows up at the wedding hall blissfully unaware. Young-sun does her best to waylay her, but as she is late, Kae-in is eager to get inside asap.
Her attention is distracted by the sight of Jin-ho, and mistakes the sight of Sang-jun wiping up spilled coffee for something much more intimate. Thinking of poor Tae-hoon and his heartbreak, she mutters, “Jerk. So he ditched his boyfriend because he found a new one.”
Young-sun tries again to reclaim Kae-in’s attention to tell her the truth, but this time another sight diverts her gaze — it’s the bridal party, walking toward the wedding hall to take their places.
Stricken with confusion, hurt, and disbelief, Kae-in follows them into the hall. In a daze, she walks down the aisle, dumbly. Young-sun tries to grab her aside, but Kae-in is lost in her thoughts and unaware of everything else but the couple at the altar.
With growing realization, Kae-in arrives behind the couple, eyes fixed on Chang-ryul, who stutters in shock at the sight of her. Then her eyes move toward the bride, who is doing her best to keep her face turned aside. Kae-in draws the veil up to uncover the bride, and looks at her friend’s familiar face.
As I said in yesterday’s first-impressions post, one of the highlights of Personal Taste is in the casting. Everyone is well-suited for their roles, and not only that, everyone brings a little something extra to these characters. I can say that with particular certainty because in this case, we have an original novel to compare with. (I don’t intend to make comparisons between the drama plot and the novel beyond this post, so rest assured I won’t belabor this point.) After reading about these characters on paper and building up an idea of what they would be like, even before most of these roles were cast, I can say that I’m happy with the actors who were brought onboard, and like them all more than I did in the book.
For example: Kae-in is cute and good-hearted, but also dense enough that she mistakes situations that often turn out badly because of her lack of perception. This is a trait that could make her unlikable (they don’t call that trope Too Stupid To Live for nothing) — and when a character is exceedingly dim, she can get aggravating. Think Park Shin-hye in You’re Beautiful — adorable, but good lord how dumb could Mi-nam be, right? Sohn Ye-jin makes Kae-in credible, and the misunderstandings are arranged so that they’re not entirely the fault of her lack of acuity.
Jin-ho is cool without being heartless — a great way to differentiate this role from his high-profile turn as Gu Jun-pyo. I love that he doesn’t merely repeat the Jun-pyo character here, even though it would have been easy to do so given that they share similar traits — cool, polished, prickly. Lee Min-ho has softened the edges to make him warmer and more likable than the novel’s Jin-ho.
The sidekicks and second leads I also find refreshingly funny — they’ve got the potential to steal scenes and infuse the drama with hilarity. Take Sang-jun, who on paper fulfills the typical kdrama role of good-natured best friend. You know — nice but not very special. But Jung Sung-hwa has this wonderful, warm, mischievous vibe, and the way he rolls with the elevator scene is pure fun. Kim Ji-suk, as I mentioned before, must be having a ball — his Chang-ryul is wimpy and weak, but also haughty and cocky. Yet through all this, he retains a sense of humor, and I don’t actually hate his character. In fact, I think he and In-hee are well-suited for each other. Jo Eun-ji has often been cast as the plain sidekick, but she does it well. And Im Seul-ong — his character is not unlike Tae-kyu of Wish Upon a Star with his immaturity and sense of the dramatic, and in both cases I enjoyed the comic flair.
Can’t wait to see where Episode 2 takes us!