Drama Recaps
First Impressions: Road No. 1
by | June 28, 2010 | 76 Comments

I neither hate war epics nor do I love them. I neither anticipated this drama nor dreaded it. So when I say I came into this with zero expectations, I mean it literally. I know there’s a lot of hype surrounding this drama, but me? I’m not about the hype. In my book, either the show delivers or it doesn’t, and that should be the end of the story. I watched the first episode, and well…let’s just say, it left an impression. What follows isn’t a standard recap; it’s a review, which means it won’t cover all the events of the story as they occur. You’ll see why. So without further ado, welcome to:

Ultimate Fighting Championship: Road No.1 vs. Girlfriday

One Show. One Recapper. No Rules.


We open with an historic crawl. Oh, like Star Wars? No. Not like that. This isn’t about the story; it’s about the drama and how important it is, complete with still photographs from the show. Okay, wait a minute, you may ask…But we haven’t seen the drama yet.


So before I’ve even seen one second of actual show, I’m getting the Ken Burns docu-treatment of the War, using FICTIONAL footage from the drama as the “history.” Is this someone’s idea of a joke? I would really, honestly, have preferred a documentary. Like six hours long, all still photographs. Because this? Insults my intelligence.

The message itself is nice, and here’s the thing: if you had put it at the end, over the final image of the last episode, as your goodbye and thank you, and your Big Takeaway Message of Unity and Anti-War, I would have indulged you, Show. Fully. I would have had a tear in my eye. Or something.

But you can’t start your drama this way. Why? Because I don’t care yet. You haven’t earned it. I don’t even know your main characters, or what you’re about, and I certainly am not going to look favorably upon you now, with your very self-important Preamble.

Now do you see why this can’t be a standard recap? We’d be here all day.

We finally get our start in a current-day war memorial, where an old man (played by veteran all-star Choi Bool-am) in a wheelchair comes to visit one name, etched in marble. The name is Lee Jang-woo. He caresses the name over and over with his hands, saying that he couldn’t return because he wanted to pretend that his friend was still alive.

It’s not a new beginning, for anyone who’s seen one Hollywood war film—ever. Choi Bool-am does bring the scene some cache and dramatic weight, but what intrigues me the most is the time spent on the name, carved in stone. I sense this isn’t the last time we’ll be visiting the importance of that name, and what it means to the man in the chair. One dramatic arc foreshadowed? Check.

We then go back in time to 1948, in the middle of a battle. Lee Jang-woo (So Ji-sub) is leading a small group of men in a last-ditch, hold-the-line sort of battle. It starts with gunfire, leads to spearing and spilling of guts, and ends in bombs. So…we’re not going to spare any blood. Got it.

Jang-woo directs his men to a suicide mission, and goes at it, warrior style. And here’s where I start to get a little niggly about the acting. Perhaps it’s the rain. It’s got to be impossibly difficult to act subtly in the pouring rain, knee-deep in mud. Right?

Jang-woo is heroic, to be sure, but it’s not enough, as they get bombarded on all sides; he horrifically watches everyone die around him, and in the end he himself is left for dead on the battlefield. I will hand it to you, Show. You are definitely not pulling any punches when it comes to the horrors of battle.

As he lies there, bloodied and near death, he thinks back to his childhood. A flashback-within-a-flashback-within-a-flashback…you’re starting to show your soft underbelly, Show. Don’t be surprised when I wipe the floor with you.

In the even-more-distant Past, Jang-woo is the servant boy to a family of three children. The middle child is Kim Soo-yeon (who will later be played by Kim Ha-neul), and it’s clear that the boy has a crush on her. She treats him kindly in contrast to her siblings, and he silently adores her.

One night, he gets caught peeking in on Soo-yeon bathing (all in the name of artistic inspiration), and Soo-yeon’s older brother slices into Jang-woo’s hand as punishment. Soo-yeon nurses his wound, and the two of them bond. They become fast friends, and he falls more in love with her.

I know it’s hard to judge chemistry between children. But I’m not looking for romantic chemistry here. I just want a connection. But here’s what’s wrong with this whole chunk of story: it’s too fast, and they cast a kid to play the silent Jang-woo, who can’t convey the full range of emotions that we need. It’s a mess of a sequence. I’m supposed to start caring about the main couple and feel the epic-ness of their fated-to-be-romance. I get it. I just don’t get it.

We barrel on through to their teen years, where Kim Ha-neul and So Ji-sub start playing their characters’ younger selves, happily in love. Here they get to have cute moments declaring their love, and it’s played well, so things are starting to look up.

But then we skip right to Jang-woo, heading off to war. Okay, wait. Hold it.

I’m already starting to feel it, and I’m barely a third of the way in: you’re cramming in WAY too much backstory, WAY too fast, for me to emotionally engage. You know what I call this? Backstory whiplash. And you’re giving me a serious case of it, Show.

Jang-woo heads to war, leaving Soo-yeon in a puddle of tears. She whines that he can’t leave her; he tells her it’s his way of taking responsibility for her, to support her dream of becoming a doctor. She doesn’t care. He leaves, he turns back, he leaves, he turns back…he kisses her, and then he leaves. The camera pulls back, there’s CG flowers, and it all SEEMS like it’s grand and epic…but inside I feel…NOTHING.

Here’s why: I feel like you’re forcing me to have emotions that I’m not feeling. It’s a very strange disconnect, between the very high-octane emotional output from the actors and the music and the effects, with my very low-level of emotional engagement with the characters.

You’re being inordinately picky, Girlfriday, you might be saying. It’s because your heart is an icicle encased in frost, you might contend. But take for example, the farewell scene in Episode 4 of Cinderella’s Sister. Why does that goodbye feel epic, and turn everyone, including yours truly, into a puddle of goo? For the very same reason this one doesn’t.

They spent TIME building up that relationship, so that we cared, to the depths of our hearts, when Eun-jo crashed to the ground in tears. Soo-yeon’s tears in comparison feel unearned, and therefore inauthentic. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying the actor’s tears aren’t genuine. I’m saying that the characters’ emotions ring false to me, because I’m not where the drama wants me to be. You’re going too fast, and you’ve left me behind. End result? I see why you’re sad, Soo-yeon, but I’m not sad with you.

And to me, that’s the difference between a 10 and a 2. It’s everything. Because if you’ve lost me in the first hour, there’s no getting me in the back nineteen.

The rest of the episode follows this same whiplash trajectory—we zoom past the battle and Soo-yeon’s years spent waiting for Jang-woo to return, and the news that he has died. As a doctor in her hometown, she meets Shin Tae-ho (Yoon Kye-sang), who falls immediately in love with her. We fast-track to the eve of their wedding, which is of course the same day that Jang-woo returns, alive and well.

I’m not even exaggerating about how fast these events occur. It’s mind-boggling how they expect anyone to emotionally engage when the meet-cute/courtship/wedding/tragic twist lasts all of ten minutes. My instinct is that if this were handled differently, I’d immediately have a second-lead crush on Tae-ho. As it stands, he’s barely a plot device.

Once we’ve got all three legs of the love triangle established, I’m thinking that we’re due for some great dramatic stuff. Surely, the reunion, the misunderstandings, the dead-undead-love-of-her-life-returning-at-the-moment-of-truth will force her to confront something…anything…

Alas, the things I’m looking for do not exist in this drama. I’ve come to realize it now. Instead of a layered, tortured heroine who loves both men…we get blank sad expressions and declarations of…nothing. No declarations. Instead of a hero who went to battle with hopes and dreams and returned a haunted shell of a man…we get petulant Jang-woo who shouts at Soo-yeon, and declares to Tae-ho that she is his woman forever.

It’s actually hard for me to separate the acting from the writing in this case, because I don’t know which is the cause for my grief. Are the performances wooden, or is it the stilted dialogue? Are they shouting because it seems more dramatic? Because it doesn’t; it seems more strained. I’m going to say it’s probably a heady combination of both, because I think these actors are capable of more, but at the same time, I would have felt more if I had been given moments of subtlety and smallness.

Needless to say, by the time the war breaks out, I’m thinking, Thank you, stars, for the bloody WAR!

Thus, on the eve of Soo-yeon and Tae-ho’s wedding, the day that Jang-woo finally returns to his love, both men must leave for war.

If I had twenty episodes in which to establish the Most Tragic Love Triangle Of All Time, I’d spend more than twenty minutes on the setup. In fact, I’d spend at least four to five episodes on it, and blitz the war in just as things were getting good, to muck things up in a dramatic way. Why? Because otherwise who the hell cares?

You’re already employing the flashback-Russian-doll trope. So why not show bits and pieces of the war, while flashing back in a slow, well-plotted way? Because it’s hard? Or is it because you’re relying on story conventions and plot devices to carry your narrative, without actually doing any of the work to bring your world to life?

I’m sure you’ll have some amazing big-budget scenes and uplifting war stories throughout your run. I’m sure lots of people will find you riveting and start their ‘shipper wars. And I’m sure you’ll have viewers who won’t kick you in the family jewels while you’re down. Too bad I’m not one of them.

Girlfriday: 1 / Show: 0


76 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. mmm

    You’re absolutely right. I’m usually a sucker for war movies/dramas or anything with So Ji Sub, Kim Ha Neul or Yoon Kye Sang, but this drama isn’t satisfactory just yet. I found myself bored 3 minutes into the drama. You’re right when you said that the plot is moving too quickly, thus not allowing for emotional connections to be established. I’m going to try watching the next few episodes to decide if I should follow it, but I highly doubt it’s going to be a great drama. What a waste of good actors!

  2. Ginny

    Wow! I was unsure whether or not to watch this drama, so I thought I’d wait and see. I wasn’t excited to start with (don’t really like war stories), but now I will definitely not watch it. For something that’s been hyped so much it really seems pretty bad…

    Anyway, thanx! As always, really loved your review!! 🙂

  3. hjkomo

    I spent most of the time laughing my *** off…in a [supposedly] epic war drama. And the 2 ep is worse – totally schizophrenic. ‘Nuff said. 😛

  4. Viola

    Hi Girlfriday! I am usually a lurker and comment very seldom, but this recap(?) beat down(?) was EPIC and I had to comment! I don’t particularly enjoy war anything, and didn’t expect to find any entertainment from Road No. 1, but you proved me wrong. This review was too funny, you had me rolling in laughter all the way 🙂
    Way to show the Show who is boss! Woot!

  5. giddygirl108

    Wow…sounds messy 🙁

  6. langdon813

    Well, that clinches it.

    I’m sorry, So Ji-sub, We’ll always have MiSa, but I’m going with Comrades instead. Better luck next time, darling.

  7. Kiwi

    lol this post is so funny

  8. aX

    Wow, this review itself seems like I was riding a rollercoaster! Initially, I was actaully intersted to watch this Kdrama (whenever it’s released with English subtitles) but after reading that review, I can’t say I hold the same excitement. Then again, it’s only with the first episode and I want to maintain my optimism. I just hope that Dramabeans does as well.

    Maybe it’ll get better overtime, and maybe it won’t. One thing is for sure, I will keep looking forward to skimming through your review. Somehow, somewhere, I do hope that it does get better. For the actor’s sake. I hope this isn’t another Kdrama where good actors goes to waste.

    In addition, another war epic I am really excited about is COMRADES! 😀

  9. Beatrice

    omg that picture of khn in the love triangle tug-o-war… it would actually be hilarious if they weren’t playing it straight.

  10. 10 Birdie

    You are so funny.I have never read such a review of a war drama. I had watched a lot of war movies and I must say the scriptwriter did a bad job of telling the story-the plot development was terrible so far. Very hard to feel sad for these guys as there were not much character development.We already know who died of the 2 male leads. I could not feel the love or chemistry between the actress and male lead.After 2 episodes , I was bored and disappointed. I am going to stop watching.

  11. 11 xiaoSxin

    girlfriday i can almost taste the disdain on your voice while writing this review..

  12. 12 simplygracey

    GF, your review conveyed every bit of disappoint I felt while watching this drama. Heck,watching episode 2 made me cringe even more. Thank you so much for uploading something on Road No. 1 because SOMETHING had to be said.

    Thank you GF! Your recaps rock my world 🙂

  13. 13 pabo ceo reom

    Girlfriday I am totally with you!

    Wow, what the hell were they smoking when they edit this episode? I know most kdramas drag on and on but this one just threw everything at me. In your words, “Slow down, Show!”

  14. 14 Sumee

    I am not even Bothered by this drama…War Drama On top of that ..Messy set up..I will give it a PASS..Thanks girlfriday on your kind words on keeping me totally untouched ..as I was waiting for your recaps for my final decision 🙂

  15. 15 VAgathon

    I honestly think your review was more entertaining than the drama itself. It’s sad to see a show so hyped up fall on its knees on the very first episode.

  16. 16 hmm...

    That other war drama that is is showing on the weekends… has a better story then this.

  17. 17 Simmy

    how sad. I also had no expectations for this drama, but hearing the premise, it sounds like something that, done well, could’ve been so epic. The first episode stretched out over 4 or 5 would’ve been an interesting drama for me, and I HATE war stories. If the second episode improves (according to girlfriday), i will beginning watching it, because it DOES have a good story, just what seems to be poor execution and mediocre acting (which I don’t let bother me too much, because I think Kdrama acting is always a little over the top and therefore judge it on a different scale).

  18. 18 nycgrl

    Shocking to think this was all pre-shot by the haphazard quality and pacing. The way you describe it it sounds like a music MV full of one second cliches.

    I mourn for SJS but I’m going to spare myself the agony of having to see him in such crap and skip this.

  19. 19 Cam


    …..How impressive, heh. Well, I still haven’t watch this drama “Road No. 1” right now because I did forget about this drama just had started last week! Hahaha…….

    Oh, I love this pictures — especially I LOVE So Ji Sub!!!! ^______^ Ah! Thanks for detail recaps!

  20. 20 lilly

    Ouch ouch ouch…What can I say…Everywhere I go I read this kind of disapointing view I hope the drama will keep up otherwise 🙁

  21. 21 Kristal

    The heart as an icicle enclosed in frost had me LOLing.

  22. 22 janna

    She slices, she dices, she makes dramas cry. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for suffering for us; now I know I don’t have to sit through this. It’s a shame, this drama could have been something good at the very least!

  23. 23 supah

    ”Because I don’t care yet. You haven’t earned it.”
    Dit-to-the-O, girlfriday!

  24. 24 kaedejun

    whoa… road no. 1 got completely ripped apart.

  25. 25 destriana

    wow, so sad. i expected this drama will good with the cast, the story and the station that broadcast it, but it’s such a tragic. first episode and everything i hope gone. really in big grief now. just can hope the next episode will better. if not, i think i won’t save money to buy the dvd.

  26. 26 xiahkixiri

    ouch. jfdhjdk so ji sub, when will you do something worthy of you? i mean i still have his last drama on the bench, but i wish he’d do like a freaking romcom or something. yoon kye sang too, after nuguseyo, triple was a disappointment and i guess so is this.

    girlfriday, you’re a blast though. <3

  27. 27 atsirk

    Hahaha…while the whole world thinks it’s bad, I bet this show will soar past the expected ratings.
    Yup, I’m such a sucker for So Ji-sub, but the plot bores me…tsk tsk tsk…

  28. 28 ockoala

    Thanks for a funny First Impression, Girlfriday.

    Saves me the trouble of watching crap. I think your review was kinder than Dahee’s (probably because her expectations for her beloved SJS – especially after the painful Cain & Abel – were sky high).

    And thank you for not shredding my poor (yet again) wasted Yoon Kye-sang. Dahee compared his acting to sucks donkey balls, *sobs*, she’s probably right, cuz who can act out Pearl Harbor at the Korean War?

  29. 29 lilly

    @24 Kadejun you said it. This drama is trashed left, right, center…

  30. 30 nabi

    I’ve been greatly disappointed with this drama so far. I know my expectation was high but I never imagined it could turn out to be this bad. I agree with you on the opening narration of the drama. I even hate the font used in the opening scene. Mr. Choi was crying in the next scene but I could feel nothing. And I don’t know what’s wrong maybe it’s the editing or directing but all three actors looked as though they couldn’t really get into their characters.

    @ 28 ockoala: I would say to each their own because I liked YKS’s acting a lot more than SJS’s in this drama and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this way. Don’t be discouraged.

  31. 31 nycgrl

    “Dahee compared his acting to sucks donkey balls, *sobs*”

    Yup that is what she said & I know I should have been sobbing with you at that comment but I laughed hysterically instead though I do like YKS. I only sobered up at the idea of SJS being in this pile of dung hill. *runs to cry*.

    I guess I now know who I would run back to save should there ever be a fire in my house. Thats right my husband!

  32. 32 ockoala

    *shrieks of pain*

    @ nabi – so you think SJS is doing even worse than YKS?

    @ nycgrl – see, that’s 0-2 for those two guys we both like a lot. I’m in a world of pain, kill you screepwriter, kill you!!! Hack, hack, hack. And bad PD, bad!

  33. 33 nom_kitteh

    Maybe — or could it be that — all of these rather cliched moments that usually span the entirety of war (or most) narratives were condensed into one episode because the drama was going to focus on something new or different? If the rest of the drama is going to be about the Korean War, and about pitting brothers against brothers, maybe the melodrama will be more about the psychology of civil war? Who knows. I am hoping.

    Do China, the USSR or good ol’ Amrika ever feature in Korean War narratives? How do their (bloody) machinations and pawns-in-a-chess-game-maneuvers get presented, I wonder.

    SJS is looking really good! Possibly the best ever…

  34. 34 nycgrl

    @ ockoala

    I’m not watching it so I won’t know the rage that a SJS lover/YKS liker would know though just hearing about Road #1 pains me and the passionate hate is inescapable and everywhere.

    It is harder for me to swallow than the usual kdrama expectations e.g. PT since I was really looking forward to this to watch SJS after I decided to pass on Cain and Abel. I feel the disappointment of having to wait another few years for a chance to see him shine.

  35. 35 aX

    It just occured to me that maybe episode 1 was THE drama in a nutshell?

    And MAYBE, this overwhelming feeling is exaclty what the PDs want the viewers to feel and then slowly grow into the Kdrama. Or at least I am hoping so. Forgive me for my optimism. I have yet to watch the first episode, but now I am eagerly waiting for girlfriday (or someone else on dramabeans) to take on the other war epic Kdrama, COMRADES.


  36. 36 mookie

    Thank you GF! seriously taking 1 for the team! *bow*

    I’m not a fangirl of all 3 leads, I like both SJS and YKS enough to want to check this out, stubbornly hoping it cant be THAT bad, esp when the complaint I’ve heard was it’s going toooo fast (to which I ignorantly jumped in glee! hey an hour in a movie CAN convey that much and still hit the right emotional notes and moves me) SJS showed me some serious talent in MiSa but he’s also shown me some donkey poop induced zombie acting in TYoL. KHN , no comment (I’ll just say I HATED On Air, thinking of that drama gave me a headache)

    I stopped at 15 min mark, after some stepping of slave kid (ie SJS) while the rich children have to cross some little creek. I threw things, it’s intended to be romantic, but O crap, donkey poo indeed.

    it’s a combination of writing, directing and OTT acting. I do not want to cut the actors slack though.

  37. 37 zero2303

    After reading the review, I dont think I will want to start on this drama.

  38. 38 Lahlita

    Good God, Girlfriday. Do you also eat puppies for breakfast and drink Sorrow Juice ground from the broken wishes of destitute orphans?

    Man, you’re so awesome. 😉 After this review, I HAD to go and check out the first episode of this drama. I really shouldn’t have. Not because it was bad (like I even cared), but because I spent the entire hour laughing out loud since your recap was playing through my head as I watched each scene. I can’t even tell you whether or not I actually liked the darned drama! I’m not into war epics anyway so I won’t be watching this Road Show. However, I shall be reading the recaps.

    My prediction for the final score at the end of the drama:

    Show: Eleventy trillion / Girlfriday: Mental

  39. 39 Hajung

    But that’s supposed to be the plot of the entire show! How is it gone in one episode?
    I have a question. when Kim haneul marries yon mye sang, does she look like she loves him? From the picture posted it looks like she was dreading the marriage. Which doesn’t make sense, why would she marry him then? It would be a stupid forced plot device. I want kyesang and haneuls relationship to be believable, like in pearl harbor.

  40. 40 ripgal

    Yeap, Road No. 1 was terribly disappointing. And as a fan of SJS, I can only admit that he does have his limitations, and ALL of that were blatantly displayed in this drama. I like KHN too, but her character’s just too bland, boring and weepy for my liking. YKS’s okay, he’s not as bad as I’d expected (from all the bad reviews he’s gotten). But overall, acting’s really really under-par. Bleh.

    Didn’t care much for the war scenes, altho I thought they were pretty much realistic? But the love/romantic scenes were just downright HORRIBLE and CHEESY to the highest extent. The lines, man, I just wanted to LOL. and pull my hair off. They’re reverting back to the ol’ Stairway to Heaven thing.. aiks..

  41. 41 Ani

    The highlight for this episode? Was the recap-but-not-so-recap recap (um, review?). Man, I’m wondering if this was really how fast this show was moving, because, what are they going to do with the rest of the remaining episodes?

  42. 42 omo

    Thanks Girlfriday. Your review is the clincher for me. So not going to watch Road #1 despite my admiration for SJS’s bedroom eyes.

    This is turning out to be a WAR on R#1. SOMEONE MUST DIE.

  43. 43 Big Cat

    Great stuff, was going to check the drama out but have thought otherwise now. Besides, I just finished The Pacific so my War drama quota has been met 😀

  44. 44 Mars

    Girlfriday you are hilarious! I love your writing style.

    It looks like they were trigger happy and decided to exhaust all of their back story in the first episode. This bodes well for the rest of the show.

  45. 45 tildy

    Dayum, girlfriday rampant! Werk! This smackdown is a thing of beauty.

    I hate war dramas and “epic” romance so I wasn’t going to watch it anyway but I’m glad I clicked on this recap.

  46. 46 DC

    I agree with you 100%! Except, I made the mistake by watching the first and second episode. I thought it would be good since there was such hype around it. But when I watched it, I felt the same as you: it was going way too fast, and I literally didn’t feel anything for the characters. The second episode was more pitiful because since it is a war drama you’d expect the main lead protecting people in a time of such trouble. But nope. Instead he goes and runs off to his love and they just talk and cry. REALLY??!! WTF ARE YOU DOING??!! Stop being a little girl (this wasn’t the word I really wanted to call him)!!! The lead girl seemed more manly than him! Ugh… such disappointment. This is why I watch “Baker King, Kim Tak Goo.”

  47. 47 nabi

    @ 32 ockoala: Err… I wouldn’t say that. SJS’s acting in Road did feel very over-the-top in most of the battle scenes and in some of the scenes with KHN, but so was YKS’s in some of his scenes. The thing is, I happen to find YKS to be more attractive of an actor than SJS in general so it’s more likely that I like YKS’s acting more than SJS’s. YKS is the one who makes me replay some of his scenes (and I had one of those scenes in Ep 1). I’m biased, and so is everyone to a degree. That’s why I said earlier, to each their own…

    I’m going to continue on with this show, hoping the friendship aspect will be better than the romance.

  48. 48 JO

    lol, bitter much?
    well im not watching this war epic, im watching “junwoo” and i like it. Makes me teary from the beginning. thats all im asking for.

  49. 49 amyrza

    GF: after watching the 1st episode (darn! I wasted my lunch hour for this?!) and reading ur review (which is right on!), I’m not sure whether I will continue following this drama no matter hw much i love YKS. But pls pls pls pls appease my curiousity (or high probably i will continue watching just to get the answer) since I dont know anythng bout korean war(s). So Jung Woo and Tae Ho were on the same side right? What about Soo Yeon’s brother, what side was he on? Why? Since they are living in the same region so they should be on the same side, right? I’m confused….

  50. 50 girlfriday

    @ 38 Lahlita: That’s what I have for breakfast every morning! How’d you know? Did Shin-woo hyung complain about having to ground up the Sorrow Juice by hand every morning? So whiny for a houseboy.

    So, you read the above, and you still want to subject me to recaps of this show? You’re so, so cruel. I may be a few marbles to the wind already, but surely you don’t want me to waste the rest of my brain cells on this?

    @ 49 amyrza: Jang-woo and Tae-ho are on the same side. Same army, same platoon, and Tae-ho is a higher-ranking officer. As for Soo-yeon’s brother, you could consider him a North co-conspirator, or sympathizer, or what have you. It’s not so rare, especially as this all takes place in a border town. Which in and of itself would have been an interesting focus to take–the lives of people who lived on the border towns of the War–if this drama cared to be interesting.

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