Scent of a Woman premiered this weekend, and GAH! if this drama isn’t gorgeous — the reunion of the Dr. Champ team includes, thankfully, its awesome camera, which gives the show a lush, movie-like appearance with dark contrasts and lovely, rich colors. It doesn’t hurt that they’re working with a beautiful cast, but more than going gaga over their lovely faces, I’m going gaga over the actual images.
SONG OF THE DAY
Tune – “끝없이 소비하라” (Spend endlessly) [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We start off with some old-film style cinematography, tipping us off to the fantasy nature of the sequence — not that that’s hard to determine, once our stranded heroine’s friendly volleyball (á la Cast Away) drowns and turns into a hunk of a man. Yeah, I’ll take that trade.
This is the dream that gets interrupted when its conjurer, LEE YEON-JAE (Kim Sun-ah), is woken up mid-medical procedure. Yeon-jae relates the results of her routine physical to her co-worker and longtime friend, Hye-won, as they sit out the events of company sports day. They’re both lower-level employees at Line Tours, both from similarly humble backgrounds, and both single and nearing that dreaded designation of old maid.
Hye-won’s physical came back with the warning that because of her dense breasts, she has to go in for more tests. (Yeon-jae: “And you haven’t even gotten to use that chest yet.”) Yeon-jae, on the other hand, has been losing weight recently but her results came back normal.
A couple of their male co-workers come by, and Yeon-jae’s supervisor, Manager Noh, tsk-tsks at the spinsters sitting idly. He clearly disparages them, but Yeon-jae obsequiously jumps up to do his bidding, and assures him that the lunch has been carefully prepared.
Lunch is presented in an oversize bowl, and oh my god, that’s like my dream come true. A huge…bowl…of bibimbap. Big enough to swim in, with oars for spoons. Apparently it feeds 100.
The company chairman thinks they need more spicy bean paste, and Manager Noh hisses at Yeon-jae to get it. Alas, she’s tripped at the last minute by her co-worker (and his obsession with picking up wayward coins), sending her splat right into lunch. Okay, now it’s my nightmare come true.
It’s not her fault, but when her boss rips into her, she starts to explain why she fell, then sees the nervous co-worker and instead meekly apologizes for her error. Such is the life of quietly suffering Yeon-jae, with no spine and little pride to speak of. Or rather, she’s got a spine and pride, but she can’t afford to lose her job over a fit of temper, and has learned to bite her tongue.
Yeon-jae’s the sole breadwinner for her family, which consists of her and Mom. They live in a modest home without a yard (getting them into arguments with the landlord over yard usage), and Yeon-jae’s always promising her mother she’ll upgrade their lifestyle — a better house, a better birthday present next year. Yet, it never seems to happen.
Mom urges her to ditch her “loser mentality” and put herself out there more, advising her of the recipe for an uptick in her fortunes: “Yeon-jae, the fastest way is to marry a rich man.” Yeon-jae returns, “The most impossible way is also to marry a rich man.”
Yeon-jae’s the office gofer in her hospitality department, the one upon whom everyone dumps work and orders around without compunction. She happens to see some brochure photos of a familiar-looking beach — the one from her dream — and learns that it’s an Okinawan island, marveling that her dream-beach does in fact exist.
It’s the busy season for their office, and Yeon-jae has a difficult task to complete, with the arrival of a famous Chinese star who requires the use of a particular fancy sports car during his stay. There are only six of those cars around, and five owners have rejected her request to rent it. The sixth is laid up in the hospital, having just totaled his.
He directs her to try the dealership, though, since a seventh model has just come in, and Yeon-jae happily takes the tip — arriving just as No. 7 is about to be driven off.
She jumps in a taxi and follows the red car through traffic, finally arriving at — surprise, surprise — her own office building. For a moment, the sight of the handsome new owner stops her cold, and she loses herself in a trance…just long enough for the taxi to get rear-ended by a truck. Curses!
No. 7’s owner is KANG JI-WOOK (Lee Dong-wook), the wry only son of the company chairman. Today’s his first day of work as a director, and he is introduced to the board of executives. Ji-wook disarms them by referencing, right off the bat, that he’s here thanks to nepotism and that he plans to do little ordering around, instead intent to watch and learn the other execs, who’ve been doing this work for so long. He’s matter-of-fact and direct, making me like him right away, and has a self-deprecating sense of humor.
But I sense something darker about Ji-wook’s sense of self-awareness, which intrigues me. For instance, he’s assigned a subordinate, Park Sang-woo, who happens to be his high school classmate. Sang-woo’s worked six years to make it to his current position as team leader, and Ji-wook says dryly that life’s quite the bitch, making someone work six years to be team leader, and making someone else the higher-ranking director on his very first day. Sang-woo’s respectful and declines Ji-wook’s offer to use banmal with him in private, but his taut expression shows us that he’s fully aware of that injustice.
The fender-bender with the taxi sends Yeon-jae and the taxi driver to the hospital, where she assures him that she’s perfectly fine and not going to sue him later. Yet the doctor asks to speak with her in his office, and leads her away.
When Yeon-jae hears his name, CHAE EUN-SEOK (Eom Ki-joon), she recalls another boy she’d once known with that same name — a boy who’d crapped his pants in elementary school. She asks the doctor if that’s him, and uses the nickname he’d picked up after that incident: Ddong-seok (Poopy Seok). Ha!
She means it completely good-naturedly, but she’s a little oblivious, whereas we can see that he seems like the sensitive sort — though he covers that up by acting brusque and professional. He immediately knows what incident she refers to — who could forget such trauma? — but says that he doesn’t, though she doesn’t believe it and starts speaking to him familiarly.
I love that this means they can immediately drop to banmal, even though they knew each other very briefly in their childhoods and Poopy Seok ended up transferring away — perhaps traumatized by her oblivious teasing?
Eun-seok gets to the point and tells Yeon-jae that she ought to be thankful to the taxi driver. Yeon-jae: “Why, for bringing us back together?” Eun-seok: “You have a tumor.”
It’s 3 cm big already and resides in her gallbladder, but he won’t say whether it’s cancer. He keeps his comments brief, saying merely that she needs to come in for a biopsy in order to determine what it is.
Yeon-jae’s a little startled, but she takes this in like a good sport, missing the signs in Eun-seok’s explanation that warn that this is probably more serious than she’s prepared for. He tells her to come in Thursday, overriding her protests that she can’t get away from work until the weekend.
Back at work, everyone is aflutter with the new director’s arrival, particularly the female employees. One of Yeon-jae’s co-workers, Nam Nari, steps in and takes over the car rental request because that’ll give her an excuse to speak to Ji-wook, despite Yeon-jae insisting that she can finish her task alone.
Nari’s one of those pesky office flies who looks down on Yeon-jae, buoyed by the idea that she’s younger, prettier, and better than her. When her team enters the elevator, for instance, excited to share space with Ji-wook (and begin the process of impressing him), the elevator beeps when its weight limit is hit, and Nari nudges Yeon-jae to step off.
Like I said, Ji-wook has an interestingly dry sense of humor. It’s sarcastic but without a mean edge, and so comes off more as wit. He also seems bored of life, as we can deduce from his dinner conversation with his father, Chairman Kang, as they await the arrival of his fiancée. Ji-wook has no interest in this marriage, but he’s going along with it because…well, there’s no reason not to, I guess. He definitely isn’t happy with this idea, but he’s not motivated enough to rebel. I get the sense that he just doesn’t care.
His fiancée, IM SAE-KYUNG (Seo Hyo-rim) is no more thrilled about the marriage, although she expresses her feelings differently. Where Ji-wook is noncommittal, she’s surly, almost rude. Chairman Kang is a cheery sort and looks fondly upon her, as though excusing her behavior, but it’s almost like she’s challenging him to find fault with her. (Is she pushing them to end the engagement? Hm.)
Sae-kyung is heiress to Seojin Group, and works as an executive director of Seojin Cards. At the meeting, she asks Ji-wook to handle the hospitality arrangements for one of her VVIP clients, a notoriously difficult pianist who is flying in to Korea and has requested some guided tours.
Sae-kyung asks to see Ji-wook’s bachelor pad (a woman ought to know her fiancé’s taste before sealing the deal) and makes one request of him, uttered with ice-cold authority: Don’t interfere in her personal life before the wedding, and she won’t mess with his.
Hm, is it weird that I kind of like her? She’s cold and sullen, but also self-possessed. She’s not easily likable, but maybe it’s more that there are qualities I respect about her, like her frankness. She’s strong. Like a sledgehammer, perhaps, overdoing it when more subtle means would do.
Ji-wook is more easy-going, and points out their differences — he has no greed for earning more money, while she’s all ambition. They suppose they’re in the marriage for the same reasons, and have decided they’ll get what they want out of it.
Yeon-jae goes out with her team for a department night of dinner and singing, and overhears the other women gossiping about her. I’m pretty sure she’s aware of the fact that she’s sucking up to Manager Noh to stay employed, but it’s particularly harsh to hear them smirking about it — and then pitying her.
She also gets stuck with the task nobody wants to take on: Escorting Sae-kyung’s VVIP client Wilson. It’s the only way to get Manager Noh to agree to give her a day off to go to the hospital, even as he pooh-poohs her worries, saying that she couldn’t possibly be worse off than him.
Taking charge of Wilson’s stay requires her to go out of her way to find food that falls within his dietary restrictions, as he is Muslim. She finds a farm that purveys Halal-certified food, and gets a chicken from them to be prepared by the restaurant.
Yeon-jae greets Wilson and his wife and embarks on her tour through some rural regions of Korea to show him the sights. In addition to being fussy and difficult, he also sniffs at all the places she takes him — a forest, a green tea field — by saying he’s seen better.
Wilson’s wife tells her not to take it personally, though, because he’s being particularly grumpy on this trip. He’s adopted, and has always had a longing for his mother country, but also feels hurt and resentful toward it. She assures Yeon-jae that despite his complaints, he is actually enjoying the tour, which reassures her.
However, plans meet a hitch when the classy restaurant reserved for lunch is closed, cordoned off with police tape. The owner got into a knife fight last night and is laid up in the hospital.
Yeon-jae sneaks inside to retrieve her precious Halal-certified chicken, and takes her guests to another restaurant, where she asks the proprietors to take particular care with the chicken.
And yet, the couple storms out of the restaurant soon afterward, sputtering and furious. It turns out that they were fed pork — a mix-up on the restaurant’s part — and this blatant disrespect for their religious customs offends them.
Sae-kyung hears about this snafu while she’s on the golf course with her father and Ji-wook. While she takes the call, Dad advises Ji-wook against inviting woman problems into the marriage (describing other men he knows with messy home lives, putting up mistresses or sponsoring actresses). Ji-wook points out that the simple solution to this concern is to let Sae-kyung marry somebody she’s in love with, to which Dad chuckles, “You can love her, and that’ll do, won’t it?” Umm, I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works, Dad. I begin to understand Sae-kyung’s personality, all ice covering up the simmering fury underneath.
Since the Wilson problem is currently in the hands of Ji-wook’s company, not Sae-kyung’s, he steps up to take care of it, and calls Yeon-jae.
Yeon-jae takes his call with trepidation, bracing herself to receive hell. Yet surprisingly, Ji-wook doesn’t scold her. He says with a sigh that what’s done is done, and that it’s tough guiding a difficult client. He advises that she do what she can to pacify Wilson’s anger, and leaves it to her to handle. She is surprised and grateful at his reasonable response.
Wilson is mightily offended and immune to Yeon-jae’s little efforts to appease him. When she reaches for the door, his ring catches in her sweater and he snipes about being careful with it. Like her off-the-rack knit cardigan has a shot against his diamonds.
Still, Yeon-jae heads out to the marketplace that evening and picks up a box of pastries, and brings it back to the hotel. Wilson faces her stonily, but his expression eases as Yeon-jae explains that she’d read in an interview that the one food he remembers his mother making is a type of bread, shaped like a quesadilla and stuffed with sweet red beans.
He’s actually touched, and Yeon-jae leaves feeling satisfied in her efforts.
She’s called back in the morning, however, to a much more hostile environment. Sae-kyung accuses her of stealing Wilson’s precious diamond ring, without which he refuses to perform. In fact, he’s canceling his performance and heading straight to the airport.
Yeon-jae protests that she didn’t steal it, but nobody believes her. Sae-kyung insists that the CCTV footage confirms that she’s the only one who entered the room, and Wilson is hardly going to steal his own ring. I can think of another explanation, but I’m guessing you pissy hotheads are immune to reason, with the weight of that chip on your shoulders impeding common sense from entering your brains.
Wilson tells Yeon-jae that he was actually moved by her gift, but now suspects it was just a ruse used so she could get at the ring.
The offended couple leaves, and Sae-kyung delivers a harsh slap. Okay, I revise my liking of her. She’s way beyond sledgehammer status. Bulldozer may be more appropriate, flattening anything in her path that doesn’t conform to her version of the truth.
Sae-kyung also dumps out the contents of Yeon-jae’s purse, which naturally doesn’t contain the ring, then accuses her of pawning it already.
Yeon-jae is left alone in the room, and sees her belongings strewn everywhere. It’s the family photo — in particular her beloved bygone father — that pushes her over the brink and into tears.
It’s not long before Wilson realizes he’s being an ass, when the airport metal detector locates the ring, which had caught on his sweater. At least to his credit, he looks sorry about it.
Yeon-jae hasn’t been by for her biopsy, to Eun-seok’s chagrin, but at least she finally shows up today. Alas, she doesn’t have a guarantor, although he’d clearly told her to bring one. She tells him to be her guarantor if she needs one so much, an idea he instantly rejects.
But then he turns back, feeling for her, frustrated and sympathetic. They take the biopsy, and it confirms Eun-seok’s suspicions — and her condition is bad enough that his colleagues wonder how he’ll tell his “friend” that she’s terminal.
At first, Yeon-jae doesn’t clue in to his grim expression (to be fair, it’s his everyday expression) and chatters cheerily about how she didn’t want to bring her mother as her guarantor, because it would just worry her about being cancer if it wasn’t really cancer.
There’s no better way to say it, so Eun-seok dives in: It’s cancer. It has already spread to the liver, so removing the organ won’t suffice. Radiation is not likely to help. He advises her to check herself in for tests.
Yeon-jae takes moments to let this sink in, realizing that she’s got cancer, and that it’s bad. When she finally speaks, it’s to ask how long she has left. Eun-seok won’t give her an estimate, but she presses him, wanting to prepare herself. He supposes six months.
She’s called in to work by Manager Noh, who’s about to rip into her for taking the day off after all. He tells her that one word from Sae-kyung — who has ties to the chairman — puts the entire team in danger.
Sae-kyung comes by to speak with Manager Noh, and he instructs Yeon-jae to serve them coffee. He hangs his head meekly and apologizes for the incident, hastening to distance himself from Yeon-jae by saying that the fault of one employee doesn’t mean that the rest of their team is equally suspect. Sae-kyung retorts that it’s his fault for assigning such a lousy employee in the first place.
Yeon-jae enters with her tray and starts setting out the drinks, just as Sae-kyung gets up to leave — walking right into the cup of coffee. It splatters over her legs, and she tries to wipe up the mess.
Sae-kyung shoves Yeon-jae aside and glares at her with contempt, saying that she should stick to work like this (serving drinks). She storms out, leaving Yeon-jae reeling in shock and hurt.
She heads back to her desk, too shocked to react, and Manager Noh starts criticizing her again, sighing that he should’ve fired her when he had the chance. But no, she’d begged and cried and he’d relented, making her a full-time employee. And now because of useless “things like you,” the qualified, educated new generation wastes away on the sidelines, unable to get employed.
That’s going too far, and Yeon-jae trembles as she defends herself, saying that she’s worked for him for ten years, making him coffee, cleaning his desk, taking care of his wife when she was in an accident. She even cried with him when he cried about a failed promotion. Tearily, she asks, “Couldn’t you believe in me just a little, respect me just a little?”
Psh, whatever, is his reaction, and he orders her to clean the conference room. At the end of her rope, Yeon-jae mumbles resentfully, “You clean it.”
Manager Noh asks incredulously what she said, so she repeats, louder now, that he should clean it. Insulted, he warns her that she could get fired.
Yeon-jae: “You won’t be able to do that. I just quit.”
Fumbling in her desk, she pulls out an envelope and presents the resignation letter she has had readied for five years. Every time he’s mistreated her, she’s been tempted to use the letter, but she bit her tongue and held back, every time.
Manager Noh scoffs, “So what? You’re gonna throw a resignation?”
Heaving with indignation, she yells, “Yes! Here’s my resignation letter, you asshole!” And flings it into his face.
The drama starts off at a rather languid pace, but by episode’s end, I was itching for the next one. The previews look pretty promising, as well, with Yeon-jae shedding her timid attitude and adopting a new one. I’m really looking forward to that, because it’s hard to watch a character you’re pulling for be so badly treated by everyone. It’s bad enough that she gets stepped on, but that she meekly bows her head and takes it?
It’s enough to make me blow a gasket. It’s the same dynamic we saw in Baby-Faced Beauty, as well as every ’90s Cinderella drama), where long-suffering was touted like a desirable character trait. Thankfully, that’s mitigated here by the knowledge that it isn’t going to last very long, because the whole premise of the drama rests on her transformation. Excited for that. I love Kim Sun-ah’s performance in the last scene, when you can see her trembling with her newfound courage, both scared and exhilarated by it. It’s like watching a baby animal stand for the first time.
Even with its more leisurely pace, I think it works for Scent of a Woman because this show is so gorgeous to look at. The camera almost becomes a separate character, establishing atmosphere and mood in a way that we don’t get merely from the story. I think I’m really going to like this writer-director pair; even if Dr. Champ wasn’t the most exciting drama, it felt refreshing and different. It was a lovely, relaxing show that was a feast for the eyes and had a nice soundtrack. That applies here as well, except we also get a high-premise concept to add energy to the story.
Plus, I’m really liking the characters so far. Okay, maybe not so much Sae-kyung, but I do actually find her interesting from a character standpoint — she’s not a bitch just because she’s a spoiled brat; I can sense there’s much more to her attitude underneath the surface (and not just because I read the pre-show profile info). I may not like her, but I find her interesting.
I’m particularly intrigued with Ji-wook, because while he shares a lot of surface similarities with leading men of yore, there’s something very different about him that I like. He looks like a Darcy, but he’s not. (Darcy was proud; Ji-wook has a wry understanding of his privilege, and doesn’t seem that happy with it.) He also looks like a Prince Charming, but he’s not. (He’s shown flashes of understanding, but he’s not a perfect gentleman, either.) He’s aware of his status, but doesn’t overcompensate for his wealth by embracing the other side. (That prize goes to Yoo-hyun of Miss Ripley.)
Instead, he’s just a guy with a brain, who doesn’t seem particularly embittered about love, but not really enamored of it, either. He’s just coasting by, characterized by ennui more than anything else. I really, really like that about the hero. He’s coolly aloof because he doesn’t care, not because he has a chip on his shoulder, or thinks he’s better than the plebes, or because he’s conceited and arrogant. The perfect foil to contrast with our heroine — she’s losing her life but determined to live it up, while he’s already given up on his.
Then there’s the doctor, who’s wonderfully played by Eom Ki-joon, whose sensitive side wars with his curtness in a palpable way. He’s not cookie-cutter Daddy Long Legs, but I can see him growing to care for our heroine, spurred by a mix of interest and pity.
This drama has a solid cast, fantasmagical cinematography, nice atmospheric music, and an interesting premise. The story’s the slowest part to find itself, but I have hopes that it’ll find its footing by the next episode. *crosses fingers*
- Scent of a Woman posters
- Lee Dong-wook bares skin for Scent of a Woman
- Kissy stills from Scent of a Woman
- Scent of a Woman shoots in Okinawa
- Lee Dong-wook in Scent of a Woman
- Stills from SBS’s Scent of a Woman
- Seo Hyo-rim added to Scent of a Woman
- Eom Ki-joon joins Scent of a Woman
- Lee Dong-wook’s comeback drama with Kim Sun-ah