Can’t Lose premiered today on MBC, and was about what I expected: Light, cute, amusing, and with strong chemistry between the leads Choi Ji-woo and Yoon Sang-hyun.
Also as expected, though, it had a tough time hanging in the ratings game (it recorded a 6.2%) with two strong competitors on the rival stations. Princess’s Man, which premiered first, was also first in the ratings with 18.6%; Protect the Boss premiered a week later and brought in 16.3%. With both competitors established and going strong, it’s doubtful that Can’t Lose will be able to overtake them. I do hope that it keeps up its bright tone and is at least able to find an audience. If it breaks double digits I’ll consider that a success, given its circumstances.
FYI on the title: I’ve seen the clunkily translated “Can’t Live With Losing” floating around, which makes me cringe; the meaning is closer to “I can’t stand the idea of losing.”
[Watch the series at DramaFever]
SONG OF THE DAY
Can’t Lose OST – “그리고 사랑해” (And I love you) by Zia [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open at a train station, where LEE EUN-JAE (Choi Ji-woo) has arrived to meet her husband, YEON HYUNG-WOO (Yoon Sang-hyun), who’s been away on a business trip. Right away we see the tone of their marriage, which is marked by petty squabbles that are exasperating but on the whole fairly minor. Both sides are generally able to tamp down most of their irritation and move on, although it’s also clear that most of these issues are recurring ones, the kind where one small remark or eyeroll could set the long-standing argument in motion.
Today, Hyung-woo’s on the hook because he’s just tried to lie that he’s not on this train, citing unexpected work as his reason for taking a later train. But Eun-jae spots him, and hence his attempt to ditch their scheduled interview falls flat.
An example of what I see as fairly innocuous quibbling: Hyung-woo gets into Eun-jae’s trash-littered car and comments that he’s never seen such an expensive trash can before. Unperturbed, Eun-jae tosses back, “And it rolls, too!” It’s cute.
The reason for the attempt to skip the interview? It’s one of those fluffy profile pieces on the husband-and-wife law firm named Hope, and Hyung-woo finds this tiring and irritating, so his answers are gruff and blunt. Eun-jae says through gritted teeth that her husband is just modest, and proceeds to tell the story of how they met:
It was at a baseball game, the day Hyung-woo had submitted his resignation letter to his law firm. She’d been sitting next to him, and they’d been chatting over some contraband liquor when the Jumbotron screen caught them in its sights and demanded a kiss, mistaking them for a couple. Hyung-woo had been uncomfortable, but Eun-jae had grabbed him and planted a kiss on him, saying that the crowd expected it.
From there, it was a whirlwind romance as they bonded over their mutual profession and dropped to banmal speech by the first date.
Two weeks in, he’d proposed. He’d announced his intention to set up his own firm and help the needy, and Eun-jae had offered to be his partner. She’d assured him that she’d bring in the money, so he could fight for justice. They were married within a month of their initial meeting.
Today, though, the mood is annoyed — aggravated in part by Hyung-woo ditching Eun-jae mid-interview with an excuse. He gets back to work helping an employee in a labor lawsuit, doing what he does best — offering his legal expertise at reduced (or sometimes negligible) rates to help those who can’t afford it.
That night, they arrive at their apartment together, and now it’s Eun-jae’s time to be on the hook, because she hurries ahead of him to try to clean up. In the few days that he’s been gone, she hasn’t bothered to clean up after herself, and he’s amazed that a single person could create so much mess.
His idea of helpful reminders are to stick post-its reminding Eun-jae to keep the place tidy, which she ignores. Their argument soon falls into a familiar script, with Eun-jae declaring, “So I’m messy — so what?” and muttering about how he hardly helps because he’s lousy at earning money.
As the tension escalates, Hyung-woo walks out of the argument while she utters an oft-said request: “Let’s have a conversation!”
Hyung-woo drinks beer outside a convenience store, then joins his friend GO KI-CHAN (a hilarious Kim Jung-tae) for soju. (Cutely, Ki-chan is stored in Hyung-woo’s phone as “Go Ki,” or “meat.”)
Ki-chan has marital issues of his own, and is bubbling with complaints about his wife, KIM YOUNG-JOO (Jo Mi-ryung). At one point, he exclaims adorably, “Two different people living together is a very difficult thing!” as though he’s just made a new discovery. You and half the world, buddy.
He’s also got a money issue, and asks Hyung-woo to loan him some cash. His father’s sick, and he’s got no spare funds — plus, if wife Young-joo found out, he’d be in the doghouse again. Hyung-woo agrees to lend him the 10 million won (just under 10 grand), and Ki-chan weeps in gratitude.
When wifey calls to check on him, he lies at first until she catches him in it, then admits that he’s with Hyung-woo. When the argument escalates, he ends up shouting into his phone, “Fine, then divorce me! I’m not scared of that threat anymore!”
On the other hand, wife Young-joo calls out Eun-jae to vent her own complaints about her husband. This is another case where it seems like the marriage isn’t under one particular strain, but has become burdened with heaps of little ones.
At the core of their issues is his generally lackluster work history; he’d tried and repeatedly failed to pass the civil service exam, and ended up taking a regular desk job after he married. But now he’s lost that job, and decides he’s going to go back to trying for the civil service exam, while Young-joo has become the primary breadwinner over the years.
Young-joo asks Eun-jae to handle her divorce, determined to finally make good on her threats. Eun-jae understands her complaints perfectly and gets a little carried away empathizing, talking more about her own frustrations than Young-joo’s.
The night leads both parties to a noraebang, where they vent in song form, shrieking along to the song “Bruise,” which is all about one half of a relationship telling the other half that they don’t know what love is.
The mood is still tense between them when they arrive home, but in the morning, Eun-jae finds the place spic and span. Sparkling, even. Hyung-woo has gotten up early to clean the place, and he’s preparing breakfast with a smile.
He suggests that they leave yesterday’s argument in the past, and his explanation highlights their differences: He says that if he’d stayed in the apartment, they would just have fought more. She counters that they should have stayed until they worked it out. It’s one of those things that’s immensely frustrating when you have different fighting styles, because neither way of resolving an argument is better than the other. It’s just that one’s needs (get away to calm down) are at odds with the other’s (work it out in the moment).
She’s mollified, and even more gratified when she sees that he cleaned out her messy car as well. Until she realizes that he threw out a box in the back that contained receipts, and now she’s upset all over again and makes him dig through the trash to retrieve it. His sweet gesture has been eclipsed by the fact that he almost made her life incredibly difficult, and she snits at him not to mess with her things anymore, while he complains that if she were cleaner, he wouldn’t have to.
When they part ways that morning, it’s with an edge. Eun-jae: “Bye, Can’t Earn Money.” Hyung-woo: “Work hard, Earn More Money.”
At court, Hyung-woo runs across an elderly man who looks utterly confused and asks for directions to see a judge, which is not proper legal procedure. Hyung-woo offers to look through his documents for him, and his face soon darkens to read the bad news.
The grandpa guesses that he’s being kicked out of his home, and breaks down crying. Hyung-woo feels so bad for him that he offers to handle the appeal on a pro bono basis, making light of the non-payment by saying he takes cases for the joy of winning. The grandpa asks, “But what if we lose?” Hyung-woo: “I’m a guy who can’t stand to lose!”
Grandpa is so overwhelmed with gratitude and sorry that he can’t afford payment that he gives Hyung-woo the only thing he can offer: cooked potatoes.
Hyung-woo knows he’s in for an uphill climb trying to convince Eun-jae to let him take on the case, so he presents her with a potato (her favorite) and plays up the sympathy card, cutting off her protests.
It’s only after she takes a bite that he tells her that the pro bono grandpa was the source, and she immediately stops eating and places it on the table, marking stand-off.
She argues that they can’t keep taking cases for no money, and that he’s always making her into the villain by making her refuse. He tries to plead with her to relent just this once, but she warns that she never changes her mind once it’s made up.
That night, the spouses head off to work out their woes separately — Eun-jae to the bar and Hyung-woo to the boxing ring.
The hot bartender (Ha Suk-jin) lends a sympathetic ear, but I smell potentially opportunistic interest here. When she complains about the unfairness of always having to change, he leans closer and tells her that he likes her the way she is right now. She gripes — a mostly empty complaint — that maybe it would be better off living alone.
Meanwhile, when Hyung-woo’s friend plays devil’s advocate about Eun-jae, and how he used to feel differently, Hyung-woo replies, “Marriage has the curious ability to turn charms into flaws.” Ha, ain’t that the truth.
He muses to himself later that the Eun-jae he used to know has disappeared, wistful to have her back.
She comes home reeking of liquor, and collapses on the couch. Hyung-woo tries to rouse her, and gets a slap in the face when she turns over sleepily.
He puts her to bed and leaves the room, at which point Eun-jae opens her eyes and smiles that the slap was refreshingly satisfying. Only to find that Hyung-woo had guessed she was faking, and stands there watching. Hee.
In the morning, he begins his campaign to change her mind about the pro bono case, making her breakfast and sneaking a potato into her rice bowl. HA. That’s so cute, in that eating a potato ultimately has nothing to do with her stance, but has taken on a symbolic undertone.
He tries to woo her all the way to work, being particularly solicitous and opening doors. It’s like they’re back in dating mode, only Eun-jae’s wise to his plan and isn’t buying it.
They miss seeing Eun-jae’s mother on their way into the Hope law firm; she keeps out of sight and gives Eun-jae a call, only to be treated with coolness. They’ve been estranged for some time, and although we aren’t given the reason, it appears to be Mom’s fault. Eun-jae rebuffs this attempt at conversation, which seems to be a familiar song and dance for mother and daughter.
And then, another mother makes her appearance, this one dressed in finery and holding herself with a haughty air. She enters Eun-jae’s mother’s noodle restaurant and notes the cheapness of everything here — which naturally gets Eun-jae’s mother’s temper flaring.
Eun-jae’s mother is more along the lines of a regular ajumma, the kind who doesn’t take crap from people and scolds them, customer or no.
And so, she kicks Rich Mom out of her restaurant with insults. Rich Mom talks like a lawyer’s wife (or perhaps mother), saying that the restaurant lady has just used violence against her and defamatory language.
Rich Mom: “You must not know much about the law.” Ajumma: “Why wouldn’t I? I’m extremely close to the law!” Rich Mom: “Surely not as close as me.”
Sure enough, this turns out to be Hyung-woo’s mother, who calls Eun-jae that night. Eun-jae makes an excuse to avoid having to meet her mother-in-law…only to find her waiting outside the building, eyeing her disapprovingly.
Stuck in her lie, Eun-jae is forced to invite her up, although she tries to fob her off and divert her to a restaurant instead.
Eun-jae quickly fires off warning texts to Hyung-woo, who’s working at home. She tells him that Mom’s here and that she’d told her he was at the office.
He jumps at her warning and runs outside to avoid seeing Mom, but alas, timing is not on their side and he’s caught red-handed. Both of them stand contritely before Mom as she takes them to task for their behavior, but Hyung-woo speaks up to defend his wife and says that it’s Mom’s fault for insisting on coming by unannounced.
Mom is here because she wants him to handle the legal work of her buying another building, but he reminds her of his rule not to handle her business.
Mom then tells Eun-jae to drop by to advise her on a retail contract. Eun-jae isn’t as much a stickler as Hyung-woo is about not working for her, but when she asks for a fee — citing division of business and personal matters — Mom huffs at the cheek.
After Mom-in-law goes, Eun-jae asks hesitantly if he’s mad at her for lying to Mom in her attempt to avoid inviting her in. It’s like she’s actually surprised he took her side earlier, and she’s even more now so when he tells her that his mom’s quite good at making people want to avoid her.
Moved, she plants a kiss on his cheek, to his pleased surprise. He gets up and goes for a real kiss, which she enjoys despite interrupting a few times. Tired of her talk, he sweeps her off her feet (literally) and deposits her on the bed.
All flustered and hurrying, he fumbles through the dresser drawer for contraception, but they’re all out. He urges her to “let it go” this time, but she isn’t about to get pregnant before their law firm is settled, and tells him to go buy more condoms. Frustrated, he yells at her to buy them, and walks off, the mood killed.
Hyung-woo gets back to work, but has a second thought and starts typing away in a new document, a smile on his face.
In the morning, Eun-jae looks around for Hyung-woo in the empty apartment, finding only a “written judgment” taped up to the refrigerator. Typed up like a legal document, Hyung-woo has named himself (“Can’t Earn Money”) the defendant, while his wife (“Earn More Money”) is the plaintiff.
In the text, he has acknowledged, “In the past year, Plaintiff Earn More Money has worked very hard trying to adjust to Defendant Can’t Earn Money.” That earns a smile from her, and she recalls that today is their wedding anniversary. He’s prepared a breakfast for her.
Eun-jae arrives at the office to find her husband in mid-confrontation with the elderly man’s daughter, who’s so suspicious at Hyung-woo taking the case for free that she is convinced he’s up to a con.
The daughter is wracked with guilt, since the housing contract was in her name. She’d been advised to do so, but that has backfired on them (she married and the plaintiff is arguing that the home no longer belongs to Dad, and hence he can be evicted). But since they lost the first case, there’s no sign that they’d win the appeal. Hyung-woo promises to work hard and make sure her father won’t suffer, while she sobs about fearing for her father’s health above all else.
At this point, Eun-jae speaks up and tells her that the best way to keep Dad healthy is to protect the house he lives in. With confidence, she assures the daughter that Hyung-woo’s a skilled lawyer.
Hyung-woo is amazed and relieved at Eun-jae’s turnaround, and her show of faith in him, reminding her of her boast that she never turns back on her word. She replies that she’s not going back on it — not if he wins. “So you’d better win.”
Remembering that it’s their anniversary, he asks what she’d like to do tonight. She muses that she’d like to go someplace she’s never been before, and he teases, “Our kitchen?” Ha. I can laugh at that because he clearly means it as a joke, but if he’d been in earnest… heads would’ve rolled. Well, one head.
Eun-jae receives a call from their landlord informing her that their rent is being increased, which requires a higher deposit. She protests the high amount, but hurriedly backtracks when he tells her that her other option is to move out.
So she takes out her bank book, sighing at the balance, then heads to Hyung-woo’s office to find his. Her eyes widen to see the latest withdrawal — 10 million won, loaned to Ki-chan — and she confronts him about the amount.
Judging that telling her the truth would make her angrier, Hyung-woo lies that he lost the amount in stocks. Perhaps he judged right, because while she’s annoyed at his response, she just tells him about the increased rent and the amount they need to come up with.
Hyung-woo cringes to realize what a crunch he’s put himself in, then decides which lie to go with and tells her that he’s got some money tucked away, not to worry. Then he heads to the bank to take out a loan…and sees something that makes his eyes widen in shock.
This time he’s the one who confronts her with incriminating paperwork, showing her the bank document and telling her to find what’s wrong with it. She looks, and sees what has him in such druthers — she’s listed not as his wife, but as his roommate.
Oops. Immediately her guilty expression indicates that there’s a story here, a secret she hadn’t meant for him to find out, as he demands, “Why didn’t you register our marriage?”
He clocks her odd reaction, then asks with growing suspicion, “Is there a special reason? Or perhaps…did you intentionally not do it?”
So. I liked the first episode, in that it was funny and well-acted and the two characters are very cute together. More than that, I like their conflict, which seems realistic: You’ve found someone you love and want to be with…it’s just that the literal aspect of being with them all the time can be a trial. He has tiny habits that grate on your nerves, but is that a reason to call it quits? It’s irritating how he never does laundry, but then you never take out the trash. He snores, but she hogs the bed. Et cetera…
I like that the troubles feel normal and everyday, albeit exaggerated a bit since they do have to sustain a drama. But clearly it’s going to take something bigger than their normal squabbles to push them toward divorce, and the ending gives us that twist. And if you’ve never been officially married, it’s all the easier to walk away from a frustrating relationship than to tough it out, isn’t it?
The drama does a good job balancing the faults on both sides, which is always the danger in presenting marital spats. It’s something I don’t think was done quite as well in Queen of Housewives or Queen of Reversals, but it’s also because those were clearly heroine-driven narratives. In this one, we’re meant to see both sides, and it’s not one side’s flaws that are creating tension. She may be less benevolent than him with his bleeding heart, but really, if they were both like him they’d have trouble clothing and feeding themselves. One of them needs to be practical, and as she says, that sometimes makes her into the bad guy. But in his defense, he’s got no trouble making the effort to reconcile and keep the peace. It’s just that they’re different, and that’s why they clash so much.
Now it’s up to the series to come up with compelling reasons for Eun-jae not registering their marriage, and for keeping this drama going. Because while the first episode was fast-paced and entertaining, I’m not convinced there’s enough of a plot yet. Episode 1 was mostly establishment of conflict and setup. It’ll be up to the next episode to show us there’s enough life here to keep up 16 episodes.
- Stills from soon-to-premiere Can’t Lose
- Can’t Lose’s comic promo posters
- Choi Ji-woo and Yoon Sang-hyun as Can’t Lose’s warring couple
- Stills from MBC’s divorce romance Can’t Lose
- Can’t Lose holds first script reading
- Yoon Sang-hyun as Choi Ji-woo’s leading man
- Choi Ji-woo back in dramaland as a lawyer