A strong premiere for Operation Proposal. I was oddly excited and nervous about this show since my expectations were based off of its Japanese original, Proposal Daisakusen: Operation Love. Remakes are usually a hit or miss which largely depend on the cohesion of the drama trifecta of writing, directing, and acting. But we’ve got a pretty solid start to our story and characters here and shows promise for this series. A bit of the whimsical, a slight taste of outrageous, but a lot of heart.
What would you do if you had another shot to fix your past to change your present?
[Watch the series at DramaFever]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
On a snowy day, a group of bullies harass a young boy in a playground until someone steps in – a young girl who chases the kids with a broom. The bullies run off, and they leave hand-in-hand.
This scene is observed by a mysterious man, the Conductor (Kim Tae-hoon). In voiceover, he tells us that miracles are uncommon occurrences that ring in our hearts like our deepest desires. Everyone has a shot at their own miracle, but changing fate and destiny rests in their choices and level of effort.
Valentine’s Day, Morning, 11 o’clock. An alarm blares while the radio cheerily broadcasts about a marathon. The radio DJ draws an analogy between love and marathons – you’ll never know the end result unless you see it through.
We get a peek at the quaint apartment – it’s adorned in trophies and baseball memorabilia, with a tux hanging on the wall. This is our hero, KANG BAEK-HO (Yoo Seung-ho), and he bolts out of bed once he registers the time.
He’s clearly late and the cab is stuck in immovable traffic, which adds to his agitation and nerves. The driver ignores his protests that he’s dead meat if he’s late, so he resolves to make a run for it instead.
Meanwhile, wedding preparations are underway and a woman drops into the bridal suite. YOO CHAE-RI (Kim Ye-won) does her best to stamp out any pre-wedding jitters the blushing bride, HAM YI-SEUL (Park Eun-bin), may have. The two friends laugh over the pressure of catching the bouquet, and Chae-ri jokingly worries about getting hitched should it fall into her hands.
The parents of the bride adorably practice walking down the aisle and Yi-seul looks on with a smile as her parents bicker about the rhythm. Dad gripes that he was perfectly in sync before and then the speakers call for the bride’s entrance.
Baek-ho races at top speed alongside the marathon runners (and grabs a drink reserved for the athletes for himself, heh) as the sanctuary doors close, marking the beginning of the ceremony. He makes it to the church entrance and collapses onto the ground.
His friends who have been trying to frantically reach him berate him for arriving late. Out of breath, Baek-ho assures them that it’s a miracle he even made it. Short on time, they piggyback Baek-ho into the church.
Yi-seul makes her entrance to the wedding march, and it looks like Baek-ho’s made it just in time. As he watches her walk down the aisle, he recounts how they’ve been friends for nearly 20 years. Inseparable since grade school to their college days, he’s loved her close to two decades.
Their eyes meet and he steps forward… and his buddy pulls him back at the last moment as the real groom receives his bride. Ack, fakeout! Baek-ho continues that for the past 20 years, he’s been waiting for the opportune moment to confess his feelings. Um, I think that moment’s about to pass in about five minutes.
His face falls as the couple exchange their vows. The groom shouts a resounding, “I do!” and the crowd chuckles in response. Completely lost in thought, his friends whisper to remind him to hand over the rings and he watches as it slips onto her finger, sealing the deal – the girl of his dreams now officially someone else’s wife.
The single friends gather around during cocktail hour, and Chae-ri sighs that the reality that Yi-seul’s married is finally seeping in. The other two friends, JOO TAE-NAM (Park Young-seo) and SONG CHAN-WOOK (Gong Kyong-po) roll their eyes at her efforts to try and catch a groom herself. She’s bored of traditional marriage values like devotion and sacrifice, and instead concerns herself that her prospect has a successful career like a doctor, lawyer, or accountant.
She’s prepared a business card to oomph her credentials, and coolly dismisses Tae-nam when he asks for one, citing that he’s too short for her for the umpteenth time. She warns him to stay away, and he chases after her. Chan-wook comments that nothing has changed, so it must be a common interaction between those two.
Chan-wook asks his friend how he feels about his longtime crush being married off and Baek-ho replies, “Like a father who feels bittersweet that he got his good-for-nothing daughter off of his hands?” Too bad that joking response is overheard by Dad, who’s none too pleased at his answer.
Dad pulls Baek-ho aside and tells him that it’s a relief he didn’t send his daughter off to an irresponsible man like him, adding that his new son-in-law is basically Mr. Perfect tied up in a bow. Baek-ho stammers in agreement which earns another him verbal rebuke about his indolent attitude. He drills in the final nail that he pities the glove made for such a pitiful man, leaving Baek-ho slack-jawed in response.
Dad places a hand on Baek-ho’s shoulder for a long moment before he turns to leave. Aw, are you trying to tell him he should have stepped up sooner?
Baek-ho runs into Yi-seul, who’s now changed into her reception dress. When she asks what he thinks, he smiles, “It’s perfect.” He ruins the perfectly sweet moment that the dress is, not the bride, and she tells him that she wonder if he’ll ever get married with that insensitive manner towards women. He retorts that she needn’t worry since there’s a line of women out the door.
Yi-seul warns him not to mention any weird stories in his congratulatory speech, reminding him that angering the bride can turn friends into enemies in an instant. He kids that it’s easy to ignite her temper, but assures her that he won’t.
She places a few candies in Baek-ho’s hands which remind him that she knows him best – his mouth dries up when he’s nervous, and now he has to give a congratulatory speech to wish her off.
Baek-ho is introduced and he greets the newlyweds, Yi-seul and her husband, groom KWON JIN-WON (Lee Hyun-jin), in sincere congratulations. He starts off saying they were friends since the first grade, disclosing her childish dream to become a beautiful bride. He jokes about whether she is (to Tae-nam’s protests and Chae-ri’s hushes), and goes on to describe Yi-seul’s inner beauty:
Rather than focusing on her studies, Yi-seul would support her friend’s baseball team. She was a child who would give up her umbrella in the rain for an abandoned puppy. She would always put others ahead of herself. She would always be smiling in both sad and lonely times, thinking she was Candy.
So I wish my loving friend, Yi-seul, a happy marriage and my most sincere congratulations. A toast to the happy couple!
The words bring tears to Yi-seul’s eyes, and Baek-ho fights back his own as he wraps up. In a long flashback, we see how they first became friends at school: He lent her his slippers when she forgot hers, and was scolded in her place. Aw, so sweet.
Jin-won finds Baek-ho outside (Baek-ho calls him “Coach”) and praises him for his moving speech as Yi-seul’s brides…man. He asks if Baek-ho ever caught on that he used to be jealous of his longtime friendship to Yi-seul. Jin-won sighs that he’ll never get to know the childhood Yi-seul like Baek-ho does, no matter how much he loves her. He’s thankful that she has happy memories with her friend, and rests assured that longer ones will be built with him as his wife.
As a last note, Jin-won thanks him that Yi-seul’s best friend never liked her, for he would have lost if his opponent was Baek-ho. The statement nearly breaks him as he stuffs the candies Yi-seul gave him earlier into his mouth.
A box tumbles out of his hands when he’s enlisted to move boxes into the newlyweds’ car. He rifles through some nostalgic pictures, and stops at an old letter addressed to him from Yi-seul, storing it in his coat pocket.
Time for the bouquet toss. It goes flying into the air and straight into- Baek-ho’s hands. HA! Chae-ri gripes that it should have been hers while Baek-ho holds onto it awkwardly. Tae-nam tries to get it back for her, citing that he should hand it over to a woman, but Baek-ho hilariously refuses to give in, ignoring Chae-ri’s protests that he would have to get married in half a year or be struck with bad luck. Baek-ho: “As if I could have more bad luck than you do.”
After sending the newly-married couple off on their way, the friends invite Baek-ho for a bite to eat. He opts out, blaming it on stomach problems, telling his friends to celebrate without him. So the emotional pangs are giving you physical ones, huh?
His dejected mood doesn’t go unnoticed by the group and Chae-ri wonders how Baek-ho is holding up. She balks when she hears that Baek-ho thought that seeing Yi-seul get married was like sending off a daughter. Tae-nam drags her away, leaving Chan-wook by himself.
Later that night, a lone Baek-ho solemnly stares at the wedding invitation, his heart filling up with regret. He opens the old letter he found earlier that day to read the words that Yi-seul never told him:
It’s already our middle school graduation but it looks like we’ll be in high school together too. Even though I said, “We’re in the same class again?!” when it was announced in class, I felt happy and safe. Why can’t I be true to my heart whenever I see your face? Ever since the first grade, when you gave up your slippers and went barefoot for me, you became a special person in my life.
From then on, to now, to always, you are the most cherished person in my life, Kang Baek-ho. Because you’re so special to me, there came a day where I couldn’t tell you how precious you are to me.
Though I couldn’t tell you because I was scared our friendship might change, I’ll say it now: I, Ham Yi-seul, liked Kang Baek-ho. I really like Kang Baek-ho.
Baek-ho shares that there wasn’t anything he did for Yi-seul – make her laugh, or be happy, or tell her how he felt about her. “I couldn’t even do today the thing that 17-year-old did in this letter.” No matter how much he wants to turn the clock back, it’s too late, just like the letter in his hands. Break my heart, why don’t you?
He sits on the swing, bawling his eyes out, when a stranger hands him a handkerchief to wipe his tears away. The camera pans back and it’s the Conductor, who tells him that a great marriage comes from marrying the second-most-loved person in one’s life.
People can point out who they love the most right away – they can feel their hearts torn into pieces when they slip through their fingers. But what about Number 2? That’s harder to pinpoint. He points out that Baek-ho has lost his greatest love today.
Baek-ho stutters, asking who he is, and the visitor tells him he should be asking why he’s here instead. When Baek-ho asks if he knows him personally, the stranger coolly replies that there isn’t much to know past a grown man crying over his first love in a playground.
It gets him worked up, and the Conductor swears that he’s here to give Baek-ho his heart’s most earnest desire. He properly introduces himself as the Conductor. He explains that he’s not one in the sense of music or engineering, but deals with more special cases, like him.
The Conductor shows off what he can do with a flick of his hand, freezing everything and everyone in place to Baek-ho’s astonishment. He walks around lazily, picking up snacks and drinks from still hands before setting things in motion again.
Absolutely incredulous, Baek-ho asks after the Conductor’s real objective to which he simply answers the same as before. To be more specific, he’s a time conductor, able to control time and guide others through it.
He muses aloud that humans never believe anything they hear the first time around and challenges him to pitch the baseball at him, since he was a baseball player and all. So Baek-ho throws it and it stops mid-air which leaves his mouth agape.
Baek-ho demands that the Conductor tells him who he is and what he wants and he simply answers, “The person who can take you back to your past.” But the Conductor wonders if he’ll accomplish anything now if he had the chance, given that he did nothing about it for the past 20 years. He reminds Baek-ho that people don’t change easily.
Still stuck in disbelief, the Conductor asks if he should show him some more of his tricks. He lists off what his job is similar to: a time controller, a tour guide, a bus driver of sorts. With another wave of his hands, the location shifts from one place to another, from the historical past to the possible future, eventually ending up back at Baek-ho’s apartment.
Baek-ho asks how he did it and the Conductor replies, “If you can’t believe with your eyes, will you with your brain?”
The Conductor remarks at Baek-ho’s collector ball collection – if he kept a girl as like this, he wouldn’t have lost Yi-seul today. He laughs at eager suspicion-filled Baek-ho, who asks again if travelling to the past is truly possible. So he tells him that Baek-ho’s got nothing to lose – if it doesn’t work, he’ll stay in this reality. But if it does, he’ll get another shot to change the present.
Baek-ho asks why he’s been given that chance and the Conductor breezes that he’s a baseball fan and he looked so pitiful at that church. Picking up a baseball from the shelf, he says that his favorite number is 232 – the number of times that ball was thrown, to its very last pitch.
Dropping a small vial in his hand, he wishes Baek-ho a safe and fun journey and reminds him to remember Yogi Berra’s famous words, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” With that, he disappears.
Mom feels the weight of the empty nest syndrome as she scans Yi-seul’s old bedroom. She discovers a box of the same sweets that Yi-seul gave Baek-ho earlier, her thoughts wandering why she would have candy she dislikes. When Dad walks in, she asks if he thinks that Yi-seul will be happy. She lets the matter drop, suggesting a quiet romantic evening.
Baek-ho sits in his room, flipping through the pictures of Yi-seul – they’re all of her angry, sad, or upset. It angers him that those are the only memories he has of her, unable to find happier ones.
He thinks to himself if things would have changed if he confessed his feelings back then, if the person next to her today could have been him. In continued voiceover, he wishes that if he could go back in time, he wouldn’t let that opportune moment slip through his fingers.
Staring back at the screen, he asks his former self what he was so disappointed of, what prevented him from acting on his feelings. He tells Yi-seul that he can’t remember what made her so upset that night, and we flashback to Yi-seul mutter, holding back tears, “Baek-ho, you don’t know anything. You don’t know anything at all.”
The words of past Yi-seul and the Conductor fill his head. Determined to win her back, he pops off the top and down the contents. With an unwavering mindset, Baek-ho closes his mind and recites the magical incantation, “Renovatio. Renovatio.”
And…we’re back. As things begin to materialize, he hears Yi-seul’s voice, confessing her feelings to him. Slightly jarred, he wonders what just took place, and then Chan-wook appears, reciprocating his feelings. He thinks, indignant, “Wait, that confession wasn’t for me?! And Chan-wook, when did you start liking Yi-seul?”
The two lovebirds lean in for a kiss and Baek-ho screams, “NOOOOO!!!!” Which is when the director shouts, “Cut!” and yells at Baek-ho for not paying attention. Hee. They call it a day and the stage crew cleans up the set behind them.
Baek-ho finally notices the year – 2001 – and runs up to the lighting booth to ask Chan-wook. He confirms it, saying that it’s their first year in high school.
Ecstatic, Baek-ho raises his arms and exclaims in his head, “I’m back!!!”
A great, enjoyable hour I think. Staying away from comparing Operation Proposal to its Japanese original will be fairly difficult since a lot of elements are retained, and for purists, important, but I do think that the show has the potential to stand on its own two feet.
I love stories that deal with the philosophical questions of life, even if there’s a dash of fantasy: What if you got a do-over? Would you approach things differently? Would you take that risk? These what-if moments leave us wishing for what we could change if we could control fate and destiny, and this show explores the possibilities (and consequences) of that desire.
Yoo Seung-ho really sells the character of Baek-ho. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got some serious acting chops at his disposal so when he broke down in tears in the playground, I nearly sobbed at the screen with him. He’s got such a delightful range from giving off those exaggerated facial expressions, to holding back tears that I can be present with him at every moment. He portrays an earnest desire to have a fair chance at winning Yi-seul back that I’m excited to see what his journey will be like in these various time jumps.
If there was a scene that irked me about his character, however, it would be where we’re back at Baek-ho’s apartment and he’s asking the Conductor for the billionth time if this time travel business is possible. There’s only so many ways I can write your disbelief into words, buddy – we get that you don’t get it. Get over it and decide whether or not you’re going to do it or not.
Who I worry the most for is Lee Hyun-jin’s character, Jin-won. I’ve heard others singing praises about him from his other projects that I’m a bit disheartened to see him stuck with a picture-perfect stock character. There isn’t much depth on paper for the groom, but I rest assured that Lee Hyun-jin can bring the character of Jin-won to life.
I like that we’re left to wonder how Baek-ho will pursue his second shot at winning the girl of his dreams. Will he take the risk or use it for his own means? Will he attempt to change the course of history or fail and face the consequences of his actions?
I’m willing to stick around and find out.
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- Sunny’s Park Jin-ju joins Operation Proposal
- Park Eun-bin romances Yoo Seung-ho (again) in Operation Proposal
- Yoo Seung-ho cast in cable fantasy melodrama