We’ve got a busy week ahead, with Fashion King starting us off over on SBS. It’s got a fresh-faced cast with lots of promise going in its favor, even if it seems a little tonally stunted. It’s also got a nice side of underdog potential just brimming below the surface, so now it’ll be up to the drama as to whether we see that fighting spirit come out in full force, or whether it remains just a replica of what it could be. Let’s just hope that Young-gul’s belief in the importance of a good fake doesn’t carry over to the rest of the drama.
Fashion King brought in an even 10.0% in the ratings slot, which gives it a decent foothold with room to improve.
SONG OF THE DAY
Fashion King OST – “너를 꿈꾸다” by Lee Jin-sung. [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open at a fashion show. Pretty models strut their stuff on the runway as our hero looks on from a front-row seat and sketches inspiration from what he sees. But then we see that it’s not inspiration at all, as we go straight from the runway to a sewing shop, where it looks like he’s making a replica dress.
Meanwhile, the board members of a New York-based fashion school receive a last-minute application from LEE GA-YOUNG (Shin Se-kyung), and proceed to marvel over her impressive portfolio. She’s erstwhile located in Korea, working as a seamstress for Jo Boutique. She’s clearly eager to hear word back on her application but finds no return letter in her mailbox, because the boutique’s president, Madam Jo (Jang Mi-hee) has gotten to it first.
Madam Jo is your usual cold fashion editor, and studies Ga-young’s acceptance letter with indifference, hiding it the moment Ga-young comes to see her. She’s clearly unhappy about Ga-young’s decision to apply behind her back, because Ga-young would inevitably need Madam Jo to lend her money to go abroad.
What she doesn’t do is tell Ga-young that she opened her personal mail, and keeps her Devil Wears Prada facade until the end. “What if you fail, then what are you going to do?” Madam Jo asks. It’s nice to know that she’s supportive of Ga-young’s dreams.
She lets Ga-young leave without the letter, and rips it up the moment she’s gone.
Later that night, Madam Jo’s daughter brings her friends into the store, above which Ga-young lives in a tiny corner of the factory. She’s fallen asleep over a notebook of designer sketches, and remains unaware that the shenanigans going on downstairs have started a fire on the sewing floor until she wakes up surrounded by smoke.
By the time Ga-young finds the fire the entire floor is burning, and though she valiantly takes up an extinguisher the blaze is already out of her hands.
Madam Jo arrives on the scene to find her shop filled with ashes and firemen – and to top it all off, her luxurious fur coat is soaked with water on her way up the stairs. She completely passes up her daughter (the one who started the fire) and slaps a soot-covered Ga-young – hard – before even allowing her to speak.
Ga-young tries to defend herself, but Madam Jo has already pinned her as the culprit. If it wasn’t Ga-young who set the fire, was it a ghost? (Surely it couldn’t be the girl standing right next to Ga-young, right?) Madam Jo thinks that Ga-young burned the shop as payment for her kindness in feeding her, letting her have a place to sleep, and sending her to school for all these years.
“I’ve done enough for you,” Madam Jo grits out. “You are grown up enough. Get out! You, you’re the one who didn’t want to live in this house and wanted to go abroad to avoid me!”
With tears in her eyes, Ga-young tells her that she’ll leave. But, since her parents started this business and brought her here, she thinks that she deserves to have a part of the business. This only raises Madam Jo’s ire further, and she shoots back that in all actuality, it’s Ga-young who owes her money from the debt her parents left behind.
Madam Jo orders Ga-young to leave immediately, or else she’ll call the police and name her as an arsonist. With no other options, Ga-young has no choice but to pack her things and go.
She walks aimlessly, staring through shop windows at fashion displays with a hopeful gaze. She comes across a colorful ad for a sewing professional, and ends up at the company that posted it – a hole-in-the-wall called Young Girl.
Ga-young is led into the cramped quarters to meet the boss – who turns out to be none other than our hero, KANG YOUNG-GUL (Yoo Ah-in), asleep at the helm. He’s unaware that he has a visitor as he takes a call from his debt collector, claiming that all is well and that he hit it big. The gangster on the other end, though we can’t hear him, seems unconvinced.
When he finally takes notice of Ga-young, she states that she called before she came. She’s the sewing professional, right? He hires her on the spot, but Ga-young is a bit more detail-oriented than his carefree attitude. Food and lodging are provided, right? And how about the salary?
Young-gul passes off that question with a “we’ll see,” and when she presses further he cuts her off by saying that she’ll get as much as everyone else. If she doesn’t like it, she can leave.
It isn’t like Ga-young has a lot of other options, so she takes a hot second to think about it and chooses to prove her mettle/sewing skills to a host of gobsmacked employees. Even Young-gul seems impressed by her talents.
Shirtless steam room scene, and we’re not even twenty minutes in? Oh Fashion King, you bless us. Young-gul is treated like a boss from the tattooed gangsters inside, with the exception of one – his gangster friend, and the source of Young-gul’s respect among the others. The big boss is the one who called Young-gul earlier to collect on some outstanding debts.
He asks his friend, JANG IL-GOOK (Shin Seung-hwan) for some money, only to be rebuffed immediately. As it is, just for being friends with Young-gul, Il-gook’s salary is getting docked just to pay the interest on Young-gul’s debts. Frustrated, Young-gul wonders if there’s anyone who does have money in this world.
Turns out there is such a person, as we immediately cut to JUNG JAE-HYUK (Lee Je-hoon), harshly critiquing a fashion photo shoot he’s overseeing. He’s a demanding boss, and orders that one of his employees start from scratch on a two-year project that he finds unsatisfactory. No amount of explanation by his secretary on how hard it was to get that designer is going to change his mind.
Jae-hyuk returns to his office to find Young-gul waiting, and just when I think that these two might be old friends, Jae-hyuk asks: “What grade were we in the same class?” Ha! So he doesn’t know Young-gul at all?
Young-gul insists that they were classmates even if he skipped class most of the time, but Jae-hyuk seems unconvinced. A look at Young-gul’s business card tells him that he works in fashion, but it’s not long before he cuts to the chase and asks if Young-gul came for money.
The look on Jae-hyuk’s face tells us that he knows exactly what Young-gul’s game is, so he cuts Young-gul off before he has a chance. Not to be deterred, Young-gul slams a hand on his desk and admits that he did come here for money. Does Jae-hyuk have a spare $30,000?
Jae-hyuk says that he doesn’t have money to lend him, but Young-gul is playing a different game by appealing to Jae-hyuk’s pride. He doesn’t take it as Jae-hyuk not having money to lend him, but just that he doesn’t have the money at all, which puts them in the same boat. Jae-hyuk seems mildly impressed, if only by Young-gul’s audacity.
Young-gul is forced to return to his shop/home empty handed, and de-shirts before plopping down on his bed…
…Only he’s accidentally sat on Ga-young, who starts screaming bloody murder. He’s genuinely surprised that she’s there, and has to be reminded that he promised her lodging. Only it seems like he didn’t expect her to take him up on it, since there’s only one bed.
We get a bit of exposition through a phone call Young-gul places to his aunt asking for money – his mother left him for the United States after falling in love.
Ga-young overhears everything, and out of distrust for her male cohabitant, grabs an Anti-Rape Stick to sleep with.
Madam Jo plays host to an unknown rich woman as she laments all that she lost in the fire. When asked about Ga-young applying to a New York fashion school she carefully avoids the topic, as it seems that her daughter applied to the same school with unknown results. It’s not explicitly said, but I’m going to hazard a guess that the other woman is Jae-hyuk’s mother.
She’s interrupted by a call from the insurance company claiming that beer bottles and cigarettes were found in the building, and that her daughter was seen going inside. Uh oh.
She confronts her daughter and asks if she knows that Ga-young applied to the same school – but her daughter isn’t worried in the least, since Ga-young could never afford to go without a scholarship. The look on Madam Jo’s face, however, lets us know that she’d never thought of that option.
I love that Young-gul dedicates time to lecture Ga-young about how to properly make knock-offs – and now the whole opening scene makes sense. He tells her that the importance to a good knock-off is its absolute similarity to the original, and he even gives her some sage advice, made funnier by the seriousness in which he says it. “Try to think about the thoughts that those designers put in the clothes and then make them with the same thoughts.” Haha. There is honor among thieves.
Her delicate designer sensibilities offended, Ga-young slams the door once she leaves. Young-gul seems impressed by her gumption.
He goes to peddle her wares to a store that may or may not know that they’re knockoffs, and it seems like his debt problem is taken care of. He and the rest of his employees set to making more replicas (and everything’s better in a montage.)
Young-gul’s business goes up, and he’s able to deliver all the money he owes to the appropriate mob boss, who lauds Young-gul for paying his debts back on time. He even gives Young-gul some money to get something to eat. Aww, what a nice gangster. (Even though he takes a break in the conversation to order someone be buried alive by phone, ha.)
The women who work in Young-gul’s store all seem charming as they all give collective sighs over how handsome their boss is. They think that his extended absence has something to do with Ga-young, but their friendly teasing belies no jealousy underneath.
Ga-young decides to clean up the office in her spare time, and uses Young-gul’s computer to check her e-mail. (He has a picture of himself as Superman for his desktop wallpaper.) It looks like she’s received an acceptance e-mail from the school, but it’s hard to tell when the subject line is, in English, “Congratulation on Your Success with whole heart.”
Young-gul walks in on her, and demands to know if she’s a spy. In order to prove herself she has to pull up her e-mail, and Young-gul asks her to translate her acceptance letter. She does, and tears spring into her eyes when she reads that she’s been accepted by the New York fashion school.
Not only that, she’s received a full scholarship. She’s overwhelmed to read the news, and can hardly continue reading through her tears. Young-gul asks about her parents, who she says died when she was little. Apparently he didn’t bother to learn her name before hiring her, as seeing her name in the e-mail sparks a flash back to a young Ga-young crying to a woman who was wearing the same necklace that her mother used to.
We then see him wearing the same necklace from the flashback in the present, right before we flash right back to the past. Past Young-gul finds Past Ga-young and through a sleight of hand, produces the necklace she was crying over. To stop her from crying, he performs a few more tricks. (Cute.)
Jae-hyuk has a talk with his father, JUNG MAN-HO (Kim Il-woo! I missed you!) who admonishes him on being too harsh with the designer during the photo shoot, and tells him to go back abroad to study. I love that Jae-hyuk’s cold, cool facade just melts away with his father, and suddenly he’s a wide-eyed child eager to please.
The fashion designer Jae-hyuk spurned is happy to hear the news, and Jae-hyuk is mortified when his father demands that he apologize. Jae-hyuk does, and when he gets a tiny lecture from the designer in return, even Dad takes a pause before going along with it.
We find Jae-hyuk on a flight headed to New York. Looks like his father was serious about the send-off. Ga-young is also on the same flight, and is happy to see a girl wearing her replica design.
She flashes back to Young-gul tossing a giant envelope of money for the plane ride to America, on the basis that he found out it’s a great school. He tries to play it cool, but clearly he’s a sweetheart. Ga-young’s eyes tear up at the gesture, and we’re back in the present before we know it.
Young-gul is half-asleep and half-naked with a girl he’s just slept with, who casually tells him that if her boyfriend were to find out, they’d both be dead. (She also makes it a point to notice his possibly-fake Rolex, and I like the idea that we’ve got a running theme of replicas going.)
Cue gangsters appearing at Young-gul’s storefront, destroying everything they see. He gets a call from his buddy that he’s just slept with the Boss’ daughter, the same one he just repaid all his debts to. Oh dear.
Young-gul is frantic as he tries to find a way to escape. The only way out is through a window, hanging on a ledge that’s pretty high off the ground. One of the gangsters knocks him off the ledge and onto a conveniently placed pile of styrofoam boxes, so Young-gul survives the big fall unscathed.
The Boss is, to say the least, murderously unhappy that Young-gul wasn’t caught.
Young-gul protests his innocence to friend Il-gook, who tells him to get the heck out of dodge so he won’t be killed. Young-gul has nowhere to go and no money to go anywhere, and soon finds himself chased down by gangsters. He’s able to avoid capture by the skin of his teeth.
He goes through a dilapidated gate to what might be his parents’ home (although he said his mother left him for the U.S. earlier), only he hears a fight going on inside while the woman gets mercilessly beaten by her husband. (Whoa, serious turn.) Instead of going in, he decides to leave instead and ends up wandering aimlessly.
Ga-young finds herself amidst all the lights and glamour of New York nightlife, and we cut to Jae-hyuk jogging. In the same city, of course.
But it’s with great shock that Ga-young finds out that she apparently rejected the admission from the school, replete with a letter of rejection and all. Good gracious, Madam Jo certainly took her meddling to another level.
Young-gul, meanwhile, finds himself unwittingly filming an episode of Deadliest Catch, as he’s taken up a job as a deckhand for a crab fishing boat. He vomits over the side due to seasickness as he’s relentlessly pelted by waves.
All in all a solid opening, even though some of the tonal shifts had me scratching my head. There’s fashion and fires and gangsters and wife-beating and chaebols and crab-fishing, all in one drama. If nothing else, that’s impressive.
I liked that this drama cuts straight to the chase, and puts us right in the middle of these characters’ lives. No long childhood backstories (although I did roll my eyes a bit at the childhood flashback scene, because of course they’ve met as children), and straight to the good stuff. And in this sense the good stuff lied in Young-gul and Ga-young’s interactions, who had some really enjoyable, laid-back chemistry.
I had some doubts about Jae-hyuk as a character, because on paper he filled all the necessary requirements for a normal, overdone chaebol second lead. Whether the subtlety added to the character is part of the writing or just good acting (Lee Je-hoon is great wherever I see him), I appreciated how much he changed when he was with his dad. I’d love it if that were carried through with his whole character – that he’s the sort of guy who tries to hide behind his money as this cool tough guy, but doesn’t know crap about business. I got a sense for that with the whole firing-and-rehiring of the fashion designer, so if we see more of that and less of a Perfectly Rich Second Lead, I’ll be happy. Because Lee Je-hoon has this way with making the cutest facial expressions around, which I wouldn’t have expected from his previous roles. (But I love him all the more for it. Oh dear. Second Lead Syndrome already?)
I’m liking Young-gul as a knock-off designer and general rascal, though his comedy scenes could get a bit overwrought. I’m interested to know his story, how he got tied up with having gangsters as friends, and how he ended up in fashion in the first place. Just going off his speech about how important a good replica is, I’m left wondering as to what his aspirations are (in a good way). Does he just want to be the best at making knock-offs and make loads of money? Or does he dream of being a true-blue fashion designer?
In that sense, even though Ga-young’s story is more done (poor but plucky with a side of dead parents), I was at least clear on who she was and what her goals were. The promotional materials had led me to believe that we were going to get a much slicker show than what we actually saw – and while we had moments of sheen early on, for the most part everything remained pretty grounded. Unexpectedly wacky at times, but grounded all the same.
Overall the drama is well-shot and well-edited, but the penchant toward dialogue-free wandering scenes is worrisome on the basis that we got quite a few in just the first hour. It’s hard to get a grasp on this show when I don’t really know what tone it wants to settle with (is it a comedy? is it a melodrama? straight romance? mixture of all three?), or where exactly the story is going. I’m not getting a super-assured feeling that the people behind the camera know, either. And if we take it just for what we saw in this first episode, it’s not raising any bars right out of the starting gate, but the potential is clearly there.
With a whole slew of premieres this week (The King 2 Hearts, Equator Man, Rooftop Prince) further recaps of Fashion King are up in the air. I’m definitely in as a viewer for the great cast (Yoo Ah-in is back! Huzzah!) and am excited to see where this all goes. Because it’s gotta go somewhere, right?