We’ve got questionably-foreign gangsters, immigrant smuggling, mafia-escaping escapades, country-wide hitchhiking, famous designer ex-girlfriends, secretly connected pasts, and eccentric roommate hijinks all in one hour. Whether all those things work toward telling a coherent tale is up to you, but if there’s one thing this show has taught me, it’s that most problems can be solved if you have ROLEX! Very very expensive!
Ratings dipped to 8.2% for the second episode, which means Fashion King is facing an uphill battle, especially with Love Rain premiering on KBS next week.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Tensions arise on Young-gul’s crabbing boat, with one of the higher-ups beating an English-speaking man for talking back to him. Young-gul attempts to intervene with a “no violence” approach, but gets beaten for his efforts as well. The look on the previously-beaten deckhand’s face seems mutinous, though.
Lying on a crude cot with a bloodied and bruised face, Young-gul flashes back to a childhood memory of his father giving him (and what looks like his little sister) to his aunt for safekeeping. His father claimed that it would be only for a week, so that he could go to America to try and find his runaway wife – but I get the feeling he was gone longer than that.
Young-gul tears up at the memory and his generally miserable circumstances.
Cut to: The mandatory scene wherein all proper chaebols dress themselves in finery, and in this case, it’s our resident chaebol Jae-hyuk. His secretary lets him know that they need to hire a designer on a small budget, so what better place to look than the New York Fashion School?
It’s at that same school where we find Ga-young again, going over the whole rejection scenario with a severely rude secretary. Ga-young pleads with her, saying that she took a twenty hour flight to wait all night in front of the school – would she have done that if she rejected the offer?
The secretary could care less, and tells her that it’s none of her business. Rules are rules, and Ga-young rejected the offer (supposedly).
Around the corner comes Madam Jo’s daughter, SHIN JUNG-AH (Han Yoo-yi) who smiles in triumph before traipsing her way over to Ga-young. She gleefully informs her that she got accepted only because someone who was admitted with a full scholarship cancelled their admission – isn’t life a funny thing?
Tears spring to Ga-young’s eyes as she realizes all she’s lost, but she can’t muster up a thing to say in her own defense.
She has no one to call but Young-gul, and is dismayed when she hears that he’s gone off the grid. Even the seamstresses don’t know where he is, leaving Ga-young to aimlessly wander the streets of New York with only her luggage and some broken dreams.
Now we see her first arrival scene in reverse – where before she looked at all the glitz and glamour of the New York night lights in wonder, she now finds herself standing in the same spot, looking at the same surroundings in despair. She can’t even find a bench to sit on without crazy homeless people chasing her off.
Ga-young is able to find a motel, and thinks back to all the signs pointing to Madam Jo’s involvement in her losing her school opportunity – and all because Madam Jo wanted to give the opportunity to her daughter instead. Harsh.
There’s a mutiny on the boat, and everyone who is Korean gets rounded up by everyone who isn’t, along with Young-gul. They proceed to start throwing Young-gul’s shipmates into the sea, but the man he took a beating for thinks about sparing Young-gul’s life for a hot second…
But right as he’s about to be thrown overboard, Young-gul thinks back to his life of selling fake Rolex watches (that were of course said to be real), and suddenly screams out in English that he has a Rolex. A real one!
The other fisherman threaten to throw him into the sea even after relieving him of said watch, but he buys himself a ticket to life by telling them that he can get them more – and that he can get them into America, too. I’m sure it’s all lies, but boy’s gotta save his skin somehow.
With what looks like a whole twenty dollars to her name, Ga-young looks over some newspapers to reveal a front page image of Jae-hyuk with the dean of the fashion school. On top of that, she also seems to recognize him – or she’s just recognizing an opportunity.
Working out of his father’s company’s branch in New York, Jae-hyuk discusses the idea of launching a brand for their company with a group of dismayed board members. He doesn’t seem to understand the kind of money it would take to launch a brand in the competitive New York environment, but in his usual fashion, he ignores any words to the contrary.
Jae-hyuk finds himself in an elevator with Ga-young, who’s come to the school specifically to find him. She asks him if he remembers her from his visits to Madam Jo’s boutique with his mother. Jae-hyuk’s attitude is flippant as he tells her he doesn’t remember, and he does everything he can to give her a prompt dismissal.
Not to be deterred, Ga-young follows after him, affirming that they’ve indeed met before and that she came when she saw he was the dean of the school she was accepted into. She tells him the rest of her story – about the one-way ticket, and the fact that she couldn’t register and has no money to go back.
With hardly a second thought, Jae-hyuk instructs his secretary to give her money before stalking off. Ga-young’s got an extra dose of spunk, and completely bypasses Jae-hyuk’s secretary in order to storm into his office. She tells him that he’s misunderstood – she didn’t track him down for money, she just saw the news article with him and the dean.
“I came here to ask what went wrong,” she says, before pulling out the wad of bills that his secretary shoved in her pocket. She finishes her tirade by telling him that she’ll use the money well, and leaves. (What? Ga-young, you make the effort to invade his office, and then you just leave?)
Surprisingly, Jae-hyuk does seem to remember her, and even knows her by name. We flash back through his eyes to a fancy party Madam Jo hosted, where Ga-young was forced to wait tables. Jae-hyuk took notice of her and the fact that she was squirreling away food. Curious, he snuck up to her room to find the food set out on an altar for the memory of her parents, along with her personal sketchbook of designs.
He ends up watching a scene play out between a vicious Madam Jo and Ga-young, where she berates the poor girl for sneaking food to honor her parents. “Are only your parents important?” Madam Jo asks. “How about me who raised you? Am I nothing?” She then orders Ga-young to stay in her room until the party is over.
Ga-young ended up noticing him when he took a phone call from his mom, and we’re out of the flashback and back to present Jae-hyuk, who smiles at the memory. Aww, I knew he was a softie at heart.
It seems like Ga-young has found the equivalent of a craigslist roommate, and one who’s late on her rent and already contending with a racist landlady. The girl who owns the apartment, BONG-SOOK, is definitely an eccentric one as she calls herself a fashion designer and lays out the rules for their living together: Ga-young can never bring a man into the apartment, must always eat by herself, and clean every other day.
However, she’s ready to turn Ga-young out the moment she realizes that she doesn’t have rent money. Luckily for Ga-young, an angry woman barges in with a dress that Bong-sook sewed poorly, and Ga-young immediately offers to use her superior sewing skills to earn her keep.
Meanwhile, Young-gul finds himself in Mexico, where they’ve apparently given over the entire crab fishing boat to the mafia. (And all they’re doing to cover up the evidence is paint over the boat’s name.) He’s supposed to fork over a few grand for a ride into the States, and ends up trading a Rolex instead. (Is this his previous Rolex that his shipmates took, or did he have a spare?)
Next we know he’s being smuggled away in a frozen fish locker on wheels with the men that didn’t throw him overboard. The one he took a beating for threatens him with his life if Young-gul fails to take them to his “friend” in America awash in Rolex watches, and our hero bravely makes his escape… only to end up wandering the highway in the middle of a Mexican desert.
It’s great that Young-gul knows the number to the Korean Embassy by heart when he calls from a pay phone, but even after telling the woman on the other end of the line that all his countrymen on the boat died, she chides him for being rude and hangs up on him twice. He’s understandably frustrated, and so am I – wouldn’t she have an obligation to at least hear him out once she heard that Korean citizens were killed? Someone needs to fire that secretary.
So there’s good news and bad news when the mob boss after Young-gul watches television later that night. Good in that the men thrown overboard were retrieved by a nearby ship, and bad in that they’ve all apparently denounced Young-gul as being the leader of the riot. (How? Didn’t they have eyes to see that he was tied up with them?)
Along with being accused of starting the riot, we find out that the men who actually started the riot were arrested trying to sneak into the States, and that Young-gul is being held responsible for boarding the ship just to sell it. Basically, he’s in a whole mess of trouble.
Young-gul calls his only friend, Il-gook, the right-hand man of the one trying to kill him. Il-gook keeps the call a secret from his boss, but Young-gul is panicking on the other end of the line – he doesn’t know where he is, he has no money, and no passport. He gets to find out that he’s been accused of stealing an entire ship before he runs out of money for the call and the line goes dead.
Young-gul is stranded and desolate, and can’t help crying. He’s certainly got plenty of reasons for tears, but I can’t figure out how seriously to take this scene when the music playing over it is inherently silly.
As a consolation prize, we get some exquisitely beautiful scenery as Young-gul wanders the highway alone, until he finally manages to hitch a ride.
Madam Jo declines a call from Ga-young, dismissive of the fact that she’s in America. She’s more interested to meet with Jae-hyuk’s mother, and with another gift of designer clothes she asks a tiny favor… that her daughter be allowed to stay in Jae-hyuk’s house in New York while their own gets remodeled. (And really this all seems like code-speak for an attempt by Madam Jo to net her daughter a chaebol husband.)
Jung-ah makes a big to-do about moving in with Jae-hyuk, and makes no effort to disguise her brattiness. She’s especially bad when Jae-hyuk asks her if she knows Ga-young. She seems offended at the mere question, and refuses to hand over Ga-young’s number, all while relentlessly pelting Jae-hyuk with questions as to why he would even want to know.
He seems interested when he hears that Ga-young worked as a seamstress for Jung-ah’s mother, and innocently leaves Jung-ah stewing over his dismissive attitude.
So what does the little princess do? She calls her mom to rant about Ga-young’s name being uttered from Jae-hyuk’s lips, and Madame Jo just tells her to stay on her toes around Ga-young.
At least Jae-hyuk’s mom knows that Madam Jo is a snake, and dismisses a call from her on the basis that she’s busy. Some news does get her attention, and not in a good way. The girl Jae-hyuk used to date has now become a successful fashion designer – and as luck would have it, she’s in New York at this very moment. Madam Jo’s face and demeanor tells us that she was/is not a fan of this ex-girlfriend.
We meet the ex in question, CHOI ANNA (Yuri), working on a fashion photo shoot. She’s waylaid on her way out by Jae-hyuk, who greets her stern face with a smile and easy-going attitude. He wonders if she’s still mad at him, despite her half-hearted claims to the contrary.
Jae-hyuk seems to know the way she is, and simply forces his way into her room so they can have a chat. She remains cold to him, even when he admits that he’s missed her at times. What he’s really come for isn’t to discuss their past relationship, but instead to suggest that she stop trying to please those who would racially discriminate against her, and come work for him.
He leaves her with a contract to mull it over.
Jae-hyuk’s secretary is a Debbie Downer of epic proportions, as he tells Jae-hyuk that the chances of a successful designer like Anna coming to work for their company are slim – they might be big in the Korean market, but here in the world market, they’re little fish in a big pond. More so than that, what if his mom were to find out that he asked her?
If there’s some good news to be had, it’s that his secretary has tracked down Ga-young under Jae-hyuk’s orders. A small smile crosses his lips, and it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it sort of deal. Except it’s adorable.
Back with Bong, some Americans ooh and aah over some glorified prom dresses. (Seriously, who are they trying to fool?) Bong’s made this recent killing due to Ga-young’s sewing skills, and it shows in her much-changed demeanor toward her new roommate.
Any potential roommate bonding is interrupted by a call from the New York Fashion School, asking to speak to Ga-young.
Our heroine soon finds herself before the board of directors of the school, who tell her that they’ve made this unprecedented decision for a one-on-one interview due to an “influential figure,” and we can all guess who that is. But even so, they’ll only make their decision based on her merit. (But hadn’t she already been accepted just based on her merit before?)
Our hero has meanwhile smuggled himself all the way from Mexico into New York City, and arrives at the fashion school via a chicken truck. He’s in need of a shower and a shave but settles for what he can get by borrowing a razor from a guy who just happens to be shaving in the fashion school bathroom.
Being in the building for a fashion school awards other amenities, like free wardrobe for the taking – and Young-gul picks the loudest outfit off the rack. Haha. He’s there to find Ga-young, but the snooty secretary informs him that she’s not on the official roster.
Unfortunately for him she passes right behind him after completing her interview, though neither of them see each other.
The original clothing designers track down Young-gul and demand their items back, which forces him to start stripping down in the stairwell. Ha! I love that he just does as he’s told, even though it lands him right back in his traveling clothes… so was the wardrobe change just for the funny?
As luck would have it, he sees Jae-hyuk walking two feet away. He’s so happy to see a familiar face, even though they’re not all that familiar with each other. When Jae-hyuk asks what Young-gul is doing there, Young-gul proceeds to lie about having a show in Vegas and that he’s here because of one of his employees. The second part isn’t a lie, at least, since Ga-young was technically his employee.
Jae-hyuk looks down on the fact that a businessman from Dongdaemun (which isn’t exactly the mecca of couture) would send an employee abroad to New York. I love that Young-gul defends Dongdaemun by saying that it has the best knock-offs around, and that if a design shows up in Paris, you’ll see it next in Dongdaemun.
Jae-hyuk asks him if that’s something to be proud of, and Young-gul seems to think that it is. He tries to buy time but Jae-hyuk isn’t having it, and Young-gul then proceeds to chase him down by calling his in a familiar fashion, as if they really do know each other.
He suggests that they go eat for old time’s sake, only Jae-hyuk doesn’t remember any of their supposed old times, and doesn’t care. Poor Young-gul is just trying to get some food, and suggests that he’ll wait for Jae-hyuk to get off work – but Jae-hyuk finally lays it out by saying that he just plain doesn’t want to eat with Young-gul.
Young-gul doesn’t give up, and suggests that they have tea instead. Haha, I like that he thinks that if food is out of the question, tea is still a possibility. Jae-hyuk pretty much tells him no again, which prompts Young-gul into confessing the truth.
Of course, when he starts to actually tell the truth it all sounds too fantastical – boarding a crab-fishing boat, having a riot on board, nearly dying, selling his Rolex to get into the States… and to top it all off, he can’t find his female employee. But if he met Jae-hyuk all the way here, doesn’t that mean that they’ve been touched by the hand of fate?
Jae-hyuk: “So?” Young-gul: “Feed me for a few days. If that’s hard, at least loan me money for food. I won’t forget it all my life.”
Jae-hyuk levels Young-gul with a stare, and tells him that he has no money to lend him. With a pat on the shoulder, he walks off.
Young-gul is in a desperate situation and isn’t about to take no for an answer, so he barges in on Jae-hyuk’s meeting and grabs him by the collar. He wants to take this outside, but Jae-hyuk is simply embarrassed to be grabbed in front of his clients.
Young-gul threatens Jae-hyuk, in that he’ll show him what being embarrassed really means.
The first episode of Fashion King didn’t blow me away on nearly any front, but I wanted to give the show the benefit of the doubt, just because I enjoyed the cast. With all the dissonant tones in the first episode, the show either had a chance of finding its footing with another hour or going further toward its other extreme of being wacky, yet serious. Yet wacky. But sort of serious.
As some readers pointed out, this show is asking for quite the suspension of disbelief on certain points – like Ga-young checking on nothing before her trip to the States, Young-gul being named as the chief criminal in the boat-stealing, Young-gul knowing the Korean embassy’s number in the middle of the Mexican desert, the embassy secretary ignoring him even when he mentioned dead Koreans (who were alive, but that’s besides the point), the schematics of how he was smuggled into the States, how he survived a drive all the way from Mexico to New York with just a five o’clock shadow, how Madam Jo knew that by knocking Ga-young out of the school her daughter would be automatically next on the list for acceptance, why Lee Je-hoon picked this project, etc.
And normally, I’m always willing to suspend disbelief in the name of a good time. But somehow I feel like we’re not getting a suspension of disbelief as much as a general sweeping under the rug of some necessary plot points, as if the show was telling us, “Move along, nothing to see here.”
I couldn’t shake the sense that Young-gul’s journey to America felt a lot like a wackier, less-serious version of All In, where Lee Byung-heon’s character was forced to flee Korea due to gangster affiliations and smuggled his way into the States to live as a poor immigrant for a while. I remember watching that show and being wowed at the budget it took to take our characters all the way to the States (with a cohesive storyline to take them there, to boot), and then felt like it was unfair to think that Fashion King was taking a lot from All In’s model just because All In did the gangsters-fleeing-to-America bit first, and quite famously so.
That is, until I saw that the PD for Fashion King, Lee Myung-woo, worked as an assistant director for All In. What in the what? I can’t even argue for unlikely coincidence at this point since he’s pretty much done this exact storyline before, so I can’t help wondering what he was trying to achieve here. I think I’d be more forgiving if he hadn’t worked on a drama that features an incredibly similar and unlikely storyline, because simply put, All In handled it better.
The sense of tonal confusion from the first episode only continued in this episode, and it unfortunately worked against Young-gul the most. Ga-young is allowed to have sad moments replete with lots of pretty tears, but Young-gul’s character ended up feeling like unwanted comic relief. If I called my embassy from the middle of Mexico and got spurned for being rude, I’d cry too – so I thought it was completely legitimate for Young-gul to be sad, only his moments kept getting undercut with lighthearted music. I couldn’t figure out what the show wanted me to feel at that point, or how seriously I was supposed to take his sorrow. Should we not be sad because the music is funny? Or is the music ironic and this is all a secretly self-aware comedic romp?
There are some good things working for the show, like Young-gul’s character, played very charismatically by Yoo Ah-in. He’s a hero who doesn’t keep it cool and who’s quick on his feet, unafraid to throw his pride away in order to survive. That sort of quality is something that I appreciated in Ga-young as well – the moment she accepted the money from Jae-hyuk’s secretary left me cheering. She’s got pride, but she’s not going to let that pride make her homeless, which is a refreshing change of pace as far as poor and beleaguered drama heroines go. There’s definitely potential in seeing how Young-gul and Ga-young, two equally resourceful people, will work together in order to achieve their goals.
Unfortunately, that appreciation remains on a cerebral level, and I’m just not smelling what this drama is cooking. As much as I like Yoo Ah-in, Shin Se-kyung, and Lee Je-hoon, there just isn’t enough to buoy this drama to the list of Absolutely Must Be Recapped. Its got the ingredients to be a fun watch if it figures out what it wants to be, and as a viewer I’ll be ready to embrace it with open arms if/when it does.