Haeundae Lovers: Episode 1
A refreshing wave that splashes this summer with cute and hilarity. The show delivers in writing and acting with characters that you’ll laugh and cry with. Never has my mind been so boggled by Kim Kang-woo in a romantic comedy but my heart is lifted with his perfect comedic timing.
So what does bring a smart detective down to Busan anyway? You’ll have to let down your guard to find out.
SONG OF THE DAY
LED Apple – ” Smile Again” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A mysterious man enters a top-secret van, munching on his burger. He coolly shuts up his subordinates and directs their eyes to the screen when their target appears.
They watch in anticipation as the drug deal is set up and bide their time to capture the exchange onscreen… when one of their own men is dragged in front of the dealers. As he blubbers, they notice that he’s packing heat and all hell breaks loose.
It’s a dangerous situation but they’re about to lose their guy, so the inspector makes the executive decision to chase the bad guys.
We’re given an introductory glory shot of our hero, LEE TAE-SUNG (Kim Kang-woo), who calmly places his phone inside a vest pocket and then slices down the thugs with his makeshift weapon.
Tae-sung is agile and quick but he isn’t fast enough to pin Boss Oh who is now sailing away in a motor boat. So Tae-sung jumps from a boat soaring through the sky and lands perfectly like the daredevil he is.
He continues to fight but the kingpin throws him off the boat into the water and zooms off. The baddie docks his boat and hijacks a car while Tae-sung swims ashore and runs right past right past our heroine GO SORA (Jo Yeo-jung)’s fishing boat.
Tae-sung stands in front of the freakin’ car and gets hit, rolling off the window with a few minor injuries. They end up on a crowded Haeundae beach and as a last ditch effort, Boss Oh throws the money in the suitcase into the air as a diversion. It works, and Tae-sung loses him.
Meanwhile Sora’s family happily continue their fishing trip, bringing in a sizeable catch. It’s cute that everyone does their part to help out.
Back at the harbor, he grabs his subordinate by the collar and poses a question: Who does he think is the biggest piece of trash? 1) Drug-dealing kingpin Oh Jong- chul 2) The gangsters who buy their drugs from him 3) The one who let Boss Oh slip away (i.e. the cop)?
He answers his own question, “Number 3. Ding dong deng!” (A sound effect to signify the correct answer)
He takes out his rage about the failed mission on the poor guy (he got caught in the scene in the first place because he had to do a Number 2), and orders the others to dismiss the incompetent cop.
Tae-sung gets an earful from his boss about why he’s still on the scene on such an important day. He hilariously responds with lame fake static noises and hangs up.
The remaining officers wonder what’s going on and are shocked to hear that it’s Tae-sung’s wedding day. Yikes, yeah that’s kind of important.
But as the injured cop gets hauled into the ambulance, he mentions that the newlyweds will be spending their honeymoon in Busan (Are those literal dark circles? ‘Cause that’d be hilarious).
There’s a rap on the door that barely stirs Sora from her deep slumber. Her room is filled with baseball memorabilia (are we in Operation Proposal: Busan?) and Uncle steps in (and delicately covers “young lady’s” bared legs) to wake her.
Only that she accidentally gives him a nosebleed in the process. He tells her that today’s “that day,” which is enough to make her bolt out of bed.
We’re shown snippets of the other men in the house. The tattoos on their arms and back clue us in that they’re a mob family (one has a Hello Kitty tattoo, keh) but the men are all domesticated, responsible for the cooking and cleaning. Hee – way to subvert our expectations.
A sign hangs, “[Please] Let’s become useful human beings!”
This mob family is so cute. Dad plays a round of hide-and-seek before breakfast and Sora happily feeds her father a lettuce wrap.
Their breakfast comes to a screeching halt when Uncle LEE SOON-SHIN (Lee Jae-yong) receives a mysterious caller who asks for his card information. Uncle Lee gets spooked so Sora takes over, trying to come up with a set of clever lies.
But then the maknae uncle LEE DONG-BAEK (Park Gun-il) takes the call and spews a litany of curses at the caller who gets equally riled up. Dong-baek gets particularly offended at the word “beggar,” and bursts, “Where are you?” The caller replies, “Up your butthole!” HA.
Uncle BU YONG-DO (Park Sang-myun) who has the Hello Kitty tattoo, covers Sora’s delicate ears. Dong-baek’s young and spirited, telling the family that they were too dumb to realize that they were nearly scammed.
Dad takes a bowl to strike him over the head, insisting that he’s not dumb and the others get up to calm him down.
“That day” turns out to be the day where they can finally buy the small fish store they’ve been working to acquire for 10 years. Uncle Hello Kitty asks when they’ll get their hotel back again and Sora assures them it’ll be soon since their debts are now paid.
They cast forlorn looks at Dad who’s fishing with a toy rod outside. An earlier photo shows him with his entire mafia in front of the grand opening of “Haeundae Hotel” back in 1987. In that time, the hotel was taken over and the trauma reverted Dad to a child-like state.
Sora looks at a calendar of the Haeundae Hotel and vows that she’ll get it back.
Sora receives word from a friend about the whereabouts of Uncle Lee’s daughter. Cute that Dong-baek gives a smile at the mention of her name.
One she’s gone, Dong-baek voices his complaints that he doesn’t want Sora married off but Uncle Hello Kitty says that they have no choice. They distribute flyers in full animal body suits in the sweltering heat with small children who tease and tug at their costumes.
HWANG JOO-HEE (Kang Min-kyung) clucks at the bride, LEE SE-NA (Nam Gyuri) and her optimism while they wait for Tae-sung the groom. Se-na simply beams that she’s thankful because Oppa would never have married her if she was from an ordinary family.
She giggles, “I don’t have any pride, right?” It certainly sounds like you don’t have any. Se-na defends Tae-sung to the end. A sharp pain has Se-na double over and she dismisses it as being overly concerned.
Tae-sung rushes into the wedding hall, bloodied shirt and all, much to the shock of his parents. He gets cleaned up and dressed (Oh hayy there chocolate abs) and Dad checks to see if his son isn’t hurt anywhere. Hee, they’re so cute.
Tae-sung’s all, If only I caught that drug kingpin… and Dad is in agreement since then the newlyweds could have a blissful honeymoon. Speaking of, Tae-sung asks if they can push back the honeymoon so he can get back to on the case but Dad shuts that door, giving him playful punches.
He goes on and on about how tired he is of hearing how perfect his son is and stops when Tae-sung says that he’ll go on the honeymoon. With a pat on the shoulder, Dad tells him, “No matter what anyone says, you’re my child.” Before he can affirm that with a hug, Dad gets called away.
It’s a different story when his next visitor comes knocking. He apologizes to his mother (whom he tellingly calls “Mother” and not “Mom) who gives him a disapproving look. She slowly walks up to him and gives him a firm slap. Ouch.
She asks him how it feels to get married before his hyungs and Tae-sung admits that he feels bad about it. She tells him that if he really feels that way, he can delay bearing a child since she can’t stand to see him act like the eldest when they don’t share any blood.
Mother will be sending a document over to give up his inheritance rights, but Tae-sung declines, telling her that he’s satisfied just to be his father’s son. Aww.
She challenges, “Do you think your pretentiousness will work on me?” Sheesh, woman. Who put salt in place of your sugar this morning?
Sora helps an elderly woman to her destination, Haeundae Hotel. Another woman in a fancy car calls for the security guard to stop her by any means necessary.
That leads to a hilarious chase to the entrance and Sora slams on her brakes at the sight of the bellhop. Then her cargo of fish spill over the truck to the red car, leaving the woman sopping wet.
Sora quickly apologizes but she sees who it is, a look of recognition flashes across her face.
YOOK TAM-HEE (Kim Hye-eun) exits her car, livid, and slaps Sora across the face. Sora grabs her arm before the second slap and warns that she’s not the same high-schooler 10 years ago.
Tam-hee shrills to have this smelly specimen removed from the premises. Sora stands her ground that Haeundae Hotel never used to discriminate their visitors.
But Tam-hee dismisses that that was then and now they don’t allow smelly and dirty guests in. Why’s that? “Even if the hotel was a trashcan, it would still be cleaner than you.” She rubs salt into the wound, wondering how Sora will provide compensation.
Sora bites back that she’ll be the one needing an apology for the fish and time she’s lost as well as her emotional distress. How would some leaks about how Haeundae is treating their guests sound?
Tam-hee gets annoyed and pours a bucket of water over Sora’s head, smiling that they’re even now. But Sora points out that she could mention that the hotel’s wife poured water on one of their visitors. Plus, there are plenty of witnesses around which shuts Tam-hee up.
With a smile, Sora drops off the elderly woman who just so happens to be Tam-hee’s grandmother. She teases Tam-hee for her behavior and marches inside.
Watching all of this from afar is the new Vice President, CHOI JOON-HYUK (Jung Seok-won). He steps in to introduce himself to Tam-hee who’s now singing a different tune in front of the handsome man.
Joon-hyuk marvels at his office and is surprised to hear that he’s called to a business meeting right away. The manager sweats when he sees the Vice President’s seat empty but we pan over to see him casually sitting in between the other businessmen.
And then he motions with his hand, Go on, start. Pffttt, I like him.
The manager presents the hotel’s history to bring Joon-hyuk up to speed. Joon-hyuk listens intently but he interrupts when he hears that President Yang Man-ho set up the hotel.
To his knowledge, the founder was Go Joong-shik (Sora’s father) and President Yang was the one who took the hotel from him. The room gasp in horror – how does he know that?
It was all over the news, Joon-hyuk oh-so-matter-of-factly replies, and everyone knows the story. Boy did his homework back in America. He rises, seeing this meeting as pointless.
We catch up with Tae-sung who finally gets dressed. He runs into Joo-hee in the hall and listens at her comments about how Se-na will have to be subjected to Tae-sung’s current career.
Tae-sung barely blinks an eye and tells her that he can only feel comfortable after he’s caught the bad guy. His salary comes from the people’s taxes and how hard it must have been to save all those receipts. I love this how he says it in a monotonous tone. Cracks me up.
There’s something that Joo-hee doesn’t know and it’s that Se-na’s father will soon be working for them. He runs off, leaving Joo-hee more confused than ever.
Tae-sung runs to greet his bride and apologizes. He compliments her on how pretty she looks and Se-na is simply overjoyed that he made it.
They go through the ceremony and Tae-sung keeps his promise to Mother and keeps a stoic face through the end.
In the car, Se-na asks if Tae-sung remembers his birth parents who were from Busan. Ooh, interesting; so he was adopted into this family. Tae-sung only recalls seeing his father’s back and his mother’s smile. However, he can’t differentiate whether it was reality or a dream.
Se-na presses the matter and Tae-sung cuts her off; it’s not a topic he wants to revisit. Then Se-na gets another sharp pain in her stomach. Tae-sung is too distracted with calls about possible leads to provide any empathy until Se-na finally passes out from the pain.
The doctor reports that she’ll need immediate surgery and he asks with a half-smile, “I guess we’ll have to cancel our honeymoon then?” He assures Se-na to listen to what the doctor says and watches as she gets wheeled into the operating room.
Tae-sung stands there and counts off, “1…2…3” and then immediately calls the office to find out the location of Boss Oh’s lover: a nightclub.
It just so happens that Sora’s at the same nightclub looking for Uncle Lee’s daughter, LEE KWAN-SOON (So-yeon). She’s currently getting told off by her boss for yet another mishap. Sora jumps in to save the day and Kwan-soon immediately turns on the waterworks now that unni’s here.
Sora offers to pay for the spilled drink and her eyes grow wide at the cost ($1000 USD). The boss gives them the option to either fork up the cash or give a short but humiliating show.
When Kwan-soon says they should put on the show, Sora pins her to the table, telling her how upset Uncle Lee’s been since Kwan-soon left. Kwan-soon can’t dance and she looks at Sora, “Exactly! That’s why you should do it!”
Sora shouts that she won’t do it and Kwan-soon turns on the dramatic sob story mode again, crying about how she broke all those bottles and that Sora will have to take care of her father. That softens Sora’s heart and Kwan-soon immediately stops crying once Sora changes her mind.
In exchange, Sora tapes her up in the truck, making sure Kwan-soon doesn’t move (or talk).
Tae-sung assembles his team again and gripes that he has to go undercover as a strongman performer. It’s the best way to get close to Boss Oh and he’ll need to act as if he’s interested in buying.
They’ll give him the secret password to enter the room. Tae-sung asks what that is and I’m thinking it’s somethin’ humiliating and hilarious.
Sora stumbles along in her hanbok when a creepy ajusshi busts of a room to flirt with her. In his repulsive voice he repeats, “This is the first time I’ve felt this way.” See? Those are shivers up my spine. Nothing a judo move can’t fix though and the ajusshi scurries off.
HA – is that guyliner? His partner asks as much and Tae-sung responds, “Don’t you know David Copperfield?”
They spot Sora who happens to fit the description of their lead. Tae-sung follows a few steps behind her as she steps into a room and he runs straight into the closed door (the partner sniggers… and maybe so do I).
Sora comes back out from the noise and Tae-sung relays the password, “This is the first time I’ve felt this way.” Sora gives him this deep long gaze and then softly tells him, “Of course you must be. There must be a lot of pain and shock…” HA – about his head?
But she gets called away and Tae-sung follows.
Sora gets up on stage for her performance and I’m scratching my head at the music choice. A ballad for what looks like traditional dance? Mind does not compute.
She continues to dance, slipping off her jeogori (the top jacket of the hanbok) just as Tae-sung appears.
We get another music change and Tae-sung is entranced by Sora’s performance. Dude, she’s technically half-naked at this point.
Soon the crowd starts shouting for her to take it all off and she protests. The crowd boos and she gets food thrown out her on stage. Now she’s got to run because the boss’ crew is after her (And now the music is comedic? What’s going on?).
Sora takes refuge in an empty room and Tae-sung slinks in when he spots her shoes peeking from under the table. He then scares the living daylights out of her as he pops his head from over the table repeating, “This is the first time I’ve felt this way.”
The rest of his statements about how they should “get out of here quickly” doesn’t really help and Sora thinks he’s a crazy person.
But as soon as they open the door, the boss’ thugs are on the other side so he swings her behind the door putting them in close proximity.
The thugs search the room and when the door accidentally swings back open again, Tae-sung grabs her a second time and now Sora is (literally) facing his chest (What’s with the porn music, drama?)
They stand there, immobilized, for a good minute before the last of the thugs trickle out.
They awkwardly break apart and Sora checks to see if the coast is clear. Which is when of course Tae-sung sidles up to her again whispering, “This is the first time I’ve felt this way.” AHAHAHA.
Now Sora’s thoroughly creeped out (Tae-sung gives this look of confusion) and I’m dying of laughter at the misunderstanding. Her dress gets caught on the door and she misinterprets it as Tae-sung holding onto her.
Frustrated, he keeps repeating the secret phrase and Sora finally tears away from the door… and her skirt falls to the ground. *gasp*
Sora collects her skirt and opens the door (Tae-sung gets hit on the head again). She gives a flying kick and Tae-sung catches her leg with his hand. They look at each other, surprised.
That’s one way to get the man’s attention. Or you know dance topless in a crowd of ajusshis.
I luff the mob family, I really do. The three uncles hold the exact amount of cute and heart that I hoped from them. As we’ve seen, they’ve been through thick and thin together and dead loyal to the end. I love that they subvert all expectations of classic gangster thugs. They have the tattoos (c’mon it’s Hello Kitty!) but also know how to make a mean kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew). Why are you so adorable? You have my heart already.
It intrigues me of how this small mob family ended up in their current situation. Having your second-in-command swoop in and take over your corporation is no small thing. Whether it’s emotional or physical trauma that led to Dad’s current state we still don’t know but the family’s passion to recover what’s rightfully theirs warms my heart.
The music in this episode is generally on cue and fits with the storyline apart from a couple of scenes: the initial fight sequence and the scene where Sora is dancing in front of the ajusshi crowd. You may disagree with me but I can’t imagine to “smile again” when I’m getting beat up or a ballad during a humiliating performance. This is to say that music plays a huge part in setting the tone of a scene and if that music takes me out of it, then it’s not serving its purpose. I consider it a small misstep that I hope isn’t recurring. Or worse, we hear Sad Violin again.
I dearly hope that Tae-sung getting hit in the head turns out to be a running gag because how funny is it to see the suave brain get inadvertently hit over the head? After seeing Kim Kang-woo play a cold, calculating man in Story of a Man, it’s jarring for me to see him in a role where he doesn’t have to take himself so seriously. Who knew you had such a hilarious funny bone, sir?
Tae-sung hasn’t lost his memory yet but I predict that the hijinks of, “What? I’m a mobster?” are sure going to screw with his inner moral compass. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if he’s the righteous kind of badass? ‘Cause I’d totally be onboard for that.
On a final note, Haeundae Lovers – This is the first time I’ve felt this way.