Dammit. Show, why do you have to be cute? I don’t have time for youuuuuuuu! SBS’s new fantasy romance I Hear Your Voice premiered this week, and I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to like another show (because who has the time?) but I regretfully report that it’s cute, and breezy, and worse yet—earnest and heartfelt. It’s not surprising, coming from the writer of Dream High, which was equally simple, but full of heart. I can’t promise recaps, but I’m not sure I can stay away either. Augh, dilemmas.
The show premiered in last place to modest 7.7% ratings, against Wednesday-Thursday shows When A Man Loves (11.1%), and Mandate of Heaven (8.5%).
SONG OF THE DAY
Deli Spice – “Chow Chow” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1: “I Hear Your Voice”
We open in an average high school, with kids running around before class. A few of the mean kids get excited over an elaborate prank, involving glue on a broom handle and a well-placed puddle just waiting for the perfect pratfall.
As they hurry to set it up, PARK SU-HA (Lee Jong-seok) saunters up the stairs toward the classroom. Is he the intended target?
The kids all rush to pose casually, as Su-ha arrives in the doorway. But it’s the girl who’s standing in front of him that the other kids are targeting for their prank, and they ask her to clean up the mess.
But Su-ha senses something off about it, and zeroes in on them. One by one he reads their inner thoughts, and gives a little smirk. He tells the girl he’ll clean it up, and goes straight for the broom.
The really cute thing is, he falls for the prank in her stead, and pretends that he doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. I already love him.
It annoys the mean kids though, because he’s messing with their carefully laid mean-kid plans, so their leader picks a fight. But Su-ha dodges him deftly, even laughing a little and playing coy.
He waits for his opportunity, and then listens for the other kid to think of his next move in his head, and then beats him to it. Handy, that superpower. Su-ha finds the boy in the bathroom soon after, yelling into his phone that Park Su-ha is NOT the new jjang, no way.
He messes with the kid a little, knowing that he’s curious about how Su-ha won that fight. He pushes him against the wall and leans in: “If I see a person’s eyes, I can read that person’s mind—what he’s thinking, where he plans to attack, where he’s going to dodge.”
The kid’s eyes grow wide: “REALLY?” Su-ha laughs, “No, I was kidding. You believed that?” He lies that he just got lucky. But when the other boy swears at him in his thoughts, Su-ha’s eyes change. Something tells me he can be dangerous when he wants to be.
He walks outside and a close-up of the locket dangling from his phone takes us to a flashback, of little Su-ha with Dad in the car, that same locket hanging from the rearview mirror.
Dad asks what coupons they have this week, and Su-ha says they can eat pizza, and also go to the aquarium with discounted tickets. They’re clearly scrimping and saving on a daily basis, but they’re happy and close.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Truck of Doom comes crashing into their car, right into the driver’s side door. Dad and Su-ha wake up bleeding and trapped in the rumpled car, and Su-ha says that his head hurts. Dad urges him to stay awake no matter what.
The truck driver gets out to check on them, and Dad cries for his help to save his son. But Su-ha looks into the man’s eyes and can hear him think: “That bastard is still breathing. I needed to kill him with one blow.” Whoa.
Little Su-ha turns to Dad and urges him to run away, but the man returns and jumps onto the hood of their car. He smashes their windshield off with a metal pipe… and then bludgeons Dad to death. Holy violence, Batman. In front of his child?
But he’s not finished, and he opens the passenger door, ready to take a swing at Su-ha. We fade to black, and then present-day Su-ha narrates: “From that day on, there are two kinds of sounds that exist in my world. One is the sounds others can hear, and the other is the sounds that only I can hear.”
As kids walk past him, he hears their inner thoughts one by one, and finishes his narration: “My world is a little noisier than others.” And then he sticks his headphones over his ears to drown out the noise.
The girl who was pulling the prank earlier comes by to ask if he likes the girl they were trying to haze, and he says no—he likes someone else. She asks expectantly who, and it doesn’t even require a superpower to see that she hopes it’s her.
He says it’s his first love, and she’s really pretty, and nice, and all-around perfect. Cut to: JANG HYE-SUNG (Lee Bo-young), walking to work. A stray basketball gets her shoes muddy, and when the boys nearby ask for it back (calling her ajumma, which was your first mistake, kids), she chucks it backwards down the hill to spite them. Ha.
She’s a lawyer who treats her job like she’s standing in an assembly line and putting caps on bottles—she recites her client’s defense like she’s reading out of a law text, and never once looks up from her page. Even the judges lip sync to her rehearsed speech that she just reuses case after case, complete with pauses for fill-in-your-name-here.
Mom (Kim Hae-sook) calls to ask if she’s going to interview for the public defender position, and basically bullies her into it because the money is stable with a government salary, and Mom’s been helping her out for way too long. Hye-sung is thrifty and in debt, but treats the interview like a chore.
The day of the interview, CHA KWAN-WOO (Yoon Sang-hyun) eagerly arrives at the courthouse. Everything about him says Big Eager Dork, from the hair to the socks to the way he carries himself. It’s great.
He goes into the interview waiting room, but he and Hye-sung are the only two people there. She plays games on her phone like she couldn’t care less, while he tries to make conversation, offering his notes on foolproof ways to pass interviews, all highlighted and underlined.
He wonders why there are so few people here for this awesome job, while Hye-sung thinks it’s obvious why people wouldn’t want it. He just chatters away, saying that he used to be a cop, but being a public defender was his dream.
Of course they find out belatedly that they were in the wrong wing of the courthouse, so they race to the right room, where they find hundreds of people waiting. Hye-sung shoves Kwan-woo up against the wall and sticks her hand out, suddenly very interested in his interview notes.
She jots down some answers for the “Why do you want to be a public defender?” question, but one after another, the other interviewees spout the same canned responses. So on her turn she decides to go with the honest tactic… and says she’s here for the money. Doh.
The interviewer says that kind of thing only works in dramas, and shoos her out. One thing does catch his interest though, and he asks why she was expelled from her high school. She asks with a glint in her eye if he’ll pass her if she tells the story, and he says he will if it’s a good one.
So that’s how we get a flashback to ten years ago, when young Hye-sung (played by Kim So-hyun) and Mom lived with a rich family where Mom was the housekeeper, and the boss’s daughter was a classmate of hers.
One day she catches the bratty girl, Do-yeon, cheating on a test, but chooses not to rat her out. Do-yeon gets a big party for scoring first place, and the girls all light fireworks in the backyard. At the party, a classmate fiddles with a faulty firework casing, and Do-yeon gets a firework straight in the eye, just as Hye-sung arrives to join the girls.
There’s a chance she’ll end up blind in one eye, and her parents demand to know who was responsible. The guilty girl blames Hye-sung just to throw someone else under the bus, and all the girls join in to gang up against her.
Hye-sung swears up and down it wasn’t her, and cries to Mom that no one will believe her. Mom is the only one who will listen, and tells her boss that Hye-sung never cries for anything, except when she’s wronged.
But Do-yeon’s father (who’s a judge, by the way) tells Hye-sung that he’ll think of her future and if she apologizes sincerely for her wrongs, he’ll let it all go. But if she doesn’t, he’ll make it so that she can’t go to the same school anymore, and Mom will lose her job.
Hye-sung starts to speak, but can’t bring herself to admit doing something she didn’t do, and so she gets forced to leave her school, and comes home to find their stuff in a moving truck.
The security ajusshi hands Mom an envelope of money from the judge, and Hye-sung pleads with Mom not to take it, if she truly believes her. Mom hesitates but chooses to take the money, and Hye-sung screams that she has no pride.
She refuses to get in the truck, so Mom says she can walk and leaves her standing there. She’s still in the exact same spot by nightfall, and the judge comes out to check on her. Hye-sung asks how much money he put in that envelope, wondering what the price of his guilty conscience was.
He counters that if her mother truly believed her, she wouldn’t have taken that money, and asks how he’s supposed to trust her word when her own mother won’t. But just then, Mom arrives and lights the envelope of money on fire, and throws it onto a heap of books—written by the judge, called Tears Saved By the Law.
She tells him off to his face, that her daughter did nothing wrong, and Hye-sung looks over at Mom with tears of gratitude in her eyes. It’s only when they’re out of view that Mom’s legs give away how nervous she was, and she checks the crib notes on her hand, upset that she forgot to say the most important part of her speech. Cute.
Sometime later, Hye-sung shows up in front of Do-yeon’s house with a firework in her hand, and she sets it off menacingly. Do-yeon ducks out of the way, and Hye-sung asks if she saw her do the same thing at the party, why she didn’t duck out of the way that time too. Smart girl.
She demands Do-yeon tell their parents that she lied, which she refuses to do. Just then, a loud crash startles them. Oh, Su-ha’s crash? Nice, I like how we’re interweaving the backstories.
They run to see what it was, and sure enough, they come upon the scene of Su-ha’s accident… just as the killer beats Dad to a bloody pulp. They’re frozen in fear, and they watch in horror as the killer moves over to the kid’s side of the car.
Thinking quickly, Hye-sung takes out her cell phone to take a picture. And as the man lifts the pipe to strike Su-ha, her camera announces, “Smile!” before the shutter goes off. Eep! She just inadvertently saved his life. Except of course, now her life is in danger.
She locks eyes with Su-ha for a split second, and then takes off running. The girls hide, and the killer comes after them, warning them that the man in the car had to die because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
He says that if they insist on doing the same, he’ll have to kill them too, and their families, and everyone they talk to about what they saw. The arrival of police cars saves them from being discovered, and Su-ha is recovered by medics, still alive.
A few days later, both girls show up at the scene of the crime, debating what to do. They’re competitive and antagonistic about everything, so even this turns into argument fodder for them, and they each challenge the other to step up as a witness, if she isn’t afraid and not a liar.
Hye-sung struggles with the decision, and asks Mom why she believed in her before. Mom says it’s because she was right, and because she knows right from wrong, just like her father did.
So she bravely heads to the courthouse on the day of the trial, where the killer stands before Do-yeon’s father who’s the presiding judge, and little Su-ha is in the room. She and Do-yeon arrive at the same time, and brace themselves outside the courtroom.
They each stand at opposite doors, prepared to enter, when the killer’s warning rings in their ears. They both hesitate, and then urge each other to go in on the count of three. They each raise a hand to a doorknob, and count: “One… Two… Three…”
One knob turns, and the other doesn’t.
Back in the present, the interviewers are on the edge of their seats: “Who went in??” Hye-sung says she’ll stop the story there, and only says that she regrets the choice she made until this day. “I never want to make that kind of choice again, and that’s why I’m here today.”
As Su-ha heads out of school, he catches a glimpse of Hye-sung walking by across the street. He runs to catch up to her, but loses her in the crowd. At taekwondo practice, he sits to write something down in his journal, and it takes him back to the time after the accident, when he couldn’t speak from the trauma.
He had to write things down on a note pad, and that’s how he told the detectives that his father was murdered. In the courtroom the day of the trial, the killer testifies that the child must have mistaken his attempt to save them, and the defense argues that there are no witnesses and only the word of an eight-year old with a head injury.
The killer thinks to himself that all these idiots in the room are on his side, and Su-ha writes down verbatim what he’s thinking. It gets read aloud in the courtroom, and it freaks the hell out of the murderer, though everyone else thinks it’s just crazy talk.
Su-ha writes that he can hear other people’s thoughts, but that makes it worse, naturally, and the defense lawyer smiles knowing her case is won. Little Su-ha wails because no one will listen, and no one will step forward as a witness.
Just then, the door slams open, and Hye-sung steps inside. Yay, she did go in! She’s shaking in fear, and it doubles when she realizes that Do-yeon didn’t join her. She sees the killer leering right at her and loses her nerve, but Su-ha senses her fear and holds her hand. Aw.
She tells the truth about what she saw, and when the defense argues that they can’t just take her word for it, she produces the photo taken on her cell phone. The killer goes berserk and rushes her on the witness stand, choking her and screaming at the top of his lungs that he won’t rest until he kills her.
She’s thoroughly spooked and can barely stand, but she tells the judge that if she doesn’t testify today she won’t have the nerve to do it again. So she takes the oath and testifies.
In the present, Su-ha writes in his journal: “Today I saw another person who looked like you. Where are you now?”
Back in the past, Su-ha finds Hye-sung crying outside the courthouse, and he picks up a rock to write, “Thank you,” into the sidewalk. She snaps at him not to thank her because she’s already regretting her choice, and tells him not to follow her.
He keeps running after her, and she trips and falls as she’s running away. A few things spill out of her bag, including the journal Present-day Su-ha is writing in now.
She cries at him not to follow her, wailing, “This is all because of you!” Little Su-ha hears her thoughts loud and clear, regretting her choice to come here, and scared to death that the killer will come after her someday.
Little Su-ha wraps his arms around her and hugs her as she cries, and struggles to eke out his first words since the accident: “I’ll… protect… you.” Awwwwwww. You’re SO TINY. That was so sweet.
He continues to write in his journal: “I haven’t forgotten you. When I see you again, I will protect you. I will protect you.” And then he goes back to practicing taekwondo. To protect her? Omg. Why so cute?
As the pages of his journal flip past in the breeze, we see that it’s filled with entries just like that one, of all the times he’s thought about her and seen someone who looks like her.
And then we watch him chase down random women all over town, always thinking it’ll be her, always wrong.
I really liked that the first episode felt like an introduction, and especially one based on clear characterization. We learn very quickly what kind of people our main characters are, and exactly what circumstances inform who they become as adults. The backstory owes a great deal to the Kim Hae-sook/Kim So-hyun mother/daughter pair, because they’re just talented and endearing, which makes it easy to care about a story we might otherwise gloss over. I don’t know that a flashback that long would’ve held my attention with other actors, truthfully.
Thankfully the flashbacks were actually woven in with purpose, and I especially enjoyed the build towards the courtroom scene—it had narrative tension, a heroic moment for our heroine, and a great moment of connection for our two main characters. I remember Dream High being this way, where the ideas weren’t complex and characters were very straightforward, but the moments were played for emotional impact in a great way. The shows aren’t similar in any way, but I strangely like them for similar reasons—cuteness and warm fuzzies that come from an earnest place.
I wasn’t sure how Su-ha’s noona romance was going to fly, but now that we see how they’re connected, it doesn’t feel so strange. Also because it doesn’t feel overtly romantic, but just sweet, and stemming from an adorable I-want-to-protect-my-noona instinct. So far he’s not that different from Go Nam-soon, who—let’s face it—wasn’t that different from Jong-seok, but I loved both those characters, so that kid plus superpower is just gravy. Hopefully there’s also a good story on the way. But so far I like the setup, and the fact that our heroine is smart and principled, but may have lost her way as a jaded lawyer. Her becoming a public defender (and being around Dorky the Idealistic Doofus) lays the perfect foundation for her to return to that principled young girl who came to Su-ha’s rescue.
I can’t make any promises to recap this barring a rift in the space-time continuum, but I want to (or that might be the caffeine-high talking, I’m not sure). Basically, if the fourth dimension allows it, I might be back for more. We’ll see.