Witch’s Romance: Episode 1
Ushering us into a new season of spring flings, Witch’s Romance premiered on tvN this week. The lighthearted workplace rom-com is a remake of the hit 2009 Taiwanese drama My Queen, and its wacky, fun-loving (and sometimes sultry) tone just might be the ticket to pull us out of hibernation. What better way is there for a successful 39-year-old gold miss heroine to heal her emotional scars than starting anew with an earnest hero fourteen years her junior?
There’s plenty of charm to cast a spell on its viewers, but this witch’s brew might also need a bit of extra magic to take off. And if magic = kisses in this show, I’m totally okay with that substitute.
SONG OF THE DAY
SPICA – “마녀의 일기(Witch’s Diary)” from the OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
March 14, White Day (a romantic holiday when men give sweets to women, typically as a response to Valentine’s Day). As a camera pans across the cityscape, a radio DJ sends a word of encouragement to all the still-unattached women out there: take heart, for today could be the day when your destiny changes with a new, blooming romance.
She also has some advice for the men: “Don’t anger the women on a day like today. At all.” Because you don’t know how her broken heart will retaliate, after all.
Amidst the bustling streets, we zoom in to see a rather strange sight: a Santa chasing after someone riding off on a bike. It’s our heroine BAN JI-YEON (Uhm Jung-hwa) whose voice-over is filled with determination—she’s never lost a lead in her 39 years of age—and wonders what a Santa is doing in the middle of March. You and me both, honey.
At Spring Santa’s cries for her to stop, she answers in her head: “No, I won’t ever stop.” Not if she wants to get ahead, that is.
In order to understand how we got here, we rewind to three hours ago as Ji-yeon struts down the street lookin’ like a boss, donned in her old school uniform with one pant-leg rolled up. She boasts to her co-worker how her old threads still fit perfectly… which is when a button flies off. Nothing an emergency safety pin can’t fix.
Her co-worker asks if her lead is a sure thing this time, and she snaps at the nickname “Witch,” much preferring the alternative “Antenna,” as she drills the point home that she never loses a juicy story. Thanks to her, this scoop will make the cover of their magazine, Trouble Maker.
The gossip certainly sounds troubling, since it involves a beloved, well-respected celebrity (who has no anti-fans!). The actor in question has a pristine image in the public eye, and is scheduled to give a lecture at a high school today.
The interesting twist? His common-law wife is a teacher there and brought their alleged daughter to work today. With just about three hours to obtain solid proof, they head out.
Inside the school, we cut away to a frightened girl pleading with her potential attacker, who whips her around. That’s when she stomps on his foot and elbows him, earning the girl a round of applause from her classmates. Ah, it’s a self-defense class led by our hero, YOON DONG-HA (Park Seo-joon), who teaches the group another defensive move.
Dong-ha is just about to demonstrate when his buddy flinches, and he says reassuringly that he can’t actually hit his best friend. Aw, bromance.
Ji-yeon and her co-worker/photographer slip past the security guard and scale the rooftops to get into prime position to spy on their targets. Right on schedule, their celebrity target arrives to happily greet the little girl, and they start snapping photos.
Sure enough, the conversation inside confirms that the little girl is the megastar’s daughter, who asks why Daddy rarely comes to visit. He sends his daughter off to chat with her mother and his mistress, with whom he drops the respected celebrity act, asking why she brought their daughter her today of all days.
It’s been months since their daughter has seen him, she counters, and it saddens her to see their child keep her parentage a secret. But he isn’t in the mood to deal with this, and suggests that she and the child go abroad for a while, which she argues is his way to keep them out of the picture.
He warns her that he won’t let her stand in his way. Somehow Ji-yeon is able to hear or understand this conversation on the rooftop because she curses him under her breath. Can you read lips? Or did you bug the room?
And if we needed any more proof that Pristine Actor isn’t so perfect after all, he slaps one of his men for screwing up—they were supposed to make sure his mistress and child wouldn’t show up today.
Ji-yeon and her co-worker marvel over their photographic evidence, but they’re caught up on the rooftop by the security guard, who mistakes them for a pervy couple. She insists that they’re students, but he doesn’t buy it, and demands to check their camera for Peeping Tom photos.
So Ji-yeon keeps the security guard talking long enough to be handed the memory card. Then at the opportune moment, she makes a run for it. She hits a dead-end at the already locked school gates, so her co-worker jumps the guard to buy her enough time to hop over the gates.
Little do they know that the security guard has observed the self-defense classes Dong-ha teaches every week. Recalling Dong-ha’s lessons, the guard puts them into practice, rendering the poor photographer temporarily motionless.
Now we’re introduced to our Spring Santa (who’s really Dong-ha in costume), as he cheerily greets a group of children with presents. At the same time, Ji-yeon tries to hail a cab back to the office, to no avail. Noticing the gift-giving event taking place nearby, she pays off the child to swipe the bike, and then rides off.
Which brings us back to our opening sequence as Spring Santa/Dong-ha doggedly chases her through the busy streets. Still, Ji-yeon rides on, swerving around trucks and buses, knocking down cyclists in her path. And yet, all I’m thinking is how impressed I am by Dong-ha’s endurance.
Dong-ha actually chases her alllllllll the way back to her office and loses her at the last minute when she rolls into the elevator. He doesn’t understand when the guard refers to her as “Witch Reporter Ban,” and asks, “Why would I welcome [ban-ki] a witch?”
After a mini-celebration in the elevator, Ji-yeon makes it back to her staff meeting, albeit late and out of breath. Everyone is taken aback by her school attire, but she proudly shows off the memory card which holds the top actor’s secrets.
She briefs the staff on her findings—how the popular philanthropic actor’s public image vastly differs from his personal life. Apart from the secret child, rumor has it that he’s preparing for elections next year, which means he’ll need campaign funds. And wouldn’t you know that he’s suddenly been signing himself to appear in more commercials. Bottom line—it’s their job to bring the truth to light.
Her report gets the green light to be featured as the magazine’s cover story, to her fellow Team Leader Byun’s amazement. After the meeting, we see that Ji-yeon lives up to her “witch” title as she orders around the staff, who can hardly let out an opposing squeak. Needless to say, no one in the office (except maybe their publisher boss) likes her.
Ji-yeon heads down to the lobby that evening to see Santa Dong-ha and the kids waiting for her. When they call her a thief, Ji-yeon counters with the rational argument that they accepted money for it, and therefore a deal. Dong-ha argues in their defense, but Ji-yeon isn’t one to be trifled with.
She takes issue with being called “ajumma” and tells him to get to the point already. At his answer for compensation, she sticks her business card in his belt. She’s astounded when he tells her to apologize to the kids, too, and gives a half-hearted one before turning on her heel.
Dong-ha won’t accept that kind of treatment, nor is he satisfied with her blunt and rational apology, and pulls her back. But Ji-yeon is more than willing to shatter the children’s ideological beliefs with the ultimate cynical response: Santa isn’t real. GASP.
Pulling off Dong-ha’s beard, she warns the children not to be fooled by adults and educate themselves instead. Enraged, Dong-ha pushes her against the wall and points out that those orphanage children came to meet Santa and receive presents for the first time in their lives. She destroyed those dreams today, he presses.
Ji-yeon replies that growing up without parents should be more reason for them to get a grasp on reality sooner—to know there is no such thing as Santa. Dong-ha: “What about witches then? I saw one today.”
“I’m not a witch,” Ji-yeon answers. “Just like how you’re not a Santa.” Yet the crushed look on those kids’ faces would depress anyone.
Back upstairs, Ji-yeon huffs that being a witch is a hundred times better than a naive Snow White. She overhears her co-workers gossip at the water cooler, cackling that the Witch won’t ever get married.
She gets her payback by wrangling the trio into working for her tonight, and when the intern tries to weasel out of working late because she’s got a date, Ji-yeon tells her to go ahead… because there are plenty of people willing to take her place.
Dong-ha is berated by the orphans’ chaperone for ruining the children’s memories (though it seems the kids don’t blame him). He’s denied pay, and to make matters worse, his landlord kicks him out for not making rent again.
Ji-yeon returns home that evening, and listens to yet another screaming voicemail message from her mother. She grumbles that she doesn’t pick up since all Mom talks about is marriage anyway, and sighs at her mother’s excitement about seeing another fortune-teller.
Her mother blames all of her daughter’s woes on “that bastard” who disappeared, and starts to mention that tomorrow would have been her wedding anniversary when Ji-yeon shuts off the machine. She stares at a photo of a polar bear before turning the picture over.
Meanwhile, Dong-ha blames his rotten luck today on “that woman” to his buddy over the phone. At the same time, a lone tear runs down Ji-yeon’s face as she listens to music.
The singer belts out a sustained note, then the beat picks up and Ji-yeon dances along to the song. I love how she sings and dances around her place like no one is watching.
Her dance break gives us a perfect opportunity to learn more about her though our other characters. Dong-ha’s buddy complains that his neighbor is at it again with the loud music, while her drunk co-workers note that Ji-yeon hasn’t been on a date in the six years they’ve worked together.
Determined to get back at the Witch somehow, the intern comes up with a plan.
Dong-ha crashes with his buddy YONG SOO-CHUL (Yoon Hyun-min), and is told that he’s more than welcome to stay longer this time since Soo-chul will be gone to visit his chaebol family at home for a few days anyway.
Ji-yeon wakes the next morning to a news coverage playing on TV, and the anchorman (who is totally Dong-ha’s doppelganger) reports on the latest victims to die alone in their apartments due to loneliness and high stress: Ji-yeon and her goldfish. Aw, I know we’re in a dream, but this is still pretty sad.
In the blink of an eye, her place is crawling with police, which is when Ji-yeon sees her own dead body lying on the ground. Another Dong-ha doppelganger reports on-location and mourns over the deaths.
Next thing we know, Anchorman Dong-ha crawls out of the TV à la The Ring, throwing her earlier words back at her that no one can avoid the cold-harsh reality of the world, then laughs in her face. It legitimately freaks her out and jolts her awake in a cold sweat.
But one thing does transfer over from her dreams: her goldfish has gone belly up. She wonders with a sigh: “Did you really die of loneliness?”
The good news is that her exposé on Pristine Actor goes viral on both the stands and the airwaves, and Ji-yeon wears a smug look of pride at this achievement.
We get a brief glimpse of Mom, who’s on another one of her shaman visits. And this shaman (Narsha) is the curse-slinging type who freely tells Mom that her reporter daughter is basically the worst. Marriage isn’t the issue right now, she presses, because there are too many people who want to get back at the Witch.
It turns out the intern’s plan is to get a young, handsome man to romance Ji-yeon, and who should they go find but Soo-chul, the rich playboy. The Trouble Maker trio warns that cold-hearted Ji-yeon is no ordinary target, but Soo-chul is confident in his methods to make any woman fall for him.
But when Soo-chul’s initial attempt to woo Ji-yeon gets rejected (he sends over an expensive drink, which she promptly turns away), he takes the more forward approach and joins the Trouble Maker family in a round of celebratory drinks.
He certainly makes a suave first impression, saying all the right things to appease both her beauty and brains. He puts out his hand for a handshake, and when she takes it, he holds on firmly for a few more seconds as if waiting for a response. Your signature move?
They’re interrupted when Soo-chul rises to take a phone call—it’s Dong-ha who asks where the hair dryer is—and Soo-chul asks if his buddy wants to come out to score free drinks. He returns to the table to give Ji-yeon a business card (with a fake name, of course).
Nevertheless, Ji-yeon is flattered by the younger man’s flirtatious moves… not that she’d give her co-workers the satisfaction of seeing how impressed she is. She does, however, excuse herself to the bathroom to praise her still-sexy self in the mirror.
Dong-ha joins Soo-chul at the same bar and voices his disapproval about his buddy’s new gig. He doesn’t like the idea of making a fool out of someone, even if it’s just some office prank.
Soo-chul is no stranger to Dong-ha’s straight-laced ways, and points out his victim to his friend. Dong-ha immediately recognizes Ji-yeon and turns away.
Just then, the bar hosts an event to award the most romantic couple of the evening with an expensive bottle of liquor. The MC opens the floor to the crowd, and Soo-chul raises his hand. Grabbing onto his buddy’s arm, Dong-ha warns him not to, but Soo-chul just smiles and raises his other hand. Pffft, I love Dong-ha’s literal eye-roll at Soo-chul’s self-assurance.
Ji-yeon takes Soo-chul’s inviting hand with some reluctance, and Soo-chul sheepishly admits to the audience that he plans to confess his feelings tonight. He then takes the mic and turns Ji-yeon towards him, calling her his dream girl.
Considering the confession too weaksauce, the MC asks the audience for suggestions. The Trouble Maker rallies the crowd, yelling, “Kiss! Kiss!”
Embarrassed, Ji-yeon starts to walk away, but Soo-chul pulls her back and tells her to close her eyes. At those words, Ji-yeon informs us through voice-over that this day—March 15th—has been the bane of her existence for the past six years. Uh oh, that’s never a good sign.
Still, Ji-yeon is a tad hopeful that things might change this year and closes her eyes as Soo-chul leans in to kiss her… but then draws away at the last second and laughs in her face, calling her an ajumma. Oh you asshat.
Soo-chul high-fives Team Leader Byun as the latter jeers that he finally got a jab at the Witch. Completely humiliated, Ji-yeon freezes on stage, fighting back tears as she narrates: “March 15th. In my life, this day is always a nightmare.”
And then a pair of feet walks toward the stage. Eep, it’s Dong-ha! Drawing Ji-yeon close to him, he sighs that she’s a strange woman and that his plans always go downhill because of her.
Then Dong-ha pulls her in for a kiss as Ji-yeon thinks to herself, “Today is March 15th. Is this really a nightmare?”
Judging from that kiss, I’m going to go ahead and say, Likely not. That being said, I generally liked the premiere of Witch’s Romance. Despite never having watched a drama with Uhm Jung-hwa before, I’ve seen the singer-actress in enough movies to find her likable and winning. The same is true in this show, and while the successful and ambitious heroine with hints of a painful past love isn’t anything new in dramaland, Ji-yeon has an extra air of confidence and self-assurance with a vulnerable underbelly that makes me want to root for her.
I personally like her dogged personality to hunt down the truth, and she shows commitment and dedication to her work. She’s proud of being a journalist (and so is Mom!) and without getting too much on a feminist soap box, it is sad that a successful careerwoman is nearly always painted as a witch in the workplace whereas ambition would be praised in a drama hero. For what it’s worth, Ji-yeon is duly rewarded for her hard work, and I’m also not surprised to see such female characterization tropes in a drama adaptation of an older show.
It’s the execution of Ji-yeon’s character arc in both love and career that will make or break it for us as viewers, and so far, Uhm Jung-hwa is doing a fantastic job. The first episode makes me curious as to exactly what happened six years ago on March 15th. Surely it’s no ironic coincidence that her wedding anniversary would have been the Ides of March, right?
As for our hero, I love that he’s the earnest, hard-working guy who holds multiple part-time jobs but barely has two nickels to rub together. Dong-ha’s moralistic character makes him easily likable, and basically an all-around good guy. The same can’t be said for buddy Soo-chul, whose douchey prank drove our heroine to tears. Gah, why is Yoon Hyun-min a carefree jerk in this show, drama gods?! Still, I love Dong-ha and Soo-chul’s friendship, and the two share a great dynamic already. The bromance is strong with this duo.
But what will hopefully keep us coming back as viewers is the noona romance between Ji-yeon and Dong-ha with their electrifying chemistry despite the large age gap. I love that he isn’t afraid to stand up to her and doesn’t stand for people being humiliated or looked down upon. Maybe the Spring Santa can teach the Witch a thing or two about life and love, and he won’t need a love potion to do it.