Beautiful Gong Shim: Episode 1
Didn’t think we’d recap this drama? Honestly, we didn’t think so either until we saw the first episode and actually liked it. Really liked it — enough to pick it up for its full run. Beautiful Gong Shim premiered two weekends ago with a familiar story and a charming cast that fit together to create a wonderful feel-good drama. While it’s definitely a weekend drama, it’s got some idiosyncrasies that make it a fun watch. It’s a regular ol’ introduction to our characters and story in this first episode, but I’m already rooting for our heroine and the love-hate relationship with her lawyer/neighbor.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We start in the courtroom, where
Gyu-man our lawyer, AHN DAN-TAE (Namgoong Min), makes his closing statement for his client. He compares the defendant to a doctor who desperately holds onto the patient’s last breath and asks for a fair ruling. Then, he heads out of the courtroom without hearing the final verdict, only stopping to pick up a boy’s dropped cookie… and eating it himself with a goofy grin. Ha!
Dressed down, Dan-tae wanders the streets and finds the attic house that matches the address on his paper. As he walks into the convenience store below it, we meet the resident of the attic house, GONG SHIM (Minah). (Naming note: Gong is the family name, but she’s always called by her full name, Gong Shim.)
She adds another potted plant to the plants on the ledge and tells us that she attended the weddings but wasn’t invited to the housewarming parties, so she never got to deliver the gifts. Needless to say, she’s bitter, but that doesn’t stop her from enjoying the perfect weather to take selcas with her plants.
Dan-tae happily eats his ice cream and spits a little out to share with a stray dog. He squirms with delight as the dog licks the ice cream out of his hand. Then from above, our attic house girl goes overboard with her selcas and accidentally pushes a pot off the ledge. Luckily, Dan-tae senses the falling pot and kicks it out of harm’s way as it lands.
Gong Shim hides in shame, and Dan-tae runs up the stairs to catch this hit-and-runner. He accuses her of running away, but she refutes that by asking if he’s all right. Without answering, Dan-tae finishes off his ice cream and continues up the stairs.
He makes the assumption that Gong Shim committed the deed out of dissatisfaction with life and dropped the plant on an unlucky stranger. She vehemently denies his assumptions, and he drops the subject.
Dan-tae lingers around to knock on the door to the attic room for rent, only to discover that it’s Gong Shim’s apartment. He invites himself inside and uses the near-death experience as leverage to ask for a discount. Gong Shim stands her ground and doesn’t budge on the fixed price, and Dan-tae grudgingly agrees. He plans to move in the next day and tries to pay the deposit with his bus pass, at which point Gong Shim kicks him out and voids their agreement.
In another (larger and wealthier) house, Grandma picks up the phone to an unfamiliar man’s voice asking about her long-lost grandson, Seok Jun-pyo. Instantly alert, she begs him to confirm Jun-pyo’s vital status, but the line goes dead. Grandma tells her son and daughter-in-law about the call, but they’re dismissive of the news. They think it’s a scam and tell her that it’s unlikely to find any real information on their kidnapped nephew after 25 years.
Daughter-in-law reminds Grandma of her other grandson, SEOK JUN-SU (Ohn Joo-wan), but she doesn’t have the same affection for him. She orders Jun-su to find the caller information and report it to her the following day. He obediently agrees to do so. That night, Grandma finds old flyers for a lost Jun-pyo and cries over her loss.
The next day, Gong Shim helps her older sister through her morning stretching routine and cautiously asks about borrowing money to take classes. Turns out, that’s the reason for Gong Shim deciding to let out her attic room.
Her sister, GONG MI (Seo Hyo-rim), tells her that she’s already paying for their rent, their father’s debt, and other household expenses; it would be difficult to add Gong Shim’s class fees to that. Understandable, but Gong Mi seems distastefully demeaning about it. On top of that, she cracks up to hear that Gong Shim wants to take Italian language classes.
At the breakfast table, the entire family is openly derogatory to Gong Shim, since she has no job and can’t seem to score any interviews. Mom scolds her for trying to borrow her sister’s money, and the conversation unravels into an argument about why Gong Shim got the attic house in the first place, after her sister took over her bedroom to turn it into her closet.
Gong Shim goes into her room and takes off her wig (thank goodness that wasn’t her real hair) and inspects her bald spot. She had visited the doctor earlier, and he’d told her that she was balding from the job search stress. As she puts the wig back on, Gong Shim gets a message from an interested renter agreeing to pay the deposit.
Walking through her neighborhood, Gong Shim spots Dan-tae playing basketball and seems unsettled by his presence. Then, three motorcycles roll up by the court, and the three guys line up in front of Dan-tae to reluctantly give up their money. Gong Shim shakes her head and decides not to associate with bad guys.
She tries to walk past unnoticed, but Dan-tae spots her and hands her the contract money. He was the one messaged her about the deposit. Gong Shim doesn’t want to take what she assumes is dirty money, but he forces it into her hands and proceeds to take a selfie as proof of their “contract.” Gong Shim convinces herself not to think of anything else, since she needs the money.
Dan-tae saves her number (misspelling her name purposely) and proceeds to answer a call from a friend with joking insults. He quickly reminds her to move her stuff out by tomorrow and she nods. Being a good Samaritan, Gong Shim helps an elderly man push his cart while noting how vulgar Dan-tae is.
Walking through the streets, Gong Shim gets stuck behind multiple couples who block the busy streets, so she takes out a bike bell and rings it shamelessly to march past the annoyed passerby. She sits in her class and enthusiastically practices her budding Italian.
Neglected grandson Jun-su sits at a bar and has a drink by himself as he thinks about his report to Grandma. He tells her the call was from the Philippines and suggests that she ignore it, since it was probably a scam. Grandma refuses and blames Jun-su for the death of Jun-pyo’s parents. It was all because of his first birthday celebration.
Dan-tae heats up some microwavable convenience store food and looks extremely satisfied by his meal. Duty calls, and he’s off to provide his designated driving services.
Gong Shim eats her ramyun at the gas station where she works and quickly runs over to a customer who pulls up to the pump. She asks the haughty, rich-looking customer to turn off her engine, in accordance with the safety procedures, but the customer refuses. The customer then asks Gong Shim to throw away her trash, and flings it in her face when she doesn’t take it from her hand. Gong Shim quietly repeats that she can’t pump gas with the engine running.
The customer interprets the mumbling as an insult and begins to hit Gong Shim, slapping her head and shoving her violently to the ground. She continues to slap Gong Shim on the head until the manager runs out to stop the entitled customer, and Gong Shim hides away in the corner with her tears.
In the parking lot, a gang of men from the bar confront drunk Jun-su. In his haze, Jun-su had bumped into one of them and failed to properly apologize. The guys are here to teach him a lesson, but they only get one good punch before Dan-tae steps in, interrupting them.
Dan-tae announces himself as the designated driver, ignoring their menacing glares and calling Jun-su’s phone to prove that he’s his client. Once confirmed, he tells the guys that they’re unfairly ganging up on one drunk dude. But the guys don’t care, and that’s enough for Dan-tae to give them their final choice: the law or the fist?
Obviously the guys choose the fist, but their punches are expertly avoided by Dan-tae’s super-fast and calculated reflexes. While Dan-tae helps Jun-su back onto his feet, one guy throws a knife at them, but Dan-tae reacts accordingly and catches the knife mid-air. Next, a glass bottle is thrown at them, and Dan-tae swings a punch right at the approaching bottle and shatters it. The gang is shocked but too prideful to surrender, so they suffer the wrath of Dan-tae’s punches.
After a swift fight, Dan-tae safely drives Jun-su home and receives payment for his services. He marvels at the large wealthy residence and walks back home.
Older sister Gong Mi and her law firm boss meet with a politician, an older man who asks Gong Mi out for drinks. Red flags go up, and Gong Mi immediately refuses. She lies that she has a family memorial to observe, and the sleazy politician and her law firm boss both look annoyed. As the politician leaves, he tells the boss not to contact him, since he’ll be busy.
After the politician leaves, Boss scolds Gong Mi for not fulfilling her duties. She must know why he brought her to the dinner and why they hired a pretty lawyer for the firm. Before he leaves, he reminds her that there are plenty of other lawyers in line to get hired at their firm.
At home, Mom takes pictures of Gong Shim’s cuts and bruises, cursing at this entitled lady. Dad brings out the medical supplies to treat the wounds, but Mom stops him. They need proof of the injuries from the hospital. When Gong Mi returns, Mom tells her trusty older daughter about the beating, but Gong Mi is in a sour mood and coldly tells them that they need both sides of the story.
Gong Shim is visibly hurt by those words, but even more so because she knows Mom and Dad will take Gong Mi’s side. Gong Mi has her reasons for being so aloof and sits on her bed in a daze.
Soon after, Gong Shim gets a text from her sister instructing her how to go about the case, like collecting evidence and CCTV footage. Mom looks relieved and assures Gong Shim that her sister cares for her. Dad asks when Gong Shim plan to move her things, and Mom reminds Gong Shim to move quietly since the noise will bother her sister’s sleep.
In his hostel room, Dan-tae dreams about a little boy crying alone in the streets. He reaches out for the boy’s head, but the image quickly disappears. Dan-tae wakes up and wonders about this recurring dream.
Back in the convenience store, Dan-tae makes his quality French toast breakfast and glances at his phone, which isn’t really his phone. The phones got switched up last night in the fight. Jun-su calls, and they agree to meet up to resolve the mix-up.
Mom senses Gong Mi’s deflated mood and asks if something happened at work. Gong Mi says that she got on her boss’s bad side but doesn’t go through the trouble of explaining the situation. Mom shrugs it off and moves on to Gong Shim’s case. Based on the evidence, it seems like they’ll win the case easily.
Gong Shim enters the hospital, with Jun-su coincidentally on her tail. She becomes extremely cautious and acutely aware of Jun-su, the kind stranger who opens doors for her and offers to press elevator buttons for her. At the registration desk, Gong Shim emphasizes her name with quirky exaggeration, and Jun-su watches with amusement.
At the firm, Gong Mi’s colleagues watch the video of the president’s wife making a scene at a gas station. It’s the rude lady customer who beat up Gong Shim, and while nobody knows the victim is her sister, Gong Mi finds herself caught in the middle and needing to take a side. She enters her boss’s office and tells him to trust her with the case — she’ll make sure that there will be no lawsuit filed.
Dan-tae finishes moving into the attic house and meets with Jun-su to exchange phones. Before their awkward parting, Jun-su hands him an envelope of cash as a gesture of gratitude for defending him the previous night. As Gong Shim walks past her neighborhood to meet her sister at home, she witnesses the back and forth of the cash envelope as Dan-tae refuses the money and Jun-su presses. Misjudging the interaction, she summons the police and reports that Dan-tae is jumping the guy for money.
Dan-tae looks flabbergasted that Gong Shim would judge him as a bad person and denies all her accusations. The police begin to arrest Dan-tae when Jun-su jumps in to clarify the situation. He lies that they’re good friends just trying to settle a debt, and Jun-su hands the police his business card, and the police recognize that he’s got a high ranking at a big corporation. They check with Gong Shim about her prejudice against Dan-tae (which she confirms) and leave the scene with no charges.
After the cops leave, Gong Shim looks at the two guys suspiciously and asks if the two are really good friends. They act like buddies and hold their position until Gong Shim walks away out of sight. Dan-tae shakes his head in dissatisfaction of this neighborhood’s crazies.
When Gong Shim arrives home, her family tries to convince her to drop the lawsuit. Gong Shim doesn’t understand the sudden change of heart, so her sister gives it to her straight: The arrogant customer who beat up Gong Shim is the law firm president’s wife. Gong Mi promises to get sufficient compensation, but Gong Shim isn’t in this for the money.
Gong Mi argues that this decision is for their family, since she surely won’t keep her job if her sister sued the president’s wife. But Gong Shim reads through her excuses and accuses her for being selfish. All her life, Gong Mi and her parents have ignored Gong Shim because she was never good enough for them.
She wanted so badly to live in the attic house was to escape her family’s suffocating gazes. She wants to learn Italian because she wants to draw and live in Italy one day. She, too, has dreams.
Gong Shim vows to find a lawyer to sue the president’s wife and storms out of the house. She sits on the ground of the attic porch and cries with resentment.
Jun-su treats Dan-tae to a nice dinner, but Dan-tae seems hesitant about it. But as they share the meal, they warm up to each other about their similarities, starting with their allergies to eggs. It looks like the beginning of a friendship.
Meanwhile, Gong Shim gets drinks with a friend and asks about any cheap lawyer she can hire. Gong Shim tells her friend about the most shocking moment of her life, in middle school, when she had a DNA test done because she was convinced she was not biologically related to her family. She was wrong, and still to this day, she can’t figure out how she’s related to her sister.
She can’t believe that her parents and sister are embarrassed by her. But more sadly, she acknowledges that she’s embarrassed of herself. Gong Shim’s friend tries to stop her since it’s midnight, but she orders another drink and tells Cinderella to go home. As Gong Shim walks home, she rings her bike bell in the empty streets, telling everyone to get out of her way.
In the morning, something squirms under Dan-tae’s covers. It’s Gong Shim, and she snuggles up right next to Dan-tae. They cuddle up to each other until Dan-tae comes to his senses and realizes the situation, and then she wakes up with a scream.
Gong Shim yells at Dan-tae for being a pervert, and then belatedly remembers that she doesn’t live in the attic house anymore. Dan-tae hadn’t changed the passcode into the room, so Gong Shim had let herself in.
Gong Shim quickly grabs her things and runs outside wrapped in the blanket. Dan-tae joins her outside with the wig on and reminds her not to forget it. Mortified, Gong Shim snatches it off his head and scrambles down the stairs.
After relocating to a jjimjilbang, Gong Shim’s friend calls with a lawyer recommendation. She receives a text later from her sister, but it’s only to order her not to sue the president’s wife, warning that she’d cause her family’s downfall.
Gong Shim finds the lawyer’s office and notices familiar faces in front — the three motorcyclists who gave Dan-tae money the other day. They praise Dan-tae for his services and wonder how he makes a living since he does everything for free. At that point, Dan-tae comes downstairs and asks for payment in the form of food, then notices Gong Shim standing nearby and sends his clients ahead with his order.
Dan-tae asks if she’s a stalker who finds joy in entering his room at night and loitering around him during the day. In her head, Gong Shim accuses the guy of being a pervert, thinking he can’t possibly be a lawyer. So her question comes out a mix of both words, lawyer and pervert: “Are you a byuntae-sa?” (Essentially, professional pervert.)
I’ll be honest: This drama was not on my radar. I looked fun and fluffy based on the promos, but I had no interest in adding it to my weekly line-up. I was hesitant to recap a weekend-esque drama, but to my delight, this is quite a pleasant watch. Maybe it has to do with my non-existent expectations, maybe it has to do with a surprisingly pitiful yet likable heroine, maybe it has to do with Namgoong Min not playing a seething and creepy villain. No matter the reason, I like it.
At first, it was weird seeing Namgoong Min playing a completely different character, especially since those screencaps of Mr. Crazy Eyes from his previous drama still flash into my mind. I get chills every time his smile suddenly drops because I expect some sort of bloodbath. He still gets some of that with his expert fighting (superpowers or just corny editing?) and reflexes. But he sells his oddball character, and I love seeing him as this adorable character. The way Dan-tae finds such delight in his convenience store meals makes it seem like he’s in heaven with those simple meals. After going through hell and purgatory through his previous characters, it’s time that Namgoong Min find some paradise with his Dan-tae character.
Gong Shim doesn’t disappoint either, and Minah has fully embraced her pitiful character, horrible wig and all. Though she may be a constant disappointment and embarrassment for her family, Gong Shim is just an unlucky victim of circumstance. Her sister got all the admirable traits — her Miss Korea looks, brains, and breadwinning job — and maybe she does have a reason to be the favorite. But seeing the world through Gong Shim’s eyes, we see the unfair world that Gong Shim faces daily. Always disregarded for her lackluster potential, she almost needs to beg for pity from her family. You’re the ultimate underdog if you’re ignored by your DNA-test-confirmed biological family. That’s pretty rock-bottom in my book, so I’m invested to see Gong Shim redeem herself for herself.
While Gong Shim is a meek ignored entity in her family, she doesn’t let that stop her. Despite her challenges, she still dreams for her future and makes her presence known to the world. For now, she’ll do that with her bike bell, which I love. I’m excited to see her grow out of her self-pity, as her growth is the one that I care about the most.
I care significantly less about the birth secret/lost child storyline, but as long as it manifests itself in the bromance between Dan-tae and Jun-su, I wouldn’t mind it. It’s one of those quintessential weekend drama storylines, but I’m hopeful that it’s a thoughtful addition to the story — not the story.
Conversely, I am looking forward to seeing the bickering love-hate relationship between Gong Shim and Dan-tae as the main story. They already have a hilarious rapport with each other and an unexpected chemistry that makes this show worth a watch. Here’s to hoping for more cohabitation antics, the transition to more love than hate in our oddball couple, and the growth of a vulnerable yet winning heroine.
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