While You Were Sleeping: Episodes 1-2
We’re off to a good start for SBS’s new supernatural romance While You Were Sleeping, which is beautifully shot, cleverly written, and full of warmhearted characters. I’m reminded again that I love the way Park Hye-ryun writes her heroines—funny, sassy, prideful to a fault, totally flawed—because the way her character is written is making me like Suzy in this role. It’s not a thriller, it’s not a melodrama, and it’s not a rom-com… but it is all of those things, with a touch of fantasy and a lovely melancholic touch throughout. Whatever you want to call it, I’m in.
EPISODE 1: “While You Were Sleeping”
On a snowy night in Seoul, time seems to flow backwards. Cars and people move in reverse, and snow falls up into the sky.
A woman with a scratch on her face sees a man walking toward her, blood streaming down his face. She runs into his arms, dropping a hair-tie in the process, and says, “I believe you. Because I’m me, I can believe you.”
As they embrace, time stands still… and then everything begins to move in reverse again.
The same young woman, NAM HONG-JOO (Suzy), wakes up from what must have been a dream, looking very different with longer hair. She writes down what she remembers, muttering at how absurd it was, as Mom comes in and nags her about her pigsty of a room.
Hong-joo says she hugged a stranger in her dream, which is crazy because she’s not the type to throw herself at men. Mom agrees that she shouldn’t, not looking like that anyway.
Mom wants to know if the stranger was handsome, but Hong-joo reminds her that she has a boyfriend. Mom counters that she’s been on two whole dates with him, and keeps prodding about Dream Guy since Hong-joo’s dreams have a habit of coming true.
Hong-joo barks that this one will not… and then freezes at the sight of Dream Guy standing across the street from her house. Mom heard that they’d be getting new neighbors, and wonders if the two handsome boys are brothers.
They are brothers, in fact, and Little Bro shoves a rice cake into his hyung’s hands. Hong-joo’s Dream Guy, JUNG JAE-CHAN (Lee Jong-seok), pouts at his little brother’s insistence that they pass out rice cakes to their new neighbors, calling it old-fashioned.
Hong-joo panics when Jae-chan heads straight for their house, and tells Mom that he’s the guy she hugged in her dream.
Jae-chan puts on his nicest smile for the intercom as he rings the doorbell, only to be met with Hong-joo’s cold reply for him to leave and never come back. He’s stunned at the rejection and yells over at his brother for making him do this. Little Bro (Shin Jae-ha) just guesses that he didn’t smile.
Jae-chan swears up and down that he smiled, and Little Bro decides that if the girl is that rude, Jae-chan should date her because they’re a perfect match. Pff.
Sometime later, Hong-joo sits at the bus stop while complaining to Mom over the phone for taking the car, and then panics again to see Jae-chan walking in her direction. She’s so engrossed in her plan to avoid him and appear disinterested that she ignores the schoolgirls who ask her to move aside so they can sit on the bench.
Jae-chan happens to sit in the seat right next to hers when there are plenty of others available, so she moves one seat over, and he follows suit. She does it one more time just to be sure, and he scoots over again to be next to her. So she’s suddenly convinced that he’s trying to seduce her.
She stands up to give him a piece of her mind and blurts, “I’m not interested in you!” at the exact same time that he stands up and tells the schoolgirls that they can sit together now. So embarrassing.
The schoolgirls snigger at her, and Hong-joo is so mortified that she gets on the wrong bus and just stays on—one that happens to be plastered with a giant ad for He’s Just Not That Into You. LOL.
Jae-chan smiles at her, finding the whole thing amusing, but as the bus pulls away he connects Hong-joo’s voice to the rude intercom girl across the street and yells after her.
Hong-joo tells Mom about it that night at their samgyupsal restaurant, convinced that Jae-chan has fallen for her. When a customer comes up to the counter to pay, Hong-joo is distracted by the sight of familiar objects—the man’s lighter, the bandage on his finger, and even his face, which we see in a flashback to a dream.
Hong-joo says that she dreamt about that man lighting a cigarette on a snowy night with that bandage on his finger, and the moment he did, he caught on fire. Mom takes her seriously right away and runs out to stop the man at his car.
Mom tries to ask for his lighter and cigarettes, saying that they’re bad for his health, but the man just shoves them off. Hong-joo shouts through the window, “Ajusshi, you’ll die if you smoke that!” but of course he doesn’t understand just how literally she means it.
He pushes them into the street and drives off, and Mom shows Hong-joo the lighter she stole from him in the tussle, hoping that it’ll change things. Hong-joo is more cynical and says it won’t: “It’s no use. It’s all his choice and his fate.”
Mom argues that if you know, you have to change things. But at that moment, snow starts to come down, just like in Hong-joo’s dream. Hong-joo: “You can’t change it. Who would believe such crazy talk?”
Hong-joo continues in voiceover as we watch the cigarette man find a second identical lighter in his car before stopping for gas: “That I saw you in my dream, that my dreams always come true, so if you want to live, you have to listen to me—how would anyone believe such nonsense? Even Dad couldn’t believe it and went like that. You can’t change the future. Knowing doesn’t change it.”
And just like Hong-joo says, as if it were predetermined, the man lights a cigarette and ignites the leaking gas all around him, sending his car and the entire gas station up in flames.
In the morning, a group of staff workers from the prosecutor’s office swoon at a picture of the handsome new prosecutor arriving today, who happens to be Jae-chan. His new office manager, MOON HYANG-MI (Park Jin-ju), thinks his looks warrant a cake.
Her former boss, prosecutor-turned-lawyer LEE YOO-BUM (Lee Sang-yub), feigns jealousy over her shifting loyalty, but then pays her tab. He says that he should congratulate Jae-chan on his first day too, and they’re surprised to hear that Yoo-bum was Jae-chan’s tutor when he was young.
Hyang-mi thinks Jae-chan looks too smart to need a tutor, but Yoo-bum says he was always in last place in school. In flashback, we see Little Jae-chan proudly read “justice” as “just ice,” to the horror of his tutor. (Man, is this the third time Nam Da-reum is playing younger Lee Jong-seok?)
The story is a bit disheartening to Hyang-mi, whose coworkers worry that she’s in for a tough time with a new boss who’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. She says optimistically that he’s still a prosecutor, so how bad could he be?
Cut to: Jae-chan posing for a series of selfies in the hallway with his new ID tag, like he’s fifteen and on a field trip to the prosecutor’s office. They cringe, and when Yoo-bum calls out to him, Jae-chan recognizes him right away and calls him “hyung.”
Jae-chan seems less than enthused when Yoo-bum leads him into his old office like he still works here, bragging about the cases he tried. Jae-chan gets introduced to his team’s lead investigator, Chief Choi, who dutifully tends to Yoo-bum’s coat out of habit.
Yoo-bum says he came to congratulate him on becoming a prosecutor, except he makes sure to refer to Jae-chan as a snot-nosed kid. Hrm, looks like you’re here for your ego. Yoo-bum offers his help with anything he needs, calling it a win-win, but Jae-chan doesn’t seem eager to take him up on it.
As Yoo-bum answers a call, he mindlessly rips and rolls up tiny bits of paper, which Jae-chan clocks with interest.
It takes him back to his youth, when Yoo-bum had done the same thing while teaching him the meaning of “win-win.” Yoo-bum had said that Jae-chan’s father offered him bonuses for every time Jae-chan raised his rank in school, and he hatched a scheme to forge Jae-chan’s report cards and split the money.
Little Jae-chan had scoffed that his father, a cop, would throw them in jail if he found them out. But Yoo-bum had insisted that they wouldn’t get caught, and lured Jae-chan with the idea of buying that motorcycle he’d been dying to get. He’d said that Jae-chan would get his bike and his father would be happy about his grades, calling it a win-win.
Hong-joo has another dream, in which she wakes up in the hospital near Christmas time. She holds a letter in her hand from her mother—a list of things to do in the event of her death, including bank accounts and insurance policies. Oh no.
She asks the woman by her bedside if Mom passed away because of the accident she caused, and she begs to be told that this is a dream.
She wakes in tears, and continues to sob as she writes down the details of her dream: “Aunt, long hair, Mom’s will, because of an accident I caused… Mom…”
Mom notices her swollen eyes when she comes out of her room, but Hong-joo lies that she just ate ramyun last night. Just then, a news report shows the cigarette man from her dream dying in a gas station fire.
Hong-joo is numb with shock, and then suddenly runs into the bathroom and starts cutting her hair in wild desperation. Mom pulls the scissors out of her hands and asks what’s wrong, and Hong-joo cries that it happened just like in her dream.
Mom says that they couldn’t do anything about it, but Hong-joo is inconsolable as she wails, “It doesn’t change! Mom, what do I do? What do I do?” Mom hugs her in worry as Hong-joo sobs.
She ends up telling Mom about her dream, and Mom just laughs sweetly and asks if that’s why she cut her hair. Hong-joo says she had long hair in her dream, and vows never to grow it again.
Mom says teasingly that Hong-joo’s looks were mostly due to her hair, and tells her with a comforting hug that she won’t die so easily. Hong-joo says in a tiny voice, “You’re all I have in this world. So don’t leave me alone, okay?” Ohgod, now I’m terrified.
Despite what she says to Hong-joo, that night Mom takes out her bankbooks and starts writing out a will. Noooooo. The calendar behind her says it’s February 13, 2016.
The next day, on Valentine’s Day, Yoo-bum buys a bouquet of flowers and is surprised to run into Jae-chan outside the restaurant (in the middle of taking more embarrassing selfies, naturally).
Jae-chan says he’s here on a date as well, when Hong-joo runs up to them and greets Yoo-bum. Er? She and Jae-chan turn to each other in a mix of surprise and antipathy, and Jae-chan is extra shocked that she and Yoo-bum are dating.
Yoo-bum suggests that Jae-chan and his date join them, and Hong-joo and Jae-chan nix that idea in unison. As they head inside, Yoo-bum makes sure to patronize Jae-chan as usual, patting him on the butt and acting proud that he’s all grown up and has a car, when it seemed like just yesterday he was buying him a motorcycle.
Flashback to 2003. Dad had discovered Jae-chan’s motorcycle because he’d gotten into an accident, and accused him of stealing it. Jae-chan swore he didn’t steal it, and ended up confessing to forging his report cards with Yoo-bum for the money.
Dad had been so proud that he’d framed every one of Jae-chan’s report cards to display on his desk, but at Jae-chan’s confession, he threw them all in the trash, heartbroken.
Jae-chan sighs in the present thinking of that memory, and then notices the snow begin to fall.
Hong-joo is distracted through dinner when Mom doesn’t answer any of her text messages, and she thinks back to having blown out the candles and checked the stove before leaving, but then realizes that she left the front door open.
The worry is too much for her and she bolts up to go check on Mom, and Yoo-bum offers to drive her car for her because she’s never driven in snow before. Gack, I just realized she’s wearing the same outfit from the opening dream sequence.
Meanwhile, Mom is on her way home as usual, except a young man in a baseball cap is on her tail the whole way, like a creeper. He follows her all the way to her front gate, and Mom jumps in fright when he calls out to ask her something.
Hong-joo calls Mom repeatedly as Yoo-bum drives, and she sighs in relief when Mom finally answers and says she left her phone at the coffee shop, but a nice young man brought it to her. Phew.
Hong-joo can finally rest at ease, but she asks Yoo-bum to take care of her mother in the event that she causes an accident. He’s confused, but he promises to protect her and her mother.
He looks over at her, and in that instant, a figure tumbles over the hood of the car and falls to the ground in a bloody heap. Oh shiiiiiit. Agh, it’s the young man in the Batman cap who returned Mom’s phone. He lies in a pool of blood, not moving…
The car careens into a lamppost and Hong-joo’s eyes flutter open for half a second, and then when she wakes again, she’s in the hospital. She can barely focus her eyes and searches the room for Mom, but the only familiar face she sees is her aunt’s.
She fades again and then wakes up for good this time, and is shocked to see how long her hair has grown. Craaaap. Aunt says it’s Christmas Eve, and the other ajummas in the hospital room say that she’s been asleep for months.
Hong-joo asks for Mom, and Aunt says tearfully that Mom held on for so long just waiting for the day that Hong-joo would wake up. She explains that someone died in that accident that she caused (interesting that no one ever mentions Yoo-bum in all this), and that in order to pay damages to the young man’s family and to cover her hospital bills, Mom had to sell the restaurant and the house, and work night and day without rest.
One day she collapsed in exhaustion, and fell down a flight of stairs to her death. And just like in her dream, Hong-joo opens up her mother’s will, which lists her accounts and ends with: “Don’t blame yourself.”
She begs her aunt to tell her this is a dream: “I have to wake up. Why can’t I wake up? Tell me this is a dream, please! I don’t like this dream!” Aunt urges her to keep it together, saying that she might be facing trial for the accident. Hong-joo doesn’t understand why when she wasn’t the driver, which is news to her aunt.
The prosecutor arrives to question her about the accident, and of course it’s Jae-chan. Hong-joo thinks back to how he’d held her in her dream, but in the present he’s cold and formal.
He’s obviously skeptical of her account—that Yoo-bum was the driver that night. Jae-chan tells her that Yoo-bum testified the opposite, and we see him telling Jae-chan in flashback that he regretted letting Hong-joo drive in her worried state, when the roads were so slippery. Ugh, you asshat!
Hong-joo says he lied, but Chief Choi shows her the evidence that’s in Yoo-bum’s favor, like her blood on the driver’s side airbag, and the blackbox footage from the ambulance that shows her being rescued from the driver’s seat, and Yoo-bum being rescued from the passenger’s side.
She says that Yoo-bum must’ve changed seats with her while she was unconscious, and wiped the airbag clean of his blood before putting hers on it. Jae-chan doesn’t bat an eye and says that’s just conjecture, and he believes in evidence over conjecture.
She asks what she’s supposed to do then, and he advises her to confess so he can deliberate the outcome, because the victim’s family is pressing charges.
Hong-joo tries calling Yoo-bum, but of course he doesn’t answer. All she can do is think about how she’d asked Mom not to leave her all alone in this world, and the next thing we know, she’s standing precariously on the edge of the hospital roof, as her aunt and Jae-chan try to talk her down.
Jae-chan asks to talk things out, but Hong-joo doesn’t see the point when she already told them what happened, but no one will believe her and nothing will change. Jae-chan calls out, “I’ll believe you!” and begins to walk toward her.
Hong-joo says, “How nice would it be if this were a dream… if it were your dream… Thank you for saying you’d believe me.” A tear falls as she closes her eyes, and then she lets go.
Jae-chan leaps forward and grabs her hand, but she slips through his grasp. He watches in horror as she falls away from him…
…And then he wakes up in bed. WHAT? Wait, no seriously, what?
It’s the morning of Valentine’s Day, 2016 (ohthankgod), and Jae-chan wonders what kind of a dream feels that real. He tells Little Bro that he had a weird dream about the neighbor, and Little Bro says he called it when Hyung said she was rude that first day: “That’s the start of a typical rom-com!”
He asks what genre the dream was, and Jae-chan says she died in it, which puts a chill in the air. But they look out the window and Hong-joo’s mom is alive and well, so Little Bro says it’s obviously not coming true.
He asks why Yoo-bum appeared in the dream, and Jae-chan says he ran into him recently. Little Bro gets fired up and asks why he didn’t punch his lights out and spit in his face. He decides that Hyung’s dream went makjang by romantically connecting the two people he hates most—Yoo-bum and Hong-joo.
Jae-chan takes note that today is Valentine’s Day, and makes plans with Little Bro for after he picks up his new car.
That morning he runs into Hong-joo at the bus stop, and decides to just ask if she knows Yoo-bum. She’s alarmed at that, thinking he’s stalking her (to seduce her, pfft), while he’s alarmed that his dream is turning out to be not so crazy.
She gets up to hail a cab and get away from him, so he says he knows it sounds crazy, but that she shouldn’t meet Yoo-bum today, or drive in the snow, or go anywhere near a car. He frantically tries to get her to listen, but she just storms off in the cab.
Something about the way he talked makes her think of the cigarette man and how he hadn’t listened to her warnings, but when she asks the cab driver if it’s supposed to snow, he says the forecast is sunny.
That night, Jae-chan is startled when everything happens like his dream: While waiting for his brother, he runs into Yoo-bum instead, and Hong-joo arrives to meet him. Jae-chan scrambles to intervene and asks Yoo-bum to buy him dinner right this instant, but Yoo-bum says he has a date.
This time, Hong-joo isn’t even that surprised to run into Jae-chan, and without preamble he tells her to go home like he said earlier. She asks why, but Jae-chan doesn’t have an answer. Yoo-bum’s guard goes up and he asks if he’s the only one who doesn’t understand what’s going on, and leads Hong-joo away.
Little Bro arrives, and Jae-chan gives up and agrees to go. But when they’re about to leave, snow starts to fall and he can’t shake the feeling that his dream is coming true. He says he has to check one last thing, and waits in the car. Just like in his dream, Hong-joo gets up in the middle of dinner, and at the same time Mom leaves the coffee shop without her phone and the young man follows her out with it.
Jae-chan watches as Yoo-bum follows Hong-joo to her car, and takes her keys to drive. He realizes that Hong-joo was telling the truth in his dream, but by the time he runs out to stop them, they’ve driven away.
He tells Little Bro to call the police and report the accident, which Little Bro calls insane because it hasn’t happened. He wonders why Jae-chan is so concerned about this woman, but Jae-chan says he just doesn’t want her to end up like him, back then.
Little Bro thinks that Hyung must just be overwhelmed with stress at seeing Yoo-bum again. Jae-chan tries to listen to him and go on his way, except he can’t get the image out of his head of Hong-joo falling out of his grasp to her death. He stares at his hand and decides to just do the crazy thing, and leaves his poor brother stranded in the parking lot.
Yoo-bum promises to protect Hong-joo and her mother just like in the dream, but this time he asks what that was with Jae-chan earlier.
But before she can answer, a loud crash sends their car spinning through the intersection. They’re both conscious but hazy, and Hong-joo looks up to see Jae-chan walking through the snow to get to her.
He opens her door and asks if she’s okay, and then in the distance we see the young man in the Batman cap standing just a few feet away from where Jae-chan’s car rammed right into Hong-joo’s at full speed.
Jae-chan pulls her out of the car gently and asks if she isn’t hurt, and then checks on Batman Cap, who’s stunned but fine. Yoo-bum asks if he hit them, and Jae-chan says he skidded in the snow and lost control of his car.
Yoo-bum doesn’t believe him though, and accuses him of hitting them on purpose, perhaps because he needs money. Jae-chan says that if it weren’t for him, Yoo-bum would’ve killed someone tonight. Yoo-bum asks if this is because of that motorcycle accident.
We flash back to 2003, the night that Jae-chan got caught for having a motorcycle. We learn that it was Yoo-bum who had caused the accident, then a college student at Seoul University, and he’d told Jae-chan to take the fall.
Jae-chan had insisted on telling the cops that Yoo-bum was driving, so Yoo-bum turned icy cold and said he’d testify the opposite, since it was his word against Jae-chan’s. Then he collected his bag and just walked away, leaving Jae-chan to take the blame.
In the present, Yoo-bum calls him crazy, but Jae-chan insists that he did this to save them, because otherwise Yoo-bum would’ve killed that man and framed Hong-joo for it, her mother would’ve died, and then she would’ve taken her own life like a fool. He says that Yoo-bum is capable of that and worse, and Hong-joo listens to all of this in shock.
Yoo-bum asks who on earth would believe him and expects Hong-joo to agree, but she can’t take her eyes off of Jae-chan.
Jae-chan says in voiceover, “Who would believe me? That I saw you in my dream, that you were so sad in that dream that I came here to change it—no one would believe it, the future I changed.”
But of course, one person does. Hong-joo’s eyes fill with tears and she takes a step forward. Just like in the opening dream, she marches right up to Jae-chan and throws her arms around him as she says that she believes him, because it’s her, because she can.
He’s startled and tries to pull away, but she grabs tightly and won’t let go as she says, “Thank you.” He tentatively reaches up and pats her softly as he hugs her back.
What a fake-out! They totally got me by setting up Hong-joo’s premonitions in one specific visual style—by letterboxing anything that’s her dream—because I then automatically trusted that anything fullscreen was happening in reality. I never expected that the hero would have premonitions too, which opens up a whole wide world of what-ifs and crisscrossing fates. Not to mention jumbled timelines.
It was lovely to see how their dreams converged, but already I’m wondering what happens if they ever have conflicting futures. The ability (or curse?) seems very clearly to be Hong-joo’s, so I wonder what made it possible for Jae-chan to suddenly have a dream premonition, like if they’re psychically connected somehow, or if his dream was just a fluke. Was it really Hong-joo’s wish in that moment before she jumped off the roof that made it possible? Does that make it an alternate reality? Are we back in W–Two Worlds and I don’t know it yet because I’m not real?
Now I’m suddenly interested in her supernatural ability, whereas initially I’d assumed it would just be a straightforward curse to see the future. But then again, where would the drama be if there weren’t a way for her to change the course of Fate, right? Or maybe she only sees the future, and he’s the one who can change it…
I’m immensely thankful that we didn’t have to begin the series with tragedy either, because the moment we met warmhearted, loving Mom, I knew her days were numbered. It was a nice surprise for Jae-chan to save the day so quickly, because I expected to go through a whole series of horrible incidents before Hong-joo had convinced him of her premonitions. Of course, I’ll still be spending the entire series terrified for Mom, Little Bro, and anyone else who seems remotely kind and lovable, because I know better than to rest easy. Every episode they survive will be one more than expected.
The drama moves through timelines and dream/reality in a very fluid way, so it felt pretty seamless and I never questioned the flow of the story, even though it seems like a risky move to repeat timelines in your premiere episodes. But because the opening incident set the stakes so high—Mom’s death and Hong-joo’s on top of it—I was on the edge of my seat as Jae-chan relived the day and tried to change the future. It was full of purpose and emotion and easy to get invested in, and I can only hope that what they face together from here on out will be the same.
- Premiere Watch: While You Were Sleeping
- Brotherly love changes a hero’s fate in SBS’s While You Were Sleeping
- Lee Jong-seok’s awkward social skills in While You Were Sleeping
- Lee Jong-seok moves in next door in While You Were Sleeping
- A kiss in the flower-filled night for While You Were Sleeping
- Dreamy first teaser for SBS’s While You Were Sleeping
- First sleepy couple stills for SBS’s While You Were Sleeping
- Star cameos continue for While You Were Sleeping with Yoon Kyun-sang and Lee Sung-kyung
- While You Were Sleeping gets a September premiere date on SBS