Chocolate: Episode 1
What a promising start to what could be a beautiful drama. JTBC’s newest romantic melo Chocolate comes from the mind of a hit writer with acting talent that’s been missing from our screens for far too long. Top that with rich characters, poignant storytelling, and evocative music, and we’ve got ourselves a sweet dish.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In Greece, a man races through the streets on his bicycle, determined to reach his destination. The man, who we’ll come to know as our hero LEE KANG (Yoon Kye-sang), narrates that he’s been running for a long time to get to someone.
“At times, I wanted to stop,” he continues. “At times, I wanted to flop down and collapse. At times, I got lost, but because of you, I could come this far.” He arrives at an abandoned building by the water, where a woman waits.
He smiles as the woman turns, revealing herself to be our heroine MOON CHA-YOUNG (Ha Ji-won). This, his narration concludes, is where their story begins.
We jump back to 1992, on Wando Island. The young Kang and his mother, who owns a seafood restaurant, meet with their supplier early in the morning. When Mom turns to leave, supplier HA DONG-GYU (Jang Deok-ju) sneaks Kang some Godiva chocolate.
As Dong-gyu watches Mom walk away, Kang teases that he should hurry up and confess his love. Flustered, Dong-gyu snaps that Kang’s father would rise from the grave and kill him if he so much as tried, lol.
At the restaurant, Mom gets ready for the breakfast crowd, with Kang helping. He heads out to the porch to grab some dried vegetables and catches a young girl munching on them. Seeing how hungry she looks, he takes her to a table and sets her up with a proper meal.
The girl sadly admits that she doesn’t have any money, and Kang simply responds with, “I didn’t ask for money.” He rejoins Mom to take care of the customers, prompting the girl to dig into her food.
Later, after the girl’s devoured everything, Kang finds her crying. She tells him that it’s because the food was so delicious, making him smile. He hands her some tissues and then urges her to come back during lunch time for his special homemade chocolate truffles.
He tells her that she’s welcome to a free meal anytime and runs back inside. Before the girl can react, her brother appears — calling her Cha-young — to say that the family’s been looking for her. He gasps at the sight of her empty bowls and warns her that their mom’s going to be so mad.
Cut to: the mom weighing Cha-young in their hotel room, horrified to see that she’s gained two pounds when she has an audition soon. The dad comes in smiling, having made some fried chicken, and the mom immediately shoves it to the floor. Mom snaps that their vacation is over and that they’re going back to Seoul. In the car, Cha-young begs them to stop so she can get her chocolate truffles.
Meanwhile, Kang is busy being a cute little chef as he prepares the chocolate. He accidentally knocks over a boiling pot, burning his arm, but he just wraps the wound up and continues his work. Afterwards, he waits outside with the chocolate, disappointed when Cha-young doesn’t show. Instead, a wealthy-looking woman shows up, along with her family. Kang’s mom sees her, tensing up, and bows in respect.
This woman is HAN YONG-SEOL (Kang Bu-ja), mother to Kang’s late father. In tow are her eldest son LEE SEUNG-HOON (Lee Jae-ryong), daughter-in-law YOON HYE-MI (Kim Sun-kyung), and young grandson LEE JOON.
Apparently, Kang’s dad was supposed to inherit Geosung Hospital, but he left to elope with a housekeeper’s daughter (Kang’s mom). His brother Seung-hoon was, in Grandma Yong-seol’s words, “acting like Geosung was all his.” But after learning that her youngest son had a child, Grandma developed a new plan.
“Is [Kang] the type of person who could win against their son Joon?” Grandma asks. Mom swallows and asks for Kang to be left out of the family’s affairs, for the both of them to live a quiet life, but Grandma cuts in to say that she doesn’t care about her wishes. Eesh…
Outside, Kang sees Joon kicking his dog San’s dog house and making her whine. (Oh hell no — I already dislike this kid.) Kang pushes Joon to the ground to make him stop, making Joon retaliate. He tells Kang to live with the stupid dog, then, instead of ruining his life.
Kang gets ready to throw a punch, only to get up and tell Joon to leave. Kang goes over to San to comfort her, which is when Joon picks up a rock and heaves it at Kang’s head. The boys get into another heated fight until they accidentally fall into the water below.
The boys are rushed to the hospital, with a whole group of doctors looking over a whining Joon while only one looks at an unconscious Kang.
As Joon is being led to surgery, Kang’s mom rushes over and begs that they take her son first, as he’s in more critical condition. Joon’s parents push her aside and tell her to get lost.
Mom watches them go, helpless, until Grandma’s words ring in her head. “Wait!” she calls out. “My Kang is also a part of the Geosung family.” She bursts into tears, while everyone else stares incredulously.
Spring 1993. Cha-young returns to the island and walks all the way to the restaurant (checking her reflection first, which aww). She’s confused, however, to find the restaurant completely abandoned.
Dong-gyu appears, puppers San by his side, and informs her that the owners moved to Seoul. Cha-young nearly cries from the news. She can eat whatever she wants now that she’s done with auditions, and she was really looking forward to the chocolate truffles.
Dong-gyu reassures her that Kang had looked forward to her too, so much so that he burned his arm while cooking. She lights up at that, but long after Dong-gyu’s gone, she’s still sitting outside the restaurant.
Summer 2012. Kang is now all grown up and getting dressed for his mom’s death anniversary. His lawyer friend KWON MIN-SUNG (Yoo Teo) keeps him company as he gives his respects.
Staring at his mom’s photograph, Kang remembers the day she told him they were moving. He’d whined that his dream, like hers, was to become a chef at their restaurant and make people happy with food.
Sighing, Mom had replied that his maternal grandmother died as his paternal grandmother’s housekeeper. So right then, her dream was to be that grandmother’s daughter-in-law.
“How pitiful you are, Mom,” Kang now says to her photograph. “You couldn’t achieve your dream.”
At Geosung Hospital, we see the grown Joon, now a neurosurgeon (and now played by Jang Seung-jo), approach a patient hiding under her bed. He gets annoyed when she doesn’t respond to him and urges the nurse to send her to a psychiatrist. Still heartless, I see.
An older nurse who knows the patient comes by and notes that she seems much better this year. The patient finally looks up, and we see that it’s the grown Cha-young. She lies back in bed and tells the nurse that all the staff here are nice except for Joon. At that, the nurse reveals that Joon lost his family in the same accident she had — perhaps that’s why he’s irritable around her. Surprised, Cha-young looks past the nurse and over at Joon.
Downstairs, Kang overhears a couple fighting as he waits for the elevator. As the girlfriend demands to know who her boyfriend is cheating with, Kang notices that she’s looking awfully pale.
Kang catches the girlfriend just as she passes out and carries her out of there, kicking her cheater boyfriend away in the process. Through another CT scan, she’s shown to have rebleeding from the area she had surgery.
Her doctor, who happens to be Joon, demands to know who brought her in, and he’s not happy to hear who it was. He tracks down Kang and asks if he’s following him around trying to catch his mistakes.
Kang steps forward, smirking, and says that if this is Joon’s way of thanking him, he’d prefer to be treated to dinner. He turns to see his uncle Seung-hoon and bows before stalking off.
Cha-young returns home, still haunted by the memory of her accident. We see that back then, she and her family had been in a building that collapsed. The last words she’d heard from her mom were, “You have to get out of here alive.”
Recalling what the nurse said about Joon, she decides to prepare some food for him. And once she’s baking, remembering her childhood wish to become a chef, she has a big smile on her face.
At the same time, Kang is operating on Joon’s former patient, remembering Min-sung say that he should return to his dream of cooking. Once the surgery is over, Kang leaves exhausted.
Kang: Mom once said that if I get something that doesn’t belong to me, I should return it to its original owner. The pain, wounds, and anger that I can never get used to don’t belong to me, so I’m going to return them. I’m going to return every single one of them and get out of this hell.
The next day, Cha-young leaves Joon’s food in his office anonymously. He catches up to her to give it back, but she denies it’s from her. Sighing, he moves to throw the food away, saying it could be poisoned or something.
Cha-young panics and snatches the food, saying she’ll test if her — er, whoever’s food is really poisoned. She takes a bite, saying it’s perfectly delicious, only to double over in pain a second later.
Meanwhile, Kang has a patient die on his table and takes it pretty hard, even getting nauseous. He’s able to smile, though, when Min-sung shows up with lunch. They go outside to eat and joke around.
Sometime later, Cha-young takes a stroll outside the hospital, balancing her drip on her head. (She’d needed an appendectomy.) She passes the bench Kang and Min-sung were using earlier and finds their leftover food. Oh boy, the excitement on her face.
Assuming the leftovers are trash, she crouches down and happily stuffs her face. “Doesn’t the hospital give you food?” a voice asks, making her choke. She stands and faces Kang, gesturing for his water bottle. Pfffft.
Kang packs up his food and starts to leave, when Cha-young notices his nametag. She recognizes his name but can’t quite place it. She bangs her head, trying to remember, and makes Kang glance back at her, confused.
Then it hits her, and she gasps. Back in her hospital room, she’s joined by her brother MOON TAE-HYUN (now played by Min Jin-woong), who laughs at her story. He can’t believe she met her first love looking like a slob.
Cha-young gushes that Kang grew to be even more handsome, and Tae-hyun scoffs, saying it ain’t gonna happen. She may not even have the right guy.
That doesn’t stop her — the next day, she stalks Kang all over the hospital to see if he’s really the Lee Kang she knew. She trudges back to her room, thinking she must be crazy, and drops her drip.
Someone picks it up for her and she screams to see that it’s Kang. She tries to run away, inadvertently pulling on her IV (ouch). Kang takes her inside and switches out the IV, with her staring at him the whole time.
Her eyes land on his arm, where there’s a distinctive burn mark. And that gives her all the confirmation she needs. He catches her staring and coolly states that he’s too busy to date, so she shouldn’t waste her time. With that, he wishes her a fast recovery and leaves.
That evening at the Geosung household, the family, along with Kang’s aunt LEE SEON-HOON (Yoon Ye-hee), have dinner. Joon is getting on Grandma’s good side by talking about baseball, when Kang walks in and joins them. And to Joon’s annoyance, Kang cuts in to drop even more knowledge on Grandma’s favorite team. Damn, shut down.
Sensing his son’s discomfort, Seung-hoon announces that they’ll be sending Kang to their station in Libya. However, this is the first time Kang is hearing about this. Before he can speak up, Seung-hoon and his wife quickly state that it’s his moral obligation. Aunt Seon-hoon, clearly fond of Kang, asks why Joon doesn’t go too, and Joon’s parents state he’s needed home. Kang clenches his jaw, unable to argue with Grandma right there.
2013. We see Cha-young working in a calm, clean kitchen, juxtaposed with Kang working in chaos in Libya. He looks near tears when he comes across an injured woman and her son. Later, after it quiets down, he finds the son good as new and playing with some friends in the dirt. He smiles, only to frown when one of the kids pulls something out of the ground — a landmine. He yells a warning, but it explodes and sends him flying back.
Kang lies on the ground, covered in blood and completely stunned. As we zoom into his face, we see his eyes glaze over.
And meanwhile, all the way in Korea, a tear inexplicably falls from Cha-young’s face and splashes onto the chocolate dish she’s preparing. She looks up, seemingly surprised by her sudden emotions.
Imma be real — I did not think I would enjoy this drama that much. While I’m a fan of writer Lee Kyung-hee and actors Yoon Kye-sang and Ha Ji-won, the thought of a medical melodrama had me wary. I usually stay away from the medical genre and I wasn’t particularly in the mood for something heavy, but… here we are. I like it. Everything seems to be working so far, with every aspect of a first episode doing what it needs to be doing. I know our characters, I like them (for the most part), and I like the way their stories are handled, the way they intertwine.
Mostly, I’m just grateful that the actual melo isn’t the hit-you-over-the-head kind of melo. There’s a subtleness to our characters and their pain, like a slight breeze; I can feel it, but it’s not overwhelming me. There’s so much loss there, whether it’s losing a first love, losing parents, or losing a dream. With Cha-young’s loss, she came out appreciating life and wanting to live hers to the fullest. She came out with a new dream and ended up fulfilling it. Then with Kang, he’s still drowning in loss. He’s trapped in a family he doesn’t feel welcome in and a career he doesn’t feel happy in. It’s hard to watch, actually, because he makes it look like it’s physically painful to be doing and seeing what he does every day. Props to Yoon Kye-sang for pretty much conveying all of that through his eyes alone.
Compared to Cha-young, I’d say that Kang is surviving rather than living, with the only brightness in his life being his friend Min-sung. The feud with Joon’s side of the family seems like something he’s gotten used to, something he just has to deal with. His heart’s obviously not in “winning” the inheritance, so I do wonder why he’s sticking it out. Maybe he’s been in his situation for so long that he has no idea how to get out of it. All I know is, Joon is completely delusional to his cousin’s true feelings. Or anyone’s feelings other than his own. I really, really hope that Joon gets major character development because I can see a glimpse of humanity. It’s based around a severe inferiority complex, sure, but Joon is trapped within his family, too. Once he sees that, maybe I can work up to forgiving him for kicking the poor puppers. (Hell yes, I’m holding that against him.)
The flashbacks were placed extremely well in this episode, so I look forward to seeing more as we fill in the missing points of the timeline. How else are our heroes’ pasts linked? How has the meaning of chocolate changed for them? Then, of course, I look forward to the future, when we inevitably reach 2019. The ending scene has me worried for what’s to come, but the opening leaves some reassurance that it’ll all be worth it. I saw heart eyes, y’all, so I better get my heart eyes and lots of it. For now, the intense sad eyes will have to do.
- Premiere Watch: People With Flaws, Chocolate
- Yoon Kye-sang and Ha Ji-won begin a romantic journey in Greece for JTBC’s Chocolate
- First teaser for JTBC’s Chocolate with Ha Ji-won, Yoon Kye-sang
- Jang Seung-jo confirms JTBC drama Chocolate with Ha Ji-won, Yoon Kye-sang
- Ha Ji-won, Yoon Kye-sang up for JTBC melo Chocolate