Eun-joo’s Room (Series review)
Would you ever expect to find a K-drama that’s half sweet tale of love and friendship, and half DIY interior design show? That’s exactly the sort of drama mash-up Olive produced back at the end of 2018 with their little drama Eun-joo’s Room.
I just love finding delightful, gem-like shows that flew under the radar. Sometimes it’s because louder or bigger dramas overshadowed them when they aired, and sometimes it’s because they were on small cable channels, and got less attention. Perhaps both reasons explain why Eun-joo’s Room got so much less attention than it deserved.
Olive (or O’live) is a small cable channel and subsidiary of CJ E&M, the same conglomerate that owns tvN, OCN, MNET, and a trove of other companies in the Korean entertainment industry. Olive started out as sort of a Food Network channel, but then segued into lifestyle content (their YouTube channel is full of celebrity-infused food videos, home workouts, and more).
Eun-joo’s Room is unique from this content, though, and seems to be a stand-alone foray into drama productions. The drama was marketed as “a DIY life drama” — and if you have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, join the club. The good news is, it’s the best little combo you didn’t know you needed. And as you watch, it becomes clear exactly what the production team was aiming for with this very literal programming mash-up.
It’s a little bit House Helper, with its focus on a happy orderly home, and it’s also a little bit Flower Boy Next Door, too, with its heroine still fighting emotional baggage from her past. And finally, you could even say it’s a little bit like Let’s Eat (the interior decorator edition) with its didactic moments — just replace the rants on how to properly prepare a dish with pleasant instructional moments on how to do a home plumbing project, or how to install a new light fixture.
The eponymous heroine, SHIM EUN-JOO, is played by Ryu Hye-young in her return to the small screen after her breakout role in Reply 1988. She’s perfect here as the K-drama “everygirl” — when we meet her at the start of the drama she’s overworked, miserable, and living in a sloppy, run-down studio apartment that reflects her inner unhappiness.
But really, Eun-joo’s Room is a drama about change — and even more so, how changes in your environment can affect your attitude, your mindset, and even cause wider ripple effects in one’s life as a whole.
Eun-joo is a great, quintessential heroine because she’s surly, sloppy, and unsure of herself. But she’s also sweet, sincere, and undergoes a wonderful process of growth through the drama. At the start, we meet a heroine who’s almost thirty, and is stuck under the weight of the pressure to be married, to have babies, and to be “successful” — but really, even basic adulting is beyond her.
It’s a blessing she has a competent, helpful (and adoring) friend in SEO MIN-SEOK (Kim Jae-young). He’s a wonderfully talented interior designer at a failing design firm (because heroes must first suffer in dramaland), and he helps Eun-joo out again and again with both moral support and renovation assistance.
Eun-joo’s Room is a short 12-episode drama, and the episodes run under an hour each. After each episode, there’s also a brief epilogue which takes the actors from the show (in character, it’s adorable) and puts them on an actual DIY interior design set. Here they carry out the exact DIY projects we saw in the episode that just aired in a tutorial-like format. Sometimes they’re with real-life YouTube stars that are popular for their DIY content, but often it’s just the actors themselves laboring over paint rollers and T-squares and X-Acto knives.
Though there are only 12 episodes, they soon develop a nice pattern and become a part of the overarching plot. Early episodes show a project or renovation that takes place in our heroine’s home, and the story is built out of those changes and their repercussions in her life.
Initially, the renovations are because she — and her room — is a wreck. One time, she’s trying to uncork a bottle of red wine and it winds up all over her wall. Luckily, Min-seok is as knowledgeable as he is helpful, and together they design and paint an awesome accent wall to cover the stain, and it soon becomes the highlight of her room. (Bonus: Min-seok teaches her how to properly use a paint roller, explains color psychology, and more!)
Another time, Eun-joo’s bathroom sink shatters, leaving her with a thrown-out back. Min-seok comes to the rescue again with helpful tangential information about proper hardware to use in the bathroom, and together they replace the sink.
My favorite improvement, though, is her light fixture. The existing one is dim and terrible, so Min-seok swaps it out for a new one. Eun-joo’s new light fixture not only helps her day-to-day, but also sheds metaphorical light on her surroundings. She soon Marie Kondos her closet full of mountains of clothes, she takes care of the mold on her walls — she even gets inspired to re-do her kitchen, and papers her cabinets, replaces knobs, and even tiles her backsplash.
Each renovation in her room sparks another one, and pretty soon her upgrades are not a reaction to a problem (i.e., something broken or stained), but because she organically finds ways to improve and beautify her surroundings, and it brings her joy.
But joy isn’t the only result of all her DIY interior renovations — there’s also a change in her attitude and mindset. “The room has changed and I somehow changed myself, too,” she says.
A changed Eun-joo is a happier Eun-joo, and over the course of the drama we see her relationships, situations, and even her self-esteem and resilience improve as a consequence of her positive, peaceful environment.
She even shares that positive change with others. When a lonely and overworked ajusshi reaches out to her for help over “Outstagram,” Eun-joo and her posse re-do his apartment. Later, she does the same for a student preparing for the civil service exam. These subplots where Eun-joo helps others with her DIY skills are portrayed as such a lovely acts of kindness and generosity — it makes for really sweet, heart-warming segments.
I’ve focused a lot on the DIY project component of the drama, since that’s what makes the plot so unique and fun, but there’s also a wonderful story running throughout the drama. The DIY projects by no means overshadow the story, but instead, scaffold it. Each project pushes the plot (and character development) forward.
The story itself is slow, simple, and sweet — a lot of the times we watch Eun-joo puttering around doing projects and excitedly sharing them on her “Outstagram” account — but we also get a lot of development with the characters and their relationships.
Min-seok clearly likes Eun-joo as more than a friend (though he denies it at every turn), and the gentle transition of their long-term friendship into romance is one of the highlights of the drama.
The ever-essential second lead shows up in the shape of YANG JAE-HYUN (Yoon Ji-ohn), but it’s really nicely played. In a genre where love triangles get worn and dull, I loved the way this one played out. (We’ve seen Yoon in bit parts this year in VIP and Psychopath Diary — why isn’t he getting bigger roles yet? He’s great and sparkly here!)
Finally, the drama also sees Eun-joo dealing with her baggage from the past — mostly thanks to her frenemy from high school who weasels her way back into Eun-joo’s life. She’s determined to tear Eun-joo down, and, like the love triangle aspect, though we’ve seen in this plot line before, Eun-joo’s Room handles it nicely.
Above all else, this hussy tries to steal Eun-joo’s newfound joy (and Min-seok!) in her lifestyle and DIY renovations. She belittles her while pretending to be nice, and it’s just so true to life how quickly our joy and confidence can be torn away if we answer to someone else’s measuring stick versus our own hearts.
In order to become a whole and complete heroine in dramaland, one must come to terms with the past, so it makes sense that Eun-joo’s Room digs up some high school scars. But, I also like how this connects to the “DIY life drama” aspect of the show (very Marie Kondo, again): that in bringing order to our homes, we also find ourselves faced with bringing order to our emotional selves as well.
As someone who’s very interested in aesthetics like color and design, this drama was a double delight. I not only got the sweetest little story about a woman gaining confidence in herself, and an adorable couple coming together, but I also got a nice spark of DIY inspiration. After all, you can’t watch a drama like Eun-joo’s Room without taking a closer look at your surroundings and thinking about how you can bring the sort of change, no matter how small, that will “spark joy.”
But the drama also utilizes the aesthetic and DIY elements of the show to build its underlying theme: how taking ownership of your life and surroundings can spark change, and how that change can help us become a stronger version of ourselves. It’s a lovely and affirming message with which to conclude this thoughtful little drama.