Wild Romance: Episode 1
Wild Romance faced some stiff competition during its premiere on KBS this past week, bringing up the rear as far as ratings were concerned. What it has going in its favor is a small and intimate world, funny characters, and a light storyline (like if zero-calorie-cola were a drama and not sadness in a can). Without really a hint of melodrama to be found in the first episode, we can at least be cautiously optimistic that the show will keep its tone and serve as a less-serious alternative than its fellow dramas – especially with our heroine’s family being as single-mindedly dedicated to their favorite baseball team as much as they are to our entertainment.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Two opponents face off in crime-thriller lighting, with wind blowing through their hair and a serious guitar riff playing in the background. It’s not a competition so much as a one-sided affair, as he’s quickly thrown over her shoulder onto the cold, hard ground of humiliation.
A video of the throw has now gone viral, and it’s decently embarrassing (for him). No one may know who the girl with the perm is, but everyone knows the man that got tossed – he’s PARK MU-YEOL (Lee Dong-wook), a star baseball player for the Red Dreamers. He’s going through the ringer with his manager, KIM TAE-HAN (Kang Dong-ho), whose deadpan expression tells us that he’s managed many a scandal before.
It’s not as if he’s trying to Mu-yeol’s shiny image – to the contrary, Mu-yeol has the reputation of being voted as the worst role-model for children by parents. In fact, he’s an all around bad-tempered egg who’s even considered the worst sort of influence among celebrities (but at least he abides by the law).
Manager Kim isn’t the only one running damage control – the judo athlete who threw him, bodyguard YOO EUN-JAE (Lee Shi-young), has got the reputation of her agency to uphold. Unfortunately, she lets slip that she knew who he was before the fight to her boss, so it only makes it seem that much more unthinkable that she went through with it. Defending herself, she explains that he’s the Park Mu-yeol – a thug that plays for the Red Dreamers (said as though that’s the ninth circle of hell). Using intercut scenes, both parties are forced to explain the events that led up to the video.
So, it all started because it was her father’s birthday and he wanted to sing karaoke. Her boss seems to know her well, since she changes her story from “I didn’t drink” to “I didn’t drink much” to “Just one or two…” to “Three or four” to “Beer and soju mixed”. Ha.
The Dad in question, YOO YOUNG-KIL (Lee Won-jung) was having a grand time on his birthday… until he drunkenly stumbled into Mu-yeol’s karaoke room. It’s only until he made it back to his own room that the identity of the man he just apologized to dawns on him… and the face of excitement he makes? Priceless. A confrontation between Dad and Mu-yeol inevitably ensues, moving along briskly because the flashback is narrated along by both Mu-yeol and Eun-jae telling the same story (with differing details) to two different people.
Both storytellers get interrupted at every turn, with Eun-jae’s boss asking why her father would have bothered with Mu-yeol in the first place. She doesn’t need to answer, as we hear Mu-yeol answer the same question from his boss: “They’re anti-fans and rabid Seagulls fans.” Dad calls Mu-yeol a thief, because he stole the championship from the Seagulls. They are really serious about this – but when you consider that they are a family dedicated to everything Blue Seagulls, they start to make some (crazy) sense.
To his manager, Mu-yeol insists that he didn’t pick a fight… but when we flash back to the scene, we see his bad temper shining through. He tells Dad, “There’s always going to be people looking for an excuse for losing. We won because we were better. Your Seagulls sucked so they lost. What do you want me to do?” I really do like that he has no regard for his public image.
Naturally, Mu-yeol’s words get a rise from Dad, Blue Seagulls’ Number One Fan. Dad grabs the baseball jerk by the collar and causes a ruckus, which Eun-jae walks in on. Seeing her father on the floor she assumes the worst, and since she hates Mu-yeol on principle anyway, she swiftly disposes of him like a rag doll. None of her family members are apologetic – in fact, they all cheer as Mu-yeol lies on the floor, stunned. “If there’s anything that I did wrong,” Eun-jae explains in all seriousness to her boss, “it’s not being able to control myself at the sight of my old father falling.”
The animosity Eun-jae and her family have for Mu-yeol is not just because he’s a member of a rival team, rather because they hold him solely responsible for their team losing the Korean Series. During the game, Mu-yeol was up to bat, and kept dodging the ball that may or may not have been thrown directly at him. Taking it as an affront, Mu-yeol threw his bat to start a fight with the pitcher from the Blue Seagulls and both teams charged onto the field for the scuffle.
Eun-jae & Co. watched on, decked from head-to-toe in Blue Seagulls gear, elated when Mu-yeol was declared out. When their star pitcher was also declared out, though, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
So that’s how the story goes. There’s a moment where Mu-yeol pulls off his shirt, showing the bruise he sustained from the fight to his manager like a little kid to his mom. When his manager does nothing, he asks innocently while still frozen in place, “Aren’t you going to take a picture?” He wants to sue, but that’s the exact opposite of what Manager Kim recommends – because if word gets out that Mu-yeol fought a girl, it’s over.
Things are going pretty much the same way with Eun-jae and her boss. He has to inform her that because she has a black belt, any use of her martial arts is considered a lethal weapon. Across space and time, both Eun-jae’s boss and Mu-yeol’s manager determine that they need to resolve this situation with each of their respective charges, stat. The only difference is that Manager Kim wants to solve the problem by finding Eun-jae, and Eun-jae’s boss wants to solve the same problem by never letting anyone know who she is.
Despite Eun-jae’s best intentions, she’s found out pretty easily and quickly by Manager Kim. She gulps at the sight of his business card – Red Dreamers – and soon finds herself stalking her boss’s office while the two men have a chat about how to handle this publicity nightmare. Her boss seems well-meaning but slightly bumbling, and is easily influenced by Manager Kim’s short and to-the-point manner. I can already tell who’s going to be calling the shots on this one.
Under Manager Kim’s orders, Mu-yeol has been sequestered to the house of friend and fellow baseball player, JIN DONG-SOO (Oh Man-seok). Dong-soo is the straight-man to Mu-yeol’s flights of fancy, and notes simply that Mu-yeol has taken up all the top internet searches lately. Mu-yeol then plays masochist, and reads all the negative comments being written about him on the internet. Most of them point out that he had his ass handed to him by a girl. Who’s the one who should have really been wearing a skirt in that video?
He’s interrupted by a phone call from his manager, and is prepared for a press conference. Both Eun-jae and Mu-yeol do their respective complaining, but in the end it’s no use – they’re being forcibly dragged off to answer to the public together. They meet for the first time since the throw on the way, and can’t get along for a second. Mu-yeol deliberately ribs her about how he’s not surprised she’s a bodyguard when she comes from a family of thugs, and it devolves into a “who started what” battle with Eun-jae bringing back the Korean Series game and accusing Mu-yeol of starting that fight.
How does he get back at her? He calls her an ajumma because of her hair. It’s mean, but pretty appropriate. She retaliates by calling him a thug, and he demands her apology for throwing him – which of course she doesn’t plan on giving. A great comedic moment results when Manager Kim opens the door to the press room, hears Eun-jae and Mu-yeol yelling, and calmly walks right back out.
Introducing Eun-jae to the press requires a little setup, as Manager Kim gives all the reporters copies of the many pictures and threatening letters Mu-yeol has received since the championship series. With such clear-cut threats on his life, Manager Kim explains, some protection was called for. It’s nice that we’re given answers through intercut scenes again, as we see Dong-soo receiving live updates from his home that explains the outcome of the press conference: Eun-jae, acting as Mu-yeol’s bodyguard, was simply teaching him a judo technique in the video. Everything else was misconstrued.
The reporters gathered are wary – but for every question they have, there’s an adequate answer. For instance, when one of them notes that Eun-jae wasn’t dressed like a bodyguard in the video, Mu-yeol rubs in the fact that she was supposed to dress casually… but he didn’t expect her to dress so terribly. She gets her revenge when one of the reporters asks about the danger of the throw, and Eun-jae pokes fun at how it wasn’t so bad, considering the fact that he’s supposed to be a big bad athlete.
And poof! Just like that, the bad comments disappear and the public tide is turned. They just have to keep up the farce of Eun-jae being Mu-yeol’s bodyguard to make sure everyone keeps believing it.
In my favorite scene of the episode, Eun-jae and Dad have a serious discussion about her being assigned to protect the enemy of enemies, Mu-yeol. This family literally lives, eats, and breathes Blue Seagulls, making for a fun take on severe fan culture. In a dead serious tone, her father comforts her (like she’s going off to freaking war), “Although your body may be by his side, your soul is blue.” Haha. Dad begins singing the Blue Seagulls anthem, and Eun-jae and her brother chime in at the end like it’s the ‘amen’ to a prayer.
He just has one request of his daughter… what if she tries breaking Mu-yeol’s wrist? You know, just a little, so he can’t bat anymore? She responds simply that she would go to prison, and Dad gets upset because she won’t take one for the team. Ha.
Eun-jae tries to make the best of her first day on the job, but she’s not getting any help from Mu-yeol. Her grudge stems from him playing for the Worst Team Ever, but his grudge just seems to be at being saddled with an anti-fan. They squabble in the car and outside of it, stopping only when Eun-jae face-plants him onto the car in an effort to ‘protect’ him. Pfft, some athlete he is.
If he does get one benefit out of her company, it’s that he’s batting better. Could be because he imagines her face on every ball he hits.
There has been many a man-child in dramas, but Mu-yeol is literally more and more like an actual child at every turn. Is there a reason to take Eun-jae up into the mountains just so he can tell her to find her own way back home? No, but he enjoys doing it all the same. His fun derives from other people’s misfortune – and now with Eun-jae to pick on, it’s like he’s drinking liquid happiness.
Eun-jae’s not much more of an adult, and after kicking his car she makes a run for it. But she’s without a phone and a means of getting home, so she tries to wave down any car she sees for a ride. She finally ends up stopping one, and she recognizes the woman inside as the same one she bumped into leaving the karaoke bar the night of the judo throw. She hasn’t been formally introduced yet, but we’ll go ahead and dispense with that here – she’s OH SOO-YOUNG (Hwang Sun-hee), apparently on her way to meet Mu-yeol and unable to give Eun-jae a lift.
That leaves our plucky heroine to walk home all on her own, cursing Mu-yeol every step of the way. It’s not surprising that she ends up sick because of it, but she doesn’t let that deter her from doing her fan duty to the Red Dreamers by posting salacious rumors about him on the internet. “He’s the biggest asshole in the world,” is the reasoning she uses to defend her actions. I have to appreciate her devotion – and the fact that her room looks like it should belong to a twelve-year-old boy.
The next day, Eun-jae is forced to attend to Mu-yeol at a Red Dreamers fan-signing event. She’s a little off her normal game because of her cold, of which Mu-yeol displays no sympathy – he just threatens her life should he catch it from her. Eun-jae is then forced to silently bear all his devout fans sing his praises, her negative thoughts boiling up inside. She’s got an answer for every word of praise, but it’s even funnier when she starts singing the Blue Seagulls anthem in her head to counteract a group of fans singing the Red Dreamers anthem.
Her boss is there with her, and notes a suspicious person in the crowd with a blue bag. She spots him, but can’t help overhearing two students that start lauding Mu-yeol and decrying how he was treated unfairly during the Korean Series – after all, it was the Blue Seagulls’ fault!
Mu-yeol is very well aware that this is a sore subject for Eun-jae, and takes pleasure in the fact that she can’t do anything about it. He even encourages the biased conversation just to see Eun-jae squirm every time the Blue Seagulls take a verbal hit. She looks like she’s about to pop, and Mu-yeol begins to laugh hysterically at her expense. Her mind is clearly elsewhere (and probably mentally beating the tar out of Mu-yeol), which gives a suspicious man in the crowd time to hurl an egg. Eun-jae sees it happening in slow motion, with the egg headed right toward her face…
…Except she chooses to dodge at the last moment, and the egg collides right into Mu-yeol’s face instead. Well, at least that stopped him from laughing. He has a cry about it in the shower later (don’t worry, it’s shot from the neck-up so we’re not missing it), which is nicely gratifying. (The cry, I mean. Not the shower.)
It’s celebration time at the Yoo household, and Dad’s prepared a feast made of money and pride for his daughter. Of the guy who threw the egg, Dad inquires, “What happened to our martyr?” Haha. Okay, the seriousness of his fan love is funny.
Eun-jae just needs a few drinks to loosen up, and it’s not long before she’s relating the Egg+Face=Victory story to her family with wild abandon, her energy and happiness contagious. They all cheer at the ending, unsurprisingly.
Elsewhere, in an unspecified but creepily-lit room, a hand repeatedly punches a picture of Mu-yeol. Hmm, so maybe the crazy anti-fan claims weren’t all made up after all.
It can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Eun-jae intentionally dodged the egg, even though her boss knows it to be true. Still, Mu-yeol seems to be acting strangely kind and understanding when he calls her out to guard him on a jog that quickly turns into competitive running. He knows she dodged the egg on purpose, and encourages her to admit it – he’ll forgive her. After all, he started it, right?
When he eventually gets her to admit that she didn’t necessarily not dodge, he’s insanely happy about how he was right and she was wrong. He can’t figure out her tone, though, and tells her to either pick one or the other – formal or informal – but the second she switches to informal speech he threatens her with death.
With neither of them wanting to admit defeat first, they end up running close to twenty miles. By the end of it they’re practically crawling along, sweat pouring down their faces as night replaces day. Mu-yeol swears that he could go straight to the stadium in this condition, he’s that fine, but Eun-jae is the first one to veer off the path to vomit. Even though he can barely breathe himself, he declares himself the winner of his made-up competition.
Cell phones don’t exist in this world, apparently, so both Mu-yeol and Eun-jae find themselves stranded far from home. She’s the only one that tries to hail a car for a ride, and they peck at each other over even that. “A bodyguard isn’t a servant,” she has to remind him, but that tidbit falls on deaf ears. When another car fails to stop for them, he resorts to blaming it on her face. Mu-yeol: “There are faces like yours all over the wanted list.”
They start really going at it, and she hits him where it hurts (again) – the Korean Series game – claiming that he threw the bat because he couldn’t hit the ball even if he tried. No matter how he blusters, she doesn’t back down, and they bicker all the way home.
The fight continues even when they’re apart, albeit over the internet and under anonymous screen names. She’s doing her usual online character defamation of Mu-yeol, typing things such as, “When God made him, he got a bit lazy on the character part.” Mu-yeol is busy posing as a fan to defend himself, which is both sad and funny. Through a digital effect we see their words going back and forth to each other, but my favorite exchange is when he asks her who she is. To the faint tune of Star Wars, Eun-jae simply replies, “I am your father.”
Acting on an assumption, Mu-yeol accuses her of being… well, her. Eun-jae’s eyes widen, and she signs off immediately. He only gets to see that ‘World Without That Jerk’ has left the chatroom.
This episode moved really fast, didn’t it? I’m normally all for getting to the point in dramas, and here we’re thrown into the thick of action (literally), with the root of the premise over and done with by the end of the first half. No fanfare, no frills, straight to the bodyguard-ing and bickering. Only – the show almost seemed to move too fast, but that might be because the stakes didn’t seem as high as they were being made out to be. For instance, Mu-yeol seemed to survive fine on his terrible reputation up until the fight, except it’s then made to seem as though Eun-jae’s throw would be the true end of his career. If he was such a terrible influence before, was that throw really the worst thing he’s ever done (or had done to him)?
We’re then told that Eun-jae’s job is at stake, but there’s no real reaction to what might happen if she were to lose her job. Basically, I understood why doing this kind of damage control might be important on Mu-yeol’s side, but I’m not quite buying the gravity of impact this would have on Eun-jae if she and her boss just decided to just not go along with Manager Kim’s plan.
On the flip side, there’s a definite basis for why guarding Mu-yeol is such a chore for Eun-jae, but not necessarily for why Mu-yeol hates their situation just as much as she does (if not more). We can chalk his constant ribbing of her up to his personality, but because he doesn’t operate at that extreme all the time (i.e. with Dong-soo, or Manager Kim), the sudden change to his childish self whenever he shared a scene with Eun-jae seemed a bit sudden. Then again, maybe the poor guy just doesn’t know how to let go of a grudge.
Overall I enjoyed the cast – Lee Dong-wook proves he has a nice grasp of comedic timing, even though he doesn’t seem to be as bad as the show wants us to believe. As a die-hard baseball fan who uses her strength to bring home the bacon, Lee Shi-young delivers believably, from her hair all the way down to her mannerisms. The only unfortunate thing is that most of the information we know about her are just things we’ve been told, not shown (again). But what we are shown is a funny and animated performance, because she’s just plain adorable even with the ajumma hair.
The jokes had a tendency to fall a bit flat for me during the first half – and I don’t think this was a writing issue so much as some overcompensation by the editing team. With the over-playing of sound effects it seemed as though the editors were afraid that scenes weren’t funny enough, and tried to do everything they could to make it so. In the end, we were getting visual gags, dialogue gags, and sound gags all at once. The best jokes of the episode went unaccompanied and were far better off for it – take, for instance, every line Eun-jae’s Dad had about the Blue Seagulls. Actually, his whole character was comedy gold, which isn’t too surprising when you have a seasoned supporting actor like Lee Won-jung.
It’s fun and refreshing that our two lead characters were shoved together in the blink of an eye, and I hope that just because they’re already at the bickering stage it won’t mean that we’ll see less of their individual personalities shine through in the future. Wild Romance may not have hit that rom-com sweet spot for me right out of the starting gate, but it looks like it’ll be a light and zippy ride that’s well-suited for spring. And though I won’t be continuing recaps, I will be continuing my hope for a real Lee Dong-wook Shower Scene™, because that first one doesn’t count.
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