Pretty Man: Episode 1
New kid on the block Pretty Man premiered today on KBS, and it was exactly as advertised—a nice dose of bubbly, cute fun. It’s a manhwa adaptation, so you have to go in with the expectation that wacky hijinks and broad characterizations are in store, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they’re anchored with just enough realism to make them more than caricatures, and despite the glossy excess (and highly questionable life choices from our hero), there’s a fun mystery to solve, and some heart at the core.
SONG OF THE DAY
5Live – “Lovely Girl” for the Pretty Man OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In a fancy high-rise apartment overlooking the city, a woman dressed to the nines paws hungrily at a man who looks rather bored by the proceedings. This is our titular pretty man DOKKO MATTEI (Jang Geun-seok).
As she unbuttons his shirt, she offers to buy Mattei a car, and he brings the date to a screeching halt. He sighs that she sees him as all the others do—as someone who’ll do anything to get nice things from women.
She hurriedly apologizes for the mistake, but he heads toward the door anyway, and in a last-ditch effort she blurts that she’ll buy him an apartment just like this one. Suddenly he whirls around and gives her a kiss that literally melts her knees, and struts out with a smile on his face. So… you ARE that guy, yeah?
In a very different house across town, KIM BO-TONG (IU), whose name literally means “average,” sits in her very average room in her very average house, making a new desktop wallpaper out of Mattei’s face.
Her little brother comes busting in wearing his taekwondo uniform and sighs at noona’s taste in guys, arguing that real men ought to have muscles. She asks if he could have the body of Kim Jong-gook or Kang Dong-won, which he would choose, and he says duh, Kim Jong-kook. Naturally she chooses Kang Dong-won.
And then Mom comes busting in to complain that she took a part-time job at a samgyupsal restaurant, when she could be working at Mom’s BBQ place. Bo-tongie points out that the other job pays, but there’s no winning the argument once Mom launches into a what-will-you-do-with-your-life rant.
She sighs that her twenty-six-year-old daughter has a college degree but is still working part-time jobs, and asks if she doesn’t have a dream in life. Bo-tongie insists she does, and writes in big letters: “Mattei’s Wife.” Oh good grief. I suddenly understand why Mom is so shouty.
She gets sent out to buy groceries, and that’s when we see that the family actually lives inside Mom’s BBQ restaurant, named Botong Galbi. Ha. Do you even get customers when you call your place Average Ribs?
At the market, Bo-tongie gets hilariously hot and bothered by everything from the butcher unbuttoning his collar to the row of chickens lying on the counter looking nekkid. She blushes, everything reminding her of her crush on Mattei.
At the bus stop, she smiles at the “Dokko Mattei is Mine” heart carved into the bench, and touches it up for old times’ sake. She flashes back to the fateful bus ride where she first saw Mattei ten years ago, in all his windblown, backlit, shampoo commercial glory.
She leaps up to hover over his seat on the nearly empty bus, and stares at an uncomfortably close distance. Later that day she’s already fantasizing about the mysterious pretty boy who came out of nowhere, when she gets called out to greet Mom’s friend and her son. And wouldn’t you know it—that son is Mattei.
Bo-tongie trips over herself to serve them, and Mattei declares that he’s a vegetarian but he’ll taste the meat just to be polite… and then proceeds to gnaw every last bite off the bones. Heh. Late at night, Bo-tongie steals into the kitchen to pack a giant tub of beef to take to Mattei now that she knows what he likes.
At their modest home, Mattei asks his mother why he still can’t go find his father. She reminds him that it isn’t time yet, and promises that when things are right, she’ll give him the secret password he’ll use to prove that he’s his father’s son. But there are these things now called DNA tests…
Mom goes inside to make him a snack, and that’s when he notices a submarine scope looming over his wall. Bo-tongie thinks she’s being stealthy, but he catches her spying on him, and she sheepishly says she brought over some meat to try and convince him of the merits of being a carnivore. He dismisses her in his casual, aloof way, but makes sure she leaves the tub of meat. Ha.
At school, she skips class just to get a glimpse of him, and she isn’t alone. All the girls in his class and even his teacher (cameo by Kim Seul-gi) linger to stare at the pretty.
They nearly faint when he takes a sip of water, and Bo-tongie declares that her new goal in life is to be that water. Ha.
The swig of water takes us back to the present, where Mattei takes in the view from his brand new apartment. His sugar mama girlfriend suggests beautiful furniture for the beautiful Mattei, and he asks if he’s really so pretty. She fawns that that’s like asking if the earth is round or if triangle kimbap is triangular. Pfft.
She sighs that all she has is money, and that she gets nervous every time a young beautiful woman walks by. Mattei assures her that those things all pass, but to him, money is what’s beautiful. Er. I guess the one upside is that he’s upfront about it, but that’s a really small upside.
She swoons to hear that that makes her beautiful in his eyes, and after he pulls her in for a kiss, she hands him the keys to his new car. He heads down to the garage to meet his new baby and tells the car it should be honored to have an owner like him, and then does a fistpump of joy to confirm that his key unlocks the car.
As he takes it for a spin, he gets a call from yet another woman who says she misses him, but it turns out to be Mom. He tells her that he got a new house for them to move into, and says that he’ll come for her soon. She sends him a few selcas to ask which one he likes best, and he chooses the one where she looks prettiest.
She seems depressed or ill or both, and tries to tell him something, but loses her nerve. She takes out a box of pills and starts to cry (Is she sick or thinking of suicide?) and someone comes knocking. It’s Bo-tongie here to deliver more meat, like she always does. Mattei’s mom asks her to take her somewhere tomorrow, and Bo-tongie agrees sweetly.
While on the phone with his mom, Mattei happens to lock eyes with the woman who pulls up next to him at a red light, and they clearly recognize each other. He chases her down the street which she seems to enjoy, and he loses her at the next light.
This is HONG YU-RA (Han Chae-young), whom he calls wistfully, “the woman who appears and then disappears the moment I might forget her.” He recalls the first time he saw her at a coffee shop when he first came up to Seoul. He had come to Cheongdam-dong, land of the rich and beautiful, and for the first time HE fell over himself at the sight of a beautiful woman.
She noticed him smiling at her, and had a tall glass of water sent to his table with the note: “Drink this and wake up.” Ha, so basically she’s the only woman who ever bruised your ego?
Back in the present, Mattei meets a friend and yells at him for thinking of working at a host bar, asking if he really wants to spend the rest of his life pouring drinks for women. The friend wonders if Mattei is really any different. That’s what I’m sayin’.
The next day Bo-tongie heads out with Mattei’s mom, and she asks if they’re going to meet a friend. Mom says it’s someone she wishes were a friend, because at least then she’d be able to stay by that person’s side.
She meets with a man she calls Chairman, who speaks to her fondly and asks how Mattei has grown up. I’m assuming this is his father, though neither says anything explicitly about the matter.
Bo-tongie spends the time gathering fallen leaves in the yard, and later presents them to Mattei’s mom as a bouquet. Mom marvels that what looks like trash to one person could be turned into something so pretty in her hands, and Bo-tongie blushes, insisting that Oppa is the pretty one.
She admits freely to Mom about liking Mattei, which she clearly has known for years. Bo-tongie thinks that she’s got a long way to go before reaching Mattei’s level, assuming that he’s wildly successful because he lives in Gangnam.
Mom looks at her fondly and asks if there ever comes a time when she’s not around, that Bo-tongie will stay by Mattei’s side and look after him. She gladly promises, though she wonders belatedly if Mom is planning to go somewhere. Mom deflects that she’s just talking in hypotheticals.
Mattei gets trotted out to a reunion dinner with his girlfriend and her friends, and swallows every golddigger insult that comes his way. He’s prepared with retorts and acts like it doesn’t bother him, but he clearly hates every second of it.
Meanwhile Bo-tongie gets it into her head that she’s doomed to inherit her mother’s figure, and for some reason decides that wrapping herself in saran wrap is the way to prevent that from happening. Her idiot brother actually helps her do it, but Mom suddenly runs out in a panic and tells them that Mattei’s mom collapsed.
Mattei leaves the party early and tells his girlfriend never to call him out for things like that again, and then runs into Yu-ra outside the hotel. This time he stops her to ask who she is and why she keeps appearing and catching his eye.
She pretends not to know what he’s talking about, but he realizes that she’s here for the reunion party he just left, which makes her his girlfriend’s classmate. He’s interrupted with a call from Mom’s phone, but it’s Bo-tongie on the other end.
She can barely get the words out through her tears, but says that his mom is in the hospital, sick with cancer all this time without telling anyone.
When Yu-ra overhears what’s happening, she steps in close like she’s suddenly going to kiss him, but takes a whiff of his breath instead and says he can’t drive drunk. He’s even more stumped when she knows his hometown, but she points out that he has more pressing concerns, and offers him a ride.
She hands him a handkerchief to wipe the blood from his lip and tells him to just cry instead of biting his lip to hold it in. She sighs that he must have a story he can’t share with anyone, and a tear falls as he looks out the window.
Back at the hotel, his girlfriend comes out to find his car still parked there and hears from the valet that he left with another woman fitting Yu-ra’s description.
Her friends warn her that Yu-ra might be falling back into old habits (stealing friends’ boyfriends), but the girlfriend says rather unconvincingly that it won’t matter because Yu-ra has no money after her divorce, and money is what Mattei cares about.
At the hospital, Bo-tongie realizes that she’s still saran-wrapped and heads out to ask for a pair of scissors, only to run into Mattei as he’s arriving and get yelled at for looking so silly at a time like this. Aw. Don’t be mean to Bo-tongie.
He runs over to Mom and pleads with her to get up so they can go home, and demands that they go see his father this instant, not understanding her stubbornness when she should lean on someone when she’s sick.
The nurse warns her against straining to speak, and Yu-ra walks into the hospital room just as Mattei gets a call from his girlfriend. She tells him to take the call since she’ll be suspicious otherwise, and offers to watch over Mom.
But as soon as he leaves the room, Yu-ra’s gaze turns cold and she tells Mom it took her a very long time to find them because they hid so well. Well that’s creepy.
Mom’s eyes widen in panic, and Yu-ra says Mattei doesn’t seem to know whose son he is. She thinks it’s time he finds his rightful place, and she’s going to see to it that he gets there. Mom starts to struggle to breathe…
Mattei answers his phone and tells his girlfriend curtly not to call him for a while, when suddenly Bo-tongie’s voice echoes in the hallway, calling out to ajumma to wake up. He runs into the room and screams and wails at Mom to wake up, but he’s too late.
He sits numbly in the funeral room, refusing to change into his mourning clothes and stand in Mom’s funeral when he wasn’t enough of a son to know she was sick and take care of her when it mattered.
Bo-tongie comes with the only picture of his mom she could find, and he realizes that’s the photo he picked out for her the other night. Oof, it was her funeral photo?
He goes to put the photo up but can’t bear to let it go, and curls up on the floor, clutching it as he sobs. Bo-tongie cries to see him in such pain.
After the funeral he sits in Mom’s yard, sighing at the sight of her worn shoes still sitting out. Yu-ra shows up, again out of nowhere, and this time he doesn’t even seem shocked that she knows where his mother lived.
He tells her that he was once dying of curiosity about her, but he doesn’t have the mental space for that anymore, and says he’ll deal with it if he comes across her again. But Yu-ra says something else is about to pique his curiosity: “The password.”
She says he’ll need the password to meet his father, and she’s the one who heard it from his mother in the end. He asks who she is, but she just answers cryptically that she’s the one who has the password that’s so important to his life…
“It means, Dokko Mattei, you’re mine.”
I wasn’t expecting a mystery, so I found that to be a nice twist for Han Chae-young’s character, because I’d have been bored with her if she were just another rich woman Mattei goes after. But Yu-ra seems evil and cryptic enough to keep her interesting, because I can’t figure out what it is she wants—Mattei himself, what he is to inherit, or something else entirely? Inasmuch as it’s just a birth secret, I don’t care much about him being entitled to wealth (in fact I hope it’s not that simple), but her scheme seems revenge-driven and twisted in a fun way.
Dokko Mattei is an interesting character to set up as a hero because he seems designed to be disliked on first impression. He’s cold, full of himself, and uses women for material gain without qualms. Everything about what he’s doing feels wrong. And I think I really would hate him if Jang Geun-seok weren’t playing him with equal parts humor and depth. I dislike what Mattei has become, but I can see that there’s more to the story and more to the character, and that he’s pitiable in a way that his outward demeanor wouldn’t suggest.
Just when you think he’s maybe a gigolo by another name, we see that he has a boyish innocent side around Bo-tongie. And then he’s back to trading affection for lavish gifts, but then we see him cover up his wounded pride. He walks a fine line, and I do think this is a case where you thank your lucky stars you have an actor who can manage to play all sides. I don’t like who Mattei is now, but from what we’ve seen in the first episode, he doesn’t like himself very much either.
I’m glad that Bo-tongie isn’t made out to be ugly, because it’s already hard enough to believe that she’s supposed to be average. She’s less complex as a character, but I like her quirks—she’s got a dirty mind that turns everything into an innuendo, and she’s refreshingly forward. I think she’ll be a fun heroine to root for, because she’ll go after what she wants, and she’s likable from the start.
I’m not madly in love right off the bat, but I liked the first episode, which did a good job of introducing our core characters, setting up a fast-paced mystery, and surprising me with some depth that I didn’t know would be there. It’s pretty overt about its men-as-objects reversal, with every woman from Bo-tongie to the sugar mama girlfriend to Yu-ra declaring Mattei hers like a possession. And sure, slaying women with your pretty looks everywhere you go isn’t exactly what I’d call a problem, but it does open up a myriad of complications that mere mortals don’t have to deal with, which is part of the fun.
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- Jang Geun-seok cast as Pretty Man