Trot Lovers: Episode 1
It’s a solid first episode for KBS’s new Monday-Tuesday drama Trot Lovers. I’ve been very excited about this show for weeks now, mainly based on the casting, and I’m happy to say that the pilot episode doesn’t disappoint. The show manages to effectively set up a simple yet interesting premise while delivering laughs, shenanigans, and a lot of sparking chemistry between our leads. I think we’re in for a silly but heartwarming ride!
EPISODE 1 RECAP
The show opens on a race track, and we watch through the eyes of a runner as everything moves in slow-motion. A crowd chants a name, and a coach yells for the runner to stop. The runner falls to the ground and we see her face — it’s our heroine CHOI CHUN-HEE (Jung Eun-ji). She lays on the track, completely exhausted.
Later, Chun-hee is at practice, lagging behind the other runners and singing a trot song (“With You” by Nam Jin) to the rhythm of her steps. Suddenly her gym bag lands on her feet, and the coach reminds her that she told her to clean out her locker. Chun-hee promises to work even harder, but the coach yells at her that she never knows when to stop, and that she needs to stop being a nuisance and leave. Ouch.
Four years later, Chun-hee gives a pep talk to a group of men preparing to run a charity marathon benefiting orphans. They’re obviously not trained athletes, and they all wear jerseys for a gym called Lax Sports Center.
A black van pulls up, and the passenger whines that he’d rather die than run this stupid marathon. This is JANG JOON-HYUN (Ji Hyun-woo), self-proclaimed God of Music and obvious conceited jerk. His manager TAE-SONG (Sohn Ho-joon), reminds him that they need to maintain his macho image.
Joon-hyun just whines that he’s an artist (in a very familiar tone, haha) and he clearly thinks he’s above all this. A reminder of all the women that will be watching him run finally convinces Joon-hyun to get moving.
During the marathon, one of Chun-hee’s teammates collapses and has to be taken out in an ambulance, protesting that he has to finish the race so he can get the participation medal for his kid. As they take him away, Chun-hee sees a runner in the same flowered running outfit that Joon-hyun is wearing, and watches as he gets into the black van and the real Joon-hyun gets out. Manager Tae-song spritzes him with water to make him look sweaty, and he pussyfoots the last little bit of the race.
Chun-hee watches as Joon-hyun crosses the finish line, putting on a show for his fans and even collapsing to the ground in “exhaustion.” He receives his medal and tells reporters that he wanted to give up soooooo many times, but he was able to finish because of his fans. He mugs for the cameras as Chun-hee rolls her eyes in disgust.
Resting in the van some time later, Joon-hyun mutters about the cheapness of the participation medal. Chun-hee taps on his window and he rolls it down, looking at her with disdain. He assumes she’s a sasaeng fan (one with stalker tendencies) and slaps on a smile, but speaks condescendingly as he asks where she wants him to autograph her jersey.
Chun-hee calmly instructs him to return the medal, saying that she saw how he switched with another runner. He tries to deny it but fails, stammering, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but let’s just say it’s true…” She repeats that it’s not fair for him to get a medal for completing the marathon when he didn’t actually run it.
He condescends to her again, saying it’s not even a real medal, and starts to get back in the van. Annoyed, she repeats herself and demands that he hand over the medal while she’s being nice. Joon-hyun mutters, “Fine I’ll give you the stupid medal,” but when he gets in the van he waves the medal at her with a sneer, than drives off and leaves her there. What an ass!
Full-on angry now, Chun-hee chases the van, cutting corners through the parking lot as Joon-hyun tries to avoid her. I love the Bionic Woman sound effects as Chun-hee leaps between cars and over curbs. She finally manages to pop out in front of the van and force Joon-hyun to stop.
He rolls down the window and tells Chun-hee that she can have the stupid medal, and drops it at her feet. Seriously, what an ASS. In her anger, she lectures him on how meaningful it is to finish a marathon, comparing it to overcoming death. She’s a bit overwrought, but you can see how important that medal is to her as a symbol of perseverance.
Tae-song flails up to the van, whining about being left behind, and Chun-hee immediately lays into him for being involved in the deception. He apologizes and begs her to overlook it just this once, all, “Think of the orphans!”
The Lax Sports Center runners go to a noraebang for drinks, and one runner asks Chun-hee why she stopped being a runner herself. Instead of answering she jumps up to sing a song, and sings “With You.”
She heads home to her family’s convenience store, and finds her father (Kang Nam-gil) and little sister BYUL (Yoo Eun-mi) sitting on the floor behind the counter, eating ramyun and kimbap.
It’s clear Dad isn’t the most responsible business owner as Chun-hee chides him for getting into debt and reminds him that she and Mom were always getting him out of trouble, though he obviously loves his daughters very much. The sisters gang up on him about his dirty apron and holey shirt, but they’re obviously a close family.
Joon-hyun goes on a talk show and, while he’s undeniably dreamy when he sings, he doesn’t even try to temper his high opinion of himself (“I’m the God of Music!”). The host invites viewers to email in personal stories, and a voice starts to read a story about a recent marathon where the writer saw one runner cheating. Joon-hyun admits to being at that event but puts on an innocent face, wondering how you can cheat at a marathon.
All this is interspersed with scenes of Chun-hee at work, looking very focused as she types away on her laptop.
As the story gets more specific, even detailing how the storyteller asked for the completion medal back and was refused, Joon-hyun starts to look nervous. Just before the storyteller can name the culprit though, the connection is broken. The show tries to call the storyteller back as Tae-song frantically mimes to Joon-hyun from backstage, telling him to play piano or sing or just do something. But Joon-hyun doesn’t understand and finally explodes, “What do you want me to do?!”
After the show, Joon-hyun barks at Tae-song to “find that Medal Meddler!” But back at the gym, we see that Chun-hee has actually been working on a document for the sports center. So who was sending in the story about the marathon cheater?
A customer approaches her about a lost locker key and they head for the lockers to find another customer, JO GEUN-WOO (Shin Sung-rok) (though we don’t officially know his name yet) trying to get into a locker. Chun-hee points out that he’s using the wrong key, and he just gives her a blank stare. He pulls a second key out of his pocket (the other customer’s) and Geun-woo just laughs and hands it over. He’s definitely an odd duck, though he seems to be a good-natured guy.
Chun-hee takes a call and heads downstairs, and ends up in the same elevator as Geun-woo. A cell phone begins to ring but he’s got his phone in his hand, and he finally asks why she’s not picking up. She says it’s not her ringtone either, and he gets a funny look on his face and pulls a second phone from his pocket.
He wonders out loud how that got there, and Chun-hee asks if he’s got kleptomania or something. He gives her the phone and asks her to return it to the owner, and when they get out of the elevator she sees him patting his pockets as if he’s lost his wallet. I can’t figure out if he’s a thief, or just super spacey.
Chun-hee meets manager Tae-song in the parking garage, who’s there to confront her about writing in to the talk show about the marathon. She denies knowing anything about that, and he takes a call — ha, it’s Joon-hyun calling from inside the van only three feet away, wanting to know what she’s saying.
Chun-hee assures Tae-song that she promised she would keep the incident to herself and she meant it. She starts to leave, but Joon-hyun jumps out of the van and stops her. He circles her while scoffing that she’s a liar, because she’s the only one who knows what happened at the marathon.
Her phone rings, and Joon-hyun snorts to hear a trot song as her ringtone, saying that of course her ringtone would match her “level” as a person. She takes offense, and retorts that if he and his music are at such a higher level, then what is he doing here talking to someone as lowly as her? She says that she didn’t send the story to the show, but marvels at its perfect timing.
This hits a nerve with Joon-hyun, and she clocks this and runs with it, declaring that she’s going to tell everyone what happened. He loses his temper and yells (as Tae-song physically holds him back) that she should tell everyone, and they’ll just see which of them people believe! Chun-hee gets personal and insults his music, and now she’s crossed a line — Joon-hyun is so furious that he’s struck speechless.
She starts to saunter back to work and Joon-hyun hollers for her to come back. She does, with an impressively unaffected swagger, and he loses it. He yells at her while Tae-song stands between them to keep them apart, but hilariously cowers behind Tae-song when some people walk through the garage.
Joon-hyun slinks back to the van, hiding his face, but peeks out to dramatically announce that he’s going to follow her to the ends of the earth and crush her. Chun-hee is clearly not worried, and I can’t help but laugh because watching Joon-hyun lose his temper is like watching a toddler have a tantrum: He’s loud and so very, very angry, but not even a little bit scary.
Chun-hee heads back to the elevators and passes Geun-woo having a phone conversation. He tells whoever he’s talking to that he’s in Hawaii checking out all the beach babes. When Chun-hee shoots him a look, he tells the person on the other end that there are also ugly women there. HAHA.
On the other end of the phone is JO HEE-MOON (Yoon Joo-sang), Geun-woo’s father. He’s had enough of paying Geun-woo’s way for everything, and demands that he help care for his mother. Geun-woo deadpans a bunch of unrelated questions about retirement and whether he’s located that first love that he’s been searching for — he’s really kind of adorkable. His father loses his temper and orders him to hang up, but Geun-woo protests that in return for all he’s received, he can at least listen to his father’s nagging… CLICK. I guess that’s one way to get out of an awkward parental lecture.
That night Chun-hee, Dad, and Byul are eating dinner when the doorbell rings. It’s a certified letter for Dad demanding payment of 30 million won (ouch) which he immediately hides. Chun-hee insists that he show her what it is and they argue, which causes Byul to yell at them. She instructs them to at least eat dinner before fighting, and harrumphs when they make silent faces at each other. She’s the boss of the house, isn’t she? So cute.
At work the next day, Chun-hee’s manager pulls her aside to ask why she had a customer’s cell phone, not believing her story that another customer accidentally took it and gave it to her to return. He says that there’s been a lot of theft since she started working there and fires her on the spot. She heads for a running track and runs out her emotions, reminding herself that losing a job isn’t the end of the world.
She takes a call and runs to her family’s store to find creditors taking all of their inventory. Chun-hee manages to save her CD player and one CD which obviously means a lot to her. She plays the CD (trot music of course) as she watches a CCTV video of her father sleeping on the floor of the store and struggling with medicated patches. She sobs, “Mom…” as she looks at the CD case, a trot album by Oh Sung-joo — this must have been her mother.
An assistant brings Geun-woo’s father (who turns out to be the President of Shine Star, a music agency) some pictures of Chun-hee’s father, the girls, and their address, briefing him that the person he’s been searching for has died and left behind a husband and two daughters. Interesting, so Geun-woo’s comment about finding his lost love wasn’t just a joke.
Joon-hyun enters the room — he’s here to sign a contract with a new agency. During a tour of the building they run into PARK SOO-IN (Lee Se-young), a rookie singer, who greets Joon-hyun respectfully as a sunbae. They speak formally but the goofy grin on his face is mighty suspicious.
An assistant shows him all the facilities available to him, but he finds fault with everything, only approving of the drinks in his break room (which are his own brand). Once he’s alone, Soo-in comes to give him a more, um…personal welcome to the company, hanging on him and calling him Oppa. He gives her a song he wrote, and he’s pretty besotted.
Chun-hee walks home after her Very Bad Day to find Byul sitting on the steps outside their house. Byul says that Dad isn’t home and she was scared to be inside alone. President Jo comes around the corner, looking for the address he was given by his assistant, and and stops to watch the sisters talking.
Chun-hee offers to sing Byul a song to cheer her up and starts to sing “With You.” She sounds pretty amazing, even a capella in an alley. Byul joins her and they dance together, and suddenly stage lights shine down, a band kicks in, and they’re both dressed in sequins with big fancy hair. They do a whole dance routine up and down the stairs, and it’s the cutest thing ever.
Shine Star throws Joon-hyun a huge welcome party with lots of dancing and drinking. Joon-hyun takes full advantage of all the women and alcohol, and parties himself right into unconsciousness.
Chun-hee spends the night trying to contact her father, leaving voicemails when he doesn’t answer. The next day she gathers her courage and begs for her job back at Lax Sports Center, but only succeeds in angering the manager. Chun-hee sees red when she notices a banner with a picture of the manager and their new sponsor, Jang Joon-hyun. She remembers his threat to crush her, and jumps to the conclusion that he’s the one who got her fired.
She calls Tae-song and rips into him, accusing him of retaliation when she wasn’t even the one who wrote to the TV station about the marathon. He says he’s not the right person to talk to and gives her Joon-hyun’s phone number, but he doesn’t answer her call.
He’s not answering because he’s asleep, half-naked and covered in lipstick, in a hotel room with a random girl. She flips through the photos she’s taken of him on her phone and uploads them to the internet. Oh no. She then picks up his phone and listens to the messages from Chun-hee, assumes she’s a jilted lover, and texts her the name of the hotel.
Joon-hyun finally wakes up to a call from Tae-song, who is freaking right out and warns him that reporters are headed to the hotel. Of course Joon-hyun doesn’t remember anything about the night before and blames Tae-song for letting him leave the party with a girl, because nothing could ever possibly be his own fault.
Chun-hee bursts into the room yelling and clutches her metaphorical pearls over his state of undress (though he’s far too covered for my tastes, just saying), and he hurriedly wraps himself in a sheet. He literally kicks her ass all the way to the door, but the reporters are already there.
Paparazzi swarm the room while Joon-hyun and Chun-hee hide in the closet. It’s pretty close quarters in there, but hilariously Joon-hyun seems the more uncomfortable of the two, even trying to modestly cover up his exposed armpit. Chun-hee asks what the heck he’s doing and he covers her mouth (with the same hand that was just in his armpit, gross), earning him a slap.
She apologetically shushes him and covers his mouth this time. He blows his top and grabs her collar, she bites his hand and goes for his throat, and they have this hysterical silent slapping/face-smooshing/hair-pulling fight in the tiny closet while the reporters are looking for him in the room. Pause, rewind, replay!
Finally the reporters leave and Joon-hyun covers himself entirely in the sheet and drags Chun-hee out of the room. The reporters give chase and they hightail it down the stairwell and into the parking garage.
Joon-hyun calls Tae-song, looking for the van. He finds it and warns Chun-hee to keep her mouth shut about all this, and makes a break for the van as reporters follow. He nearly makes it, flinging off the sheet (in dramatic slo-mo) and taking a flying leap… and Tae-song opens the door.
Joon-hyun brains himself on the door and falls to the ground. The reporters swarm him, shouting questions and flashing pictures as he lies there stunned.
Soon magazines and websites are flooded with photos of Joon-hyun’s scandal, accusing him of sexually assaulting a minor. The scandal is all over the TV too, and Chun-hee sighs to Byul as she makes dinner that it’s all his own fault, really.
Dad still hasn’t come home but Chun-hee promises he’ll contact them soon, and right then she gets a text from him. All it says is “I’m sorry,” which Chun-hee notes is the first time he’s ever apologized.
Joon-hyun sinks into a funk but takes heart from the fact that his fans still support him, as they stand outside his home with signs and chant their love for their Oppa. He assures himself that his fans will protect him, but even the most loyal of them eventually leaves.
Three months later, Chun-hee’s dad still hasn’t come home, and none of the neighborhood shopkeepers have heard from him either. She’s also had no luck finding a new job.
Joon-hyun sits at home, watching cartoons and eating his feelings. Tae-song slumps in and Joon-hyun complains that the new agency isn’t doing its job, only to hear that Shine Star has canceled his contract.
Tae-song says that he can’t do this job anymore but Joon-hyun doesn’t hear him, as he’s too busy blaming the “medal meddler” for all of his woes. Tae-song implores Joon-hyun to take this seriously because he’s about to lose his house too, and starts to suggest they sell some things when Joon-hyun shushes him to take a call from Soo-in.
Joon-hyun meets Soo-in for drinks and makes all the excuses as to why none of this is his fault, insisting that he was set up. She acts sympathetic and says that she knows how much he’s struggled, but that doesn’t stop her from handing him an envelope of money to pay for the song he wrote for her, then breaking up with him.
As a last resort, Joon-hyun visits a contact at a broadcasting station, offering to appear on the show that he previously turned down. The station director is nice about it but says that it won’t be happening.
Tae-song drives Joon-hyun home, and Joon-hyun tells him not to come to work anymore. Tae-song starts to protest and Joon-hyun just waves him away, until Tae-song finally yells that he can’t leave because the agency told him to return the van today and Joon-hyun is still sitting in it. Aww, that’s simultaneously very funny and really sad.
In the morning Joon-hyun barges into Shine Star demanding to see President Jo, but is blocked by a group of employees who know he’s not supposed to be here. They start to physically carry him out the door but are stopped when President Jo sees them, and he tells Joon-hyun to come with him. I love that Joon-hyun isn’t too beaten down yet, and he sticks out his tongue at them.
President Jo has a plan, and he asks Joon-hyun what he’ll do for him if he helps Joon-hyun get his career back. He tells him that there’s a girl he knows, and tasks him with her training as a singer. Joon-hyun goes to the address provided and is horrified to see that the girl he’ll be training is none other than the very source of his woes, Chun-hee.
He starts to shake with anger as he blames her for his current situation, accusing her of making a big deal over the medal then following him to his hotel in order to intentionally ruin his career. He works himself into a frenzy and screams that this is all her fault, that Medal Meddler!
So far, I’m really liking it! Trot Lovers seems to be giving us exactly what we expected based on the teasers — a cute, sometimes silly, sometimes over-the-top comedy, but it looks like it will deliver a lot of heart, too. I don’t think the drama will be breaking any new comedic ground, but I think that they’ve set us up for some interesting twists on a reliable formula. The premise of a fallen former-success forced to train a newcomer that he can’t stand then falling for her in the process has been done before, but it gains a bit of spark from the fact that the leads have already had a few negative encounters and have reason to hate each other before we even introduce the main conflict of the show. They each blame the other for their current bad situation, and it will be fun seeing them forced to face the fact that if they want to succeed in the future, they’ll have to learn to trust and rely on the one person they blame for the fact that they’re even here in the first place.
I’m actually very entertained by the animosity between Joon-hyun and Chun-hee — the way he instantly loses his cool whenever he sees her, balanced by her obvious disdain of absolutely everything he has to say, is pretty fun to watch. I enjoy their interactions already, and it’s funny to see how, the more upset and spluttering he gets, the cooler and more dismissive she becomes in response. So far all of their confrontations have been voluntary, but I’m looking forward to the forced interaction of having to work together to make her a music star. Until now, when one of them (okay, Joon-hyun) gets too upset they can just walk away. When they can no longer simply leave when they’ve had enough, it’s going to be interesting to see just how far they’re each willing to go to be right.
In fact I’m surprised how much I’m already invested in the characters after only the first hour, and I applaud the writer for creating characters who have a nice amount of depth to them. It would have been easy in a show like this to fall back on the same cookie-cutter characterizations we’ve seen in so many comedies, especially for supporting characters like Chun-hee’s deadbeat father and Tae-song the over-worked and under-appreciated manager. But I’m finding that I really like all of the characters and want to know more about them, which is a nice thing to feel after only one episode. I’m especially hoping that Dad won’t stay missing for long, because I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff to be mined from the relationship between him and his daughters and how their life changed after losing Mom.
A lot of my love for the characters has to do with how well-cast the show is. Ji Hyun-woo and Jung Eun-ji are playing their roles perfectly, and the rest of the cast are also very well-suited to their characters. Ji Hyun-woo has certainly not lost his comedic edge during his nearly two years away from dramaland, and his portrayal of Joon-hyun is perfectly balanced with over-the-top arrogance and small glimpses of the sensitive, easily-hurt, lonely man underneath. If I have one complaint about the show, it’s that Choi Chun-hee is almost exactly the same character as the characters that Jung Eun-ji played in That Winter, the Wind Blows and Reply 1997. It’s nothing new for her as an actress — but it’s a role she plays so well that it’s not so much a complaint from me, as just something I made a mental note of then ignored in my enjoyment of her spunk and sassy mouth. (I also have to mention that I’m happy to see that Shin Sung-rok is playing the role of Geun-woo with a fun, ditzy air that makes me less concerned that he’s going to go on a murder spree, and more worried that he may accidentally — on purpose?– rob everyone blind. I have a feeling that he’s not as absent-minded as he seems, though there seems to be no hint of malice in the character, at least so far.)
As for the storytelling style of the show, it’s definitely a little crazy and out-there. But is anyone who’s seen the teasers surprised? It might be a bit silly for some viewers, but I quite liked the use of funny sound effects, overly-dramatic gestures, and brightly-colored dream sequences (that dance with Chun-hee and Byul was adorable). There’s definitely a cartoonish feel to things on occasion, but I think it’s done with a light hand which works to draw the viewer in rather than put us off. There’s a nice balance to the fact that, for example, Joon-hyun can sprint for freedom through a parking garage in his underwear one minute, then a few scenes later you can feel his hurt when his one last friend drives away and leaves him alone. I hope the show continues to deftly walk that line between laugh-out-loud silliness and heartwarming interactions between the characters, because if it manages to maintain that balance throughout, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
- Mics at the ready for Trot Lovers
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- Trot Lovers busts out the sequins
- Trot Lovers starts making some music
- Trot Lovers secures leading foursome
- Trot Lovers courts Jung Eun-ji, Sohn Ho-joon
- Shin Sung-rok in consideration for Trot Lovers
- Ji Hyun-woo signs on as Trot Lovers’ haughty hero
- Ji Hyun-woo considers Trot Lovers as army comeback project
- Eric offered lead in rom-com drama Trot Lovers
- KBS trots out trot drama Trot Lovers