Lucky Romance: Episode 1
Yay, it’s cute and funny! Huzzah. I was scared that MBC’s new romantic comedy Lucky Romance might not live up to expectations, but the series is off to a strong start, with endearing characters, a snappy pace, and a good balance of humor and heart from both our leads. It’s written and directed with a flair for comedy, and the tone was right on the money. All great things, which has me excited for what’s to come.
The series premiered in first place at 10.3% ratings, while Entertainer came in at 7.5%, and Master—God of Noodles brought in 6.8%.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A well-dressed man pulls up to a ritzy nightclub and pulls on sunglasses. It’s dark, so it’s clearly for looks. Inside the club, a woman in a glittery gown struts down the hall and wonders why the huntsman saved Snow White: “Because she was pretty?”
As she thinks this, she stumbles in her heels and all the nearby men rush to help her. We see then that she’s not a guest here, but a cocktail waitress. Just as she’s about to walk past the man in sunglasses, another server calls out her name. This is our heroine, SHIM BO-NUI (Hwang Jung-eum).
The man in sunglasses enters the Good Luck casino and sits down at a table with a little smirk, and casually places down a million-won chip. At the same time, Bo-nui changes into a janitor’s uniform and pulls on pink rubber gloves. Filthy rich and dirt poor. Check, check.
As Bo-nui mops the floor, she wonders why the fairy godmother gave Cinderella a pumpkin carriage: “Because she was good?” She decides that all of that is crap, and those girls got happy endings because they were fated to be princesses from the start.
She says that pretty women beat out nice women, and rich women beat them all. Bo-nui pauses to pray to the heavens for some luck of her own, and the screen splits between her and the sunglasses gambler. He cleans up at the Blackjack table by counting cards and doing math in his head, while Bo-nui has to clean up the men’s restroom and mistakes a balding man for her boss.
She pauses to check her fortune today, and her phone app tells her to beware because she’ll meet her enemy in the east. Bo-nui has an enemy in mind that she’s hoping to run into, and she mutters to herself that she’ll get interest plus expenses when she finds this person. Maybe that boss she’s looking for?
A crowd has gathered around the sunglasses gambler, whose name is JE SU-HO (Ryu Joon-yeol), and at one point he abruptly stands up and declares that the bystanders can keep his winnings and just walks out.
A balding man chases him down for a handshake, wanting a bit of luck to rub off on him, but Su-ho says none of it was luck—it was all brains. (It runs counter to his name, since jesu means luck, though the word is most often used to call someone a luckless jerk.)
From a distance, Bo-nui wonders if the balding man could be the boss she’s looking for, and chases after them with her janitor’s cart, running at full speed down the hall. Su-ho turns to look at her and immediately does the calculation in his head for how fast she’s hurtling towards them and how many seconds he’s got to dart out of the way…
But it does him no good, since the cart veers sideways and slams right into him anyway, pouring her entire mop bucket of disgusting bathroom water alllllllll over him. She’s shocked when he immediately gets up to offer her a hand like a gentleman, only to watch him reach past her outstretched hand to pick up his sunglasses. Wah-waah.
Bo-nui apologizes and offers to pay for his dry cleaning, but Su-ho just continues on his way without a second glance. It’s a relief he’s not assy—just entirely disinterested in her. It’s morning by the time he’s heading out of the casino, and he hurries to a hotel with no time to stop for a shower.
A staffer greets Su-ho as “Director,” and he interrupts two programmers who are currently freaking out about a bug in their game, called Genius II (cameo by comedians Park Sung-kwang, Heo Kyung-hwan). Su-ho waves them aside and fixes the bug in no time at all, and then takes them to task for not being able to fix it.
His assistant says they’ve been up for three nights straight in preparation for their big launch, but Su-ho is unimpressed, because he doesn’t need effort—he wants results. To him, saying you were up three nights to do their work is boasting about being an incompetent programmer. Eesh, he’s obviously a hardass, but he says his company name Zeze Factory with pride, like they ought to know better that effort alone isn’t enough to cut it here.
One of the programmers is impressed with Su-ho’s skills, while the other is bitter and angry, and about to do something about it…
Bo-nui packs up after her last shift at the casino, which turned out to be a short-term job she took to try and track down her old boss, a gambling addict who ran off with her pay.
Su-ho finally gets a moment to change out of his soiled clothes, but as he remembers his assistant’s enthusiasm over how many reporters would be at the game launch, it starts to mess with his head. He imagines hearing camera shutters, and flashes back to being a five-year-old child genius, made to do math problems on television, surrounded by lights and cameras.
It must’ve caused panic attacks, and he has one now, as he’s flooded with other memories, more violent: other children looking down at him, then teenagers, laughing and tormenting him, and then someone falling in water.
Su-ho sits in the shower, waiting for the panic attack to pass, and then once he’s settled down he takes a packet of medicine. His assistant comes with by with clothes, but Su-ho has disappeared on her, so she calls his best friend HAN RYANG-HA (Jung Sang-hoon), another pun name on hanryang, meaning “playboy.”
Ryang-ha says that he sent Su-ho to a casino last night, so he should be feeling great right about now, after firing up his brain. But it’s not much comfort to Su-ho’s assistant, who needs him for the big product launch.
Bo-nui heads to a park filled with small-time gamblers playing streetside games, still searching for the boss who ran off with her money. She comes across a man on a park bench with his face covered, mechanically reciting a string of numbers. She scares the daylights out of him, and both Su-ho and Bo-nui are surprised to recognize each other.
She assumes he lost a bunch of money at the casino and is down in the dumps about it, and when he refuses to take her money for dry cleaning, she shoves a talisman in his pocket before running away, insisting that it makes her feel better to give him something. He tries to tell her he doesn’t believe in that superstitious junk, and watches her go like she’s the strangest woman he’s ever met.
She turns back to tell him that he has the face of someone whose body is stronger than his mind, and advises him to work hard. Su-ho gapes and leaps to his feet, blubbering, “Body over mind…? What? I’m Je Su-ho! Zeze Factory’s Je… mega genius Je… Je Su-ho…!” But nobody’s listening to him anymore. Heh.
Bo-nui finally tracks down her delinquent boss in the middle of trying to sell his car for more gambling money, and takes the wheel to drive them back home. Su-ho’s assistant DAL-NIM (Lee Cho-hee; is she named “moon” because she’s spacey?) is beyond relieved when he returns to the hotel, but she keeps the second crisis under wraps, and doesn’t tell him that the other programmers have quit and bugged the game just in time for the launch to fail.
Panicking, Dal-nim calls her friend Bo-nui and begs her to come help out. Huh, is she a programmer on top of being a cocktail waitress and janitor? Bo-nui refuses, calling Zeze the enemy, which Dal-nim knows only too well. Nothing works to convince her, until Dal-nim blurts that she’ll pay quadruple the money; Bo-nui swings the car around in an instant.
At the same hotel, world-class tennis star CHOI GUN-WOOK (Lee Soo-hyuk) arrives for a press conference, accompanied by his sports agent HAN SEOL-HEE (Lee Chung-ah). He’s returning to Korea after a long time spent abroad, and is met with adoring fans.
Bo-nui finally finds her friend Dal-nim in the hotel and immediately starts putting on a big bunny costume. Wait, is she here to play a mascot? This was the emergency? Bo-nui says it’s for protection, like Zeze has bad juju or something.
Meanwhile, Su-ho braces himself in preparation for the product launch, but when he peeks out at the audience for a second behind the curtain, he starts to see and hear a distorted version of them, all pointing and laughing at him.
He can feel another attack coming on and rushes to his dressing room, only to realize that he accidentally threw away his pills back in the park when he was tossing out the talisman that Bo-nui gave him. Uh-oh.
Bo-nui actually does sit down at the computer to fix the bug, though I still don’t know why she’s specifically dressed as a bunny to do it. She’s got the computer surrounded by little mounds of salt (to ward off evil, I presume), so it’s clearly to do with her superstition.
She gets to work un-hacking the hack, and out in the auditorium, Dal-nim bites her nails as Su-ho comes out onstage. He seems to have gotten his stage fright under control, and says he’ll demonstrate Genius II himself. He reaches up to his tablet to start the game, and Dal-nim covers her eyes…
But just in the nick of time, Bo-nui fixes the bug and the game launches like it should. Phew. It’s not until after she’s done that she looks at the live feed in the auditorium and recognizes Su-ho and puts it all together.
Su-ho continues with his presentation, when suddenly the screen changes to videos of tigers, and the game disappears entirely. Dal-nim flails and reporters rush the stage, and Su-ho’s friend Ryang-ha tries to block them from snapping photos. One ajusshi gets up to leave during the chaos.
Su-ho has managed to get this far in the presentation because he had earplugs in, and when he takes them out, the onslaught is too much and he faints right there on the stage.
When he comes to, there’s a giant bunny staring down at him. Bo-nui the bunny checks to make sure he’s okay and then gets up to leave, but Su-ho runs after her and grabs her by the bunny tail (hee). He gets hilariously handsy with the bunny to try and stop her from leaving, thinking she’s a corporate spy.
I seriously can’t tell if he’s trying to hug her or wrestle her, and in the tussle she ends up falling on top of him. In the end Bo-nui kicks him in the nuts to get away, and Dal-nim runs up with an ice pack that she had intended for his head… and offers it down there instead. LOL. Su-ho gasps that they have to seal the exits and catch the bunny.
Out in the hotel lobby, sports agent Seol-hee overhears the reporters gossiping about the big fainting incident in the next auditorium over, and at the mention of Su-ho, she goes over there looking for him.
Bo-nui waits at the bus stop with her giant bunny costume on either side of her, and trying to carry the unwieldy thing makes her miss the bus. Thankfully someone pulls up to offer her a ride—it’s the ajusshi who was at the Zeze presentation and walked out.
Bo-nui greets him happily and knows him as the 01 Chicken ajusshi, and he chides her for not ever coming back after she quit her part-time job there. He thinks she went on to a nice salaried job, and she gets quiet at that. She shrinks back even further when her phone rings with a series of texts asking for her late rent payment and putting holds on her credit card.
After getting the full story, Su-ho isn’t fully convinced that the bunny wasn’t in on the sabotage with his angry programmers, and to help prove her friend’s innocence, Dal-nim agrees to put Bo-nui on speakerphone when she calls. Bo-nui asks when Dal-nim is going to pay her for today’s work, and when Dal-nim tries to get her to say she wasn’t doing something nefarious, Bo-nui asks if Je Su-ho is accusing her of being a spy. Chicken Ajusshi turns to look at her at the mention of Su-ho’s name.
Not realizing that she’s got eavesdroppers on either end, Bo-nui rambles on about how Su-ho is probably one of those rich famous people who get so lonely and stressed that they become violent, and muses that he’d have to be a major jerk to have his employees sabotage him on the day of a launch.
It cracks me up that Su-ho doesn’t reveal himself despite stewing in anger, and that he bothers to type out a note to Dal-nim on his phone, to have Bo-nui come to the office. But Bo-nui refuses, saying that she’s not even going to fart in the direction of Zeze anymore. Pfft, Su-ho looks so bewildered to be talked about in that way.
Tennis pro Gun-wook arrives at a residential neighborhood and smiles fondly as he looks at a small apartment building, which he remembers being a family home when he was a kid. His agent Seol-hee wonders why he wanted to come here, but he assures her that he’s not going to cause any scandals and ushers her off to a meeting so he can be alone.
Gun-wook passes by movers hauling stuff out of the building, and heads up to the roof to take in how the view has changed over the years.
Down below, Bo-nui gets dropped off by Chicken Ajusshi, and rushes to stop her landlady from moving all her stuff out into the street. The landlady says it’s already been months since she’s paid her rent, but Bo-nui begs her for one more chance because she has to live here: “I can’t leave this place. Someone will come back here.”
The landlady finally caves and gives her a few more days, and Bo-nui thanks her. Gun-wook watches all of this passively from the roof, but when he hears Bo-nui’s name, he lights up to realize that’s Bo-nui down there, and that she still lives here.
Gun-wook runs down to see her, but she gets another alarming phone call—this time it’s the hospital, and she starts out asking for more time to pay her bills, but whatever she hears on the other end sends her running. By the time Gun-wook gets downstairs, she’s gone.
The Zeze Factory offices look like a high-tech playground, and the crew is shocked to find out about Su-ho fainting during the launch. He storms in and tells everyone to back up everything and put things on lockdown, and do whatever it takes to find the programmers who sabotaged him.
Su-ho turns out the lights in his office, and unsurprisingly, even his bed has a remote control that pulls it from behind a hidden wall. Are you also Batman?
Bo-nui is seized with fear as she runs to the hospital, which is intercut with a memory of her running the same way once before, drenched in rain. She gets to the hospital and takes a deep breath before looking inside a room, where doctors and nurses are rushing around trying to revive a girl.
Tears spill out of Bo-nui’s eyes as she begs quietly, “Please, save our Bo-ra. Please save our Bo-ra.” She stays huddled in the corner just saying that over and over, until the doctor finally comes out.
It’s good news for now, since they were able to stabilize Bo-ra, who must be Bo-nui’s little sister. Bo-nui thanks the doctor and promises to repay the overdue hospital bills, but the doctor gently suggests taking her sister off of life support.
It’s been two years since she’s been in a vegetative state, and he says that she can’t continue to hope for a miracle when the prognosis is so bad. But Bo-nui won’t give up hope, and says with tears streaming down her face that Bo-ra will wake up; he’ll see.
As she thinks back to happy times with her parents and her little sister, Bo-nui narrates that her parents’ favorite song was “Sad Fate,” and wonders now if that’s why they had such an unlucky daughter like her.
She flashes back to that day when she ran to the hospital in the rain. The doctors were anxious to get Bo-ra into surgery and waiting on her to sign the papers, and Bo-nui was wrecked to see her little sister being carted away, covered in blood.
As she sat outside on the hospital’s curb, a fortuneteller saw her and sighed that her fate was sad—that her parents had already passed away when she was young, and that she was about to hold another funeral soon.
That was enough to convince her to seek out the fortuneteller for a reading, and though she looked slightly wary at first, he saw that she’d always killed things around her. Bo-nui said that was always true—every plant or animal that was hers ended up dead, and after a while she was such bad luck that she became an outcast at school.
He even saw that her parents had died clutching a present for her, and a flashback shows the aftermath of their car accident, with tickets in hand for a concert Bo-nui wanted to go to. So she followed the fortuneteller’s crazy advice—to spill nine drops of blood on her sister’s favorite clothes, burn and bury it deep in the forest, and do 108 prayers.
Afterwards she ran back to the hospital, where the doctor said he tried his best, but Bo-ra’s heart stopped during surgery. But suddenly a nurse came running out to tell him that Bo-ra’s heartbeat had returned, and Bo-nui was convinced that the fortuneteller had saved her sister.
In the present, Bo-nui goes back to the fortuneteller to beg and plead for him to do something, but he says it’s miracle that Bo-ra lasted this long as it is. But Bo-nui refuses to give up on her sister and says she can’t live without her. Feeling bad for her, the fortuneteller sprinkles some salt on the table to try and find a solution, and discovers something that intrigues him.
He asks ominously if she’s willing to do anything. She says yes, so he tells her, “Catch a tiger.” Bo-nui: “Are there any tigers in our country? I don’t think there are…” The fortuneteller calls her stupid and clarifies: “A man born in the year of the tiger!” He tells her to spend the night with a man whose zodiac sign is the tiger, or else Bo-ra dies.
Bo-nui leaves thinking that it’s too crazy to be real, but she also knows that the fortuneteller has always been right up until now, and can’t shake the feeling that she has to listen to him. Yeah but… sleeping with a guy to save your sister?
That night, Su-ho goes for a bike ride to clear his head, but all he can do is think about all the articles and comments online about his public failure. People seem happy to cut him down to size and watch him fail.
Bo-nui has apparently spent the rest of her day getting hammered, because she stumbles down the street with pink cheeks, stopping at every tree and lamppost like it’s a man, asking in all seriousness, “What’s your sign?” She’s the cutest drunk.
She calls out, “Are there no tigers? Where are all the tigers?” Just then, Su-ho happens by on his bike and she yelps in excitement when she sees him approaching. She screams, “You!” and he comes to a screeching halt in front of her.
His eyes widen to see her running straight for him… only to have her zoom past him for the giant stuffed bear that’s been tossed out to the curb. She sits down to have a conversation with the bear about how old he is, and that’s when Su-ho recognizes her from the casino and the park, and thinks she’s crazy.
He catches her just as she’s about to fall, and she looks up at him and goes, “Why is the lamppost talking?” He tries to walk away from her, but now it’s her turn to get all handsy and refuse to let him go.
She literally holds him by the ankles and practically strips the sweatshirt off his back while trying to hold him there, all the while demanding to know, “What’s your sign? Are you a lamppost, or a tiger?” He’s so bewildered, and doesn’t know what to do.
When she pulls them both down to the ground, he finally just answers her question: “I was born in the year of the tiger! ’86, year of the tiger.”
That gets her attention right away, and she clutches his shoulders and stares at him with purpose. And from her perspective, he morphs into a tiger and growls. LOL.
In a short epilogue, we rewind to the fortune of the day that Bo-nui read on her phone, and scroll down to the part she didn’t see—that said she’d meet an unexpected nobleman who’d help solve her problems.
More than just liking the characters and the setup, this was a good first episode—it was very economical in setting up story and characters, giving them solid motivations, and launching us into the main conflict right away. It shouldn’t seem hard, but so many dramas don’t manage to do all that in the first hour, and it often takes at least two (sometimes four) episodes to get me invested and get the story going in earnest. Now granted, some of it is stock characterization, and we’re used to the cues for a hardworking, plucky Candy heroine and a genius rich hero. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that they weren’t just the lazy stock versions of those character types, and that Bo-nui was smart and capable, and that Su-ho was (1) an actual boy genius, not just dramaland’s version of smart, and (2) not an ass. Okay, he’s probably a terrible boss to work for, but he’s also endearingly nerdy, self-conscious, and bad in a fight.
Most of all, I’m glad that we get clear motivations for our characters, especially with Bo-nui, whose excessively superstitious ways make sense once you realize how it’s all tied in with her guilt and her desire to save her sister. The way it comes together makes me relieved that it doesn’t matter if I don’t believe in luck—she comes to believe in it because it’s her only shred of hope when all else is lost, and that, I can understand. I don’t like that the fortuneteller feeds into her guilt by saying she’s actually so unlucky that she causes death around her (this isn’t Mirror of the Witch!) but I can see how she needs to feel like she can change something, because otherwise her sister’s fate is entirely out of her control. In that, her illogical superstition makes perfect sense.
Su-ho’s character background isn’t nearly as strong by comparison (probably because he was altered from the original webtoon character quite a bit for the drama), but I warmed to him when I saw that he was actually really hampered by his panic attacks and stage fright, and that he cares very much about proving himself because he pours all of himself into his work. That’s relatable, and I especially like that he cares what Bo-nui thinks of him, despite it not mattering (yet). Hwang Jung-eum really carried the emotion of the episode, which isn’t a surprise since she’s so good at that, and though Ryu Joon-yeol mostly got to play the straight man to her hilarious antics, he showed some moments of comic potential too, so I think they’re going to make a great pair. By the end of the episode, no matter how absurd the setup, I was ecstatic that she’d caught herself a tiger. I think I’m going to enjoy watching her tame him.
We’re also going to try out a new feature where we grade each episode of a show, because we had some requests from readers to add this to our recaps. Lucky Romance will be the testing ground for that, so let us know as we go if that’s something you like and want us to keep doing, and we’ll try it on other shows too. We’ll be grading a show against itself (so, keeping in mind what it’s trying to be), as well as against a general standard for good dramas (because being the best episode of a middling revenge show doesn’t automatically earn you an A—I’m looking at you, Mr. Black).
Episode Grade: A-
- Lucky Romance’s charm-filled (literally) promo posters
- Lucky Romance gets ready to test its fortunes and fates
- Hwang Jung-eum traps her tiger man in Lucky Romance
- Ryu Joon-yeol and Hwang Jung-eum get handsy for Lucky Romance
- Sneaking good luck charms in Lucky Romance’s first teaser
- Lee Soo-hyuk, Lee Chung-ah complete Lucky Romance’s love square
- Lucky Romance’s leads get cozy
- Lee Soo-hyuk up for second lead in Lucky Romance
- Lee Chung-ah, Taecyeon in talks to be unlucky in love for Lucky Romance
- Ryu Joon-yeol joins Hwang Jung-eum in a Lucky Romance