Reunited Worlds: Episodes 1-2
The highly anticipated Reunited Worlds premiered today, and I have to say that this drama immediately sets the bar for itself very high. Nearly everything about it is done with obvious love and care, and I found myself drawn into the story from the very first moment. I hesitate to use the word “perfect,” but it’s the word that kept coming to mind as I found myself instantly swept up in a tale that seems guaranteed to make its audience fall in love.
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EPISODE 1 RECAP
On a beautiful sunny day, a teenage boy sits in front of a camera in his school uniform. In voiceover, we hear him say, “I was dead. Twelve years ago, in the summer of my senior year in high school, I died at the age of nineteen.”
The boy breaks into a wide, happy smile, and the camera snaps his picture.
Twelve years later, a woman visits the boy’s memorial site, where that same joyful smile is displayed under a plaque listing his name, SUNG HAE-SUNG (Yeo Jin-gu), and the date of his death in June of 2005. Awww, he died on his birthday. The woman, JUNG JUNG-WON (Lee Yeon-hee), asks Hae-sung’s memory if he remembers when they took that picture.
The scene shifts to a few minutes before the photo was taken. Hae-sung runs across campus as a younger Jung-won waits impatiently for him. When they finally find each other in the school hallway, both of their faces light up.
Jung-won pulls Hae-sung into a classroom and declares his hair a disgrace to his family, ha. She motions for him to submit to a hairstyle correction, and when she touches his temple to wipe some of his sweat away, the slight contact wipes the grin right off Hae-sung’s face.
The spell is broken when Jung-won pulls her hand away, and Hae-sung teases her for wearing makeup for her school photo. She orders him to close his eyes, so he doesn’t see that her lips are barely an inch from his as she fixes his hair.
They’re not alone, and their friends snicker at their obvious attraction to each other. They call out friendly taunts, asking if they’re preparing to take their wedding photos, hee.
It’s Hae-sung’s turn, but he freezes up and just stares at the camera. Jung-won steps forward to help him out, acting silly to try and make him smile. When she makes a cute little pig-nose, Hae-sung bursts into laughter, and the photographer snaps the picture that will soon grace his tomb.
In the present, Jung-won marvels at how quickly twelve years have passed. She tells Hae-sung wryly that she’s thirty-one now, and that recently she was addressed as “ajumma” for the first time.
She relocates to a bench under a beautiful tree to have a beer in Hae-sung’s honor. She remembers sitting in this exact spot with Hae-sung twelve years ago, having a soda while he chowed down on a corn dog.
In her memory, he goes wide-eyed when she says she wants five kids when she grows up, and he mutters that five is a bit much while barely hiding a tiny smile. Jung-won leans over to steal a bite of his corn dog, bringing her mouth very close to his.
He freezes again as she grins, perfectly aware of what she’s doing to him. She says impishly that having five kids takes a lot of “effort,” making him fuss that this is why she has a reputation for being lewd.
Jung-won pouts that there’s nothing wrong with being naughty, but Hae-sung seems genuinely upset, so she clarifies that she just means you have to study a lot to support five children. Then she teases him for being the one with the dirty mind, hee.
Back in the present, Jung-won finishes her beer and prepares to go back to Seoul. Her purse strap breaks, so she ties it while accusing it of rubbing it in that she doesn’t have a good education (and thus a well-paying job). She stands again, but this time, she’s brought up short by what looks like a shooting star streaking across the sky in broad daylight.
Nearby, on the roof of their old school, a teenage boy lounges on the ledge while that same shooting star sails towards the building. The students are distracted from their studies by the shooting star, which actually looks like three lights, twisting and winding around each other as they move through the sunny sky.
The boy on the roof wakes from his nap, then rolls off the ledge onto the roof, heh. He stands and stretches, and we see that impossibly, it’s Hae-sung. He’s confused as to how he came to be on the roof, but he barely has a moment to wonder before a group of students comes out to watch the shooting star, and Hae-sung notices it for the first time.
The students see him and wonder why he’s wearing a strange school uniform, but with a name tag that shares their school logo. The kids advance on Hae-sung, who runs around them and downstairs into the school.
He makes his way to Jung-won’s old classroom, wondering what on earth is going on as he walks through a hallway of students wearing strange uniforms. But Jung-won isn’t where he expects her to be, and Hae-sung begins to grow genuinely scared when the teacher suspiciously asks where he got a uniform from over ten years ago.
He runs out the front door of the school in a panic, and he sees that the sign over the door reads “2017” instead of “2005,” as he was expecting. He suddenly realizes that twelve years have passed somehow. His first thought is for his grandmother and three younger siblings, and he takes off running, frantic to find his family.
Jung-won boards the bus for the city, and when the bus makes a stop, she sees a boy nearby who looks just like Hae-sung. She jumps off the bus to get a closer look, but she’s cut off from the boy by a passing train. When the train finally leaves, the boy is gone.
Jung-won chides herself for thinking she could have seen a dead person. It’s then that she realizes that her purse strap broke again, and that she left her purse on the bus.
Hae-sung runs all the way home, but he hesitates at the gate, which is the wrong color. Once in the yard, he sees that although the house is the same, everything else looks different.
He goes inside, and he slumps with relief when he sees his family sharing a meal, smiling and gesturing for him to join them. But then they disappear, and Hae-sung finds himself in an empty house. He looks around, desperate for something familiar, but even the people in the portraits on the walls are strangers.
Jung-won leaves the house, only to find himself faced with the homeowner, a fisherman who drops his catch when he sees the strange boy on his porch. Hae-sung asks if the fisherman knows where his family went, but the man grabs him angrily and accuses him of stealing.
Hae-sung fervently denies being a thief, and he knocks the fisherman’s hands from his shirt. The fisherman flies through the air to land about twenty feet away, and Hae-sung looks down at his hands in disbelief. He apologizes and stoops to pick up the man’s dropped catch, but the man hits him in the forehead with a piece of pipe, knocking Hae-sung unconscious.
Three men and a woman gather at Hae-sung’s memorial — they’re his other four friends from high school. SHIN HO-BANG (Lee Shi-un) asks CHA TAE-HOON (Kim Jin-woo) if he tried to reach Jung-won, who never comes to pay her respects with them. Tae-hoon says he doesn’t know her number anymore, and Ho-bang sighs that she’s abandoned her friends.
The woman, HONG JIN-JU (Park Jin-ju), kicks Ho-bang and tells him to keep his negative opinions to himself in front of Hae-sung. They bicker over her skimpy clothing, and their fourth friend, GIL MOON-SHIK (Shin Su-ho) quips that they fight so much, they must have been married in a former life, ha.
That just sparks a new fight between Moon-shik and Jin-ju, until she appeals to Tae-hoon for backup. Ho-bang bellows, “You’re so loud!!” They all shut up, and he tells Hae-sung bashfully that they’re as immature as ever.
Hae-sung ends up in the hospital, receiving several stitches to a pretty bad gash on his forehead. A cop admonishes him for trespassing, and when Hae-sung gives his name and birthday (June 14, 1987), the cop yells at him for lying about his age.
He’s taken to the police station, where he begs the cop to help him find his family. He repeats his birthday, and the frustrated cop looks him up under that date just to prove that he’s lying. But he’s shocked to find Hae-sung’s photo under that birth date in his records, as well as the notation that he died on June 14, 2005.
The cop orders Hae-sung to stay right there (hilariously switching to jondae, since technically Hae-sung is older than him), and leaves to find the chief of the intelligence division. He runs into Ho-bang (who’s a police officer) on his way back to work and tells him about the high school kid that their records list as dead. He takes Ho-bang to see the kid, but Hae-sung is already gone.
Hae-sung is in the restroom splashing water on his face, and he gets a start when he realizes that the huge gash in his forehead has completely healed. Whoa, what the heck?
As he’s leaving the restroom, Ho-bang walks in and finds himself face to face with Hae-sung. He stares in shock, then he sees Hae-sung’s nametag and begins to shake. He stammers Hae-sung’s name, and Hae-sung asks desperately if Ho-bang knows him.
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EPISODE 2 RECAP
From Hae-sung’s perspective, he’s found someone who may be able to help him, but seeing his dead friend looking alive and well — and still a teenager — scares Ho-bang to death. His legs give out and he sinks to the floor, which is when Hae-sung sees his name tag and realizes who he is.
Excited to have found his old friend, Hae-sung tries to grab Ho-bang, asking if he knows what’s going on. Ho-bang scoots away from him in terror, then passes out.
Back in the present, Jung-won goes to her job as a chef, but she’s apparently not very good at it. One of the waitresses says that two men are here to see her, but Jung-won says to tell them she’s not here. She sneaks out of the kitchen and into a storeroom, then starts to climb out the window, ha.
She ends up stuck halfway, which is how the two men (loan sharks?) find her. The older man tells the younger man that he needs to learn to anticipate these things, but the younger man seems stunned when he sees Jung-won’s face.
The loan shark approaches Jung-won, who finally pulls herself from the window, sans one shoe. He chides her for avoiding his calls, but she explains that she lost her purse and phone on the bus. From a short distance, the younger man grumbles, “Why does it have to be Jung-won?”
Teetering on one foot, Jung-won tells the loan shark that she’s been working an extra job to pay him back, but that the boss ran off without paying her. He yells that she still has to pay, and off-balance, she lurches toward him, swearing that she will soon. The loan shark orders her to pay the interest or he’ll move into her home, and the younger man slips out of sight.
A handsome man checks in at the airport for his flight, on his way to Paris to study the culinary arts for two years. His name is CHA MIN-JOON (Ahn Jae-hyun), and he owns the restaurant where Jung-won works.
Except that Jung-won finds him and his luggage waiting for her when she arrives home that night. Min-joon says shyly that he decided not to go to Paris because he was worried, and Jung-won assumes that he didn’t want to leave his restaurant. From the disappointed look on Min-joon’s face, that’s definitely not why he stayed.
But he lets her think that, and he says that even though Jung-won doesn’t have any cooking talent, she should at least be improving with practice. Thoroughly confused, Jung-won just thanks him for the advice, and he heads home with a smile on his face.
Jin-ju runs up to Jung-won, having watched the entire exchange from a hiding spot nearby. She tells Jung-won that her boss may as well have just proposed to her, but Jung-won denies that Min-joon canceled his two-year program just for her.
Blowing off Jin-ju’s insistence, Jung-won says that she has to go back to Chungho (their hometown) to get her lost purse. She tells Jin-ju that she thinks she saw Hae-sung today, but Jin-ju says that it’s been twelve years and it’s time to stop pining.
Ho-bang takes Hae-sung to eat, but the poor guy is so freaked out that he can barely look at his old friend. He reaches out to touch Hae-sung’s hand, but Hae-sung barely notices as he asks about Jung-won. Ho-bang stammers nervously that they’ve lost touch.
Ho-bang works up the nerve to ask if Hae-sung remembers “that day,” and Hae-sung says he remembers everything. Another flashback takes us back to the morning of Hae-sung’s birthday as he makes breakfast for his family. He’s the oldest of five kids, who are being raised by their grandmother, and he’s definitely the caretaker of the house.
His oldest sister Young-in, who looks to be about thirteen, tries to skip out on breakfast, but Hae-sung insists. Younger sister Soo-ji clearly adores him, and little brother Hae-chul is the obvious clown of the family.
Out of nowhere, Hae-chul announces that he’s going to kiss the girl he likes. He has it all planned out, but Young-in snaps at him not to kiss her without saying something first. Hae-sung takes a fatherly tone and tells his little brother to leave girls alone.
He calls to his other brother, Young-joon, but Young-in says that he went to school early. Grandmother sighs that Young-joon studies too hard, but she and Hae-sung are proud of how smart he is, sure he’ll become a doctor one day.
A bicycle bell alerts the family that Jung-won is here to pick up Hae-sung. Awww, the shy grin that spreads over his face is just adorable.
Jung-won nervously practices her “happy birthday” for Hae-sung, cringing when she lays on the aegyo a bit too thick. She tries again, sounding bored this time, and she holds out a clenched fist. Her eyes fly open when Hae-sung answers, “I won!” with an open palm, pretending that they’re playing rock-paper-scissors.
They head to school, and Hae-sung brags about the breakfast he made and how he’s such a promising chef. Pouting, Jung-won sees the food that Hae-sung is bringing to Young-joon and mutters that Young-joon seems like the center of the family.
Changing the subject, Hae-sung mentions that these days, kids are having their first kiss pretty young. Flustered, Jung-won glares at him and rides off, but he’s soon joined by Ho-bang.
Jung-won looks at the gift she’s been carrying for Hae-sung, a necklace with a fork and knife pendant. She thinks about when he’d told her that he plans to go to culinary school instead of college, and though his smile had faltered when she asked why he decided not to go to law school, he’d said that cooking is his true calling.
She’d called him a liar, aware that he wasn’t going to college because he couldn’t afford tuition. She knows that he wants to earn money fast so his siblings can go to college, but she’s upset that he doesn’t consider his own life just as important.
Hae-sung said that he just has a new dream — to open a restaurant so his family can have a good life. Jung-won had snapped that she’d never go to his restaurant, so the necklace with the fork and knife is as much an apology as a birthday gift.
Jung-won’s art classmate asks her out as she waits for Hae-sung. When he and Ho-bang arrive at school and see the good-looking boy chatting her up, Ho-bang says that he heard the boy likes Jung-won.
Hae-sung puffs up and shoulder-checks the boy, growling a warning to stick to drawing pictures. HA, I love jealous Hae-sung. He acts annoyed with Jung-won, who wonders what caused his sudden crummy mood.
Hae-sung learns from one of Young-joon’s classmates that he’s in the infirmary, so he rushes there, frantic with worry. He finds his brother’s face covered in cuts and bruises, and he demands to know who did this.
Young-joon doesn’t want to say for fear of causing more trouble, but Hae-sung yells that as his hyung, he can’t just let this slide. Young-joon looks at him with disdain and says angrily that this happened because Hae-sung is his brother.
Stricken, Hae-sung now knows exactly who beat up Young-joon. He runs back to his classroom and attacks Jung-chul, the class bully. Oddly, Jung-won doesn’t even seem to hear the commotion right behind her until Jin-ju turns her around to see.
Ho-bang and Tae-hoon hold Hae-sung back as Jung-chul gloats that he finally got a rise out of him. Hae-sung screams, “You bastard, I’ll kill you!” but Jung-chul just eggs him on, eager for a chance to fight him. He says that he heard Hae-sung is the best fighter in school, and since he’s new, he wants to find out for himself.
Hae-sung is more than willing to comply, especially when Jung-chul sneers that he heard that Hae-sung and Young-joon aren’t really brothers. Hae-sung screams again that he’ll kill Jung-chul before his friends drag him out of the room.
Jung-won joins Hae-sung outside, reminding him that he was suspended for fighting last year and advising him to ignore Jung-chul. She pretends to get all worked up and threatens to beat up Jung-chul herself, and it works — Hae-sung promises to just avoid the bully.
That night, on his way to work, Hae-sung buys a pretty hairpin for Jung-won. He asks for the night off, claiming a family emergency, then he calls Jung-won to tell her that he’s coming to her house.
She panics a bit, since she’s actually at his house with all of his siblings (except Young-joon), preparing a surprise party for Hae-sung. She says that she left her wallet in the art classroom at school and asks him to get it, stalling for time and telling him to take the wallet to his own house.
Hae-sung doesn’t find a wallet, so he assumes Jung-won left it elsewhere and turns to go. On his way out of the art room he nearly trips over an outstretched foot, and he looks down to see the bully, Jung-chul, lying on the ground with blood pouring from a head wound. Oh, this is very bad.
Jung-chul is in serious danger, mostly unconscious and twitching involuntarily. Hae-sung moves the heavy bust that seems to have caused his injury, then he leans Jung-chul against a bookshelf and says he’s going for help.
Covered in Jung-chul’s blood, Hae-sung rides his bike at top speed, focused on getting an ambulance. He pedals right in front of a speeding car and goes tumbling over the hood, flying through the air and over the car.
Jung-won worries when Hae-sung is late coming home. Unaware that he’s lying in the street losing consciousness, his family hears the door open, and they all cry out, “Happy Birthday!” But there’s nobody there.
Adult Jung-won’s voice tells us: “At that moment, Hae-sung died. And I realized later, the wind didn’t open the door that night. It was probably Hae-sung.”
Jung-won is back in Chungho, having retrieved her missing purse, and she stands at the same train crossing where she thought she saw Hae-sung earlier. A train comes by, and when it passes, there on the other side stands Hae-sung.
When my expectations are as high as they’ve been for Reunited Worlds, I try to go into the show with a sort of cautious hopefulness. I keep my excitement tempered by a healthy dose of realism, earned from years of being mildly disappointed when a show doesn’t quite live up to the wonderment I’ve built up in my head. At minimum, I expect a show to deliver what it promised in the teasers, and it’s wonderful when a drama lives up to the hype. That happens often enough to keep me coming back for more, but what’s not so common is when a show exceeds my expectations. This is one of those shows.
I knew the show had great casting and interesting characterizations going for it (just Yeo Jin-gu’s presence pretty much guarantees that), along with beautiful cinematography and a unique, heartbreaking story. I didn’t expect to be so moved, to have a simple shot of a window in the sunlight take my breath away, or to find myself tearing up several times just from an actor’s facial expressions. I think we’re in for something truly special.
Of course, the best thing about Reunited Worlds is the casting, and naturally, Yeo Jin-gu is already blowing me away. That’s only to be expected. But I’m also already in love with the four sidekicks, who have apparently failed to mature a single day since their high school days, and who made such a big impression in their one short scene together that I can’t wait to see more of them. In particular, I was impressed with Jung Chae-yeon’s portrayal of the young, cheeky Jung-won — I’ve only seen her in Drinking Solo, where I thought she did a fairly good job with a character that was pretty one-note. I’m enjoying seeing her as an animated and spirited young woman, so much so that I hope the show continues to weave the past and the present together as it did in this episode. It was executed seamlessly, and I thought it was a great way to introduce us to the drama’s world and its inhabitants, so it would be nice to see that style of storytelling continue.
I like that Hae-sung’s death isn’t so simple as an accident, and that there’s a mystery surrounding what happened that night in the school. Aside from his waking up twelve years after his death (and he really did die — I’ve been assuming that he somehow disappeared and everyone assumed he’d died), I’m anxious to know why Hae-sung suddenly seems to have superhuman strength and an uncanny healing ability, and what those three entwined falling stars had to do with his return. And there were so many mentions of other factors that will flesh out the primary story, such as the hints about Hae-sung’s family situation. It’s all much more complex than I anticipated, and I can’t wait to see how Hae-sung copes with his new and frightening reality as he tries to right the wrongs of the past.
I love a show that doesn’t spoon-feed its audience information, letting us find the little hints of what’s to come all on our own. This premiere had so many of those tiny moments, the kind that could mean nothing or everything. Moments such as Jung-won not noticing the vicious fight happening right behind her. The fact that Young-joon distances himself from his family and does nothing but study, and the hint that Hae-sung and his siblings may not actually be related.
And I found Jung-won and Jin-ju’s conversation in the present very interesting… when Jin-ju told Jung-won to stop pining, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jung-won has never dated since Hae-sung died. Because I’ll love it if, twelve years later, they get to be each other’s first kiss. These small teasers (and there were so many in this episode) tell me that this isn’t going to be just a straightforward tale about a boy who mysteriously returns twelve years after his death, but that this tale is going to be rich with nuance and meaning.
That’s a lot of words to say that so far, I love everything about this show. It feels like I’ve just barely dipped my toe into a pool, and that what we see on the surface is only a tiny part of the depth this show has to offer. Rarely am I this optimistic about a drama after only one episode, but I believe strongly that Reunited Worlds won’t be letting us down.
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