Romance Is a Bonus Book: Episode 1
A noona romance starring Lee Jong-seok? Yes, please! I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this was an enjoyable start and I’m excited to see where things go from here. There’s a lot of ground to cover in this initial episode, so without further ado, let’s jump in.
EPISODE 1: “My Noona, Kang Dan-Yi”
A young man we’ll come to know as CHA EUN-HO (Lee Jong-seok) arrives at a wedding and makes his way up to the bridal room. Pausing in the doorway, he smiles as the bride, KANG DAN-YI (Lee Na-young) turns to greet him, but they’re interrupted when a group of women push past to gush over the bride.
Looking on, Eun-ho says she’s beautiful, but Dan-yi can’t hear him. “Forget it if you didn’t hear it,” he smirks and disappears back downstairs. Eun-ho seats himself at the piano and takes a shaky breath as the MC announces the groom’s arrival. Hong Dong-min struts down the aisle to an upbeat pop song and Eun-ho rolls his eyes as the groom dances onstage.
As Eun-ho starts playing the bridal march, Dong-min is informed his bride has gone missing. Eun-ho chases after him, but all they find is Dan-yi’s abandoned bouquet. Dong-min demands to know where she’s gone and grows indignant when Eun-ho asks if they fought… again.
Dong-min snaps that they always fight and Eun-ho runs off to search for Dan-yi. Brushing off some teens hoping he’d autograph his book, Eun-ho jumps into his car and peels out of the lot. As he drives, Eun-ho frantically calls Dan-yi’s phone. When she doesn’t answer, Eun-ho pouts to her voicemail that he practiced for a month to play at her wedding. Dan-yi answers and he quickly asks where she is, confused when she replies, “Behind you.”
Dan-yi sits up in the backseat, causing a Eun-ho to nearly miss a red light and screech to a halt. Eun-ho questions why she crawled into his car and Dan-yi morosely agrees she must’ve lost her mind. They’re interrupted by a call from Dong-min and Dan-yi urges Eun-ho not to answer, lunging to wrestle the phone away when he tries. The grappling results in the phone picking up. “You’re with Dan-yi now, right?” Dong-min accuses, as he watches the security footage of Dan-yi getting into Eun-ho’s car.
Eun-ho quickly assures him it isn’t what he’s thinking, urging Dan-yi to back him up, but she just scoffs. Dong-min orders them back, whining to Dan-yi that he knows he was wrong, but her mother fainted. Dan-yi doesn’t reply, but tears streak down her face and Eun-ho promises to bring her back.
Stopping at a convenience store, Eun-ho assures Dan-yi she doesn’t have to go back. He offers to drive her anywhere, but Dan-yi chokes out that she has nowhere else to go. Eun-ho suggests picking any flight from the airport, and Dan-yi sighs that she had insisted on honeymooning in Spain despite her mother’s concern that the couple is broke. She adds that it hasn’t been long since her father passed and now her mother has fainted.
Dan-yi suddenly shouts, “Your car!” Eun-ho leaps up and chases after the tow-truck, but it’s no use and he turns around to pout at Dan-yi. Her apologetic smile is all it takes for him to relent and they run back to the wedding on foot, hands clasped tight. Dan-yi’s voice narrates, “If I could turn back the hands of time and pick a day to return to, I’d choose that moment. Whenever my marriage stressed me out, I thought of that moment. That day, if I chose not to go back to my wedding… That day, if I went to some faraway country like Eun-ho had suggested… I’d be living a very different life now.”
Dan-yi stands in front of an interview panel and energetically presents her past advertisement successes. Unfortunately, as one interviewer points out, that was seven years ago, and they don’t care that she has been busy raising a child.
The scene breaks into an upbeat musical dance montage of Dan-yi at a motivational seminar, job searching at an internet cafe, patronizing a jimjilbang, working the checkout at a supermarket, and racing to job interviews. The interview panel pops up in each location to question her and Dan-yi admits that she was forced to leave her job after her mother fell ill and she had no one to look after her daughter, and that she divorced a year ago.
At another interview, Dan-yi notices her heel bleeding and asks another candidate for a band-aid, but she doesn’t have one. They’re called into the interview and one of the interviewers notes Dan-yi must’ve felt left behind after giving up a successful career to be a stay-at-home mom. Dan-yi brightly replies that her experiences will only further the company’s success.
Afterwards, in the bathroom, the other candidate hands Dan-yi a band-aid, pointing out that they were rivals before their interview. Dan-yi thanks her, but the young woman gripes that competition is fierce enough among her peers without older women vying for jobs too. As she walks away, Dan-yi sighs that she’s become so nice (by not fighting back).
Dan-yi is startled when the interviewer exits a stall and the woman declares that she’s interviewed many women like Dan-yi, trying to re-enter the workforce after a break. Her tone ices over as she tells Dan-yi it’s insulting to her, when she worked relentlessly to have her current job.
Meanwhile, Eun-ho wraps up his literature class at the university. The students rush to leave, but a collective sigh ripples through the room when Eun-ho piles on more homework. When the students cry that it’s too much, Eun-ho grins. “What? I’m too handsome? I know.” Hee.
A couple girls chase after Eun-ho to give him gifts while a third begs him to read a novel she’s written. Without breaking stride, Eun-ho accepts the gifts and tells the writer to submit her manuscript to his publishing company’s upcoming contest. The other girls ask if he has a girlfriend and Eun-ho pauses to cooly reply that he’ll be getting married soon.
Dan-yi busily cleans house, pausing to smile proudly at Eun-ho’s book as well as a photo of a young girl and boy (presumably young Dan-yi and Eun-ho). While hanging the laundry, Dan-yi marvels at a bra, musing that the size is different from the last one. Oh my.
The house is confirmed to be Eun-ho’s when he receives a text from Dan-yi, claiming his “housekeeper” told her he keeps bringing girls home, and urging him to get married already. Irritated, Eun-ho punches the dial button and tells Dan-yi to fire the housekeeper. Dan-yi can’t understand why, cheekily pointing out the woman cleans well and makes food he likes, as she packs side dishes for him.
Eun-ho grumbles that the woman reports everything to Dan-yi and she grins, asking how long he’s been seeing the owner of the bra. He winces that she even knows the color and says he’s put up with the woman because Dan-yi recommended her, but she’s clumsy. Dan-yi’s smirk vanishes when Eun-ho hangs up, and she sighs that she needs this job.
Dan-yi’s daughter, Jae-hui’s overseas school calls asking for Dan-yi’s letter of employment as well as a bank statement that she has at least 10 million won (roughly 10,000 dollars), since Jae-hui wants to stay another semester. Dan-yi pales and pleadingly texts Eun-ho to keep his housekeeper, assuring him there won’t be further mistakes.
Eun-ho texts back he’s going to change his passcode. He adds that he suspects the woman has been showering at his place, eating his food, and using his laptop, as a montage shows Dan-yi doing all of those things. She even keeps a box of her belongings hidden upstairs.
At Gyeoroo Publishing, a young woman tapes up a meeting sign before promptly being told to take it down by another employee, identified as General Director Ko Yoo-sun, second-in-command, and a “fussy witch.” With a small sigh, the first woman, Assistant Manager of the Editorial Department, SONG HAE-RIN (Jung Yoo-jin), rips it off as her text bubble declares she’s “quickly moving up the (corporate) ladder.”
Eun-ho saunters in next. His text bubble states that in addition to being a professor of Literature at Hanguk University, he’s also Chief Editor at Gyeoroo Publishing, a popular podcast host, and “total eye candy.” Hee. Another man bursts through the doors, screaming into his phone. He’s Bong Ji-hong, Editor-in-Chief of the Content Development Department, and previously a poet.
Last to arrive is Seo Yeong-ah, Marketing Team Leader. Noting that the president isn’t there, she launches into a long-winded list of complaints about her life as she frantically applies makeup. Grumbling at the pointlessness of these frequent meetings, Team Leader Seo doesn’t notice President Kim Jae-min appearing from underneath the table, where he’d been retrieving a box of tissue.
She adds that their boss is practically a dictator and nearly falls out of her seat when he announces that she’s late… again. Laughing nervously, she shoots a glare at Eun-ho for the lack of warning as President Kim adds another tardy mark next to her name.
Soon debate breaks out over the criteria for new employees. Despite the non-discrimination act, President Kim wants to declare acceptance of all college graduates, but eliminate anyone who’s been out of school more than two years. Chief Bong disapproves the sneaky tactics, but is ignored.
Team Leader Seo asks about the “no degree required” criteria and President Kim relents that they should stick to the law for one group. He selects the Task Support Team and although Eun-ho argues that’s only a contract position, President Kim ignores him as well.
That night, Dan-yi climbs over the wall of an abandoned house marked for demolition. Her meager belongings are already piled in the corner of a room and as she sits in her makeshift bed, she flashes back to when the house was new and she lived there with Dong-min and their daughter.
The bright and happy family memories give way to one of Dan-yi sobbing and pleading with Dong-min to start over. He tries to pull his hand from Dan-yi’s grasp, but she holds tight, begging him to think of their daughter and apologizing for saying harsh things when his company went bankrupt and they lost the house.
Dong-min coldly rips his hand free, and Dan-yi snaps, “Then did you think you could solve everything by cheating on me?” With a pitying sigh, Dong-min walks away and Dan-yi chases after him, swearing to never mention the woman again… but he leaves anyway.
Grimacing at her bankbook, Dan-yi starts to text Jae-hui that she can’t swing another semester when her daughter calls, crying about stomach pains. Dan-yi barks at her to go to the hospital. Despite Jae-hui’s protests about the medical bill, Dan-yi assures her there’s more than enough money for her treatment and another semester at school.
Meanwhile, Eun-ho is working late at home and when he tries to print a document, finds the printer unplugged. Vowing to fire the housekeeper, he plugs it back in and Dan-yi’s resume spits out. He finds it odd, but figures it’s too late to call, not knowing Dan-yi is impatiently awaiting an update from Jae-hui. She finally gets a text assuring her the issue was minor and Jae-hui will be discharged the following day.
The next morning, Dan-yi is jolted awake by a commotion outside. Realizing she’s late for her interview, Dan-yi jumps up but is startled by a window shattering. Outside, she finds the demolition crew at work and the foreman barks at her for squatting, but allows her to retrieve her belongings. Scooping up her things, Dan-yi also grabs a green onion plant she’d kept when she’d been married.
After readying herself in a public restroom, Dan-yi stands at the bus stop and inspects the blister on her heel. The bus arrives and in a rush to get on, people kick Dan-yi’s shoe into the street. Traffic prevents her from retrieving it and when the buses pull away, the shoe is gone. Dan-yi attempt to call and reschedule the interview, but the company is unsympathetic. Dan-yi cries that it would be a hassle to commute and they won’t hire her anyway, so she refuses to attend. Hanging up, she dissolves into sobs.
As if her day couldn’t get any worse, Dan-yi is caught in a sudden downpour. She ducks into a convenience store for an umbrella but receives a text about Jae-hui’s medical bill and decides against it. Instead, she chucks her remaining shoe in the trash in order to run barefoot.
Arriving at Eun-ho’s, Dan-yi finds the passcode has been changed. She attempts to call, but Eun-ho ignores it and goes into a cafe to meet a young woman. After a tense silence, she announces that she went on a blind date and is getting married. Unfazed, Eun-ho muses, “You must’ve been busy, considering it’s only been three weeks.”
Stricken, she wonders if he ever loved her, but Eun-ho replies he’s not one to give way to others and marriage isn’t for him. Eyeing the way she’s gripping her water glass, Eun-ho tells her to wait and then removes his jacket before allowing her to proceed. She throws her water in his face, then grabs his and tosses it on his jacket. Heh. She tells him that he doesn’t know love, or even believe it exists, and storms out.
Soaked, Dan-yi walks barefoot into a convenience store for a bottle of soju. Meanwhile, Eun-ho still sits dazed in the cafe. Checking his phone, he finds five missed calls from Dan-yi. “Dan-yi is why…” Eun-ho’s voiceover says, “I don’t believe in love.”
Walking down the street, Dan-yi stops outside a bridal shop and thinks back to her wedding day. She’d gone back and gone through with it, but hadn’t looked very happy. From afar, Eun-ho had caught her eye and asked if she was okay. She had smiled and nodded, but in the present she takes a bitter swig of soju.
Her phone rings and Eun-ho says he saw she called. She asks where he is, noting his new passcode and Eun-ho reminds her he’s firing the housekeeper. Dan-yi wants to know why he didn’t answer her calls and Eun-ho tells her he was getting dumped.
Dan-yi balks and calls the woman weird. Grinning, Eun-ho tells her the woman said he doesn’t know love. Dan-yi grows thoughtful and agrees that men are clueless about love. “It’s all because of you,” Eun-ho teases. Dan-yi asks what she ever did to him but he waves it off as nothing she needs to know about.
Changing the subject, he asks why she was at his house yesterday, admitting he found her resume. He asks if she’s looking for a job, but Dan-i just sighs that it’s all over. She tells him no one will hire her, “This life… is already a bust.” She continues that she’s not wanted and has nowhere to go and she’ll be wiring Jae-hui all the money she has.
Eun-ho is confused since Dong-min’s business had picked up and asks where Dan-yi is. “The edge of my life,” she answers before squaring herself at her reflection and declaring that she’ll just follow the next man she encounters… only to be immediately accosted by a drunk man.
Promising to call Eun-ho back, Dan-yi unleashes a wave of obscenities at the man, but he refuses to let go until a young man runs over. He’s JI SEO-JOON (Wie Ha-joon) and he apologizes to Dan-yi for being late, pushing the drunk man off of her. Grumbling, the man stumbles away and Seo-joon explains he saw everything from across the street.
Dan-yi assures him she had it under control, but thanks him anyway. His eyes fall to her feet and she wonders if he’s never seen a barefooted woman before. “Not when it isn’t summer,” Seo-joon replies and ushers her over to the bench.
Kneeling in front of her, Seo-joon says, “I may sound insane to you since I think that’s how I sound, but I have a pair of shoes.” Pulling a pair of heels from his bag, Seo-joon assures her he doesn’t always carry women’s shoes. He smiles that they fit perfectly and Dan-yi laughs because they’re hers. A flashback reveals Seo-joon standing on the other side of the street when Dan-yi lost her first shoe. He managed to save it from traffic, only for Dan-yi to be gone by the time he made it to the bus stop.
Seo-joon had searched for Dan-yi, but found the other shoe she’d tossed instead. Figuring he couldn’t throw out a perfectly good pair of shoes, but unsure what to do with them… he’d miraculously ran into Dan-yi again. “How was that story?” Seo-joon grins, “I just made it up.” Dan-yi answers that every woman loves the story of Cinderella, but she’s too old to believe in fairy tales and knights in shining armor–she’d rather write her own story.
The rain starts up again and Seo-joon quickly holds his umbrella over Dan-yi. He wonders if she isn’t cold and Dan-yi shrugs, agreeing that she is, but life has its cold days. She also gives him her green onion plant as a thank you for returning her shoes. Seo-joon insists she take his umbrella and despite Dan-yi’s protests that she won’t be able to return it and is already soaked, he hooks it over her shoulder before running up the street.
Having returned home, Eun-ho is surprised when the doorbell rings and a dripping wet Dan-yi shuffles in. He asks why she’s wet and eyeing her bag if she’d fought with Dong-min. Ignoring him, Dan-yi curls up in a blanket and asks for warm water.
Finally, she announces she’s sleeping over. Eun-ho blinks and asks her to repeat herself. Dan-yi asks to say the night and he assumes she’s run away from home. Without answering, Dan-yi starts dragging her bag upstairs. Eun-ho tries to stop her, but she rounds on him, shouting that she’ll just stay one night.
“I really… don’t have a place to go today,” she tells him. Her words echo what she’d said on her wedding day and he relents. Upstairs, Dan-yi pulls out her box of things and extracts some dry clothes. In his own room, Eun-ho wonders what’s wrong with Dan-yi and if he should call Dong-min before deciding against it.
The next morning, Eun-ho tries to question her again, but Dan-yi only continues to shovel food into her mouth until Eun-ho promises to stop asking before she chokes. Instead, he tells her to find a new housekeeper and Dan-yi offers to do it. Eun-ho asks if she’s not going home and Dan-yi admits she has no home to return to–she got divorced a year ago. Eun-ho chides her for fibbing, pointing out there’s no way he wouldn’t have known about it. Oh…. honey.
He tells her to wash the dishes in return for staying over, but pauses to ask if Dong-min cheated. Dan-yi goes back to shoveling food in her mouth, so he leaves, but outside mutters that it can’t be true.
While cleaning up, Dan-yi finds the recruitment packet for Gyeoroo Publishing. She sighs that she’d probably just get rejected again, and grumbles that having a college degree is useless and that she’d be better off having no qualifications. Something catches her eye, and flipping back through, Dan-yi zeroes in on the Task Support Team, which doesn’t require a degree. Back upstairs, she pores over the documents again, her resume and a college diploma beside her.
That evening, Eun-ho returns home to find Dan-yi’s shoes gone. He calls her, but since she’s still upstairs, she doesn’t answer. She does read his texts, though, and smiles when he vows not to let it go if Dong-min really did cheat.
The next morning, Director Ko, President Kim, and Eun-ho sit at the interview panel desk as Hae-rin organizes the interviewees. She calls the first three names and Dan-yi stands up.
Eun-ho flips through the list of candidates and President Kim warns him to keep questions short. Eun-ho grumbles that’s not how to hire employees, but trails off when he sees Dan-i’s name. He quickly flips to her resume, confirming it’s her. As she walks into the room and stands in front of him, Eun-ho looks up and they lock eyes.
How many drama cliches can we tick off in one episode? I feel like this should be a drinking game. Rich, geeeenius male lead. Poor, hard-working female lead. Most adorable puppy second lead. Childhood friends trope. Noona romance trope. Potential living space hyjinks. All we need is a marriage contract and someone to get amnesia and I think we’ve got a BINGO! Which is not to say I’m complaining. I’m just a little unsure of what to expect going forward. This episode was enjoyable, but uneven. The tonal shifts at the top of the episode gave me a bit of whiplash, but luckily I feel the drama had gained its footing by the end. Because while I enjoyed the random dance sequence after the time skip, it was random and felt out of place, especially when the drama didn’t do anything else in that vein for the rest of the episode.
I was surprised at how dark things got for Dan-yi, suggesting within the first five minutes that her marriage wasn’t going to be a happy one (even if we knew it had to fizzle out if Lee Jong-seok was gonna get a shot). But it really makes you wonder why did Dan-yi go through with it? Was it really because she felt she had nowhere else to go? And then the aftermath of her divorce is so extreme. We knew Dong-min was a skeeze, but worse than cheating on his wife and leaving her penniless and homeless, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything for their daughter either. Being a single mom is hard enough in the best of circumstances, but Dan-yi has gotten every short stick the universe could offer.
But moreso than Dong-min and Dan-yi’s failed relationship, I’m curious about Dan-yi and Eun-ho’s. They seem super close, and have known each other most of their lives, if that photo is anything to go by. On her wedding day, Dan-yi sought out Eun-ho for comfort, but she kept her divorce and the gritty fallout to herself. Now, even when she tries to tell him the truth, Eun-ho has trouble believing it. Because as far as he’s known, things were peachy-keen. I’m really unsure how it’s been an entire year and he hasn’t caught a whiff of what went down, but Dong-min seems to be absent and if Dan-yi was his only source of info, then it’s possible, albeit strange. And things are only going to get more complicated from here on out as Dan-yi carves out a place in more facets of Eun-ho’s life.
I liked this episode, and am hopeful going forward. There’s a lot of promise for cute antics. I just hope things keep to the lighter side and we don’t dip too far into dreary. As long as we keep a good balance, we should be in for a fun ride.
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