When the Camellia Blooms: Episodes 1-2
[Our newest group of recapper trainees has been hard at work for When the Camellia Blooms. We hope you enjoy the recaps and say hello to @fencejumper!–stroopwafel]
When the Camellia Blooms is off to a strong start and the premiere bursts with just the right amount of humor and charm. Set in a sleepy village, our two protagonists lead very different lives and don’t seem like a perfect match for each other. But sometimes love finds you when and where you least expect it.
EPISODE 1: “The Woman with the Germanium Bracelet”
We open on an idyllic landscape, but the idyll is quickly broken as we see that the location is actually a major crime scene. A police officer pulls up and though we can’t see his face yet we know that it’s our protagonist HWANG YONG-SHIK (Kang Haneul). He walks past the gathered crowd and crosses the police line as we hear people murmur that there hasn’t been a killing in a long while.
Yong-shik walks through the crime scene in a daze until he reaches two officers carrying away a covered body. When he stops them, a woman’s cut and bruised hand falls out from under the shroud. On her wrist is an unusual bracelet.
It’s a sunny day in the village of Ongsan as a moving truck arrives in an alleyway, piquing the interest of its residents. As a sign that says Camellia is installed, PARK CHAN-SOOK (Kim Sun-young) and the other residents wonder in amusement over why a flower shop would open in a food alley.
Just then, the new neighbor DONG-BAEK (Gong Hyo-jin) walks out of the store, (wearing the unusual bracelet from earlier) and pauses to pick up a stuffed doll. As she bends over, her straw hat falls off and we get a full-on glamor shot of Dong-baek.
In a hilarious montage, all the men immediately lose focus on their tasks, utterly taken by her beauty, mouths agape. The neighborhood ladies are not impressed–until they see that she’s a mom and breathe a sigh of relief. The men seem to regain their senses and go back to their work.
As the hubbub dies down, an older woman hurries through the crowd in a bad mood. Judging from everyone’s reaction, this is a common occurrence. As Chan-sook clocks her departure she comments that Yong-shik must have caused trouble again. Aha, so that’s Yong-shik’s mother KWAK DEOK-SOON (Go Du-shim).
Inside the Camellia, Dong-baek negotiates with the landlord, NO KYU-TAE (Oh Jung-se). She asks him to install a window, but he replies that his tenants have to be ‘self-reliant.’ He asks for her husband to discuss repair issues, but she retorts that she’s self-reliant and so he should discuss things with her.
Meanwhile, Yong-shik’s mother complains to her shaman friend that her son constantly gets into trouble and asks for a talisman instead of a fortune reading. She wonders if his life would be different if she had never asked him to go to the bank “that day.” We flash back to 2003–when it all began at a bank.
A teenage Yong-shik sits at a bank, looking rather shifty, as the bank’s workers get ready to clock off. He’s sitting next to bandanna-wearing man and begins to watch him closely, even imitating the man’s every action. The man pulls out a gun under some newspaper. Yong-shik reaches into his backpack.
We cut to a restaurant where Deok-soon answers a call informing her that Yong-shik’s at the police station. She rushes down and meets Detective Byun, who’s showing her something on his computer. Another officer walks in to turn on the TV for a breaking news report. It turns out a brave citizen, Yong-shik, stopped a bank robbery single handedly by attacking the armed robber–with his lunchbox.
She narrates that she must’ve been the only person in Korea to ever pay for a robber’s dental implants (compensation due to Yong-shik’s use of excessive force). Deok-soon laments that Yong-shik’s entire life has been a war on crime.
A reel of moments flash by accompanied by epic music: Yong-shik catching a motorcycle thief whilst peeing on the street, him catching a pick-pocketer whilst driving his taxi, and, finally, being appointed as a police office after he captures a dangerous escaped convict during his delivery runs.
At his appointment ceremony, it’s clear that Yong-shik is more brawn than brains. When reporters ask him about his most recent heroic deed catching that convict, he repeats the same thing over and over again.
In the audience his mom and Detective Byun watch him, questioning whether they should be happy or not. Detective Byun settles it by saying that if Yong-shik hadn’t joined the police he’d probably be doing something stupid. He tells Deok-soon proudly that he’d been waiting for Yong-shik to become a police officer since the day he stopped that bank robber.
Back in the present, Deok-soon finishes her narration by complaining about how Yong-shik insisted on moving to Seoul to be a cop and land a city girl but has nothing to show for his efforts. He’s still single and has nothing but a bunch of injuries thanks to his undying habit of running after criminals
The shaman throws rice to read Yong-shik’s fortune and tells Deok-soon not to worry–that a rabbit will meet a dragon. Deok-soon’s thrilled and exclaims that he’ll soar high once he meets a cute, rabbit-like girl.
The shaman though, says that Yong-shik is the rabbit and that the dragon lives somewhere in the east. As she points east, she ends up pointing straight at Dong-baek, who’s arrived bearing rice cakes as a greeting gift.
Dong-baek and a few of the neighborhood ladies convene inside Deok-soon’s crab restaurant to get to know each other. The ladies side with Dong-baek over having windows in her flower shop and ask whether she’ll sell camellias since her name means camellia. To their surprise, she says she’s actually opening a bar called the Camellia.
They take that in stride and carry on chatting. Over much questioning, Dong-baek mentions that she doesn’t have a husband, isn’t a divorcee or widow, and has never been married. At their bewildered expressions, she good-naturedly tells them that it’s possible to not be married and still have kids.
Later, Chan-sook and her friend gossip about Dong-baek, wondering how a single mother could open a bar. Deok-soon however, is not having any of it, asking them whether there’s a law that prevents a single mom from running a bar. If that’s the case, then she should close up shop too since she sells soju in her restaurant despite being a widow.
Deok-soon tells them not to be proud of their husbands since men are useless. Looks like Ongsan is run like a matriarchy.
Scenes of Dong-baek slicing cabbage intermingle with the alley’s marinated crab restaurants opening for business. The village men wonder why they were even born, since all the restaurants and recipes in the village are passed down through the women in the family, be they daughters or daughters-in-law.
Because all of the restaurants are family-owned, the men don’t have anywhere to go to relax or drink. But now with a new bar in town, they have their very own Switzerland. 6 year later, the Camellia is thriving and has overcome the odds to survive in a tough market.
Dong-baek’s son Pil-gu asks his mom to pick an English name for a school counseling session. After some hesitation she settles on Diana because she’s a fan of Princess Diana and how stylish and smart the princess was.
Meanwhile, Yong-shik has been transferred (demoted) back to the village police station after hitting an unrepentant murderer in front of a gaggle of reporters. He tells the other officers and Chief Byun (formerly detective) that he has no regrets save one–that he didn’t get a chance to woo his own Princess Diana.
Yong-shik informs them he’s not interested in country bumpkins; he’s searching for a city gal who’s intelligent and graceful, like Princess Diana. Chief Byun says they should celebrate by visiting Ongsan’s Princess Diana at her bar the Camellia, but Yong-shik assumes it’s a hostess bar and shoots him down.
Back at the Camellia, Kyu-tae boasts to his friends that he’s very close to Dong-baek. He calls her over using informal speech and throws out a casual request for free peanuts…only for her to be straightforward and tell him he has to pay for his peanuts, much to his embarrassment.
Similarly, Pil-gu goes around telling his mom’s customers to stop being so casual with his mom. He threatens that the free popcorn refills will stop unless they learn to address his mom by her proper title, CEO.
In the background at the bar, we get a glimpse of a celebrity couple on TV very awkwardly confessing how much they love each other (in a spoof of The Return of Superman). The wife, JESSICA (Ji Yi-soo) nibbles on an extremely tiny bit of cake as her husband, KANG JONG-RYEOL (Kim Ji-Suk) tells her that the audience is complaining about her pretending to eat.
It turns out she’s a social media fitness influencer and she gets very hissy (off-camera) whenever her husband eats. Jong-ryeok protests, saying he’s an athlete and needs to eat, but she shoots back by asking why he married her if he wanted a supportive wife. He replies that he’s not asking her to cook for him, just to let him eat in peace. When Jessica snipes that she didn’t marry him to cook for him, he gets the final word by pointing out they she married him for his fame.
Well, they’re definitely not a happy couple since it turns out they live apart and they’re just pretending to be one happy family for the TV show. Whilst getting ready to go home, Jessica boasts about her followers and celebrity status.
When their baby starts crying she just plugs her ears and asks why “the kid” keeps crying before she walks out, leaving Jong-ryeol alone in disbelief with their baby. The way he pats the baby to sleep is exactly how Dong-baek pats her son’s back as they walk home. Lurking behind them in the shadows however, is a suspicious figure who watches them go.
A protest is being held at the police station demanding that the police catch the “Joker,” a serial murderer who went quiet five years ago. Thanks to a new hit movie about the case, and unsolved murders–and the Ongsan police’s failure to solve them–are news once more.
Yong-shik and Chief Byun head to Deok-soon’s restaurant for lunch, and as they eat they worry about the village’s image. Ongsan had finally managed to make a name for itself and its marinated crabs, only for the movie to bring the focus back to the Joker. As they eat, Deok-soon and Yong-shik accusingly wonder why the police can’t catch the Joker, even the name’s a joke after all.
The chief tells Yong-shik and his mom that catching the Joker is exceedingly difficult and the name comes from the killer’s signature. After every murder, a note saying, “Don’t be a joke” was left behind at the scene. Yong-shik suggests he should catch the Joker because of his skills, much to his mom’s annoyance and worry.
He tells Chief Byun that he’s going to go after the Joker and his first stop will be the village bookstore. Chief Byun insists on sending him on a minor mission instead and tells him not to hang out in bookstores because Yong-shik’s much cooler when he’s not using his brain.
Cut to Yong-shik sitting confused at a bookstore and getting up to leave. Just as he’s about to go, he sees Dong-baek and is struck by her beauty. He’s transfixed by her aura and English while Dong-baek just thinks he’s a weirdo for his unceasing, slightly open-mouthed staring and the pregnancy books he’s clutching.
Trying to clear up his image he blurts out he’s a bachelor and laughs awkwardly until she leaves the bookstore. He watches her walk into a law office and assumes she’s a fancy lawyer. He later meets up with his friend Seung-yeob and discusses the woman he saw. Seung-yeob only half pays attention and ends up asking if Yong-shik’s gotten in trouble with a smart lawyer who’s lived abroad.
Dong-baek however, is at the law office to tell lawyer HONG JA-YOUNG (Yeom Hye-ran), that her landlord hasn’t paid his bills. Abruptly, Ja-Young points out that Dong-baek doesn’t have any eye wrinkles as she flashes back to 3 days prior.
Her husband Kyu-tae gave her a free sample eye cream as a gift and it’s obvious Ja-young thinks Kyu-tae gave the actual eye cream to Dong-baek. As she scrolled through their card statement on her phone, Ja-young cryptically told Kyu-tae that as a divorce lawyer it’s her job to collect evidence of affairs. Like receipts.
Back in the present, she tells Dong-baek that she’s Kyu-tae’s wife, and the atmosphere grows tense as Ja-young becomes passive-aggressive towards Dong-baek, especially regarding how often Kyu-tae visits the Camellia. Ja-young condescends to Dong-baek and tells her to do her job: smile and be nice to her customers. Just as Dong-baek starts to tell that Ja-young that smiling isn’t her job, Ja-young’s law partner rushes in and ends the meeting.
Speaking of Kyu-tae, he’s brought a welcome gift for the station’s newest officer, and it’s clear he’s a big deal as Chief Byun and the other officers are overly polite and gracious. Kyu-tae’s wealthy, well connected, and has political aspirations so he’s already treated like the next governor.
Upon hearing that Kyu-tae’s wife is an attorney, Yong-shik snaps to attention trying to probe for information on the mysterious woman he met at the bookstore. Yong-shik doesn’t learn much but Kyu-tae decides that a welcome party is in order.
As Dong-baek walks through the alley she greets some of the neighborhood ladies politely, but they have their backs up. Chan-sook is even meaner than usual as she accuses Dong-baek of stealing her customers.
She goes on a judgmental spiel and tells Dong-baek she shouldn’t do things that would make her son ashamed for her. Dong-baek, though polite, assertively states that she doesn’t do anything that would make Pil-gu ashamed of her.
In advance of Yong-shik’s welcome party, we see Kyu-tae enter the Camellia in a huff because Dong-baek has been refusing to take reservations from him. The Camellia’s part-timer HYANG-MI (Sohn Dam-bi) tells Kyu-tae to stop hitting on Dong-baek and obsessing over peanuts.
Yong-shik is not excited to have his welcome party at what he thinks is a hostess bar, despite the chief telling him that the Camellia isn’t that kind of place. In the end, he has no option since every other restaurant owned by some officer’s wife, mother-in-law or sister-in-law.
In other words, there are “spies” everywhere and a man can’t drink in peace at any of the restaurants in the village. Upon entering the Camellia, Kyu-tae is waiting to start the party but then Chief Byun and Yong-shik see Hyang-mi…banging a small propane canister against a table with all her might.
Chief Byun grabs the canister from her before she can do any damage and he admonishes her, saying she could have died. She casually throws back that she doesn’t think a long life is on the cards for her, so she prefers to live in the moment.
Chief Byun whispers to Yong-shik that Hyang-mi’s a kind person underneath it all–but a kleptomaniac. She only takes things that don’t have any value though, like lighters, so the chief warns Yong-shik to keep his lighter close.
Just then, Ongsan’s Princess Diana strides in. Yong-shik stares stunned as Dong-baek walks past him. While the others drink, Yong-shik throws admiring glances at Dong-baek as he plays darts by himself. He narrates that his mystery woman isn’t a lawyer or fluent in English. But he realized he didn’t fall for Dong-baek because of those things, but because she’s so pretty.
She receives a text from her son about his classes ending and goes to tell the group that she’s leaving. A thoroughly soused Kyu-tae stops her and demands some free peanuts. He emphasizes that he’s her landlord, grabbing her hand and telling her that if she takes a shot, he won’t increase her rent next year. She hesitates then suddenly downs the shot. As she hands back the empty glass, she states that he promised and smiles that she has police officers as witnesses.
Kyu-tae gets over-excited at her accepting his drink and takes the opportunity to tell her to smile more, serve him free peanuts and treat him in a friendlier manner. After a beat, she replies by listing what he’s ordered and the prices, and tells him she doesn’t serve smiles or the right to grab her wrist–only alcohol. Yong-shik looks awed.
The next thing we see is Kyu-tae leaving in a huff with Yong-shik and Chief Byun in tow while Hyang-mi trails behind them. She tells Kyu-tae he needs to pay for the peanuts, but he grumpily refuses. Dong-baek just tells Hyang-mi to let it go and the men leave.
As they walk, Kyu-tae complains while Chief Byun tries to calm him down. Yong-shik gets fired up though, and demands Kyu-tae give him the cash to pay for the peanuts. When Kyu-tae rudely refuses, telling Yong-shik to punch him, Yong-shik twists Kyu-tae’s arm and pulls back his fist.
At the last minute he drops his arm and pushes Kyu-tae away. Suddenly Yong-shik realizes that he’s managed to grab Kyu-tae’s wallet. After a pause he races back to the Camellia.
Shouting her name, he shoves the money for the peanuts at Dong-baek and assures her the money came from Kyu-tae’s wallet. Bemused, Dong-baek asks if he came all the way back to pay for the peanuts. Out of breath and working up a sweat, Yong-shik takes that question as an opportunity to introduce himself and fawn over her.
He gushes that he thought she was just beautiful but then he saw that she’s super cool too. Dong-baek politely asks if he’s drunk; in response he asks in total earnestness if he could come back tomorrow.
When she hesitatingly says sure, Yong-shik looks thrilled as he tells her he wants to come back over and over, every day. Dong-baek looks at him like she’s just met the weirdest guy ever.
We return to the crime scene and when Yong-shik sees Dong-baek’s germanium bracelet, his face begins to break. He pulls back the cover on the dead body and breaks down completely.
Dong-baek is such a gem. It’s easy to see why everyone has fallen for her. She has this air of calmness and serenity but still stands her ground in the face of jealous accusations and the stigma of being a single parent. She’s resilient and polite, easy-going and accepting. It’s as if she’s got an inner flame that can’t be tamped down. Her son Pil-gu was also fantastic. I loved it when he stood up for his mom, demanding the customers call her CEO, with his tiny fountain ponytail–utterly adorable. Also it seems like Jong-ryeol might be Pil-gu’s dad!
It’s Yong-shik who stole the show for me though, with his awkwardness, hilarious facial expressions and country-bumpkin-ness. I was wheezing at how his face-first stupidity somehow morphs into ninja-fighter-flying-kick mode when he comes into contact with any evil. He doesn’t take himself seriously (the music and sound cues prove it), but he’s always willing to take a stand. It cracked me up how everyone automatically assumes he’s caught up in trouble. What’s more, Yong-shik is steadfast and righteous, relying on his strong morals to guide his actions. It tickles me to see him so besotted with Dong-baek, to the extent that he freezes, unable to form coherent sentences, getting tongue-tied at every little thing. Aww…he’s going to be such a fluffy, love-struck marshmallow–one that can beat up a thug using a lunchbox!
Kyu-tae has managed to annoy and disgust me simultaneously with his unwanted advances and willingness to lean on his privilege to get what he wants. But I’m more interested in what his wife might do. In the few scenes we saw her, she came off as menacing and unrelenting. She might be able to use her legal skills against Dong-baek or threaten her in some way. It just goes to show that the premiere did an incredibly good job in setting up all the characters we love, will grow to love and will possibly hate.
That ending scene gave me goosebumps–a complete 360 in tone from the scenes at the Camellia. I’m guessing it’s most likely the kleptomaniac part-timer Hyang-mi who died (which isn’t much better) because I doubt a drama would kill off the main character so easily. At least I hope so. I definitely wasn’t expecting the thriller aspect but I’m already intrigued about how it all ties in with the suspicious stalker and the Joker.
- Premiere Watch: Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency, When the Camellia Blooms, Secret Boutique, Running Investigators, Vagabond, Pegasus Market
- Kang Haneul becomes shy for Gong Hyo-jin in new promo for When Camellia Blooms
- Character stills for When Camellia Blooms with Gong Hyo-jin, Kang Haneul
- Lee Sang-yi joins the cast of When Camellia Blooms
- Kang Haneul is back and signed up for post-military comeback drama
- Gong Hyo-jin considers becoming single mom for KBS rom-com thriller