Backstreet Rookie: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
Backstreet Rookie is here, and it’s every bit as colorful as advertised. After some quick background, the story of our store owner hero and his feisty part-timer goes into full swing, and it’s rife with misunderstandings, manipulation, and a distinct manhwa feel.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
Before we dig into the premiere week episodes, let’s say hello to the elephant in the room, shall we? Yes, our leading actors have a pretty big age gap between them. Some (most) people react really adversely to this; others don’t. Feel your feelings, everyone, but if you’re game, let’s see where this story takes us. As long as it’s not to a cryogenic sleep pod, I think we’ll be okay?
Our drama starts out with a bit of prologue, setting up our characters when they first meet three years in the past. It’s short and to the point — we learn everything we need to know about our leads. There’s CHOI DAE-HYUN (Ji Chang-wook), who saves kittens from sewers, and though a bit dopey, surely doesn’t deserve the cruel dumping he gets from his girlfriend (yay, Jung Eun-ji killing her cameo!).
Flip the coin, and we’ve got our heroine, JUNG SAET-BYUL (Kim Yoo-jung) who lives by the credo, “A real woman speaks with her fist.” She’s a high school iljin, an expert fighter, and is already using her sex appeal to get what she wants out of people. And in this case, that’s poor Dae-hyun. Poor dude doesn’t know what hit him when they cross paths by chance, and you can literally see him losing his brains as she mixes coyness and aggressiveness to manipulate him. The takeaway? She’s nobody’s fool, and he’s a bit of a fool.
Our leads meet again three years later, when Dae-hyun hires Saet-byul as a part-timer at his family’s 24-hour convenience store. I say “hires,” but it’s more like she hires herself, and then he goes along with it. The build up to the hiring is pretty great — Dae-hyun is working at the store literally non-stop, and there’s an on screen clock ticking away as we watch him struggle to stay conscious and cognizant of his surroundings. Ji Chang-wook does this so well; it’s hilarious, but you can also feel the pain of his sleep deprivation. So, when Saet-byul charges in and applies for the job, you can see why our hero is blindsided.
This interaction is just the start to their power struggle, and our first episode is mostly concerned with the crazy that occurs after she’s hired. Goofball though he is, it’s easy to see why Dae-hyun would suspect his new part-timer of stealing cash (the 50,000 won section of the cash register is emptied and she has a back pocket full of cash), then all the cigarettes (she’s emptied the entire display to “organize”), and then become convinced she’s a fraud when the address on her application is actually that of a prostitution ring. They set the misunderstandings to rights rather fast, and while suspicion still plays a role, the major question is why Saet-byul is there. Clearly she’s laid some plans.
In Episode 2, their entanglement only gets more so — Saet-byul’s drunk iljin friends admit she’s working there because of him (and it’s obvious to us that she’s been mooning over him since they first met), and Saet-byul might be joking about seducing him, but we know she’s not. “Say sorry to your girlfriend for me,” she quips.
Their dynamic is pretty funny, with Dae-hyun trying to be daunting and in control, but losing his nerve whenever they’re together. I like the blurriness of whether he is falling for her charms, or falling under her spell, and it looks like the power dynamics of their relationship will be the fuel for the rest of our plot (with a sprinkling of problematic friends and an angry girlfriend).
Outside of the romance angle, though, there’s also the concept of Saet-byul being the one that carries out the store owner justice that Dae-hyun is unable to follow through on (example: Jun of the illegal cigarette purchases). I like the idea of a smart and street-savvy Saet-byul protecting the goofball she loves, and this could turn out to be the best part of their interactions for me.
With our plot and characters introduced, we definitely have to talk about form, because Backstreet Rookie leads with its style. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a webtoon adaptation that’s felt so much like an actual webtoon. The way shots are framed, the on screen text and embellishments, and even the crazy CGI during Saet-byul’s fight scenes (and her hilarious Super Saiyan moments) — all these things added to the feeling of watching a moving manhwa, so to speak.
Between this and the comedy, Backstreet Rookie is definitely a drama you have to be in the right mood for — while some of the comedy was really great (when Ji Chang-wook is funny, he’s funny), some of it felt a little forced. However, I’m hoping the drama evens out a little as it progresses.
While the webtoon feel I can get behind, Backstreet Rookie also seems to be hanging on to its source material a bit more than expected. Long story short, it’s got this subtle raunchiness to it that actually surprised me. I expected a cute, sassy PG story… but what we’re getting feels more like a watered down version of the adult story it’s adapted from. From suggestive comments, to Dae-hyun’s friend’s orgasmic drawing session (eww!), to the way the camera looks at Saet-byul’s body — I’m honestly not so used to seeing these things in dramaland.
That being said, a drama’s first week is only the first week, and if there’s anything I’m coming away with after our premiere, it’s that Backstreet Rookie knows its flavor, and it’s not afraid to use it. There’s something to be said for that, and we’ll have to see where we go from here.
I actually like the drama’s premise, and I really like the setting of the store (it’s such a great little microcosm for a story to take place) — in fact, the store and the surrounding “streets” look so much like a set that it only amps up that moving manhwa feeling I talked about earlier.
Also, I can’t not say how drop-dead gorgeous Kim Yoo-jung is. This isn’t a role I might have chosen for her if I was her agent, but she is so confident and in-charge playing Saet-byul that I almost feel like I’m under the same spell she’s putting on Dae-hyun.
We’ll dig more into the characters and developing plot next week, but in the meantime, as we chat about this drama, let’s remember that while we might have different opinions and takes on this story and the many issues that are attached to it — we can all still be friends at the end of the day. After all, there’s enough expired kimbap at Dae-hyun’s store for everyone.