Was It Love: Episode 1
Differentiating itself from the usual love story, Was It Love is about a single mother with, not one or two, but FOUR potential suitors, vying for her affection. Life might be hard for our heroine, but every cloud has a silver lining. No matter the obstacle, she won’t give up because she has her family by her side and a dream to keep her moving.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
2012. Our protagonist NOH AE-JUNG (Song Ji-hyo) juggles three part-time jobs while on the job market for a more permanent position. Interview after interview, she describes her qualifications with gusto, but when asked why she didn’t finish her last semester of university, her smile fades.
It’s Christmas Eve, and little NOH HA-NEE sits alone at daycare. Grandma CHOI HYANG-JA (Kim Mi-kyung) arrives late, and Ha-nee gives her the cold shoulder. More than the tardiness, however, Ha-nee is upset that that the other kids asked about her dad today. Grandma looks at the wall of drawings depicting nuclear families while Ha-nee’s picture only has her, Mom, and Grandma.
On their way home, Grandma piggybacks Ha-nee and asks if she wants to have a cake for Christmas. Ha-nee shakes her head and glumly says that there’s no Santa and no dad. With a sigh, Grandma asks that they pretend he’s dead since that’s what her mom wants and promises to shower Ha-nee with even more love. Ha-nee is upset with Grandma’s response and gets off her back to walk home by herself.
Back to Ae-jung’s interview. The CEO of Thumb Film crosses off Ae-jung’s sheet, which finally pushes her to answer: she became pregnant. She tells them that she has no regrets, but despite her declaration, the interview ends.
Returning home with a cake, Ae-jung notices the disarray in her small apartment and starts working on the piled-up chores. As she puts away dishes, she finds a bug and falls to the ground in shock—shattering a cup in the process. She picks up the broken pieces and dissolves into tears.
When Grandma and Ha-nee arrive, Ae-jung tells them to stay away since it’s dangerous, but Grandma can’t sit back while her daughter cries. Putting Ha-nee aside, Grandma kneels next to Ae-jung and helps her clean up. Ae-jung cries that it’s all her fault—clearly, not just talking about the cup—but Grandma tells her that it’s not.
As they clean, Ae-jung’s phone rings, and the scene returns to the interview at Thumb Film. Before Ae-jung left, CEO Wang asked her one final question: why does she want to work for a film studio? Flashing back to 2006, Ae-jung watched the movie she produced but slipped away as the credits rolled, hiding her pregnancy from the others. Since college, her dream has always been to produce movies, and just because she’s now a mom doesn’t mean she’s no longer Noh Ae-jung.
Ae-jung hangs up the phone and grabs her family in a hug. She got the job! To celebrate, they gather around the cake Ae-jung bought and get ready to make a wish. Once Ae-jung counts down, Ha-nee blows out the candles, and the scene jumps to the present day.
Holding Ha-nee’s middle school uniform, Ae-jung skips home from the cleaners and notices a couple of students leave a convenience store with keychains. At home, she presents Ha-nee (Uhm Chae-young) her “new” uniform and hands her a keychain to use as a stress doll.
Grandma smacks Ae-jung in the back and asks what’s happening at her company. After their recent movie flopped, a majority of the employees resigned, and paychecks have been withheld. Ae-jung tells her not to worry since she was promoted to producer from bookkeeper and is confident that their movie will attract a lot of investors.
In contrast to Ae-jung’s positive outlook, the reality at Thumb Film looks glum. The desks are empty except for one other employee, Producer CHOI HYE-JIN (Baek Soo-hee), and the promised investor has yet to arrive. As Ae-jung paces around nervously, the doors open, and two intimidating men enter the office. Ae-jung assumes that they’re the investors and points them to the conference room.
Meanwhile, Ha-nee observes her new school surroundings and joins a gaggle of schoolgirls watching a basketball game. She notices one of the players—a teacher—make a basket and nods approvingly. Once the bell rings, Ha-nee follows the crowd towards the entrance.
She bows to the teacher guarding the door, but Teacher Jang stops her from entering. He points out her missing nametag, and though Ha-nee explains that she’s a transfer student, Teacher Jang calls her a liar. He threatens to punish her until the basketball-playing teacher, OH YEON-WOO (Gu Ja-sung), comes to Ha-nee’s defense. He corroborates her story since he’s her new homeroom teacher.
Ae-jung presents their new movie Husbands Over Flowers to the guests and lays out the budget. The “investor” asks how she plans on securing the funds, so she looks at him quizzically since that’s why he’s here… right? Wrong.
The “investor” is actually the CEO of Nine Capital, GU PA-DO (Kim Min-joon), and he isn’t here to give money to Thumb Film but take it… 1,050,000,000 won to be exact (approximately $900,000). To make matters worse, Ae-jung is now responsible for all this debt since she stood surety for CEO Wang. Only now does Ae-jung realize that, in exchange for her promotion, she signed the contract to serve as guarantor.
She chases after Pa-do, begging for a pardon, but he shakes her off and enters his car. His righthand man, Director Kim, steps in and warns Ae-jung that they know about her family. She has exactly two weeks to pay them back or else.
At school, Ha-nee mutters to herself that kids are all the same no matter where she goes, but to her surprise, a milk carton whizzes past her head. It hits the student sitting in front of her and splatters all over Ha-nee as well. The bully gives her a mock apology, and though Ha-nee is fuming, no one bats an eye at the incident.
Wielding a hammer, Ae-jung breaks into CEO Wang’s apartment, but all that’s left is garbage. The only thing maybe worth their time is a copyright license agreement found inside a book, but even that looks like trash. Ae-jung crumples up the paper and a slew of profanities escape her mouth much to Hye-jin’s horror. However, a call from school returns Ae-jung back to her calm, mother-mode.
Ae-jung rushes into the teacher’s lounge, looking for Ha-nee, and at his desk, Yeon-woo stands up and smiles. He calls after her, but Ae-jung runs out of the room to find her daughter. With Yeon-woo trailing after her, Ae-jung enters the counselor’s office where Ha-nee is waiting for her.
The bully has a nosebleed, and his parents accuse Ha-nee of hitting their precious son. Ae-jung apologizes for her daughter’s behavior and gets on her knees when the bully’s parents suggest holding a school violence committee. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bully’s father asks when Ha-nee’s father will arrive since this is a discussion for men… excuse me for a minute while I go barf.
Ha-nee glares at the family and tells them that she doesn’t have a dad. Rather than feel embarrassed about their presumption, the family scoffs at their single parent household. The father even offers some “advice” to Ae-jung, telling her to be stricter with her daughter.
Yeon-woo calls out the father for his rude behavior, but Ae-jung stands up for herself, stating that she’s Ha-nee’s father and mother. While she’ll compensate them for their child’s injuries, she asks how they’ll compensate Ha-nee for the scars they caused. No longer willing to tolerate any of this nonsense, Ae-jung holds Ha-nee’s hand and leaves the room.
Once outside, Ha-nee tries to explain the situation, but Ae-jung notices Director Kim in the parking lot and freaks out. She drags Ha-nee away, but her daughter misinterprets her behavior and lashes out. Though Ae-jung pleads with her to talk later, it only makes matters worse, and Ha-nee runs away.
Irritated, Ae-jung chases after her, but is taken aback when she sees her daughter in tears. Ha-nee asks her mom why she won’t listen to her and admits how hurt she felt when Ae-jung apologized in the room. Rather than listen, Ae-jung yells at her daughter to stop causing her heartache, and their fight turns personal.
Ha-nee blames her mother for causing all these problems and throws the keychain on the ground. She asks what’s the point of a useless stress doll when it won’t change the fact that she doesn’t have a father. Unable to respond, Ae-jung lets her go.
Having witnessed everything since the counselor’s office, the bullied student, GU DONG-CHAN (Yoon Sung-woo), finally comes out of the shadows and talks with Ae-jung. He explains how Ha-nee was the only one who stood up for him, and the truth finally dawns on her.
Looking for comfort, Ae-jung brings her own soju to a bar and tells the bar owner, KANG SOOK-HEE (Kim Young-ah), about her work troubles. Sook-hee offers to pay the debt… until she hears the actually amount. She curses out the CEO and offers Ae-jung a free drink, instead.
Ae-jung wonders why bad luck comes all at once, so Sook-hee tells her that it’ll leave all together as well. Ae-jung disagrees since it didn’t happen fourteen years ago, either, and wonders what her life would be like if she didn’t meet him back then.
Ha-nee sulks at her desk, thinking back on what the bully’s father said, when Ae-jung comes home. Avoiding her mom, she jumps into bed and pretends to sleep. Ae-jung checks her daughter and notices her bruised wrist from when she dragged her at school. Overwhelmed with guilt, she cries into her shoulder, and Ha-nee silently listens to her mother weep.
In the morning, Yeon-woo sits on the bus thinking of Ae-jung when he sees her outside, running to the next stop. He stalls the driver until Ae-jung gets on and stands next her, hoping that she’ll notice him. When the bus lurches, she stumbles into Yeon-woo and recognizes him as Ha-nee’s homeroom teacher. Just then, the bus jerks again, and she runs into him a second time—now very aware of their proximity.
Yeon-woo drops honorifics and asks if Ae-jung doesn’t remember him. It suddenly dawns on her, and the scene flashes back to a bathhouse. Ae-jung’s MP3 player clattered to the floor, and a young man sheepishly raised his hand from the bath.
Yeon-woo gets off the bus first and knocks on the window next to Ae-jung. She opens it reluctantly, and he confesses that he missed her. He promises to take care of Ha-nee and runs after the bus, waving at Ae-jung until she’s gone.
While Ae-jung bangs her head in embarrassment, Yeon-woo flops down blissfully in the school’s gymnasium. Ha-nee finds him and hands him a drink as a thank you for last time. He tells her to come to him whenever she’s in trouble and pats her head affectionately. From the doorway, Ha-nee steals glances at Yeon-woo and touches her head with a smile.
Since the investors won’t come to her, Ae-jung decides to go to them and waits outside in the lobby until the CEO comes out. She tells the potential backer about their movie, but the CEO recognizes the title as another project from a different film studio. Uh-oh.
Ae-jung bangs on the director’s door to tell him about the silly rumors, but he admits to leaving the studio since CEO Wang broke their agreement first. Ae-jung begs him to sign a new contract with her, but the director flatly tells her that she doesn’t have the abilities to get his film made.
Running out of options, Ae-jung decides to sell the CEO’s stuff to at least give Hye-jin a paycheck, but the loyal producer understands that times are tough. While Ae-jung describes how she’ll beat up CEO Wang, she slams papers on his desk and cuts herself. She throws the offending papers to the ground and orders Hye-jin to burn them.
Hye-jin picks up a manuscript, and her eyes grow wide. It’s by best-selling author CHEON EOK-MAN, and the title, “Love Doesn’t Exist,” rings some bells. Ae-jung scrambles to find the old contract they found at the CEO’s apartment, and after wiping away a smudge, they find the same name. They’ve struck gold!
Ae-jung and Hye-jin go to Pa-do’s house, but the idyllic scenario is ruined by the broken tea cups and angry guard dogs. As Ae-jung and Hye-jin scream for their lives, the dogs respond to their owner’s whistle and run to Pa-do’s side. With a blood-stained hand, he waves at his two guests to come over.
Gathering up her courage, Ae-jung flourishes the old contract in front of Pa-do and tells him that Thumb Film will make Cheon Eok-man’s story into a movie. He asks if they can secure the funds, and the voices of doubt creep into Ae-jung’s head. When she doesn’t answer, Pa-do assumes that she’s given up, but Ae-jung tops him in his tracks: “Then you should invest!”
Pa-do takes off his bloody shirt—right in the middle of his lawn—revealing his tiger tattoo and many scars. After putting on a new shirt, he tells Ae-jung that he invests in people and asks if she’s willing to stake her life on the line. Ae-jung says that she’ll prove her worth since her life is in her family’s hand.
Slamming his fist into the table, Pa-do agrees to give her an opportunity. He wants the script written by the original author, and the lead actor needs to be his favorite Hallyu star, RYU JIN (Song Jong-ho). Pa-do refuses to negotiate these terms, but to sweeten the deal, he offers to forgive the debt as well as re-invest a billion won.
Clearly Ae-jung hasn’t learned her lesson to be careful about contracts, since she immediately signs a new one with Pa-do. Now she has eight days to secure both the writer and lead actor for her new film.
After their meeting, Pa-do resumes his shady business and goes down into a basement where four bald men are bloodied and tied-up. He grabs the nape of one man and looks at the tattoo on his neck—a similar looking scar is on Pa-do. In Chinese, he orders the man to pass along a message: “If I see you again, you’re dead.”
Splitting up their tasks, Ae-jung goes to recruit their actor since she has a history with him. Back in college, Ae-jung knew Ryu Jin-sunbae and even asked him for a kiss. That same sunbae is now surrounded by adoring fans and reporters who want the latest scoop on his Hollywood debut.
After the short interview, Ae-jung screams for Ryu Jin, but her voice is mostly drowned out by the crowd. However, Ryu Jin turns around, as if he heard her calling, but before he sees her, a fan breaks through the barricade and tackles the actor.
Ae-jung returns to the office emptyhanded, but she won’t give up since she has a special relationship with the top star. Flashing back to her university days, Ae-jung participated in the old-time, college ritual of drinking copious amounts of alcohol. She gave up midway while drinking a pot of alcohol, so as punishment, the others made her kiss someone. Rather than ask for a volunteer, Ae-jung chose who to kiss and ran out the door. Everyone followed after her except for one person who kept drinking.
Thus, Ae-jung asked Ryu Jin for a kiss, but the mood was ruined by a classmate throwing up his guts. As a very familiar silhouette created havoc on the patio, Ae-jung remembered her shoes and ran back to the house—unaware of her sunbae’s attempt to talk elsewhere. As Ae-jung feared, she found her shoes covered in vomit.
After hearing her tale, Hye-jin deflates since her “special” relationship isn’t very special at all. Ae-jung tells her not to worry since they have the best-selling author on their side, but Hye-jin has bad news: she couldn’t contact him, either.
Despite all the screaming fans, Ryu Jin did hear Ae-jung in the crowd but is taken out of his reverie when Manager Myung arrives. He fusses over Ryu Jin’s injury, but the top star thinks nothing of the scratch and is instead grateful for his passionate fans.
As the two of them reaffirm their brotherhood and hug, CEO Song barges into the room and kicks Manager Myung in the shin. She smiles lovingly at Ryu Jin and invites him to a party, but he declines. He says that he has a prior engagement and takes Manager Myung out for drinks.
That night, Ae-jung writes an email to the author and prays to the gods before hitting send. While she waits for his response, she decides to read his original story, “Love Doesn’t Exist.” As Ae-jung narrates, two warriors—male and female—clash swords in the snow. It’s a historical-action-romance, and the protagonists conflicted feelings of loving his enemy captivate Ae-jung. Flipping through the pages ravenously, she’s confident that this story will become a hit.
The next morning, she wakes up to a text from the author, asking to meet. She tells the whole family about the message, but they have no idea about what she’s screaming. Sharing the good news with Hye-jin, Ae-jung goes to a café to meet the author, but since she doesn’t know his face, she calls his number and looks around. She finally finds the author off to the side, but with just one look, she stops in her tracks.
We see each potential suitor one by one, starting off with Ryu Jin who eats in his apartment while looking over a script. On his TV, Ae-jung is in the background about the news of his crazy fan, but he doesn’t notice.
Meanwhile, Pa-do looks at a video of a party, and at the center is a woman who looks just like Ae-jung (or is it her?). Yeon-woo flips through a poetry book at home and finds an old letter addressed to “noona.”
Back at the café, Ae-jung peeks behind the pillar at where the author stood but can no longer see him. She turns around and screams since Cheon Eok-man (Sohn Ho-joon) is now standing in front of her. The last suitor.
The premise of the drama is purposefully over the top and a bit ridiculous. There’s not one but four potential suitors for our single mother who hasn’t fallen in love in a long time. Thus, the goal of this show isn’t to offer thoughtful insight or meaningful commentary, but instead, bring whimsy and joy to its viewers. For the most part, I had a hard time connecting with the show, but near the end, I saw a glimmer of hope.
Since it’s only the first episode, we’re barely introduced to the characters, but so far, the main protagonist and her suitors feel rather predictable. Despite being a single mother, Ae-jung has all the trappings of the typical dramaland heroine who’s diligent and hardworking but hasn’t gotten her lucky break to prove her worth. Rather than Song Ji-hyo’s portrayal, I have issues with the writing. The show tells its audience that Ae-jung is capable and wants us to believe that she can succeed despite the naysayers, yet none of the scenes have shown her abilities. In fact, the opposite effect took place, and I’ll admit that I agree with all the “negative” characters who told Ae-jung that she can’t make it. She doesn’t have the experience, resources, or means to make a big-budget movie, and nothing she’s done has given me much confidence that she can overcome these shortcomings. She doesn’t have a keen sense that can tell what stories and creators will be a hit (she didn’t even read the story before contacting the author), and rather, has relied on luck for everything so far. She got lucky that CEO Wang had a contract with Author Cheon, and she got lucky that Pa-do happened to like her sunbae.
When Ae-jung went to the movie premiere to convince Ryu Jin to sign onto her movie, I shook my head because there was no way her plan would work. I don’t understand why she thought showing up in a crowd of fans would miraculously land her a meeting, and if she was truly savvy, she should have negotiated with Pa-do for more days to hire the actor and author (especially since her success brings him money). Also, it’s obvious that Cheon Eok-man is Ae-jung’s classmate from college who threw up on her shoes, so once again, the writer has created a scenario where Ae-jung succeeds not because of her own abilities as a producer but because of an old connection from her past. I fear that the writer will make Ae-jung another “helpless” heroine who has the men in her life fix her problems. Even if people want fairytales, most of us no longer want a damsel in distress, so if Ae-jung’s dream is to become a producer, I hope the show really lets her grow as a character and achieve her dreams through her own merits. Just like the way she stood up to Pa-do and asked him to invest in her movie, I want Ae-jung to take action and be in charge of her life and future success.
My biggest grievance with the show wasn’t about Ae-jung but Ha-nee. Uhm Chae-young, the young actor playing the character, is doing a phenomenal job, and I don’t have complaints about her. Again, it’s the writing that’s the weak link. Because of real-life events in Korea surrounding sexual harassment, I’ve become extra-sensitive about how children are portrayed in media. For the most part, Ha-nee is your typical middle school student who thinks she’s mature and above socializing with her peers. She’s sweet and a bit sassy—like kids her age often are, though she’ll probably deny it. While everything is fine, there’s just one problem (that I’m completely blowing out of proportions, I will admit), and it’s her supposed one-sided crush on Yeon-woo.
Before some of you grab your pitchforks and throw stones, let me explain. When Ha-nee first sees Yeon-woo, she’s clearly complimenting his looks, and to reiterate his status as the “popular” teacher, the other female students gather around him and act like fangirls. Having a crush on a teacher can be harmless, and students fawning over the good-looking teacher isn’t necessarily wrong (the emphasis on looks in Korean society is problematic, but that’s another discussion). My problem is that the show depicts this crush at all, and to be honesty, I find it icky. To make things clear, I don’t find Ha-nee or her crush disgusting, but the creators who decided to include this part to her character. I don’t see what the show gains by making the audience think that Ha-nee might have a crush on her teacher when Yeon-woo’s storyline is clearly linked to Ae-jung. On one hand, Ha-nee might not have a crush at all, and is just looking for a father figure (or maybe she wants to play matchmaker for her mom). However, the mere fact that the show made this thought even cross my mind is problematic because it makes the audience think its normal for young girls to be depicted as “liking” adult men.
By just omitting the basketball scene, everything would have been fine, so I really don’t understand why the creators added that part and made me think she might have a crush. What’s the added benefit? It’s already obvious from Gu Ja-sung’s face that he’s handsome; the audience didn’t need Ha-nee to spell it out for them. I’m forced to wonder if the show wants her to feel jealous of her mom about her teacher, because if that’s the case, then that’s gross. All in all, I’d rather dramas not show little girls crushing on adults just because it’s what girls her age do. (They don’t. Kids aren’t always thinking of love, and adults should stop casting romantic connotations onto little children.) There’s already so much potential with her character from her relationship with Ae-jung and Grandma as well as the bullied student Dong-chan, so the crush doesn’t add any value to the story in my opinion. Part of my overreaction is that I’ve seen dramas about schools and teachers done well (Black Dog and A Beautiful World to name some recent ones), so I’m not lowering the bar for Was It Love.
Hopefully I haven’t made the fans of the show too angry because I will add that I didn’t hate the first episode. Especially near the end once Ae-jung had a goal, it felt like the show was finding its groove, and I enjoyed it. I think even fans will agree that this show might be best enjoyed without being overly analytical (though I have a tendency to over-analyze even when I don’t mean to), and for the most part, I see a lot of fun potential. The acting is a bit awkward in some parts, the dialogue can be cringy, and a few scenes feel dated; but underneath it all is a whimsical story that’s easy to enjoy. With Sohn Ho-joon entering the fray, I’m optimistic about future episodes. Hopefully the show will focus on the fun aspects of its story, and offer a breezy and light watch for its viewers.
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