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When I Was the Most Beautiful: Episodes 1-2 (Review)

In its opening week, MBC’s new romance-melo, When I Was the Most Beautiful, lays some solid groundwork for the story of a heroine caught between two suitors/brothers — in other words, the love triangle to end all love triangles. The drama’s premiere is thoughtful, slow-paced, and quite cinematic. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a drama that’s just so pretty to watch. And hey, if it’s going to be a heart-wrenching ride, at least it will be a pretty one.

Note: This is an opening week review only.

 
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW

Our drama opens in 2013, where we meet SEO HWAN (Ji-soo), a high school student riding his bike to school. It’s lush and lovely around him and you can feel the moisture in the air. Just then, it begins to rain. He stops to put on a poncho and then continues on his way. As he’s getting close to the school, something catches his eye: there’s a girl walking along in the rain ahead of him, using a giant leaf as an umbrella. Most of the kids are amused, but something about it transfixes Hwan. He’s so taken with watching her that he falls off his bike (but it doesn’t look like he feels a thing).

It’s such a great drama opening — beautifully shot, and so dreamy that it sticks to you like honey. But this scene is about more than Hwan’s immediate response to our heroine, though. It also works as the first bit of characterization. The woman with the leaf umbrella — who turns out to be his new student teacher, OH YE-JI (Im Soo-hyang) — is practical, a bit detached, and doesn’t expect life to hand her an umbrella, so to speak. What we learn about Hwan from this scene is also interesting — and to me, that’s his sensitivity to detail and to beauty. Others got a chuckle at her leaf umbrella, but he was captivated by the entire scene, before he even saw her face.

Art, and a sensitivity to beauty, is a big part of this drama so far, and it adds a real richness to the story. We learn early on that Hwan’s father is a famous potter, and their house just drips with warmth and this earthiness that you want to reach out of your screen and grab onto. Not only is the house full of art, but his father’s gallery and studio are always alive with creativity. There’s some kind of unspoken quality to the scenes that take place at their house and studio — in fact, I haven’t seen a setting as affecting as this one in a while (it reminds me of the reverent treatment of the historic house and art in On the Way to the Airport).

The setting is strong, but so are the characters — Hwan’s father (Choi Jong-hwan) is lovely and kind, even with the hints we get of the scars in their family. These glimmers of family tragedy and drama (a rock-climbing accident that caused permanent injury to the father’s leg, the fact that the mother lives in Seoul separate from them) add to the setup we’re getting, and it’s just the right amount of information for an opening week.

Seo Hwan and Ye-ji’s paths cross quite soon. The fact that at this point in the story Hwan is still a student is very much apparent — but at the same time, Hwan has a maturity that sets him apart from his classmates. In their early scenes together, Hwan and Ye-ji feel more like kindred spirits than anything else. It’s also an interesting bit of a reversal that we see Hwan take Ye-ji under his wing. Whether they accidentally cross paths in Seoul, or if she needs a secret protector to save her threatened job, Hwan turns up like the little gentleman that he is.

Ye-ji also gets to know his family quite soon — when she needs a kiln in which to complete her pottery project, Hwan offers his father’s studio to her. She had no idea who his father actually was until she meets him at the house, and the level of fangirling coming from her is absolutely adorable — I love how aptly this drama shows the connection that’s formed between all of them. When Hwan sees how much she respects his father, it’s just another reason to crush harder on her (but how can you blame him, when the father he adores is admired by the girl that’s caught his eye).

The drama’s opening week setup is based on strong contrasts, and it’s especially true when we look at Ye-ji’s story. The contrast of family circumstances (warm family versus torturous orphandom) and of setting (peaceful countryside versus cold city), frame our heroine’s conflicts quite well. That she’s a bit traumatized is an understatement, and we see snippets of the violence from her childhood (and also Kim Mi-kyung!), but the scars are in her present-day, too.

Ye-ji’s aunt, who raised her, is a complete villainess, bent on keeping Ye-ji as miserable as she is. It’s very much the “dramatic set-up,” but it’s also surprisingly compelling — and I would argue that that’s because of Im Soo-hyang and her great performance so far. I feel for her every step of the way (the hurt, the hate, the desire for comfort, the swoons), but it’s never overdone. And thank goodness for that, because this drama literally relies on its audience understanding her appeal — and how she is able to fascinate two very different brothers.

Ye-ji is a compelling balance of hurt, ire, sweetness, and fragility — so it’s not hard to see why she catches the eye of the sensitive Hwan, with his caregiver’s heart. The more he learns about her life, the more he wants to protect her, and he’s full steam ahead into Precious Puppy Mode.

Of course, it’s not as simple as the connection between these two characters. There is also the third side of our triangle in the shape of Hwan’s big brother SEO JIN (Ha Suk-jin). When we meet him he’s just returned home after his military service, and his presence in the house shakes things up. You can feel that he’s deeply loved by his father and little brother (that play fight and smacker on the cheek!). But at the same time, while Hwan and his father are quite alike and live in harmony, Jin is very different from them. If Hwan is the gentle artist, Jin is the hot-headed daredevil. His only passion is car racing, even though both of his parents keep trying to lure him away from such a dangerous career.

At first, when we were getting to know Jin, all I felt was the contrast between him and his brother. The scene where he returns to the house and embraces his father felt so much like the tale of The Prodigal Son. But the more we get to know Jin (and most of that is thanks to his fascination with Ye-ji), the more I realized his similarities to Hwan and his father. In some ways, he’s the more tragic character in our “household of men” (as Hwan calls it), because he’s still haunted by the rock climbing accident from his childhood, and what it forced him to do.

When Jin makes his interest in Ye-ji known, it’s of a completely different flavor than Hwan. Hwan paints lampshades for her, takes her to harvest snails when she’s upset, and lends her his raincoat. Jin, on the other hand, delivers a bottle of liquor (and a cheeky grin) when she can’t sleep, and takes her on a midnight ride to the ocean instead of to the abuse that awaits her at her aunt’s house. Both brothers respond with very different actions, but they both react from the same emotion: to protect her.

Again, the drama has to ride a delicate balance of making Ye-ji need protecting, but also not making her a two-dimensional waif. The sparks we see in her — whether it’s terror or fight or hope — make all of these protecting heroes make sense, and at the end of Episode 2, our drama is ready to bring on the swoons.

For me, the best (i.e., the most rip-your-heart-out) love triangles are where the triangle really works. Where your heart understands both sides, and feels the tear between the two. So far, that’s what we’re getting set up for in When I Was the Most Beautiful. I love both brothers, I love both brothers with her, and I’m mentally preparing myself for the agony that lies ahead (don’t spoil me, I know nothing beyond these two episodes!).

While I can’t argue that the drama isn’t a little slow, it also has a certain power to it, whether it’s the way it captures the details of the setting so strongly, or how it carries off highly dramatic moments that seem like they should be clumsy.

For instance, after Ye-ji’s ride to the beach with Jin, they sit in front of a campfire. The moon is brilliant, and for some reason I’m as moved as they are by the CGI moonlight on the water. Suddenly, Jin jumps to his feet, flicks off his shirt, and walks into the water for a midnight swim. He then challenges Ye-ji to join him. She can’t swim, of course, but who cares about that — it’s the way they walk towards each other in the water that’s positively electric.

Why isn’t this scene ridiculous? It should be ridiculous. But I’m somehow captivated by the magic of the moment, the same as they are. And in the same way, I’m captivated by this story. It’s classic melodrama, yes, but it’s melodrama done well (right, Show?!). I’m lost in the beauty and poetic moments, but I can also hear the foreshadowing and sense the heartbreaks that are yet to come.

All in all, for me this was a really fabulous premiere week — if poetic melodramas are your thing (I never met one I didn’t like). While technically our episodes were set-up and backstory, it never once felt like it, which is a rarity. Our story promises to move into the present day, but we’ve no lack of conflict and character set-ups to take with us when we go.

It’s interesting that outside of Ye-ji, most of other female characters are antagonists or antagonistic (how very melo): the boys’ cold and estranged mother, Jin’s chaebol ex-girlfriend, and Ye-ji’s vindictive aunt, bad enough to be a witch out of a fairy tale. Which, I suppose, leaves us with a Cinderella-type princess — and not one, but two, Prince Charmings. There will be swoons, tears, and probably buckets of tragedy before we’re through, but if you’re game, I think it will be a worthy ride.

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It makes me sad to read such a lovely first-week review for such a promising show -- that DB doesn't intend to recap -- and then to see DB soldiering on with a loser like "Was It Love?".

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I've really enjoyed "Was it Love" and thank lovepark and selena for the recaps. These two shows are of entirely different genres and should not be compared. But there are other shows receiving less interest than "Was It Love," such as Graceful Friends, "United Effort....", "Train" and even "House on Wheels." Was It Love certainly isn't a perfect romcom but it definitely has entertainment value.
This show has started off just fine with some lovely artistic touches and certainly some interesting directions being taken off the main plot. But I am not sure I can keep watching because the aunt is so evil that I cringe and feel hate boiling inside when she is on the screen. I don't like feeling like that. Anytime I see someone being abused so badly and "taking it," I just want to put an end to it. I'm not positive I won't just click off the drama during one of her episodes and never come back to it. I've never been a fan of the lead female actress either, with cutesy mouth and her "aw shucks" voice and attitude. I'm hoping to hang in there though and see what happens next.

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Maybe you could keep a discussion thread going here with a new comment for each episode? I'd think with this cast there will be a Beanie following.

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This could be the drama to thaw @leetennant's stone cold indifference.

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Somehow I highly doubt it.

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I would watch a drama with @leetennant and LMH in a beat. With a cool title, like WHEN I WAS INDIFFERENT.

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🤣 😆 🤣

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Is it me 🧐??????????

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I guess we'll see. You're on your own though with this one.

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🥺

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Me, on the other hand is like I would've gladly taken Men are Men recaps/wee-caps in place of Was It Love, to lambast or just talk about the turn of events this show has taken. So who am I to talk lmao ;)

I wonder how DB chooses the shows to recap, sometimes the choices work out/sometimes they don't. I think that if Drama-beans had a voting system where Beanies voted for which show/whichever show gets the most votes advances and which Beanie writer should be assigned to it, it would make for a more interactive/funner site imo.

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I think that the db minions love the cast and they were hoping for them that the story and directing would be worth them but it turns out that everyone was wrong. I'm really sad because SJH is more attractive and drama appealing in her doppelganger role. SHJ is killing it just I disliked his character at the beginning.

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There's something for everyone - personally, I'm getting a lot of fun out of completely hating Was It Love 😂

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@mmmmm this has you're name written all over it. I'm still recovering from Chocolate or I'd join you.

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*your

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Dear @ndlessjoie how sweet of you to think of me. I woke up today (at noon) with a smile on my face ☺️ because I am mentioned by another half of the same soul 🧐 (normally if you’re right then I’m left.) lol

That’s why I can trust your instinct when you recommend this one for me. I, initially never intended to begin this one though Ha Suk-jin who is very charming in a certain way, is in it. But seeing the words “your name all over it” made me curious as why my name is all over this one so I might give it a try.

Sad to hear that you’re still recovering from Chocolate, the drama not so many loved (but it’s indeed so beautiful!). I am here rooting for your speedy recovery and we might watch it together again lol.

P.S. I have to admit that I once started Be Melo because of your recommendation but the feeling wasn’t right at that moment so I stopped at ep.5. Intend to rewatch it again when the timing is right.

Sending my other half kissesssss 😘😘😘😘😘

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I'd much rather rewatch Be Melo. It had a better balance of laughter to tears. This one looks like it's beautifully filmed like Chocolate.

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Oh goodness....
I thought I was the only one with the struggles to move on from Chocolate.
It was so beautiful that I put it easily above CLOY

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I was so hoping you'd do this @missvictrix! I'm eating all this angst up! You explained better than I could why the opening week was so compelling, there are scenes where it just feels like poetry in motion.

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I love Im Soo Hyang, the cinematography, Ye Ji’s hanok room and all the artsy stuff but there are also some things I dislike about this drama and I don’t know if pros can unweigh the cons. I’m not digging the ‘love story’ between Oh Ye Ji and Seo Jin yet. I will give this drama 2 more episodes and see if it is worth my time.

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Your review made me pause over my own reaction to the drama. I guess the same things can strike people very differently. For example, the CGI moonlight scene made me cringe.

I do agree that the cinematography - at least whenever we are in the countryside - is beautiful and compelling. But I was annoyed by almost everything else - the weird chaebol chairman, the entitled quasi-psychotic ex, the jealous female friend deleting Hwan's message, the aunt who screeched so much it was painful to watch.

I like melos and I like tropes but I thought most of them weren't done well here. I'm going to give it 2 more episodes but, based on the preview, it seems the show will only get more ridiculous not less so I'm not hopeful...

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I am captivated by @missvictrix's lovely review, and am sighing ovet the romance of the bad boy brother...giving her a ride on his bike and a dip in the moonlight? I am swooning. I don't even know how this goes, but let me guess: she falls hopelessly, desperately in love with the tough, rough brother, and he breaks her heart ----- on purpose, because he knows his brother loves her ------ and then he disappears for ten years, and when he comes back into their lives, she's married to his brother...

Now excuse me while I plough through the field behind for a leaf...even though it's hot as hell, and I know it's not going to rain. I'll just use my leaf umbrella and float slo-mo around a few blocks in the scorching sun. Care to join me @ndlessjoie @leetennant @katakwasabi @bbstl @wishfultoki?

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cording to my mother, our FL had the leaf wrong side up. It’s supposed to have the concave side down, and be used like a hat. You’ll find it works much better that way - it will also reduce the amount of sun burns you get ...

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Doesn't matter which side she used cos as per drama law, she did not get a single hair wet nor end up looking like a drenched cat when she arrived (after walking even slowerrr than the people who had umbrellas)

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😂 h yes, I Was confusing drama it’s reality...

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I'm still recovering from Chocolate so I'm not watching another melo romance yet.

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@yyishere, I think it's a little more twisted than that. From what I've heard, she actually marries the tough, rough brother. Then he disappears. So I guess that while our disappointed but faithful puppy is helping her search for him, she is going to realize she married the wrong brother. And then they'll find the husband! Reduced to black and white like that, it does not seem appealing at all, but somehow @missvictrix made it sound compelling.

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I have issues with the fact that he’s her student, but I’m almost tempted to watch this now thanks to @missvictrix’s poetic recap. I did giggle at the “he flicked his shirt off”. Who needs shower scenes when you can just take an artistic dip into the sea? 😂

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Toki, he pulled his jeans off too, and his underwear, but of course, that took place offscreen. A skinny dip in the sea in the moonlight is terribly romantic, don't you think? My heart is already hurting thinking of how he has to deny himself to spare his gentle, younger brother pain...imagine the burning gazes, the brush of hands, the slow smiles...I am writing my own script in my head, see.

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After the first episode I was ready to like the show. After the second episode I am ready to drop the drama. Although Ye Ji isn't encouraging Hwan she doesn't shut him down as she should. She says no to Jin far more often than she ever has Hwan, so all of his inappropriate behavior is seemingly acceptable to him. It makes their relationship icky to me. As for Jin, he seems to kind of want Ye Ji because his brother does, i think they tried to show it differently but that is how it came off. Meh, I might give it an episode or 2 more and then quit it.

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Time for trope bingo?

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I am not sure if I liked or if I am just in a need of a melo/romantic drama. Episode 2 was a bit too cringe for my taste, but I am gonna give a try. I am intrigued by how the brothers situation is gonna play.

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I think Ye-ji is too naive and she should be careful because her behavior is giving hopes to Hwan. But in the same time, he's smart, he should know that even if he loves her, a teacher can't date a student and it could destroy her life.

I love dramas that happen in countryside, it's always so beautiful, quiet and kinda magic.

There were a lot of typical tropes : the crazy ex, the villain aunt, etc. But I still want to see the love story between Ye-ji and Jin, I'm confident the actors can make it passionate :p

For the second part of the story, I will see.

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I am trying to like this drama, I love love triangles, especially those with purpose, and it is definetely a beautiful show. I hope it will keep being good.

My main problems are more my own personal ones, which I wonder is cultural differences. The female lead staying in the abusive household reasoning it is because the aunt is her only family ticks me off, because it feels like she is making herself a victimg by doing it. It reminds me a bit of the female lead in Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food, who was always miserable with her family and always acted victimized by what her mother did, yet she never did anything about her situation. I guess it could be that I have not felt that sort of familial abuse, so I cannot understand how hard it is to get out of that cycle, but still, it did not sit right with me that she is so victimized that she is. I also hope her aunt's actions is actually adressed, because she cannot be of sound mind and the authorities should have taken the FL away from her when she was a child, the way she is acting.

I am not into the main couple, purely because she is his teacher, and as a teacher myself, it just makes me uncomfortable watching how she acts with him. I do not know how to describe out aside from the loveline, but it could be because I am a private person, so I make an effort to separate my personal life from work life, even if it is normal in my area for teachers and pupils to be personally acquintances. I don't know, for now it just feels like I watched two episodes of the female lead being miserable and unfairly treated, both not caring about it but also acting like the victim, and I hope something more will happen later. But unless she stops being the male lead's teacher, or he her pupil, I doubt I'll be able to watch the show. :/

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Such is the talent of @missvictrix that I’m now tempted to watch the full premiere episode of this..

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It's awesome to pay a visit this web page and reading the views of all mates about this post,
while I am also eager of getting know-how.

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Thank you for the recap, very suprised at how much I enjoyed the premiere episode. The cinematography, gorgeous surroundings was a feast for the eyes.
If only I could go and live in that village and attend the art school!

I'm having trouble working out Jin's character, he is very aggressive when pursuing Teacher Oh. His only motivation is to steal her away from Hwan.

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