True Beauty: Episode 1
tvN’s adaptation of popular webtoon True Beauty is finally here! Living in a world obsessed with beauty, our heroine learns first-hand how harsh people can be when you don’t fit the societal standards. After being humiliated, she decides to change her life by learning a new skill and starting fresh.
Note: This is a first episode recap only. Coverage will continue with weecaps.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
From a young age, our heroine knew she wasn’t pretty based on how others treated her. Her relatives would criticize her for taking after her mother HONG HYUN-SOOK (Jang Hye-jin) instead of her handsome father IM JAE-PIL (Park Ho-san).
They made snide comments like “She’ll need plastic surgery,” or “She must’ve been adopted.” Amidst the laughter, Mom had whispered that she just needs to do well in school.
While she once dreamed of transforming into a beautiful fairy like the cartoons on TV, the neighborhood kids ridiculed her for it. She then decided that characters from horror manhwas were far more relatable, for she believed that she was born with a cursed face.
Now in high school, our heroine IM JOO-KYUNG (Moon Ga-young) is one of two girls in class who don’t spend their free time applying makeup or fixing their hair. Joo-kyung opts to read her manhwa and listen to heavy metal music instead, offering to share with her fellow classmate Hye-min, who declines.
The catty leader of the popular kids, Se-mi, notices Joo-kyung jamming out alone. Joo-kyung doesn’t notice them calling out, “Hey, Dumpling!” until one of Se-mi’s underlings aims a paper ball at her head.
Joo-kyung immediately leaves to buy them dumplings as their Shuttle. She gets indignant when she hears her classmates mocking her for being the errand girl and storms bacak inside. However, all she can do is confirm their orders with a goofy smile.
On her way back from the store, Joo-kyung peers inside the cafeteria to catch a glimpse of the handsome cafeteria oppa, HYUN-BIN (cameo by Lee Tae-ri). He was out running an errand and stops in front of Joo-kyung to say hello, taking one of her earbuds to pop into his own ear. (Pfft, is that you, Mi-chae?)
Hyun-bin recognizes the band and tells her that they have the same taste in music. He begins to headbang and dance along while Joo-kyung’s heart threatens to pound out of her chest. Mesmerized by his looks, Joo-kyung tries to calm herself until she shocks Hyun-bin by accidentally yelling out loud, “Calm down, already!”
The popular kids wonder where their dumplings are and see Joo-kyung and Hyun-bin from their classroom window. One of Se-mi’s lackeys notes that Hyun-bin hits on Se-mi all the time.
During lunch, Joo-kyung lines up and gushes about Hyun-bin, receiving unenthusiastic responses from Hye-min. Her excitement while wondering if he reciprocates her feelings catches the attention of other students.
Joo-kyung remains oblivious as others begin to make fun of her, but Hye-min hears them and excuses herself to avoid the attention.
Hyun-bin agrees to meet with Joo-kyung during lunch tomorrow, and Se-mi can’t believe that her errand girl is actually shooting her shot. That night, Joo-kyung works hard in the kitchen baking cookies instead of studying, earning her an earful from her mother.
We get a glimpse into Joo-kyung’s world – her room is decked out with skeletal figurines and the shelves are overflowing with horror books. Joo-kyung prepared a set of metal concert tickets and re-reads her confession letter: “You’re a fool who doesn’t know how I feel, and I’m a fool who only has eyes for you.”
She giddily acts out a scenario whereby Hyun-bin accepts her love, and she puckers up for a smooch with her doll. Joo-kyung’s brother IM JOO-YOUNG (Kim Min-ki) storms into her room at this moment to complain about her loud music, and leaves after saying he’d rather go blind than to witness that again.
On confession day, Joo-kyung posts about her nervousness on a forum and others comment words of encouragement. She gets on her bus and there’s a stark difference between how she and Se-mi are treated by the crowd of students. Joo-kyung gets pushed around roughly, but everyone clears the way for Se-mi while whispering about her beauty.
At school, Joo-kyung sets her gift on the desk before quickly heading off on a dumpling run. The bullies rummage through the box, callously tossing around the cookies and making fun of her for putting so much effort into the confession.
Mean girl Se-mi decides to speak to Hyun-bin, pouting that she was sooo upset to hear rumors that he was dating Joo-kyung. The smitten cafeteria worker blames himself for making her feel that way, and she lets him believe that he has a chance with her.
Mom runs a salon and is quite close with her customers. When she explains that her husband isn’t around and is busy on the phone these days, they worry that he’s out having an affair. Mom would be okay with that as long as he’s not in trouble financially. As if on cue, two thuggish men enter the salon looking for Im Jae-pil’s wife.
At school, Joo-kyung hands her gift to Hyun-bin, who’s noticeably less kind after talking to Se-mi. Someone films the confession from nearby, catching the rejection. Hyun-bin’s offended that Joo-kyung thinks that he would actually date her.
He crushes her soul and says he was being nice because she was an outcast. “If you don’t have the looks, at least have smarts,” he criticizes, knocking her gift to the ground. Before stalking away, he tells her to look in the mirror with her spare time instead.
Rubbing salt into her wound, the entire bully squad pops out and rejoices at her misery with Hye-min in tow, uncomfortably filming the entire interaction. Se-mi narrates to the audience that they just witnessed the ugliest girl in school asking someone out.
Joo-kyung lightly pushes Se-mi away and asks her to stop, and the sole guy of the group pushes her to the ground for “hitting” the leader. He proceeds to dump the entire box of cookies over her head.
“Why do you guys hate me so much?” Joo-kyung sobs that she never did anything to them. Se-mi jabs her forehead and replies that it’s because she’s ugly. Joo-kyung makes a run for it and on her way home, sees that the video has been uploaded to social media. Her classmates leave comments that she’s ugly and has bad taste.
Heartbroken and humiliated, Joo-kyung sobs openly on the street. She pops into the nearest building to freshen up, then takes a good look at herself in the mirror. Joo-kyung tosses her glasses in frustration, remembering the mean comments about her looks. She cries that she can’t possibly return to school since nobody likes her. Poor girl.
Joo-kyung ends up standing on the roof of the high-rise building, looking out at the cityscape for hours. She’s prepared to jump when suddenly, a billboard in the distance catches her eye. It’s a message to commemorate former idol JUNG SE-YEON (cameo by SF9’s Chani), as it would’ve been his birthday had he not passed away.
She finds it tragic that he would’ve turned 18 today, then realizes that she doesn’t want to die after all. Just as she comes to this conclusion, a boy runs to her and pulls her off the ledge, causing her glasses to fly off as she tumbles on top of him.
The boy, LEE SOO-HO (Cha Eun-woo), is relieved. He lectures her, wondering what she could possibly be going through that led her to wanting to die. He barks that her loved ones would be devastated and it seems personal when he claims that they could live in guilt for not being able to save her. Soo-ho gruffly tells her not to die and heads back inside.
Joo-kyung can’t see anything because she lost her glasses, following him down the stairs blindly because the elevator is out of service. She hangs on to the railings for dear life and wails, “Ajusshi, wait for me!” Pfft, without her vision, she can’t tell that he’s just a teen. He speeds on ahead until he hears her fall, then reluctantly offers to help her up (she accidentally grabs his butt, lol).
Soo-ho ends up piggybacking Joo-kyung down the stairs, and our bumbling heroine attempts to make conversation. She figures that his angry reaction to seeing her on the roof is because he knew someone who had the same thoughts as her and passed away.
He ignores the question and huffs that she’s heavy, which prompts Joo-kyung to give him a shoulder massage to cheer him on. She zips her lips when he warningly says, “Ajumma!” By the time they make it to the ground floor, his legs are quaking and he’s exasperated to learn that the elevator is back in service.
Soo-ho puts Joo-kyung in a taxi and she sincerely tells him that he should cheer up. “The one who died wouldn’t want those they left behind to suffer for too long.” She leaves him with the advice to be happy.
Knowing that Mom will be angry that she lost her new glasses, Joo-kyung suddenly remembers that she left her a voicemail earlier that day. She had thanked Mom for raising her and promised to be born again as a beautiful daughter of hers in their next lives.
Joo-kyung calls Mom urgently, but she doesn’t pick up because she’s busy declaring war at home. Joo-young and his eldest sister IM HEE-KYUNG (Im Se-mi) do their best to hold their mother back, but she’s livid that Dad went out and invested in what was clearly a scam. Her legs go flying as she vows to kill him tonight.
By the looks of Soo-ho’s home, he’s well-off and lives alone. He thinks back to when he first spotted Joo-kyung on the roof. In her place, he had imagined the idol Se-yeon smiling back at him. Without hesitation, he’d pulled him to safety, but it was actually Joo-kyung that he saved. After showering, he contemplates Joo-kyung’s parting advice to be happy.
Joo-kyung returns home to see her siblings comforting their mother, who cries, “I’d rather die instead.” Out of context, Joo-kyung dissolves into tears and assumes that this was all her fault. She blubbers that it’s all because she was born ugly, not taking after Dad like Hee-kyung and Joo-young did.
Not reading the room, she cries, “I’m ugly because I take after you!” The Im siblings try to shut her up but she begs for plastic surgery and promises not to die. The siblings drag their sister away before she angers their mom further.
Joo-kyung looks at her short contact list and opens her one-sided conversation with Hye-min, belatedly realizing that she just assumed they were friends. She wishes that she could drop out of school.
Hee-kyung goes out for drinks with Mom and learns that they’re going to have to sell their apartment and move back into their old home to repay the debt Dad incurred. Hee-kyung offers to help out, but Mom insists that she’ll take care of her own husband’s mess.
Joo-kyung updates the forum that she got rejected because she’s ugly. One comment suggests overcoming this with the power of makeup, linking her to a blog post. Joo-kyung lights up and shows up to school the next day turning heads everywhere.
She thinks that it must be because she looks good, but her rosy cheeks, white face, and dark eyeliner causes a ruckus at school for the wrong reasons. The kids snap photos and when she gets home, she nearly gives Mom a heart attack for looking like a ghost.
Joo-kyung begs to transfer schools, ecstatic to hear that it’ll actually happen because they must move back to their old neighborhood. She posts a picture of her makeup on the forum and the users give constructive criticism about what she can improve on.
Using her savings, Joo-kyung goes on a shopping spree and spends her days following makeup tutorials. While there’s a lot of room for improvement (she literally shaves off half an eyebrow, eek!), Joo-kyung works hard day and night until she masters the art of eye makeup.
Soo-ho barges into a manhwa shop and gasps to find that the first page of the book he wanted was ripped out. The shopkeeper figures he can just start on page two, but is quickly pulled in by Soo-ho’s passionate rant. “Do you start with verse two of the national anthem?”
The shopkeeper promises to order a new copy for tomorrow and Soo-ho leaves without another word. The man just grins that the boy hasn’t changed in the past ten years.
The Im family moves back into their old place and on the first day of school, Joo-kyung expertly applies her newly learned techniques, transforming her looks so drastically that her family is stunned silent. She turns heads at her new school and this time, they’re good stares – they gasp that she’s a goddess.
She and Joo-young bicker silently while checking in at the teacher’s office. Her new homeroom teacher HAN JOON-WOO (Oh Eui-shik) welcomes her warmly, and they’re interrupted by the loud vice principal who assumes that she’s the student at the top of her class.
One look at her abysmal report card is all it takes for him to turn his attention to Joo-young, but Mr. Han assures Joo-kyung that there’s more to life than good grades. Aw, I like him already. The vice principal’s booming voice announces Soo-ho’s entrance. Looks like they’ll be classmates!
Of course, Joo-kyung doesn’t recognize him but she deems him to be the most handsome person she’s ever seen. Mr. Han tasks a reluctant Soo-ho with escorting Joo-kyung to their classroom.
They’re stopped by another student along the way and Joo-kyung accidentally bumps into Soo-ho, leaving a foundation face print on his jacket. Oops! If it wasn’t obvious before, Soo-ho is quite standoffish and gives the girl three seconds of his time.
The underclassman confesses and gives Soo-ho a gift of macarons imprinted with pictures of him. He smacks the box onto the floor and continues walking to his classroom without another word. He ignores his classmates until they alert him of his dirty jacket. Soo-ho heads back outside to where Joo-kyung is reapplying her foundation, tossing the jacket onto her head.
Mr. Han introduces Joo-kyung to the class, who all accept her with open arms. She realizes that being pretty changes how people treat her. Everyone except Soo-ho, that is. So when she’s assigned the seat next to him, she claims to have poor eyesight and is given the seat behind a bright girl named CHOI SOO-AH (Kang Min-ah) instead.
Soo-ah is super outgoing and befriends Joo-kyung immediately after first period, asking for her number. She and another classmate are surprised that Joo-kyung’s not on the app “Stargram,” because they know she’d be popular on it.
KANG SOO-JIN (Park Yoo-na) joins them and Soo-ah introduces her as her best friend and the Queen of Saebom High. Soo-jin just smiles when Soo-ah claims that there will be contention for the title with Joo-kyung here now, and apologizes that her chatty friend can be annoying.
During break, Joo-kyung attempts to wash Soo-ho’s jacket but makes it worse. She accidentally flicks water onto him just outside the bathroom and, irritated, he instructs her to toss it out. The other girls witness this and Soo-ah explains that he’s known as the “handsome psychopath.”
Soo-ah links arms with Joo-kyung as they walk down the hall. When dumplings are mentioned, Joo-kyung instinctively offers to buy some but they just wanted her to join them for lunch. Joo-kyung hides her love for horror and heavy metal but shares that she loves spicy food, so they decide to meet for tteokbokki after school to celebrate their friendship.
Joo-kyung learns that Soo-jin is not just a pretty face, but also has the second highest grades in school, after Soo-ho. Soo-ah calls Joo-kyung a pretty girl, but she thinks to herself that it isn’t true.
After sharing tteokbokki, the friends head to an arcade to play games. Aww, they make an effort to pull Joo-kyung into the fun and she really enjoys herself. They end the day with sticker booth photos and Joo-kyung is happy that she now has the one thing she’d always wanted. Friends.
When she gets home, Joo-kyung squeals after being invited to her first ever group chat. She’s touched to see the photos they took today and tells the girls that she made a Stargram account. Joo-young takes some unflattering photos and threatens to show them to their schoolmates.
Joo-kyung successfully gets the phone but can’t unlock it, so she offers to get him a copy of a manhwa and cup ramyun if he deletes it. On her way out, Joo-kyung discovers that she has already racked up a hundred likes on her new Stargram post.
She ducks into the manhwa shop, Prince Comics, and discovers that the shopkeeper has remained the same since she was a child. He’s happy to see her and finds her adorable. Joo-kyung is happy to be back and reaches up for the book she wanted.
However, a guy reaches for the manhwa before she gets to it and walks away. They fight over the copy of the book and she jumps for it, falling on top of him in the process. She is shocked to see her new classmate Soo-ho, while he recognizes her from the rooftop.
I feel that the show is well-casted and has managed to build a strong foundation to explain how Joo-kyung turned from Shuttle to Goddess. I’m not sure I love the adaptation based solely on the first episode, but with Moon Ga-young leading, I’m not too worried. I felt frustrated watching her live her life, only to be belittled by everyone else – even her own family. (I love that Dad always looks at her as if she’s the cutest thing in the world, though!)
It’s therefore hard to blame her for thinking that getting plastic surgery or putting on makeup will change her whole life. It’ll make things more bearable for now, but it’ll definitely become exhausting hiding the fact that she’s just a dork who doesn’t care about idols, rocks out to heavy metal, and enjoys a great horror story. The truth is, she doesn’t need to hide those parts of herself to fit in, but Joo-kyung has never really had any friends and is trying her best to have a fresh start. I love how friendly Soo-ah is and the fact that Joo-kyung finally got to experience what it’s like to hang out with friends. I was grinning during that entire scene!
I know there’s some criticism surrounding Cha Eun-woo as an actor, but I didn’t find him to be distracting here. He’s just a typical cold male lead, and I think his acting serves this role just fine as of right now. I guess the issue I have is how mean/stuck-up Soo-ho is written as a character. It’s 2020 and I think it’s about time that we move on from featuring these male leads who treat people poorly because of a tragic/traumatic past…because something clearly happened between him and Se-yeon.
With everything set up after the first episode, I think that the rest of the series could be a fun and mindless watch especially when Hwang In-yub makes his appearance. With how popular the webtoon is, I hope that the adaptation does it justice and adds additional depth. I can only hope that Joo-kyung finds her self-worth in something more than just looking pretty. People often criticize girls for “hiding behind makeup,” but makeup is a skill and a tool. Joo-kyung has put in her time and effort to master this skill and enhance her natural looks. There’s no shame in doing that, especially if it makes her feel confident!
- Premiere Watch: True Beauty, Hush, Mr. Queen
- High school romance and mishaps in new True Beauty teaser
- Moon Ga-young primps and preens for tvN’s True Beauty
- First script reading for tvN’s True Beauty with Moon Ga-young, Cha Eun-woo, Hwang In-yub
- Cha Eun-woo, Moon Ga-young youth rom-com drama in the works