Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha: Episode 1
There are dimples galore and a few too many coincidences in tvN’s new rom-com, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. A Seoulite dentist finds herself in a tiny little seaside village where things don’t quite work the way they should, and one person in particular doesn’t quite make sense. But even when everything that can go wrong does, there’s something our heroine can’t seem to resist about this place or its people – and they can’t seem to resist her, either.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on beautiful aerial shots of boats and water, and then zero in on a woman running along a bridge. She’s passed by a group of runners, and pushes herself until she passes them. She arrives at her apartment building and holds the elevator door for another woman (cameo by Kim Jung-eun) to get on. The other woman strikes up a conversation, chatting away about visiting her daughter who lives in this building and works at a company. It turns out they’re not only headed to the same floor, but adjacent apartments, and the visiting woman nags in a motherly fashion over the takeout boxes outside our heroine’s door.
Some time later, our heroine breezes out of her apartment and heads to work, and we learn that she’s a dentist: Doctor YOON HYE-JIN (Shin Mina). Her first patient has already arrived, and to her surprise it’s the same woman from the elevator. The woman explains that her daughter paid for the appointment, seeming both proud and a little embarrassed.
After the woman leaves, Hye-jin notices the new magazines that are being set out in the waiting room – and one advertisement in particular catches her eye. It’s for a pair of expensive shoes that she’s been waiting to buy once they go on sale. (Though the tech remarks that Hye-jin can more than afford them at her salary.)
Just then, Hye-jin is called into her boss’s office to discuss the patient she’s just seen. Her boss takes her to task for not recommending extra treatment, but Hye-jin stands by what she’s already prescribed. Her boss doesn’t press the matter, but Hye-jin finds out later that the patient has been removed from her care and reassigned to her boss instead.
Hye-jin immediately confronts her, listing off a number of times her boss has prescribed more treatment than necessary to get more money, adding, “It’s doctors like you that make people suspect dental clinics of overtreatment.” She recites the Hippocratic Oath, which her boss doesn’t appear to recognize and then quits on the spot.
Later that night, she meets up with her friend PYO MI-SUN (Gong Min-jung) for drinks. She’s already purchased those shoes she was eyeing, and sits hugging the box as she tells Mi-sun the whole story. Mi-sun is surprised that Hye-jin went so far as to introduce the patient to another clinic, since her lifelong motto has been to focus solely on herself. Pointing to the shoes, Mi-sun asks what Hye-jin plans to do now with no job and bad credit. Hye-jin just hopes she can get a job that pays well.
Hye-jin wakes up the next morning to an angry text from her former boss. To her horror, Hye-jin realizes that last night she’d drunkenly posted online about the incident. She frantically tries to delete the post, but can’t remember her password. (Hahaha the ones she tries are “AngelicHye-jin” and “LovelyHye-jin1004” – “1004” being a homophone for “angel.”) That’s when she gets an alert that almost 7,000,000 won (about $6,000) is scheduled to be withdrawn from her account. She screams in frustration.
We skip ahead a couple of weeks, when her application to another dental clinic is rejected, likely due to her ex-boss spreading rumors about her. She sighs as another text notification pings, assuming it’s another credit card bill, but it’s actually a reminder that today is her mother’s birthday. She looks sadly at her family picture taken on a beach.
We jump from there to a boat nearing harbor, with a man on board enjoying the breeze. At the dock, the man steps off, only to be immediately scolded for bringing along a seasick (foreigner) worker. He cheerily says that everyone has to start somewhere, then speaks to the seasick worker in his native language and offers him peppermint tea for the nausea and earplugs to help prevent seasickness tomorrow.
He’s HONG DOO-SHIK (Kim Sun-ho), but everyone calls him Chief Hong, and it’s clear he’s beloved by all. As he weaves his way through the market of the little seaside town Gongjin, he happily greets everyone he passes, and they thank him for his help with an odd job or another.
Hye-jin arrives at the beach from her photo, which she says hasn’t changed a bit. She takes off her new shoes and sits down on the sand to watch a surfer, and thinks back to playing on the beach with her parents. Her mother had looked pale and fragile, but smiled as she watched Hye-jin and her father playing together.
Hye-jin goes for a walk down the beach and decides to call her dad. Their conversation is short and awkward: he appears to have remarried, and doesn’t realize what day it is until after Hye-jin has already hung up.
Suddenly, Hye-jin realizes that her new shoes have vanished. She starts to panic, but the surfer she was watching before approaches, holding out one of the shoes – and wouldn’t you know, it’s Doo-shik. She thanks him and asks if he only found the one, and then sheepishly asks if he wouldn’t mind helping her look. He takes his time answering, and finally says that it’s because of people like her that the saying “Save a person from drowning and they’ll ask for your belongings” exists. Mortified, she quickly explains that she’s afraid of water, and he clearly isn’t, so she just thought he might be willing to help, especially since he already found one shoe. He in turn says that he didn’t retrieve her shoe, but that her shoe floated right onto his surfboard.
She apologizes, but asks for his help again, this time in getting to her car, since she’s barefoot. At first, he tells her that it’s healthy to walk barefoot, but eventually he gives in and tosses her his sandals. She’s disgusted by the thought, especially since they’re labeled as bathroom slippers from a sashimi restaurant, but she doesn’t really have a better choice.
On the way to her car, she passes a couple of children, one of whom is sobbing. Seeing that the girl is holding a bloody tooth in her hand, Hye-jin asks if it fell out. The other child, a boy, says that’s not what happened… as blood trickles down his lip. The little girl cries even harder, and admits that she accidentally hit him. Hye-jin examines the boy’s mouth and asks if there’s a dental clinic nearby. Turns out, the only clinic is about 30 minutes away by car.
Hye-jin fixes up the little boy’s mouth with gauze and accompanies him to the restaurant his mother, YEO HWA-JUNG (Lee Bong-ryun) owns. The boy’s parents (whom we learn are divorced) thank her for her help, but then Hwa-jung glances down at Hye-jin’s feet and asks why she’s wearing slippers from her restaurant’s bathroom.
She takes Hye-jin inside and shows her to a table, assuring her that she can keep the slippers. She insists on feeding Hye-jin free of charge, so Hye-jin asks for seaweed soup, and they chat while she eats. Hwa-jung says pointedly that the only flaw Gongjin has is that there’s no dental clinic nearby – if there were, people would be lining up at the door. She offers to recommend a good spot if Hye-jin ever considers opening up a clinic of her own.
Doo-shik gets out of the shower to a million text messages asking for his time. He answers a quick “yes” to all, but the only one that makes him smile is a notice that his order has arrived at the hardware store. He practically skips over to the store, where he has to wake the owner from a nap. They banter as Doo-shik examines his purchase and haggles over the price, and the owner complains about the number of coins Doo-shik uses to pay (and the extra bag of snacks he grabs on his way out the door).
Doo-shik and Hye-jin cross the same street in different directions, just missing seeing each other. She pauses at a vacant building to read the posted rent rates. It’s much cheaper than rent in Seoul, and she entertains the idea of starting over here, but ultimately decides against it and returns to her car. But the car won’t start and her phone can’t seem to catch a signal, leaving her with no way to call the insurance company for help.
Hye-jin wanders through the market trying to find signal, but has to take a pit stop in the nearest building – a café – to use the restroom. The café owner, OH CHUN-JAE (Jo Han-chul), is a former singer, and deflates when Hye-jin doesn’t recognize that he’s the guy in the posters on the wall or know his 1993 hit song. She soon abandons the horrible-tasting Americano she ordered and asks to use the phone, but it’s not working either. And neither is his cell phone. Or the credit card reader. Or his daughter’s phone.
Hye-jin isn’t carrying any cash, so she offers to leave her handbag as collateral while she runs to an ATM to withdraw the money for her coffee. But Chun-jae’s daughter suspects it’s fake due to the cheap slippers Hye-jin is still wearing. Exasperated, Hye-jin leaves her cell phone with them instead.
At the bank, none of the ATMs are working so she’s forced to return to the café empty-handed. Chun-jae and his daughter glare as she offers to wire him the money once she gets back to Seoul, but she’s saved when Doo-shik walks in. He’s able to confirm that all of Gongjin’s banks, cell service, and internet is down because of a fire at the telecom company. Hye-jin once again asks Doo-shik for a favor – for him to lend her the coffee money – insisting that she’s not normally this shameless. He doesn’t quite believe her, but tells her to follow him. He’ll give her a way to earn the money.
On the way, she hounds him with questions that he refuses to answer until they meet a police officer who calls Doo-shik “hyung” and fills him in on the status of the telecom company fire. Doo-shik tells Hye-jin they need to make a quick stop first, which turns out to be checking on local elderly residents to reassure them about the fire. At first Hye-jin is impatient, but as she watches Doo-shik communicate in sign language with a particularly elderly lady, her annoyance starts to melt away.
As they head back on their way, Hye-jin finally asks Doo-shik what he does for a living and why everyone calls him Chief Hong, but he deflects and leads her over to where a group of women are gutting squid to be sold. This is the job she’ll need to complete to earn the money for her coffee. Hye-jin blanches at the thought and takes offense that Doo-shik is only offering minimum wage, but he cuts off her protests and leaves her in the ladies’ care. They can tell at a glance that she’s out of her element, but show her what to do. At her clumsy attempts, they tsk that she’s not very good with her hands.
At sunset, Doo-shik comes back and pays her, digging into his own coin purse to give her the full amount she’s earned. She asks him to deliver the coffee money (he agrees), and then she calls him back to ask if he has a car. He nods and pulls out his thermos (“car” and “tea” are homophones in Korean), so she mimes turning a steering wheel.
That works, and we cut to him hooking up jumper cables to her car’s battery. They successfully start the car but he takes one look at her dashboard and sighs, asking if she really drove all the way here ignoring the low tire pressure warning. He recommends she stay at a nearby sauna overnight and get her tires fixed in the morning.
Hye-jin takes his advice and washes up at the sauna. She calculates how much she has to spend on snacks; it only amounts to one item off the menu. And – surprise, surprise – the cashier is none other than Doo-shik himself. They bicker about him speaking casually to her (to which he freely encourages her to speak casually right back), and she eventually just takes the drink she ordered and walks away in annoyance.
As soon as she stretches out on a mat to sleep, a cricket falls on the floor near her head. Everyone else is unfazed but Hye-jin runs screaming out of the room.
On his way home, Doo-shik is stopped by an elderly lady, who informs him that her friend has hurt her ankle, much to his concern. The injured lady, KIM GAM-RI (Kim Young-ok) turns out to be one of the women Hye-jin worked with that afternoon, and she and Doo-shik affectionately nag at each other as he insists on icing her ankle. She refuses to stay at home, so he ends up piggybacking her to the senior center, and we learn that she took him in after his grandfather died. Even though she feels guilty about accepting free help from him, he tells her to call him anytime for anything, like he’s her own personal genie.
Hye-jin’s skin is still crawling from seeing the cricket, so she goes up to the roof of the sauna to stargaze. She sees a falling star and wishes her mom a happy birthday, and then falls asleep on a bench.
The next morning, she heads back to the docks and finds Doo-shik auctioning off freshly caught fish. She waits for him to finish, and asks again about his occupation, half-jokingly accusing him of being a scammer. Just as she’s asking about an auto repair shop and worrying that she won’t have enough cash, he pauses to take a phone call. It’s not until her own phone rings (and Doo-shik pointedly waves his own phone in her face) that she realizes phone service is back up, meaning the banks must be, too.
The call is from her dental patient back in Seoul, the one she referred to a new clinic so she wouldn’t get ripped off. The woman thanks her tearfully. Then, as a mechanic works on Hye-jin’s car, the two little kids from yesterday come running up to thank her as well. The little boy promises to repay her later, and they both bow and tell her to visit again soon.
Doo-shik, meanwhile, is making coffee in Chun-jae’s café. He gives Chun-jae the money from Hye-jin and assures Chun-jae that Hye-jin is an honest person, though his only evidence is that he “just knows.” Chun-jae notices he’s blushing.
On the drive back to Seoul, Hye-jin gets a call from her ex-boss, who says she never spread any rumors – rather, no one wants to hire a backstabbing whistleblower. She demands Hye-jin kneel and beg forgiveness, provoking Hye-jin to snap that she’ll open up her own clinic instead.
She makes a U-turn and drives to Hwa-jung’s restaurant, and says she wants to open up a clinic after all. Hwa-jung excitedly drops everything and takes her to meet a real estate agent. They have to hike up a big hill, but before they get to the top, Hwa-jung is called away to deal with an event. She tells Hye-jin to just follow the path until she gets to a boat.
Sure enough, there is an old boat sitting at the top of the hill, and someone is sitting underneath working on repairing it. You guessed it: it’s Doo-shik. He’s not at all fazed to see her, and pulls out an ID tag that does indeed identify him as a licensed real estate agent. Dumbfounded, Hye-jin asks what kind of person he really is. He just smiles: “Me? I’m Chief Hong.”
We flash back to the other day on the beach. Doo-shik had seen Hye-jin watching him on his surfboard, and he’d also observed her helping the boy who lost his tooth, and smiled watching her talk and laugh with the ladies while gutting squid.
Place your bets now – who is Doo-shik, really? Is he a male Candy? A secret chaebol heir? An ex-convict or a con artist harboring a dark secret? A mystical being who’s bewitched the village? Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away with that last one, but there’s definitely something mysterious about him. I half-expect him to start changing literal hats every few minutes.
He genuinely seems to enjoy helping out everyone he can, and even giving away every spare second of his time. Which makes me wonder what he does for himself. Who is he when there’s no one who needs his help and no odd job to be done? I wonder if he even knows – maybe he keeps himself busy to avoid that very question. Or maybe he just gets bored easily.
Doo-shik aside, Gongjin is populated with colorful characters that are sure to make Hye-jin’s new life interesting. From the old woman taking in Doo-shik as a (presumably) orphaned child to Hwa-jung so quickly offering to help Hye-jin set up her clinic, they’re a tight-knit yet wholeheartedly welcoming community. Very much like a mother’s embrace, as Hwa-jung so eloquently put it. But they’re not without their oddballs, either, so I expect we’re in for a tale that’s both heartwarming and entertaining.
Normally this many coincidental happenings start to make me roll my eyes just a little, but there’s just something so charming about a peaceful village by the sea where people respond to inconveniences by shrugging their shoulders and saying, Oh well, that’s why we carry a little cash. Of course, if I were in Hye-jin’s shoes, I’d be more frustrated than charmed for sure. But my point is, I don’t mind if Gongjin is just the sort of place where weird coincidences happen sometimes that can’t be explained – it’s part of the allure of the ocean, you know?
It’s clear that Hye-jin has a few mysteries of her own, too. There was this moment when Hwa-jung asked whether she’d been to Gongjin before, and she started to say this was her second time, but then quickly amended it to third. It could have been a simple slip of the tongue, but it felt like more, and I’m curious to find out what happened during her second visit, since we’ve already seen what was probably the first.
Regardless of any mysteries, though, I just really liked this episode and what we’ve seen of the characters so far. Our main couple are charming and easy to root for (and don’t they look adorable together?), and there’s a nice balance of warmth and humor that really does feel like relaxing at the seaside with good company. I felt Hye-jin’s culture shock, but I also felt the comfort she found in getting help from friendly locals and the pull she ultimately couldn’t resist to stay for longer than intended. There’s bound to be more challenges along the way, but I’m ready to dig my toes into the sand and learn all about what this little village has to offer.
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