Eve: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
Meloholics, alert! tvN’s Eve pulls all the elements we know and love from the revenge melo genre, but takes its content from the PG we’re used to (from now-classics like Nice Guy), and ups the ante with a 19 rating. I was not ready.
EPISODE 1 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I’m a sucker for a revenge melo, and I like ’em with as much angst and yearning as possible. Because if you’re going to drive me up a wall with your overwrought emotions and plot machinations, at least give me an angst I can enjoy as a viewer.
A big part of that revenge melo package is the setup, and that’s what we have — understandably — in Episode 1. The drama opens with the token revenge melo music, and if you know, you know. It sends all the signals that this is going to be a messy, angsty ride ahead. So far, I’m onboard.
We meet our hero (hero?) KANG YOON-KYUM (Park Byung-eun) at a press conference where he’s talking about LY Group, the extremely wealthy chaebol conglomerate that he’s married into (he’s not only its CEO, but also the wealthiest man in Korea). We get a smattering of important details as we hear from the press and see what’s circulating on the interwebs: the tabloids are reporting that he has a mistress.
Does he? Uh, probably, considering the setup of our drama. And the fact that we see him entering an opulent room where a woman descends from her seat and approaches him like a goddess. They embrace.
The family behind LY Group is every bit the evil chaebol stereotype, which is kinda half the fun. The head of the family is HAN PAN-RO (Jeon Gook-hwan), and he’s the epitome of evil. As in, he tortures some whistleblowers via his favorite sport (golf, natch) and then has them doused with blood and sets his dogs loose on them. It’s vile, and he’s also vile, and that’s the only message to get here.
His beautiful daughter is Yoon-kyum’s wife HAN SO-RA (Yoo Sun), who’s also every bit the stereotype of the cold and calculating woman who gets limited edition everything and tosses priceless vases when angry. And she’s angry over the news of her husband’s affair (naturally), and her father immediately humiliates her for not being able to “control” her husband. But enough of them for now.
How did this whole mess begin? We jump back to three months in the past, at a super duper duper elite kindergarten that is basically funded by LY Group. Amidst the wooing of the rich families present at an event there, we have a concert — and one of the numbers is a very sensual tango featuring the mother of one of the children who attends.
Our dancer is LEE LA-EL (Seo Ye-ji), and it’s a testament to her skills that she can dance beautifully in stilettos while still staring out at the audience at one man in particular: Yoon-kyum, who’s clearly taken with her.
We don’t know much about La-el yet, but we do know enough that she’s got some serious secret scars, and they center on the leaders of LY Group. First in quick cuts, and later in a full flashback, we meet La-el as a young girl, when her father was brutally tortured (and eventually murdered) by one of LY Group’s head creeps KIM JUNG-CHEOL (Jung Hae-kyun). It’s an icky and awful scene, and we can see why the trauma of it has become La-el’s entire identity.
Still in this flashback — which was 13 years ago so she was around 15 at the time — a human rights lawyer helps her and her mother escape to the U.S., after which they “disappear.” The lawyer is the kind and honest SEO EUN-PYEONG (Lee Sang-yub). He tells young La-el he wants to help people, but after her case, realizes he can’t do that unless he has power, so he’s going to switch careers. (We meet him briefly in the present and he’s indeed climbed the ladder to success, and we can expect him to rejoin the story forthwith.)
Back to the present, it’s clear La-el has her eyes/plot set upon Yoon-kyum. During the same party after her tango performance, she ingratiates herself to the other mothers (how can they not see through this?) and gleans as much info as she can from them about Yoon-kyum and his wife.
Later that evening, La-el even finds a way to approach them — actually two. First, both women have daughters around the same age. While La-el encourages her daughter to befriend So-ra’s daughter, So-ra tells her daughter not to make friends that are “beneath” her.
But aside from the daughters, they have another thread in common. La-el’s “regular office worker” husband turns up, and it turns out he was heading the Argentina branch of LY, so he and Yoon-kyum share a semi-awkward greeting. Why so awkward, Yoon-kyum? Could it be because you are coveting this man’s wife? Well, yes, but it gets even more uncomfortable than that.
Before La-el’s husband arrived, we find out that La-el set this whole plot into motion. She not only made sure to be the focus of Yoon-kyum’s attention (while pretending to not notice him, of course), but she strategically dropped a bracelet when she passed him, somehow knowing he would see it, pick it up, and try to return it to her.
And then this is where things live up to their 19 rating. La-el’s cute hubbie arrives late, and she whisks him into her dressing room, and swiftly undresses him. She says she’s all turned on from her tango and he doesn’t resist for more than a hot second. However, it’s all a plot, because while they’re in the thick of it, shall we say, Yoon-kyum pops his head into the dressing room and sees it all. And there’s La-el, staring straight at him.
Uh, is this a K-drama? Outside of being totally caught off guard by this scene, it’s also pretty unscrupulous of La-el — she’s not only using her husband (who seems to truly love her) like a pawn, but she’s willfully seducing a married man. Of course, that’s the point of the entire drama, and she knows that she needs Yoon-kyum’s heart in order for her take-down plan of LY to work. But her methods do leave one wondering.
It’s quite the ending for our first episode, and it comes with a couple of observations from yours truly. First, I wish that Park Byung-eun looked a little more entranced by La-el and a little less shocked/constipated, but we’ll give him time.
Second — and this is just a hazard of the revenge melo genre — we really do need a giant helping up the suspension of disbelief. How could La-el be sure that Yoon-kyum would be so attracted to her? That he would see the dropped bracelet? That he would scurry off to the dressing room and catch her having sex with her husband right at the exact moment he did? Or even that her husband would comply and have her in the perfect vantage point to stare out the open door?
If we’re willing to take on this suspension of disbelief, I’m sure we have quite a ride in store, as the drama has proven it is willing to take the revenge melo genre and make it as mature as it can. However, I’m left a little undecided at this point — why upgrade the drama’s content if you’re not also going to upgrade the plot machinations, or even choose actors that don’t always play irredeemable bad guys? And yet, I love the tropes and the predictability of the genre, so I remain interested.
Episode 2 should give us a better sense of where the drama will go from here, but right now I find I’m not as sympathetic towards La-el as I want to be, and a little more: a) feeling sorry for her random husband and b) excited to see what happens when she reunites with Eun-pyeung.