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Jugglers: Episode 1

KBS’s new office rom-com Jugglers starts out strong, with interesting characters and a simple premise that promises to be cute, if familiar. There’s nothing new in the basic plot, but the appeal lies in the execution, owing largely to Baek Jin-hee’s charming portrayal of the secretary who can do anything. But it’s too soon to say where the show may take us, and with a new writer at the helm, we may very well end up pleasantly surprised.

 
EPISODE 1: “Wherever the boss is, whatever happens… the jugglers appear”

In an art gallery, a well-dressed young woman stands in front of a painting of a juggling woman. The man next to her says that the artist, Georges Rouault, was known for his fascination with the circus. He continues that the juggler’s expression looks relaxed and joyful, but the woman disagrees.

She says that to her, the woman seems as if she’s suffering from great pain, having to juggle so many balls with only two hands. She gives the man a triumphant smile, and thinks to herself that she won’t have to spend her twenty-ninth birthday alone.

This is our heroine, JWA YOON-YI (Baek Jin-hee), and she and the man (cameo by Sung Hoon) begin an adorable romance. They seem happy and in love, but for one small problem—Yoon-yi’s boss, who calls her constantly and at all hours of the day and night. She always takes his calls (he’s saved in her phone as “Dimwit”), no matter what she and her boyfriend are doing, and over time he grows increasingly annoyed.

On her birthday, her boyfriend takes Yoon-yi to a hotel for an intimate getaway. He struggles to undo her blouse and accidentally rips off a button. It flies through the air, and they both cringe when it lands on her phone just as it rings with another call from the demanding boss.

Begging Yoon-yi to ignore it just this once, he tries to finish removing her top, but it has about a zillion microscopic buttons. He keeps at it, but the (literally) screaming phone finally gets to Yoon-yi and she shoves him to the floor to answer it.

It’s the final straw for her boyfriend, who breaks up with Yoon-yi three minutes before her birthday ends. He drives away, leaving her to take a taxi home. Yoon-yi curses when she sees the fare, then snarls when her phone rings with a call from someone saved as “Misery.”

The taxi hits a bump, causing her phone to fly through the air, where Yoon-yi juggles it for a few long seconds before accidentally knocking it out of the window to shatter on the pavement. Worst birthday ever.

The next morning, Yoon-yi is a mess as she rushes to work, half undressed and with wet hair. All over the city, women race around madly as Yoon-yi narrates that for some women, 7 A.M. is their busiest time of day.

She and an army of women walk into a fancy office building, YP Group’s main office, as she continues that they do countless jobs for their bosses: “We are the skilled jugglers, the front line that runs into battle before anyone else in the business world. If anything happens to our bosses, anywhere, at any time, we appear. We are the office heroines. We are the jugglers.”

We finally meet Yoon-yi’s boss, DIRECTOR BONG, who’s shown up to work with lipstick on his collar and smelling like perfume. He frantically calls Yoon-yi to bring him a new shirt, which she does while simultaneously alerting the building’s front desk that Director Bong’s wife is on her way, and forbidding them to let her in until she arrives.

Nearby, a man drives to work while correcting the grammar of the radio news announcer. He’s NAM CHI-WON (Daniel Choi), managing director at an advertising company under YB Group. He stops at a red light and answers a call from someone who chides him for running late, reminding him that the chairman delayed a flight just to see him.

It begins to rain, and Chi-won discovers that his windshield wipers are broken. He accelerates when the light turns green, but slams on the brakes again when he sees a woman fall in front of his car.

 

Watch the scene

A meet-not-so-cute in the rain

 
He gets out to find Yoon-yi on the pavement, soaking wet with a scraped and bruised knee. Chi-won wants to take her to the hospital, but she’s got bigger concerns and refuses his help. He keeps insisting, worried that she’ll cause trouble for him later, so Yoon-yi kicks him in the shin, declares them even, then runs off.

She gets to the office and, despite her injured knee, manages to make herself presentable in time to meet Director Bong’s wife, aka “Misery,” who’s been calling her nonstop. Misery is angrily demanding to be let in to see her husband, and she turns her fury on Yoon-yi as she accuses her of ignoring her calls.

Yoon-yi is all professional conciliatory regret as she holds her smashed phone up to prove that it’s really not working. Somewhat mollified, Misery asks where her rat husband is, and Yoon-yi tells her that he was in a meeting all night long.

Demanding to see for herself, Misery heads up to confront her husband, with Yoon-yi following in her wake. She stares, incredulous, to see her husband is indeed in a messy meeting room with some frazzled colleagues, looking like they’ve been up all night. What she can’t hear is that they’re discussing a new escort service, ha.

Misery wonders why Director Bong’s phone GPS located him at a motel this morning, and Yoon-yi thinks quick, then says apologetically that she accidentally took the boss’s phone home by mistake, and went to a rendezvous with her boyfriend. She says she owed her boyfriend some alone time because she’s been so busy lately, and Misery wonders why, since nothing could be easier than being an assistant.

Misery falls for Yoon-yi’s cover-up, and she even says that when her husband is promoted, Yoon-yi should be going with him to the executive floor. She gives Yoon-yi a VIP pass to her aesthetician, telling her to take care of herself. Once she leaves, Yoon-yi heaves a huge sigh of relief.

When Yoon-yi texts Director Bong that the coast is clear, he and his cronies leave work to visit a sauna. Staying behind to clean his office, Yoon-yi narrates that no boss can be a hero in front of his secretary. She says that when you look closely, a boss is really just a middle-aged cheater, and that a secretary always sees the boss’s true face, the one she doesn’t want to see.

In a different office, another secretary named MA BO-NA (Cha Joo-young) briefs her boss, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JO, on his schedule for the day as he heads to his office. He completely ignores her until she’s finished, then tells her to cancel the whole day because he feels like resting.

Bo-na is Yoon-yi’s friend, and they get together that night at Yoon-yi’s messy home to complain about their bosses, with their other friend PARK KYUNG-RYE (Jung Hye-in). Bo-na has the opposite problem as Yoon-yi—while Yoon-yi’s boss expects her to do everything, Bo-na’s boss thinks that her only job is to make tea.

Yoon-yi goes off on a rant about how Misery grows more annoying by the day, then shows her friends her injured knee. It looks pretty bad, but she says she doesn’t have time for treatment, and Kyung-rye complains about her getting hurt while covering for her cheating boss.

She calls Yoon-yi an accomplice, but Yoon-yi argues that if he gets caught, the fallout will be worse than just a broken family. He won’t get the promotion, which means that she won’t get her own chance at the executive secretary’s office.

She and Kyung-rye toast to that, but Bo-na is busy with her phone and says that she doesn’t want to celebrate something that won’t happen. She gets up to leave, and Kyung-rye decides to go too, refusing when Yoon-yi begs them to spend the night.

On their way out, they joke that Yoon-yi’s house is haunted and laugh at her reciting the Lord’s Prayer when she’s the daughter of a shaman. But the idea of ghosts keeps her awake late into the night. She logs onto a website called Jugglers, which uses the Rouault painting as its logo. It’s an advice website and forum for secretaries with work problems, and Yoon-yi busies herself answering questions as the site administrator.

Chi-won bikes to work the following morning, and as he’s crossing a busy intersection, he sees a news story on a building’s jumbo screen about an explosion in a chemical waste disposal factory that killed nine people. He stands, stunned, until a car honks and startles him back to reality.

He arrives at his office at YB Ad, where an employee attempts to talk to him about some work matters. Chi-won cuts the man off and tells him to email him instead, then goes into his office, slamming the door in the poor guy’s face.

The employee, Gong Yoo (yes, really), looks to his coworkers for support in dealing with the taciturn boss, and they give him credit for at least trying to have some sort of friendly relationship with him. Locked in his office, Chi-won takes his time dressing in a snazzy three-piece suit and expensive shoes, only to spend his morning leafing through the classifieds, ha.

Elsewhere, loan sharks gather at the door of a beautiful large home, yelling for the occupant to come out. Inside, the house is immaculate but for a pot of water boiling over on the stove.

The homeowner, WANG JUNG-AE (Kang Hye-jung) cowers in an upstairs closet. She calls Yoon-yi, who notes that her voice sounds strange. Struggling to sound fine, Jung-ae asks Yoon-yi to visit her this weekend, and Yoon-yi agrees.

While Yoon-yi is out running errands for her boss, someone takes several photos of her. She takes a call from her boss, who sends her lingerie shopping for his mistress, where more surreptitious photos are taken of her.

Back at the office, Director Bong is satisfied with the jeweled cuff links Yoon-yi picked up for him to give as a birthday gift for a colleague, and he grows disgustingly gleeful at the lingerie she purchased for his mistress. The cell phone she bought is also for him, and he reminds her that only the two of them and his mistress are to have the number.

On his way out of the office, Director Bong notices that Yoon-yi is wearing pants, so she explains that she has a bruised knee. He disapproves, complaining that secretaries should always wear skirts. (Seriously?)

Chi-won spends his afternoon at a comic book store, periodically stopping to write something down. He’s not happy when he looks up to see his boss, VICE PRESIDENT DO, and he asks if the vice president is having him tailed.

Vice President Do says that he just wants to understand where Chi-won disappears to, and that he heard he comes here every day at lunch. He grabs Chi-won’s notes and reads them out loud, and HAHA, they’re lines from the comics that Chi-won thought sounded cool.

Annoyed at having his personal time ruined, Chi-won snatches his notes back and snaps at Vice President Do to mind his own business. Growing serious, Vice President Do says that people are complaining that he’s worked at YB Ad for two months and they’ve never even had a conversation with him.

Chi-won asks who told him that, so Vice President Do names his assistant, Secretary Yoo. He says that secretaries know everything, but Chi-won retorts that he doesn’t need a mole like that.

The “mole” in question drives them back to the office, and an amused Vice President Do tells him that Chi-won thinks he’s a spy. He instructs Secretary Yoo to teach Chi-won what personal assistants do.

He asks why Chi-won doesn’t have his car today, and he says he’s taking a break from driving after almost getting into an accident. Vice President Do grumbles that preventing things before they even happen is Chi-won’s specialty.

He asks Chi-won to come live at his house since he hasn’t found a home yet, lamenting the fact that Chi-won lost his entire estate in his divorce and is living in a hotel. He even offers to lend him some money, but Chi-won vehemently refuses both offers and insists on being let out of the car.

As they drive away, Secretary Yoo notes that Vice President Do seems to have a special fondness for Chi-won. Vice President Do says, a bit sadly, that it’s not good if it’s obvious because Chi-won will only run away.

Word goes out across YB Group that a senior executive director’s mother-in-law has passed away. Everyone who’s anyone shows up for the funeral, all with their secretaries in tow, and Yoon-yi narrates that this is the sort of event where secretaries can showcase their support for their bosses.

She arrives and joins Director Bong, and from across the room, Chi-won spots her and stares. Everyone lines up to pay their respects to the deceased, and when it’s Executive Director Jo’s turn, he bites his tongue to induce tears while Bo-na resorts to eye drops.

They make a good show of sorrow, and Director Bong is up next. He makes his bows while Yoon-yi stands somberly behind him, and he shoots her a disapproving look for her lack of emotion. She thinks to herself that a single tear is more appreciated than a million words of consolation, and just at the perfect time, she releases that one tear.

But she’s keeping her boss’s and her own future salaries in mind, so she decides that a brief waste of emotion is worth it. She bursts into loud, dramatic sobs, hanging on the executive director’s wife and wailing at the top of her lungs.

Chi-won happens by just in time to witness Yoon-yi’s theatrical display, and her obviously fake sobs have him rolling his eyes in disgust.

Yoon-yi helps serve the guests later along with all of the other secretaries, which allows her to feed information to Director Bong as he greets his business colleagues. When he goes to talk to one too soon and nearly mentions his new hairdo, Yoon-yi leaps over to delicately slip in the fact that the man is undergoing chemotherapy, narrowly avoiding a grave insult.

At another table, Vice President Do introduces Chi-won to his colleagues, who are impressed by Chi-won’s reputation. All except Executive Director Jo, who throws a tiny grumpy tantrum.

Yoon-yi points out Vice President Do to Director Bong, and suddenly recognizes Chi-won from their accident. She doesn’t know who he is, so Director Bong assumes he’s Vice President Do’s assistant.

She sees Chi-won step out to the hall, so she follows to ask if he’s the vice president’s assistant. Chi-won only sighs and starts to walk away, but Yoon-yi grabs his arm and asks if he remembers her. Chi-won pops open his soda and drinks it in one gulp, maintaining defiant eye contact the whole time. Weird.

When he finishes, he asks if she’s interested in him, saying that it’s the only logical explanation for why she’d be nagging him to talk to her. He tells her she’s not his type, making Yoon-yi huff indignantly and retort that he’s not her type either.

She chastises him for not asking how her injury is or whether she went to the hospital. Chi-won reminds her that she kicked him, and that she herself declared them even.

She repeats that she just wants him to show some concern, so he asks in this hilariously disinterested voice, “How’s your injury? Did you go to the hospital? Happy now?” Incredulous, Yoon-yi angrily accepts that that’s all she’s going to get from him, and says that words that lack sincerity aren’t very consoling.

Chi-won suddenly swings his arm back as if to hit her, and Yoon-yi cowers against the vending machine. But he just slams his empty drink can into the trash and walks away, turning back to give her one last glare.

He mocks her performance from when she pretended to cry over the deceased, and repeats her words in that same emotionless voice, “Words that lack sincerity aren’t consoling to anyone.” He’s got a point and Yoon-yi knows it, and she’s left seething impotently.

Chi-won goes to his car, where he listens to a radio DJ talk about how difficult it is to find silence in our modern society. She plays Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, and Chi-won leans his seat back and sighs heavily.

At the YB Ad lobby cafe where Yoon-yi’s friend Kyung-rye works, a man begs a secretary not to quit her job. But she’s a nervous wreck, saying that she’s losing hair and even has to wear a diaper because of her stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome. Ha, gross.

She refuses his offer of worker’s comp and insists that he process her resignation. Her coworker pleads with her to just ignore the director, but she says he makes impossible requests, like demanding the sneakers that Kobe Bryant wore at his retirement game, or getting Park Ji-sung to coach his chaebol soccer team for free.

She says she can’t stand it anymore and storms out. Kyung-rye sighs and tells her coworker that the boss they’re talking about is a psycho who only shows up at work to eat.

Said psycho, HWANGBO YUL (Lee Won-geun), rides a fancy motorcycle to the YB Ad building and saunters confidently towards Chi-won’s office. The man from the cafe confronts him about his secretary quitting, but Yul just tells him to hire someone new like usual.

When the man informs him that there’s nobody left, Yul brings up the fact that his daughter bombed the college entrance exam again. The man stammers that she’s too busy studying to work for him, but Yul tells him to find someone persistent like his daughter.

Yul lets himself into Chi-won’s office to invite him to lunch. Chi-won says he already has plans, but Yul calls that a lie, since everyone knows he has no friends. He wheedles for Chi-won to cave, saying that they’ve been family for two months now but haven’t shared one meal, but Chi-won just chides him to come to work on time in the future.

He informs Yul in no uncertain terms that he won’t be eating with him, now or in the future. He also objects to Yul’s clinginess, calling it gross, and walks out.

Yoon-yi enters Director Bong’s office as he’s pleading with his mistress to lay low for a few days and be patient while he stays home with his wife to avoid suspicion. She puts a note in front of him saying that someone named Henry has arrived at his hotel, but Director Bong tells her to handle Henry herself. She balks, since today’s meeting is to finalize a contract, but he tells her to stall the guy.

As it turns out, Chi-won does have lunch plans—with his ex-wife. She takes in his pinched expression and quips that he looks like he’s here to sell his body against his will, and he retorts that it’s the same thing.

He’s grumpy that she insisted on eating at this hotel, but she says it’s because this is where they got married, and he grumbles that it’s also where they signed the divorce papers. She admonishes him to play nice, since it’s the last time they’ll see each other before she leaves the country for three years.

Yoon-yi is also at that hotel, having lunch with Henry in Director Bong’s place. She charms him with her thoughtful gift, and he jokingly tries to woo her to work for him.

Suddenly, Yoon-yi looks up to see Misery, her boss’s wife, storming towards her looking like a woman on a mission. Misery grabs an ice bucket from a waiter without missing a beat, and flings the icy water into Yoon-yi’s face. She announces that this must be what it feels like to throw water on the witch who’s having an affair with her husband.

Misery accuses Yoon-yi of stabbing her in the back after she’s been so nice to her, and she refuses to listen to Yoon-yi’s explanations. Instead she decides to take Yoon-yi outside to settle this with their fists, so she grabs Yoon-yi’s jacket collar and starts dragging her out of the restaurant.

Chi-won’s lunch is interrupted by Yoon-yi’s loud screeches, and he looks over to see her being forcibly hauled to the door by Misery. Yoon-yi loses a shoe on the way, and Chi-won stares at it for a moment before turning back to his food.

In the lobby, Yoon-yi manages to slide out of her jacket and free herself from Misery’s death grip. She tries to tell Misery that this is all a misunderstanding, but Misery just screams that she stole her husband and shakes her violently by the hair.

 

Watch the scene

Misery goes full-on Misery and attacks Yoon-yi

 
Epilogue.

Chi-won exits the hotel and looks around, holding Yoon-yi’s shoe in his hand. When he doesn’t see her, he starts to toss her shoe in the trash, but something stops him. He sighs that this is annoying and goes back inside, taking the shoe with him.

 
COMMENTS

At first glance, Jugglers appears to follow the pretty standard setup of an office drama—elite boss, underdog secretary, quirky group of employees for comic relief. I expect that it will follow the familiar formula where the leads hate each other at first, are forced to work together despite their personal feelings, and over time learn to respect each other and eventually fall in love.

That’s not to say that it can’t still be a lot of fun; I mean, formulas are formulas because they work. What I like most about this drama at first glance is the casting, and the way all of the characters seem to be people who know who they are and don’t try to be what they’re not. Yoon-yi puts on the stereotypical competent, loyal secretary mask while at work, but in her personal life she’s messy, foul-mouthed, and slightly annoying even to her friends. Chi-won is, of course, her polar opposite: judgmental, overly cautious, rigid, and resistant to any social responsibilities. It’s going to be entertaining to watch them clash, mostly because I think that Baek Jin-hee and Daniel Choi are nailing their roles so far, fully committing themselves to their characters’ wide extremes.

I particularly relate to Yoon-yi, who is a fun mix of organized and hot mess. I understand the need to be super organized in your work persona, leaving nothing left when it’s time to go home. She seems like the kind of person who is good at her job because she’s dedicated and driven, but she’s also prone to bursts of inadvisable emotion, where she lets her feelings get the best of her and acts out in ways that could be harmful to herself and others. Kicking someone who’s showing concern for you, even if you’re in a terrible hurry, is pretty awful, and I don’t blame Chi-won for being disgusted when he witnesses her being insincere at the funeral, then turning around and demanding sincerity from him. Yoon-yi may be a competent secretary, but she’s driven by her instincts instead of what’s right, which is something she’s going to need to fix.

I liked the little Cinderella reference there at the end with Yoon-yi’s lost shoe, and Chi-won playing the prince by picking it up. Naturally he’s a very reluctant prince, and he didn’t even go to her rescue when she was being attacked, but just the fact that he didn’t throw her shoe away proves that something about Yoon-yi has gotten to him already. And despite his seeming rudeness on the outside, he’s really not that rude exactly, he just doesn’t have any patience for things he considers a waste of time. Chi-won seems to have a very centered (if overly rigid) moral compass, making his lackadaisical attitude towards his job feel very out of character, from what little we know of him so far.

He’s obviously hit a hard patch, what with his divorce and losing everything to his ex-wife, and I’m guessing that he only took this job because he had to. There’s definitely some nepotism going on in this company, though I’m unsure yet exactly where everyone stands. Vice President Do’s treatment of Chi-won seemed very fatherly, and Yul is obviously not a managing director because he earned the position. I’m eager to learn exactly why they’re both working for YB Group, and why Chi-won in particular doesn’t seem happy about it.

 
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