Boyfriend: Episode 1

One word: gorgeous. tvN’s new romance about a pair of lonely souls who find each other in an unlikely place is absolutely breathtaking, whether you’re talking about the cinematography or the wistful, dreamy feel of its story. These two already have a lot to overcome if they’re going to be together, and I predict that it will be equally lovely and painful to watch.

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

A flurry of news sounds bites quickly tell us of CHA JONG-HYUN, the mayor of Seoul, and his beautiful, nationally-beloved daughter CHA SOO-HYUN (Song Hye-gyo). They appear to be the perfect political power-family. Soo-hyun married the son of a prominent businessman, but the marriage ended after only two years, leaving Soo-hyun with only a floundering hotel as alimony.

She laments her agreement to attend yet another birthday party for CHAIRWOMAN KIM (Cha Hwa-yeon), her former mother-in-law, which was apparently part of the divorce agreement. She arrives, and Chairwoman Kim compliments her suit (which she’d picked out for Soo-hyun), but criticizes her choice of purse.

Soo-hyun’s ex-husband JUNG WOO-SEOK (Jang Seung-jo) seems annoyed that Soo-hyun has made her hotel successful enough that she’s opening another one in Cuba. She asks him to get remarried so she can stop going to these parties, especially since he’s the one who met someone else and asked for the divorce, but he gloats that his mother will keep her claws in Soo-hyun forever.

On the ride home, DRIVER NAM (Go Chang-seok) tells Soo-hyun that when he and her father were in school, they once decided to play hooky and went to Namsan Tower. He wants to take Soo-hyun there now, but she sighs at the news article that’s already been posted online about her appearance at the party, and she says that she’s had enough of reporters taking her picture for one day.

A young man we’ll come to know as KIM JIN-HYUK (Park Bo-gum) strolls through the backstreets of Cuba, taking pictures of the locals going about their daily lives. He lets himself through an open gate leading to a huge empty house, and he wanders outside to find a lush, expansive backyard.

A man finds Jin-hyuk and says it’s just an old garden, but that once it belonged to his wife. He says that her love started here and ended here, and Jin-hyuk smiles. He seems like the kind of guy who finds joy and beauty in even the smallest things.

Soo-hyun and Secretary Jang are in Cuba on business concerning the new hotel. Secretary Jang is annoyed when their Cuban driver texts and talks on his phone while driving, and sure enough, he nearly hits a pedestrian and swerves the car. It slams into the cafe table where Jin-hyuk happens to be sitting, missing him by mere inches.

Soo-hyun sends Secretary Jang to talk to Jin-hyuk, who moans sadly that he’s fine, but his camera is broken. Secretary Jang offers to replace the camera, but Jin-hyuk turns her down, saying that it was a gift from when he was born. The car is blocking traffic, so Secretary Jang gives Jin-hyuk her card and he promises to call her.

The following day, Soo-hyun gives a speech to the press about the new Donghwa Hotel. Afterward, she’s distracted by a commercial on television showing the famous El Malecon Beach sunset.

Jin-hyuk is sitting on a wall, reading, when a street performer strikes up some music. An adorable little girl asks him to dance, so he shyly complies.

Soo-hyun asks Secretary Jang if she compensated the guy with the camera so he won’t become a problem. Secretary Jang replies that he’s refusing the offer of a new camera so she wants to offer him money, and Soo-hyun looks out the window just as they pass the very man in question, still dancing in the street with the little girl. She says with a tiny smile, “He won’t take money.”

Secretary Jang wants to try out a local restaurant for dinner, but Soo-hyun says that she’s going to take a sleeping pill and go to bed, to help adapt to the time difference. She tells Secretary Jang that she’ll skip dinner and eat a “high-quality breakfast,” and Secretary Jang backs down with an amused grin, appearing to know what that means.

But before Soo-hyun takes that sleeping pill, she notices a postcard on her dresser with a picture of the El Malecon Beach sunset. She calls Secretary Jang, who’s let her hair down at the poolside bar. Soo-hyun invites her to go to El Malecon Beach, but Secretary Jang says it’s a place to visit with a lover, and that she’s off the clock anyway.

When Soo-hyun grouchily asks if it’s worth losing her job, Secretary Jang shouts that it’s an empty threat since Soo-hyun won’t accept her resignation anyway. She whines that she just wants to have some fun, so Soo-hyun snaps at her to have fun as she flies home in economy class, ha.

The hotel concierge hails Soo-hyun a taxi to El Malecon Beach, telling her that it’s the perfect place to fall in love. The taxi is about a zillion years old and breaks down on the way to the beach, so the driver points her to the ferry instead.

Nearby, Jin-hyuk is testing out his broken camera when he accidentally captures Soo-hyun in the background of a shot. He seems a little mesmerized as he watches her walking along the ocean. She takes the ferry, then has a long walk to the beach, and along the way she stops to rest. Her purse is stolen by a pair of young men, and she’s so tired that all she can do is gape in disbelief.

With no other option, Soo-hyun continues on to the beach, and when she comes upon some street musicians with an audience sitting along a wall overlooking the water, she decides to stop. She fights to stay awake as the sleeping pill begins to catch up with her, but she loses the battle and tips forward, in danger of falling.

Someone grabs her just in time — it’s Jin-hyuk. Soo-hyun just slurs that she’s sleepy and falls asleep on his shoulder. Jin-hyuk looks down in time to see Soo-hyun’s shoe slide off her foot and fall all the way to the pavement below, but he’s helpless to do anything with Soo-hyun fast asleep beside him.

Back at the hotel, Secretary Jang decides to check on Soo-hyun when she stops answering her phone. Worried, she checks with the concierge, who tells her that Soo-hyun took a taxi to see the sunset at El Malecon Beach.

Soo-hyun wakes up, still leaning on Jin-hyuk, as the sun begins to set. She looks up at him sleepily for a moment, and he stares back, before she realizes their faces are only inches apart and backs away.

He tells her that she’s been asleep for an hour, and that he caught her before she fell, but that her shoe slipped off. He starts to go, but Soo-hyun sheepishly asks him to help her get her shoe back. As he turns to fetch her shoe, she marvels at the sunset, which is even more beautiful than in the pictures.

They forget all about the wayward shoe as Soo-hyun gazes at the sunset, and Jin-hyuk gazes at her. He pulls out his phone and some earbuds, telling her that the view is twice as lovely with music. Soo-hyun listens as she watches the ocean, and the people gathering to enjoy the beautiful evening.

She thinks about her hectic, politics-heavy life back home. Jin-hyuk realizes that she’s having an emotional moment, so he quietly slips away to get her shoe, thinking that she seems familiar.

Soo-hyun offers to repay him for his help, but Jin-hyuk says that it’s enough that his shoulder got lucky on his last night in Cuba, ha. She asks if he has any money, and he asks how much she needs, so she says just enough for a beer. She’s serious, but Jin-hyuk laughingly says that she’s adorable.

He tells her to sit tight while he goes to get the beer, thankful that he’s got a few dollars left in his pocket. After he goes, Soo-hyun grins at the idea of being seen as adorable and wonders how old Jin-hyuk is.

As they drink together, Jin-hyuk asks Soo-hyun how she ended up here, asleep with no money. She tells him that she took a sleeping pill but then saw a picture of this place, and that someone stole all her money. Jin-hyuk offers to help her catch a taxi back to her hotel, and he gallantly holds out his arm to assist her down from the wall.

She’s got a blister from her heels, so Jin-hyuk suggests she just go barefoot, insisting that the people in his neighborhood do it all the time. Soo-hyun can’t bring herself to do it, so Jin-hyuk offers her his battered old sneakers. But Soo-hyun asks if it’s true that he knows lots of people who go barefoot, and, enchanted by the evening, she joins him in kicking off her shoes.

As they walk, Jin-hyuk tells Soo-hyun that he sells fruit, and though he seems surprised when she calls him a fruit vendor, he agrees that that’s what he is. She’s surprised that his camera still works since it’s twenty-eight years old, and he says that it’s always taken great pictures… until today.

He tells Soo-hyun that his father’s friend had a photography studio, and that he gave his father this camera to take photos of newborn Jin-hyuk. His father was too busy providing for his family to take many pictures, but he always treasured the camera, so when Jin-hyuk was in school, he used the camera to take pictures of his parents.

He stops when they get to the main road and offers to buy Soo-hyun some sandals from a street vendor, since the road here isn’t clean. In his enthusiasm, he grabs Soo-hyun’s wrist, but she’s startled so he drops it and apologizes for being rude. Soo-hyun says it’s okay and looks at the sandals, promising to pay Jin-hyuk back for everything later.

She tells him to choose any sandals, since she only has to wear them long enough to get back to her hotel. He seems a little overwhelmed, but he finds a pair that he likes and holds them up nervously, and it makes him happy when Soo-hyun accepts them and slides them on.

They continue on, and when Soo-hyun asks if Jin-hyuk still has some money, he says that he has enough to feed her. They stop at a local place to eat, and Soo-hyun muses that the food is better than at her hotel. She notices a poster advertising a salsa show at a nearby club, and she asks Jin-hyuk if he has enough money left to buy tickets.

He hesitates, then checks his bag, and Soo-hyun laughs when she sees that he’s down to just a few dollars. Jin-hyuk puts the money away, pouting that it’s not funny, but she protests that she only laughed because he’s adorable, like he did to her earlier. He grins and jokes that it’s a young boy’s money, and when Soo-hyun grumbles at his implication that she’s old, he charms her out of it by reminding her of the salsa show.

At first Soo-hyun seems taken aback by the raucous show. The audience gets up to dance, and Jin-hyuk pulls a shy Soo-hyun onto the dance floor. She lets herself go and takes Jin-hyuk’s outstretched hands, and before long they’re dancing and laughing like they haven’t got a care in the world.

Afterward, Soo-hyun asks for Jin-hyuk’s phone number so she can contact him and pay him back for tonight. He tells her to think of his help as simply a kind gesture, and when she insists, Jin-hyuk jokes that he’ll look like he had an ulterior motive of getting a beautiful lady’s number if he lets her pay him back.

They grow a little awkward as they locate a taxi, both seeming hesitant to say goodbye. Finally Jin-hyuk asks if Soo-hyun is free to buy him breakfast in the morning. He says that he’d consider her debt paid, and that he has something to ask her, but he wants time to refine the question.

Soo-hyun says she doesn’t know her schedule for tomorrow yet, so Jin-hyuk says that he’ll wait for half an hour, then leave if she doesn’t show. He puts her in the taxi and waves her off, and they both take one last look as she rides away. Jin-hyuk only now realizes that he still has Soo-hyun’s heels, but he figures he’ll return them when he sees her in the morning.

Jin-hyuk and Soo-hyun both settle into their respective hotel rooms, big stupid grins on their faces as they think about the evening they shared.

In the morning, Soo-hyun learns that the owner of the building they’re converting into the new hotel wants a written clause added to the contract saying that the garden won’t be altered — ah, she must be buying the building that Jin-hyuk visited. Someone is on the way to sign the new contract, but Soo-hyun grows nervous as it gets closer to the time she’s supposed to meet Jin-hyuk.

Jin-hyuk shows up early to the cafe, and he waits over an hour past the time they agreed on. After an hour and a half, he has to leave to catch his plane, but he leaves a note behind on the cafe’s bulletin board.

At the airport, Jin-hyuk spots Soo-hyun not far away, but he also sees Secretary Jang with her. Soo-hyun sees Jin-hyuk too, but something stops them from saying anything, and they just nod awkwardly to each other. After one last hopeful pause, Jin-hyuk realizes that Soo-hyun isn’t going to approach, and he walks away.

He’s waiting for his departure when Soo-hyun does approach, and awww, the happy look on his face is gorgeous. She apologizes for not meeting him this morning, and for not telling him that she already knew who he was last night. She offers to have him upgraded to business class as compensation for his generosity last night.

Looking uncomfortable, Jin-hyuk explains that he worked a part-time job for a year to save up for this trip, and that he wanted to see how far he could travel on what he’d earned. He says that even though the long flight is uncomfortable, it’s also part of the experience.

He asks Soo-hyun to understand why he wants to end his trip as planned, so she says that she’ll consider her debt paid. She walks away, and Jin-hyuk watches her go, looking deeply disappointed.

Soo-hyun seems fine, but she thinks back to two hours ago, when she’d shown up at the cafe just minutes after Jin-hyuk left. When she didn’t see him there, she’d left without seeing his note. Now she asks Secretary Jang to find a camera identical to Jin-hyuk’s that they broke, reminding her to be respectful that his original camera has great sentimental value.

Jin-hyuk still has Secretary Jang’s business card, and after landing in Korea, he does an internet search for Donghwa Hotel. He’s a little awed to see that Soo-hyun is the CEO of the hotel that’s about to expand to Cuba. As he watches Soo-hyun leaving the baggage area, he gets a call from a Donghwa Hotel employee informing him that he passed his final interview.

He can still see Soo-hyun as she walks past the window where he stands, and he considers hanging up without accepting the job.

Epilogue.

When Jin-hyuk sat down at the outdoor cafe table, a man had asked him if he’d mind moving, since it was his regular table. Jin-hyuk had been happy to comply, and had moved to the table where he would soon meet Soo-hyun.

 
COMMENTS

What a lovely drama this is looking to be. I particularly enjoy the slow burn of the story — this first episode felt unrushed and languid, as if there’s a tale to tell but no hurry to tell it. The cinematography was absolutely breathtaking, with saturated colors and soft edges combining to create a dreamlike feel, so dreamlike in fact that I nodded off once or twice while watching. I mean that in the best possible way! There’s nothing boring about Soo-hyun and Jin-hyuk’s romance, it’s just that the show has this relaxing quality to it that made me feel pleasantly comfortable. I know it’s too much to hope that things will feel the same after leaving Cuba, but I really hope the show finds a way to continue the magical aura now that our hero and heroine are back in Korea.

I really have high hopes that the director will continue to tell a lovely visual story as well as a lovely romantic one, because the way that colors and camera angles were used to create certain moods was just masterful. The scenes in Cuba were rich with warm colors and soft lighting, while the scenes of Soo-hyun’s unhappy home life were washed out and sharp. This was used to particularly dramatic effect when Soo-hyun was watching the sunset and remembered her life back home, and suddenly everything went from comfortable and cozy to stark and cold. It’s rare that a drama moves me as much from the visual artistry as the acting and story, but I think this will be one of those dramas.

That’s not to say that the story and acting aren’t great, and goodness knows that our leads make a strong contribution the visual impact of Boyfriend. Both Song Hye-gyo and Park Bo-gum are ridiculously beautiful, but more importantly, they’re experienced, nuanced actors who know how to build a scene around a feeling or a significant moment even when there’s no dialogue. In fact, Soo-hyun and Jin-hyuk seem to be the sort of people who don’t use many words unless absolutely necessary. And that gets me as excited about this show as anything else, because nothing is more lovely than watching two people who don’t need to talk to fall in love.

Aside from the beautiful look and feel of the show, I found myself drawn to the characters relatively quickly. Part of that is my admiration of Song Hye-gyo and Park Bo-gum as actors, but the characters themselves are just incredibly interesting people. Jin-hyuk is not wild and irresponsible like I was anticipating after hearing the character descriptions, but instead seems to be very wise and insightful, but a little insecure and with different priorities in life than the mainstream. Soo-hyun is quiet and reserved, always doing what’s expected of her and never rocking the boat… but that seems to be more a product of self-preservation after living her life in the spotlight (including her disastrous marriage) than her true personality. There were moments when she showed great insight, like how she knew that Jin-hyuk wouldn’t take money from her, or her mostly-hidden wicked sense of humor, such as when she threatened to fire Secretary Jang for not hanging out with her. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Soo-hyun’s true personality blossom as Jin-hyuk’s carefree and open nature begins to influence her.

I can already tell that these two are going to break my heart in all the most painful and wonderful ways. They liked each other so much on the night they spent together, but they each also showed a lot of insecurity and uncertainty, too. That first scene at the airport was awful, the way it was so obvious that they were happy to see each other but too nervous or scared to admit it. Thank goodness Jin-hyuk figured out who Soo-hyun is, and he may even be her employee soon, but I’m afraid of what the future holds once they realize what a huge social and financial chasm stretches between them. Their love story will be epic and painful, but I’m totally ready to dive right in and see where this takes them.

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