I woke up this morning and knew I had better double shot my iced latte so that I can power through a busy day. After I started watching episode 1 of Best Love (also known as The Greatest Love), I realized that I forgot to order a downer shot on the side, because the added caffeine and adrenaline from watching this episode made me mildly spastic, to say the least. Ladies and gents, welcome to the 2011 offering from the Hong Sisters, the occasional queens of the rom-com.
To say I was excited about BL is an understatement – with a premise that sounded amazing on paper and actors I collectively love, BL was primed to win my heart. Episode 1 starts off with a flourish, tossing the viewer right into the action and delivering the nuggets of backstory necessary to set up the central conceit – top male star of Korea inexplicably winds up intertwined with detested former idol girl turned variety show veteran.
Does it work? Oh yes it sure does (so far). I genuinely laughed out loud many times during this episode, as opposed to sitting in befuddlement watching My Girlfriend is a Gumiho and wondering if I was supposed to find something funny. I’m so glad the Hong Sisters went considerably older in age group for their main cast, because the acting maturity shows, delivering comedy that feels natural and not forced.
Episode 1 Recap:
Good old early Hallyu K-pop, how I have NOT missed you. The drama begins with four lovely girls on stage dressed in matching uniforms performing in unison. They are the Treasure Girls, a hot new four member girl group that includes our heroine Gu Ae Jung (Gong Hyo Jin), and her likely future nemesis Kang Se Ri (Yoo In Ah). The girls are performing their hit song “Putong, Putong” (which is the sound a heart beat makes).
An open heart surgery is in progress, and rather than listen to soothing classical music, the surgeon is listening to the very same pop song the Treasure Girls are singing. A nurse thinks the song is too mediocre, and the surgeon says it’s alright. Furthermore, since the patient is undergoing heart surgery, and the song is the sound of a heartbeat, it’s the perfect song to rally this patient. The patient on the table undergoing the procedure is none other than our hero, Dokko Jin (Cha Seung Won). As his heart lays open to the scalpel, his eyes twitch, like we’re suppose to believe he subconsciously can hear the Treasure Girls, including Ae Jung, singing.
The Treasure Girls win an award that encapsulates their current popularity, as their song is number 1 on the charts. Ae Jung speaks on behalf of the group, promising never to split up, asking the audience to always love them. Cue 10 years later, and Ae Jung is at an amusement park participating in a variety show. The ignominy of her status today is pretty self-evident when she is asked to compete against a young idol, which Ae Jung loses each time. Her final challenge requires her to eat a bowl of jajjangmian while riding a rollercoaster. Poor Ae Jung, gamely trying to shove the noodles in her mouth as the ride ascends the climb, only to have the noodles fly out of the bowl once the coaster descends into its dips and turns. Not her finest moment, I’m sure, but likely a barrel of laughs for the audience.
On the other end of the popularity spectrum, top Korean actor Dokko Jin is presently at a movie premiere, of his own movie. It’s an action flick, one that requires him to fight, and fight, and fight some more (and the movie is aptly called Fighter), until the audience, initially oohing and awing at the choreographed fight sequences, end up bored and yawning by the ending credits. Jin is not pleased with the audience reaction, and you can see he blames it all on the director. But Jin is not an actor for nothing, and he happily unearths his game face as he greets his audience after the showing.
Jin is in a van watching Queen Seon Deok, and gets to the riveting death scene by Poor Bidam! (a great cameo by the footage of Kim Nam Gil dying). He asks his manager whether this was the drama he turned down to do the Fighter, and is told that it was. He asks how the rating for that drama was, and is told that the ratings were abysmal, and the drama ruined Kim Joon Sang’s career. MWAHAHAHAHA, oh god *wipes away tears*.
His manager promises to get him a great next drama, and Jin confidently states that his next project is of course the Hollywood movie with Peter Jason, a movie he went to Hollywood to directly audition for. Jin wonders if maybe the director gave the part to someone else, and his manager reassures Jin that bottle of uber-expensive wine he gifted to the director, of course the director will look out for Jin.
A gas station will be the fateful first meeting of our leads, as Ae Jung and Jin both end up at the same place getting gas. Jin stays inside his tinted and well-equipped star van, while Ae Jung stands outside her car to wait for her manager, who also happens to be her older brother. Ae Jung overhears someone recognizing her, and she leans against Jin’s van to preen a little, pleased that she still manages to be recognized despite her lack of popularity.
Jin isn’t too keen on the local riff raff touching his mode of transportation, and he opens the lower small window and uses a roll stick to poke Ae Jung away from his van. Ae Jung’s a little taken aback to being so unceremoniously poked, though she politely apologizes. Once she recognizes the typical star van, she happily introduces herself as an entertainer and asks the unseen man inside if he’s also in the industry.
Said unseen man, being the self-absorbed big star he is, doesn’t like associating with lowly entertainers on the totem pole of popularity, so he grabs a stack of used coffee cups and pushes it out the little window for Ae Jung to dispose of. Ae Jung takes the coffee cups as a gesture of goodwill, accidentally spilling some of the remnants of the coffee on herself. Jin grabs some tissues from inside the van and hands it to Ae Jung, or more like tosses it towards her.
Jin sees her using the tissue to wipe herself, and he hands her more tissue, telling her that he wanted her to wipe the car with the tissue, not wipe herself. Ae Jung calls him an “ahjusshi” which starts to get Jin’s hackles up. Ae Jung tells him to come outside and talk, and stop hiding inside the van. Ae Jung reaches into the van, and they start tussling. Jin finally grabs her hand and forcibly signs his autograph for her, complete with his trademark flourish and a heart.
Ae Jung is finally fed up with the rude attitude of this unseen guy, and demands to see who he is. She cranes her head to try and peer in through the little window, while Jin manages the close the window and lock the door. He tells her that he signed his autograph on her hand, and asks her to figure out who he is – all in his trademark drawling condescending tone of voice. His manager comes and they drive off, leaving Ae Jung flabbergasted at this ridiculous encounter. She recounts what happened to her oppa, and shows him the signature on her hand. There are two huge Dokko Jin posters up at that gas station, complete with his signature, but Ae Jung does not put two-and-two together.
Kang Se Ri, former Treasure Girl turned K-star fashion trendsetter, is returning to Korea from a stint working abroad on a project. Her look at the airport is immediately disseminated by the media and copied by the manufacturers and retailers for the insatiable demand of the public. Se Ri is the epitome of a snotty big star, carrying herself with the mantle of self-aware hauteur.
We see that Se Ri dated Dokko Jin in the past, as they make an exaggerated effort to be lovey dovey during a clearly staged dinner photo-op for the paparazzi. After the photogs leave, Jin stops the pretense, and it’s made clear that their relationship is purely for show, until Jin leaves for Hollywood. While Se Ri appears to maybe want more, Jin is dispassionate about the relationship, comparing it to an overdone steak that’s past its date.
During a date between Se Ri and Jin, another man happens to be at the same restaurant, our second male lead Yoon Pil Joo, played by Yoon Kye Sang. He’s on a match-making date, and his date doesn’t appreciate it when he notices hottie Kang Se Ri in the same restaurant. She thinks Pil Joo is staring at Se Ri’s butt, when he’s looking at her structural frame. He notices that a woman who often wears high heels, her body develops unevenly and can cause problems. His date asks him to stop talking about the human body and finish the date please.
Ae Jung and her oppa come home after another long day’s work. They live in an ordinary house, with their dad, and her oppa’s son, Ae Jung’s nephew. Nephew and grandpa are watching a hilarious CF of Dokko Jin selling milk. Furthermore, grandpa is wearing a knock-off of Hyun Bin’s sequined leopard print track suit jacket from Secret Garden. Oh how your too-good-for-the-commoner style of dressing has fallen, Joo Won. Nephew asks why his Aunt Ae Jung can’t film a CF like that, and grandpa confesses too candidly that Aunt Ae Jung is an entertainer with a negative public image so she can’t film this kind of CFs.
Jin is working out at night, running on the treadmill while holding two free weights. He then heads to take our obligatory fan service shower (niiiiice, but nowhere as awesome as Jo Gook’s shower of pain in episode 17 of City Hall). Afterwards, he surfs on the internet for the latest chatter about him online. This man is way too self-aware and into his fame. We see that he wears a watch to measure his heart rate. Jin looks at a script for a new film by director Peter Jason.
Ae Jung and her oppa head to a television network to participate in yet another program. She’s summarily dismissed and ignored by the young and popular new idols littering the landscape of K-ent. The manager of those idols appears to still harbor a deep dislike of Ae Jung, and she confesses that the manager blames her for Treasure Girls splitting up. Ae Jung’s oppa read her today’s schedule, which consists of only one event. Ae Jung gamely says they need to work hard for today’s one event then.
Ae Jung fingers her skull-print designer scarf, pleased at wearing a designer scarf that she got from Jenny. She needs to keep it spotless to return it later. As she walks and talks with her oppa, Dokko Jin and his retinue round the corner, bumping into Ae Jung. Jin is immediately recognized as the major star he is, and both Ae Jung and her oppa are struck to be seeing him in person.
Jin, on the otherhand, goes from annoyed to churlish when he notices that Ae Jung is wearing the exact same skull-print scarf as himself. How can one be a one-in-a-million big star if some lowly entertainer is wearing the same supposedly exclusive item as he is? Jin goes into his dressing room, ripping off the scarf, and scowls at his coordi-noona, asking if any dog or pig can wear this? He’s assured that the scarf is indeed a limited edition item.
Ae Jung refreshes her makeup and get ready for her show. As she heads out, she realizes her scarf is missing. She looks around until she spies the poor scarf having becoming friends with the toilet. Ae Jung worries what if the company demands that she pays for the ruined scarf. Resourceful Ae Jung and her oppa decides to swap scarves, since a top star like Dokko Jin ruining his scarf will not upset any company. Ae Jung sneaks into Dokko Jin’s VIP dressing room to swap scarves. Her oppa stands guard outside, but can’t stop Jin and his manager from going back inside.
Quick on her feet Ae Jung hears people returning and quickly dives behind a rack of clothing. Hiding behind the clothes, Ae Jung overhears a candid conversation between Dokko Jin and his manager about the Peter Jason role. Jin’s manager confesses that the role is likely not coming. Jin is livid that he sent the expensive wine that the man drank and how dare he just dump Jin? The manager reluctantly tells Jin that it was likely the lack of English fluency that made the director pick another Chinese actor who was born in the States. Jin is even more furious that his poor English is the reason he was not selected.
Jin tells his manager to leave, and he goes into the bathroom to vent. Everywhere he looks, he sees random news reports attacking him like flying toilet paper, or scrawled on the mirror – all of which poke fun at his failed Hollywood career. Jin’s watch beeps to tell him that his heart rate is spiking. Ae Jung switches the scarves back, likely feeling bad about Jin’s situation, which is when Jin comes out.
She pretends to be a fan, and he grabs her scarf and does what he does best – he scrawls his signature on it. Ae Jung grabs the scarf and pushes Jin off, yelling that the scarf is so expensive, how dare he scrawl all over it. Jin suddenly recognizes her as the chick he bumped into in the corridor, and he hands her his scarf and tells her to leave.
Ae Jung suddenly hears the same words coming from Jin’s mouth, and she makes the connection that he was the rude celebrity she ran into in the parking lot of the gas station. Jin heads outside to find his manager, and Ae Jung follows him. Jin is annoyed that she is following him, until he sees his signature on her palm and makes the connection himself.
He asks what she wants, to reveal the truth to the media? She says if he’s scared, he should just apologize. To which Jin politely, a little too politely, apologizes to Ae Jung. He also asks her to forgive him for misunderstanding her request and signing on her scarf. At which point, he grabs his scarf around her neck and asks for it back. Ae Jung keeps her hands on the scarf and refuses to return it, which is when Jin grabs her close and tells her politely that she is dead if she doesn’t release her hold on it.
Jin hilariously rips his scarf off Ae Jung, then does a rhythmic gymnast ribbon flourish with it, drapes it over his neck, and ties it into a gigantic bow. I about died laughing. He then flounces off, doing two little Charlie Chaplin feet-clicks to emphasize his good mood.
Gu Ae Jung goes on a radio show, and is asked about what she thinks about top star Dokki Jin. Ae Jung thinks, and candidly answers that he is a King Bastard. Suddenly she sees all the letters from the computer form into a machine gun, shooting her with Korean alphabets for her daring to criticize him. Of coure this is Ae Jung’s imagination.
Ae Jung manages to use the information she heard in his dressing room, that Jin hurt his ear drums when he was filming Fighter, and shares it with the audience. She describes him as someone who doesn’t want to use sympathy to elicit public support. Ae Jung’s disclosure gets her immediately onto the top search words. Jin’s fan’s are especially happy with Ae Jung. Her oppa tells Ae Jung that he got her onto a quiz show program tomorrow, promising that Ae Jung would call Dokko Jin as her guest.
Se Ri is overseeing the casting of a dating program, and the casting director bemoans being unable to find the perfect male candidate for the show. Pil Joo, who is a doctor of Oriental medicine, arrives at work. His mother comes to see him, pressuring him to get married and settle down. Jin requests that his manager find an awesome project in the next month, so that he can declare to the world that it wasn’t Peter Jason who didn’t pick him, it was Dokko Jin who selected another project.
His manger tells Jin that the internet is abuzz with news that Gu Ae Jung discussed Jin on a radio program today. Dokko Jin is clueless as to who she is, and ask his manager all about the Treasure Girls. His manager is shocked that Jin doesn’t know who the Treasure Girls were, especially since Se Ri (Jin’s ex-girlfriend) was also a member.
Ae Jung was the most popular Treasure Girl, and Se Ri was the youngest member of the group. The group broke up a year later amidst rumors of discord and pregnancy. Ae Jung’s solo album tanked. Since then her popularity has plummeted, and she keeps getting into scandals (such as an affair with an actor with a fiancée, and a drunken fight), thereby losing sponsors. Jin realizes that Ae Jung overheard their conversation in the dressing room. He demands that his manager get Ae Jung’s phone number.
Ae Jung is having coffee with Jenny, another of her Treasure Girl group mates, to return to scarf. Jenny tells Ae Jung everything will be fine, she can sell the scarf on ebay since there are tons of Jin fans. Jenny asks Ae Jung what’s going to happen tomorrow if Ae Jung can’t get Dokko Jin on the phone, which is when she gets a call asking her to meet with Dokko Jin.
Ae Jung goes to meet with Jin, she orders food and confesses that she has something to ask of him. Jin tells Ae Jung to get to the point, and he turns her down flat when he finds out what she wants. He is Dokko Jin, he doesn’t just go on any old variety program. Ae Jung confesses that she’s being so shameless because she’s desperate. She brings up Jin giving Peter Jason wine to beg for a part, just like she’s doing right now.
Jin gets upset with her, realizing she did in fact overhear everything. He tells her that if she reveals anything related to Peter Jason, he will sue her. Ae Jung says that she would never reveal that Jin tried to bribe a director with expensive wine, and then got rejected. Jin is losing his mind in frustration, and Ae Jung tells him that it’s better to come clean now rather than let rumors fester.
Jin brings up Ae Jung’s scandals, like she’s the mistress of a Japanese yakuza, or she’s sponsored by a rich man. He gets up to leave, and Ae Jung gets up to yell at him, telling him that she is the mistress of a powerful yakuza. She warns Jin to be careful how he treats her. Back at his apartment, Jin listens to the Treasure Girl’s song, suddenly his heart beat spikes up quickly. He wonders what is happening?
The day of the variety quiz show arrives, and the producers are thrilled that Ae Jung’s partner on the phone will be mega-star Dokko Jin. Jin is looking at scripts in his office, discarding everything. He wonders whether he should go and beg on his knees before Peter Jason, but decides against it. Ae Jung calls Jin, and tells him to expect a call from the network. Jin wonders if she will tell the world about Peter Jason if he doesn’t answer that call. She sincerely tells him that she has no intention of telling the world about his embarrassing situation, she just wanted a chance to convince him to do this for her.
Jin gives her a chance, and Ae Jung tells Jin that if he doesn’t answer the phone today, his rejection of her will leave her with the same feeling he got when Peter Jason rejected him. Ae Jung asks him to please consider how desperate she is, and she promptly hangs up the phone. Jin looks at the phone, and sets it aside, but then he keeps sneaking glances at it.
The program starts and the production calls Jin. Jin (who is totally waiting for that call) answers the phone after it rings for a very long time (leaving Ae Jung nervous) with his drawl of “helloooo”. He begins to play a game of Taboo with Ae Jung, with the subject being fruit (Ae Jung describing said fruit but cannot use the name of the fruit, and Jin has to correct say the name of the fruit she is describing).
Ae Jung and Jin have incredible chemistry, her lightning fast descriptions and his eager-to-win attitude gets him to accurately describe fruit after fruit. Jin is totally immersed in the game, leaving his agent and manager watching him flail around screaming various fruit into his phone. Se Ri is at the studio as well, and when she hears that Dokki Jin is the person Ae Jung has called, her natural hackles get raised and she goes to the watch the taping none too pleased.
When it comes time to describe grape, Ae Jung cleverly reminds Jin that this is the fruit by which the bribery wine he gave Peter Jason is made using. Jin immediately says grape, and everyone claps for how well he did in this segment. Jin and Ae Jung are grinning and pleased with themselves, until the MCs wonder what Ae Jung was talking about when she mentioned the wine for director Peter Jason. As Scooby-doo would say “roh, roh, rour in rouble”.
Thoughts of Mine:
I can make a determination of a drama based on the first episode only insofar as to say “yes I want to keep watching” or “no, it’s not connecting with me.” I can further detail why episode 1 is perhaps qualitatively good or bad. But what cannot be done is say that episode 1 means the rest of the drama is a success or failure. Episodes with meh first episodes have turned out to be resounding success, and conversely a great first episode oftentimes falls apart (some rather quickly), leading to wonder as to what could have been.
Episode 1 of BL is great, but I’m cautiously optimistic that this story has the plot legs to build on the momentum of the fantastic chemistry between Cha Seung Won and Gong Hyo Jin, and take it to a whiz-bang conclusion. While BL and You’re Beautiful are both set in the K-entertainment world, aside from sharing a common setting, everything else diverges and BL looks to be going to way of the-other-side of fame, where your 15 minutes are up, and being famous is not for the sake of popularity but for the necessity of making a living.
Cha Seung Won is hitting it out of the park as Dokko Jin, at once arrogant yet insecure, churlish yet childish, masculine yet immature. While City Hall only sporadically allowed him to showcase his knack for physical comedy (which he did brilliantly), BL is unleashing comedy king Cha Seung Won from the very beginning and giving him full reign to posture and preen his way through the drama. He’s a strutting peacock, played by Cha Seung Won like a cross between fey and quirky Johnny Depp and focused and determined Tom Cruise.
Gong Hyo Jin is adorable (though I’m not fond of her haircut), an over-the-hill entertainer who now treats being in showbiz like it’s a 9-5 desk job – not much validation or satisfaction. I like that she’s seasoned and composed, taking her current status in stride and making the best of what is left for her. As she crosses paths with Dokko Jin, it’s not going to be an opposites attract situation, and definitely not a kindred spirits understand each other coupling, it’s more like two random atoms colliding and creating sparks.
We’ve barely glimpsed second leads Yoo In Ah and Yoon Kye Sang, but I’m hoping that neither will be relegated to superficial wallpaper. I like that there is history between the various lead characters, and that the story balances both the public media concerns as well as the private personal inter-relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed episode 1, and am thrilled with how winningly this drama takes off from the very beginning.