The K-drama May Marathon Madness officially starts in earnest for me now that Lie to Me has finally arrived. Together with Best Love, I’m planning to enjoy both individually (as long as it’s good and/or stays good), and also seeing how the two dramas approach the most frivolous of all genres (the rom-com), and hopefully makes it unique, thoughtful, and entertaining.
Episode 1 of LTM is pure set-up, and as far as set-up episodes go, narratively it hit all the necessary plot points, but it wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped. So far I find the story amusing and I don’t mind the leap-of-logic or reality necessary to subscribe to a chaebol contract married to an ordinary girl construct.
I guess the important thing everyone wants to know really is – does Yoon Eun Hye and Kang Ji Hwan have chemistry with each other? The answer is – is the world round, the sky blue and the sun burning hot? Eun Hye and Ji Hwan have an aircraft carrier’s worth of chemistry, so let’s see if the story holds my interest in the long run. So far it’s so good, but ultimately I’m going to want a whole lot more.
Episode 1 Recap:
Hotel president Hyun Ki Joon (Kang Ji Hwan) starts his inspection rounds at his hotel, purposefully striding through the lobby, his exacting eyes missing not a single detail. He uses his hankerchief to wipe the counter, inspecting it to make sure there is no dust. He corrects even the tiniest details, and when he leaves all employees let out a silent sigh of relief. His hotel manager assures him that the preparations for an upcoming event is all complete, which we see is a wedding for a couple.
Three ladies exit a taxi, one crying piteously, while the other two prop her up and drag her along. They storm to the front desk, demanding to know the room number for a certain male guest and his female companion. Of course their request is denied, but the wailing woman in the middle confesses that she’s needs to know because the man is her fiancée and the woman is/was her best friend. Random aside, it appears that both Best Love and Lie to Me start off with two different Sam Soon references. Oh, and I swear the crying woman is a cameo role by Yoo Ha Na.
Ki Joon sees this tableau, and tells his front desk manager to tell the ladies which room the man is staying in, since circumstances warrant the break in protocol. The cuckholded fiancée is afraid to knock on the door, wondering what will happen with the wedding, all the money spent, her expensive wedding dress? Ki Joon thinks to himself that it’s all the same – a woman wants not to marry the man, but is instead marrying the institution of marriage, including all its trappings.
The fiancée almost decides that she doesn’t want to know, which is when Ki Joon steps forward and knocks on the door. An irate man opens it, demanding to know why he’s being bothered. Ki Joon asks if the hotel service is up to par, and the man complains about where his room service is and what bad timing it is right now to come bother him. Which is when he gets a cake to the face and the three women storm inside his room.
One turns back and grabs the man by his hair and hauls him back inside to be reckoned with. Ki Joon tells his hotel manager to prepare to handle the aftermath, but to give the ladies 10 minutes first to teach the guy a lesson. Ki Joon heads down to the lobby, noticing his front desk manager has a mis-buttoned shirt. The guy sweats bullets as Ki Joon steps up to correctly button it for him.
Elsewhere, at a cultural festival and performance for foreign dignitaries and other guests, the Department of Culture, Tourism and Sports is overseeing an event designed to showcase the Korean arts. The foreign guests are enjoying the local honey harvested from Korean bees. Gong Ah Jung (Yoon Eun Hye), a young civil employee in the department, is enjoying the fun as well as keeping an eye out for the festivities going smoothly.
As Jung goes to get drink of water and catch her breath. Suddenly a lone bee comes by and is promptly disposed off. The camera pans away and we see a swarming bee hive behind a tree. The Minister of Culture summons all the department employees to congratulate them on a job well done. Ah Jung’s boss tries to take credit for the event, but Ah Jung speaks up and takes proper credit for the event.
The Minister of Culture is quite pleased with this shindig and compliments Ah Jung, telling her to keep working hard. Ah Jung steps forward to give a television interview, which is when all hell breaks loose. A falling branch dislodges the bee hive, and a swarm of angry CGI bees attack the festivities. While this is as stupid of a plot device as I’ve ever seen, the execution is actually quite hilarious, and I found myself chuckling at the mayhem.
People are screaming and running to and fro, trying to escape the bees. A co-worker of Ah Jung’s falls to the ground in a faint, getting up only to be hit by a column of water as others have turned out a giant hose in hopes of using water to dispel the bees. Ah Jung’s boss grabs the flag of Korea and waves it around to shoo the bees away as a representative of the Republic of Korea. Men dressed in Korean traditional garb carry a paladin chair over and the Minister of Culture is deposited on the chair in a dead faint and spirited away.
Ah Jung grabs the microphone to try and calm down the screaming masses, but to no avail. A bee stings her right at that moment on her chest, then promptly dies. She sits down on the ground in pain, realizing that she’s been stung on her chest. Afterwards, the poor beleaguered employees of the Department are back the office, everyone moaning, groaning, and covered in ointment and bandages. One is twitching, another can still hear the buzzing bees.
Ah Jung’s boss tells her to take responsibility for this fiasco, and write an apology letter. Ah Jung wonders why she has to take responsibility for a freak accident involving bees. Her boss reminds her that the Minister of Culture is in the hospital, as well as thirty other guests. Ah Jung is told that if she won’t write an apology letter, she should write a resignation letter instead. Ah Jung leaves, as her subordinate runs after her trying to put ointment on her.
Hyun Sang Hee (Sung Joon), the younger brother of Hyun Ki Joon, arrives back in Seoul and immediately heads for city center. He’s at a club and is flirting with a girl when his amorous activities garner him some pissy attitude from a girl nearby who is trying to do something important. Sang Hee turns around to find himself standing next to Ah Jung’s table.
Ah Jung knocks on the table to get their attention, asking them whether this is their bedroom or a hotel room? She tells them to be quiet and stop distracting her, using her scarf to shoo them away from her table. Ah Jung yells that it’s too loud here, and she puts on her earphones and takes a swig of beer. Sang Hee looks at this crazy chick and smiles, liking the entertaining strange girl.
Sang Hee and Ah Jung drink and discuss her work woes. Ah Jung writes “I can’t work here any longer” looking up to finally notice Sang Hee sitting next to her and wondering what she’s up to. Ah Jung impatiently tells him that she is writing a resignation letter, what else does it look like? Sang Hee wonders why she’s writing it here, and Ah Jung wonders how long he’s going to sit there and bother her.
She tells Sang Hee that it’s clear he’s never written a resignation letter before, since it doesn’t look like he has a job. Sang Hee correctly wonders why she’s writing such an important letter on a napkin. Ha, so true. Ah Jung looks at him like he’s stupid – since she’s writing the letter here, a napkin is all she has to write on. Duh. Sang Hee remarks that a resignation letter written on a napkin doesn’t have much sincerity in it.
Ah Jung says that it’s better than writing it on a paper coaster. Ah Jung then drinks with Sang Hee, regaling him with her misadventures with the bees at the festival. Sang Hee wonders why she’s writing a resignation letter when all her boss asked her to do was write an apology letter? Ah Jung’s unique brain thinks that she didn’t do anything wrong, so it’s more unacceptable for her to write an apology letter.
She downs the best of her beer and asks for another. She gets up and trips on the table, and Sang Hee grabs her resignation napkin and reads it. Ah Jung wrote – the capable me cannot stand this any longer and you guys need to stop living like this, I quit. Sang Hee asks if she really is going to hand it in like this, and Ah Jung says that she will blow her nose on the napkin first before tendering it to her boss. Oh dear, I like this girl very very much.
Ki Joon, who turns out to be a miniature enthusiast, is at home in his workshop when he gets a call alerting him to Sang Hee’s return to Korea. Ki Joon runs out immediately to track down Sang Hee, but he arrives at the club just as Sang Hee books it after Sang Hee notices Ki Joon’s arrival at the club.
Ki Joon chases Sang Hee outside just in time to see him get into a car and take off. Ah Jung has also realized that Sang Hee left, taking her resignation napkin with him. Ah Jung runs after Sang Hee, yelling at him to come back, she’s a civil servant of Korea! Ki Joon asks Ah Jung if she knows Sang Hee, which is when she starts to have some sort of seizure right in front of Ki Joon.
Ah Jung’s eyes roll into the back of her head and she swoons. Ki Joon is about to leave this strange girl on the ground until he realizes that the bystanders assume they know each other and he’s a cold-hearted bastard for leaving her sprawled on the ground. Ki Joon bends down and uses a finger to poke Ah Jung, but she doesn’t stir. He realizes that she’s not faking it.
Ah Jung is taken to the hospital and Ki Joon goes with her. The nurse assumes Ki Joon is her guarantor and tells him to go fill out paperwork. At the hospital, Ah Jung is resting in a bed, and Ki Joon’s professional fixation on impeccable grooming causes him to want to correctly re-button her top. He reaches for her shirt, but ultimate decides against it since it’s such a public place. Instead he pulls the blanket over her to cover up the offending mis-buttoned shirt.
Because the blanket is caught under Ah Jung’s feet, Ki Joon tugs a little too hard on the blanket and finds himself tumbling towards Ah Jung. He stops himself, but his face is mere inches away from hers, which is when the sleeping beauty wakes up. Ah Jung groggily looks up to see Ki Joon, causing her to wonder who this handsome man is?
The doctor comes by to reassure Ah Jung that she’ll be fine. She just had alcohol poisoning, and the doctor asks her if she took any drugs. Ah Jung vehemently denies it, which is when the doctor notices the bee sting. The doctor explains that alcohol and bee venom may have disastrous consequences for certain people, and could be the cause for Ah Jung’s bad reaction last night. The patient in the bed next to Ah Jung offers her an orange, and compliments her on her handsome husband who stayed by her bed the entire night. Ah Jung tells her that he’s not her husband.
Ki Joon comes back and Ah Jung quickly pretends to have just woken up. He wants to ask her about Sang Hee, but first asks Ah Jung to fix her buttons on her shirt. He looks at disheveled Ah Jung and decides she can’t possibly have any connection with Sang Hee so he doesn’t ask. Ki Joon leaves, and Ah Jung runs after him like a madwoman. Ki Joon tries to get into a taxi and take off, but Ah Jung bangs on the window asking him to open up. The kind taxi driver won’t leave and instead tells Ki Joon to go talk with his girlfriend who is obvious needing him right now.
Ki Joon has no choice but to step outside and talk with Ah Jung, asking her what else she needs from him. Ki Joon assures Ah Jung that he paid the hospital bills, which wasn’t much so she shouldn’t feel indebted to him. Ki Joon asks if she needs taxi money, and she assures him she’s no beggar. She asks if he can take her back to the bar so that she can get her purse, and pay him back at the same time.
Ah Jung grabs his hand and smiles like a moon calf at him, telling him that he’s her life saver. Ki Joon refuses and takes off, Ah Jung keeps chasing after him asking to return the money. She asks him for his account information to wire the money to him, and he keeps telling her not to make such as big deal. Ki Joon leaves, and Ah Jung realizes that Ki Joon thought she was trying to seduce him, which upsets her.
Ki Joon arrives at the hotel in his casual attire, and his entire staff is completely shell shocked to see him walk through the hotel thusly, since no one has ever seen Ki Joon dressed down. Ki Joon’s aunt comes to see him, reminding him that today is his matchmaking date with the daughter of another chaebol. Aunt wonders how long Sang Hee is going to keep playing and traveling, and Ki Joon informs his aunt that Sang Hee is back in Seoul.
Aunt kicks Ki Joon in the shin, taking it out on him for having such a difficult younger brother. Ki Joon tells his aunt that Sang Hee resembles her the most. Ki Joon is resigned to having a wife now that he’s gotten a career. Aunt tells him that if he doesn’t get married this year, he needs to give up his position. Aunt suddenly realizes that Ki Joon is dressed down and looks like he didn’t go home last night. She asks him if he’s got a woman now, and who she is?
Ah Jung grabs her purse from the bar, griping at the exorbitant bar tab she just paid, wondering if “that dude’s” drinks are added to her bill. Ah Jung goes home after a night out since she was stuck at the hospital. Her dad seems unconcerned that his daughter didn’t come home last night and is more worried about cutting his nails. Ah Jung gripes that he’s not worried his daughter stayed out all night, and her dad says that she’s nearing thirty now, why should he be worried?
Ah Jung and her dad watch the news reports of the bee attack fiasco at the cultural festival. Ah Jung is upset the news report cuts out her interview, only showing the embarrassing bee attack. Ah Jung walks on the street and is recognized by people walking past her. Ah Jung goes to the hair salon and asks for a new haircut so that no one can recognize her.
Ah Jung overhears another lady giggling with her husband about having a hot night after he comes home. Ah Jung reads a magazine while her hair is in curlers, she discovers her savior’s real identity, hotel magnate Hyun Ki Joon. Ah Jung is unimpressed with him, but at least now she knows how to track him down to return the money. Ah Jung mocks that there was a lot of photoshopping of his features in that magazine picture.
Ki Joon goes on a matchmaking date, and his date asks him directly what kind of woman he likes. Ki Joon says that his wife needs to understand that he is responsible for many people. She has to put him first, and make him feel a sense of relief (excuse me while I barf over here). His date asks him why Ki Joon broke his previous engagement. If I were his date, I’d book it. Marrying Ki Joon (in his current incarnation) is about as desirable as spooning with a robot.
Ah Jung’s nemesis Yoo So Ran (Hong Su Hyun) arrives at the hair salon, pretending to be all excited about seeing Ah Jung for the first time in three years. She summons her husband to come and say hi to Ah Jung, much to Ah Jung’s embarrassment since her hair is up in curlers and the husband was her first crush. The husband, good-natured and clueless Chun Jae Bum (Ryu Seung Soo) greets Ah Jung warmly, and wonders if she married yet. So Ran jokes that Ah Jung couldn’t possibly be married yet, who would have her, which is when Ah Jung receives a call.
Ah Jung pretends that the other caller is her “yobo” or honey (usually an endearment used by married couples), and asks how he’s doing. She is all syrupy sweet that she misses him, and pretends that he asked her to pick up some eels on her way home (eels being the food of choice to replenish depleted male virility). So Ran refuses to believe that Ah Jung is married and hurries on out of there.
That night Ah Jung lies in bed and thinks back to her past with her crush. A younger Ah Jung, wearing sloppy sweats that she hasn’t washed in a week is sitting on a swing talking with So Ran. So Ran asks if she is going to take her civil service exam. Ah Jung confesses that she will pass, so that she can match up to her sunbae. Her sunbae walks past at that moment, and he looks at So Ran sitting on the swing.
Ah Jung confesses to So Ran that she will confess her feelings to her sunbae the moment she passes her exam. So Ran wishes her luck, and Ah Jung hugs her as the one true friend she has. When Ah Jung was studying in the library and got a nosebleed from studying too hard, Jae Bum was there to support her. Ah Jung passed her exam, and was excitedly running off to tell Jae Bum, when she saw him in a café with So Ran being all lovey dovey.
Ah Jung confronts So Ran and Jae Bum, who tell her that they’ve been dating for awhile now actually. Oooh, what a serpant woman. Ah Jung collapses on the ground, and we’re back to the present. Ah Jung pummels her stuffed animal and rages at the two-faced So Ran, whom she considered a friend but stole the guy she knew Ah Jung liked. Ah Jung cries when she still thinks about her heartbreak.
The next day, Ah Jung heads to Ki Joon’s hotel to pay him back for the hospital fees. She goes to the front desk and asks to see Hyun Ki Joon, but the front desk employee won’t help her. Another employee steps forward and tells Ah Jung that the president is at the hotel coffee shop right now, and if she goes there she can expect to see him.
Ah Jung walks to the café and finds Ki Joon sitting there. Ki Joon suddenly stands up and smiles, waving at Ah Jung’s direction. Ah Jung gets a little fluttery thinking that he was waiting for her and waves back, only to realize in embarassment that Ki Joon was waving at the girl standing behind Ah Jung.
Ah Jung sits down close to Ki Joon. Ah Jung needs to go to the bathroom but is stuck waiting around for Ki Joon to finish his conversation. She tips her chair back to eavesdrop on his conversation to hear what is taking so long, which is when her chair tilts over and she spills tomato juice all over herself. Ah Jung is so embarrassed that she pretends to have fainted.
Ki Joon recognizes her and ends up carrying her through the hotel and up to a guest room rather than allow her to cause a bigger commotion. A hotel guest recognizes Ah Jung being carried, and finds out from a staff member that the man doing the carrying is the president of the hotel.
Ki Joon unceremoniously tosses Ah Jung onto the bed, and she hurries up and runs into the bathroom. Ki Joon’s hotel manager brings Ah Jung’s purse up, while Ah Jung is inside trying to clean up herself a little from the tomato juice spilled all over herself.
Ah Jung comes out of the bathroom, and Ki Joon wonders if she needs to go to the hospital to get a CAT scan in case she has a concussion. Ah Jung realizes that Ki Joon is insinuating that she’s pretending to have gotten hurt at the hotel and later will demand money for her injury. Ah Jung confesses that she pretended to faint because she was simply too embarrassed. Ki Joon wonders why she’s here a day later with a completely different hairdo?
Ah Jung grabs an envelope filled with money and hands it to Ki Joon. He wonders how she knew who he was, and she explains that she saw his picture (heavily photoshopped so she almost didn’t recognize him) in a magazine. He tells her again he doesn’t want to be repaid, and Ah Jung explains that she’s a civil servant, and accepting his payment of her hospital bills could be deemed a bribe.
Ah Jung puts the envelope on the bed and leaves. Ki Joon stops her, explaining that he asked for a change of clothes to be brought over and for her to wait. Ah Jung walks out of the room, and then pretends to be all hurt and suffering, making a scene for all the other guests to see. Ki Joon looks at the money in the envelope and smiles.
Sang Hee is hitching a ride with a truck driver, who drops him off at the house of an artist friend who lives in the countryside. Sang Hee asks if he can live here with him. Sang Hee reaches into his pocket and finds the wadded up resignation napkin, which makes him smile as he recollects crazy drunk Ah Jung. Who is tendering an apology letter to her boss at that moment, confessing that she had written a resignation letter but it was stolen.
The other colleagues all laugh at Ah Jung, wondering especially why even the most absurd things sound like it could be true when it comes out of Ah Jung’s mouth? They acknowledge that it’s because Ah Jung has charisma. So Ran is having lunch with some girlfriends, and asking if anyone has heard about Ah Jung getting married? Two of the friends have not heard of it, so So Ran thinks it confirms that Ah Jung is lying.
But then a third friend arrives at the lunch, the one who saw Ki Joon carry Ah Jung through the hotel. This friend confirms that she saw Ah Jung’s husband yesterday, a total hottie. She confirms that he carried Ah Jung through the hotel lobby, if that is not a husband than what could he be? So Ran tries to downplay the possibility that the man is someone successful, otherwise Ah Jung would have told everyone.
The friend who saw Ki Joon says that he was dressed very expensively, so he must be someone of importance. Suddenly all the ladies are on the phone calling everyone else, and the word spreads that Ah Jung’s husband is a second generation chaebol. Word then spreads that Hyun Ki Joon is Ah Jung’s husband. The word gets to Ki Joon’s matchmaking date.
At the golf course where Ki Joon is golfing, he sees his date pull up and goes to greet her. He is cold to him and walks away, accusing him of stringing her along. But she promises not to tell the elders about it. She leaves, and another guy walks up to Ki Joon, asking him why he didn’t tell anyone that he got married.
Ki Joon looks confused and says that he’s not married? And then suddenly his face freezes, and he thinks back to smiley, crazy Ah Jung.
Thoughts of Mine:
Episode 1 was decent. Just decent – an episode with an okay plot but good actors, charming chemistry, and plenty of potential. I concede my personal adoration of Yoon Eun Hye and Kang Ji Hwan elevated the pretty stereotypical script into more entertaining territory. All of the K-drama tropes are evident, but little tweaks here and there manage to not sink this ship from the get go and keep me interested in coming back for more.
Yoon Eun Hye’s pronunciation and enunciation are much better here than in My Fair Lady, which garnered her lots of criticism, and is something she clearly has worked on. Which is key, because Kang Ji Hwan has crackling delivery, and I expects lots of verbal parrying between their characters going forward. Both of them are well-cast, not necessarily either with or against their typical roles, but more like they take the role and run with it.
Ki Joon is the straight man in this farce, and Ah Jung is the jester with a thousand facial expressions and a million emotions. I have to admit that none of the secondary characters make much of an impression, except for So Ran, who is delightfully bitchy. Not evil, just exceedingly competitive with Ah Jung and a poor sport. Sung Joon’s second male lead Sang Hee is just okay – as a character I don’t feel any immediate connection with him, either positive or negative, and as an actor he’s got a easy on the ears baritone voice but a rather rudimentary acting repertoire.
While I think Ah Jung is currently the only interesting and well-written character in the drama, I’m hoping Kang Ji Hwan can do so much more than his pretty paper-thin caricature of a chaebol hotel president. I like Ki Joon, because he’s played by Kang Ji Hwan, because once you strip out the actor, what’s left isn’t a very concrete character.
I think the entertainment to be had from LTM lies not in originality or even creativity, but in the package of watching your favorite stars paired up and falling in love, amidst some zany situations, potentially angsty proceedings, and ultimately get to that happy ending. It’s not much, but if executed correctly, is as compelling as reason to watch and enjoy a drama as any. LTM is a trifle, and well-constructed trifle can be a delectable delight.