Start-Up Episodes 2-4 Review
I'm coming back with an update on Start-up after posting my critical take on episode 1 (which was in my opinion a poorly done, overly flashback ridden mess), because to my own surprise, I'm now completely won over to the show. Episode 2 finally started to reveal the real heart of this drama, which has an unexpectedly laugh-out-loud comedic bend (especially whenever we get both our leading men on screen) as well as a sweet and rootable love triangle involving both Nam Do San and Han Ji-Pyeong.
I mentioned previously how neither Suzy nor Nam Joo Hyuk are actors that I'm a big fan of. It's still true that I'm not long-standing fans of both, but here's an example where a drama's character development is crafted effectively enough to make me make me naturally root for the leads. I've been especially surprised at how much I now like our leading man and I guess this is why you should watch at least 2 episodes of any drama before writing it off.
What I originally feared to be a cliche-ridden mess of a show, from its overly idealistic depiction of starting businesses to the multiple coincidences that result in our leads finding each other, has managed to change my mind and win over my heart. The directing really takes most of the credit on this front, as the camera work and beautiful presentation of the key pivotal moments (such as the floating cherry-blossom intro to Do San and the first near-meeting between Do San and Dal Mi) make them absolutely shine. This is no surprise given we're talking about the director for You Who Came from the Star, Doctors and While You Were Sleeping, all of which were slickly directed and heady in their portrayals of love.
The underlying romantic storyline is also now interesting to me, because it takes the childhood first love premise and flips it on its head. The true "first love" is Han Ji-Pyeong (albeit the ghost-writing childhood pen pal premise is a flimsy plot device), but rather than getting first lead status he's our reluctantly pining and Pygmalion-esque coach to our main lead, Nam Do San.
Do San is a socially awkward engineer struggling to build his technology into a revenue-generating business. I find it endearing that the drama doesn't pretend that he's not good-looking (as the actor clearly is), but instead believably tells us that his innate awkwardness/disinterest is what's led to his complete lack of experience in dating women (the knitting club flashback had me dying). In a cute turn, the drama makes Dal Mi the first woman he's genuinely seen with interest, which is clear to the viewer from the moment he saw her waiting at SandBox in episode 2. I'm relieved that the drama has taken a realistic slant by making it obvious that Dal Mi is clearly appealing (as Suzy is gorgeous) and is someone who is able to off the bat attract the affections of both our male leads. The innocent, misunderstood first-love premise is too sweet to not root for.
As I mentioned, the best parts of this drama are when our two guys are together, plotting how to continue the Do San charade while unknowingly united by their secret crushes on Dal Mi. Ji-Pyeong is such a stellar second-lead character (unlike the fox-like sister who follows so many villain tropes it makes me roll my eyes). He's supportive and selfless in his support of the charade, and consistent with his younger character, his first response is denial when asked if he feels affection for someone. He's also perfectly played by Kim Sun Ho, who's someone I've only seen peripherally in the past but am really enjoying here.
This writer does second-leads pretty well (While You Were Sleeping after all launched Jung Hae In's career as a male lead) and I'm hoping that Kim Sun Ho gets more lead opportunities after this as he really brings that rare combination of humor and heart. The hilarity of their scenes together, and of Do San with his two engineering friends brings a levity and enjoyment to this drama. Speaking of hilarity, that post-credits money scene was so many lols 😆.
It's also quite clear this drama has a pretty big budget (all the drone shots and the effects in the Hackathon feel well-produced), which makes sense given the level of the writer and the cast. I'll say in terms of Park Hye Ryun's works, I loved I Hear Your Voice and enjoyed the early parts of Pinocchio and While You Were Sleeping, but definitely saw momentum slow in the latter halves of all of these. Her dramas tend to start with a character-led, flashback filled bang but lose momentum later on which I'm just going to unfortunately assume will happen to Start-Up. That said, she has a real talent for building up very supportable relationships and characters with tragic backgrounds (Page Turner being another) that make them incredibly sympathetic and likeable. She's done the same here with Dal Mi, Do San and Ji-Pyeong and I'm just hoping that the momentum can stretch as far as possible.
While the start-up machinations feel like a stretch, I'm invested enough at this point to want to see how the SandBox competition plays out and how the two sisters inevitably see their rivalry rise. I love how clearly infatuated Do San is with Dal Mi, and that moment when he realizes that most of why she likes him is based on a lie really made me sad on his behalf. I'm looking forward to seeing how they come to know and like each other for the people they actually are, without the false childhood premise. Hopefully the humor stays up but for now I'm just enjoying how wholesome and good-hearted everything is. This is the definition of a feel good drama.