After The King: Eternal Monarch comes a new SBS drama—Backstreet Rookie, taking over the Friday and Saturday time slot. It is based on the popular webtoon Convenience Store Saet-byul, written by Hwalhwasan and illustrated by Geumsagong. Following a linear plot and set in the modern times, it revolves around a convenience store manager Choi Dae-hyun (Ji Chang-wook) and his somewhat suspicious but cheerful part-time employee Jung Saet-byul (Kim Yoo-jung).
The show opens three years in the past. After getting dumped by his date, Dae-hyun encounters three young troublemaker students, one of whom is Saet-byul. She asks him to buy them cigarettes at a nearby convenience store. A smitten Saet-byul then makes the bold move of kissing a baffled Dae-hyun, which takes him by surprise, and he unconsciously gives her his number. Three years after, she applies to be a part-timer at his convenience store, but he finds that he is still prejudiced towards her.
Masking problematic societal realities with elements of comedy and family drama, Backstreet Rookie premiered with a funny take on aggressive and troubled teenagers. It is a bit uncomfortable to watch at times, especially the scenes featuring Saet-byul’s sister, Eun-byul, and her friends dancing sensually to music. While full of laughter and romance, this is definitely not a family drama, with a lot of scenes inappropriate for younger audiences.
Ji Chang-wook and Kim Yoo-jung show great onscreen chemistry almost immediately, and their ship is sailing from the first scene of them accidentally bumping into each other. Dae-hyun’s clumsy character complements Saet-byul’s straightforward attitude quite well. After all, she did the first move on Dae-hyun by kissing him without consent. The sparks flew, but the butterflies in my tummy were uneasy. The visuals of the leads are also appealing. Kim Yoo-jung is very pretty, and Ji Chang-wook is an eye candy himself. Both fit well into their respective characters.
Saet-byul gives off major bad girl vibes—both literally and figuratively. From an early age, she’s shown as being independent and hardworking. She doesn’t back down from a fight and easily beats up those who bully her. Saet-byul is violent, but she only fights off bullies and those who treat her loved ones badly. Her parents don’t seem to be in the picture, so it’s safe to assume that she’s probably living alone with her sister, a high school student. That says a lot about Saet-byul’s upbringing, since she has had to take responsibility for both herself and her sister.
Dae-hyun, on the other hand, is the opposite of Saet-byul in every way. Where she is aggressive, confident, and outgoing, he is somewhat timid, doubtful, and always getting into unnecessary troubles. Dae-hyun frequently doubts Saet-byul’s intentions because of his initial impression of her, and ends up misunderstanding with her, even accusing her of stealing and falsifying her résumé. However, not long after, he finds himself falling for Saet-byul’s charms and staring at her.
Dae-hyun is a pushover, so Saet-byul is always looking for ways to help him. Though he wants to do everything right, he often chooses the wrong timing and methods and ends up in worse situations. For example, rescuing a kitten on his way to an important date. He gets to his date late, stinking, and with his clothes muddied, leaving a bad impression. He does save the kitten, alright, points to him for that, but he could have done that without making a mess of himself. His tendency to be thoughtless and clumsy leads to him getting pushed around a lot. He lets his emotions get the best of him sometimes without thinking things through. I’m interested in how the character development of polar opposites Dae-hyun and Saet-byul will unfold.
Yoo Yeon-joo (Han Sun-hwa), Dae-hyun’s current girlfriend, comes off as a dominating woman, which explains why she always gets the upper hand in their relationship. She belongs to a wealthy family, and her exceptional educational background is evident in her upbringing and the way she carries herself. Her and Dae-hyun’s worlds are undeniably different, but they try to work it out. Unfortunately, Backstreet Rookie isn’t their love story, because this show isn’t about a rich, young chaebol falling in love with someone from a lower social status, followed by family disapproval and eventual break-up. Saet-byul is bound to be Dae-hyun’s love interest one way or another, but I’m curious to see how far Dae-hyun and Yeon-joo’s relationship will go before Dae-hyun pursues Saet-byul (or maybe it will be the other way around?).
K-drama rom-coms are not complete without the sidekick characters that back the main characters up. Whether they play best friend, second-in-command, sibling, or someone who sticks by the lead character’s side, sidekicks bring in added fun and color to the story. For Saetbyul, it’s her two long-time friends, Hwang Geum-bi and Cha Eun-jo. For Dae-hyun, it’s his best friend who writes erotic webtoons for a living. These groups of friends don’t always get along, but it’s fun to watch their playful bickering, which I think is the goal of the writer.
So far, the two episodes are coming along well, with their humor, fast-paced plot, visually attractive leads, and a comical take on underlying societal realities. Kim Yoo-jung’s acting is obviously maturing, and Ji Chang-wook is charming as ever. Even with a real-life age gap of 12 years, and significant age gap in the drama as well, both actors complement each other well instead of any one of them overshadowing the other. This, I feel, is very important in successful romance dramas. I’m excited to see how the plot will develop from here, and I’m enjoying the leads’ chemistry so far.