Nam Joo-hyuk and Suzy‘s Start-Up premiered last weekend to lots of anticipation. We’re getting a fresh new romance pairing, an equally interesting second pairing in Kim Sun-ho and Kang Han-na, and a cool youth-focused start-up concept. I tuned into this one because it’s been a while since I watched a rom-com and the cast has all my favorites. Also, Park Hye-ryun of While You Were Sleeping fame is the writer, while Hotel del Luna‘s Oh Choong-hwan is the director, so my hopes are high.
The first episode is almost completely a childhood flashback, dedicated to fleshing out the backstory of our main characters. Here is what went down:
A Tale of Two Sisters
We learn that Kang Han-na (Designated Survivor: 60 Days) and Suzy’s (Vagabond) characters are sisters called In-jae and Dal-mi, played by child actresses Lee Re (Memories of the Alhambra) and Heo Jung-eun (Arthadal Chronicles). This reveal right at the beginning was surprising – I would have expected the show to retain the surprise element and reveal it later in bits and pieces, as most shows tend to do.
Much of the first episode is dedicated to exploring the dynamics between the sisters, their past, and the choices they make. After their parents’ divorce, the sisters go from being super close to growing distant. The major conflict lays in their choices – In-jae doesn’t regret leaving her father for financial stability, while Dal-mi thinks it’s worth living a difficult life because she loves her father.
The Cutest Grandmother and a Studious Orphan
Dal-mi’s halmeoni (grandmother) Choi Won-deok (Kim Hae-sook, Hospital Playlist) has become one of my favorite K-drama halmeonis in just one episode. She’s a short, plump, cute woman who runs a tiny hotdog stall and facilitates the exchange of love letters between teenagers, ha. Going ahead, I think halmeoni‘s bond with everyone on the show is going to be super cute!
Halmeoni forms a bond with Han Ji-pyeong (Nam Da-reum, A Piece of Your Mind), a homeless orphan. Sometimes it feels like Nam Da-reun plays the younger version of every single male lead in every drama ever. But I can’t complain; the boy is a fabulous actor. Here he plays the hot-tempered, fiercely independent but ultimately warm-hearted Ji-pyeong who discovers quite early in life that he has a talent for investing.
Pen-pals Are Back in Fashion
Halmeoni and Ji-pyeong’s letter thing is cute and all that but they could have come up with a random name if they were going to make up a pen-pal for Dal-mi. But they borrow the name of a young math whiz (Kim Kang-hoon, When The Camellia Blooms) and I can see from miles away that this case of mistaken identity is going to cause sooo much trouble in the future. But the promise of future trouble is one of the main reasons we’re all watching, ha.
An Unforgettable But Tragic Cameo
Kim Joo-hun, who we last saw in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, was unforgettable in his cameo as Dal-mi’s father. He took to the role of the desperate and hard-working father so well I was crying several times during his arc. Dal-mi and In-jae’s interest in business also comes from him. Unsurprisingly, his arc was marred by tragedy in more ways than one and we couldn’t watch him become successful and be reunited with his family.
Adulting in Korea’s Silicon Valley
Dal-mi, In-jae, and Ji-pyeong meet again as adults in a place called Sandbox, which the show has created as the Korean equivalent of America’s Sillicon Valley – a space for start-ups and entrepreneurs to chase their dreams and business ideas. Although this is the whole concept behind the show, right now I find it silly that this fictional place was created when this story could take place just as easily in the real world.
Despite my reservations about Suzy’s acting, I find that she acts cutesy roles really well, and I was right. Suzy feels right at home as a struggling but determined part-timer who falls in love easily and goes about her difficult life with optimism. Kang Han-na is also a perfect fit as the arrogant and closed-off Won In-jae, successfully runs her own business at a young age using her step-father’s money and who fakes her happiness for Instagram.
The thing about siblings is that they can see through you even if after years. And that is exactly what happens when In-jae and Dal-mi meet at Sandbox. Looking at her sister’s tattered heels and part-timer life, In-jae remarks that she obviously made the better choice. I don’t blame Dal-mi for lying about starting a business with her partner Nam Do-san. Except, Dal-mi has never met the guy. Oh no. This is getting interesting!
Suddenly, everyone including Dal-mi, halmeoni, and Ji-pyeong (who manages to get dragged into another one of halmeoni’s schemes) is looking for Nam Do-san. That’s how we get our first glimpse of Nam Joo-hyuk (School Nurse Files) – long hair, crouched behind a computer screen in a dingy office, writing a code. This is one of those rare times when the show’s second lead is introduced way before the main lead, but I can see why the show did it – Ji-pyeong was an important part of the sisters’ childhood, whereas Nam Do-san didn’t exist in their lives yet.
This Nam Do-san is, of course, very different from Dal-mi’s imagination because he’s a completely different person. All these secrets and confusion are going to make their first meeting so interesting! I also wonder if this pen-pal situation has the potential to turn into a love triangle between Dal-mi, Do-san, and Ji-pyeong. So far, I’m really into the competitive conflict between the sisters, the bond between Ji-pyeong and halmeoni, and the confusion around Nam Do-san. I think all four main leads are great actors and I’m looking forward to see how they tackle their characters.
Excited to tune into the next episode!