A Good Start
After the lackluster Melting Me Softly, Ji Chang-Wook returns to front the newest SBS Korean Drama Backstreet Rookie. With a good deal of humour and an intriguing set-up, the show sets the foundation nicely for the rest of the drama to play out. However, the initial romantic inclinations between the two leads is a little awkward but the humour thankfully manages to drown out any initial concerns with this.
We begin episode 1 of Backstreet Rookie with a man named Dae-Hyun opening a drain and saving a trapped kitten. Realizing what the time is, he rushes off just as Saet-Byul starts running too. Only, when they happen to run past one another they catch the other’s glance as they run.
Up on the rooftop, Saet-Byul is attacked by a gang who surround her and attack. Only, she thwarts their hits and leaves, down to the bus-stop where she sees Dae-Hyun in a restaurant suffering a break-up with his girlfriend.
Drowning his sorrows in alcohol, a drunk Dae-Hyun stumbles home and runs into Saet-Byul who seduces him into buying them cigarettes. Only, instead he buys them sweets and tells them to quit smoking. Saet-Byul immediately rushes over and kisses him, flashing him a cheeky grin as he watches on, dumbfounded.
3 years later Dae-Hyun is a local celebrity and working in the local convenience store. His Father Yong-Pil arrives and bemoans their lack of money and as he does, falls to the ground clutching his chest. As he’s rushed to hospital it turns out he has indigestion.
While he rests up at home, Dae-Hyun returns to work and continues to bag the attention of schoolgirls in the area, who rush in to get his picture. Unfortunately it’s not enough, as local sales begin to dwindle and his 36 hour stint causes him to put up an advert to hire a part-timer.
Meanwhile, Saet-Byul spies a massive fight breaking out in the street and immediately rushes in. After this skirmish, she spies the convenience store in the distance and heads inside. An exhausted Dae-Hyun sits with her as she makes him a herbal tea. As she heads off to use the restroom, he falls asleep on the counter.
When he wakes up however, the store is completely packed full of people and Saet-Byul is hired as the part-timer. After a successful night, Sae-Byul leaves but Dae-Hyun suspects something afoul. The next day he notices all the cash missing from the register and immediately believes she’s played him – especially after consulting the “Convenience Store Guru” online.
He rushes off to the address she’s given but when he gets there, Saet-Byul is nowhere to be seen. Believing she’s played them, he rushes back home and notices the cigarettes completely missing from the shelf. Dae-Hyun grabs the key to open the shop, which happens to be closed, and heads inside.
When he does, he notices the cigarettes back on the shelf and organised efficiently. The money happens to be back in the cash register too. It turns out his Mother was the one who took the money as she needed it urgently, which he finds out from Saet-Byul after a police officer follows up on his tip about her stealing money.
Feeling betrayed, Saet-Byul leaves and picks up her sister Eun-Byul from the karaoke bar. Not long after, she begins working with a food-cart selling a hangover cure, bemoaning her luck and needing to get back to her part-time job.
Webtoon writer and Dae-Hyun’s friend Dal-Sik arrives at the convenience store to catch up on events. He leaves not long after though and Dae-Hyun, in a bid to make it up to Saet-Byul, starts organizing the stock cupboard.
The next day he invites his ex-girlfriend Yeon-Joo out for lunch but she instead invites him to the hotel. Only, when he gets there it happens to be the hotel gym which is open for 24 hours. While he starts cycling, Dal-Sik keeps an eye on Saet-Byul who invites her friends over and they begin partying and drinking outside.
Dae-Hyun immediately finds out and heads back to the convenience store. As he confronts her, she stands up and beams at him, looking deep in his eyes which is where the episode ends.
Admittedly, the first 10 minutes of the series are a little uncomfortable as Backstreet Rookie leans into the whole school-girl angle, despite the writers clearly gearing toward her portraying the Lolita trope and being over the consensual age. As a Westerner, this does feel a little awkward but when the drama skips forward 3 years it does become a little better. The humour is on-point, Dae-Hyun has that lovable quality about his personality and the story is simple but pretty effectively. Hopefully the rest of the series can follow suit!