Mystic Pop-up Bar gets off to a strong start with an interesting and enjoyable first episode. The new drama does a great job building the world up with some decent exposition, setting the scene well for what is to come ahead. The premise surrounding the dream world is intriguing too and it’ll be interesting to see where this one goes in the future.
Mystic Pop-up Bar episode 1 begins with a disoriented girl walking towards an altar by a tree and knocking all the food off it before looking in the distance. We then cut to that same girl, Weol-Ju, caring for a sick old lady.We learn that she is able to help people by going into their dreams.
In the evening, Weol-Ju’s mother tells her she wants her to stop using her abilities and to think about getting married. The girl tells her it makes her happy to help others and wants to wait until she finds love. Suddenly she gets taken to see the crown prince and is ordered by the queen to read his dreams as he has been suffering for a while. When she does, she is startled and explains she can see vengeful spirits who died in the hands of the royal family haunting him. For the next few days, she works at comforting the spirits until the prince’s dreams become more pleasant.
As the days tick by, the queen notices that her son is acting a little aloof and detached while Weol-Ju’s mothers overhears the villagers gossip about her daughter and the prince who has apparently been visiting her every night. This prompts her to send Weol-Ju to her uncle because of those rumours. Weol-Ju protests so her mother gives her her Binyeo from her hair for whenever she needs extra strength as it will bring her the person she seeks.
On her way out of the village, Weol-Ju turns back and sees a fire. As she rushes back to her house, she sees that it is engulfed in flames and her mother has perished inside of it. We then catch up to the moments at the beginning of the episode as Weol-Ju vandalizes the altar by the sacred tree. She vows to curse everyone, even in her death, then hangs herself on the tree while dropping the Binyeo. It creates a crack on the floor which illuminates before spreading to the tree and sparkling all around it.
We then cut forward in the future as an older Weol-Ju tends to a troubled client named Mi-Ran in the Mystic pop-up bar. She tries to get her to talk about her problems but the woman resists which disappoints Weol-Ju. She later talks to manager Guibanjang and complains that getting to 100,000 is very difficult. He tells her that it is her fault for hanging herself on the scared tree.
After suggesting opening an online business instead, we see a montage of Weol-Ju visiting people in their dreams to help with their problems and grudges by giving them a special drink that sends them to sleep. She explains it has been tough and now has 10 people left to add to the count.
In Kapeul Mart, Kang-Bae works as a cashier and we see that when he touches people, it causes them to spill all their worries and secrets. While waiting for the bus, he is surprised to see his co-worker Mi-Ran drunk on the road, shouting and causing a commotion. The next day, Mi-Ran gets into an argument with a customer which turns violent. Weol-Ju, who happens to be shopping there, intervenes and grabs him by the neck, telling him he is no better than a beggar before throwing him to the floor.The manager arrives and tries to make Mi-Ran apologies but she runs off.
As he leaves work, Kang-Bae sees Mi-Ran stepping out on to the road in front of an upcoming lorry. He quickly rushes to her aid and manages to stop the vehicle. He offers to take her for something to eat where he sees the Mystic pop-up bar. Once inside, Weol-Ju tries to get her to talk about her worries again but she remains tight lipped.
Kang-Bae returns from the shop and as he accidentally touches her, she starts telling him what is on her mind; their manager Mr Park has been sexually harassing her over the last few months. Weol-Ju then asks what she wants to do to him. Mi-Ran replies that she just wants him to know what it is like to be cornered with nowhere to go. After sending Kang-Bae away, Weol-Ju gives Mi-Ran the magical drinks to make her sleep.
In her own dream world, Mi-Ran watches all the difficult moments with Mr Park on CCTV screens. In one of the videos, Mi-Ran turns into Weol-Ju who starts tormenting the manager. Back in reality, Kang-Bae returns but sees the bar flickering with people walking right through it. He finds Mi-Ran asleep inside and as he touches her, he is transported into the realm.
As he faces Weol-Ju, she is shocked to see him as no human can enter the dreamworld. Guibanjang appears too and they both explain that they are spirits who help people with their grudges in their dreams. After looking at Kang-Bae, Guibanjang realizes that his spiritual vision is unlocked. As Mr Park suddenly tries escaping, both spirits go after him and manage to teach him a lesson. Kang-Bae then talks to Mi-Ran, who has locked herself in the surveillance room after punishing Mr Park in the real world. She finally comes out and Weol-Ju orders her to be stronger from now on.
The next day, we see that it has worked as Mi-Ran shows the CCTV footage of Mr Park abusing her to a higher-up who tells her he will get a disciplinary and advises that she sue him. The customer from the day before also arrives to apologise as we see a flashback of him being visited by Guibanjang the night before. As Kang-Bae heads in to speak to Mi-Ran, she apologises for the night before and thanks him for getting her home safe. However, Kang-Bae doesn’t really remember what happened but feels that something interesting occurred. Heading outside in the evening, Kang-Bae starts remembering and finds the Binyeo which makes him realise that he was in Mi-Ran’s dream.
Meanwhile, Weol-Ju is celebrating her latest achievement with Guibanjang . Yeomjubang arrives with a message from Yeomradaewang: she tells her she has a month to finish her atonement or she will go to hell. She tries protesting to the messenger but he tells her that they have been getting complaints about her not working hard enough and she has already been given a 200 year extension.
After he leaves, Weol-Ju tries to think of a solution and realizes that Kang-Bae may be the key. As she runs to find him, the latter remembers Weol-Ju’s words and rushes out too. As both meet on a bridge, he tells her he needs her help. She agrees but in exchange, explains that she will need his body. As the episode closes, she remembers the words of her mother telling her to hold her Binyeo tightly when she needs help as it will bring the person she desperately seeks.
JTBC’s first Wednesday/Thursday drama promises to be quite the thrilling one to watch if it can keep up the same tone and pace as this first installment. Mystic Pop-Up Bar wastes little time getting to the heart of the story as we see enough background for our main character and how she came to be the owner of the bar. She is quite the fun heroine too as she brings a quirky personality to the screen with her spouts of bad tempers.
On the other hand, Kang-Tae is set to be the nice guy of the story, ready to help people. This works as a nice contrast between the two and I am already looking forward to see more interactions from them.
Mystic Pop-up Bar reminds me a little of Hotel Del Luna as both main characters have to work hard to atone for their sins in another realm. Whether this new show will reach the same heights as Hotel Del Luna remains to be seen but for now, Mystic Pop-up Bar starts its runtime with a fun and magical first chapter.