Starting Up Brightly
Episode 1 of Start-Up begins this Saturday/Sunday Korean drama in impressive fashion, with a great dose of drama, romance and heartbreak.
Sand Box is a high tech company and after a dizzying display outside, we cut to Han Ji-Pyeong talking to his AI companion Yeong-Sil. Only, this AI is less than reliable. He prepares for his big day ahead though while Won In-Jae touches down in Korea and prepares for her own meeting; she’s a spokesperson for a Start-Up Relay Lecture.
As audience members start asking some hard hitting questions, In-Jae keeps her cool and wins over the crowd with her cool demeanor. She even backhandedly calls the boy a scumbag. However, Dal-Mi takes the microphone and asks In-Jae outright whether she’s made any selfish decisions in the past.
We then cut back 15 years to see Dal-Mi in the same room as In-Jae. While their parents argue, Dal-Mi watches from afar while In-Jae cuts herself off from the world. Together, they quiz their grandmother over whether she’ll live with them but she’s having none of it, knowing first-hand how much they argue.
Interestingly, a shy Ji-Pyeong happens to be there too, whom the girls cross paths with near their grandmother’s food truck. Together, they head in to greet their father at work. Hiding in one of the offices, they watch as the boss beats him down to the ground.
When Chung-Myung returns home he overhears everything. In front of the two kids, their Mother asks who they want to live with. This decision happens to be the moment these siblings were separated and explains why they both have different surnames.
Now we see things from Ji-Pyeong’s perspective. He starts looking around for a place to stay after coming first place in a Virtual Investment competition. Down on his luck and with little money, Ji-Pyeong comes across a kind old lady who happens to be the grandmother of In-Jae and Dal-Si. She gives him a place to stay.
After settling in for the night, he eyes up a container full of money… but he decides against taking it. Instead, Ji-Pyeong helps the lady put her money into a bank account. She continues to call him a good boy and puts her trust in him. This happens to be fuel enough for Ji-Pyeong to begin making a name for himself and learning about investments.
This catches us up to the events with the two girls, as Dal-Mi rushes to her grandmother and reveals the bad news – In-Jae has left with her Mum while she’s decided to stay with her Father. Ji-Pyeong happens to be watching from afar and overhears their conversation.
Later that evening, she tasks Ji-Pyeong with writing a letter for Dal-Mi pretending to be her friend and reminding her that she’s not alone. The name they choose to use is Nam Do-San. When it’s done, Dal-Mi rushes home and shows her Father the letter, which they read together. However, Chung-Myung remains skeptical, handing the letter to his Mother personally and thanking her for cheering the girl up.
He promises to reunite their family and work extra hard. He asks for a year and as we cut forward, we see Chung-Myung pitching his idea for a new website.
A year passes and Dal-Mi is still sending messages to Ji-Pyeong. Only, In-Jae is back in town. It turns out their Mother has married again and she’s moving to the US. Apparently he’s super rich but Dal-Mi is not happy. Thanks to her time with her Mother, In-Jae is different, less tolerant of their Father and believes Dal-Mi made the wrong choice. As she walks away, she reminds her sister that her name is Won not Sae.
Back in the present, the two girls meet up again but they’re less than tolerant to one another. They tease each other over their lifestyles, with Dal-Mi lying and claiming to have a partner other than that of her grandmother. Thinking on her feet, she mentions how it’s Nam Do-San. I turns out Dal-Mi has been talking to him all this time – 10 years in fact.
As In-Jae turns to walk away, she throws a backhanded compliment her away about how she’s shown her a better life. Mentioning the marker on her shoes, Dal-Mi loses her temper and stands in front of the car. Deciding to prove her wrong, Dal-Mi promises to show up at the networking event with her pen-pal.
Only, from across the street Ji-Pyeong notices Dal-Mi having a mad turn at the bus stop and decides to follow her from afar to make sure she’s okay.
Dal-Mi meanwhile, heads back to work with her grandmother and starts asking about Do-San and exactly who he is. She wants to meet him – even for just one day – to prove her sister wrong
As we cut back in time, we see Ji-Pyeong looking for a new place to stay. While he does, Dal-Mi’s grandmother heads to the bank intending to take out the 8 million won stored inside. Only, thanks to Ji-Pyeong’s stocks and trading, that’s actually closer to 80 million now.
After deciding to withdraw all the funds, Ji-Pyeong checks the account with his bank card and finds everything gone. As he watches from across the street, this grandmother gives Chung-Myung an investment for his new company.
As he races off to catch the bus, Chung-Myung is hit by a car. With blood oozing down his face, he manages to make it into the meeting on time to discuss his Baedal.com proposition. The investors like the idea but given there’s no profit it looks to be a surefire bust…until they finally agree to take a chance and give him the investment.
Ji-Pyeong is furious with the grandmother and collects up his things and decides to leave. H’s not happy with the way she took the money he earned and demands it back. It turns out the money she gave Chung-Myung was actually her own and not Ji-Pyeong’s. Shocked, he quietly says goodbye and heads for the station.
Only, Dal-Mi’s grandmother arrives with his trainers and changes his shoes. She promises to be there for him if he’s having a rough time but makes him promise not to call if he’s a success. With the bus to Seoul arriving, he eventually says goodbye to Ms Choi and hurries on the bus. Just before he leaves, he hugs her and tells the grandmother to take care.
Chung-Myung tells Dal-Mi the good news and she believes he’ll be a big success. As they talk on the phone, she asks for fried chicken and tells him she loves him.
On the way out the door, Chung-Myung speaks to the investor and they share an elevator ride down. There, they talk about the pressure of this job. It’s here we learn the origin of the company name Sand Box. This seemed to occur when Dal-Mi fell off the swing and managed to dust herself down and get back up again. This, as it turns out, is a great metaphor for life itself.
On the bus, Chung-Myung appears to be having a stroke or be in shock. His hand starts shaking with a bag of fried chicken on his lap. Only, no one else notices that he’s passed out at his seat – presumably from a loss of blood. A single teardrop falls from his face as we cut to expository text seemingly confirming the worst – Chung-Myung is dead.
Before Dal-Mi finds out though, she sends one last letter to Do-San saying goodbye and thanking him for everything.
We then follow a solitary pink cherry blossom petal blowing in the wind. It floats down to a grown up Ji-Pyeong approaching Dal-Mi’s grandmother again. He’s okay and doesn’t need help but it doesn’t stop the pair from warmly embracing again.
As we continue to follow the cherry blossom, we glide through the window of Samsan Tech where we see the workers – led by the actual Nam Do-San – hard at work and hitting a break-through with their technology.
The Episode Review
With an episode clocking in at nearly 90 minutes, Start-Up doesn’t waste a second of its time with a really well written opener. The characters are all realistically depicted and they each have some unique quips and traits to them.
There’s some lovely editing with the hangul showing up as scribbles behind character heads and the cherry blossoms are a great motif that show up throughout this drama.
This, for those unaware, symbolize a time of renewal and the fleeting nature of life – both important themes that have been showcased through this opening episode. The long shots play into that nicely too and there’s some good foundational work for the rest of the episodes.
So far so good; out of all the debuting Korean dramas this month, Start-Up may be the best of the bunch. Can Sunday’s episode keep that momentum going?