Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 13 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 14 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 15 -| Review Score – 1.5/5
Episode 16 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
As we’ve said so many times before, an ending can maker or break a story. It’s an adage that’s as relevant now as it was when it first came into being and unfortunately Start-Up is another example of this in action.
Despite some slick cinematography, one of the best soundtracks of 2020 and a cast of talented and relatively likable characters, Start-Up begins brightly before fizzling out and delivering a spectacular own goal at the last minute. But let’s backtrack a bit and start at the beginning.
Written over the space of 2 years by the same team responsible for the highly popular Pinocchio (the K-drama not the Disney flick), Start-Up had a lot of promise going into its opening weekend. That promise seemed to be complimented by a couple of fantastic episodes, riding a wave of good faith that this could be the drama to take the k-drama world by storm in 2020.
Start-Up follows four predominant characters as they look to navigate the cutthroat dog-eat-dog world of business. At the heart of this are two sisters, In-Jae and Dal-Mi. Tensions between their parents see them both separated from one another and forced into very different life paths.
In-Jae heads off with her Mother who winds up marrying a Chairman of a lucrative company known as Morning Group. On the back of this, she quickly rises to prominence.
Dal-Mi meanwhile sticks around with her Father who has big dreams to make his business a success but finds hardships every which way he turns. Despite a breakthrough, he winds up in a nasty accident that sees Dal-Mi’s life turned completely upside down.
Enter Ji-Pyeong. Orphaned and down on his luck, he’s taken under the wing of Dal-Mi’s grandmother and guardian Won-Deok who helps him get back to his feet. As Dal-Mi suffers hardships and struggles to regain focus in the wake of her loss, Won-Deok encourages Ji-Pyeong to use the name of child prodigy Do-San to write letters to Dal-Mi. This continues for 15 years.
When Dal-Mi asks to meet all those years later as she gets involved in the world of business, Ji-Pyeong is forced into finding the real Do-San to pose as her pen-pal and first love. The inevitable acts as the catalyst for the inevitable love triangle to take shape.
What begins as a simple and playful trope soon grows to consume the entirety of this drama, much to the detriment of Start-Up’s business-centric premise. It’s a shame too because there’s some good stuff here regarding the trials and tribulations new companies go through but this fizzles out around episode 10 and never looks like recovering.
This love triangle eventually grows to the point of it morphing and disfiguring the motivations of our main characters, Do-San and Dal-Mi. Both of their characters are absolutely butchered toward the latter periods of the show. Interestingly, Ji-Pyeong’s does not.
I won’t get into spoiler territory here but suffice to say the motivations for our protagonists make no sense. Worse, ideas around sailing off without a map and taking a leap of faith – especially in the world of business -is actually completely at odds to what’s been shown on screen regarding careful and cautiously making it to the top.
Visually, Start-Up looks fantastic and early on there’s a consistent motif around cherry blossoms and the colour pink. This really helps each scene pop and stand out but sadly this does diminish and lose its sense of purpose later on.
The soundtrack however, is absolutely fantastic. In fact, every theme used here perfectly captures the hope, joy, heartbreak and agony bleeding through every part of the story.
Start-Up is a show that’s very easy to start up and watch. The opening episodes are fantastic but unfortunately around the midway point it’s all downhill from there. With poorly written character arcs, a largely underwhelming ending and a plot line that loses sight of what really matters, Start-Up is easily one of the biggest disappointments of 2020 and a very difficult show to recommend.