A look at both ends of the Kdrama Spectrum Part 1: Thoughts on “Start Again” Episodes 1-46

After my profound disappointment in the ending of “Page Turner”, and subsequent meltdown, I went on a ‘drama strike’, also known as a pity party. It didn’t take long to feel symptoms of withdrawal. Ugh. That’s no fun!

I proceeded to go on a quest to find something different….something that not everyone else was watching. Buoyed by the success in finding a daily drama that I really enjoyed in “Working Mom, Parenting Daddy”, which is in high gear now at 55+ episodes, including a major improvement in the BG music department, I tried a few more daily dramas. Ehh… mostly the same old stuff that made me not like them before. Then a new one came along that caught my eye. I recognized some of the cast members as side characters that I liked from that addictive hot mess of a drama known as “Descendants of the Sun”. Great show BTW….just don’t count how many times the writer had Captain Yoo Shi Jin aka Captain Lazarus come back to life!

Side Note–In case you were wondering, the ladies at my nail salon informed me that they unanimously picked Sgt. Seo Dae Young as their hawwt guy of choice in that show. Song Joong Ki was deemed “still a boy” while Jin Goo was “all man”, suitable for a full night of lovin’! Heh, can’t disagree there!

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Don’t worry, the ladies at the Nail Salon and I have lots of ideas for ‘something’ to do!

“Start Again” has the actors who played Chi Hoon’s demanding chaebol mom and Myeong Joo’s stern but loving army General father. If you loved those side characters from DotS, you will be pleased to know that they bring their characters right over to this show for a longer stint. I thought that attracting these quality actors might indicate that this show was a notch higher in quality than I might expect. And so far, so good!

** All “Start again” screencaps from Veuue.se**

Show also hooks me in immediately with a great medical-ethics debate at the center of the conflict. Na Bong Il is a OB/GYN doctor with his own neighborhood clinic. Right away, his reverence for life, and the gentle way he treats the moms and babies tells me he’s made a great career choice. He’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from Dr. Park Hyuk Ki in “Working Mom, Parenting Daddy”!

Full disclosure: I’ve never had a male doctor for an OB/GYN. I’ve always felt really uncomfortable about it. But if I had to have a male doctor, I’d want Dr. Na.

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Dr. Na’s daughter Young Ja is a student who has finished med school and is about to take her exams. Her next older sister is a nurse, and the eldest daughter is married to a doctor and they have a school age son. They all live together with the strong willed wife of Dr. Na running the household. The trio of daughters have learned well from their mom how to not be a doormat! I like that–good parental example is always welcome. Young Ja is hoping to work with her father after she passes her board exam, and eventually take over his clinic when he retires. This family of doctors is prosperous but not rolling in dough by any means–they are middle class folks with strong ties to their neighborhood, their patients and their calling.

Unfortunately, redevelopment is threatening the building where Dr. Na and his tenants work–and the pressure to sell out is increasing by the day. Evidently, it’s not like here in the US where fair market compensation is standard procedure, or there is a strict protocol to follow in obtaining property for a project like this. Eunha Group’s Lee Tae Sung is under pressure from his bosses to get the medical building from Dr. Na so that the conglomerate can proceed with building a new hotel and department store. Dr. Na does an admirable job of resisting the veiled threats and strong arm tactics favored by LTS and his minions. Why is redevelopment not necessarily a good thing? This article will give some background info. I remember doing research on this same topic when I was recapping HITTG, and there was talk of redeveloping the neighborhood where the Seo family lived. I thought it was going to be a upward move for the Seo’s to be in a redevelopment zone. I was way off base.

While Dr. Na is at a tense meeting with some Eunha officials, one of his pregnant patients arrives at the clinic. She’s having contractions, and the birth of the baby is imminent. Young Ja and her sis Young In call their Dad again and again, but he can’t be reached. Finally, with the baby’s head showing, Young Ja puts on gloves and scrubs and delivers the baby. The baby is fine–but the mom starts bleeding heavily, and Young Ja doesn’t know how to stop it. Her sis calls the paramedics. Dr. Na shows up as the patient passes out, and he tells his daughter to skedaddle–she doesn’t have her medical license yet, and he doesn’t want her to get blamed for anything.

The baby’s father Seong Jae (another higher-up at Eunha Group) arrives just as the ambulance does. Sadly, his wife passes away, leaving him a widower with a newborn baby girl. He is understandably devastated by his wife’s death, and weirdly detached from the baby at first–although he gets his head together later on. In the ensuing fog of grief, he allows Mrs. Song, the nurse/caretaker of his Chaebol buddy’s grandpa to take care of the baby for a while. Seong Jae’s mom was working as a housekeeper for the Lee family, and just before she quit to care for her new granddaughter, she broke her arm. I’d say that family has two kinds of luck–bad and worse!

So, the question begs: Is Young Ja guilty of practicing medicine without a license? Is this something she should be punished for? My take is probably not. Under US and South Korean ‘Good Samaritan’ laws I believe she would be protected. She called for her dad, and the paramedics were summoned at the first sign of trouble. What were her alternative options? Watch the patient deliver the baby with no help, and then bleed to death while waiting for the paramedics? Judging by the way Dr. Na is massaging the patient’s belly in the ambulance at the end of the first episode:

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Young Ja might have not had the mom deliver the afterbirth–and she should have known to do that, even as a medical student. Then again, any kind of complication could have developed, including (my guess) an undiagnosed bleeding disorder, and the mom might have died even in a hospital setting with plenty of doctors around. It’s rare, but it happens.

Regardless of what Shamrockmom thinks, Dr. Na knows Young Ja is in deep trouble. He hides the fact that Seong Jae’s wife died from Young Ja, taking the blame on himself. He fears it would cause her to not only be sued, but not being able to get her medical license either.

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However, Evil Baddie Lee Tae Sung finds out about the death of the patient, and Young Ja’s part in it.

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Lee Tae Sung uses that info to blackmail Dr. Na into selling the building at a below-market rate so the redevelopment project can go on as scheduled. This enrages the evicted tenants, bankrupts the Na Family, and the stress causes Dr. Na to have a stroke…on the day Young Ja is supposed to take her Medical Board exams. She ends up missing the test, and the next one is either 6 months or a year away. (not sure) Because she wants to help her family make ends meet, she lies to her mom and dad (she knows they would go ballistic if she was working and not studying) and takes a job at the Eunha Department Store owned by the conglomerate that forced her dad out. Convenient, eh?!

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#so pretty

Ji Wook and Seong Jae work together at the Eunha Department store. Young Ja’s strong work ethic and bubbly personality makes a positive first impression on both the guys. She’s not a total “Candy” heroine, or a pushover either. She has just enough self respect to keep me watching, plus I like the fact that she doesn’t go for revenge and lets Karma take care of Ye Ra. I also like how the actress playing Young Ja looks…yunno….real. She’s not some skinny model or Kpop singer wearing expensive clothes and a gob of makeup. She’s pretty, but her clothing is plain and her makeup is not overdone. She looks healthy, like she eats 3 meals a day and goes outside to exercise. It’s refreshing to see.

Ji Wook’s grandpa wants him to marry Ye Ra, Lee Tae Sung’s ultra bratty daughter. Young Ja and Ye Ra had a chance encounter together at the beginning of the drama when Ye Ra was tossed out of a hotel room in her lingerie by a jerky dude, and Young Ja generously gave her a jacket to cover up and cab fare to get home. Ye Ra is insanely insecure and jealous of any attention Ji Wook gives Young Ja. Ji Wook is an innocent and upright young dude; he wants to please his grandfather who raised him, but every fiber in his being screams that Ye Ra is not the girl for him. I’m not sure why the grandpa can’t see it either. He must have been a smart businessman at one time to amass the kind of wealth that Ji Wook oversees. In Grandpa’s defense, Ye Ra does a first rate job in kissing up, which I am sure feeds his ego. Grandpa seems to have some kind of heart problems, so I am sure one episode soon, he’ll have a heart attack, and Ji Wook will have a guilt complex for opposing marriage to Ye Ra. Marrying someone out of guilt is always a bad idea IMHO.

Many episodes are devoted to Ye Ra plotting and executing plans to make Young Ja look bad, or get fired, and to make herself look good in the process. It just about gets to the point where it’s ridiculously repetitive….then Ye Ra pulls the biggest stunt of all, sticking Young Ja with a $12K USD bill for a store promo giveaway gone wrong. Ji Wook and Seong Jae know something is amiss, but can’t prove anything. Ji Wook steps up, says ‘screw-it’ and pays the bill for her, sending Ye Ra into hysterics. Now Young Ja has to work at the department store to pay Ji Wook back; her wishes, not his. He told her to pay him back after she became a doctor, but she doesn’t like owing people money.

I have to give props to the actresses playing Ye Ra and her mom. They are a blast to watch as they breathe life into their witchy characters. Ye Ra pulls off the spoiled, petulant and jealous antics with style and flair, and the mom–well, experience is everything. They really nail these characters, and even though normally I would tear my hair out watching stuff like this, these two are so funny and so over-the-top, I can hardly wait to see what they will do and say in the next episode. The actor playing Ji Wook is also a pleasant surprise; he’s quite young (23) but he brings a nice mix of innocent vulnerability and quirky stubbornness to his character. It’s kinda cute that he never wears socks, even with his sharply tailored suits.

There’s a huge tangle of relationships here, from the Chaebol grandson Ji Wook and his hyung mentor Seong Jae both taking a liking to Young Ja (she makes it perfectly clear from the start that Ji Wook is not her kinda guy, whereas she does show some passing interest to Seong Jae) to sister Young In and her relationship with Seon Ho, the son of Tae Sung. At first, Seon Ho was a rage inducing character for me. He seemed to not want to be with Young In, and thwarted any attention on her part:

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He had a work phobia, and acted like a spoiled and entitled brat. However, it now appears that Seon Ho is a pretty good worker at the construction site, and his bad attitude is exacerbated by his father’s unending condemnations and his mom’s histrionics. I believe he loves his long suffering girlfriend, but knows his crazy and out of control family will ruin their chance at happiness. There was a hint (?) that perhaps he is infertile…and knowing that she comes from a family that loves babies, and assuming that she may want a baby in the future, he pushes her away–not sure.

Seon Ho also meets Dr. Na while he and the doc are working at a construction site. Why is Dr. Na not working as a doctor? Good question. It is unclear to me if Dr. Na somehow lost his medical license. I didn’t think so. In reality, he shouldn’t be doing heavy manual labor in the blazing summer heat after having a stroke. I either missed that part, or Show didn’t explain things well. Interestingly, Seon Ho treats Dr. Na with respect, and acts like a decent human being around him; it’s quite a contrast to the whiny and lazy-ass Mama’s boy persona he has at home around his parents and sister Ye Ra.

Seong Jae is an enigma so far in the show. We know that the Chaebol grandfather trusts him a lot, he was a friend and mentor to Ji Wook from way back in the day, and he treats Ji Wook like a respected younger brother. Ji Wook is fairly dependent on Seong Jae and prefers to not make a business decision without consulting his hyung. Seong Jae doesn’t fly off the handle or meddle in other people’s business. He is thoughtful, observant and analytical. I like that he already is beginning to distrust Tae Sung; he doesn’t accuse him right off the bat, but he’s doing some BTS investigation. He acts like a gentleman 100% of the time to everyone, including Young Ja. It’s slowly (40+ episodes) evident that he has some romantic feelings toward her. I wonder if the writer wanted to portray that he has to sort out his emotions regarding his former wife, who was surely a saint, and give him some time to grieve.

Seong Jae is very similar in mannerisms to another recent Kdrama character I like–Sang Tae in “Five Children”. I think of him as Sang Tae’s DramaLand Hoobae. I have to admit that I like how writers are going for Nice Guys as leads like these two dudes, and not the SOB arrogant jerks. However, Sang Tae has a personality. Seong Jae is the blandest Kdrama lead guy I’ve ever seen, but recent episodes indicate that may be about to change, and it’s not a moment too soon. He looks 18–but he’s in his mid-thirties in RL. His hairstylist needs to be fired and replaced with Ji Wook’s stylist. I’m reasonably sure that Seong Jae is sporting the same haircut that he went to Kindergarten with. He’s pretty reticent when it comes to expressing his feelings, especially for Young Ja. In contrast, Ji Wook is ready to go for the gusto and confess to Young Ja:

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Ah, youth! Could he be any more straightforward and honest?

 

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**Gasp** Where did he learn these kinds of effective communication skills?! Not in DramaLand!

Meanwhile, our lead guy Seong Jae can only go home and drink soju–alone! My friend, I can guarantee alcohol is not going to improve your love life:

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You know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself!

 

Don’t feel bad Seong Jae–Lonesome George Thorogood had the same problem!

 

Dear Seong Jae: If my 78 year old father can think about having another relationship 6 months after my mom’s suicide and 51 years of marriage, then you too can ‘start again’ 6 months after your tragic circumstances as well. Your adorable little daughter deserves a dad who is not gonna sleepwalk through the rest of his days in a grief induced funk.

With 46+ episodes in the bank, the OTP of the show has not had any skinship whatsoever; no handholds, no hugs, and no kisses. C’mon writer-nim! Quit horsin’ around–Seong Jae needs a fire lit under him. How did Seong Jae ever manage to get married in the first place let alone get his wife pregnant?!?

More good stuff: The Na Parents are hilariously out of touch with reality when it comes to their daughter’s behavior, as they consider punishing Young In after finding out she was seeing Seon Ho, son of their ‘sworn enemy’ Lee Tae Sung:

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#facepalm

Maybe she shouldn’t get dessert after dinner either! Sheesh! They also consider taking away her cellphone. **eyeroll**

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Okay, that’s better

It’s also amusing to watch Dr. Na going down to Eunha Department store and handing in a resignation letter on behalf of Young Ja, his 26 year old daughter. Uh, Sir…she’s almost a doctor, and has finished med school. I think she can handle this on her own. Writer nim keeps a nice balance between the melodramatic story and the comic relief and is able to weave them together in a way that doesn’t seem forced or contrived.

The whole show revolves around betrayal, jealousy, deceit, lying, obfuscation, gaslighting, and plain ol’ lack of effective communication. That’s not a criticism. It’s actually quite entertaining in this case. The makjang antics of the Lee Family are a thing of beauty; they scream at each other, curse, shout, throw things, stomp their feet…and a couple of times, I’ve had the feeling the director shouted “Cut” a half second after the four of them dissolve into a fit of giggles. I live for stuff like that. I find it delightful that most of the actors in this show are ‘playing it straight’, but the Lee Family crew is going for ‘over the top’. Too bad there are no BTS scenes available to viewers–I’m sure they would be a riot. The sets are 2nd rate; even books on the bookshelves appear to be faked in some scenes! The BG music is fair–but the intro/ending music is ridiculously juvenile when paired with a serious cliffhanger. Again, this is not a criticism. I am sure the budget for this entire show is less than the budget for one episode of “The Good Wife”.

Watching this show is the equivalent of reading a trashy romance novel–minus the smutty parts of course. I believe that daily dramas are even more conservative than evening dramas, so the kisses (if we ever get any) between the OTP will be quite chaste. BTW, I recently found out that the little message at the beginning with the”15″ logo at the start of a show meant “Parental guidance suggested for viewers under 15”. Heh, no worries here about corrupting the kids!

Even though “Start Again” is in many ways the polar opposite of some of my favorite dramas like SLA, HITTG, Awl, Jang Young Shil, and The Good Wife, I can still enjoy it for what it is. Show has felt like it was stuck in second gear for a long time, but then around episode 40, it started to pick up speed. There are no recaps, no reviews, no commentary, and the Soompi board chatter is minimal, if any. There is no gray–characters are good or evil, but I have a gut feeling that Ye Ra is gonna get some level of redemption and end up with that sweet young dude Ji Wook–whether I think she deserves it or not.

I’ve been watching “Start Again” on On Demand Korea, who are also subbing the show. It’s frustrating to watch with the ad breaks because I’m spoiled with a DF and Viki membership, but I am not ready to commit to subscribing to ODK just yet. ODK has literally every variety/talk show, documentary, movie, cooking show, and drama from Korea that you can possibly imagine–but not everything gets subbed. If they subbed everything…OMG. It would be mind-blowing! I’d never get anything done. The English subs for “Start Again” weren’t up until way after the show started, but the subbers are mostly caught up now and they are only running a day or two behind the on-air date.

I do get a kick out of their subs from time to time. Somebody over at ODK has a good grasp of American slang:

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Love it! It adds a dimension of color and meaning to the translation.

(From Episode 4 of “My Mind’s Flower Rain”, also subbed by ODK. I had to back-burner this promising show and “Here Comes Love” because I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to watch everything I want.)

I’m thankful that some of these lesser known dramas are being subbed by groups like ODK, Viu and others. Sure, all the evening shows from the major networks with the big name stars are gonna get picked up by Viki, DF or both. Finding the gems among the lesser known evening and/or lower budget daytime shows is not easy, but can be a welcome departure from the regular menu of shows that we are used to seeing.

Can I recommend “Start Again”? Well, it’s not for everybody. But if you have a sense of humor and don’t mind a slow moving yarn with some decent actors in 120 half-hour bites, it could be a nice summer diversion from the high octane shows on right now, like “W”–the Kdrama hybrid between a webtoon/manhwa and the groundbreaking 1985 “Take on Me” music video from a-ha. The first two episodes of “W” were A+, and I am crossing my fingers that this show will be a winner.

Next time, I am going to the opposite end of the Kdrama spectrum and look at “The Good Wife”, a Kdrama remake of a popular US show (that I have never seen) with a ginormous budget, highly talented and experienced actors, and a much more gray set of characters. So very different, yet still a blast to watch. But first things first–and that is a trip to KCON-LA this weekend ! Woot!

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2 thoughts on “A look at both ends of the Kdrama Spectrum Part 1: Thoughts on “Start Again” Episodes 1-46

  1. Thank you for the synopsis. I just discovered this on MBCAmerica. They are far behind, but I’ll be watching. Found episodes on youtube, leery of the translations. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good to know it’s on MBC America. It would be interesting to compare the subs from different sites. Show has really picked up the pace after Episode 40 and I can only hope writer-nim has a lot more storytelling left in the tank!

    Like

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