K-drama fans, there’s a new release on our Netflix screens – and Aussie fans, this includes us! Romance is a Bonus Book just started airing in Korea and it looks like we will be getting episodes just one day later than Korean viewers.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of this drama. As an editor and book nerd, anything set in a publishing house immediately draws me in, and Romance is a Bonus Book didn’t disappoint. I’ll be recapping the episodes weekly. So spoilers ahead, and let’s dive in!
As with any first episode in a series, there’s a heap of new characters to meet and mysteries to tally. So let’s take a close look at the main characters and plot points from episode 1.
Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk) is our leading man. First impressions? At first he seems like a total gentleman – tall, handsome, immaculately dressed and like he has a true and lasting friendship with Dan-i (who we’ll get to). He’s also the author of The Bloody Contract (lol) – which has teenage girls fangirling over him. However, flash forward and he seems cold, pompous and maybe a little arrogant. He’s a literature professor and editor-in-chief at Gyeoroo Publishing.
Kang Dan-i (played by Lee Na-young) is our down-on-her-luck leading lady. She’s trying desperately to re-enter the workforce after being a stay-at-home mum for the last seven years. On top of that, she’s battling keeping secrets (the fact that she’s homeless and divorced), blisters, panel interviewers and stiff competition in the form of young graduates applying for the same jobs as her. And really, she’s trying to make ends meet to keep her daughter in boarding school and, essentially, out of poverty.
The episode opens with Dan-i on her wedding day. She’s marrying Dong-min who seems awful. He minces down the aisle, fists pumping and gyrating his hips to some obnoxiously brash techno song. This is in direct contrast to the almost ethereal scene we are treated to only moments before, of Dan-i in her white lace dress, standing in a room with soft lighting and fluttering white curtains and a dashing Eun-ho whispering from the doorway that she looks beautiful. What’s the deal with these two? Has he been in love with her from afar? Or are they just childhood best friends? Both?
Dan-i is clearly not totally sure about this wedding, and runs away briefly. In fact, she hides in the back of Eun-ho’s car and only reveals herself when he jumps in his car to go look for her. They sit in the gutter outside a shop that’s definitely seen better days and he hands her a … what? Energy drink? I’m never totally sure what’s inside these little glass bottles everyone seems to guzzle in K-dramas. Anyway, they share a sweet moment where he offers to drive her wherever she wants to go. Then his car gets towed. Ha!
But, alas, the sweet moment was for nothing. As we flash forward to present-day, it turns out she did, indeed, marry Dong-woo. Several scenes play out, showing Dan-i looking defeated at interviews one after another, juxtaposed with clips of her attending a seminar about confidence and her imagining her mantras, in the form of a VERY upbeat song, being played out complete with back-up dancers as she performs menial tasks at other jobs. (I tried to shazaam the song, but had no luck.)
As the episode progresses we find out more about Dan-i’s circumstances – told, delightfully, through a beautiful scene where she’s shining a flashlight and it looks like a movie reel of her past life. She’s now homeless since Dong-min walked out on her after going bankrupt, losing their house and then cheating on her. She has a little girl called Jae-hui who is in boarding school. She’s been squatting in their home but awakes one morning to it being demolished. She’d been making do, by sleeping there, but spending her days in Eun-ho’s house working as his housekeeper (although, amazingly, he didn’t realise that, since he’d never met his housekeeper in person). But now her place to sleep is rubble, and Eun-ho has changed his passcode because he suspects his housekeeper is showering in his house and eating his rice and so he’s fired her.
Things go from bad to worse for Dan-i. The morning her house gets demolished, she gets ready in a public bathroom. But as she waits for the bus, she takes her shoe off to relieve the blister on her heel, only to have her shoe kicked into oncoming traffic. She has a complete meltdown at the bus stop and it’s heartbreaking. She ends up rained on, walking in bare feet, having her calls to Eun-ho ignored, getting drunk on soju, accosted by a drunk man in the street and then rescued by a handsome stranger who not only has her shoes (um, what?!) but also gives her an umbrella. Dan-i – she’s a tough cookie, though. Not only does she kick the drunk man, but also tells her rescuer that while many love Cinderella, she’s too old to believe in fairytales and would rather write her own story. Amen, sister.
Meanwhile, as the entire world is conspiring to throw absolutely everything bad at Dan-i, Eun-ho is being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend. In a great scene, the ex-girlfriend goes to throw a glass of water over him, he asks her to wait while he removes his jacket, then allows himself to be drenched in water. Smart girl though, his ex. She then grabs another glass of water and thrusts that the jacket for good measure. Ha! So I’m guessing Eun-ho is a bit of a jerk. But why? He admits that Dan-i is the reason he doesn’t believe in love. Intrigue!
In the end, Dan-i ends up asking Eun-ho if she can stay at this house. He doesn’t really answer but she does it anyway. To be honest, I thought he was a bit harsh not offering her more support. But then the next morning, over breakfast he used his chopsticks to place a piece of meat on top of her spoonful of rice and in K-drama land that’s one of THE most romantic things a guy can do for a girl. So my heart is still warm. Dan-i confesses about her divorce – shocking Eun-ho, who, somehow, thought she was still married. Curiouser and curiouser. He heads off to work, she stays behind and cleans his house. Then, she finds a recruitment ad at Gyeoroo and decides, what the hell?
Next day, she’s striding into the interview and Eun-ho is on the panel. End scene!
Other bits and pieces:
- So much knitwear and autumnal scenery and books everywhere. This show is incredibly satisfying to watch. It’s a book lover’s paradise. Not to mention Eun-ho’s house – the bookshelves! It looks warm and inviting.
- Eun-ho’s editing. He places a red tick in the middle of a paragraph. Not very conventional editorial mark-up there. Let’s hope he was actually marking an essay and not working on a manuscript?
- The Gyeoroo Publishing office. So much light. So many immaculate bookshelves. Do offices like this really exist? Please. Let me know. And then send me some recruitment ads!
- I feel like with books, special attention is given to describing the atmosphere and surroundings. So you can imagine you’re there with the character. And to me, this drama appreciated that. The camerawork is perfection and there’s time spent lingering on the details, like the fluttering curtains and the autumn leaves and Dan-i’s spring onion plant. I love this aspect of the show.
Episode 2 picks up right where the first left. Dan-i is in her interview while Eun-ho looks on, mildly stunned and definitely confused. He can’t understand why she’s applying for a low-level job – or a job at all, for that matter. At this point, I’m really beginning to wonder if he’s a bit daft. She told him on the phone last episode that her life is over and she has nowhere to go. And turned up at his house looking like a drowned rat and needing a roof over her head. Now he’s finally realising maybe something really is going on with her. About time.
After the interview he drags her to his car. He’s angry but then he leans in and puts her seatbelt on for her – for those keeping a tally, that’s two ‘most romantic’ tropes in as many episodes. He kind of berates her and says he won’t believe her and I can’t tell if he’s actually angry at her or maybe just angry at himself because the love of his life has been going through a hard time? It’s got to be the second one.
In a flashback he remembers when Dan-i first introduced him to Dong-woo. Eun-ho is introduced as being ‘like a brother’ to her. He looks stung, so I’m taking that as confirmation he’s loved her forever (like there was any doubt). Eun-ho thinks that if love makes you stupid he doesn’t want to fall in love. He wants to be there for the person he loves until the end. Hear that? It’s just me falling. *swoon*
Meanwhile, the handsome stranger appears again. He, too, has a fabulous house. The set design for this show is on point. And this guy is hilarious. He’s in his kitchen agonising over hurting the spring onion he’s about to chop into his ramen. I love it. He’s going to be the adorably quirky character providing us with comic relief, and, dare I say, a second lead?
We get to see more of Eun-ho in ‘celebrity author mode’ this episode. He’s interviewed about his new book and also about his work with Gyeoroo Publishing. Through a series of flashbacks, in the form of an old movie, Eun-ho was scouted by the CEO of Gyeoroo, but on his first day of work, it turned out to be a mere start-up. The office was one room and a table. The last interview question sets up what might end up being the big mystery of the show – the possible retirement and disappearance of star author Kang Byeong-jun. When asked about this matter, Eun-ho fakes a phone call and gets out of there asap. Not really sure where that storyline will lead us as it’s not mentioned again for the rest of the episode.
I really like Dan-i’s character. In a flashback to her filling out a questionnaire for her interview, she’s asked to write a letter to herself. In it, she apologises to herself for having made herself work so hard and that she wants to be happy and focus only on moving forward and discovering what she likes. And it’s intercut with clips of her dealing with her drunk husband, and dealing with rude customers at a check-out. Forget about yesterday and live for today, she tells herself. Advice for us all to live by.
The CEO decides to make the rounds and call the successful job applicants. The first is Sul-yi and she’s like, yeah I’m going to Cebu tomorrow do I really need to start straight away? He’s not impressed. The second is Park Hoon who is thrilled to be escaping the cosmetics shop he’s currently working in. I actually laughed as his aegyo customer service routine. Dan-i is next. She’s at the sauna, working, and starts crying and all the other workers celebrate with her. It’s a win!
In other developments, turns out Eun-ho is sleeping with the Hae-rin, the lead development editor. Ew. Sometimes I think he’s a winning guy. Then something like this reveals itself and I change my mind. Also, we pretty much have confirmation that he’s extremely unobservant. Dan-i is essentially living in his house and he doesn’t realise. Also … he makes toast and coffee, leaves it on the table, and goes to have a shower? Who does that?!
Also, Spring Onion guy lives nearby – he sees Dan-i skipping down the street on her way to work. He’s totally going to be the second lead. I can feel it.
We get some quality office time this episode – in particular with two of the new recruits. Park Hoon is painful. So. Painful. But also, what a great character. I love when the supporting cast is made up of great characters. Ji-yul is also there. There’s three other new recruits, and Park Hoon takes it upon himself to let them all in on some gossip. Apparently the person who will train them is known as the second witch of Gyeoroo and is very cranky. Of course, that’s Hae-rin (Eun-ho’s bed buddy, and also the bitchy co-worker in Something in the Rain), who just happens to be sitting down in the meeting room to hear this. If looks could kill! Park Hoon is a real weasel – you might know him as the creepy stalker guy in Fight For My Way. But he made me cringe and laugh and that’s good writing.
After work, Eun-ho takes Dan-i to the clothing store owned by an ex-girlfriend. She’s getting a very, very, very subtle makeover. So subtle I’m not really sure what happened. But after the wardrobe update she goes to the salon owned by the ex-girlfriend’s new girlfriend. That’s right, everybody, a same-sex couple in a K-drama that isn’t hinted at or used as comic relief!
Later that night, after Eun-ho has ‘dropped’ Dan-i off at her non-existent address, he reflects on how they met as kids. Dan-i pushed him out of the way of an oncoming car, was hit and broke all four limbs. As payback, she forces Eun-ho to be her ‘errand boy’. Turns out, she was a bit of a bully in school. He feeds her and turns the comic book pages for her and ends up loving reading, too.
In the present day, he hears a thump somewhere in his house. He walks out and turns on a light, just as Dan-i is creeping inside. She manages to get upstairs without him noticing. Seriously, is this guy for real? Doesn’t he never go upstairs in his own house? Anyway, just when we think Dan-i is going to get away with it for one more night, she breaks a glass as she’s sneaking around his kitchen and she is BUSTED.
Other bits and pieces:
- Eun-ho’s morning routine: makes toast, leaves it on the table and goes to shower. Umm?
- Kang Byeong-jun. Where is this going and do we care?
- Hae-rin listed the number of people who will quit out of the new recruits. Who is going to be first to go? Park Hoon or flower-posing, selfie-taking Ji-yul?
So what do we think of Romance is a Bonus Book so far? I’m loving it and keen to see where the storyline is going to go. Stay tuned for a recap of episodes 3 and 4!