Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Last night, I woke up at 2am, anxious about the project at work, and couldn’t go back to sleep. Even in my dream, I had been giving a client demo..phew! I tried for an hour and then decided to rather catch up on a drama episode while I was up. Though I have been watching ‘Vagabond’ but somehow I am not invested in the story yet. So I picked up ‘Start Up’ which has been creating quite a buzz on fan sites, and I am soo glad I started this one! What a delight this has been!!
This is going to be an episode by episode chronicle of my experience with the drama.
Episode 1& 2: Right away I was hooked into the dramaverse with the opening scene. Bae Suzy as Dal-mi, attending a conference and confronting the main panelist with some intriguing questions and we come to know that they are sisters. Drama peaks into their childhood, well about 15 years back, when one spring day, their Father decides to quit his job and start his own business and the Mother asks for a divorce, not having any faith in his abilities to make it big. The two sisters are asked to choose sides. The Younger stays with Dad and the elder chooses Mom. Dad starts his struggle of numerous presentations to prospective investors but none turning any fruit, while Mom soon find a rich guy and gets married and moves to the US with the elder kid. Meanwhile, their Halmoni(Grandma) who runs a corndog stand, takes in an orphan teenager, Han Ji-pyeong, who is struggling to find a place to stay. That young man, suggests that she should keep her money safe in a bank account and helps her in opening one. He is a minor and cannot open his own account. He decides to open a trading account with Halmoni’s bank account and starts trading and within a year makes a huge profit(yeah happens only in dramaland and here I have only made losses in equity investments ..:D). Anyway, here drama cooks something which is hard to digest. How come her only Granddaughter does not know that there is a young man staying at her shop ?? Anyway, while this is going on, Halmoni decides that with the elder sister gone, Dal Mi is now all alone and needs a pen pal to be able to share her grief!! She urges the young man to write a letter to Dal Mi and they write the first letter together., even take a name out of a newspaper report--of the youngest kid who won Maths Olympiad. The first letter is beautiful, articulately written, and touches the right chords, inspires Dal Mi to live in the present and not have regrets for the past, as the present will soon become the past..it was soulful and touching and also included a declaration of love for Dal Mi. I was a bit disappointed when the drama didn’t narrate Dal Mi’s reply or the content of any of the letters that pass between them for a year. A year.
Edit - In the second episode, we are narrated a few letters that Dal-mi wrote, in her voice, and those were beautiful too.
Halmoni goes to the bank to take out all the money in the account, to help her son who is still struggling to start his business, only to find out she has wayy more than she had invested. She checks out all of it in cash knowing all well that it is not all her money. Ji -pye tries to take out cash from an ATM only to know that all the money is gone! Panic-stricken, he runs back to the corndog stand only to see Halmoni giving money to his son. Heartbroken, he packs his stuff and says he is leaving for Seoul and asks her how she could take his money and give it to her son! To which the grandma, gives him a bag of cash saying that she hasn’t touched his money. Jin-pye feels bad for doubting Halmoni but leaves anyway. Later, Grandma shows up at the Bus station to see him off for Seoul( Soo utterly sweet of her) and takes a promise from him that he shouldn’t get in touch if he does fine, but if he has no place to go, he should come to Grandma.
Then the story takes a tragic and quite unexpected turn. Dad got hit by car while he was crossing the road late for an Investor presentation. He sustains minor injuries and insists he was fine. His presentation goes well and he gets the investor’s approval. But he gets a nosebleed, a sign that all was not well after his accident. He and Dal-Mi have a gut-wrenchingly beautiful telephonic conversation. That conversation had me in tears and portrayed the importance of support and love a person needs when struggling with starting up a new venture. Dal-Mi asks him to get Fried Chicken for dinner as a celebratory gift, all aware that it was the only thing her appa could afford. On a bus back home, Dad’s hands start shaking, vision gets blurry, voice stuttering and he loses consciousness. Later the drama implies that he died!! That was a shocker!
So sample this--Within a year of their divorce, the mom marries another guy and flies for the US and the Dad passes away. Then, why did she not help the younger daughter in any way? She could’ve sponsored her college education.
The dynamics between the sisters is twisted. With the elder openly berating the younger for her choice of staying with Dad and ending up being poor. I hate the elder sister. The character is easy to hate. I am curious if more layers to her character will be added as the drama unfolds. Meanwhile, Dal Mi wants to win against her sister, for once. She has to find her pen pal, Nam Do-san, to prove to her sister that he is not imaginary. This ushers in Nam Joo-hyuk’s character, the real Nam Do San, the youngest Math Olympiad winner. Now a Computer programmer, working on an AI Image recognition program and looking for investors. Alongwith, two other friends Yong-san and Chul-san, he has started up a company called Samsan tech, out of a small rooftop apartment, with his father’s money. Lo and behold, the father is none other than Kim Won-hae, who is looking wayy older in this drama. There is this funny scene that had me in splits. While trying to make the parents understand the details of their image recognition project, their bot (who looks like Eva from Wall-E) recognizes Won-hae’s face as “toilet”. She could detect all other test objects perfectly but when shown the father’s face, she kept prompting “toilet”. It was HILARIOUS!
Dal-mi is scouring the internet for Nam Do-san and Halmoni’s goes all the way to Seoul to ask Jin-pye for his help in finding Nam Do-san. Jin-pye finds Nam do-san and arrives at the scene when is getting a beating from his dad. Concluding that Nam Do san is not worth Dal-mi’s time, Jin pye reports the same to Halmoni. Meanwhile, Dal-Mi finds an online advt when Nam Do san is selling all his prized possessions to generate cash for meeting the server cost and other maintenance costs. Dal-mi and Do-san are about to meet but at the nick of the time, Jin-pye arrives and takes Do-san away. He asks him to go through all the letters and meet Dal-Mi , in-lieu he offers him Money. But Do-an wants a chance to enter Sandbox and nothing less. Jin-pye shreds their startup idea and berates them and leaves. At this point, I hate Jin-pye. Do-san goes through the letters and decides to meet Dal-mi anyway. He spruces up with a suit and a haircut and arrives at the Sandbox meet and greet party looking all dapper. Dal-mi, but the looks of it, is swept off her feet. That was the curtain down for Episode 2.
Afterthoughts: Halmoni’s character is unbelievably sweet and Kim Haa-sook is soo endearing. Kim Joo-hun is everywhere this drama year. I lovved his comic timing in ‘ It’s Okay’ but here he has shown great emotional depth in a short role. I hope he keeps reappearing in coming episodes in flashbacks. Bae Suzy is aptly cast for Da-mi, as the younger sister, who chooses the love for her father, and bravely defends her choice; who pines after the long lost pen pal, and peppy and chirpy in face of all odds but is strangely accommodating as well when people treat her unjustly. So far, I am neutral about Joo-hyuk or Seon-ho. This is my first Joo-hyuk drama and it takes a few episodes for the k actors to grow on me so we will see. All in all, I am much excited about where the drama will take us and I soo want the elder sister to bite the dust and acknowledge to herself that she was wrong!
Episode 3: In a world of over-sharing, the idea of having a pen-pal almost sounds exotic. And to my delight, this episode delves into Dal-mi’s letters, and the exchange seems to have that philosophic and dreamy touch that you could only enjoy when you don’t know the other person very well(or are still discovering each other). In that letter, she asks, ‘Have you ever let yourself get soaked even if you had an Umbrella’? And I remember that I haven’t done that. Further, she concludes ’It’s actually nice to wander aimlessly once in a while’. This short sequence of Dal-mi as a kid, being adventurous, and following her will was refreshing. Suddenly, I felt like having a pen-pal for sharing ‘sweet nothings’.Sigh!
And Do-san's interpretation of the letter was hilarious again! He seems to be one of those geeky guys who see the world as a result of set rules and do not understand the likes of art and poetry. I wonder how his chemistry with Dal-mi will pan out.
Back to the party scene, where Dal-mi meets her sister and mother. Clearly, she has been following her sister on social media and in flashbacks as well they did meet frequently but this looks like the first meeting in 15 years with Omma and Dal-mi first ignores her, not addressing her at all, and then calls her ‘Omoni’(the more polite version). And rightfully so I feel. We are served with another HILARIOUS scene where Do-san and Ji-pyeong pretend to have an inanimate discussion but since they don’t have much to share they start speaking out the lyrics of the Korean National Anthem!! If this was done in any Indian production(or any production around the world for that matter), where the Indian National Anthem was spoken casually, Indian courts would have been flooded with PILs demanding a ban on the whole show! At this point, drama is mute about what Jin- pyeong thinks about Dal-mi. Dal-mi, with whom he shared an year of hand-written exchanges of feelings, wishes and dreams. Wasn’t this his first meeting with her? The first touch, the handshake. I would have liked a peek into his heart. At this point, he is basically playing the Fairy-Godmother and wants this evening to wrap up quickly. But you can’t plan everything to the T when real people are involved and surely, Do-san eats more than he can chew, sharing his business card with Dal-mi on the ride back home.
The party scene did add a dimension to In-Jae’s character; that may be all I not well in her universe either. Apparently, the step-dad has been using her talents as a learning platform for his son. Mom gave a hug to Dal-mi while parting and wishes her ‘Fightingg!’ . What ..is she trying to be a mom now, isn’t it too late for that?
Nam Joo-hyuk is certainly growing on me. His character seems to be this bashful socially-awkward guy, who doesn’t know how to put his words across artfully. And yet, when he is about to drive away from Dal-mi, he turns around and asks if she has opened the music box? ( A beautiful backstory to the music boxes which I would talk about later).
Another hilarious scene unfolds when Jin-pyeong and Do-san are back at Jin-pyeong’s place and Do-san receives a message from Dal-mi and he demurely announces that he has never received a message from a woman other than his mother. Jin-pyeong tauntingly congratulates him to which he sincerely thanks him..ahaha!
Dal-mi: It was good to meet you today, I owe you one. Are you craving anything or is there anything you want?
To the above message, our innocent Do-san types ‘ I am craving Fried chicken and I want 128 GB flash drive’! Thankfully, JP was there to correct him..:D
And then Jin-pyeong dictates a reply to the message.
I am liking the chemistry between these two lead actors, which will soon(or have already) entangle themselves in a love-triangle.
Dal-mi was too cute while relaying the events of the evening to Halmoni, proving Suzy is perfect cast for Dal-mi, that babyness to her face works well in her favor here. But why is JP washing down Do-san while telling his version of the evening to Halmoni? Is he jealous already of the budding relationship? When Halmoni announces that she is going to tell Dal-mi the truth about the letters, he couldn't sleep that night.
Finally the drama explores In-Jae’s life and as suspected, all is not well. Apparently, though she is the CEO of her business but doesn’t hold any shares and Dad and Step-bro together have 86% of the shares.They just tell her to go packing to the US and leave the Korean branch, which I am guessing is basically all the major business, to step bro. Humiliated she is well on her way, but with a nudge from Omma, though intended in a different direction, she stomps at the board meeting and announces that she is quitting. Hmm..why am I rooting for her now. Wasn’t she served well for leaving Dad, well yes. I am at a crossroad when it comes to her. -------------------------------------------------------------------------
Another insightful scene, expanding Dal-mi’s character. After a lunch meeting, she and two colleagues are waiting for the elevator. The employee elevator goes only up to the 17th floor while the CEO’s office is on 32nd floor. As on cue, Dal-mi decides to quit her good-for-nothing job. Hurray..more power to you gal! I am rooting for you.
Episode 5 – Hackathon – Highlights
There is a refreshing narrative style about this drama, that conversations or effects of an event are concealed and are revealed later. I was curious why it was not shown that Do-san was disappointed to hear that the only thing that Dal-Mi likes about him is ‘his hands’. The second part of that is shown in the opening scene of this episode. Clearly, he was upset and had been knitting nervously. When the other ‘sans’ press him to tell them the reason,he recounts the end of his date with Dal-mi when he went to drop her off. The conversation that follows is hilarious! In a typical science buff fashion, Yong-san tells him that ‘Hands are everything’! I was splitting open cracking at this point.
t is surprising how easily Dal-mi forgives Do-san and team for duping her into believing that they were a hot-shot startup already. It was rather easy for everything to fall into place. So the first lie has been handled, how about the second, the bigger lie that he is not the person who was her pen-pal, how the drama will handle that?? Well, only time will tell.
Now the real pen-pal , Han Ji-Pyeong, tells this to Do-san:
I hate Ji-pyeong at this point. Not only that he berates Do-san here,but when Dal-mi appears in this scene, he chickens out. Not even helps them as the mentor of the team!!