TvN kicks off 2017 with Introverted Boss 내성적인 보스, an office drama from the Writer and Director of Marriage Not Dating. That means plenty of laughs, perfectly timed sound effects, and out of the box scenarios. At first glance, this might seem like your average Chaebol rom-com where rich guy meets poor girl, but you can expect hijinks and plenty of twists from the start.
Episode 1 dives right into the story and somehow I’m already screaming at my laptop, nervously watching a woman (Han Chae Ah) about to jump off a building during the most wonderful time of the year – near Christmas! It’s beautifully captured in the cruelest way possible; with the laughter and joy of those on the street below and light snowflakes, falling enchantingly from the night sky.
With tears running down her face, there’s a moment of agony before she jumps and falls to her death, the screams of everyone nearby slicing through as she lies on top of a car, bleeding and heaving her last breath. Um, drama. Who is she? Why did she commit suicide? At least give me her name!
Suddenly there’s a transition to dramatic music, with a lady running up a flight of dark stairs. I really thought the female lead was going to be introduced here but boy was I wrong. Instead, a very frantic Secretary, Kim Gyo Ri (Jun Hyo Seong) takes off her heels next to the most bizarre statue. Hmm, interesting. She tiptoes to a pair of intimidating doors, the sound of her knocks echoing through the hall. I’m holding my breath as she asks for the President, until another abrupt transition introduces me to the terrifying world of a marketing department in a frenzy because of a huge presentation battle for the Opera.
The episode cuts back to the terrified Secretary nervously asking the President to join the final rehearsal for the Opera presentation, and this time we get to see the hidden figure behind those formidable doors. My instant reaction is either that of a banished Monk or Darth Vader but it’s only the leading male, CEO Eun Hwan Ki (Yeon Woo Jin) innocently pulling out a box cutter to sharpen a pencil…There’s much easier ways to do that President.
A swift transition occurs once again! Upbeat music and the back of a suited up man strides into the hectic department, greeted by other as… “President.” It’s Kang Woo Il (Yoon Park) the second male lead of the drama, already establishing himself as the ‘it’ boy.
He goes over logistics of the presentation battle, you know… all President-like, and wins the hearts of the employees through an extremely charismatic speech that leaves all of them doe-eyed and in awe. But what no one sees is the concealed figure of Hwan Ki off to a corner, watching the entire thing without a word, shaking his head. Woo II notices this and seems surprised, beckoned by a single hand gesture, the sound of it like a corpse coming to life and moving its bones.The interaction between the two isn’t revealed and instead, the episode leaps to the location of the presentation.
There’s a presentation already taking place by another firm, and two of Brain PR’s employees watch the entire thing, only to be mortified by how similar it is…and by that, EXACTLY the same to theirs.
The presenter wows the corporate executives, parading out of the presentation room like some big hotshot. He greets President Kang, offering to shake hands, but decides to be an asshole and swings it to the side. That’s not okay on so many levels.
The moment of truth finally arrives, and what does Woo II do? He simply skims through the entire slideshow and chucks their original idea to the horror of the audience. Heh.
Of course, the concealed, dark figure is there in the room watching the entire thing, tapping his fingers as he hears the ‘new’ presentation which in a nutshell, is to avoid targeting non-opera goers but focus on the small group of current opera lovers. Why go grand and waste your money? There’s no use changing the world he says. He also tears apart the booklet containing the original presentation for emphasis, sending papers flying everywhere and declares that 20% of the grand-scale idea is all it takes.
It’s logical and everyone in the room agrees, his charisma overflowing as he concludes his presentation. The executives readily pick his presentation, and all in all, Brain PR wins in the end.
Someone suddenly asks him who the real mastermind of Brain PR is, because of course at this point, we’ve established our male lead as a recluse. It’s this interaction that reminds Woo II of the sudden meeting with Hwan Ki and this time, we see everything. Woo II is livid with the idea of having to discard everything grand and upscale for a simple mundane idea. Hwan Ki doesn’t even mind and casually continues to sharpen his pencil, answering every one of his attacks with a logical explanation. He tells Kang not to be greedy and to think of the employees, drawing a diagram that clearly explains who they should market to and why.
At this point I’m tearing up because he’s turning out to be the best President in K-Drama history!
Before I even have time to digest this sudden revelation, the episode cuts to an actual opera performance and leads us backstage, where a female performer waits patiently. Not surprisingly, Hwan Ki is there in the audience, wearing his signature black hoodie watching the performance that just ended. I sense a little something, something.
And what do you know? Hwan Ki walks cautiously backstage with a bouquet of flowers in his hands, his eyes transfixed on the female performer as she takes her mask off. And you guessed it! It’s the female lead, Chae Ro Woon (Park Hye Soo).
He gulps nervously, taking off his hood and hat and walks inside the room, only to be stopped by a male performer who asks him exactly who he’s there to see. Thrown off guard by all the attention, he throws the flowers at the performer and runs for it.
Ro Woon of course, is oblivious to his existence, and waits patiently for a Mr. Smith to send her flowers. Hmm. I think I know who this Smith is.
She gets teased by the same male performer who received the flowers from Hwan Ki, and he asks her why she plans to quit working. She easily says that she got a new job and ecstatically accepts a bouquet of flowers delivered by mail by none other than Mr. Smith.
Hwan Ki relays his failed attempt at wooing the girl he likes to whom I’m guessing might be his Psychiatrist? They’re both outside in broad daylight…on either sides of a wall. Awkward. She tries lifting his spirits to no avail and finally tells him to practice saying “I’m your fan” in order to muster up enough courage. He adorably does as commanded, and constantly practices day and night.
His poor social skills become more apparent as he runs into Woo Il in an elevator who tells him that he should have been at the company dinner to celebrate their victory over winning the Opera battle. What Hwan Ki fails to tell him is that he tried, he really tried to step outside his comfort zone and speak to his employees but decided to leave when everyone began badmouthing him in favour of President Kang.
Heeding the advice of his psychiatrist, Hwan Ki goes the extra mile and gets his hair done at a salon, all jazzed up in a suit and tie and happily drives with another bouquet of flowers in the seat next to him. This of course, means he’s so caught up in his own fantasies that he bumps into the car in front of him, shocked to see his dream girl standing there, glaring at him.
Hwan-Ki doesn’t have the nerve to face her directly, and like a frightened kitten, he locks the car door and rolls up his window and simpers as Ro Woon angrily demands he come out of the car and face her. He tries persuading her to leave him alone by edging a wad of cash through the window but this enrages her even more, causing her to lie across his windshield before slapping the money away and following him on a wild car chase as he makes another run for it.
They both end up at Brain PR and Chae Ro Woon discovers who the owner of the car is, mumbling to herself that she wasn’t planning on being like this on her first day…ppfff. What a memorable first day at work then.
Secretary Kim gets gassy due to an upset stomach and makes a quick dash for the washroom, providing Ro Woon the perfect opportunity to sneak into Hwan Ki’s room. What’s a K-Drama without an invasion of privacy eh?
While she enters, down below in the marketing department, new employees are lined up and marked for attendance, Chae Ro Woon’s name gets called but she’s not there to the disbelief of the team leader, Dang Yoo Hee (Ye Ji-Won) who says she’s ‘different’ from others – how very true.
Ro Woon in the meantime, is taking her sweet time snooping. Err, okay. I’m going to just silently rage about how much I cannot abide to this but the show must go on! And this is where the male lead does the classic shower scene. I love how K-dramas create a sense of proximity with shower scenes.
She rummages around and comes across a locked drawer at his desk which piques her interest. Out of frustration, she tries pulling it open till she hears a noise and makes a dash for the door only to run right into Hwan Ki who freezes in what I can only describe as a pharaoh pose.
She immediately turns around while he hastily changes into a pair of clothes but gets assaulted by her once he’s fully clothed. Ro Woon gets dragged out by Secretary Kim who feeds her a bit of gossip before shoving her into an elevator. There’s a moment of intrigue and mystery in the air for both our leads before the episode transitions to an office party/karaoke session – Ro Woon singing her heart out, catching the attention of Woo II.
She gets tipsy after several drinks and Woo II sits next to her at the bar, probably thinking she’s in a state to divulge anything without hesitation. Ro Woon however, flips the tables by telling him that he’s a supporting character (this is probably the best bit of dialogue yet) comparing him to Alfred who looks after Batman. He jokes that she’s suggesting that they make a romantic comedy, but she counters his evasiveness by declaring that he shines more than the main character.
While they’re both musing over character hierarchy, Hwan Ki is busy having a solo date with wine and cheese, an internal monologue playing through his head about the day’s events. This leads us into the next day where Ro Woon is busy gathering intel and by that, I mean pure gossip on Hwan Ki from the security guard and one of the cleaning ladies.
She makes it up the penthouse to meet Secretary Kim who admits that she feels suffocated, recalling Hwan Ki dragging a large bag with what may be a body.
This of course is the biggest misunderstanding of the year, because he actually bought fresh radish to make an entire meal for the Secretary. He’s so afraid of her response, that he begins to have doubts and analytically assesses the situation.
Hwan Ki eventually asks her if she’s eaten but she quickly says she isn’t hungry. He takes her answer for its face value and eats alone. Somehow, Ro Woon makes it back upstairs to converse with Secretyary Kim, who’s been suffering from severe stomach pains all day and collapses. Panicked, Ro Woon bangs on Hwan Ki’s door to no avail.
And that’s because he’s left the penthouse to visit his family at home. He’s told none too kindly to keep a low profile by his father as he runs for mayor, and his mother assures him that won’t be an issue since that’s Hwan Ki’s specialty. Is she praising him or insulting him?
Hwan Ki silently soaks up everything negative his parents say about him without a word till his younger sister, Eun Yi Soo (Gong Seung Yeon) shows up to save him from further misery. She treats him like her equal, not fazed by his quietness as she trims his hair and even teases him about having a hidden girlfriend.
Hwan Ki seems slightly flustered but becomes instantly serious after receiving a phone call – it’s Woo II who notifies him of Secretary Kim being hospitalized.
Ro Woon is there as well, and instantly remembers her sister’s death three years ago. She yells at the funeral that her sister committed suicide and suffered from depression, which makes no sense, wanting to get her shoes at least to have some physical reminder.
Memories of her sister result in Ro Woon downing a shot of soju, and she’s with someone who I assume is either a friend or neighbourhood oppa? Ro Woon is so blinded with anger, she jumps to the conclusion that Hwan Ki must think of his Secretaries as tissues, easily disposable and that he’s the cause of her sister’s death – okay, whoa, whoa, WHAT?
We’re taken back to the beginning where a female employee jumps off a roof; it all makes sense now. Hwan Ki opens the locked drawer to reveal a pair of shoes and clothes, all belonging to Ro Woon’s sister, because she not only committed suicide, but jumped from the penthouse balcony.
Drunk and walking haphazardly, Ro Woon asks if Mr. Smith came by over the phone. Hwan Ki enters backstage looking for his opera girl, only to be told that Chae Ro Woon got another job. Walking away defeated, he attempts to throw the bouquet of flowers in a trash can but is stopped by Chae Ro Woon herself.
First Impressions: To say I dislike the female lead is an understatement. I’m already annoyed by her nosiness, it’s one thing to play detective but if your sole purpose in life is to get revenge then either the drama (in terms of genre) is all wrong or she’s going about it the wrong way. How does someone not get fired from assaulting a guy who happens to be her boss? It’s great if she got into the company by her own merits, but her actions violate so many aspects of workplace safety…and don’t even get me started on the fact that all she’s done is snoop around. Does she even work? Team leader! Get on that!
I’m also fairly irked by the poor level of editing; I wasn’t going to call them out on technicalities since I know TvN can do better, take Goblin for example, but the sloppiness of the episode was more than obvious. The transitions were too abrupt in order to cover a lot of ground but as a viewer, I never had time to fully digest anything – I didn’t even feel anything when Ro Woon cried for her sister.
Maybe I’m just a sociopath but when the show tried to deliver emotional depth, I didn’t feel moved, and this may or may not be a bad thing considering the fact that it’s promoted itself as a ‘comedy’. There were even moments where I couldn’t even tell if it was the same day or the next, because the episode would simply jump from one scene to the next – it was dizzy and headache-inducing.
That said, I’m completely in love with our misunderstood male lead. He’s lovable from the get-go and this might be due to Yeon Woo Jin simply portraying his character through his entire physicality and subtle expressions, because if you haven’t already noticed…Hwan Ki doesn’t say much.
However, his ‘condition’ is definitely not represented accurately in the drama. Yes, he’s an introvert but that’s not what he “suffers” from. He seems to have social anxiety disorder, and this is conveyed through the panic attack he gets while trying to deliver flowers to Ro Woon. I’m not sure whether I’m okay with the drama simply breezily capturing a disorder that many people suffer from this lightly or for the sake of the genre and broader picture, if it matters because it may be an obstacle for the male lead to jump over. I do get where their going with this, but a disorder like that isn’t cured within a day or through a romantic encounter – they should have portrayed him as a proper introvert to avoid complications.
Overall, I was disappointed in this premiere; I had high expectations, and maybe they were too high? The teasers were promising, the cast looked promising, and I placed ALL my hopes in the Director and Writer since Marriage Not Dating has been one of my all time favourite Korean rom-coms. I’ll confess to have been blinded by a certain degree of standard, but I think it’s fair to say that the second episode better blow my mind out of the water in order to keep me interested. Otherwise, I don’t see myself being hooked or even interested in further episodes to come.