A magical and romantic encounter in Havana becomes a meaningful memory for two people living in opposite worlds.
Encounter or Boyfriend (alternate title) is about Cha Soo-Hyun (Song Hye-Kyo) the CEO of Donghwan Hotels and the daughter of a Congressman, considered a dignified woman with a career and prestige. While on a business trip to Cuba, she meets Kim Jin-Hyuk (Park Bo-Gum) a young traveler with a love for photography. They spend one eventful day together under the Cuban sun and part ways, never to meet again but fate has other things in store for them.
Jin-Hyuk manages to land a job at Donghwan Hotel and discovers that his mystery woman is none other than the CEO of the company. The two push and pull as a result of their statuses but get drawn towards each other the more they resist.
Trust me when I say this was well on my radar and I haven’t been a dormant drama watcher all this while. I wanted to wait it out a bit to see where the drama would take me and my initial thoughts remain the same; watching this show is like viewing a fine art piece. It’s stylistic and well thought out since the characters are quite complex with a story that’s sad at times but worthwhile and bright from the romance and chemistry. And I wouldn’t say calling it an art piece is dramatic since the drama contains an artistic quality about it that you can’t help but admire.
As far as characters go, I appreciate this reversal since it’s no longer ‘rich guy meets poor girl’ and Cha Soo-Hyun as a female character is psychologically deep and alluring. Soo-Hyun has lived a life for others and finds no happiness despite her position, still having to breathe under the manipulations of her ex mother in-law and status craving mother. I think the power dynamics among all three women is fascinating (even if I want to throw a few punches at the mothers) since what they value and hold dear is strikingly different, stemming from who they are as women and their beliefs of how a woman should present herself.
For someone who can afford all the luxuries in the world, Soo-Hyun’s needs and desires are quite ordinary and even eccentric since she’s been so far removed from the ordinary in all the stages of her life. And I bring this up because Jin-Hyuk turns out to be someone she finds comfort in and admits the things she wishes to do despite having to repress herself for so long, and he willing tells her she should do what she wants. His consistent acts of encouragement allow Soo-Hyun, whose been suffocated to death by those around her to finally be herself and develop herself as a person first and foremost.
That being the case, the progression of the romance is impressively steady and sweet which is quite the feat considering the melancholy and notes of realism to the story. Societal pressures, ageism, elitism, and media attention are all aspects the drama touches upon and they’re all illustrated in ways that are believable and food for thought. They’re the odds that are stacked against our couple and the pains and trials they face are heartbreaking but create significant character growth and maturity.
Jin-Hyuk is exuberant and simplistic but extremely deep and sensitive towards Soo-Hyun and his conceptions of humanity. She’s been demoted as a human being, and he discovers her yearning and bottled up emotions the more he steps into her world and becomes involved with her. Jin-Hyuk as a character, is transparent since he always says what’s on his mind and he’s definitely not the brooding or cold type but there’s also an air of mystery surrounding his thoughts since he allows himself to walk the path his heart chooses. His actions aren’t entirely driven by logic which makes Jin-Hyuk such a fresh character; he’s non-calculative and nice to the core, which is a novelty if you ask me.
I don’t think I could have envisioned two better actors for the roles since Song Hye-Kyo has an eloquence to her mannerisms and speech while Park Bo-Gum is a bright personality to begin with and truly does give off the ‘boyfriend’ vibe. I’ll admit to having apprehensions about the pairing but my worries vanished within the first episode, and I’m reprimanding myself for ever doubting them.
I also enjoy the drama for being thought provoking, forming a ladder for the romance to climb on since I’ve seen my fair share of melo-romances that have given us one too many aggressive male leads and women who are meant to be nothing more than emotional tools to remedy the imbalance in a male protagonist’s life. So I applaud TvN for ending the year with a drama that’s more sophisticated and self-aware of drama tropes and conventions even with the romantic cliches presented here. The show manages to bypass typical material that’s been reused and reformatted over and over again.
After binging plenty of episodes, I can definitely say this drama is on my weekly watchlist because of the dreamy encounter in Cuba to the bittersweet story that follows afterwards.
Release Date: November 28, 2018 (Eng Sub available on Viki)