Innovative aspirations of Korea’s tech sector fuel the ambitions of young entrepreneurs trying to make a name for themselves in a ruthless digital world.
In the Korean drama Start-Up, Seo Dal Mi (Bae Suzy) dreams of following in her father’s footsteps after struggling to claim a successful life similar to that of her sister, Won In Jae (Kang Han Na). Hoping to be a Korean Steve Jobs, Dal Mi tries to connect with her first love ‘Nam Do San’ whom she once exchanged chain letters with.
Little does Dal Mi know that her first love is a fabricated individual formed by her grandmother and Han Ji Pyeong (Kim Seon Ho) in order to give her a friend during the hardest moments of her life. Ji Pyeong however, is a successful business investor who decides to search for the real Nam Do San in order to keep a good intended lie concealed.
The true Nam Do San (Nam Joo Hyuk) is a genius computer engineer with his own start-up, “Samsan Tech” that involves AI (artificial intelligence) services and programs. With hardly any investments for two years, he finds himself in a bind and falls for Dal Mi in the process. Wanting to be the man she thinks he is, Do San enters SandBox, a fictitious Silicon Valley along with his Samsan Tech members and runs into Dal Mi and Ji Pyeong.
So this is a good time as any where I confess to religiously watching this series and am entirely hooked…but have kept delaying a first impressions post – this is the one series since October that has remained consistent and well developed in terms of writing; I’m almost on the verge of crying literal tears for there actually being competent drama writers out there this year!
Start-Up has an interesting combination of business meets love rivalry and mishaps but knows when to turn the focus away from one in order to fixate on the other. I’m of the opinion that the actual business and tech aspects of the series are well researched and fascinating. The drama provides a good balance, never overwhelming the audience with too much tech or business jargon or intricacies that might go over our heads.
What the series does instead, is creates business innovations in relation to the heart felt narratives and lives of the show’s characters. There’s something far more engaging and emotional depth to the drama when it forms aspirations at an individual level – there’s a purpose to the ambitions of each character that gets teased out and substantiated.
There’s also a simplicity to the show in the sense that there is no villain. There are the bad guys and the good guys, but people operate in an opportunistic way and merely think about what they can gain within a cutthroat digital industry.
And for once we’re not dealing with vindictive conglomerates aside from In Jae’s step-father, so the show remains saturated in its small pool of characters and really aims to focus on each one of them from the ground up. Dal Mi for instance, places her ambitions as a priority but it’s not at the expense of being coldhearted or senseless. She’s extremely humane and tries to maintain her personal beliefs in an environment that tries to rob her of her ‘Good Samaritan’ mentality – she’s constantly told that her visions are meaningless if profit making isn’t foreseeable.
Her drive and leadership skills are juxtaposed with Do San who is antisocial and more introverted. He’s extremely good at his profession but can’t navigate alone within a business setting, constantly feeling this pressure by means of an inferiority complex as he compares himself to Ji Pyeong. There’s the real Do San and then the Do San found in Dal Mi’s letters whom Ji Pyeong has fabricated in his likeness.
Nam Do San then, feels the need to live up to the same standard and existence as Ji Pyeong in order to redeem himself where he fails. This becomes the basis for Do San evolving into a successful figure or trying to physically insert himself and make his presence be known.
Of course, I can’t leave out the scene stealer of the entire series – Ji Pyeong. As a character, he’s so well developed and wholesome in his character flaws and attributes that it’s impossible not to love him. Coined “good boy” in the show by Dal Mi’s grandmother, the nickname truly sticks since Ji Pyeong can be quite brutally honest within a professional capacity but self-sacrificing towards the Seo family. The love triangle he forms with Dal Mi and Do San is one thing, but the relationship his character has with Dal Mi’s grandmother is completely heart wrenching.
Kim Seon Ho has made a name for himself with this role, bringing to life a character that could have been interpreted in other ways (or worse, negatively) if portrayed slightly different. The actor has remained under the radar yet has quite the rapport, taking on a variety of genres and doing anything from comedic to villainous roles. So it comes to no surprise that he’s turned a secondary character into one that’s indispensable to the drama’s acclaim.
I also would be lying if I didn’t say he’s my main reason for tuning in every weekend and voraciously watching!
With steady pacing, a reliable story and character development, Start-Up is probably one of the best drama series to come this year…yeah, I went there!
Release Date: October 17, 2020 (Eng Sub available on Netflix)