Start-Up is a romantic coming-of-age tale many people have been looking forward to. It premiered on Netflix on October 17th, and stars Suzy and Nam Joo-hyuk. Suzy plays Seo Dal-mi, a young entrepreneur with little else but the dreams in her head. And Nam Joo-hyuk plays Nam Do-san, a math prodigy who’s having trouble getting his start-up off the ground.
I feel like dramas set in the business world walk a fine line. It’s interesting to learn about different fields, but if they go too in-depth about day-to-day operations, they risk being dubbed boring and alienating viewers.
Fortunately, Start-Up is striking a good balance and doing many other things right.
Watching the first episode of a drama is like taking that first sip of a drink you’ve never tried before. Your tastebuds either rejoice or it takes a couple more sips to get into the flavor. Start-Up took a couple of sips for me. Mostly because it starts out with some overused plot devices. A Money-hungry matriarch? “Evil” sister? A sad orphan who gets helped by a kind stranger? Check, check, and check. But screenwriter Park Hye-ryun injects nuance and sentimentality into these elements, making them feel fresh. It’s to be expected from the same woman who birthed gems like Dream High, I Can Hear Your Voice, Pinocchio, and While You Were Sleeping.
The plot of Start-Up is propelled by a lie Dal-mi’s grandma Won-deok tells her when she’s a teenager. It’s concocted to cheer her up, but like all lies spirals out of control and sucks in other people. I laughed out loud many times watching this lie take shape over the course of the first two episodes.
As far as the drama’s pacing, it’s perfect. It moves slow enough for me to get attached to the characters, but fast enough to keep me entertained. And once you throw in the hopeful, wistful tone, I’m enamored.
So far I’m loving Seo Dal-mi. She’s gutsy, determined, and hilarious. Suzy is really getting to flex her comedic chops with this character. She also gets the best lines. When Dal-mi’s estranged sister Won In-jae accuses her of having an imaginary boyfriend, she insists he’s real and they are, “partners…in both eros and business terms.”
What cheeky dialogue. I ate it up.
Won In-jae (played by Kang Ha-na) is proving to be an unlikeable second female lead. In addition to being sisters, she and Dal-mi were best friends until a shift in family dynamics drove a wedge between them. Right now In-jae’s arrogant and smug, but I hope she’ll be given layers instead of remaining a stereotypical second female lead. I love it when dramas explore complicated female friendships/relationships.
Now it’s time to talk about my favorite dynamic; the one between our second male lead Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) and Dal-mi’s grandma Choi Won-deok (Kim Hae-sook). It manages to be achingly tender and gruff at the same time. The way they meet is a little cliche, but the way they bond is unique and fun to watch. I laugh or coo throughout all of their interactions. The latter because neither wants to be vulnerable even though they clearly mean a lot to each other. Ji-pyeong, especially. He’s one of those morally ambiguous characters who get under your skin. He makes poor choices due to past traumas, but you pray he toes the line between good and bad carefully.
Last, but certainly not least is Nam Do-san. He doesn’t appear until the very end of the first episode, so we don’t know as much about him as the other characters. But at first glance, he seems to be earnest and timid. He and his two friends are desperately trying to get more investors for their facial recognition software, but it isn’t going well.
I’m impressed with Nam Joo-hyuk’s performance so far. I’m not used to seeing him play this type of character. His facial ticks and the way he moves his arms hint at some social awkwardness, which doesn’t seem far-fetched for a math/programming genius. I can’t wait to see more of Do-san and how his relationship with Dal-mi evolves.
The characters are so interwoven, I feel like I’m watching a game of Jenga. One wrong move could expose the lie and bring everything crashing down.
Start-Up is such a pleasant surprise! It’s funny and light with depth and realistic characters. The pacing is perfect and the writing is good.
My only concern is the plot might not be enough to fill sixteen episodes. Right now the big lie is keeping things interesting, but historically when a show tries to stretch one thing across a whole season, it becomes tedious. Hopefully, the drama has some other tricks up its sleeve, because I’m really enjoying it.
If you’re in the mood for an inspiring underdog story in the same vein as Itaewon Class, definitely check out Start-Up.
V – I concur! The first episode of Startup had some magic tucked inside it. There was only one scene where I was like, “Come on now, this has gone on for long enough, we get it.” Other than that I think this show might be one to watch.