Alternative Title: Sunbae, Don’t Put that Lipstick On. Spoilers ahead!
I was quite excited for this drama, because both my parents had recommended it (and my dad is very sparing with his compliments for Korean dramas – most of my recommendations were outright rejected as ‘boring’ by him). But this turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, and I’m not sure whether it’s because the style or genre of the drama is simply something I’m not into.
The plot is rather simple. The main characters are Hyun-seung (played by SF9’s Rowoon) and Song-ah (played by Won Jin-ah), who both work in the marketing team for a popular comestic brand. Hyun-seung has a crush on Song-ah, but the feelings aren’t (yet) reciprocated – since Hyun-seung is her trainee, she sees him much more as a mentee and younger brother than any potential love interest. Of course, Hyun-seung doesn’t give up there, and tries in various ways to spark a romantic interest between the two. Rowoon acting and chemistry is great in this respect – it’s clear that Hyun-seung’s attention is constantly focused on Song-ah while she pretty much remains oblivious to this fact.
The first forty minutes of the drama were fine, and it’s later revealed that Song-ah is dating her boss and manager of the team, Jae-shin (played by Lee Hyun-wook) in a secret office romance that has been going on for two years. But Jae-shin is in fact planning to be engaged with another woman, and of course Song-ah is oblivious to all of this. Coincidentally, Hyun-seung happens to be in the right places at the right time and discovers all of this.
At this point, the scriptwriting really starts to go downhill. We have a confrontation scene of sorts where Hyun-seung sees Jae-shin cancel his dinner plans with Song-ah, lying that there’s been some sudden business meeting he needs to attend. After Jae-shin leaves, Hyun-seung then goes up to Song-ah and tells her that he knows about their office romance, wishing to warn Song-ah about Jae-shin’s betrayal.
But here we get some very awkward lines (I’m not sure if this is just a problem with the English translations I’m getting, but I’ve cross-checked it with the Chinese translations and they’re equally awkward). Hyun-seung tries to get Song-ah to make him for him this evening, and in doing so, says stuff like, “You have to make time for me even if you don’t want to.”. Another awkward comment from him goes: “I just saw you get rejected by your boyfriend [Jae-shin]. But it’s probably nothing compared to the rejection you’ll face later.” Is it just me or did anyone find these lines incredibly awkward and cringeworthy? They’re probably designed to make audiences swoon, but they had the opposite effect for me.
Even worse, at the end of the episode, he brushes Song-ah’s lips, and says, “Don’t wear that lipstick, sunbae”. It’s a reference to the fact that she wears a certain kind of lipstick whenever she has her secret office rendezvous with Jae-shin, and is probably supposed to be the defining line of the drama (given that it is, after all, the title of the show). But his actions – brushing Song-ah’s lips – are at the very least unprofessional and pushy, and in fact arguably constitute sexual assault.
Some people have suggested that his actions are just reflective of his youthful immaturity, and that in later episodes, he feels the repercussions of his actions: Song-ah is furious at him. But there’s immaturity and then there’s just blatant disrespect of personal and moral boundaries. I don’t see how I can rally behind this main character for the rest of the series unless he shows real emotional maturity and growth.
I think, in part, the series of awkward lines and actions at the end reflect the fact that this drama is developed from a webtoon of the same name. I may be wrong on this, but from what I’ve read, exaggerated plotlines, ‘heart-swooning’ lines and possessive male protagonists are hallmarks of this genre, and it’s likely the case that these things simply don’t translate into live action drama very well. But it may be the case that other audiences will react differently, and that this style of webtoon-based drama just isn’t for me.
In any case, I may continue to watch this drama if there’s nothing else, but I’ve dropped it from my ‘must watch immediately’ list.