Another Lee Joon kdrama, yay! I’m excited and ready to recap this weekend drama about a former boy band idol, his faltering acting career, and the family he gets involved with. Lee Joon was wonderful as In Sang in Heard it through the Grapevine (2015). Got my coffee, pastries, and feet up for episode 1 of My Father is Strange. (*There’s a list of who’s who at end of the recap to help keep track of the characters.)
Meet the family~
Mom gets a call from Dad. It is the wee hours of the morning, but he just got an order for fifty gimbap and could use her help. Mom cheerfully dashes downstairs to their shop, Father’s Snackshack, calling out, “The flying five-minute squad is here!” They work side by side happy to be in each other’s company.
It’s a chaotic morning in the household with the four siblings. The doorbell rings. Hye Young calls on her phone to Ra Young in the next room to answer the door. Brother Jun Young moseys down to answer it and Ra Young grumbles as she passes him on her way to the bathroom. Repairmen show up to work on the water unit on the veranda. Just as they mention the water’s been shut off, Ra Young yells from the bathroom there is no running water! There is confusion as the repairmen wonder why the family didn’t get notified. Meanwhile, Dad realizes the water in his shop is off, too. (They live in the apartments above the shop.)
Now Hye Young is up and out the door to get ready for work at the sauna. Jun Young follows her and on the way down the stairs they run into Uncle and Aunt who live in the apartment below. Hye Young wonders out loud why Uncle didn’t bother to tell the family about the water being turned off and leaves in a huff. Uncle scolds Jun Young for blaming him; after all, Hye Young already thinks poorly of him and looks down on him. And anyway, Uncle did tell Jun Young, didn’t he? At this point, they both seem unreliable. Hye Young stops by the sauna and manages to look like a million bucks as she heads to the law firm.
Mom has a bright idea to use mineral water and sends Dad to buy some. They have a large order to fill, water problems or no. Mi Young, the middle daughter, rolls out of bed and out the door. She sees her dad carrying the water and pitches in to help. Chopped, rolled, and packed in boxes, the gimbap is ready right on time for pick-up. It’s a job well-done under adverse circumstances.
The family minus Hye Young has breakfast together. The table conversation is lively but civil. Mom reminds Ra Young that she hasn’t wired her monthly rent of $150. Ra Young argues for leniency and Dad tries to ease Mom’s demands. When Ra Young mentions that Jun Young doesn’t pay anything he chimes in that as a soon as passes the civil exam this time, he’ll contribute, too. Dad asks Mi Young if she heard from the company. Ra Young answers for her, “she didn’t get it” and says the company called yesterday. Another rejection. When Mom has something to say about that, Dad tells her to let the children eat in peace.
Hye Young is a busy divorce attorney and meets with a client who has come with his mother to negotiate his divorce terms. She thinks to herself, He’s still a mama’s boy at 40 and belongs to a snake. She has to put up with a lot. Later, she has lunch with a friend who has her own marriage woes. Hye Young says in so many words, “I told you so.” She describes Korean daughters-in-law as being the same as Untouchables in India’s caste system – neither has any status. When her friend says everyone expected them to marry, Hye Young smartly replies that it is not a citizen’s duty to marry. It is progressive thinking for a conservative and traditional society. On their way out Hye Young’s friend reminds her that the class reunion is that evening. Hye Young ends up saying that if she doesn’t have anything better to do, she might go.
Oh Bok Nyeo visits a professional matchmaker on behalf of her son. She doesn’t want a poor-to-successful daughter-in-law. She married a man like that. Her conditions are reasonable she insists: someone who is pretty, from a high-class family with great character, obedient, and well-mannered. Someone whose status matches hers; after all, her only son deserves the best.
Meet Joong Hee~
Actor Ahn Joong Hee (Lee Joon) plays the role of a doctor in an operating room – at least that what it looks like at first glance. It’s actually a comedic take on a chef asking his assistant to “save it” meaning the food they are preparing. The director works with his iffy acting and tells him to be a bit funnier; he can edit where necessary. After the shoot Joong Hee tells his manager, “This is the last soap opera of my life.” He wants to film a miniseries. In the backseat his stylist chokes down a laugh. She is watching a video that’s been uploaded called The Former Hot Star Special. Unfortunately, Entertainment Today has uploaded a clip from eight years ago of Joong Hee’s bad acting that reinforces his nickname as the robot actor and edited it with a recent interview where he says that acting is his best feature. Joong Hee is upset that The Former Hot Star Special update about him threatens to ruin his reputation which, by the way, isn’t all that good anyway. “Am I that unpopular?” he asks his poor manager who has a hard time handling Joong Hee’s egotistical personality.
Joong Hee marches into the Entertainment Today office and yells at the chief producer for putting up an old acting clip with a new interview making him the ‘icon of bad acting.” It was on his desk, the producer says, and hollers for Cha Jung Hwan. Joong Hee takes matters into his own hands, tracks down this person, Jung Hwan, and demands that he remove the video. He is riled up and grabs Jung Hwan’s collar, but CCTV cameras are everywhere and he backs off with the help of his manager. Jung Hwan agrees to take down the interview/video but nonchalantly mocks, “Even if it’s for poor acting, isn’t it better to attract the public rather than be forgotten?” Poor insulted Joong Hee kicks the trash can and leaves.
Jun Young waits for a response to a text he sent to Yoo Joo – a girlfriend? He wonders if he should call or text again, but decides against it so as not to add pressure. “I can’t wait to see your pretty face,” he says out loud with a boyish, puppy-lovesick grin.
Mi Young has an interview and gets a resume picture taken at a studio. She chooses a dark blazer and white blouse for a straightforward picture. She asks the photographer to Photoshop her chin a bit and widen her eyes.
Dad meets with the real estate agent to renew his lease. Business is finally on track and they live right upstairs which is convenient. He is informed there is a new landlord and rent will increase. It’s a steep raise – $500! “That much? I was expecting $200,” replies a worried Dad. The agent tells him to negotiate with the landlord directly; the hair salon owner did just that and got a better deal.
Mom and her mother wait outside Father’s Snackshack. A car nearly backs over them. Oh Bok Nyeo gets out and scolds them for being in the way which, of course, starts a heated argument. It isn’t pretty. Grandmother shouts “Look here, Zebra. You almost hit a person. Shouldn’t you apologize?” Mom asks the woman if she is here to eat at Father’s Snackshack. “Why would I eat there?” she insultingly replies. Just then Dad walks up, sees his wife grabbing hold of the woman’s arm, and is horrified. He greets her politely; Oh Bok Nyeo is the new landlady. It seems like Mom and grandmother won’t be able to undo this.
Landlady Oh complains out loud that she won’t let such low-class businesses stay. She checks on the construction of the new café in her newly acquired building. When she arrives home, her retired husband fusses over his little dog, Chico. She tells him about the rough, ignorant people who rent in the building and vows not to let them renew. He ignores her. She demands his attention, but he tells her that she is disturbing his time with Chico. Clearly husband and wife haven’t been compatible for a long time.
Jung Hwan’s co-workers harass him to attend the class reunion. When he won’t go they ask, “Is this about Hye Young?” He laughs and says, “Let’s go, then!” Hye Young and her friend arrive first. There is a good-sized crowd and she is the successful class star who is greeted by everyone. A while later Jung Hwan enters. Someone tells him Hye Young is here. They wave at each other and he walks over to where she is sitting. They have a casual but awkward exchange with comments like “it’s been a while” (eight years) and “how have you been?” They offer each other congratulations on their careers. The members of Gwangya Film Club toast and cheer. The two of them steal glances at one another throughout the evening. A classmate asks in a loud, drunk voice, “Why did you two break up? Did Hye Young dump Jung Hwan?” After a few vague responses Jung Hwan turns and asks Hye Young, “Why did you dump me?” She replies that it’s been so long and makes light of it. He stands up to leave and, in front of everyone, tells her that if in eight years they all meet up again she can tell him why they broke up then.
Flashback: It’s the 61st Seoul University National Festival. Student Jung Hwan watches classmate Hye Young perform on stage and falls for her. They go at a movie together. He holds her hand. They sit across from each other at the library. When she dozes off he supports her head on his shoulder. They share snacks in the snow and play. Dating, it seems, is going well. Then there’s a phone call from her. “We’re over.” When he tries to talk to her, she hangs up. He tries to reach her, leaves messages, stalks her house standing in the rain. She peers from behind the bedroom curtain.
Hye Young is in a bad mood as she leaves the reunion. She pulls out a slim recorder from her purse and dictates, “I met my ex-boyfriend after eight years. Reminder: never meet your ex-boyfriends. The end.”
Uh-oh. By chance, Hye Young spots her youngest sister, Ra Young, with friends. Her sister has “borrowed” Hye Young’s expensive handbag and is showing it off. Wrong thing to do. Just then Ra Young sees Hye Young in the window. She’s been caught and waits for the fallout. But to Ra Young’s surprise Hye Young keeps on walking. “Maybe she’s letting me off this once,” she thinks at first, but that thought doesn’t last long. Ra Young realizes something doesn’t feel right and immediately dashes home.
Hye Young enters the apartment, blindly walks past her brother and sister who are watching TV and eating fruit, marches into the closet, and snatches Ra Young’s best silk dress. Ra Young, knowing that something really, really bad is about to go down, barges through the door. “See? the purse is home and nothing happened,” she tells Hye Young. But Hye Young is angry and past reason and will teach her sister a lesson since she has warned her so many times. She drenches Ra Young’s dress in the bathroom. It’s a sisters’ fight of the highest degree with pushing, screaming, water spraying, tears, hair pulling, and siblings taking sides. There is no way to reach a truce.
It is an all-out brawl when Dad and Mom walk in. “What are you all doing? they demand. The adult children sit obediently in a row like primary students. Father acts as a mediator and sees merit to both of his daughters’ stories. Hye Young’s legal-sounding arguments are persuasive. “I have a right to the pursuit of happiness as long as I don’t harm anyone” she defends herself. Ra Young whines that Hye Young thinks she’s smarter than everyone.
“So neither of you think you did anything wrong?” asks Mom.
Next thing, all four adult children are marched up to the rooftop where a row of “thinking stools” awaits. Hye Young protests that they’re too old for this. Mom says it is not about age but maturity. Since their behavior is immature, they will have to sit until they can kiss and make up. “Parents have a duty to correct their immature children,” Mom reminds them. Dad supports her. “Sit!” he tells them and the two fighting sisters sit with a stool in between them. But, Mi Young and Jun Young are not off the hook. They, too, have to sit because they didn’t prevent the fight and took sides.
It is an adorable scene as the siblings bicker and blame, but in time they tease back and forth, Mi Young hugging Ra Young, and Jun Young tickling Hye Young, until they laugh together in the cold, starry night on the rooftop. The fight is all but forgotten.
That night as Mom and Dad lay in bed, they talk about how fast time has flown and their children have grown up. It’s nice the way they discuss things. Mom changes the subject and asks what she should do about the fuss she caused with Landlady Oh. Dad asks exactly what happened. Mom admits she shouldn’t have argued and says she’ll clean up the mess she made. When Dad asks how, Mom doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. “Vivien Leigh said ‘tomorrow’s another day.’ Clark Gable, turn out the light.” Dad replies, ‘For you I will.” Aw, still sweet on each other after so many years.
Jung Hwan gets a call from his mother (Landlady Oh). She wants him to come home but he says he is busy. She tells him to try to come home tomorrow. She is lonely.
Joong Hee wakes up and is startled to find his ex-girlfriend, Hyun Jun, lying next to him. When he asks what she’s doing there, she says that she memorized the pass code and let herself in. She begs him to start over and date like they used to. He ignores her. She promises not to mention marriage. He tells her that he hates dealing with women and marriage the most. She retaliates and says that she downloaded that awful video and interview onto her computer and watches it when she hates him the most. Hyun Jun doesn’t stop there and hits below the belt telling him that, as a psychiatrist, she can assure him that his acting will always be like a robot. She tells him that he is an egotist with no emotions and bad relationships. With that, she leaves. He can’t believe she threw the book at him and wonders, “What did I do wrong?”
Mi Young waits for the bus on the way to her interview. She helps an elderly woman with her cart and manages to rip her tights. She arrives at Galbi Entertainment and realizes there isn’t time to pick up another pair at the convenience store. She borrows a black marker from the parking attendant and hurriedly fills in the hole.
Just then, Joong Hee asks the attendant to get his car and notices Mi Young standing there with a pen. He assumes she wants his autograph but she hurries past to her interview, obviously not recognizing him.
Mom walks Hye Young out the door, wondering how she ever got such an awesome daughter. Hye Young is going to be on a TV panel and Mom couldn’t be prouder. But the day is dampened for Hye Young as she turns to avoid running into Landlady Oh. She pulls out her recorder and dictates, “Everyone I haven’t seen in the past eight years suddenly appears before me in a week. I feel awful.” At the TV station, the director panics and pleads with Jung Hwan to fill in on the panel. “Just show your handsome face,” he begs. Jung Hwan is annoyed, but finally gives in to his desperate co-worker. As he goes to put on a suit he is stopped cold by what he sees on the screen – it’s Hye Young. “What is this?” he says out loud. He realizes she is on the panel, too.
Jung Hwan walks into the studio, polishes his name plate, and faces Hye Young. They glare at each other. It’s going to be a showdown.
Byun Han Soo – Dad
Na Young Sil – Mom
Byun Jun Young – brother, the oldest child, studying for civil exam, this is the fifth year
Byun Hye Young – oldest daughter (second child), attorney
Byun Mi Young – second daughter (third child) applying for jobs
Byun Ra Young – daughter, age 27, baby of the family
Min Ha -nephew, the young boy at the breakfast table
Ahn Joong Hee – Lee Joon
Cha Jung Hwan – Hye Young’s ex-boyfriend
Oh Bok Nyeo – new building owner where the family lives and runs Father’s Snackshack; landlady
Cha Gyu Taek – retired husband of landlady Oh Bok Nyeo
Kim Mal Boon – Young Sil’s mother, grandmother
- I am in love with the parents. They are cool, hard workers, good to their children, treat each other with respect, and are still in love. The discuss things with their children – even though they are adults – around the kitchen table, listen to their opinions, and make fair decisions. Their dispositions are optimistic and they make the best out of a situation. How nice, and what a change from negative husband/wife/parents stereotypes.
- Grandmother, on the other hand, is the stereotypical adjumma who doesn’t take crap from anyone anyhow especially “Zebra.” She puts on no airs and doesn’t let anyone else get away with being hoity-toity. It would be hard to make grandmother back down once she stands her ground.
- We can assume that Landlady Oh had something, or rather – everything, to do with Hye Young’s breaking up with her son, Jung Hwan. There is bound to be a family-to-family clash with their past and now the relationship with Landlady Oh and Hye Young’s parents. Ish. It won’t be easy for Dad to negotiate rent with Landlady Oh for a couple of reasons: 1) the argument with Mom was pretty ugly, and 2) wait until everyone involved finds out about the Hye Young/Jung Hwan break-up. It isn’t only Jung Hwan that doesn’t know the reason; neither must Hye Young’s parents. Remember that we know Landlady Oh hates the poor-to-successful person. That’s what she laid on Hye Young eight years ago to get her away from her son.
- Poor Lee Joon has to play a bad actor, wah! Actually, it’s kind of sweet that he thinks if only he can get a decent role he will improve. Although he is a bit full of himself. I’m not sure what is between him and Producer Cha Jung Hwan. They obviously know each other but it is unclear why Jung Hwan made that video and why he so easily agreed to delete it.
- I like the siblings, too. A lot. Their tiffs are over the usual close-quarters issues like clothes, sharing the bathroom, money, and who is favored by the parents. “It’s not fair! He doesn’t pay rent!” I guess those feelings among siblings never go away. Still, the scene on the rooftop where they revisit their childhood “thinking stools” to settle sibling rivalry fights is as endearing as it gets. A nudge, a reminder of a story when they were younger, a hug, and finally all-out laughter remedies the situation. Sure enough, Mom knows best how to get her children to forgive and forget and Dad is Mom’s greatest fan.
- I’m rooting for Mi Young to get the job – will she be paired with Joong Hee in her first acting role and his first miniseries? (xfingers crossedx)
- This episode was a kaleidoscope of mini-stories that shows how the family ticks and who we can expect to come into their lives in the near future.
- I’m giving the first episode an A-. What about you, did you like the first episode?