Start-Up || Kdrama Review

When Start-Up was released on Netflix last year, I jumped on it so fast. A Korean drama with Bae Suzy and Nam Joo-hyuk? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, the episodes were being released 2 a week and I ended up waiting every week for new episodes until the end. It wasn’t fun, but the first episodes were so good that I couldn’t put it off until it was finished.

While I enjoyed the Kdrama a lot, I couldn’t pen down my thoughts on it. Now, fresh off a rewatch with a friend, I’m ready to share all my opinions. Let’s go!

what is Start-Up about?

Seo Dal-mi and Won In-jae are sisters whose lives turned out very differently because of the parent they chose during the divorce. Seo Dal-mi chose her dad who started a business of his own and passed away early due to an accident. Won In-jae chose her mom who married a rich businessman which gave In-jae a high-profile life.

Now, over a decade later, they end up on the same path due to different circumstances. Both are out to prove themselves by starting their own businesses and they compete against each other.

In this journey with Seo Dal-mi is Nam Do-san, a child prodigy who is struggling to get his business off the ground. Seo Dal-mi believes him to be her old pen pal and he plays along.

Seo Dal-mi’s actual pen pal is Han Ji-pyeong, a team leader in SH Venture Capital with good investment skills in the present day. He used Nam Do-san’s name when exchanging letters with Dal-mi on a whim and asked Do-san to play along for a while. But of course, things get complicated.

Start-Up is mainly about these 4 characters as they each work towards their dreams. The drama has a really good story, a great cast, and good humour.

The main cast of Start-Up. Left to right: Ji-pyeong, Dal-mi, Do-san, In-jae

my thoughts on Start-Up

Start-Up is a drama that quietly turned out to be really good. I did not know anything about it when I clicked on it, but episode 1 got me HOOKED.

the plot was great

The premise promises a lot and the drama delivers on every single point. The storyline about sisters who had very different lives competing was amazing. I’m a sucker for reuniting family members—no matter what the circumstances—and this gave me everything on it. The drama made sure to give all the sides of family reunion and I loved that.

The plot on start-ups was thorough and interesting. The drama gives us insights into the reality of starting a business including all the terms, processes, and how things work in the tech industry. I liked how they showed how start-ups can naively make bad decisions that ruin everything, simply because they don’t know how to notice trickery.

The members of Samsan Tech take a photo. Yong-san, Dal-mi, Do-san, Chl-san and Sa-ha all pose

the characters were well-written

The characters were well-rounded, engaging, and charismatic. They were mapped out down to the smallest details like gestures and expressions. And the drama makes us empathise and really see the main characters from their dreams and ambitions to inner fears and baggage.

I especially loved seeing the growth of characters throughout the drama. The main characters had complete storylines where we see how experiences in the drama end up as learning experiences and growth. Even the supporting characters had fully mapped out character arcs.

My favourite character was definitely Nam Do-san. He was unlike most other Kdrama heroes. I really liked that we had a character who is NOT confident or good looking from the start or has a good fashion sense. His entire appeal is his heart. It was so good.

My second favourite character was Dal-mi and In-jae’s grandmom Choi Won-deok. She was a rock throughout the drama. She supported everybody, kept them happy, gave advice, and made good food for them all. Won-deok’s personality was so nice too. She played around, argued, and bickered like a kid at times too.

Choi Won-deok in her work uniform with her hands on her hips, smiling

the storytelling format was nice

Though it wasn’t done for all of the drama, a few key episodes were told in a storytelling format which I really enjoyed. From the beginning to the end of the episode, one of the characters narrates the events and underlying emotions. These episodes also have a specific theme to show which is brought out using narration and flashbacks.

They were also concentrated on the individual characters that were narrating. So we got their past, how something affected their life and personality, and how it led to something in the present day.

Even the direction and the editing were done so well for these episodes. It truly gave the storytelling vibe and got me immersed in the story.

My favourite episode with the storytelling format has to be the 9th episode, which has a climax scene where many things come to the surface. The episode was narrated by Do-san and it was done so well.

Choi Won-deok and Seo Dal-mi with blankets around them, sitting on chairs at the beach, hugging with somber faces

the relationships were good

There were a ton of relationship types in this drama and all of them warmed my heart at least once. My favourite platonic relationships were the bonds between Seo Dal-mi and her grandmom, Ji-pyeong and Dal-mi’s grandmom, and the friendship between Do-san, Yong-san, and Chul-san. No, I cannot choose between these three.

While the relationships were really nice, I do feel like they could have gone further with a few of them. For instance, I wanted more of Ji-pyeong and Dal-mi’s grandmom. They had a good relationship but it wasn’t given the time and focus it deserved.

Another relationship is the one between Ji-pyeong and Do-san. They had the potential to show something different with them, especially with the chemistry they had, but did not use it at all. That was a total missed opportunity.

The differing relationships that Dal-mi and In-jae had with their mom was interesting which did not get the time they deserved. We had really nice scenes with them but they were few and far between.

Yong-san, Do-san and Chul-san walking about and talking

the episode time was not good

Each episode is 75 to 90 minutes long. Sometimes, the episodes felt short because of how much they showed. Other times, the episodes felt very long and many scenes felt like fillers.

There were many dragged out scenes, especially towards the end. That time could have been used to highlight the relationships more!

This drama also did one thing that I specifically don’t like. It shows the last few minutes of episodes again at the beginning of the following episodes. I like it when it is sparingly used to create intrigue or explain a plot twist. But Start-Up had it all the time, mostly for no reason. So they felt like fillers.

The episodes towards the end also had a lot of advertisements. By advertisements, I mean scenes that “subtly” showcase a brand or product clearly and hence promoting it. I once counted three advertisements back-to-back. They add up a lot of filler minutes that are of minimal relevance to the main plot, and hence they reduced the quality of episodes as well.

Advertisements like these are totally fine in dramas but they should have been better incorporated and spaced out.

Lee Sa-ha, Seo Dal-mi, Nam Do-san and Lee Chul-san looking at a computer with serious faces

the romance was so sweet

First of all, this drama has one of the worst love triangles I’ve ever seen. It’s bad because, for almost half the drama, the love triangle did not make sense at all. There wasn’t even a fighting chance for the second guy. So stringing him along until the end simply didn’t make sense. He even had a chance to do something but it wasn’t used!!!! At all! Plot-wise, it felt weird and unrealistic.

Talking about the main romance, I loved that this drama did not choose the romance pairing who had a childhood connection. Technically, both the men had a childhood connection with Seo Dal-mi but the pair that wins is the one with the lesser connection. It showed how current circumstances and actions can definitely be more than history.

The main romance did have good chemistry and storyline as well. Their relationship was comforting and stable. I really liked how both the characters were on the same page and supported each other. It was heart-warming.

My only pet peeve is that it was an office romance. I don’t like office romances. While they made it look good, I still hated the blurring of personal and professional boundaries. The way Do-san was all “I’ll make all your dreams come true” was swoon-worthy but I still hated that their professional life and their personal life are driven together. At least they knew how to keep things professional in the workplace.

Seo Dal-mi and Nam Do-san with round objects on their index fingers, reaching to connect the round objects while smiling cutely

the comedy was good

The humour and comedy were spaced out well. It never felt like too much or too little. The drama incorporated quite a bit of humour while also making sure that the seriousness or the romance were not diluted by it.

There was one tiny part that I found annoying. In one of the first episodes, there was a scene where an Indian Kpop fan asks for lassi in a coffee shop. Like!! Thanks for perpetuating wrong stereotypes of Indians??! That was unnecessary. It wasn’t funny at all.

the characters

The drama has a really good cast which brought these characters to life so well. I never saw discrepancies or contradictions. They all gelled together so well to create this great story.

Seo Dal-mi

Seo Dal-mi smiling while dressed up professionally in a party

Our main star Seo Dal-mi is a clever, cheery, determined, and ambitious woman. Bae Suzy played this character so well. We get her personality immediately which sets the tone for the entire drama.

It was interesting to see how much she was her father’s daughter and how past experiences shaped her personality and dreams. Family is very important to her, especially because she doesn’t have much of a family for most of the drama. They factor into her dreams so realistically.

My only complaint about Seo Dal-mi would be that I did not always see her as a good CEO. Although it’s highlighted in the drama that she is not as assertive as she should be, she never learnt from it and grew. She had the talent, skills, and determination, but bossing was not her thing.

Nam Do-san

Nam Do-san smiling at someone, wearing a green hoodie

My favourite character in the show! Nam Do-san is the youngest person to win the Mathematics Olympiad and even got into college at a very young age. He dropped out and went back to regular school, though. Ever since the Olympiad win, he has not had another peak in life.

In the present day, he’s struggling to find investors for his company Samsan Tech that he runs with his two best friends. He is not a social person and doesn’t even get basic social cues. His self-confidence is very low and it shows in his mannerisms. Do-san also knits when he’s stressed!

He had the most growth in the show while also remaining the same at the core. Do-san is one of the most earnest main characters I’ve seen. He simply wants to do his best and make his parents proud. When he crushes on Dal-mi, he does not hide it. He clearly shows his feelings through his actions.

Nam Joo-hyuk showed so much range by playing Do-san brilliantly. My friend (with whom I was rewatching the drama) did not even recognize the actor as the same one in School 2015. Joo-hyuk became Do-san. Everything from eye contact and the set of the jaw to the overall posture was perfect and SHOWED Do-san’s personality.

Han Ji-pyeong

Han Ji-pyeong smiling wide at Seo Dal-mi

Played by Kim Seon-ho, Han Ji-pyeong is an orphan who rose to the top using his great investment skills. When he was told to leave the orphanage on turning 18, with some money which was barely enough to rent a good place, he ended up being taken in by Dal-mi’s grandmom. That is where the story starts.

While staying with the grandmom for a while, and writing letters as a favour to her, he starts investing in stocks and earns a lot of money. It eventually paid for his college education and kickstarted a good life.

The relationship between Han Ji-pyeong and the grandmom was really nice. As an orphan who has seen unkindness, Hi-pyeong is generally wary of good people and expects the worst. We see how, even in his thirties, he tends to lash out when he receives unprompted kindness. The grandmom always understands and responds kindly, which totally broke my heart. I loved them as they bickered, cried, and hatched plans together.

I had two big problems with Han Ji-pyeong. One, he pined after Dal-mi and didn’t even do anything when he had the chance. Two, he had the least growth in the drama. And no, career success is not the growth I’m talking about. His character stayed the same. There was no real character arc.

Won In-jae/Seo In-jae

Won In-jae smiling in her office

In-jae changed her last name from Seo to Won when her mother married a rich businessman. Until the present day, In-jae never questioned her choice of going with her mother after the divorce. Seeing Dal-mi’s state was enough to reassure her. When her step-father and majority shareholder of her company fires her to instate his son in her place, she is shocked. And she becomes determined to grow a company of her own, with no help.

Won In-jae, acted by Kang Han-na, is a really nice character. I liked her ambition, her cleverness, versatility, and drive. Her faults are more open compared to other main characters—she is quite selfish and doesn’t hold back from putting others down if she thinks she’s right. But it makes for a really nice character arc.

Her growth was quieter and slower but very satisfying. The last episode was especially heart-warming because we see how far she has come since episode 1.

the soundtrack

Start-Up‘s OST was too good. Every single song was perfectly paired with scenes and complimented them so well. During the rewatch, I found myself swaying and singing to the songs when they played. It helped me immerse myself further into the story.

My favourites are the following songs:

The entire OST is amazing, though. You can click here to find the complete playlist.

discussion (INDLUDES SPOILERS)

If you don’t want to get spoiled, click here to skip to the “overall” concluding section.

#1

Now that we’re in the spoilers section, allow me to scream about the love triangle. WHAT. WAS. THAT. It was understandable in the beginning but within a few episodes, we could CLEARLY see that Ji-pyeong had zero chemistry with Dal-mi. Especially compared to Dal-mi and Do-san.

And what about those 3 years when Do-san wasn’t there?! Ji-pyeong did NOTHING. For three years. Not even enough to get Seo Dal-mi to think of him whenever she has issues. No, only three years later will they have a smidgen of progress which will be interrupted by Do-san because, of course, he’ll come in like a hero.

There could have been better ways of doing it. Maybe they did grow closer but it wasn’t enough. Maybe they dated and broke up because they realized they’re not compatible. Anything except zero progress for three years!

#2

Maybe this is random but there was a missed opportunity for a brotherly relationship between Do-san and Ji-pyeong. Imagine! After the pain of the love triangle, the two men become buddies! Ji-pyeong moves on from Dal-mi, focuses on helping others, and mentors Do-san properly.

I could totally see a budding brotherly relationship, or at least a mentor-mentee relationship, between Ji-pyeong and Do-san. Is it just me? Please tell me someone else can understand the idea as well.

#3

I liked seeing Dal-mi and In-jae much closer after 3 years but I would have liked a little more mushy scenes, LOL. I just want a ton of family reunion feels! In-jae meeting and hugging her grandmother definitely got to me. That one scene fulfilled my family reunion expectations.

#4

It was nice how the last episode showed multiple comparisons between the present-day and the beginning. It showed how far we’ve come and how much people have grown.

#5

My favourite episode was the hackathon episode! It reminded me of hackathons in my college. I used to organize hackathons with a few friends for engineering students across colleges, and it was totally like how they showed it in the drama. The 48 hours of continuous work, missed sleep, scrambling to make and deliver an idea, and figure out how to pitch and win the competition. I enjoyed it so much.

overall

Start-Up is an interesting, engaging, and heart-warming drama that you HAVE to watch. The plot, the cast, the romance, and the direction, and the editing make it worth it.

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