Super Smash Bros., Halo, The Last of Us, Fortnite… the video gaming industry has never been as hot as it is right now. Nintendo, X-Box, PlayStation, PC… you probably have at least one of these gaming platforms in your home or know someone who does. This Kdrama uses the employees of a fictitious failing video game company to teach us that we need to Level Up if we want to fight life’s toughest foes and come off conqueror.
Joybuster is a gaming software company that got its start in 2010. After years of struggling to financially stay afloat they are now in the process of being bought out and Ahn Dan-Te, better known as “the king of restructuring companies,” has just been brought in as the new CEO to save the company from completely going under. Since the man has a 100% recovery rate, reviving nine companies, he’s positive he can keep Joybuster alive. Although most of the employees left the company a small handful remains and Shin Yeon-Hwa, one of Joybuster’s designers, is one of them. She and CEO Ahn get off to a rocky start at a convention in Busan and sparks continue to fly between them, every now and then, as they work together to keep NexViper, Joybuster’s most fierce competition, from ruining them for good.
Ahn Dan-Te is the no-nonsense leader at Yoo Seong-Joon CRC and is referred to as the “ace” of restructuring companies. He was chosen by the economic journals as one of the 100 new influencers in Korean economics. Dan-Te’s mother passed away when he was a little boy and he still hasn’t been able to forgive his father for re-marrying. Because of those hurt feelings, Dan-Te keeps a distance between his father, step-mother, and younger step-brother. His best friend is Monkey, the little turtle his mother gave him before she died. Dan-Te is an even-tempered loner who takes things in stride, in fact, Shin Yeon-Hwa says he seems as though he doesn’t even bleed when he gets hurt. When told he acts arrogant, Dan-Te quickly replies, “I don’t act arrogant. I’m just superior.”
Shin Yeon-Hwa works in the design division at Joybuster. She has loved playing video games ever since she was young so it seemed only natural to get a job making them when she grew up. She has put her heart and soul into Joybuster and, even though she was aware of the company’s financial troubles, the thought of leaving never crossed her mind. Although she and CEO Ahn didn’t exactly start out on the right foot, she is determined to do her best to get along with him in order to help her team create an award-winning game and make Joybuster a top competitor in the gaming software industry.
Although Kwak Han-Cheol submitted his resume to about 500 places he still lives with his mother at her boarding house in Busan, taking odd part-time jobs here and there. When he meets Yeon-Hwa at a gaming convention he falls for the emotional yet spunky gal when he sees her cry over her company’s broken sign and yell at an ex-colleague who stole Joybtuster’s ideas. Han-Cheol is thrilled when he gets a call from Yoo Seong-Joon CRC asking him to come to Seoul for a job interview.
Bae Ya-Chae became the CEO of Arena Entertainment after Ahn Dan-Te revived the dying company. While working closely together, she fell for the capable businessman, but things are just one-sided. He appreciates having her around every now and then but isn’t interested in having anything more than a casual friendship. Pretty, sophisticated, intelligent – Bae Ya-Chae has it all.
Ahn Dan-Te isn’t my favorite character Sung Hoon has played over the years, but this talented actor found a way of making the robot-like restructuring expert likable and even, dare I say, charming. If you’re interested in reading some information about Sung Hoon you can go to my review of My Secret Romance.
The character Shin Yeon-Hwa is played by thirty-three-year-old actress Han Bo-Reum. Born with the surname Kim, Bo-Reum attended Myongji College majoring in Theater and Visual Studies. She began her career in 2011 with the drama Dream High (which I enjoyed) and the motion picture Sunday Punch. Dramas I’ve seen in which this beautiful actress has appeared are Master’s Sun, Let’s Fight Ghost, Evergreen, and Memories of the Alhambra.
I really enjoyed the fact that the two main characters had unique occupations, both of which were completely new to me. Someone who makes video games – that isn’t a very common job in Kdramaland. (The only other drama I can think of that has something to do with video games is Memories of the Alhambra.) The gaming terms and vocabulary in Level Up sometimes slipped right by me but I’m sure video game lovers will understand everything. As for Dan-Te’s occupation – I didn’t even know there was a job where someone takes over a failing company and keeps it from going belly up. The writer gets points for combining two out-of-the-ordinary careers into one story.
On the down side, Level Up took too long for any kind of romance to begin – way too long! Dan-Te is a matter-of-fact kind of guy who doesn’t show much emotion so it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t get even so much as a little flirting from him, and Yeon-Hwa wasn’t even cognizant of how she felt about her boss so she didn’t initiate anything romantic either. We wait for some kind of spark to ignite things between them but their relationship is only lukewarm at best. However, wait for it. Just when you’re about to give up on seeing any romance at all…
What would it be like to have a job fixing broken companies? I imagine I’d be constantly worried and stressed. I might even come across as cold and unfeeling. It doesn’t seem like a cheerful career, that’s for sure. In fact, Ahn Dan-Te tries to explain to Bae Ya-Chae, “If you’re always working in situations where you have to pick the least bad option in the worst situations, this is how you become.” She follows that with, “Aren’t you just a pessimist?” and he quickly tells her, “There is no one else who is more optimistic than me.” Maybe that’s why he has a 100% success rate. He’s not looking at the bad he’s inherited but rather at the good he’ll be handing over. That’s a great lesson for us all.
I’ve never been interested in video games because my eye/hand coordination stinks. However, eight months ago my friend told me it was a proven fact that Tetris helps brain function and I began looking at games in a different way. Interested in improving my cognitive abilities, I had my roommate set Tetris up for me and I began to play. I was okay until those blocks began falling faster and then I tensed up. However, little by little my abilities began to improve and for the first time I reached level 13 just this week. As I begin now to push for level 14, I wish you luck in whatever game you may be trying to conquer.
Level Up’s opening song is a perfect fit for the story. It sounds exactly like music in a video game. There are two beautiful ballads on the soundtrack. Limpid Snow, sung by Jeon Keon-Ho who is accompanied by one simple acoustic guitar until a little more than halfway through when additional instruments join in. It’s absolutely lovely. The other ballad is Walk Alone, softly sung by Jeje. The first verse and chorus are accompanied by just a piano and then, like Limpid Snow, other instruments are added until the very end when it goes back to the lone piano. Both songs have a very comforting sound to them. There’s also a fun scene in the show where Shin Yeon-Hwa challenges Ahn Dan-Te to sing at a company dinner. Not one to back away from a challenge, he ends up doing some great rapping with a boy band on a mobile stage right there on the street in front of the restaurant where his employees are eating. CEO Ahn never does anything halfway!
This drama’s visuals are great. CEO Ahn moves Joybuster to a warehouse in the country in order to save money on rent. The building is large, empty, and cold at first but the small handful of employees working together make it a warm and inviting office space. It’s one, huge, open room with awesome stairs. And the building is right by a beautiful lake. I’d love to work there.
To end my review I want to leave you with some inspiring words that just may help you Level Up as you fight your way through life’s troubles.
“Failure is within reach, but success is far away. But being successful is easier than you think. You just need to start over. You try until you get there.” – Kwak Han-Cheol quoting Ahn Dan-Te
Two unique careers
Two beautiful ballads on the soundtrack
Opening song is perfect for the subject matter
Only 12 episodes/hours
Romance is lacking
A few minor “oops”
Video game terminology is a bit difficult to understand for non-gamers