I didn’t care for Start Up. I felt it was extremely cliché, easily predictable, and unrealistically optimistic. It is patently obvious that as the ending credits are rolling and the upbeat song is playing the writer is hoping the audience is grinning from ear to ear and more determined than ever to follow their dream – fighting! Sorry, but that’s not anywhere near how I felt.
“There’s no such thing as a harmless lie. It always ends up hurting someone.” – Start Up
When Seo Dal-Mi’s parents divorced and her older sister chose to go to the U.S. with her mother and rich new step-father, Dal-Mi’s grandmother came up with an idea to ease her granddaughter’s loneliness – she invented a pen pal for her. Enlisting the help of a kind young man named Han Ji-Pyeong, the two randomly chose a name from a newspaper and used that boy’s identity to write letters to Dal-Mi. Although the pen pals never met, the letters she received from Ji-Pyeong (under the name Nam Do-San) kept Dal-Mi from feeling alone and gave her strength through a very difficult time. Even though it’s been 15 years since she last got a letter from her pen pal, Dal-Mi confides in her grandmother and announces she has decided to find Do-San and talk him into posing as her boyfriend and business partner in front of her sister who is now back in Korea as the CEO of her own company. So once again, unbeknownst to Dal-Mi, her grandmother and Ji-Pyeong work together to find the real Nam Do-San and persuade him into pretending he’s the long lost pen pal that wrote the letters, just for one night. But the minute Do-San meets Dal-Mi he falls for her and despite Ji-Pyeong’s objections, he continues to meet with her. As time goes on, both men find themself falling for Dal-Mi but who will win her heart – the man who actually wrote the letters so long ago or the man she thinks wrote them?
Although Seo Dal-Mi was accepted into a decent college she dropped out for financial reasons and works at a big corporation, but has yet to become one of their permanent employees. Dal-Mi has an instinctive way of knowing what to do in a difficult situation and works well under pressure. She dreams of becoming the CEO of a huge company and hopes to one day be as successful as Steve Jobs. Dal-Mi desperately wants to prove to In-Jae that she doesn’t regret her decision to stay with their father and that she is no worse off than her rich, successful big sister. Although Dal-Mi has dated a little throughout the years, no one has been able to win her heart simply because they weren’t Do-San. His letters meant the world to her and she has loved him ever she received the first one.
While he was still in middle school, Nam Do-San became the youngest person ever to win the high school Mathematical Olympiad. Although his friends think he’s a genius, Do-San believes he’s worthless at everything except coding. With the financial backing of his parents, Do-San became the CEO of Samsan Tech, a computer tech company he runs with the help of his two friends from college. Together they have dreams of turning their tiny, obscure company into one worthy of standing alongside the giants in Silicon Valley but right now they’re stuck in a cheap rooftop office. Do-San is a bit slow on the uptake, not understanding metaphors and explaining in scientific terms why something is ridiculous whenever someone mentions things that are not 100% fact-based. Dal-Mi sees Do-San as a true gentleman whereas Ji-Pyeong thinks he resembles a robot.
When Han Ji-Pyeong became 18-years-old the orphanage he grew up in gave him $1,800 and turned him out into the world. But that wasn’t all he took with him – the smart young man had a hundred million won – cyber money – which he won for coming in first place at a virtual investment competition. Dal-Mi’s grandmother ran into him one rainy night and, because he had nowhere to go, allowed him to stay in the back room of her corn dog shop. In wanting to repay the woman’s kindness Ji-Pyeong went along with her idea and wrote letters to Dal-Mi for a few months before he left for college. After 15 years he is now the Senior Manager of SH Venture Capital. With his office at Sand Box, he sometimes mentors start-ups there. Ji-Pyeong is absolutely brilliant when it comes to investments, having a 100% success rate in the companies he’s backed. This man is intelligent, kind, thoughtful, rich, and has a killer smile – he’s so close to being perfect.
When her parents divorced, Won In-Jae chose to follow her mother who married a very wealthy man. The family moved to America for her stepfather’s business but is now back in South Korea. In-Jae is the CEO of Nature Morning, of which her stepfather is the chairman. Because she now has money and status, she holds herself in high regard and looks down on Dal-Mi, pitying her for having grown up poor because she chose to stay with their financially unsuccessful father.
Lee Chul-San and Kim Yong-San are two-thirds of Samsan Tech. They met Do-San while they were all studying computer engineering in college. As students, the three young men began a knitting club with the express purpose of meeting girls but that venture proved unsuccessful and all three have yet to go on their first date. Both Chul-San and Yong-San regard Do-San as the best tech guy in the business.
Jeong Sa-Ha left the legal profession to go into design but now she’s turned her back on that to try her luck at Sand Box. She wants to be part of a successful start-up but reluctantly accepts Dal-Mi offer of a spot on the not-too-impressive Samsan Tech team because it was her only option if she wanted to stay at Sand Box. Sa-Ha is confident, a tiny bit arrogant, and speaks English well.
Choi Won-Deok is Dal-Mi’s grandmother. She had a corn dog shop but sold it to put Dal-Mi through college and now sells her corn dogs out of a truck. Her business, Chung-Myung Corn Dogs, was named after her son, Dal-Mi’s dad. This lady is a complete angel – loving, forgiving, sympathetic – a woman who wholeheartedly embraces and practices her Catholic religion’s beliefs by helping those in need.
Dal-Mi’s father, Seo Chung-Myung, quit his job to start his own business. However, each venture was a failure, and his wife, tired of the financial insecurity, took their oldest daughter with her when she divorced him. He was very close to his youngest child, Dal-Mi, who chose to stay with him after the divorce. Chung-Myung’s dream was to make the world a better place through his business ideas.
I’ve seen Bae Suzy, the actress who plays Seo Dal-Mi, in a few very good Kdramas (Dream High, Uncontrollably Fond, and Vagabond). You can find some information about her by clicking on my Uncontrollably Fond review.
The part of Nam Do-San is played by actor Nam Joo-Hyuk. You can go to my review of Bride of the Water God if you want to read a bit about him.
Kim Seon-Ho majored in Broadcasting at Seoul Institute of the Arts and while there joined a theater group. In 2009, he began his entertainment career with the stage production of New Boeing Boeing. A director saw Seon-Ho perform in the play Closer and recommended him for a part in the 2017 Kdrama Chief Kim, which was Seon-Ho’s small screen debut. Later that same year, although he auditioned for just a small part in Strongest Deliveryman, he was given the part of the second male lead character. He finished off 2017 with his third Kdrama, Two Cops, for which he earned an Excellence Award and a Best New Actor Award. His first TV male lead was in the drama special You Drive Me Crazy (so worth your time). He’s been in several other dramas, but it’s the one called Catch the Ghost, in which he plays opposite Moon Geung-Young, that I’m so anxious to see but still have yet to find. The more I watch Kim Seon-Ho the more I like him and his performance as Han Ji-Pyeong just solidified himself a spot on my favorite actors list. The character Han Ji-Pyeong is my idea of the perfect boyfriend. I liked him as much as Min-Jyeong, from Winter Sonata, and Choi Seung-Hee, from Which Star Are You From?.
Sand Box was started by successful entrepreneurs to help fledgling entrepreneurs, and soon became Asia’s largest start-up accelerating center. It’s an organization that invests in and trains start-up businesses, kind of like a stepping stone to a successful and lucrative business. About seven years ago I flew out to Silicon Valley to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Since they had just landed a job at FaceBook I got to go on a tour of the campus there and what flashed through my mind was “wow.” Everything there was new, free, and fun (FaceBook had tons of food everywhere, vending machines that had all kinds of computer gadgets in it and you didn’t have to put money in the thing to get out what you wanted, and some teams even held their meetings in a giant-size ball pit!) To me, Sand Box seemed to have been modeled after FaceBook’s campus. The Samsan Tech guys’ reactions are so cute when they’re told they can eat, for free, all the food they want and, just like kids on Christmas morning, they jump around and yell when they see all the modern furniture and computers in their new office.
I know Start Up had great reviews and has received a good many accolades but I just didn’t care for it. By the time the second episode was over, I knew exactly how it would end – no twists, no surprises. Because the storyline is so predictable I’m going to mention a few things that could be considered spoilers by people who aren’t avid Kdrama watchers, so you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph and just go onto the next. Okay… If you look at the show’s promotional picture you’ll know exactly who Dal-Mi ends up with. That wouldn’t have bothered me except for the fact that during the show she mentions she’s not sure which guy she likes. However, she just kind of brushes that aside and doesn’t give herself a chance to discover which one of the two she has feelings for. The way I look at it, if you like two different people, you need to give yourself an equal chance with both of them. However, Dal-Mi didn’t do that. She went right on doing what she always did. Why did the writer have her say that if they weren’t going to have her be fair in figuring it out? The other thing that bothered me was that In-Jae was so money hungry when she was younger that she put up with a horribly sadistic stepfather just so she could have wealth, status, and power. Then, while staying in character with what she had always known, he takes back what he had given her, she turns her back on him and becomes his enemy. I’m sure most people saw it as repentance but to me, she was just keeping in character with who she had always been – a selfish, greedy person willing to betray anyone that wouldn’t give her what she wanted. There’s my rant, so let’s move on now.
Start Up has a pretty extensive soundtrack that sports lots of impressive talent. Naming just a small few – Red Velvet, Davichi, Cheeze, Ailee, Sandeul from B1A4, Kim Feel, Jung Eun-Ji from Apink, and even Bae Suzy who sings the pretty ballad My Dear Love. Songs you should look forward to hearing are Running and Future.
As I mentioned a few paragraphs before, Sand Box is the main backdrop of the show. It’s a little island that only has two roads going in and out of it. In contrast, the old rooftop office where Samsan Tech was launched is the exact opposite of Sand Box.
Although I wasn’t extremely thrilled with Start Up, please don’t forget that I said there’s nothing really wrong with the show. For me, it was just disappointing, that’s all. The reason I scored it low was because it just didn’t have any wow to it. In closing, I’ll leave you with a great quote from the show…
“Never let someone’s opinion become your reality.” – Les Brown
Kim Seon-Ho’s acting
The character Han Ji-Pyeong
No horrible bad guy