Around the end of 2019, I discovered Ji-Chang-Wook was scheduled to be in a Kdrama called Backstreet Rookie so I excitedly jotted that title onto my watch list. I waited impatiently for the show to be released in its entirety so that I could begin watching it. Once all 16 episodes were available I began searching for it but was unable to find it on a platform I use. I left it on my list, however, hopeful that someday I would be able to see it even if that ended up being years down the road. Then, last week I was thrilled to see that it is now being offered on Viki.com and I immediately started to watch it, fearful that if I waited too long it may be removed before I got around to seeing it. So… here’s my review of this Kdrama romance I had waited so long to see.
Just dumped by his girlfriend, Choi Dae-Hyun encounters a few high school girls who ask him to purchase cigarettes for them. Although he’s drunk from attempting to drown his sorrows in alcohol, he still has the presence of mind to refuse their request and returns from the nearby convenience store with breath mints instead of the cigarettes and proceeds to lecture the students about their delinquent behavior. One of the girls, Jung Saet-Byul, who had fallen for the handsome young man the second she laid eyes on him, is touched at what seemed to be his sincere concern for her health and well-being and unashamedly kisses him smack-dab on the lips. Then, after a quick flirtatious conversation, she blows him a kiss, gives a seductive wink, and is on her way.
Three years later, Dae-Hyun is exhausted from working multiple shifts at his convenience store and, while accidentally asleep by the cash register, is awakened from his cat-nap to discover a gorgeous woman standing in front of him. There to apply for the part-time job that is advertised on a sign on the front window of the store is Saet-Byul, and Dae-Hyun instantly recognizes the young lady as the student that boldly kissed him a few years earlier. At first, he is adamant about sending her away but, using her obvious wit and charms, she’s able to get him to let down his defenses and he ends up hiring her temporarily, explaining that her permanency would depend on her work performance.
As Dae-Hyun’s relationship with his girlfriend slowly starts to deteriorate due to their obvious differences, he begins to see his always-cheerful, hard-working part-timer in a new light.
When Choi Dae-Hyun was a teenager an incident happened that made him decide he would spend the rest of his life helping others and that’s exactly what he’s done. He once performed C.P.R. on a guy at work and saved the man’s life. He had been employed at GS Retail headquarters on the P.R. team but left three years ago and opened one of its franchised convenience stores. Although Dae-Hyun works tirelessly as the general manager to build up the store so it can turn a healthy profit, his regular customers mainly consist of teenage girls who come into the store each day after school just to purchase the items on special and take a picture with the gorgeous young man. Dae-Hyun is a respectful son, a helpful store manager, a loyal friend, an attentive boyfriend, and a sympathetic stranger – just an all-around honorable man. He possesses an infectious, positive attitude and is hardly ever seen without a big smile on his face.
Jung Saet-Byul’s mother passed away when she was just a young girl so she and her little sister were single-handedly raised by their loving father. Saet-Byul is an amazing fighter who was trained by her own martial arts master father who had run a Taekwondo studio before he passed away. Although she can win any fight she may get into, she’s never the one to throw the first punch, preferring to only use her skills in the defense of others. Because Saet-Byul never graduated high school, having been expelled her senior year, she would someday like to earn a G.E.D. certificate. The lovely young woman is a diligent worker and has taken multiple part-time jobs in order to raise her younger sister after their father’s death. Saet-Byul is sweet, charming, dependable, responsible, diligent, and friendly, with a sparkling personality to boot – someone who does her best and gives her all at whatever she attempts to do. She has been in love with Dae-Hyun for many years.
For the past two years, Dae-Hyun has been dating Yoo Yeon-Joo, a wealthy, slightly older, woman who studied abroad and is now the P.R. Department team leader at GS Retail headquarters, which means she had been Dae-Hyun’s boss before he opened the convenience store. She is aware of that fact that Dae-Hyun would do anything for her but often takes his love for granted. Although she likes Dae-Hyun, she has never introduced him to her parents simply because he comes from a family that is far below her family’s social and financial status. She and successful businessman Jo Seung-Joon, the son of GS Retail’s chairman, grew up together and, as a result, have a very close relationship. Even though Dae-Hyun is not her first priority, she doesn’t like it when the beautiful and capable Saet-Buyl comes into the picture.
Kang Ji-Wook and Saet-Byul grew up together but lost contact with each other when they got older. The young man is now a popular and celebrated movie star and is thrilled when he accidentally crosses paths with his old friend once again. Ji-Wook has had a crush on Saet-Byul since they were kids and now that they are back in contact with one another he is hopeful their relationship can grow into one of a romantic nature.
Han Dal-Sik lives and works in a small apartment across the street from Dae-Hyun’s convenience store. He and the manager have been friends for many, many years and he often steps in for Dae-Hyun and tends the store on the spur of the moment, being paid in food – as much of the expired stuff as he can eat. He makes a meager living by authoring and illustrating erotic, adult webtoons under the pseudonym Fire Volcano, but would much rather write wholesome romances. He wears flamboyantly colored flowered shirts, open-toed sandals, and sports dirty/smelly dreadlocks that attract flies.
Seat-Byul‘s younger sister, Jung Eun-Byul, is much more interested in singing and dancing than she is in finishing high school. She’s focused on becoming an idol and she’ll do whatever it takes to make her dream come true. Eun-Byul resents the fact that Saet-Byul has taken upon herself the responsibility to properly raise her little sister and refuses to listen to her older sibling, preferring instead to put her school studies on the back burner and pursue her goal of becoming a Kpop star. Unfortunately, she hangs around a trio of malicious bullies even though she herself is not one.
Dae-Hyun’s mother is the breadwinner of the family, selling all kinds of insurance to take care of those she loves. She’s loud, domineering, and often angry at her husband who hasn’t held a job in years. Although Dae-Hyun’s father tries to help around the house by cooking and cleaning he does his best to weasel his way out of work as much as possible. Although they love each other, Dae-Hyun’s mom isn’t happy with the way her life has turned out and his dad secretly dreams of being able to meet his first love. Dae-Hyun’s older sister is married but sponges off her family as often as she can – secretly piling food from the convenience store into a suitcase to take home, stealing money from the store’s cash register, taking her mom shopping and leaving her to pay the bill… the woman is shady, stingy, sneaky, and just plain selfish.
For information on Ji Chang-Wook, the darling and talented actor who plays sweetheart Choi Dae-Hyun, you can pop on over to my review of The K2. (He’s been on my favorite actors list since I first started this website.)
The gal that plays the part of Jung Saet-Byul is Kim Yoo-Jung. You can read about her in my Moonlight Drawn by Clouds review. She is one of the actresses on my favorites list.
Dae-Hyun and Saet-Byul are nothing short of perfect soulmates. They have the same kind of chipper attitudes and warm smiles and their teasing is endearingly flirtatious. They just click, right from the moment they meet. They’re even able to perfectly communicate with each other simply by hand gestures and facial expressions. They’re definitely worthy of being grouped in with fantastic couples like Choi Seung-Hee and Kim Bok-Shil (Which Star Are You From?), Kim Bong-Do and Choi Hee-Jin (Queen In-Hyun’s Man), Choi Hyun-Wook and Seo Yoo-Kyung (Pasta), and Baek Seung-Jo and Oh Ha-Ni (Playful Kiss). Sadly, the only onscreen kiss in Backstreet Rookie is right at the beginning of the show. In a few other scenes, they come pretty close to kissing again but, unfortunately, the could-be kisses never come to fruition. Darn!
Choi Dae-Hyun is one of the most lovable, truly decent male characters in all of Kdrama and Ji-Chang-Wook portrayed him perfectly. There’s a little boy that comes into the store for food but is unable to pay for it so Dae-Hyun cheerfully pretends to check him out, acting as if the child had paid for it all. The boy leaves the store with some free food, along with a couple chocolate bars Dae-Hyun claims he won, and the kid has a huge smile on his face. What could have been a humiliating experience for the boy ends up being a self-esteem booster. That scene is precious, and sympathetic Dae-Hyun succeeded in melting my heart.
The fact that this romance is set admid the backdrop of a convenience store is wonderfully original and though it may sound boring there’s, surprisingly, a lot that goes on there. I love it when the characters in a show have professions uncommonly seen in Kdramas.
Seat-Byul does a fair amount of fighting throughout the story which means we get to see Kim Yoo-Jung strut her stuff, showing Kdrama fans she’s more than just a cute little actress. You can see her practicing a fighting scene in some behind-the-scenes footage on YouTube.
I’ve mentioned a few times in past reviews that I dislike animated silliness in dramas – red cheeks when someone’s embarrassed, a light bulb over someone’s head when they get an idea, hearts in someone’s eyes when they see someone they like… For me, those kinds of things cheapen a show. However, once in a great while I’ll see a drama that employs those kinds of silly things and, because I’m enjoying the drama so much, I don’t seem to mind it. Fated to Love You is like that and so is Backstreet Rookie. Did I like the people flying through the air when Saet-Byul kicked them or seeing the electricity bolts coming from Dae-Hyun’s dad’s body when his mother smacks him? Nope! Not one bit. However, the show was so entertaining that I just ignored those things.
I know this is going to sound trivial but it was pretty exciting to me – Dae-Hyun’s convenience store sold my favorite kind of gum, Lotte Xylitol Apple Mint flavor! Look carefully and you’ll see it right in front of the cash register and at the front of the store, right as people walk in. I love that gum and have only been able to buy it at an Asian grocery store the next city over from mine. I’d love to be able to go into Dae-Hyun’s store to buy it. How fun would that be?
There isn’t a single song on the soundtrack that stood out to me as wow, but there was nothing to boo at so, collectively, I award it a solid B. Something, performed by Kang Daniel, is probably the prettiest and most used ballad throughout the show while Crazy, sung by April, is a wonderfully fun uptempo song that we hear quite often.
Of course, Dae-Hyun’s convenience store is the main background of the show. It’s a fair-sized place with lots of windows that bring in the sunlight, brightening up the interior. It is always neat and clean and there are tables, chairs, and umbrellas outside so customers can eat and visit in the good outdoors. It’s a very inviting place. Dae-Hyun’s house (he lives with his parents) is a decent two-story home that, although it may not be anything near what someone might consider fancy, is comfortable and has everything anyone might need.
Backstreet Rookie is a fun romance packed with likable, personable characters and is filled to the brim with heart-fluttering flirting. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, hurry on over to Viki.com and give it a try. I think you’ll be glad you did. For me, it was definitely worth the long wait!
Lovable character Choi Dae-Hyun
Dae-Hyun and Saet-Byul ‘s chemistry
Mostly decent fight scenes
Not enough “skinship”/kisses
Silly animated stuff