just between lovers

Just Between Lovers Recap and Analysis Episode 1

just between lovers

Hold onto your seats, folks! This is a long one! This is my first recap and analysis of a full-length Kdrama episode. I’m going to try to sprinkle it with some pictures to break up the text but if you want to skip to the full analysis at the bottom go ahead and click here now.

Just Between Lovers Recap Episode 1

We are introduced to two little girls. One is younger and is getting her hair and makeup done by her mother. The other one, Moon-Soo, is sitting around pouting and complaining about having to go to the photo shoot for her little sister. Her mom says that she can’t be two places at once. Mom tells the older daughter , Moon-Soo, that she needs to reschedule the meeting with her girl friend. The older daughter texts the boy and the younger sister tattles on her. 

(Set up here by the Just Between Lovers writers. Little sister is the favorite. She’s dolled up and given a cellphone to use even though her older sister doesn’t yet have one.

Mom drops them off at the event. Moon-Soo asks her mom when she’s going to get her own cellphone and her mom brushes the question off, telling her they’ll both be late and then drives away leaving her daughters in front of the mall. 

(This reinforces that her mom has a favorite but doesn’t want to admit to it. Mom leaving little sister in Moon-Soo’s care shows that Moon-Soo is responsible and will step up when needed.

The younger sister tugs on Moon-Soo’s sleeve and points to the sky. “The weather is nice. Look at the sky.” Moon-Soo looks up and then shields her eyes. The sun begins to come through to clouds and she squints. 

(I have a feeling this is foreshadowing!)

Cut to the mall where there are glittering stars and moons in the open stair area. The little sister is getting her makeup redone. Moon-Soo is sweating. The makeup is done and the little sister hands the cellphone her mom gave her to Moon-Soo because she received a text from the boy. Moon-Soo goes to meet him, leaving her sister behind. She goes up one flight of stairs and pauses by an ice cream shop to put on lipgloss. The building begins to shake and then collapses. (It was here I had to pause and Google if malls collapsing was a common occurrence. This is like the third one I’ve seen mentioned in a K-drama. The Sampoong Group Mall Collapse happened in Seoul, South Korea in 1995. Very traumatic for the people of South Korea. I see now why it has occurred in so many dramas. Just like we in the States have taken traumatic events and weaved them into our stories, so too have the South Korean Kdrama writers. I’m bracing myself now for what’s to come!)

Moon-Soo, older now, wakes up at 3:59am, one minute before her alarm. It was a dream, she said, that has the same ending no matter what she does. 

Moon-Soo works at a Bath house. After opening she looks out at the city, taking a moment to enjoy the view and the breeze. 

We cut to lots of men who are standing around asking for their pay. The manager tries to explain and this one guy keeps interrupting. It’s our hero, Gang-Doo and he has a cut on his chin, a bandaid over his left eyebrow and tattered looking clothes. The manager tells him to step forward. The manager punches him and then harasses him some more. Gang-Doo only lets him get in one punch before doing a few of his own, demanding his pay. 

(We can get a sense already of Gang-Doo’s character just from these first few minutes.)

Moon-Soo is interested in architecture. She has blueprints on her desk and is making paper models during her spare time at the bath house. 

She goes to her mom’s room and wakes her up so that she can do some hair for a customer. When her mom walks out the older daughter finds empty bottles of soju. She recycles them and then heads away.

Gang-Doo is sitting hear the water’s edge, lip bloodied. A guy who seems to have special needs comes up, addresses our hero as Hyung and asks “Did you get in another fight again?” (The hero continues to be developed. He’s a fighter.) He says something along the lines of “If I look this bad, how do you think the other guy looks?” The guy shares his meat on a stick and then our hero gets a phone call and is called off to a job. The two go together after the guy says “You always work and never get paid. Play with me instead.” And he replies “I can’t. Because I don’t have a good mom like you do.” 

The young guy follows Gang-Doo to where he’s going to work. The streets are filled with scantily dressed women and foreigners. The guy says that this is a place his mom tells him he shouldn’t ever go because it’s dangerous. Gang-Doo says “Anything you can do making money is dangerous.” The hero tells him he should go home. He saves the guy from being conned by a scantily clad woman and then sends him on his way before ducking into a place called Mary & Club. 

Moon-Soo goes into talk to her boss. She explains that the blueprint is wrong and that built the way it is it could collapse and demands he have it redone. The boss says that’s not his job, his job is just to make the models and tells her to go do what she’s getting paid to do. She explains that the spacing on the support beams are too far apart and asks him if he’d want his kids living there. When he frowns she smiles knowing she’s won. She tells him she wants it redone and that no matter what she’ll get it done on time and then turns to leave.

When she’s gone we see another man come out from the office behind the bookshelves and looks at the blueprints. (I’m pretty sure he looks like second male lead material!

Back at home Moon-Soo is doing something on her laptop and her friend (and roommate?) Wan-Jin, is trying to draw her romance comic and is having writer’s block. (I think we are all about to relate) “How can I make them break up again?” She cries at Moon-Soo’s feet. “I wonder why I have to agonize over these two characters being lovey-dovey with each other.” 

Moon-Soo: Aren’t you going to make them get back together anyway?

Wan-Jin: Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. They are going to get back together but why would they break up? Why?? In other cartoons, people say it’s too chaotic since the main character acts as he pleases. But these two, they don’t budge.

Moon-Soo: Why do you need reasons? Is there a specific reason why people would get together or break up?

Wan-Jin: Don’t you know logical development? Don’t you know that the story has to make sense or it needs to be justifiable?

Moon-Soo: Forget about all that. You need to draw your main character more beautifully. Your online cartoon is a romance, but you’re being needlessly realistic. Make the main character a drop dead beauty. Then even if it’s not logical, everything makes sense. 

Wan-Jin ponders that as she goes back to her computer and drawing tablet. Moon-Soo gets a phone call and it’s her boss. Her boss says there is a good opportunity for her to work on Bio Town and she tells him that if they want a study model she isn’t going to do it. The boss tells her that they’re going to compensate her well. 

Cut to Gang-Doo and he’s at the back of a restaurant eating instant ramen. He asks a waiter why “she” isn’t there yet because “she” asked him there. “She” comes to the back, looking angry and asks for a glass of water. After she calms down he asks if she’s okay (character trait: caring) and then she explains that a guy beat up one of her girls. And then she mentions Bio Town is being built. She says the guy who beat up the girl is a manger working on the build. She tells Gang-Doo to go further up the ladder to the director of the company building Bio Town instead. She tells him to pretend that the girl that got beat up is his younger sister. She wants him to get settlement money. He says he’ll take 20% of what he gets.

He stares at the business card: Cheong Yoo Construction – Jeong Yoo Taek

Later that evening Moon-Soo sees her mom grabbing soju and tells her to stop drinking because she has to manage the bath house in the morning. Her mom asks Moon-Soo if she remembers what tomorrow is and takes the soju back and goes to sit down and drink it. The sister grabs some food and asks her mom to eat while drinking. Her mom pushes the food onto the floor. Moon-Soo drinks and eats the food her mom rejected. 

Gang-Doo is outside and lights a cigarette. He stares at the business card.

Flashback: His dad is trying to leave with Gang-Doo who is holding a soccer ball. His dad’s boss comes and tells him he needs to do more work before he goes. Gang-Doo is directed to go across the street and eat some ice cream while he waits. He is in the ice cream store when the mall collapses. (Is ice cream going to be significant later on? Second time it’s come up.

Gang-Doo goes to the director’s office and demands money. He sees Bio Town on the computer when he’s there. “Seeing the world from up here, don’t people seem like people to you?” Gang-Doo asks the Director. 

At her interview Moon-Soo is asked whether she knows the CEO personally, Seo Joo Won, the architect because he wants to work with her personally. He tells her she’s going to be working in the office full time. She seems taken aback and unsure until she sees a blueprint on the desk. Seeing the design she asks “When can I start?” 

Moon-Soo is walking around the office examining things and then the CEO calls and tells the co-worker he needs a blueprint. The co-worker looks at Moon-Soo, hoping she’ll take it to him.

Joo Won is at a fancy office building trying to get to his appointment but someone has used his name. When he arrives at the Director’s office he sees Gang-Doo standing over him. Joo Won carefully asks if he was too early. Gang-Doo says he’s done and as he’s passing by Joo Won grabs his arm and tells him what his name is. Gang-Doo slaps his hand off and says he didn’t ask. Joo Won says he thought he’d like to know who the name really belonged to since Gang-Doo used it to get in. Gang-Doo warns him not to touch someone he doesn’t know and then leaves. 

Moon-Soo arrives at the very tall building as Joo Won texts and tells her to meet him in front of the elevator on the 16th floor. We cut to her in the stairwell, huffing up the flights of stairs, the file in her hand. As she’s almost to the top she runs into Gang-Doo. He scares her, she almost falls back but he grabs onto her and pulls her foward, her cheek lands against his chest as she clutches onto his shirt.

Without looking at her face he says, “Look in front of you when you walk.” After a moment he says, “Are you… going to stay like this?” She quickly steps away and avoids eye contact as he steps around her and continues down the stairs. She catches a glimpse of his face then but he doesn’t look up. 

She finally makes it upstairs and introduces herself to Joo Won, through gasps for air. He thanks her and then tells her to take the elevator. She continues to gasp and shakes her head saying that the stairs are more comfortable for her. He stares after her after realizing that she just climbed 16 flights of stairs. 

Outside Gang-Doo is walking and stops, flexing his leg. He glances at the sky and then approaches a street vendor, asking if he has an umbrella. When he comes back with one he tells the street vendor to put them out front because it’s going to rain. The street vendor says it’s forecasted to be sunny. Gang-Doo opens his umbrella and walks away. 

Moon-Soo is walking with a cake box in her hand. It starts to rain and she runs for cover under a bus station. Joo Won honks as he pulls up to the curb and tells her to get in. She declines and he insists she gets in. Joo Won apologizes for making her run an errand when she isn’t officially employed yet. (Character trait: considerate) And he tells her that it was all for nothing because the meeting was cancelled. He apologizes again and she asks him to stop apologizing because it makes her uncomfortable. He is about to apologize again and then catches himself. He says it’s a habit. She says it’s better than never apologizing. He tells her that he overheard her comments on his blueprints and that’s why he hired her. He also mentions her walking up 16 flights. Why did you skip the elevator? She replies, “Just because it’s a bit stuffy not being able to see outside.” (This is a PTSD side effect from what happened to her at the shopping mall disaster.

Gang-Doo receives payment for his job and the boss lady asks him to work for her. He says no. Asks him to have a drink. He says no. Why? “There are no windows here. It’s stuffy.” (We can see that these two characters are suffering from similar PTSD symptoms.) Before he goes he asks the boss lady to help him get a job on the construction site of Bio Town.  Gang-Doo goes to a lady who runs an underground medical clinic. He gives her money and she gives him painkillers. She warns him not to take too many or he’ll ruin his liver. (Foreshadowing??) She takes what she needs from his money envelope and then hands it back. He says he wants the rest to go to his sister. She scolds him for giving all his money to his younger sister, but he insists and then leaves. 

Moon-Soo goes home and her mom isn’t there. She finds her mom arguing with ladies in the neighborhood. One says, “You should be ashamed! If you opened up your bath house with the money you sold out your child for, you should put your head down and live a diligent life. All you ever do is drink and go around all over the neighborhood. Aigoo, you’re shameless.” Blinking back tears, Moon-Soo gathers her mom, pays for her drinks and then brings her home. On the way back her mom asks “Do you also think I’m being unreasonable? Did I seem that way?” Moon-Soo says yes and asks why she did that. Her mom says, “So I won’t forget her. I should get yelled at so that I won’t forget that I had to send off Yeon Soo first. If I don’t, I forget that sometimes.” 

Moon-Soo: If you can, forget it. I really can’t remember it either. 

Mom: You and I are different. Mom needs to remember because this is all my fault. 

Moon-Soo: Why is it your fault?

Mom: It is. It’s the mother’s fault when the child goes first. If I live well, they’ll say I live well. If I destroy myself, they’ll say I couldn’t come to my senses even after letting my child die. If I laugh or cry, people will point fingers at me. So, even if I drink and throw a tantrum, don’t hate me too much. 

Moon-soo wipes away her tear and follows after her mom. Later she puts her mom to bed and then sits down with the cake, three candles on it. She starts to light them but hesitates and looks at a picture of her sister: “You don’t age anyway.” She takes out the candles and eats the cake. 

Flashback: Her mom is in the ER, she says she’s so relieved that Moon-Soo is alive. Then she realizes that her sister isn’t there and starts to freak out. The fact that Moon-Soo survived is clouded by the loss of her sister. After her dad confirms the body of her little sister her mom turns to her and says, “I told you to be together. I told you to be together!” 

The dad then turns to the mom, “What about you? Where were you, leaving your two kids behind? I told you not to go around selling out our daughter!” 

Mom: Am I the only one who did wrong? This is my fault? Who’s the one who didn’t even care for the kids because you were so busy outside the home? Where were you when I was going all over the place looking for our daughter? Where were you?

Poor Moon-Soo had to witness all of this. Her dad looks at her and says, “you still don’t remember? What happened at the time of the accident?” She shakes her head. He sighs. “Forget it. It’s not something pretty to remember anyway. It’s a relief that at least you made it alive. Despite everything, it could have been worse.”

There’s no such thing as being relieved because things could have been worse. Being unfortunate is just feeling miserable. 

Moon-Soo leaves the cake and goes to get noodles at her dad’s shop. He brings her water and she asks for noodles, spicy. They don’t look at each other. Moon-Soo asks, “aren’t you going to ask if mom is doing well?” He doesn’t answer. He serves her noodles and she tells him that he should’ve stopped by because it was her sister’s birthday. She puts in lots of spice and eats her noddles. He sits at a table nearby and turns on the TV while she eats. 

Gang-Doo is at home and he is having a PTSD nightmare about the incident. He wakes up, sweating and has to catch his breath. He goes to his painkillers and takes some, washing them down with beer. He looks at the scar on his leg from the rebar that went through in the mall. The neighbor down the hall is being loud while they have sex. He bangs on the door and tells them to knock off the noise and just do it already. He goes out and sees the construction manager eating noodles in a shop. He stops and stares at him. He knocks on the window. “Is it good? You feel like drinking when you fired me and ripped me off? I get all the suffering and you get all the fun?” When he sees the manager is ignoring him he begins to yell, “These days! Bad guys live well comfortably! What the crap is this?! Right? Old man?!” The manager gets up and comes outside “Why are you pointing at me?” Gang-Doo doesn’t back down, “Are you happy that you ripped me off, but you’re eating pork? If you’re old enough, act your age, you brat. Don’t rip people off, man.” A few big guys approach from behind and Gang-Doo realizes he’s misstepped. He’s outnumbered and they start to encroach on him. 

Moon-Soo is passing by as the gang is leaving. She pauses when she spots a lifeless hand in the alley. In the rain she approaches slowly and then sees him bleeding badly, she tries to get him to speak up, She asks him if he’s okay, gently tapping his shoulder. Bleeding, he grabs her arm and doesn’t let go. They meet eyes. 

She brings him to her dad, explaining that no hospitals were open and she couldn’t leave him on the street. Her dad gets a first aid kit but before he can help a customer comes, leaving the cleaning up and tending to Moon-Soo. Alone with him she stares at his face. She feels on his body for stuff and then finds his phone and a few dollars. She looks to see if he has contacts but he doesn’t. She stares at his old leg scar and then he begins to groan. She gets to work cleaning him up, starting with his face. 

When he wakes up he’s got a band-aid on his head. He groans as he sits up. Her dad comes out and updates Gang-Doo, telling him he briefly cleaned him up but he should get to the hospital and that his phone won’t stop ringing. Then the dad goes back into his room and shuts the door. Gang-Doo hobbles back, he’s in rough shape physically. He runs into his sister who throws the money back at him. She’s dressed nicely and he asks why she’s not at the hospital. She asks him questions about his face. They both ignore the other’s questions. She tells him to come home. He gives her back the money and tells her to go home. She leaves and he goes back to his tiny room. It’s the guy from before, he is a neighbor, it seems. He said a pretty girl came to see Gang-Doo and left crying. “You shouldn’t make girls cry. You’ll get punished,” he says. Gang-Doo looks away, “She’s not my girl, she’s my younger sister.” The younger guy asks, “is it okay to make your sister cry?” “No,” Gang-Doo says, “it’s not.” 

Gang-Doo relives the beating from last night. And the memory of a girl with an umbrella. Moon-Soo. He remembers her and then realizes he’s seen the girl before. 

Moon-Soo is cleaning out her new work area. (Hard working trait) A coworker asks if she wants coffee. While drinking the coworker coos about the CEO, Joo Won. He remodeled the office all by himself and picked out the materials alone and GEEZ he looks good in any clothes he puts on and he’s from a good family AND he owns his own studio with his name on it at such a young age. 

Moon-Soo pipes up to state the obvious: “He must be talented.” 

The confuses the co-worker and Moon-Soo explains that he had a hand in his success, it wasn’t just because of his family. 

Joo Won is having dinner… with the DIRECTOR (gasp). Turns out Joo Won’s widowed mother married the Director’s father. Joo Won isn’t favored in the sibling dynamic, of course. It’s mentioned that the sister Yoo Jin is coming back to take over Joo Won’s business. 

Gang-Doo is heading to the new construction site for his job. While getting a tour of he sees a memorial plaque for the Mall victims. 

The coworkers in moon-Soo’s office are talking about the memorial. He says “only 48 people died” and she corrects him “As many as 48 people died.” She realizes the boss was behind her and then she ducks her head and walks away. She’s searching the blueprints and documents. Then she finds a report about the disaster case study and articles about the incident. She collapses to the floor and becomes overwhelmed with tears. 

Gang-Doo stares at the memorial plague in the darkness on his shift. He destroys it with his sledgehammer. 

Just Between Lovers Analysis

Multiple times in this first episode of Just Between Lovers we have seen Moon-Soo looking up to the sky. The same is true for Gang-Doo who is outside except for the those few moments he’s cramped up in his tiny studio apartment. This, the nightmares, losing a loved one, and the event itself all form this base for our main couple. 

Moon-Soo is obviously obsessed with architecture because of what happened to her in the past. If only the architect had done things to code the incident wouldn’t have happened. She doesn’t want to see it repeated. Moon-Soo is also very observant and mature for her age. She speaks wisdom to her friend, her mom and her female co-worker. As I predicted, Moon-Soo is responsible and hard-working. She takes matters into her own hands and doesn’t complain when she has a lot asked of her. Her mother is handling her grief in self-destructive ways as an alcoholic. Her dad has left the family and works nearby in a noodle shop. And an Auntie was mentioned. So it’s obvious that Moon-Soo has supports in place, even if it’s not her mother. Yet there has to be this wound in her from the accident when her mother was yelling at her for not being with her sister because Moon-Soo is the only one who knows that if she had been with her sister that Moon-Soo would have died too because she left her sister downstairs. Heavy stuff! 

Now onto Gang-Doo. He’s completely the opposite of Moon-Soo in a a lot of ways. He left his family and struck out on his own. He doesn’t hold in his feelings, they come out in anger and flying fists. He makes money in less than savory ways. He doesn’t take care of himself. He honors his father, however, by doing construction work and sending extra money to his younger sister. He fights back when he feels mistreated by a boss, the way he saw his father being mistreated before his death in the mall disaster. Gang-Doo is also caring. He has befriended a slightly younger poor teen whose mother is doing the best she can for him. He sends his extra money to his sister when he barely has two bucks left in his pocket. And his unsavory business is defending victims. Oh, and I have to mention that I love that he knows when it’s going to rain because of his injury. (#KDramaCharacterQuirk) That’s a great quirk to have added. I hope the writers will use it again later in the series. 

I love that the two of them have already had TWO encounters. We saw the “OMG I’m going to fall down the stairs” catch and clutch. And then we had a Band-Aid First Aid as well after Gang-Doo’s fight. The romance arc is already starting off and I hope we continue to see nice growth there. 

The Director and the construction manager were set up to be the bad guys. Both representing the upper class and men in positions of power. 

The second male lead has also been introduced and he’s talented and a bit broken. He hasn’t had the same romantic moments that Gang-Doo has had with our heroine, Moon-Soo. 

The hook at the end of this episode was kind of weak, leaving it off with Gang-Doo destroying the memorial plaque. 

But I do have a lot of questions: 

Who is the sister?

Were Gang-Doo and Moon-Soo trapped together somehow in the accident since they were in a similar location when it happened?

How are the writers going to get Moon-Soo and Gang-Doo to keep running into each other? Is she going to be present on the construction site a lot? Will she get to boss him around? 

What’s the deal with Gang-Doo’s family? Why won’t he go home? 

Have you seen the first episode of Just Between Lovers yet? After reading the recap does Just Between Lovers seem like a drama you’d be interested in watching? I’d love to see your comments below! Episode two releases next week! Subscribe to my newsletter and receive a free Character Arc Cheatsheet and be reminded weekly when new blog posts go live!

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