The premiere of Heartstrings offered mostly light-hearted fare, with a bit of tension and angst sprinkled throughout. Hopefully, this first episode is indicative of the tone of the rest of the series, because it was enjoyable enough. It started out a bit hodge podgey, but found itself by the end of the hour and I didn't have much to complain about.
Watch Episode 1 on DramaFever.
Episode 1 Recap
Episode 1 begins with our leads alighting at the Jeju Island airport. Why? I'm not sure. We first meet Lee Kyu-won (played by Park Shin-hye), who is traveling to a seminar on the island with her grandfather, Lee Dong-jin, a classical Korean music teacher.
When Grandpa leaves her at the airport to find her own way to the hotel, Kyu-won heads outside to catch a bus, only to have one of the wheels on her suitcase come off. A Good Samaritan in the form of our leading man, Lee Shin (Jung Yong-hwa) carries her bag onto the bus without a word.
After arriving at the hotel, Kyu-won decides to do a little exploring and wanders off. She eventually finds herself near the beach at a lighthouse, but is called by Grandpa before she can check it out. She runs off to pick him up from the seminar. Meanwhile, Shin is at the lighthouse as well, taking pictures. Noticing Kyu-won, he snaps a couple of shots of her running away.
Meanwhile, the school is preparing for a 100th anniversary performance. In charge of the performance (to his colleague, Im Tae-joon's, chagrin) will be Kim Seok-hyun (Song Chang-ui), newly returned from the US where he made it big on Broadway. I love Seok-hyun's unabashed self-praise. He really thinks he's the shit because he got Broadway accolades.
Anyway, on his way home from the airport, Seok-hyun immediately gets a call from Tae-joon, who asks him to meet.
Back at school, Kyu-won is blistering over Shin's earlier comment from class that her music put him to sleep. Her friend, Bo-woon, assures her the guy was a jerk. To make Kyu-won feel better, she suggests they go to the The Stupid concert that night. They head over to the club and when Kyu-won steps outside to take a call from Gramps, she overhears a conversation between Shin and some girl, whom he rejects coldly: "I don't like ugly girls." He gets slapped for his comment, rightly so.
To make things worse, as Shin is walking inside, he spots Kyu-won and assumes she's waiting to confess her feelings as well. He blows her off nonchalantly and walks inside. She follows him in and starts complaining to her friends about the jerk she met outside, when said jerk walks on stage to begin performing as the vocalist for The Stupid.
When the band begins their set, Kyu-won is struck dumb for a moment, taken in by Shin and the music. Better watch it there, gayageum girl.
Shin heads over to his sister's school after the performance and we finally see some thawing of his icy exterior. When his sister, Jung-hyun, asks him to say "Happy birthday" to one of her friends, he does it obligingly. In return, baby sis wins five bucks. She'd bet her friends she could get her "oppa" to do it if she told him to.
Kyu-won heads over to the hospital to visit a sick professor. She explains that their fundraising efforts are going well--they're raising funds for the professor's hospital bills--and they've even hired a band to perform at the event for the tea house. She means The Stupid, of course, with whom she spoke after the performance at the club.
After the hospital, Kyu-won goes home and finds her secret stash of western music CDs cracked and broken outside her room. She confronts Gramps about it, but he tells her that if her father has enough money to send her rebellious music like that, he should send more living expense money.
A flashback shows us what the issue is. When Kyu-won was young, her father had wanted to pursue a career in classical piano. Inflexible Gramps, however, didn't want to allow it (he'd have preferred his son pursue a career in classical Korean music instead). So, Dad had left, and Grandpa had kept custody of Kyu-won.
The next day at school, Shin finds out from Jun-hee (Kang Min-hyuk) that The Stupid has agreed to perform for the daily tea house. They can't back out, either, because Kyu-won paid them in advance and Jun-hee spent most of the money on food for himself. Lol. He's adorable. Shin reluctantly agrees to do the concert.
The teachers get started planning the 100th Anniversary performance and Seok-hyun is struck for a moment by a name on the list of professors: Jung Yoon-su (So Yi-hyun). Apparently, this is the work of Seok-hyun's sunbae (the slippery Im Tae-joon from before), who'd wanted the chance to direct the production himself. Yoon-su is Seok-hyun's ex and a former ballerina who teaches dance at the school now. After the meeting, as Seok-hyun and Tae-joon are walking outside they run into Yoon-su herself. Ouch.
Kyu-won heads to library to finish a report and sits down in front of a dozing (again!) Shin. As she's studying, the girl from Catharsis who'd been rejected because of her "ugliness" makes a reappearance, bearing a fruit basket to apologize for slapping him. Shin turns her away again and doesn't even accept her gift.
Kyu-won's seen enough. She follows Shin out of the library to tell him off for his coldness. She tells him he shouldn't judge people based on their appearance and that there are nicer ways of turning people down. Shin replies in kind, saying even Kyu-won and her friends judge his band for the way they look. They don't come to see them for their music. He says he's tired of being confessed to hundreds of times every day, which she wouldn't understand. Even talking to her is difficult since he doesn’t like ugly people. Jeez.
Giving her explicit instructions not to follow him, Shin turns to walk away, only, when Kyu-won goes after him, she trips on her shoes and lands at his feet. Gotta give the boy some credit, though, because he does ask her if she's okay. Kyu-won, embarrassed, waves him away just as people start assuming she's been dumped. Aw, lol.
Meanwhile, it's brooding hour for Seok-hyun, who sits at home looking through a folder of newspaper clippings about Yoon-su. Double aw. From the clippings, we learn that Yoon-su was once a world-renowned ballerina, but a leg fracture in a car accident killed her dreams. She's no longer able to dance. That doesn't keep her from trying however, and failing, as well.
Indeed, back at the studio, she's practicing some moves, but a bad turn sends her falling to the ground. Shin arrives in time and berates her for dancing in the dark. He checks out her ankle and we see that he clearly has feelings of the non student-teacher variety. His affections make Yoon-su uncomfortable, and rightly so.
When he walks her out afterward, she tells him to stop waiting for her while she's at the studio and stop taking care of her. She goes on to tell him to like someone his own age. "I don't want to," he says, and rides off on his bike.
Jun-hee, hungry again, sits on a rooftop talking to the moon about alcohol as he drinks yogurt. At the smell of food, he goes on a search, but finds love instead. Haha. He walks in on a new student, Hee-joo (Woori), practicing in a studio. He's completely taken by her, but she's just weirded out and tells him to leave, lol. Calling her his "Natasha," he promises to find her again later.
Posters for The Stupid's performance for the tea house go up the next morning and, as expected, every girl on campus flips out. Kyu-won's classical music band, Windflower, will also be performing at Catharsis for the fundraiser, and the girls spend the day practicing.
When Kyu-won runs into Shin, she warns him he'd better not miss the performance.
Shin invites Yoon-su to the concert, and then reminisces about the first time he'd met her, when he'd seen her fall. He'd told her to lean on him, and she'd broken down crying.
Seok-hyun is also invited to stick around for the concert. He's friends with the owner of Catharsis (the club), who tells him the boys from The Stupid are worth seeing. His friend also tells him this is the second year in a row that Tae-joon's been booted from a school production, so he likely won't be happy at Seok-hyun being put in charge of it.
When concert hour comes things don't go as planned because Shin gets a call from Jung-hyun just before it's time to go on stage. When she tells him she's really sick, he rushes over to the hospital to find out what's going on. He learns that she has appendicitis and she's rushed into emergency surgery. Shin knows he'll miss the concert, but when his mother asks him if he has somewhere to be, he tells her it's not important.
Meanwhile, at Catharsis, the crowd begins to get restless. Kyu-won decides to step in for Shin, and keeps the audience at bay. Her voice is good enough that she even catches the attention of the disinterested Seok-hyun, who perks up when she starts to sing. He's intrigued by the idea of a girl who plays traditional music one minute, but gets up to sing for a modern pop song the next.
Back at the hospital, Jung-hyun comes out of surgery and Shin's mother tells him she'll stay with her so he can leave. At Catharsis, the concert ends and the angry crowd trickles out, groaning about being conned out of seeing The Stupid. Kyu-won is pissed off, and stoically tells her friends and Jun-hee that there's nothing to be disappointed about because she already knew Shin was just that kind of person.
Lol as a side note: Bo-woon asks Jun-hee why he calls Shin "hyung." Aren't they the same age? Jun-hee replies that even though they are, Shin buys him food so he calls him "hyung." Anyone that buys him food is a "hyung" to him. Haha.
Kyu-won heads over to bus stop after the concert to hitch a ride to the hospital. While she's waiting for a bus, Seok-hyun shows up, intending to talk to her about the 100th anniversary show. Mistaking him for a creeper, she tells him to buzz off. LOL. Eventually, he gets around to telling her that he saw her sing back at Catharsis and that she did pretty well. The bus arrives and Kyu-won gets on before Seok-hyun can make his point.
But it's okay, because Seok-hyun has enough connections back at the school to find out which professor is in the hospital and which hospital she's been admitted to. He taxis over, only to find out that the beloved professor has passed away.
Kyu-won is outside, giving her condolences to the family of the deceased, broken up about it herself. Awkwardly, Seok-hyun approaches her to offer some comfort.
A few days later at school, Shin appeals to Jun-hee to try and get him to talk to Kyu-won for him and give the Windflower girls a refund. Jun-hee tells him he won't do it because everyone's mad. Shin, also, is a bit chicken and offers to go together. Jun-hee is too scared to do it, however, even when Shin offers to buy him meat. Left with no other options, Shin's forced to confront Kyu-won himself.
It goes about as well as expected, especially when Shin tosses the envelope of money at Kyu-won's feet. But she's too mad even to deal, and tells him to just take the money back. She doesn't need it.
Kyu-won: You think you're great. Just because you have an okay face, and a bit of popularity, you think you're awesome. I heard it too, your music. (thumping her chest) But it didn't resonate here even the slightest bit. So, don't act like it.
She throws the envelope back at him and he bends down to pick it up.
Shin: I know how you feel, but just take it. Didn't you say it was for your professor's hospital fees?
Kyu-won: What? I really don't understand what they like about you. Someone so mean, so rude and distasteful. There must be something wrong with their eyes. Get lost. Don't ever show up in front of me again!
She picks up the envelope to throw it at him again, but this time, he grabs her wrist to stop her. Shin knows he's in the wrong, but her anger is uncalled for, so he lashes out himself, unaware of her reasons.
Shin: Do you want me to tell you? Why everyone is so crazy about a guy who is so mean, so rude and distasteful?
Ooh, tension tension already!
This first episode was a bit slow on the upturn, but we have the conflicts going in earnest by the end of the episode. Kyu-won has a few good reasons to dislike Shin, and we've learned that Shin's cold act is just a front for people who aren't close to him.
What I liked: the peripheral characters like Bo-woon and Jun-hee. I also already love Seok-hyun for his awkwardness and closet prickishness. He's a double-edged sword, that one. Nervous and dorky around Kyu-won and his friends, but cold toward Yoon-su. Is it weird that I'm really pulling for him to be with Kyu-won after less than five minutes of them together on screen?
What I didn't like: Yoon-su. I can already tell she's going to be a sight for sore eyes. If we have to watch her spinning, falling and crying (rinse and repeat) for fifteen more episodes, I'm going to pull my eyes out. We'd better find out some deep, dark secret about her, or she'd better be super nice or something, because otherwise I'll probably just hate her through the series.
As far as acting goes, everyone's pretty on point for the characters they have to work with. I'm still not convinced of Jung Yong-hwa. The only difference I see between Kang Shin-woo and Lee Shin is Shin's douchebag streak. JYH will have to pull something out of his ass to convince me he's improved.
Cinematography-wise, I was a bit disappointed. The shoddy camera work might start getting on my nerves soon, even if it's meant to be that way. I'm not a huge fan of Pyo Min-soo (the director) since I didn't particularly like Full House. I won't judge him just based on that, however, and will remain objective until I catch up on the rest of the episodes I've missed.
Overall, Heartstrings should be a moderately fun ride, despite the dismal reception back in the homeland. As a less conservative viewer in America, the teacher-student romances are less repulsive and more intriguing to me, so I'll probably like it more than they do. Still, I'm not watching City Hunter, which makes it easier for me to pick a favorite.
Also, as a side note, sorry about the delay in this recap. I finally found a (I hope!) stable video source. My apologies for the subtitles on some of the screen shots. I really did the best I could.