WARNING: Turn off your brain. Immediately. Trying to make sense of the characters’ logic or choices will only frustrate you.
Even the opening credits warn the viewer of this drama’s kooky nature from the start. The haunting music, severed doll heads, and blood red tissue paper floating from the sky hardly fit a romantic comedy.
We meet our heroine, Lee Yeon Seo, as she utters her ominous first line, “I killed a person.” She is the typical overworked k-drama female, verbally abused by her co-workers and a pervy boss that calls her “dear.” Her greatest wish in life is to go from an unstable, contract worker to a salaried employee.
Well, hello there!
Kang Joon Hyeok is a triple threat celebrity who sings, acts, and models as he panders to his fans to keep his name at the top of the internet search engines. He arrives at Kayo Coffee to sign a contract, but doesn’t like the proposal and excuses himself to the bathroom. Joon Hyeok tiptoes away from the manager that’s been sent to guard him and runs into Yeon Seo by a side door as he attempts his getaway. The exit is locked and he asks the starstruck Yeon Seo to open it with her ID badge. She almost falls for it until she realizes this would be bad for her job prospects. Thus ensues a hilarious excuse for a backhug as she wraps her arms around him and refuses to let him leave. Of course, he’s bigger than her and eventually wrestles the badge away, opens the door, and makes a break for it.
A no good, very bad life
Yeon Seo’s co-workers dump all the blame on her for the failed proposal and she is promptly fired. Later, they provide little comfort at the restaurant where she proceeds to get sloshed on soju, and she drunkenly follows her manager when he steps outside. All the unjust memories pile into her brain as she decides to beat him up just once before they part. Yeon Seo approaches him from behind in a dark alley, takes off her shoe, takes a flying kung-fu, slow-mo leap, and whacks him good.
He falls to the pavement in an unconscious pile. But there’s a problem. It’s not her manager. It’s the runaway star, Joon Hyeok. She freaks out, convinced that she’s killed him. Yeon Seo hauls him onto her back and carry-drags him through the streets of Seoul where two helpful cops in a police cruiser offer her a ride home. (Remember: Turn off your brain.)
Everybody makes mistakes
Yeon Seo makes it back to her rooftop apartment, although how she got him all the way up there is another unexplained mystery. She awakens the next morning, hoping it was all an alcohol induced dream, but the body is there to contradict her. She gathers an assortment of tools as she plans how to hide the corpse. (Is your brain still set to OFF? I hope so.) Joon Hyeok finally wakes up, assumes she is a sasaeng, stalker fan, and is surprisingly forgiving. He’s used to girls sneaking into his house, stealing his stuff, etc. All she has to do is untie him and he will forget it ever happened. Until he notices the group of wicked knives and acid bottles on the floor. Then he screams for help and ends up with a dirty sock stuffed in his mouth.
Talk about your crazy neighbors
The rest of episodes 2 and 3 are a kind of vicious cycle. Our celebrity tries to escape. Our not-so-bright kidnapper stops him. Yeon Seo is aided in her attempts to keep him locked up by her next door neighbor, who may or may not be a third generation heir slumming it in sweat pants. He also may or may not be in love with the heroine as he gifts her with lettuce bouquets and helps her watch her “insane cousin” while she’s at work. Why he thinks it’s okay to chain up a person, even if they are mentally unstable, I don’t know. (But I don’t have to worry about that when I’m not expecting people to behave in a rational manner.)
Yeon So is desperate to escape jail time and gets dolled up to induce Stockholm Syndrome in Joon Seok so that he will let her off the hook. At the same time, he decides he will make her fall in love with him so she will release him. This goes as well as you might imagine and ends with her tripping over her high heels and hanging out a window in a way-too-short mini dress while Joon Seok screams, “My eyes!” He pulls her back inside and chides her for trying to seduce him while she cries mascara streaks down her cheeks.
Yeon So scraps Operation Love and decides she needs to immigrate to Vietnam and start over. She and her captive work out a deal where he won’t try to run away (he’s just humoring her), and she will work hard for three months to make enough money to leave the country, at which point she will set him free. Thus begins possibly the weirdest contract relationship in K-drama history.
The problem is that it’s more expensive to keep a pampered Hallyu star clothed and fed than she thinks. Our budget challenged heroine buys him designer clothes and feeds him steak to keep him from whining, but the bills start to amass. She ends up working at the same dead-end company she was fired from before with the same group of wretched people. (Seriously. Episodes 2 and 3 are like one big circle.)
In case you’re wondering why no one is looking for the missing celebrity, it seems he’s pulled a disappearing act before and this isn’t unusual. His girlfriend, boss, and former singing partner release a statement that he has been hospitalized for exhaustion while they try to figure out where he went. Even so, a suspicious detective is hot on Yeon So’s trail and almost catches her.
Maybe she’s not so bad
Yeon Seo half kills herself with overwork while her captive lounges around waiting for her to come home. It’s obvious he’s growing more fond of her as he has to remind himself she’s his kidnapper and even insists she buys oxtail soup, not for his own health but hers. If it weren’t for the chains, it might be like a mini vacation for him. He has plenty of time to try every combination for the padlock and eventually discovers the code. It’s just what you’d expect from our genius heroine: 0000.
He waits until Yeon Seo is asleep, releases himself, and prepares to sneak out the front door. But his captor’s sickly appearance stops him. He feels her forehead and realizes how ill she is, then proceeds to nurse her back to health, dab her forehead with a wet towel, and fall asleep next to her. She wakes up feeling better, but doesn’t realize he freed himself because his hands are hidden under the blanket.
Joon Hyeok escapes at an opportune moment and makes it all the way to the police station. Just as freedom is in sight, Yeon Seo catches up to him and holds on for dear life. He tries to call for help, so she uses the obvious K-drama solution to shut him up. She kisses him.
How she gets him back to the rooftop without him running away is never explained. (Oh wait, brain OFF. Gotta keep remembering that.) She chains him back up and threatens to change the combination every day. Let me guess. 1111, 2222, etc. He urges her not to dwell on their kiss, since it was so disgraceful. But finds her flustered reaction cute, and then berates himself for thinking that way about his kidnapper. I hope the future includes him figuring out how to get away once again, and sneaking in and out of the apartment when she’s not there, because he doesn’t truly want to leave her.
Let’s look at the evidence
The premise is interesting and the show has slick editing, with attractive graphics, and good acting. Although the two leads work well as antagonists, the romantic chemistry is a little lacking. I don’t feel toe tingles yet, but a kiss scene by episode four is pretty early. Maybe they’ll heat up after awhile.
The biggest perk of the whole show is obvious: Sung Hoon. For those of us who plodded through the last few episodes of My Secret Romance, we’ve proven we’re willing to put up with a lot for him. I like how he’s tossing away his cool guy vibe in this drama for a more over-the-top, frenetic performance that’s both funny and entertaining. As long as you remember to check your brain at the door, it could be a fun romp.
You can watch I Picked Up a Celebrity on the Street at Viki.com.
Until next time. Keep the K-love alive!