Start-Up may not be everything I wanted it to be but it is surely a pleasant, feelgood ride. Sprinkled with sweetness and charming characters and relationships, it takes up the world of aspiring entrepreneurs as its backdrop. Also, thank you Show for introducing Kim Seon Ho to me!
As the title suggests, Start-Up is set in a fictional place called Sandbox that helps promising start-ups to establish themselves. Suzy and Kang Han Na play sisters Seo Dal Mi and Won In Jae, respectively, who got separated during childhood when their parents got divorced. Nam Joo Hyuk stars as Nam Do San, a brilliant software engineer who wants to start his own venture along with his two friends. Kim Seon Ho plays Han Ji Pyeong, an investor who has a childhood connection with Dal Mi and her grandmother (Kim Hae Sook).
The drama has a breezy, youthful vibe which is further underlined by a light colour palette. Most of the characters are good people with a sweet and simple heart. Although the stakes are not very high like in previous Park Hye Run dramas, the people here are warm, affectionate and righteous like those shows. The relationships are beautifully drawn and the drama has some beautifully crafted scenes. As the story is established in a start-up world, the drama explains the working and trends of the same. Despite not being exactly accurate, the show does a fine job in introducing various spheres of a start-up company — dreams, challenges, stages, potential, risks, funding. Every episode takes a word from the startup glossary and proceeds to show that aspect in the professional and personal chapters of the characters. All in all, the drama takes a simplified and polished take on the start-up realm. The drama has a great comedy quotient. The soundtrack of Start-Up is similarly lively and upbeat.
Start-Up does a good job in forming a strong backstory. We are instantly rooting for the leads and understand their motivations. But at the same time, the show tries to make it too easy to root for the heroine as she chooses her father and the struggling life whereas her sister chooses mother and the rich life, without exactly explaining why the sister wanted to cut ties with Dal Mi. Or why didn’t she have even some bit of affection for her father or grandmother. Same goes for Dal Mi’s mom. Dal Mi is a sassy person with strong values. I just wish she had more motivation to be an entrepreneur other than competing with In Jae. We are told repeatedly that she has all the traits of a CEO but other than her confidence, I did have a hard time in figuring out those traits. This is not to say I didn’t like her, but a bit more shades would have helped in making her more interesting.
I love stories where characters fall in love through letter writing. Dal Mi and Ji Pyeong are two such people and their childhood bond made me instantly root for them as a couple. But at the same time, there isn’t much romantic interaction between their adult counterparts, and add Ji Pyeong’s initial absence of such feelings for Dal Mi, as opposed to her having a long time crush, I had less hopes for them being the OTP. I liked Ji Pyeong a lot (second lead syndrome alert!). He is smart, mature, practical, honest, caring and someone who is always hesitant to show his feelings. I do think he was excessively rude towards Do San sometimes. I love the natural, effortless portrayal by Kim Seon Ho. The relationship between Ji Pyeong and Dal Mi’s grandmother is so precious. By the end, Ji Pyeong becomes softer and it’s gratifying to see him with people around him after being alone for such a long time.
Nam Do San is someone who has always struggled with inferiority complex. He is a mathematics and tech genius but still he is under-confident. Start-Up sketches a nice growth path for him as we see him finally finding his self confidence, but also retaining his awkward and kind nature. He is a sweet, good-hearted person and we can’t help but root for him. But the drama spends a lot of time in him focusing solely on Dal Mi — I wish we had seen his growth more clearly than just a time jump and after few words from Ji Pyeong. I loved his adorable friendship with fellow techies Yong San and Chul San. These three along with Dal Mi and Sa Ha (Stephanie Lee) make a great team of naive, innocent but talented people who are full of dreams and synergy. I do think the drama sometimes made the team way too innocent that it felt unbelievable.
Do San and Dal Mi are similar in many aspects and they make an adorable pair who are inexperienced with worldly things but trying their best to succeed with their instincts, conviction, passion and strong values. They both trusted and supported each other right from the start and it’s quite natural that they fell in love by together taking the path of wins and struggles. I love that the drama puts a spin on the trope of making the sweet guy as the second lead.
Start-Up approaches everything and everyone with broad strokes. But still it manages to bring heart to its characters and relationships. I wish the show didn’t have an unnecessary love triangle which takes up a lot of screen space. Ji Pyeong’s sudden romantic feelings are as odd as Dal Mi forgetting about her first love once she finds out the truth about the letters. In Jae doesn’t get a lot of screen time and the drama fails in exploring her relationship with Dal Mi effectively. Her family reunion is also handled in a rushed manner. There is also a needless revenge arc. The villains are stereotypically over the top and unimaginative. Certain important things happen off-screen and leave us slightly dissatisfied.
Certain side characters are very effective and help in creating treasured moments — Kim Joo Hun as Dal Mi’s father providing a poignant backstory, Seo Yi Sook as the thoughtful Sandbox investor, Kim Min Suk as Ji Pyeong’s funny assistant, Kim Hee Jung and Kim Won Hae as Do San’s parents with their warmth and humour, Jung Se Hyun as Do San’s helpful and funny cousin and finally, Jasper Cho as funny and enigmatic Alex Kwon.
Start-Up is powered by brilliant performances. Nam Joo Hyuk shows great range in acting, perfectly embracing his character. Suzy is really good and gives a lively performance. Kang Han Na acts with winning confidence and contributes in making In Jae layered despite limited opportunity. I simply loved Kim Seon Ho and his nuanced performance, effectively mixing charm and emotions. Kim Do Wan and Yoo Soo Bin are perfect as Do San’s friends, each bringing individual shades to their roles. Stephanie Lee is impressive. Kim Hae Sook as the grandma is simply awesome.
BOTTOM LINE: Flawed but endearing, Start-Up is a delightful show, with a simplistic take on the start-up world.
My Rating: 8 out of 10