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Sweet Stranger and Me Episode 1 RECAP

 

“Twisted family tree” webtoon adaptation The Man Living in Our House is here, and the first episode of the sunny comedy is a pretty entertaining watch, mostly due to Su Ae’s endearing charm. What I like is that we get through the setup in the first hour, clearing the way for all the cohabitation hijinks and messed-up family relations to come. I was actually hoping for more laugh-out-loud humor in the premiere, but it’s a breezy watch and the characters are likable right away, so I’m hopeful that things will get funnier, because they’re certainly about to get weirder.

EPISODE 1 RECAP

At the airport, a flight attendant walks through the crowd and draws admiring glances from men and women, young and old. This is our heroine HONG NA-RI (Su Ae), and she narrates that it’s the uniform that gets her this attention, as she proudly walks through the terminal, joined by her co-workers.

Na-ri helps passengers settle in for their flight, dealing with fussy and demanding guests with a calm smile. She narrates that everyone is especially sensitive at the start and end of a journey, and it’s her job to help ease that stress.

Right away we meet one of her co-workers, flight attendant DO YEO-JOO (Jo Boa), when another woman suddenly gets up and announces herself as someone’s fiancée (cameo by comedienne Jang Do-yeon), and demands her boyfriend’s car back.

Yeo-joo says through gritted teeth that the car was a gift, but the woman just grabs her by the hair and starts a catfight right there in the aisle, in front of all the other passengers. People just gape, but Na-ri stops the fight by pleasantly alerting the woman that she could be arrested for touching a flight attendant. Na-ri levels a stern look at Yeo-joo before resuming her work, and she narrates that life is a journey—you never know whom you’ll meet where, and what will happen.

After returning to Seoul, Na-ri eagerly checks her phone and sees that her boyfriend of nine years has planned a big date night for them. Na-ri’s co-worker squeals and says that the place she’s going to is a known proposal spot, and Na-ri wonders if she should act surprised.

That evening, Na-ri arrives to candles and flowers and balloons—the textbook nine yards, complete with handsome boyfriend (Kim Ji-hoon) holding a bouquet of flowers. He asks her to marry him, and then can’t remember which balloon he tied the ring to, sending them both on a ring hunt.

Na-ri laughs and finds it cute that he’s so awkward and nervous, and she narrates that you really can never predict how things will go in life. They sit down to have dinner when her phone rings with a call from her uncle, who cries that her mother got into a car accident and passed away.

Na-ri goes still and drops her phone in slow motion, and behind her, the most inappropriately timed explosion of confetti and streamers marks the occasion. She repeats in voiceover, “You can never predict anything in life.”

The proposal celebration fades into a funeral, and Boyfriend diligently helps serve the funeral guests. When Na-ri’s co-workers arrive, cheater Yeo-joo openly flirts with him. At Mom’s funeral?! Oh come on.

When she’s alone late at night, Na-ri finally lets herself cry for her loss. She doesn’t notice that a man arrives at the empty funeral hall, pausing just inside the doorway without letting his presence be known. Na-ri narrates again that you can’t predict anything in life, and adds that she didn’t know then that her mother’s death wasn’t the end of something, but the beginning…

Ten months later. Na-ri arrives at the airport after a flight, and notes that Boyfriend isn’t responding to her texts. Yeo-joo, meanwhile, seems to have a new man in her life, judging from the way she beams at her phone when someone texts her.

Na-ri is surprised when Boyfriend is waiting for her in the terminal, though he looks totally shifty every time his eyes glance over at Yeo-joo. He tells Na-ri that he suddenly has a business trip, and when he can’t give any details, he changes his story and says he has clients arriving from China. Liarpants!

Na-ri apologizes for being such a workaholic after her mother’s death and promises to be a better girlfriend from now on. She sends him off to meet his clients, but at the last minute she remembers that she bought him a gift and turns around.

She catches him just as he starts to run out of the terminal in a hurry, nearly getting hit by a bus in his haste. Na-ri follows after him, just in time to witness his emotional reunion… with her co-worker Yeo-joo. Ugh.

Na-ri watches in disbelief as they embrace, and as if on cue, her phone rings with a call from her wedding invitation printer, reciting the happy couple’s pledge to look at the same map and walk this road together for the rest of their lives. When asked to confirm if that’s okay to print, Na-ri says no, they must’ve been looking at different maps.

Na-ri literally lets her hair loose and walks right into the path of Boyfriend’s car, catching them red-handed in their canoodling. She yanks Yeo-joo out of the car and shakes her by the throat, and tells her to go ahead and keep him, because he’s already her trash. Nice.

After head-butting Yeo-joo, Na-ri whips around to face Boyfriend and sucker-punches him right in the gut, and then proceeds to slam his head into the hood of his car over and over and over again. This is delightfully satisfying.

Sadly, it’s all in her imagination. In reality, Na-ri turns away and hides when she sees Boyfriend’s car coming toward her, and shuffles away dejectedly. On the bus ride home, Na-ri pictures her rational self (dressed in her graduation gown, heh) across the aisle, asking if she wants revenge and if that revenge will make her feel better, or if she wants to give him a second chance.

It looks like Yeo-joo has been trying to break up with Boyfriend for some time, or at least that’s what she wants to make him think, to keep him on the hook. He’s beside himself because she hasn’t been taking his calls, and she agrees to go see the ocean, insisting that it’s their final date.

Na-ri schleps down a small-town road in sweats, lugging her suitcase behind her. She’s come to her mother’s grave, and doesn’t see that a man is sleeping just on the other side of the tree. This is GO NAN-GIL (Kim Young-kwang), the same man who quietly came to Mom’s funeral, whose name gonangil means “hard road.”

Na-ri hugs her mom’s tree and then lets out a long sigh before calling Boyfriend. Yeo-joo grabs his phone first and accepts the call just to mess with him, and Na-ri yells at him to shut up and listen because there won’t be a next time for them. She says she came all the way here so that she could do this in front of Mom, and calls him a lying bastard and says they’re through.

Boyfriend is so distracted that he nearly runs into a parked car, and Yeo-joo screams, forgetting for a moment that he’s on speakerphone. Behind the tree, Nan-gil realizes that this is getting really personal and tries to crawl away, but his leg has fallen asleep.

Na-ri calls Yeo-joo out right then and there for sneaking around with her boyfriend, and tells her to avoid being in the same space with her from now on. Hilariously, Yeo-joo throws Boyfriend under the bus and whines that he’s the one who keeps showing up at the airport and following her around, and asks how she can avoid Na-ri completely when they work together.

Na-ri dares her to show her face and laugh and smile in front of her, and find out what happens. Na-ri starts to say that she never joined in before when everyone else called her a cheater, and Yeo-joo quickly hangs up on her before Boyfriend hears more.

Na-ri makes a promise to Mom that she’ll live better from now on, and Nan-gil almost manages to belly-crawl away undetected, until his phone buzzes. Whoops. Na-ri glares at him angrily and huffs that it must’ve been fun for him to eavesdrop, and Nan-gil just smiles behind her back.

She mistakes him for the groundskeeper and yells at him to put up some more signs, and then has to apologize when he says he doesn’t work here. She starts to walk away, when he suddenly yells, “Snake!” She screams and kicks and jumps frantically, and he waits a loooong beat before saying in a dry voice that he’s just warning her to beware of snakes in general.

Nan-gil says he’ll see her again before riding off on his bike, and Na-ri shouts, “Boar!” but fails to get revenge. Nan-gil rides through the small town, greeting all of his neighbors on the way, and stops at a restaurant called Hong Mandoo (dumpling).

A man in a suit, KWON DEOK-BONG (Lee Soo-hyuk), greets Nan-gil by the door and says it’s been a long time. He complains that this place doesn’t deliver and he hates waiting in line to eat, and Nan-gil just tells him to leave then.

Nan-gil turns out to be the owner of Hong Mandoo, and he runs a tight ship, tasting all the ingredients and making his cooks start over when they’ve got the seasoning wrong. He heads home and notes with some disappointment, “[She] came all the way here but still hasn’t come home.”

Na-ri heads back to work, and challenges Yeo-joo by walking right up to her in the narrow plane aisle. Yeo-joo lifts her head and doesn’t avoid Na-ri’s gaze, asking why she should run away. Na-ri dares her to keep going, asking what the response would be if she told their story publicly on their company’s message boards. Yeo-joo quickly tucks her tail between her legs and avoids Na-ri as instructed.

Na-ri runs into Boyfriend at a friend’s baby’s birthday party, and they go to a pojangmacha that night for drinks. Boyfriend apologizes, but Na-ri says they were both in the wrong and they must’ve dated for too long, because the normal response to seeing him cheat would be to go crazy, but all she thought about was how they’d deal with the apartment and what they’d lose on the deposits for the wedding. She says she hated herself in that moment, and knew they were long over.

Boyfriend says he didn’t tell his family about this and apologizes profusely, begging her to reconsider the wedding. But Na-ri says she hates to hear “I’m sorry,” calling it a trauma from watching her father leave her and Mom for another woman. She says she can’t ever be with a man like that, and says again that they’re just over.

Boyfriend brings up her uncle, who came to see him three times after her mother’s funeral and borrowed ten million won from him each time. Na-ri sighs and says she’ll sell Mom’s house and repay him, but Boyfriend’s point isn’t the money—it’s the fact that they’re already family. Na-ri laughs bitterly and asks if he has any paperwork to back up his claim that he’s her family, and declares them strangers now.

She’s roaring drunk by the time she stumbles out of a convenience store and downs a bottle of water, and she tells Boyfriend to go get his money back from her uncle if they’re family, and says she’s not going to sell her mother’s house. He doesn’t put up a fuss about that, at least.

Then she starts ranting about how much she dislikes Yeo-joo, and how pretty and well-dressed she is. Stop that! Na-ri finally notices how many bystanders have stopped to watch her embarrassing display, and slinks off quietly. Boyfriend follows her all the way to the grocery store, but when he finds her wielding a shovel with a menacing glare, he backs away in fright and finally leaves with one last apology.

Na-ri and her new shovel take a cab to Mom’s neighborhood, where she goes looking for her uncle. Uncle’s house looks abandoned though, and she takes her anger out on his overgrown garden before stumbling over to Mom’s house.

She lets herself in and makes her way through the front yard in the dark, shrieking in terror at the garden hose, thinking it’s a snake. Once she calms down enough to turn on her phone’s light, she laughs at her mistake and gets up… and walks right past a hooded figure in the dark.

It takes her a second to realize that she saw something and another long moment for her to register that there’s a man standing there, but she finally screams and then starts flailing her shovel around at him. It’s Nan-gil, looking dazed and a little annoyed, and he easily avoids her drunken swings at first. But she manages to get him in the side and he falls to the ground.

She asks repeatedly who he is, but he ignores her questions and turns on the lights. It’s only now that he sees that she hit him with a shovel, and he barks at her that it could’ve been murder if he’d been less athletic.

She stumbles over her words and her feet trying to say that it’s justified self-defense since she lives here, but he argues that he’s the one who lives here. Na-ri is quick to apologize and says she must’ve come to the wrong house, and he calls her pathetic for not even recognizing her own home.

She follows him inside and confirms that she’s at the right house, and when she asks who he is, he just repeats that he’s the person who lives here. Na-ri takes issue with his banmal, thinking him rude, while he just leans in and sniffs the liquor on her breath and frowns.

She assumes that he’s a tenant who rented the house from her uncle, but Nan-gil clarifies that he owns the house, and she crumples to the floor, thinking that her deadbeat gambler uncle sold Mom’s house.

Nan-gil silently brings her a cup of water, and it’s not until he sits there staring at her that she asks if they’ve met before. He reminds her of their first meeting at Mom’s grave and the fact that he said they’d meet again. Na-ri demands to know how he knows her and how he came to live here, but Nan-gil isn’t really interested in speaking to her when she’s this drunk.

He shocks her further when he calls her by name: “Hong Na-ri-sshi, can you handle it?” He decides that she couldn’t possibly handle the truth in her current state, and says they’ll talk tomorrow in the light of day.

He leaves her alone in the house for the night, and Na-ri finds her old bedroom exactly as it was, even smelling familiar and comforting. She sits in Mom’s room for a while, smiling at her picture wistfully and missing her.

Nan-gil starts his day early making dough before his kitchen staff even arrives. At a nearby toy company, that picky customer Deok-bong gets his secretary to go get him takeout from Hong Mandoo because he loves the food but dislikes the owner, and hates waiting in line.

It turns out that his interest is in real estate previously owned by Na-ri’s mother, but his secretary informs him that the owner of the land he wants to buy has changed, and he isn’t willing to sell. Deok-bong looks at the deed and sighs to see that the new owner is the mandoo shop guy he dislikes, Go Nan-gil. But something else in the paperwork makes Deok-bong pause, and he says with a smirk, “He’s a conman.”

Nan-gil spends the morning practicing how he’s going to tell Na-ri who he is, dissatisfied with every approach. In the house, Na-ri wakes up in a panic because her vision is suddenly blurry, and Nan-gil goes running in when he hears her scream. He convinces her to open the door, and finds her sitting on the floor with her eyes shut, whining that she can’t see.

He instructs her to open her eyes, heh, but obviously that’s not the problem. He notices the open bottle of pills nearby and suddenly scoops her up and carries her outside, shouting for one of his cooks to grab a taxi.

The first car that passes isn’t a cab, but it’s Deok-bong, and he’s willing to drive them to the hospital. Nan-gil doesn’t like it, but carries Na-ri into the backseat. On their way, Nan-gil asks what pills she took, and Na-ri says it was just one sleeping pill… or maybe two.

He growls at her for mixing sleeping pills with alcohol, and Deok-bong tries to join in on the conversation, but when Na-ri asks who that is, Nan-gil dismisses him and says she doesn’t need to know. When she doesn’t feel like answering Nan-gil’s harping questions anymore, Na-ri says childishly that she was talking to herself.

Deok-bong comes to such an abrupt stop outside the hospital that Nan-gil braces Na-ri for impact, and he begrudgingly thanks Deok-bong for the ride. As he carries Na-ri into the emergency room, the soundtrack goes full cheese with “I Will Always Love You,” and Deok-bong scoffs that they might as well be shooting a movie.

Na-ri regains her sight while in Nan-gil’s arms, but he refuses to put her down because she’s barefoot. Instead, he runs around the emergency room shouting loudly, “She took sleeping pills and liquor! Sleeping pills and liquor!” thoroughly mortifying her in the process.

He plops her down on a bed and goes to file the paperwork as her guardian, despite her protests. Deok-bong follows them in and introduces himself to Na-ri over and over again until she finally gives him her name in return. He asks if she tried to kill herself, and what her relationship is to Hong Mandoo’s owner.

Na-ri asks who the owner of Hong Mandoo is, and he says that it’s Go Nan-gil, the man who just carried her into the hospital. He’s surprised that she doesn’t even know Nan-gil’s name, while Na-ri is fixated on the fact that Go Nan-gil runs a shop named Hong Mandoo and not Go Mandoo, because she’s Hong Na-ri, of Hong Mandoo.

Nan-gil returns with the doctor, who hilariously assumes that Deok-bong is the patient because he’s so pale. He’s redirected at Na-ri, and the doc tells her that her temporary blindness could be caused by severe stress. She agrees to get checked out next time, but Nan-gil barks at her for not taking care of herself properly and orders her to get tests done right now.

The nurse says that her guardian paid for her to get all her tests done, pointing to Nan-gil, and Na-ri insists that he’s not her guardian. The nurse says Nan-gil told her he was family, and Nan-gil interrupts before Na-ri can ask more questions. As she’s getting her physical, Na-ri thinks back to her previous encounters with Nan-gil and a light bulb goes off in her head. By the time she comes out after her tests, she levels a glare at Nan-gil and tells him to follow in banmal.

Meanwhile, Deok-bong has made some calls and learned that Na-ri is Mom’s daughter, and he trails after Na-ri and Nan-gil with a smirk.

Na-ri leads Nan-gil to the roof and asks why it’s any of his concern whether she has stress or insomnia, or why he’d pay for her medical bills. He mutters that it wasn’t too long ago that she was shaking in fear because she couldn’t see, and when she gets defensive, he throws her own childish comeback at her, insisting that he was just talking to himself.

She asks why he said he was her family, and tells him to get out of Mom’s house this instant. He refuses, and she snaps at him not to speak to her in banmal, because it’s obvious she’s his noona.

She tells him that family lives together and shares memories, so by her count, they’re not family. She assumes that her father sent him here, thinking that he’s her half-brother who’s shown up out of the blue to claim Hong Mandoo now that her mother is gone. She guesses that he’s even hiding his real name, which he concedes… only to correct her that it’s Nan-gil, not Nam-gil like she’s been calling him.

Na-ri asks if her father claimed to be the owner of Hong Mandoo, and Nan-gil chides her for thinking so, because her mother would be sad to hear it. “She told me it was Hong Na-ri’s Hong Mandoo,” he says.

She snaps at him for talking about her mother like he knows her, and demands that he move out of the house. He says it’s his house, so she asks for the millionth time who he is and why he keeps saying her house is his house.

He finally answers, “Father,” and Na-ri assumes triumphantly that she was right and he was sent by her father. But Nan-gil clarifies that he’s not that father, but he is her father: “I’m Hong Na-ri’s stepfather.”

 
COMMENTS

Yeaaaaah, you’ll need to do some ‘xplaining about that, because I can think of a bunch of reasons why a man half a woman’s age would be marrying her just before she suddenly died in a car accident, and none of them are good. I actually think the fun of the show will be guessing at the mystery behind Go Nan-gil’s marriage to Mom, because despite the seemingly shady circumstances, I trust that there was a legitimate reason and that he’s a good person who means Mom and Na-ri well. It’s necessitated by the genre—it is a romantic comedy, after all—and stepfather or not, he is the romantic lead. But it’s also just evident in his character, which is a relief, because he’s a nice, hardworking guy who’s kept Mom’s house exactly the way it was, and he thinks of Na-ri as family and worries about her. I already found it sweet that he was mad at her for not taking better care of herself, and I realized that I was already looking forward to him looking after her and becoming her family, which is a good place to be after the first episode.

I find the show’s execution to be a little obvious and simplistic, with very overt music cues and telegraphed humor, but I think it’ll be a charming show with a cute couple and an inherently interesting premise to keep it afloat. The show has the interesting conundrum of family ties forcing the leads together, but down the road they’re going to create a pretty serious obstacle to romance, so there’s a lot of homework left for the show to do between now and happily ever after, which I like.

As expected, it’s great to have Su Ae back in romantic comedy and being a warm, flawed, down-to-earth heroine. I love her playing a cheerful character and going for the comedy, and it’s especially refreshing because Na-ri is the kind of girl to speak her mind and not let anyone walk all over her. I found her breakup with Boyfriend enlightening, especially when she admitted to caring more about how they’d split their assets and back out of wedding plans than the fact that he’d cheated on her, and I thought it was cute that she’d gone to visit her mother’s grave to make the breakup call so that she’d be forced to stick to her word because Mom would be watching. We’ve never met Mom, but through both Na-ri and Nan-gil, we already have a very strong impression of a warm, nurturing mother who probably would’ve chased Boyfriend to the curb with a rolling pin if Na-ri hadn’t scared him off with the shovel first.

Despite the twisted family relations of possibly falling in love with your legal stepfather, the drama has a nice heartwarming family theme at its center, because it’s ultimately about Na-ri and Nan-gil finding a home and a family in each other… yunno, once they sort out this whole father-daughter problem (ew). I’m actually really grateful that this is a noona romance, because it would just be way too weird otherwise—the age flip makes it strange enough that I’m not worried about him becoming a father figure to her in a confusing way. Character-wise, I do think he seems like the more grounded personality and will probably be a caretaker to her, but at least if he’s younger, I’m not going to feel weird about the relationship when it turns romantic… right? You know what, I don’t know, but let’s just go with that, because I have to believe that the show will work out the problems it presented. Let’s take a leap of faith, shall we?

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