Backstreet Rookie

Backstreet Rookie

It’s not as bad as people thought.

Backstreet Rookie was highly anticipated for it teams up Ji Chang Wook and Kim Yoo Jung for the first time. Ji Chang Wook is known for dramas such as Healer and K2 while Kim Yoo Jung is from the highly successful Moonlight Drawn by Clouds. Backstreet Rookie is an onscreen adaptation from a webtoon of the same name of it’s Korean title. Since I am a fan of Wookie, I watch out for reviews even if I haven’t watched it while it was airing. I was sad and confused of the reviews since it criticized scenes that were not suitable for young audiences and a character’s persona, which accused them of blackfacing. But I still decided to watch, and I thought, “While I agree that the creators should have better in characters, overall, it’s not as bad as people thought”.

Ji Chang Wook as Choi Dae Hyun and Kim Yoo Jung as Jung Saet Byul. Photo by SBS and Taewon Entertainment.

Three years before the present, Jung Saet Byul (Kim Yoo Jung) was a naughty high school student who is known for participating in street fights and violence. She chanced up Choi Dae Hyun (Ji Chang Wook) and asks him if he can buy cigarettes for her and her clique. Dae Hyun fools them and Saet Byul instantly falls for him and kisses him on the spot. The experience becomes memorable for them until they meet again in the present.

Kim Yoo Jung as Jung Saet Byul. Photo from SBS and Taewon Entertainment.

In the present, Dae Hyun is now a manager of a convenience store franchise while Saet Byul works odd jobs to support her sister after their father died and they were orphaned. Saet Byul has been in love with Dae Hyun ever since and she applies to become the store’s part timer after he hung a “Wanted: part-timer” sign.

Things started rocky since Saet Byul is hard-headed and Dae Hyun is an orderly boss. He’s not a fan of Saet Byul’s naughty and sometimes unprofessional ways. Since Saet Byul has been eyeing him for years, she planned to make him fall for her. She gets hurt but doesn’t falter when she learned that Dae Hyun is in a relationship with the director of promotions in the head office, Yoo Yeon Joo (Han Sun Hwa), where he actually used to work at before managing a store franchise. Their boss-employee relationship blossoms to friendship and feelings get involved when Dae Hyun questions his worth and Saet Byul finally felt sympathy and caretaking since her father died.

Dae Hyun and Saet Byul. Photo by SBS and Taewon Entertainment.

The show was not warmly received at first and I totally get why. The character of Dae Hyun’s best friend, Dal Sik (Eum Moon Suk) was portrayed as a Jamaican-loving Korean but not done in taste since they made him artificially dark so they were accused of blackface and the use of dreadlocks to denote bad hygiene. I was also disappointed because it was unnecessary. There are other ways to make him interesting without the cultural appropriation. On the other hand, I think it would have clicked to the general audience more if they decreased the comic relief just a little bit. Some were really funny but some were uncalled for, stemming from Dal Sik’s character.

Ji Chang Wook as Choi Dae Hyun. Photo by SBS and Taewon Entertainment.

Moving to the things I loved about the show, there are actually several, which made me think it’s not as bad as people put to be. First off, it had a realistic male lead. We are used to having near-perfect male lead whose strong, smart, dependable, everything that makes us swoon. But Dae Hyun is 30, living with his parents, financially insecure, and in a questionable relationship. Basically the average guy we will see out there. Saet Byul is also relatable with her struggles to get by. Most of us pretend to be adults but deep inside, we feel like we were forced into it. Dae Hyun’s blinded by his love for his girlfriend who takes him for granted. He also learned that there is nothing wrong to be selfish sometimes as taught by Saet Byul because not all people are to be trusted, and he also taught Saet Byul that violence is not always the answer but honesty is. This is the most commendable: their character development because of each other. Saet Byul graduates high school with a GED in her 20s and that is nothing to be ashamed of and she was able to do so because of Dae Hyun’s support. Things did not happen right away as we usually want in a K-drama, it was slowly but surely and no one gets it right anyway in real life. It also excellently depicted how a relationship also fails. Some of us have experience it or heard from our friends how it does due to reasons that pile up, eagerness to move on then finally realizing our worth. I feel like those things have also been overlooked by audiences and concluded early before waiting for the story to unfold.

Han Sun Hwa as Yoo Yeon Joo. Photo by SBS and Taewon Entertainment.

Ji Chang Wook and Kim Yoo Jung did well in their roles. I know Wookie fans would prefer him in an action drama but I’m glad he did this because it’s something new from him and you really feel he adjusted to meet the role that is far from most of what he’s done. He was not trying too hard, but he molded Dae Hyun to fit his acting and personality. There’s a bit of strength within Dae Hyun that he accomplished effectively. I also did not feel Kim Yoo Jung was trying too hard for Saet Byul’s catty attitude. I noticed the chemistry was not as strong, just average compared to other shows but appreciate their individual selves.

I would recommend Backstreet Rookie for a K-drama that’s light but also amusing with spice of real life. I also would not blame you if the issues make you uncomfortable – hopefully that the Korean entertainment will learn from. For some reason I finished it within a week, which was surprising because I don’t remember the last time I did that. Must be Wookie’s effect, haha! But the show’s charm will keep you curious enough to watch until the end. Have you watched Backstreet Rookie? Did you like it or did you find it lacking in any way?

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