It’s here, it’s here! And it’s as swoony as I wanted. Sunbae, Don’t Put on That Lipstick introduces and sets up its character dynamics pretty quickly in its opening week, getting right to the heart of the matter: a heroine who’s dating a two-timer, and the protective hoobae who’s got eyes only for her. Can’t. Stop. Squeeing.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
There was a lot that I enjoyed about this premiere week, but leading the pack was the quick way the drama introduced its setting and our two leads. Our heroine is YOON SONG-AH (Won Jin-ah), sunbae to the rookie on the team, CHAE HYUN-SEUNG (Kim Ro-woon), and we meet them in medias res. Song-ah has been training Hyun-seung for a bit, and we see them in action at a meeting with a client — it’s clear they make a winning team.
It’s also clear (at least to us) that Hyun-seung has feelings for his sunbae. Sure, it’s the entire premise of the story, but I liked the way the drama showed it to us in action. More than the adoring, hidden glances, Hyun-seung is also pretty frank: he asks Song-ah outright why she only sees him as a hoobae (even though he’s only a year younger than her). Also, he pretty boldly calls her his girlfriend while they’re out doing market research. It’s for cover, but it’s also obvious that he’s trying it out: how it feels for him, and how Song-ah responds.
The marketing team at Klar Cosmetics seems to be pretty fun (I’m especially glad to see Ahn Se-ha after his turn in Zombie Detective), and I’m looking forward to more of their personalities in the future. But this week, the team at work exists to stir the pot and thus, create plot-stirring events.
A colleague was secretly dating someone else from the company: this stirs up a conversation about dating a coworker. We also hear that there was a lot of teasing of Song-ah and Hyun-seung when he first came on board — and that Song-ah worked hard to dispel all those rumors and keep things professional. But you can see why the rumor came about: they’re freakin’ adorable together. (Sorry, I’m OTP-ing to the moon already.)
Because of Hyun-seung and his Song-ah radar, he’s soon able to pick up that something is off. When they’re at a team dinner and she bolts off after saying she’s headed to the restroom, Hyun-seung follows her. What he witnesses is a lover’s tryst between her and their boss, BRAND MANAGER LEE JAE-SHIN (Lee Hyun-wook). You can just see his heart shatter. And like anyone with a shattered heart, he tries to pretend everything is fine, but it’s not.
Now that Hyun-seung’s learned about the secret relationship, he sees signs of it everywhere — mostly importantly when the couple meets during work hours. Jae-shin goes off to a meeting, and like clockwork, Song-ah fixes her lipstick, and then follows him a few minutes later.
There’s nothing particularly startling about this, but the drama captures so well that feeling of something you’re used to seeing everything day (Song-ah putting on lipstick) transmogrifying into something with a totally new meaning behind it.
We learn a little more about Hyun-seung than we do Song-ah during our premiere week, and it provides a lot of color and context around his workplace crush. In particular, the fact that the drama chose to give Hyun-seung two noonas instead of the typical comic relief guy friend was such a great choice to me.
The relationships between these three siblings, and just the fact that his sisters are who Hyun-seung goes to, says volumes about him (as a character) and the drama (making nice decisions).
So where does Hyun-seung take his heartbreak? Right to his sister CHAE JI-SEUNG (Wang Bit-na). He’s more shocked than heartbroken at first, but he’s also able to understand that Song-ah’s secret dating was the reason she didn’t seem interested in him, or to pick up on his hints. The fact that it makes sense, and that Song-ah seems so happy, makes him seem willing to relinquish the crush. Until all that changes — and it changes fast!
Hyun-seung is visiting with his sister (who seems to run their family’s wedding business) when he sees Manger Jae-shin with his fiancee… planning their wedding. It’s cheating, and it’s the absolutely worst kind around. Hyun-seung immediately takes a different tack, since he has no reason to give up on Song-ah now. On the contrary, his reasons to love and protect her just grew tenfold.
We knew he was not only sweet on her, but sweet to her, but now that this cheating boyfriend is exposed, there are elevator face-offs, meeting stare-downs, and a quickly-hatched plan to reveal the whole thing to Song-ah.
When Hyun-seung overhears one of their secret meetings at work, he directly confronts Song-ah about her secret dating. Things escalate quickly, though he doesn’t tell her the truth about her boyfriend in this scene. Instead there are only hints, and the soon-to-be-iconic scene where he rubs her lipstick off with his thumb and delivers the line that is our drama’s title. *Collects self*
Instead of telling her the truth, Hyun-seung decides to show her the truth, despite her resistance. Hyun-seung gets rather assertive here (I have mixed feelings), and later that evening, forces Song-ah to witness what her boyfriend is really up to. And it doesn’t get more real than seeing the boyfriend you adore with his fiancee, who’s trying on wedding dresses.
It’s a painful part of the show, for several reasons: we feel for Song-ah with her heartbreaking shock, we feel for Hyun-seung who hates to cause her pain, but also, this was taking “cruel to be kind” to a whole new level. It’s rather ugly. In his defense, even Hyun-seung doesn’t like what he’s doing. He knows it’s cruel, and not his place (and so does his sister), but he says that he can’t bear seeing Song-ah mistreated. “She’s going to hate me so much,” he acknowledges.
As can be expected, Song-ah’s upsetness is channeled towards Hyun-seung as much as it is towards Jae-shin, and you could cut the atmosphere in the office with a knife. Her anger is understandable, though, and while Jae-shin probes to figure out what he did wrong, Hyun-seung steps back and gives her space.
After just the right amount of suffering, Song-ah finally breaks down. She’s passed from denial into anger — and now she’s ready for revenge. As our episodes close, she runs into Hyun-seung on the street and asks how to get back at Jae-shin. Hyun-seung calmly tells her to date him. And we’re off!
I actually wasn’t expecting a fake dating angle here, and I’m not particularly thrilled with the prospect. I’m more interested in keeping that layer of richness and pining and things unsaid, rather than just fake dating hijinks. But then again, Hyun-seung quite clearly confessed to her, so now there’s no secret left. (He really was determined to get that confession out there, especially after thinking that he had lost his chance to be honest with her.)
Sunbae might be pretty standard fare so far, but I’m shamelessly sold on these characters, the set-up, and this romance. With so many great moments packed into that first episode, I can only expect that there is a lot more swooning in store for us. I am ready.
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