OnStyle is mainly known as a fashion-based TV channel with a steady flow of SM idol-driven reality shows. But this year saw the channel branch out with its first K-drama, My First Time (more commonly called Because It’s The First Time). It’s a short drama, consisting of eight one-hour blocks (which I’ll be calling episodes) airing on Wednesdays; and it also carries a touch of SM, with Shinee‘s Minho cast as the lead. A breezy tale of five neighbourhood friends entering adulthood, Because it’s the First Time isn’t groundbreaking, but it is cute and has yet to disappoint me.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmjSnnz4OxA]
Minho (Medical Top Team) is serviceable as the rich and clueless Yoon Tae-oh. His distant father seems to own the whole neighbourhood, making bank by collecting rent. Thus, Tae-oh has all his material needs catered for, though he is also virtually exiled from his family following his father’s remarriage. Our money-rich, attention-poor hero could have grown up to be quite the jerk — and he totally is sometimes, but it’s childish pettiness and not intentionally mean-spirited. Ultimately, though, Tae-oh has thus far avoided becoming a ball of angst thanks to the relationship with his four best friends.
The one big worry in his life is his closest friend and first love, Han Song-yi — portrayed by Park So-dam (The Throne). Not only does she not fit his ideal type (Miranda Kerr with a literature degree), she also inadvertantly cost him a date with a pre-debut Yoona. As a result, Tae-oh is aggressively driven to find another girl, any other girl, to fall in love with instead. He has managed to get college senior Ryu Se-hyun (Jung Eugene, Heard It Through The Grapevine) to fall for him; but can Tae-oh maintain a healthy relationship when he continues to prioritise Song-yi? The answer is no, but I look forward to seeing how My First Time handles the disintegration of Tae-oh and Se-hyun’s romance.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0HQSL7y2WQ]
Han Song-yi lost a lot when her father died, the most visible being the loss of financial stability. But that leads to a great emotional burden as well, as she deals with being abandoned by her mother and being responsible for her much younger sister. Add to that crippling debt, homelessness and resentment over a potentially wasted youth, and it’s not surprising –though still sad — that Song-yi finds herself in front of a suicide helpline phone at Han River’s Bridge of Life.
But while Song-yi is under a lot of pressure, she still manages to keep her zest for life. And while I really felt for Song-yi as she broke down on the bridge — and later during her sleep-talk monologue –, her will to not just live, but enjoy living really makes me appreciate her as a character. Song-yi’s crush on Seo Ji-an (Kim Min-jae, Twenty Again) is a great example of how Song-yi does her best to enjoy her life and youth, just like everyone else. She may not have enough money to buy her favourite pizza, but love is always free.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfqB3-VUNlI]
Song-yi is a realist, though, and waits until she is sure that her attraction to Ji-an is mutual before confessing. Which just makes it all the more frustrating when he rejects her. Ji-an is a realist, too: he knows that he can’t afford to go on nice dates or vacations, and needs to focus on his civil servant entrance exam AKA his ticket to a stable future. But, unlike Song-yi, he doesn’t believe there is a way to make a relationship work without money. And this is where Song-yi and Ji-an differ: they both bond over their situation as part-time workers trying their best to survive, but she is an optimist and he, a pessimist. Ji-an has a chip on his shoulder, and he lets it get in the way of being with Song-yi.
Outside of our main love triangle-cum-quadrangle, we have our remaining two friends in the band of five. Lee Yi-kyung (School 2013) hams it up as comic relief Choi Hoon; but Hoon’s boxer-clad antics hide a deeper and more violent truth. Hoon is the ‘extra’ of his academic family, wanting to be an entertainer instead. There is a lack of communication between Hoon and his family, and any attempt he makes to voice his own dreams are — literally — beaten down. Even after being kicked out of home for good, he tries to show his parents his conviction. Unfortunately, this results in Hoon’s parents showing their lack of faith in their child. It’s a crushing realisation, but one I look forward to seeing Hoon bounce back from with his friends’ support.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qEYf5cG9YE]
And finally, we have the second girl in the bunch, and my favourite character in this drama. Cho Hye-jung‘s Oh Ga-in is sweet and unassuming, which makes her matter-of-fact way of speaking all the more unnerving for the listener. She keeps her crush on Tae-oh under wraps (pun intended); but when Se-hyun comes under suspicion as Tae-oh’s gift-giving stalker, Ga-in doesn’t hesitate to set the record straight. It doesn’t seem to bother her that her crush on Tae-oh will reman unrequited — in fact, it’s almost like she prefers it that way. Like a good book, it’s something she can enjoy in her own time.
But while her crush comes with an acceptance of reality, Ga-in still hasn’t come to terms with her father’s death. The show succeeds in surprising us with this revelation, though I would have loved to have seen more instances of the guys going along with Ga-in’s delusions. The most we see is of them taking chicken to eat “with” Ga-in’s father, and Hoon going along with Ga-in’s talk of him until episode 4. That said, I can still appreciate the guys’ patience with and sympathy for Ga-in, who has lost her only family member… As well as Song-yi’s impatience, as she wants Ga-in to move on. Song-yi would understand Ga-in’s desire to hold on to what makes her happy, but she does not want her to hold onto something that is no longer possible.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx58UET2818]
This leaves us wondering where the friends’ journeys will lead them in the next, and last, four episodes. I know what is going to happen, but I am looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds. How will Hoon begin his path to success? Will Tae-oh find something to do with his life other than think about women? How will Ji-an move on from Song-yi? And how will Tae-oh and Song-yi’s relationship blossom into romance? We have already seen some baby steps; and I’m not talking about Song-yi’s squee-fest on the bus at the end of episode 4.
Tae-oh admitting his loneliness to Song-yi is really important, as it makes Tae-oh show his vulnerability. His love for Song-yi is built on his drive to protect her. And while that is comforting to Song-yi, a knight-damsel dynamic isn’t enough to maintain an equal and respecting relationship. Tae-oh has gotten nowhere with his bluffing; he needs to open himself up for Song-yi to accept him, and I hope that leads to us being treated to more deep and meaningfuls between the two leads.
Readers, what do you think of My First Time? How are you liking our gang of five?