Ever since the pandemic, many variety shows have resorted to adopting the slice-of-life concept of confining their cast to a place far from the city. While shows like Youn’s Kitchen and Unexpected Business fared well, others like Summer Vacation, unfortunately, did not. Much like Youn’s Stay, Unexpected Business aims to serve the needs of the Hwacheon locals by having city dwellers and close friends, Cha Tae-hyun and Jo In-sung, manage a small mart-cum-bar for ten days. With the A-list actors and their equally star-studded guests like Nam Joo-hyuk, Park Bo-young, and Park In-bee, it is no surprise that the show wrapped up with such high ratings.

However, it is Tae-hyun’s and In-sung’s warmth that truly wins the heart of the locals and viewers in spite of their clumsiness as new owners. Having been city people most of their life, they confessed that living in the countryside, let alone manning a store there, caught them off-guard. The duo was only left with a note and a list of day-to-day tasks from the original owner and had to figure out the rest independently. Flabbergasted on their first few days, they struggled with accepting mobile payment, operating the bun steamer and stocktaking, and even gave a customer the wrong bus ticket. Fortunately, the mart is at the heart of this cosy town and with the help of the kind locals, they managed to run the mart smoothly despite their mistakes.

While the pair was worried about whether they were entertaining enough, variety veteran Tae-hyun’s past experience as a fixed cast on 2 Days 1 Night renders him generally well-acquainted with variety shows. Tae-hyun knows how to lift the mood. On the other hand, while variety unicorn, In-sung, has sporadically guested on shows like 2 Days 1 Night and Infinite Challenge, Unexpected Business marks his first variety show as a fixed member in his 23-year career. Often only appearing in dramas and movies, many locals and viewers alike were unfamiliar with In-sung’s personality outside of his filmography. While a handful of locals admitted that they misjudged In-sung for being cold and unapproachable, to their surprise, Tae-hyun reveals that his friend actually enjoys talking to people. True to that, In-sung is especially popular with the ladies. Throughout the show, he frequently steps out of the kitchen to take a seat beside the locals to chat and joke around with them, filling the small mart with laughter.

Upon knowing the ins and outs of the store, the duo grew closer to the locals who fervently welcomed them, sometimes even whipping up homemade food for them. While they are celebrities, the show strips away their usually extravagant image to become humble store owners. Along with small cameras that blend into the shop to create a comfortable environment, it is unsurprising that many started seeing them as just another local than as celebrities.

The show was particularly enjoyable as it exhibited Tae-hyun and In-sung’s attachment to the locals. In one episode, they even volunteered, out of concern, to take one of the local’s son to the clinic to remove his sty. While many guests and locals joked that they have adapted well enough to live in Hwacheon, their selfless affection towards the locals perfectly encapsulated the idea of “정” (Jeong), the deep affection and closeness towards others. Similarly, as Knowing Korea explains, it is the “warm feeling of attachment felt between people who share a close relationship”, stemming from the idea of collective social responsibility.

Manning a mart-cum-bar was more difficult than they expected. What many do not see is the personal sacrifices they made to bring fresh food to the table. While the notable staples are In-sung’s snow crab ramyeon, egg roll, pizza, and grilled mountain trout, unbeknownst to most, In-sung has to wake up at dawn every day to cook. On top of working over ten hours, they also mentioned to part-timer, Jo Bo-ah, that they have to eat their fill during breakfast and skip lunch to serve customers. While Tae-hyun and In-sung mention offhandedly that they rush to serve lunch and dinner, the show’s editing avoids showcasing this aspect to maintain its relaxing pace.

The only time it breaks its usual momentum is when In-sung, along with his cast members from The Great Battle, Nam Joo-hyuk and Park Byung-eun, went out of the way to sea to fish, all to serve the freshest food. This scene, which spans over two episodes, was a rather stressful watch as viewers witnessed In-sung’s battle with seasickness, while the guests struggled to meet their goal of catching 50 fish. But, their hard work come to fruition when they realised that they earned over five million won (~USD 5000) over the span of ten days.

With ten days of routine living — cooking, serving and stocktaking, Unexpected Business rejects monotony by recruiting celebrity part-timers to spice up the show. Thanks to the part-timers who are also their friends, Tae-hyun and In-sung could explore the small town of Hwacheon and visit the shops owned by their usual customers. Unlike similar shows like Youn’s Stay which relied on their food, the cast’s chemistry and editing to push the show forward while confined within their accommodation, Unexpected Business featured a number of profile stories, one of which included the original owner. The show’s clever structure of introducing the owner to the pair only through the locals’ personal anecdotes heightened the anticipation of their touching meeting with her in the last episode. Likewise, with the part-timers manning the store for them, they also managed to meet a few customers in the comfort of their own shop, like the woodshop owner who handcrafted a chopping board for In-sung.

Not only did the part-timers’ presence lift some weight off their shoulders, but the calmness and intimacy of a small, quiet town also brought out Tae-hyun’s and In-sung’s heartfelt side. Coupled with the cleverly hidden cameras and little interjection from the staff, they usually end the day with an intimate talk with their guests. One rather tear-jerking moment was when they offered comfort and advice to Dong Hyun-bae. When Hyun-bae talked about his struggles as an actor who is frequently overshadowed by his fellow cast members, Tae-hyun gave a piece of realistic advice to “just live”. In that sense, the show balances repetitive moments with short but sentimental late-night talks.

Although its concept is not entirely new, Unexpected Business’ merit concerns turning a seemingly monotonous show into authentic stories to feature the human spirit. While Tae-hyun and In-sung’s friendship and celebrity guests initially turned heads, by the end of it, it is their bond with the locals that made me stay. They confessed that ten days in Hwacheon resulted in a lot of self-reflection, especially when Hwacheon hosts plenty of workers who leave their homes to work there. While the mart seems just like any other neighbourhood mart, Unexpected Business managed to narrate a beautiful story of the importance of a seemingly insignificant store and its owner. Just like its title, it beautifully spotlights the unexpectedness of the mart’s importance.

(Korea Times, Knowing Korea, TVing. Images via tvN)