Encounter: The Drama Everyone is Talking About
Encounter has been at the tip of the tongue of every drama fan since the cast list was confirmed. The drama marks the return of hugely popular actor Park Bogum and actress Song Hyekyo after a two-year hiatus, their previous works being Love in the Moonlight and Descendants of the Sun, respectively. With the drama casting such huge actors in the Korean entertainment industry, everyone and their mothers were talking about what production would come out of this collaboration. The drama finally made its premiere on November 28.
Story Synopsis: Episode 1
Based on the brief summary on the drama’s main page, the story doesn’t seem particularly intriguing or anything more than the traditional rich and poor person cliché love story, so it’s easy to go into this viewing experience somewhat cynically. The story begins with a brief visual introduction of our heroine Cha Soohyun, taking us through a star-studded life since a young age—at least based on appearances. After a quick recap, the viewers find themselves with present day Soohyun, divorced but CEO of a major hotel chain. The story begins with her on the move to open a hotel in Havana, Cuba.
Through the first half of the episode, we follow Soohyun’s story, showing her strained life as a divorceé, still working for her mother-in-law and forced to deal with her ex-husband on a regular basis. She’s presented as an emotionally reserved and even cold woman who keeps everyone at arm’s length. The first glimpse of her having a close friend doesn’t come until she’s off work, and her secretary is out and about; the two have an informal phone call.
Kim Jinhyuk is introduced as the story’s setting shifts to Havana. He’s shown wandering the city on his own to take photographs of people and sceneries—just in general enjoying the atmosphere and being present in the moment. His introduction to Soohyun begins with an unfortunate traffic accident; her car runs into the table he’s seated at, and his vintage camera is thus damaged. Though the two don’t meet then, the gears of fate begin turning.
After taking a couple sleeping pills, Soohyun decides she wants to go see a local legendary sunset spot, even though she ends up having to go alone. Her naiveté is apparent after a series of unfortunate events, including getting pickpocketed and taking a long walk that causes blisters on her heels.
The sleeping pills she took begin to take effect as she sits waiting for the sunset alone on the edge of a large ledge, and at the last moment Jinhyuk catches her before she falls over. He ended up running into her on the street earlier and it’s implied he followed her to that spot. She falls asleep on his shoulder for a short period of time before waking up disoriented just in time for the sunset, which the two then share.
With no money, Jinhyuk offers to escort her back to her hotel safely, but the two keep stumbling upon distractions on the way that lead to very cute and lovely moments. From sharing a beer after the sunset to the two walking barefoot down the street and attending a salsa dance event, Jinhyuk’s free spirit is infectious to Soohyun and she ends up unwinding for the spontaneous night with Jinhyuk.
It’s clear the two do not want to part when the time comes, and Jinhyuk takes the leap to ask her to breakfast the next morning. But Soohyun gets wrapped up in a spontaneous meeting that morning and misses her chance to meet with Jinhyuk, leaving a rather melancholy feeling in the air as she makes for the airport. However, the fate of the duo becomes clear as they end up on the same flight back to Korea.
The first episode ends with Jinhyuk putting the pieces together and discovering that Soohyun was the CEO of a hotel chain he had applied to for a job. Upon landing in Korea, he gets a call letting him know he passed the first round of interviews for the position. And so begins the fateful love story of the rich CEO woman and the poor, lower income man.
Visuals, Character Tropes, and Controversies
One of the characteristics that many viewers were struck by was the absolutely stunning cinematography of the first episode. It was somewhat of a surprise that the story chose to take place in Cuba—a historical alliance of North Korea—but the filming locations and visual setup were absolutely gorgeous in a way that’s difficult to articulate. The Latin culture really shines through in the first episode, especially with Jinhyuk’s adventures through the city, and Havana’s diverse population was also showcased very well. The early scenes between Soohyun and Jinhyuk are also shot in a way that is guaranteed to get your heart fluttering!
While the character tropes are fairly standard for something along the lines of Cinderella, the gender roles are reversed in this story. Soohyun represents the “rich and emotionally distant” trope, while Jinhyuk represents the “carefree, less fortunate but emotionally rich” trope that is often taken by the female in this type of story. Jinhyuk’s demeanor is incredibly open and genuinely sweet in a way that’s almost addicting, especially in comparison to the male leads of recent shows that are so emotionally closed off, they appear totally flat. Everything about him so far appears to be the paragon of a good guy, which is definitely the kind of male lead I need after the emotionally exhausting and conflicting personality of Kim Mooyoung (Seo Inguk) in The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.
But despite all the positive things I’ve had to say so far, there is still a controversy brewing around Encounter. Some fans are expressing their discomfort with the 12-year age gap between Song Hyekyo and Park Bogum. It’s not unheard of for K-Drama actors to have surprising age gaps, but in general it’s often between an older actor and younger actress. In this case, the roles are reversed as well, and some may say that the former is more accepted by fans as opposed to the latter. Whether or not that is the case, it should be considered a moot point since this age difference isn’t anywhere near the biggest gap that has happened in Korean entertainment. That being said, this controversy will likely blow over fairly quickly.
Encounter has only just begun, but it has already managed to suck me into the story and romance. If you’re like me and need a break from the heavy, angst-filled, and emotionally exhausting dramas of late, this seems to be a good choice so far. I can only hope that fact remains as the story progresses.