Okay, so we actually get a flashback episode to high school days in episode 2. I’m kind of glad that it appears in episode 2 rather than 1 because now I feel like I can try to fill in the gaps instead of having everything laid out to me like a buffet.
It’s 2006. No Eul is a sweet girl throughout high school. Though her father is poor and runs a hodduk-ddukbokki stand by the street corner (and is played by the awesome Lee Won Jong), she maintains a bright attitude and helps the elderly with their chores. Candy girl to the tee. Her father hilariously will do anything to make money, even charging poor little kids for the food because he has a lot of debt to pay off. No Eul’s mother’s illness and death took a toll on the family financially, and it’s the same debt to loan sharks that No Eul inherits many years later.
Papa No doesn’t really appreciate how his daughter just tries to save the day all the time and butts into other people’s business. He also doesn’t appreciate her generosity at his expense. At one point, as she’s running off to save a friend from bullying, he curses her under his breath hoping she’ll slip on ice – and she does! But for all his grumpiness, he clearly loves his daughter.
Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, Joon Young is the poor boy with the lowest grades in class. He goes to the boys’ high school in town (whereas No Eul is in the girls’ high school) and recently got suspended for fighting some rich boys who were bullying another girl. Young Ok tries to get the bullied victim to confess that Joon Young was saving her rather than instigating a fight, but she only breaks down in tears. It’s just a sign of how powerful the rich kids are that they can “buy a testimony,” so to speak.
So Joon Young is suspended, and he decides to beat up the rich kids some more after school. That lands him in the police station and his uncle Jung Sik comes to pick him up. Jung Sik makes grandiose claims that Joon Young’s father is a powerful assemblyman who’ll make the officers regret detaining Joon Young, but Joon Young yells at him to shut up. It’s useless to say such things, considering his father is dead. Joon Young doesn’t know about his parentage!
However a few shots of soju make the worst secret keepers even… worse. When a press conference with Choi Hyun Joon airs on TV in a shabby restaurant, Jung Sik can’t help but hint that Joon Young’s father is alive. Joon Young may not be book smart, but he certainly can understand the meaning when his uncle suggests that his mother ran away from his dad instead of his dad dying. Afraid that Joon Young will confront his mother, Jung Sik decides to just spill what he knows:
Young Ok and his father (Hyun Joon) met at a karaoke bar where she cut fruit and he was the waiter. They hit it off, but she didn’t know that he was also a law student by day. It was only when it was too late that Hyun Joon’s older brother came by and told Young Ok that Hyun Joon was the top of his class and had a promising career. She then understood that she could not be with Hyun Joon, and so, pregnant, she decided to leave him. Knowing that she could not face him as a poor girl, she raised Joon Young with the hopes that he’ll be a prosecutor so she could one day face Hyun Joon and proclaim that she raised a smart boy without his help.
This changes a lot of things for Joon Young, and he realizes how his future is so important to his mother. Young Ok is still angry that he got in trouble with the law though, and she screams at him to do whatever he wants to mess up his own future. But Joon Young can see how much he’s hurting his mother, and that evening resolves to study even more. He takes advantage of his suspension to study at a library and work harder than ever before, ignoring even a business card from CEO Namgoong (Park Soo Young) when he tries to scout the kid on a public bus.
While studying, he doesn’t notice a girl constantly passing notes to him. It’s only when he emerges from the bathroom late one night that the girl confronts him about not answering her messages. And – you guessed it – the girl is No Eul. She wants to talk to Joon Young on behalf of her friend Nari, whom he recently broke up with. Because it’s high school and everything is overblown and exaggerated, Nari has stopped eating or sleeping because she can’t live without Joon Young. She spends her days crying instead. Joon Young doesn’t see how this has anything to do with him and shrugs No Eul off, not planning to make amends with Nari or make her feel better.
Nari is in the hospital though, so her condition is serious. But even No Eul scolds her for being so pathetic. Nari cries, “You’re so lucky Joon Young isn’t your type. You don’t fall for his charms!”
Not true – No Eul actually was like every other girl and had a crush on Joon Young. However when she was about to confess she saw Joon Young hug Nari outside her friend’s home, and so she knew that she had to take a step back. Since some time has passed, No Eul isn’t exactly into Joon Young anymore and sees him for the jerk that he is.
But first loves are still first loves, so No Eul calls up her father to see if he’s done working and if they could drink soju together. Her father immediately goes into a tirade about how they must save money because they’re in debt. But fathers will be fathers, and when No Eul approaches the street corner where her father works, she sees him pulling the cart with one hand and holding a bag of soju in the other. Woohoo!
Sadly their bonding time is never to be, because a shiny red car comes speeding by and hits Papa No. The driver emerges… It’s Yoon Jung Eun (Im Joo Eun). For a brief appearance, she makes it quite memorable with her shocked and scared expression, and the decision to just drive away. Her father, Assemblyman Yoon Sung Ho (Jung Dong Hwan) is so powerful that he calls up Hyun Joon in the middle of the night to take over his daughter’s case and make sure she doesn’t get into legal trouble.
So Hyun Joon manipulates the entire case so that an innocent man (who was probably paid off) takes the fall for Jung Eun. No Eul knows he’s not the perpetrator, but no one will listen to her because the evidence is all (now) pointing at this innocent man. As for Jung Eun? She’s been sent to the States by her father because he thinks traveling will do her good. Sheesh, what money can do for people. I don’t want your dangerous drivers here in the States! Shoo!
So why is Hyun Joon doing this? He’s appeared to be a pretty upstanding guy so far… It turns out Jung Eun is betrothed to Hyun Joon’s son. Hence, they’re just helping each other out for future benefits.
One day, Hyun Joon emerges from the subway to see it’s pouring rain and he has no umbrella. He’s about to make a run for it when Joon Young magically appears with an umbrella. He’d been hoping to meet his hero and real father someday. He tells Hyun Joon that he aspires to be a prosecutor just like him, which flatters Hyun Joon. “Kids these days have no ambition,” he comments, which implies that he’s not super impressed with his own son. Hyun Joon envies Joon Young’s parents for having a seemingly easy kid to deal with. Dude, you have no idea.
The rain stops, and Hyun Joon asks for ten minutes of Joon Young’s time, as he’d like to repay the debt. So Joon Young waits in the lobby while Hyun Joon hurries to deal with No Eul and his car. No Eul had gone all the way to Hyun Joon’s office and thrown a rock at his car. Five security guys end up guarding her until Hyun Joon arrives. It’s silly, but at least it gets his attention, as he’s been avoiding her for days.
He sends everyone out of the room so he can talk to No Eul privately, even though he pretty much denies fabricating the case around the hit-and-run. There’s no proof that he changed the car type or the driver, and he is too busy to get involved in every little case anyways. But No Eul is furious because she knows his involvement ruined everything, and now her father is in the hospital in a coma and the bills are piling up. Hyun Joon sends her back home, knowing she’s come a long way.
No Eul: “I never told you where I lived or where I came from. You knew who I was the moment you saw me, and was avoiding me (because of your guilt and involvement)!”
Hyun Joon smoothly replies, “I just never recognized your school uniform before.”
So No Eul stomps out of the office and sees Joon Young casually waiting in the lobby, who is happy that he might have just impressed his real father. She goes up to him and reminds him that Nari is still suffering because of him. “I heard you dumped Nari because she was getting in the way of your studies. How could someone as dumb as you who can’t even make the top 200 become a prosecutor?”
Joon Young’s annoyed, but when he sees that Hyun Joon has heard this entire conversation, he gets pissed because he’s so embarrassed. Thankfully Hyun Joon acts like he didn’t hear the conversation between petty high schoolers, and gifts Joon Young a book as thanks for the umbrella that day. Hyun Joon offers to sign it, asking for Joon Young’s name, but, too ashamed, Joon Young asks for it next time. He’ll come back with proof of his passing grades, and then he’ll tell Hyun Joon his name and ask for the book. Yoo Oh Sung KILLS me here because he is so good at playing fathers (check out Joseon Gunman) and looks so fatherly towards Joon Young, but at the same time has the perfect evil look to be the bad guy to No Eul.
Joon Young and No Eul end up on the same bus, and Joon Young forces a stranger to move just so he could sit next to her. He challenges her to seduce him then, and make him go so crazy that he’ll give up on studying. Clearly Nari wasn’t good enough for him. No Eul’s not interested, so he goes, “Fine, I’ll seduce you instead.”
No Eul’s got other things on her mind, like passing out flyers and putting up posters asking for more witnesses regarding her father’s hit-and-run accident. But then one day, Joon Young shows up in front of her school holding a huge white teddy bear. No Eul fears the worst, and her friend wonders if he’s there for Nari. She calmly tries to walk past him, but he grabs her arm at the last minute.
He hands her the bear and congratulates her on their 100th day anniversary. Eeep! “I love you, Eul!” he adds. No Eul’s jaw drops, and she’s literally speechless. Nari also happens to be watching, so Joon Young ups the ante and puts his arm around her. He’s not going to hide their relationship anymore! (Flashes of Heirs are going off in my head…) No Eul struggles visibly against his grasp and calls him a crazy bastard, but he clamps her mouth shut. Nari faints, but I hope she realizes that this isn’t No Eul’s idea since No Eul looks just as shocked as she is.
Nevertheless it’s a good move by Joon Young: he took revenge on No Eul by embarrassing her in front of her friends, and also eliminated any lingering feelings Nari might have had for him. And boy is he proud of it.
Unfortunately, that same evening Papa No passes away in front of his two children in the hospital, no longer able to hold on from his injuries. Word spreads throughout the schools as everyone remembers her dad and his food stand. Joon Young is actually quite stunned at the news, not realizing No Eul was going through such a difficulty when he tormented her. On top of that, No Eul and her brother disappear in the middle of the night because the loan sharks were after them as soon as Papa No died. Joon Young goes to the funeral home and sees all the neighbors, including the elderly granny that No Eul helped earlier, berating the invading loan sharks for harassing such innocent children.
Joon Young pays his respects to Papa No, and then spends months trying to track down No Eul through her posters and studying (and going up 100 spots in his school). We find out during this time that Gook Young is actually Uncle Jung Sik’s lazy son, so it now makes some sense why Gook Young is his manager and also has the same hairstyle as Jung Sik. It also makes sense why Gook Young never saw No Eul before, as she had run away before he came to town.
Joon Young even starts maintaining some of the posters asking for witnesses, but when he calls No Eul’s supposed number again, a different girl picks up. The number has now been repurposed for someone else. So he starts writing his own number on the poster, but then scratches it out. Why should he care? Why should he help? Just then his phone rings. It’s No Eul! Somehow she got his number! She heard from the granny that Joon Young was the one who carried her father’s portrait after the funeral. “Thank you, Joon Young,” she says.
Flash forward to the present in 2016, on that snowy road. Mind you the show is at 55 minutes already and we’re practically at the same point in time in episode 1 where we left them. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if episode 1 and 2 had the same cliffhanger?! No, it wouldn’t be.
Thankfully we progress further into the conversation. No Eul does remember him from the past, but she never acknowledged it because what good would it do? Would he have decided to do the documentary just because she knows him? In fact, if she claimed to have known him, he might have been a bigger ass to her now that he’s a famous star. She thanks him for the money though, and continues trudging on her way.
But it’s cold. She’s not properly dressed. And she hasn’t had breakfast and puked what was left in her stomach. So No Eul barely makes ten steps when she faints. Joon Young pauses. There’s no way this money-hungry girl could be his Eul.
He runs towards her.
It can’t be his No Eul… right?
I was scared for a moment that we were going to be left with the same cliffhanger as episode 1, but even if we did I would have been okay with it because we learned so much in episode 2 that it colors the world that they live in better. It’s like we finally see the outline in the drawing, the foundation of where their relationship is built upon. It’s also kudos to the writing. There are moments of unclear time jumps and a flashback-within-a-flashback in this episode, but Lee Kyung Hee has managed to tell us everything we need to know for now quite beautifully to bring us to the moment we’re at right now.
I loved Lee Won Jong in this episode and am super grateful for his cameo. He is the funniest and best father one could have, I feel. You could see where No Eul’s current desperation for money comes from. And speaking of fathers, I loved Yoo Oh Sung in this episode because he walks the fine line between loving father and evil man. At the end of the day he does what he does for his family too, and his seemingly small actions (to him) have a big impact for the other characters. I would like to know more about Hyun Joon and Joon Young’s relationship as Joon Young gave up the law career path and moved towards the entertainment business. In episode 1 he seemed pretty disinterested in Joon Young, as if he didn’t recognize him. It’s possible he also forgot about the bright upstart after so many years, especially as he never knew Joon Young’s name.
I’m also very curious to know how Joon Young landed on the actor-career path from here. We know that he got approached by an entertainment agency CEO because of his model-esque good looks, but he had no interest in doing that sort of thing. I wonder what the catalyst was that made him sign up for the acting life. I also want to know how No Eul ended up as a PD. She disappeared without a trace, with no inclination of what kind of person she wanted to be when she grew up. And then suddenly she returns with a bang to Joon Young’s life as a (failed) PD. I mean, if we hadn’t known about No Eul’s past, it would have been like we were watching two people collide with each other. But now that we do, it seems like No Eul is the comet that came crashing into Joon Young’s world. She comes in with a bang, out of nowhere, and is completely upending his life as his world is already turning.
And on a final note, in case you’re curious where to watch Uncontrollably Fond, you can check it out on DramaFever.