Romance Is a Bonus Book is a 2019 South Korean television series starring Lee Na-young and Lee Jong-suk. It aired from January 26 to March 17, 2019 on tvN.
Cha Eun-ho is a successful author and a chief editor at a book publishing company. Kang Dan-i is a mother and former successful advertising copywriter. When Cha Eun-ho was a child, Kang Dan-i saved him from an accident and was injured. Kang Dan-i had Cha Eun-ho help her while she was recuperating in hospital and later on bedrest for one year. By helping her acquire books to read from the library, Cha Eun-ho himself became interested in writing. The two youngsters stayed close friends well into adulthood. However, their friendship was strained after Kang Dan-i started dating a selfish, inconsiderate man. Although he disapproved of her choice in a partner, and she too expressed doubt at times, Kang Dan-i stands by her decision to marry this man.
Now in the present, Cha Eun-ho enlists Kang Dan-i to help him find a housekeeper – but he has no idea Kang Dan-i is the one doing the work and taking payment. Her husband has cheated on her, and she is now divorced and unemployed, but he is also unaware of her living situation and the hardships she is facing as a divorced single mother with a large gap in work experience trying to re-enter the professional world. Eventually Kang Dan-i is no longer able to keep her secrets from him, and Cha Eun-ho lends her a helping hand. Their lives become even more intertwined when Kang Dan-i applies to be a temporary task support worker at his publishing company. Although Cha Eun-ho is initially worried about how she will perform, Kang Dan-i surprises him and other senior executives with her creativity and hard work.
The rest of the series is about the personal and professional challenges they face as they slowly start to realize their true feelings for each other and navigate this next stage of their lives.
Romcom slice of life drama about a writer and a single mother who used to be a copywriter going from long time friends to lovers.
Review : by txc_vertigo (link)
(1) As this drama is heavily character driven, I really enjoyed that the supporting cast got to shine brightly in this drama. They all have fleshed out characters and get a lot of air time as well. The supporting cast becomes more than just cardboard cutouts with one or two personality traits, but we learn of their journeys alongside the main characters’ story.
(2) Thanks to good characterization, writing and acting the romance between the main leads felt believable. The male lead, Eunho, doesn’t just throw himself at the female lead, Dan-i, at the first opportunity possible, despite deeply regretting letting her go in the first place. As she is his close friend, he is very cautious with his feelings in order not to ruin their friendship, but eventually succumbs to them anyway as they are just too strong. Once, the romance starts to pick up speed, their relationship feels genuine, cute and supporting and there are very few misunderstandings as they are actually capable of communicating with each other like adults.
(3) A strong focus on books and showing true love for the art of book making is displayed throughout the drama. This aspect of the drama is probably the most interesting and unique part of the drama and for that very reason, I think all the book lovers out there will appreciate it. They even shone light on poetry which is criminally overlooked by most people, although that comes from me who loves poetry. The only thing that I didn’t really like about the bookmaking aspect of the drama is that they present books as something very objective. As with all art there are many subjective aspects and that goes for books as well. Thus, when they just declare a book as absolutely good or bad without further discussion it ticks me off a bit.
(4) The way they portray the struggles of women trying to rekindle their careers after having children is commendable. They deal with the issue in a mature and profound way. It shows the consequences of always putting others before yourself and not loving yourself enough, and the journey towards accomplishing a more healthy balance in life.
(5) Although the drama has a quite generic premise, the drama is filled with elements that we haven’t seen before that much. It threw in a musical number, a silent film parody, animated illustrations for telling stories and other features you don’t see in every other drama. It also has a thematic ending for each episode in the form of a picture book. Usually dramas just end when the episode is up and then they go into the preview. The only other dramas I’ve seen that added thematic endings to each episode was My Love From The Stars and the Age of Youth series with its character interviews at the end of each episode.
(6) I actually thought the mystery subplot in the drama worked really well. I know this is might be an unpopular opinion, but here me out. The mystery remained plausible throughout and didn’t involve anything that broke the existing characterizations that had been established. On top of that the mystery subplot didn’t muck about too much with the tone of the drama. Thus, I think this subplot added to the drama as a whole instead of taking away from it.
(1) The backstory of Dan-i has very little effect on her character and the story as a whole. Dan-i being a divorced single mother is purely used as a plot device in order to give her a reason to live with Eunho that still makes her come off as sympathetic. Her ex-husband exists merely to be a slight antagonist whom Eunho can show off his macho side towards and once he is done doing so the ex-husband is never seen again. Dan-i rarely mentions her daughter or her experiences as a mother. She facetimes her daughter once around episode 5 and then we don’t see her daughter until the last episode. This is such a waste as well since they bothered to cast a really good child actress, Lee Jiwon of Sky Castle fame, who is then not utilized at all.
(2) The premise is not very unique as it is yet another office romance where the guy is the boss and the woman is his subordinate. It’s fine to write these types of stories, but being unique isn’t going to be one of its strengths as we’ve seen plenty of these stories before. Instead, it relies on good execution which it mostly keeps up.
(3) The cinematography is just average. If the cinematography of this show was a food it would be white bread. It gets the job done just fine, but it’s very plain. The intriguing shots are few and far between one another. For example, I really dig the heavy blur they put on the backgrounds with the cityscape and all of its colorful bright lights shining behind the characters in the foreground while using a telephoto lens. It’s a cool stylistic choice to use that heavy of a focus and blur on top of using the telephoto lens, making it clear through the cinematography that it’s a character driven drama putting them as far in the foreground as possible and blurring out everything else. The poor looking shots are also few and far between each other. One shot that bothered me for example is a scene where Eunho is reminiscing about the times he waited outside of Dan-i’s house after getting drunk, and the shot has both a past version of Dan-i and Eunho in frame as well as the present day Eunho. Cool idea, poor execution, as it is so extremely obvious where the cut is where they put in Lee Jong Suk’s stand-in to look like past Eunho. On the whole, one could argue that the far from flashy cinematography fits the realism of the show, but I wish they could have spiced it up a little more.
(4) The messages that the drama is trying to send become a bit too overtly obvious at times. The reason for this is that they forego the golden rule of storytelling: “show don’t tell”. The show often tries to put a nice little ribbon upon its messages, especially towards the ending of each episode, by giving out small life lessons. I get that the show is trying to put out inspirational messages to the viewer but they end up making their points a bit too in your face. It’s like the writer didn’t have enough confidence in that the viewer would pick up on the messages because they were too subtle when in fact they were just fine from the get go and there was no need to explain further. This is a very common and easy writing mistake to make so I won’t hold it against the writer too much.
Score: 7,5 / 10 – It’s a good drama but it doesn’t take too many risks and leaves some plot points hanging loose, which is what hinders it from being a great drama and not just a good one.