Romance Is A Bonus Book
로맨스는 별책부록
tvN (2019) 16 Episodes
Romantic Comedy / Melodrama
Grade: B+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

OST Song "Take My Hand" by Jannabi

Romance Is A Bonus Book
(2019) should have been an A+ Korean drama for me, with the caliber of actors it had in it, and with the screenwriter of the popular "I Need Romance" series Jung Hyun
Jung at the helm (I am particularly daffy over I Need Romance 3, the best of the lot, and I re-watch it every summer), and while I DID enjoy Romance Is A Bonus Book quite a bit while I watched it, especially in the beginning, at least one major plot development -- or more accurately, LACK of plot development -- disturbed me quite a lot, namely the fact that the female lead character of a recently divorced woman in her late thirties (a comeback role for Won Bin's wife Lee Na Young from Ruler Of Your Own World) was given a young daughter in the script, but we essentially see this child abandoned by BOTH parents - the ex-husband who left his family to shack up with another woman -- and her financially struggling mother, who often seemed more concerned with finding a job and fulfilling her own professional and romantic dreams than taking care of her only minor child! I wondered why the scriptwriter even bothered giving her a child in the first place! She should have remained a single woman in the story, because that's how she acted more than 3/4s of the time.

For the majority of this drama we never see this child, who in reality would have suffered greatly from the sudden break-up of her family, not even a picture on a bedroom table or at a work-desk of her mother! This is entirely unrealistic for the majority of divorced families. Often the children need just as much re-assurance that they are loved as the cheated upon spouse who was deserted. This writer totally ignored this truth; except for one telephone call near the beginning of the show this child of hers is never mentioned again! How much more powerful a drama this would have been if the writer had bravely shown the profound effects of divorce upon children. Since the lead female character seemed to have a moral, younger, financially secure man in love with her (played by Lee Jong Suk from the vastly superior I Hear Your Voice) why would he object to taking care of the child since he loved the mother? Just shuffle the kid off to boarding school to get her out of the way? It was as if she died. I just couldn't respect this plot cop-out.


Where's The Kid???

The Story:

We follow the lives of several people in the book publishing industry during this drama. Our male lead character is named Cha Eun Ho (Lee Jong Suk) who is known as a genius writer and copy editor, and presently he is the youngest chief editor at his publishing company, which is officially run by the affable co-founder sunbae (senior) Kim Jae Min (actor Kim Tae Woo, who played the unforgettably evil Mu Chul in the masterpiece That Winter, The Wind Blows).

The Kooky, Flamboyant Chief Editor Jae Min (Kim Tae Woo)
Quite Different from Dastardly Mu Chul!

Eun Ho is clever and good looking, with a warm heart, but he has a secret: he has been in love for many years with an older married friend named Kang Dan Yi (Lee Na Young) who used to be a talented copywriter for a publishing firm before her marriage and motherhood. Due to her sudden divorce from a husband who cruelly cheated on her she is now almost broke and unemployed, with a young sick daughter in the hospital as well. (I was wondering what kind of terrible lawyer she had who didn't provide for her financially in the divorce agreement - he should have been disbarred!). She is so desperate for work that she even considers lying on her resume so she can obtain any entry-level position in any publishing company in Seoul. Even though she tries diligently to find a job she is unsuccessful at it for quite some time, especially since there is prejudice against women who leave the workforce for motherhood for several years. Too many others right out of school, and with fewer family responsibilities, are competing for the same entry level jobs.

Finally Kang Dan Yi gets an entry level job at a publishing company by lying about her educational and professional background in publishing, pretending she is only a high school graduate. And of course, no small coincidence, this company that hires her just happens to be the same one in which Cha Eun Ho is the chief editor. However, he tries not to show her any favoritism at work, even though he clearly is still fond of her. When he discovers she is basically homeless he offers her a room in his own apartment, and of course she takes it. (This is a typical K-drama trope: get the main lead characters in a close proximity arrangement so we can see their feelings develop for one another, and here, like clockwork, those feelings are confessed about half-way through the drama). 

The secondary characters in the drama are often quite amusing and interesting as well, including my favorite Song Hae Rin (Jung Eugene from Because It's The First Time), a copy editor, who shows a continued sweetness and humility and sense of humor through most of the story. She often made me smile because she wasn't as complicated in her nature as the other characters. In the beginning she has a crush on Eun Ho but they essentially talk it out and she comes to her senses fairly quickly, seeming to take a new shine to a graphics artist named Ji Seo Joon (Wi Ha Joon from Something In The Rain) who often does cover designs for the publishing company's books.

Seo Joon seems to have an air of mystery about himself. He coops himself up in his apartment for long periods of time and seems to be busy with one particular project, which as it turns out might link him to a famous Korean author who suddenly disappeared a number of years ago with no trace. There even appears to be some kind of a link between Seo Joon and Eun Ho, even though for most of the drama they don't seem very friendly toward one another. Will that change by the end of the story?

Even though Dan Yi quickly makes friends in the company it eventually is revealed that she lied on her resume to get the entry level job and she is fired. She tries to work for a smaller publishing firm but leaves when she finds the owner operating unethically. Right before she had left Eun Ho's company, she had applied for a writing contest there, and she ends up winning! Can the chief editors find it in their hearts to offer her an even better job, this time based on her excellent professional skills in the writing and promotion departments?

When lives become stabilized among the workforce, the company begins to excel like never before, and can even start to take on more experimental projects for publication, like poetry books and fanciful novel titles that might have troubles selling at first. This excites the staff because they all feel they can contribute to the publishing company's success in their own unique ways. In this respect the drama created a nice feeling of camaraderie among the workers, and I wondered if publishing firms in Korea were REALLY this upbeat all the time! (Somehow I doubt it!).

I was hoping in the last episode that the daughter would FINALLY be reunited with her mother but nope! she is never mentioned again, which really bugged me. Dan Yi was now financially successful and "in love with a wonderful guy!" (to quote a song in the musical South Pacific); the script writer COULD have shown her joyfully being re-united with her daughter and shown the daughter happy when Dan Yi married Eun Ho, but nope! That wasn't shown either. I was left scratching my head, knowing that this is not what happens in the majority of most divorce cases: usually one parent is primarily given custody, but not here. For all the audience knew the kid could have fallen off a pier and drowned. The neglect of this important story line brought this drama down from A+ to B+ and frankly that made me very sad. I was excited to see Lee Na Young come back to acting, excited to see Lee Jong Suk united with a leading lady older than himself (he seems to do best with that casting scenario), and excited to see a drama about the publishing world. However, I just wish the writer had interviewed actual divorced women to find out what it's REALLY like out there for divorced parents. Instead she chose to bring pathos into the story late in the game regarding an elderly character in a coma - but you'll have to find out what that entails by watching the drama yourself.

Try it, despite my misgivings, it still had quite the pleasant entertainment value -- nice performances by the fun cast, sweet music, and adorable humor at times. Enjoy.