This is a drama that lured me to watch solely by its title. The phrase “drinking solo” bears a negative connotation (I presume more so in Asian countries than the West), but it can be comforting and liberating when you let it. I should know; I’ve done it too. And I was intrigued as to how this show will interpret the title.
So I jumped in without any expectations – I don’t know the actors except for Gong Myung (whom I completely forgot about until I saw him appear onscreen) and I haven’t seen the Let’s Eat series (which inspired this spinoff). I might have imagined some dramatic brandy-pouring or wine tasting 101, but I’m glad Drinking Solo (also known as Let’s Drink) is actually heavier on the human angle than plain alcohol appreciation. It looks at the different approaches to drinking, and the different reasons why people do so.
Interestingly, the production takes us to Noryangjin (located in the southern part of Seoul), which to me is only two things: 1) fish market and 2) cram schools. We get a glimpse of the subculture of this community, and right off the bat we’re educated by the show (through its character Kim Ki-bum) on the misconceptions about the civil service exam-takers in this area – prepping us to see the real side of Noryangjin.
Drinking alone is almost like a sacred ritual for infamous academy lecturer Jin Jung-suk (Ha Suk-jin), setting his own drinking philosophy – that is, to be surrounded by fine things. For someone who talks all day, this is the time when he can enjoy solitude and rid himself of the awkwardness of social situations. He’s your typical smug over-achiever, who looks down on people that don’t pass his standards (“quality” is his catchword).
One such victim of his critical eye is Park Hana (Park Ha-sun), whom he spots volunteering to drive her drunk boss home. Jung-suk is quick to conclude that she’s the “yes-man” type who butters people up – a trait he apparently dislikes. And his opinion of her only gets worse in their following encounters, no thanks to bad timing and misunderstandings.
Because as it turns out, both of them are new hires of the same academy in Noryangjin. He’s the sought-after Seoul University-educated exam guru who has around 1,000 students per class, while she’s the virtually-unknown newbie from the outskirts with no impressive academic background. Hana’s got nothing but optimism and diligence, but has a tendency to be too trusting and accommodating. The drama creates an amusing workplace dynamic with these two opposites, together with fellow instructors Hwang Jin-yi (Hwang Woo-seul-hye), Hana’s friend and referrer who uses her looks to gain more students, and Min Jin-woong (Min Jin-woong), who uses his bad impersonation skills to make his class interesting.
On the other side of the classroom, we meet satoori-speaking Kim Ki-bum (Key’s actual name), an easygoing 9th grade civil service student coasting along thanks to his parents’ support, who guides his friend Gong Myung (Gong Myung) about the realities of Noryangjin life. Gong Myung himself is still on limbo after getting out of military last year, though his mom pushes him to take the civil service exams. Meanwhile their other friend Kim Dong-young (Kim Dong-young) is the classic struggling student, who’s guilty of being a burden to his family and girlfriend after failing several times already.
I love how the show’s backdrop is creating realistic and moving stories for our characters, and I find the story was cleverly set up for the audience. The leads seem like drama tropes but the environment helps them become relatable, and just a little bit offbeat to be interesting enough. This is a drama that is more character-driven, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I accepted these new people without consciously assessing the acting. The two high-pressure worlds of students and teachers do not overlap that quickly, so I was able to appreciate the different toils and hardships these different people go through on a daily basis. But I do look forward to more of their interactions and future complications.
As for the “drinking” part, yes we do get to see that a lot, though expectedly not as elaborate and appetizing as food porn. But the quality of sound effects does elevate the consumption: you hear the crisp can-opening, the pouring, the fizz, and every single gulp. Ahhh~. Jung-suk always pairs his drink with most scrumptious food, enhancing the visual appeal. More importantly, the context behind every drinking occasion lets you see why a can of beer is more than just a can of beer. From what I’ve seen so far in the first two episodes, I sense another understated yet charming tvN gem with this new drama. As long as this show doesn’t go overboard and promote alcoholism, I’m in for the whole ride. Cheers.