I’ve contemplated writing about “Backstreet Rookie” full series review since Ji Chang Wook fans can be very harsh against anyone who posts something about him that is not positive.
But after completing the series, I decided to do so because I have a couple of points I wanted to address.
Note: this is a personal subjective review, and will include spoilers of episode 1 to 16. If you don’t like reading others opinions that don’t align with yours, please don’t read this one.
What I liked about the drama
Despite my issues with “Backstreet Rookie” plot, I don’t hate this drama, I found it boring, you’ll find out why below soon. I want to talk about what I liked first before talking about the issues I have with it.
The most upsetting thing for me is how it could’ve turned out; “Backstreet Rookie” shouldn’t have been a rom-com but a drama about life. I think taking the drama in a serious tone would’ve benefited it even better. You’ve seen it when Dae Hyun’s parents were treated like trash by his gf parents. The heartbreaking emotional moments were some of the highlights of the series for me personally.
“Backstreet Rookie” had many nice moments, I say moments, not episodes. I liked how adorable Dae Hyun and Saet Byul were, and I liked their chemistry. I was honestly not expecting to like them together at all, of course, my thoughts on their relationship changed over the course of the drama [you’ll understand why when you read below] but I loved their dynamic together.
Also, the sweet moments between Saet Byul and Dae hyun’s mother really made the drama fun for more, those heartwarming moments were very emotional and I loved how they were executed.
A lot of people said “Backstreet Rookie” taught them a lot of lessons and I am honestly happy that people took away such lessons from the drama.
I also want to praise Kim Yoo Jung and Ji Chang Wook’s performances, if it weren’t for their amazing dedication, I wouldn’t have been able to continue watching. Seeing how passionate they felt for their characters and how they carried out their duties even through the controversies made me admire their professionalism even more.
I want to also touch briefly on Ji Chang wook’s performance. We all know he’s new to rom-coms but I felt that this time, he was able to enjoy it even more and executed it better. He felt a bit awkward in “Melting Me Softly” but I don’t see that in this drama.
Now let’s jump into what I didn’t like.
The controversies and beyond that
Some people have already given up on “Backstreet Rookie” because of the controversies attached to it. I tried to look past those and managed to finish the series but I understand why some people chose to stop.
The issue for me was with the fans who shamed those who said they’d stop. There were many reasons for it, the racist undertones being one of the issues; let’s also not forget what this drama was based on, to begin with.
But “Backstreet Rookie” had issues with its plot beyond those controversies.
For the majority of its run, it was fairly uncontroversial, the controversy stems from the 1st episode and the reoccurring appearance of a character called Dal Sik that I found simply cringy and racist, I usually fast-forwarded his scenes, it was so uncomfortable watching him.
Aside from the 1st episode, if you stuck around, you’d see there were no more controversies that k-netizens could pick on. The same couldn’t be said for international fans, because Dal Sik’s character continued to be problematic and disrespectful until the last minute.
Was the screenwriter afraid of more backlash?
The biggest issue for me is the plot of “Backstreet Rookie,” and this is why the article is titled like that. I’ve seen almost all of Ji Chang Wook project, so the title I wrote feels suitable in my opinion because I came to this conclusion after watching all his previous dramas as well.
Screenwriter Son Geun Joo has a couple of other credits to his name, but for the most part, this is probably the drama most people know him for, his other projects weren’t especially memorable.
The issue with “Backstreet Rookie” is that it isn’t even trying. I thought episode 3 and 4 were freaking amazing and they really set the bar high for me, they were the perfect mix between serious and comedy. However, it went downhill from there and I think the backlash they received was reflected in the way they handled the rest of the series.
It probably scarred him so much so that he just played it as safe as he possibly could, which brings the question, why did they adapt this into a drama to begin with? Out of all the successful webcomics, this appears to be the least likely to have ever been adapted, yet, somehow, it happened.
The issue of poor plot development
The love triangle
Screenwriter Son Geun Joo set up the characters relationships badly, especially Yeon Joo’s. She is so selfish and unlikeable but she is there on the screen for a good portion of time creating what could be called the most lousy love triangle of 2020.
The audience already decided they didn’t like her due to the way she was presented, yet, she’s shoved into our faces for good 10 episodes before Dae Hyun is even thinking about breaking up with her, and when it happens, it’s because she initiated it. They stretched what should’ve been a swift breakup into the most slow plot development I could think of in a while.
“Backstreet Rookie” has very slow plot development and this is the reason why it was so boring, nothing happens for 60% of the drama runtime and that’s a huge issue, an issue not even wookie and Yoo Jung can fix.
Each episode, we have an absurd amount of filler scenes and a good 10 minutes of actual plot development. Each issue the characters encounter is drawn out to the max. I wondered if about 70% of those scenes needed to exist and if they deleted about 40% of the drama filler scenes, I highly doubt people would notice.
Dae Hyun spends the majority of his time trying so desperately to save his relationship for reasons that aren’t properly explained, and to top that off, it is so difficult to root for them couple which makes watching their scenes together especially annoying.
Usually, in other kdramas, the love triangle is done better; at least, the characters are up against each other in a balanced fight, they each have desirable features that make them candidates. We usually contemplate over which couple to root for and remain interested because of this as well.
And despite the fact that he dated someone for so long, he moved on rather quickly onto the next thing. For someone who tried so hard to keep the pieces from falling that doesn’t make sense. It feels like the writer is just doing whatever he pleases with the characters without regard to how he wrote them to begin with.
Dae Hyun and Saet Byul love relationship setup
The other problem that rose from lack of plot development was how I perceived Dae Hyun and Saet Byul’s relationship. Let me explain.
The screenwriter sets Dae Hyun’s character in a way that doesn’t allude to the fact that he could be in love with Saet Byul for the majority of the drama runtime. The character is basically too kind and helps everyone out, so when he’s helping out Saet Byul, it doesn’t feel that he’s doing it because he has feelings for her, however, I was made aware that wasn’t the case in the original webcomic. If I remember correctly, fans told me that he was actually falling for Saet Byul while still dating the other one and he was kinda trashy not at all as nice the one we saw on TV.
The romance took too long to get started to the point I started liking their relationship just the way it is, platonic. I felt he could be her bigger brother who looks after her and I seriously thought Kang Ji Wook was equally suitable for her.
This doesn’t mean I think they have bad chemistry, not at all, but the plot developed so slowly that it just became frustrating and made me change my mind eventually.
Dae Hyun moved on by episode 12, which is already too late (from a plot development POV), this usually happens in kdramas on episode 7 to 8, by then, the leads already exchange kiss scenes.
It felt to me as if the writer was so afraid of backlash because of the pairing that he tried his best to delay the start of their relationship, they don’t even officially start dating until the last minute of the drama. How many kdramas have done this in recent memory?
Why are you adapting a problematic webcomic if you can’t handle the backlash?
I could definitely tell a lot of changes were made to the drama as it was getting filmed, the screenwriter tried so hard to avoid making Dae Hyun the bad guy by alluding that he liked Saet Byul in any shape or form while he was still dating Yeon Joo.
If you were going to adapt a racy problematic webcomic, then stick to it. I have high doubt they didn’t see this coming. I am not Korean but I could already tell they were going to face backlash since the base material is not suitable for public channel dramas, and they wanted “Backstreet Rookie” to be 15+.
Why? You adapt a webcomic, take out what makes it remotely different, then dilute it to the point it’s no longer anything different at all. What made the webcomic stand out was its content for the better or worse, if you take that out, would anyone have adapted it?
There was also the parents’ volatile relationship. I just couldn’t stand Dae Hyun’s mom for a good portion of the drama, she physically abuses the father and treats him like trash in front of everyone and if the roles were reversed, people would’ve lost their shit. Eventually, the writer also toned it down a lot. I bet he also read comments about this.
This is not to say I am against doing content that is 18+, but if you were going to do it, do it right not by trying to make it sound okay, but show us why such content is problematic. Dae Hyun’s parents toxic relationship really got on my nerves because they used it for comic relief, how is that okay? That’s like me writing a script saying a husband beating his wife is okay and ‘funny’ at times.
It’s okay to write about such toxic relationships but show us how the husband plans to get over it and get the respect he deserves and them realizing she’s abusing him instead of trying your best to act like such scenes didn’t happen. There many couples who love each other but they’re toxic to each other, love translating into violence and disrespect isn’t love.
They tried to patch their relationship when episode 11 and 12 rolled out and then acted like the mother was intimidating but never abusive. Sis, if you don’t like him, leave him.
This is why I thought “Backstreet Rookie” was the most boring project I’ve seen of Ji Chang Wook. My issue is mainly with the plot as you’ve read. If you made it this far, I am thankful, I would like to know what you personally thought of the drama, do you agree or disagree with me? Lets discuss in the comment section below.