“Start-Up” Second Half Is Regrettably Disappointing, Here Is Why

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“Start-Up” is a tvN-Netflix drama about start up and the journey of young adults into established CEOs and important figures.

Unlike the abundance of such stories in foreign countries, stories about the underdogs in Kdramas are often reduced to either a couple of minutes of throwback and exposition or bypassed altogether in favor of the hotshot rude CEO with daddy/mommy issue who has girls drooling over him at every corner.




This is why in a way, “Start-Up” offered a rare look into what goes on before a kdrama character hits the jackpot; it takes us through the journey of its characters and how they tackle every obstacle in their way.

At its heart, it’s a rom-com, but it could be easily the reason why it couldn’t fly higher. Today, I am taking a look at “Start-Up” episode 9 to 16 to discuss my thoughts on the series and why the second half wasn’t as fun as I’d expected it to be and why it ended up being disappointing.

Table of Contents:

  1. Shifting focus from start-ups to the love triangle
  2. How the screenwriter handled Dal Mi’s finding out the truth
  3. Do San is childish and whiny? Nam Joo Hyuk’s portrayal
  4. Lack of professionalism in the work place
  5. How Kim Seon Ho stole the show
  6. Kang Han Na’s character In Jae deserved better
  7. What kept me going… the cast

Note: this is a subjective review. I will share my personal opinion while keeping in mind how others might perceive it.

1Shifting focus from start-ups to the love triangle

My issue is in no way related to the actors, in fact, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have stuck around and that’s a fact. I loved everyone from Suzy, Nam Joo Hyuk to Kim Seon Ho and Kang Han Na. Everyone, even the supporting actors were such a treat and worked so well together.

I’ve spoken about screenwriter Park Hye Ryun in my review of the drama’s first half, I pointed out why I am slightly scared because she tends to rely on repetitive clichés towards the second half of her dramas, and the thing I feared the most happened.

Screenwriter Park Hye Ryun is somewhere in-between when it comes to her writing, on one hand I feel she’s matured with her scripts and on the other hand, I feel that sometimes, she’s still holding on tight to the old-school kdrama clichés that worked wonders in the 2000s but don’t do as well these days.

It’s easy to fall back on clichés, stereotypes and conveniences because they’re comfortable. At the start, I thought she would be trying something outside her comfort zone but she went right back to that in the second half.

“Start-Up” was ruined by its love triangle.



The second half focused heavily on the love triangle between Do Sand, Ji Pyeong and Dal Mi. I don’t mind romance because its hella cute but the heavy investment in that department overshadowed whatever potential the drama had to begin with, reducing “Start-Up” to yet another typical rom-com when it could’ve been so much more.

I worked at startups for a while, while watching the drama it was fun seeing the screenwriter explain all those difficult terms so easily to the viewers and I found it especially enduring how she navigated around those topics without them becoming dull, that’s a skill and I commend her for that.  

However, the amount of research she puts into a certain plot point depends on where she plans on taking the plot with it, to explain that easier, not everything is well researched, some areas are, some are not and its very weird because I don’t think that it would’ve been harder for her if she had consulted others on the points that occurred in the second half.

An example would be the contract signing with the big company in America, while it differs, I am aware you have about 24-72 hours to cancel a contract after it was signed [it’s called a grace period]. Since they signed with an American company, I am aware they have about three days, that’s the general rule, but exceptions do apply. Correct me if I am wrong.

Regardless, that contract signing marked the end of what “Start-Up” could’ve become and the beginning of the mess.

2How the screenwriter handled Dal Mi’s finding out the truth

I said previously I hated that they played this game where Ji Pyeong hires this man to pretend to be the one who wrote her letters as a child, I thought the idea was not only childish but extremely dull. I complained about it in my first and second episode reviews.

It took a while for it to finally go away which I also found to be an issue as well. The screenwriter milked the living soul out of this plot point until it became impossible to drag it on any further without losing the existing audience. Added to that, the way she dealt with the characters reactions honestly shocked me.




For a woman who’s supposedly never dated before and remained abstinent because of an imaginary person, Dal Mi sure moved on fast. If it were me, I’d do it like this: Dal Mi dated around but always had this perfect image of a man (Do San) in the back of her head and thus was never able to have a long relationship with anyone; it would’ve made more sense that way.

For someone who’s been lied to and their entire expectations crushed, she still had feelings for this man who ruined the entire idea for her.  

Also, the grandma, the one who orchestrated the entire scheme, wasn’t even held accountable or had to deal with it at any point during the drama run time. I found that to be especially odd. Why?

The first question is, why did she drag on this lie for this long? It doesn’t make any sense, let’s say she kept up the lie but when she wanted to meet Do San, that should’ve been when she disclosed the reality.

They basically set her up with a man blindly when they have no idea if he’s dangerous or not, I know, I know, Do San is a cute geek, but from a realistic point of view and counting how Korean women generally deal with men they don’t know, this point shocked me.

Ji Pyeong obviously wrote those letters on his own [later on] and he had feelings for Dal Mi as he wrote them all those years ago.  

It took Dal Mi a long time to find out the truth, not at the fault of her own, and it took the screenwriter ages to let it go as well. The final episodes became this push and pull drama between Dal Mi and Do San while they contemplate if the other likes them or not. Like little kids who aren’t in their mid-twenties.

3Do San is childish and whiny? Nam Joo Hyuk’s portrayal

First things first, we need to establish that Nam Joo Hyuk didn’t do anything wrong. He did his job, and well at that. I hate it when people called his performance lackluster or the character boring, I am like ‘dude, that’s how his character is written, what do you want?’

Many of us wished to see closer-to-reality Korean men and Do San is just that, to me, he’s more human-like than Ji Pyeong. He can be immature but understandably so. I don’t blame him for running after a beautiful woman like her.

Even his actions which are mostly unprofessional and shortsighted were understandable, his character made the most sense to me among all of the lead actors. His character description matched his actions to a tee.

A lot of people took issue with the way he dealt with Ji Pyeong, its true, he was immature and had inferiority complex and I honestly understand why. My only issue with this particular point is how the screenwriter didn’t attempt to establish that his behavior was wrong until episode 15.

Also, the point when Dal Mi insisted he leaves and lied to him, I actually understand it now better and approve of it. He’s too childish and consumed by his love for her that he doesn’t see anything beyond that. For someone who hasn’t dated and has no experience, that’s not unlikely to happen.

I just think he shouldn’t have ended up with her. The better ending in my opinion would’ve been if they remained friends, or if they dated but didn’t work in the same company.

4Lack of professionalism in the work place

For a drama that’s about startups and the lives of the people who work on them, there were a lot of issues. From personal experience, I know that if I saw characters like Do San and Dal Mi in real life, I am certain they won’t go far unless they separate.

The issue here is that the main characters base their actions on their moods and how their perspective partners are acting/reacting. This makes for a very uncomfortable work environment for the rest. To the people who might say I am nitpicking, I do agree but if this drama was supposed to emulate real-life startups working environment then it failed miserably.

Do San tends to base his entire future plans and approach to his business based on Dal Mi’s aspirations, if she wants something he goes above and beyond to get it for her. In dating life, that’s cute but if you’re dating a coworker, this tends to become a disaster.

This also made Do San appear extremely childish on many levels, childish in the way he couldn’t separate work from personal life, childish in the way he treated his senior Ji Pyeong, childish in his approach to his work life too which could become disastrous later on.  

My issue is, the screenwriter approach to this entire setup differed greatly in the second half. The start-up was used as a prop for a classical rom-com of overly used clichés at this point.

5Kang Han Na’s character In Jae deserved better

This is just to recap; I needed to put this here too. The story began with the two sisters separating and all of that, however, it quickly moved from being a family affair into what we’ve seen. From watching the premiere, I legitimately thought the screenwriter was going to focus on the sisters and how they’ll grow together and reconnect in the present day. Imagine my shock when I found out that wasn’t going to happen.

I wrote an entire article dissecting Kang Han Na’s character and talking about why I felt so sorry for the actress, read it from here, there is no point in me repeating it over and over again.

6How Kim Seon Ho stole the show

Let’s establish this fact first, Kim Seon Ho benefited a lot from Suzy and Nam Joo Hyuk established fanbases, don’t deny that and don’t discredit the work of the other actors.

I understand some of you began to love and look at Kim Seon Ho more fondly through this drama, but it’s not right to discredit Suzy and Nam Joo Hyuk influence when they’re most probably one of the reason you watched in the beginning.

I just needed to say this, I saw so many comments on my articles from his new fans being rude towards Suzy and Nam Joo Hyuk and praising Kim Seon Ho as if he was always this popular or as if he deserved better than all of the others blurring the line between kdramaland and reality. Its a drama, I dont know why some are taking it too seriously.

I watched for Kim Seon Ho and Nam Joo Hyuk, but still, this is directed at the new fans and this is coming from someone who’s been a fan of Kim Seon Ho since 2017, he, himself, credited his rising popularity to Suzy and Nam Joo Hyuk influence in recent interviews [check video below].

Now onto Kim Seon Ho’s performance. He was the highlight of the show.

Kim Seon Ho recently spoke in an interview about his approach to the character; I began to understand just how much he understood Ji Pyeong and how hard he tried to convey his feelings to the viewers. Check out the interview below, it’s so cute.

Many people tuned in for Suzy and Nam Joo Hyuk but stayed for Kim Seon Ho.

In the first half, I complained about how under-developed Kim Seon Ho’s character was, in the second half the screenwriter gave him the chance to shine brightly and oh boy, he stole the spotlight.

The thing is, Kim Seon Ho understood his character too well and worked 150% harder to convey Ji Pyeong’s thoughts; this led to people shifting focus onto him because his character is obviously more mature and more charismatic. It’s not his fault because this is how his character is written. Kim Seon Ho has theater experience.

To the new fans of Kim Seon Ho but don’t know, he has a cute habit of stealing the spotlight, having watched all his previous dramas this isn’t the first time it happened but the scale this time is noticeably bigger. This doesn’t often happen in kdramaland, a lot of my mutual on twitter were discussing this as well.

With his amazing acting skills, we began to feel even more sorry for Ji Pyeong and the life he’s led. Women tend to gravitate towards charismatic mature men so the attention his character received is warranted. This is also why many disliked the ending, I personally thought it was better than what I had expected, but if you were rooting for Ji Pyeong, you probably didn’t like it.

7What kept me going… the cast

Everyone did an amazing job. I don’t think I can praise the actors and the staff enough for having worked so hard on this. Everyone did so well, I liked Suzy’s performance, it was my personal fav of her in recent memory.

Nam Joo Hyuk understood his character so well and did amazing in my opinion. I can see passion in Nam Joo Hyuk’s eyes and that makes me happy, I am happy with his choices for the past two years, he’s picking projects suitable for his acting skills. Nam Joo Hyuk isn’t perfect for every character, but he’s perfect for the ones that suit his style and experience at this stage in his career.

If you’re asking what kept me watching, it was the cast. I can tell they had fun filming and I could see how hard the actors worked on trying to make their character unique even when some of them were too 2D.

This is why I am sad “Start-Up” couldn’t have been better, my review doesn’t come from a place of malice, I genuinely liked the actors and wished the project could’ve done better.

So these are my thoughts on “Start-Up,” what about you guys? let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed the show! But I couldn’t agree more that it could have been way a lot better. Potentially one of the best kdrama for 2020 hadn’t the writer shifted focus inconsistently. It became all over the place, seems like the writer itself got confused on which character/premise/conflict/issue to flesh out. And because of that, story ended up in a mediocre level. Each 4 lead characters were not wrapped up to its fullest, specially In Jae’s. The “start up” concept became meh and the love triangle dragged on unfavorably for the plot. I don’t mind if the 2nd half shifted to the Love Triangle aspect. I mean the premise was childish to begin with, then why not address it by hammering it on so viewers would understand the character’s reaction/behavior. Why HJP went on great lengths to have NDS lie when he could have just said he was the one who wrote the letters easily? They were all conflicted bec of those letters, but can’t remember any impactful scene about it later on. So was the letters really that eventful to DalMi, in the end it didn’t seem so. Those character inconsistencies were present specially on the latter part of the series. It’s like the first half of the show made us invest on it so much but we ended up being short changed.
    It was still a lot of fun and entertaining though, thanks to Nam Joo Hyuk and Kim Seon Ho! They’re portrayal were remarkable. And I love the OSTs specially “Running” by Gaho.

  2. I definitely agree with this article. The ending was somehow disappointing. I am team Han Ji Pyeong, but I am happy with whom Dalmi ended with, the ending was just disappointing because it felt like there was missing? I wish that they have shown more? I just couldn’t explain it properly but at least they’ve shown more character development, I wanted to see Samsan Tech team at the ending and a lot more about In Jae. But nevertheless, I love Start-Up. ’twas my best kdrama so far for 2020, not too heavy, there were “kilig” scenes, and it made my classmates(who does not really watch kdrama) bond with me and argue who would win Dalmi’s heart. It was a fun!!

  3. While the SLS was real for this drama, I felt that since the writers have developed HJP’s character so much, including the final episode’s scene with Yeo Jin-Goo, there’s actually room to further go down HJP character growth in a Start Up season 2.

    It would be a good opportunity to explore another side of the “Start-Up” world where social enterprises aim to deliver on both the social and business front. Since in this series HJP was more the traditional cut-throat VC, aiming for returns only, but in Ep 16, he gave freely to the company that was helping orphans.

    Of course, the interaction with Halmeoni should continue onto the next chapter, but NDS and SDM’s character would be secondary, perhaps relegated to cameo appearance. Since it is a KDrama, there has to be a love angle, but trying to ship HJP with SIJ would be a dead-end as there was almost no character development for SIJ.

    But good luck trying to get onto the actor KSH’s schedule as I believe there will be projects lining for him after this series.

  4. Of course this is all individual views et al, but I honestly loved Start up. From my perspective this drama has set the bar very high for all other dramas about youth. Production team was not just trying to focus on romance (like in “More than friends”), nor they were trying to show only how difficult it is for young people to grow professionally and make careers (like in the “Record of Youth”). They also tried to show what people, especially young generation, can do for society. They could have shown us the creation of some super gaming app for example, or some super banking app or smth. Instead, Samsan tech created an app for visually impaired people, and the electric self-driving cars were supposed to prevent the accidents and were also created for those who can’t drive for whatever reason. I think this is an excellent message to the audience. There is a lot of educational stuff as well, they were explaining the vocabulary, such as what is the Burn Rate, what is the Risk, what is Hackathon, etc. I thought it was super interesting, I mean – you could learn something, not just watch kissing scenes. The amount of research the writers must have done for this, it’s amazing. Yes, the ending could have been better – they did not need to make it happy all-around. They won the bid, they became a unicorn and they married – total jackpot. It was a little too much :). But, we all know – it is 16 episodes, unfortunately, there will be flaws and you need to please the public. But 90% of stuff was great. I normally always fastforward the drama, because it becomes either boring or still or smth in the middle. When I watched Startup I never fastforwarded, not even once. On the contrary, I was going back and rewatching some scenes. What I read on other websites – people are saying they were “mesmerized” by this drama, you do not see often such reviews – “mesmerized”!! Also, the OST was wonderful, the stellar cast, they were all beautiful actors, casting director deserves an Oscar. They were shooting for 8 months, it’s a very long time for drama, it proves that it was well made, with a good budget. I hope that there will be more dramas like that in future. Today, I started a new one, which was heavily promoted on media, and after 10 min I was thinking – they lost me and my attention….and I fastforwarded 🙂 I miss Startup already.

  5. Thank you very much for this honest and unbiased review! I love Start-Up so much though I also agree that it could’ve been better. Also, the massive shipping fanwars added such bitter taste in my experience while watching it. No matter how I try shrugging it off, forums and comments from social media just keep on talking about who’s better for Dal Mi. I also agree with all the points that you’ve mentioned esp the oneabout Kim Seon Ho stealing the spotlight. The way Ji Pyeong was written + Kim Seon Ho’s acting is the main reason why Ji Pyeong became so popular and had formed a cult while the show is airing. It is just frustrating how the viewers criticize even the actors plus their understanding of the show is coming with a bias point of view. And I felt like because of agressive bashing and criticisms, it created a sour/bitter experience to most people, even to those who have such good understanding of the show, while watching the drama.

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