Ri Hwan (Lee Dong Wook) enters the apartment of Suk Joon (Lee Jong Hyuk) uninvited, with the intention of retrieving the bracelet of Suk Joon’s ex-girlfriend, Haeng Ah (Jung Ryeo Won). An emotional Ri Hwan goes into a collection frenzy of Haeng Ah’s perceived belongings while Suk Joon watches impassively. Suk Joon mocks Ri Hwan for doing exactly what Haeng Ah hates, and Ri Hwan is ashamed to realize that he is right. Worst of all, Ri Hwan fails to retrieve the bracelet.
The next morning, Ri Hwan visits his mother, Sun Young (Bae Jong Ok) who complains that his co-worker/flat mate, Ji Hoon (Lee Seung Joon) is an alcoholic. They are interrupted by a phone call, and Sun Young is dismayed to learn that Ri Hwan appears to be in close contact with Haeng Ah. She turns her attention to her son’s impending blind date, and it’s Ri Hwan turn to make Sun Young uncomfortable by attempting to discuss her estranged relationship with her father.
Downtrodden dentist, Yi Seul (Park Hee Von) is on her way to meet Ri Hwan for their blind date, when her mother (Park Joon Geum) arrives at her office. Her mother reacts in horror at Yi Seul’s inelegant footwear, which does nothing to off set her heavy frame.
Ri Hwan is coming out of lunch with Ji Hoon when they run into Yi Seul attempting to park her car outside his clinic. Based on the her luxury car, Ji Hoon assumes that Yi Seul is a celebrity. Ri Hwan recognizes his blind date, and after sending Ji Hoon away, greets Yi Seul. Unfortunately, Yi Seul assumes that Ri Hwan is the valet, and leaves him with her car keys without a second glance.
Radio DJ, Se Young (Kim Jung Nan) is surprised to find Haeng Ah looking professional. It turns out that Haeng Ah was called into a meeting with the president along with station manager, Dong Il (Park Won Sang). Haeng Ah is thrilled to present their cash bonus for a job well done, but Se Young is less than impressed with the modest sum. Se Young departs for an interview with their team junior acting as her manager to give the illusion of professional success. In the car, Se Young grills her junior about Haeng Ah’s relationship with Ri Hwan, and learns that the two of them grew up like siblings after Haeng Ah was orphaned.
After an amused Ri Hwan reveals his true identity to a flustered Yi Seul, they discuss Yi Seul’s close relationship with her older brother. The date is interrupted by Ji Hoon acting like paparazzi, and Yi Seul’s mother calling to check in on the date. Yi Seul attempts to mask her annoyance with her mother by remarking on Ri Hwan’s hammock, which Ri Hwan encourages her to try out. Yi Seul ends up tumbling out of the hammock and shrieking in embarrassment. Afterwards, Ri Hwan gently tends to her injuries then compliments her on her shoes. As Ri Hwan invites her to give the hammock another go, Yi Seul is smitten.
Haeng Ah is discussing who the next company president will be with her co-producer, Tae Hee (Kim Ri Na) when Tae Hee identifies the passing Suk Joon as a likely candidate. Haeng Ah goes scurrying at the sight of Suk Joon, dragging Tae Hee along. Tae Hee is accusing Haeng Ah of hiding her troubles behind a good nature facade when Haeng Ah suddenly takes off. Tae Hee watches in disbelief as Suk Joon marches after Haeng Ah. Dong Il sits down beside Tae Hee, and inadvertently reveals his knowledge about Haeng Ah and Suk Joon dating.
Suk Joon manages to catch up to Haeng Ah after she loses her shoe while trying to escape. She is flustered as he helps her put her shoe back on. Then, while riding the elevator up to the rooftop, Haeng Ah can’t help but recall when she and Su Joon kissed in her apartment elevator. On the rooftop, Haeng Ah initially gives Suk Joon the silent treatment, then gives voice to her hurt when he attempts to leave. Suk Joon can only state that he did not date her by default, but rather, actively chose to let her stay by his side.
Yi Seul is shopping for lingerie when it becomes apparent that they do not carry her size. The department store vice president greets Yi Seul, and it turns out to be her beloved older brother, Jung Woo (Kim Sa Kwon). He asks how her blind date went, and Yi Seul smiles, but does not elaborate. Yi Seul wanders by herself into the shoe department, and gets talked into buying a pair of designer stiletto heels while thinking of Ri Hwan.
Ri Hwan stops by his Aunt Gong Joo’s restaurant to treat her wrist, and runs unexpectedly into the very person he has been avoiding, a morose Haeng Ah. Ri Hwan ends up revealing the stash of items he took from Suk Joon’s apartment on Haeng Ah’s behalf. She is furious with Ri Hwan’s interference, fearful that his actions will cause his mother to misinterpret their relationship. She then accuses him of suffocating her, and Ri Hwan can’t help but wonder if his mother felt the same way when he began exerting his independence. Later, alone in their respective apartments, Haeng Ah and Ri Hwan mull over their exchange of harsh words.
Suk Joon is silent while having drinks with Dong Il, only breaking his silence to ask who Ri Hwan is, but Dong Il can only confirm that Haeng Ah does not have an older brother. After being called a relationship idiot by Dong Il, Suk Joon feels guilty enough to belatedly buy Haeng Ah a birthday cake. He runs into Ri Hwan bringing taiyaki for Haeng Ah. At first, Ri Hwan is hostile, but he swallows his pride and asks Dong Il for a favour.
The request for a favour hearkens back to when Haeng Ah’s father asked a young Ri Hwan to promise him, over alcohol, to take care of Haeng Ah after he is gone. In exchange, Haeng Ah’s father gifts him with a remote control car. Shortly thereafter, Haeng Ah’s father dies right before Sun Young and Haeng Ah’s eyes. Ri Hwan arrives just in time to hear doctors speculate that the patient’s abdominal wall collapse was caused by alcohol consumption. Ri Hwan drops to the floor alongside the remote controlled car from Haeng Ah’s father.
I am surprised at what a mix of emotion and comedy “Bubblegum” is turning out to be. Watching Ri Hwan frantically identify and collect Haeng Ah’s belongings was hilarious, but it did not make Ri Hwan’s self-loathing any less poignant. Similarly, Haeng Ah running away from Suk Joon was cartoonish, but the flashback to their intimate encounter in a elevator had real heat, and their discussion on the rooftop conveyed believable heartache.
Who knew that Lee Dong Wook could refrain from overacting while playing a believable weirdo? He was charming and entertaining while acting horrified at the thought of dating Ji Hoon, spitting out his mother’s green concoction, and betraying his fixation on Haeng Ah by asking both Ji Hoon and his blind date how they would feel if they were in Haeng Ah’s shoes. Then, he was a genuine heartthrob as he tended to Yi Seul, and encouraged her to give the hammock another try. Let’s hope he can generate the same passion that Lee Jong Hyuk showed while in the elevator with Jung Ryeo Won.
The only downsides of this episode were the number of flashbacks to moments from the same episode, and everyone insisting that Park Hee Von is overweight. K-dramas don’t usually resort to the time wasting gimmick so early in the run of the series, though they do tend to have a ruthless standard for attractiveness. Is it too much to ask that the flashbacks do not become a habit, and that the writers ease off on the fat shaming?