Slice of life scenarios are nothing new in the kdrama world. In fact, many of the most popular dramas are slice of life, or at least of slice of life elements within them. If you’re new to the term, slice of life means the depiction of mundane experiences. At its core, that could be incredibly dull. It’s often what is built around it that makes this genre so endearing.
Romance is a Bonus Book falls so easily into this category that a lot of potential watchers were put off from the start. At the time of its airing, this was Le Jong Suk’s last hurrah before entering the military. If his fans had expected to send him off with a big bang of a drama, they might well have been disappointed. After all, Lee Jong Suk had done some fairly thrilling dramas prior to this. Take W: Two Worlds for instance. And yet, amongst all those tense scenes, there were smaller, quieter moments. Domestic bliss or easy companionship. Even the struggles of surviving in an unfamiliar environment. Lee Jong Suk suited these equally well, to the point where it could be said they were his stronger suit. So take Lee Jong Suk, and pair him with Lee Na Young, making her drama return after nine years, and put him in a plot that is described as a romantic comedy, with plenty of day to day struggles to get through. What do you get? A surprisingly warm and engaging tale that likely speaks more to some than it will to others.
The aforementioned plot is relatively simple; Kang Da Ni, finding herself divorced, with a child to support, jobless and alone, tries desperately to find a new job. She wasn’t always in such a position. Years ago, she was a successful, career-driven woman with a strong relationship and an even stronger friendship. After saving a younger boy named Cha Eun Ho from a near-fatal car accident, the two kids bonded whilst Eun Ho came to aid her recovery in hospital. Fast forward to the present day, Eun Ho is a successful author working at a publishing company. After many struggles, Da Ni earns a place at the same company, and gradually, the two find themselves growing closer than ever.
What this drama relies upon, then, is not its dramatic twists, nor it’s overarching themes (although the latter of those to is important in another way). It is the characters that hold everything together, guide this drama through its own development. They are relatable. Their situations, though sometimes exaggerated, are recognisable. Lee Na Young never stays into overacting Da Ni’s desperation, nor her optimism. She pitches a steady balance for Da Ni, and such is the result that you cannot help but root for our main female character. Lee Jong Suk, meanwhile, pulls off a suave yet somehow slightly dorky charm to Eun Ho that really works well for his character. With his extreme successes, he ran the risk of being distant. Yet there is enough backstory by far that his motivations are understandable, even as far as his disenchantment with romance itself.
However, whilst the heart of this drama is its relatability, that is also one of it’s greatest potential flaws. Experiences will, of course, vary from person to person. Some people watch dramas to be transported away from their real-life worries. Some may look at the predicaments of Da Ni and Eun Ho and find little in them to be interesting. Others might find too much similarity in order to find enjoyment. The hunt for a job that will accept Da Ni’s skills for what they are, for example, could strike particularly close to home. And for this exact same reason, it could speak to viewers more, drawing them in. Once this happens, it’s very easy to be invested in the relationships that this drama takes you through.
The supporting characters luckily never into their archetypes too much. WHilst they do not get as much development as they possibly could, they are also never overbearing, something that these kinds of dramas can fall back on when the pacing is a little slow. And the pace is, in general, incredibly slow. There are a few episodes towards the later half that drag by the smallest amount. Thankfully, this doesn’t affect the overall pace too drastically. Nothing feels rushed here, the relationships being given time to grow and develop naturally. For this reason, the “noona romance ” at play feels right. It works because the label is discarded rather swiftly as the characters are properly introduced – it’s not an older lady with her younger boy. It’s simply Da Ni and Eun Ho’s friendship developing into something more, a something that may have always been there.
Is it predictable? Admittedly, yes. But this is not a drama to turn to for exciting twists and turns. There is a warmth to the story it tells, and the often charming way it tells it, with small references to books and the art of telling stories themselves that are nicely self-aware, if a little sentimental at times. It’s the kind of drama perfect for cold nights, the colours on screen often just as warm as its story tries to be. It succeeds on that front. But it won’t be for everyone. If you prefer a little more… well, drama, then you may be better looking elsewhere. Yet if sweet relationships, believable scenarios, and touching moments are your cup of tea, then Romance is a Bonus Book might just have a lot to offer you.