Introducing a new Korean drama expected to run from late March to early April: Page Turner. This drama features Kim So Hyun as a piano prodigy who is number one in her performing arts school. She’s in a fierce competition with her rival in music until a fateful moment changes everything she ever thought she wanted for her future. She meets people along her path that face their own unique struggles but similarly are seeking to find their niche in this world through skill and talent. Episode 1 tactfully combines humor and disaster to make a beautiful intro to this three episode series.
Page Turner Episode 1: “Those Who Receive Heaven’s Gifts”
Our story opens with the words “This is the heartwarming story of three youths.” Cue some quick snippets of our leads crying and looking distressed while dramatic classical music plays in the background. More scenes of arguments, piano playing and pole vaulting are shown in rapid succession. Lines of text flash across the screen between these shots, describing the role of a page turner. This is someone who flips the pages for a piano player, allowing the performer to shine through this show of companionship and teamwork.
These foreshadowing scenes end and we are suddenly introduced to our female lead, Yoon Yoo Seul (Kim So Hyun). She sits in a parked car fixing her makeup as Red Velvet’s “Dumb Dumb” plays in the background.
She watches a group of rowdy boys peddle by on their bicycles, making bad puns. Suddenly her mom emerges from the building and Yoo Seul quickly changes the pop music to a classical piece and tries to act natural. Her mom immediately asks why she isn’t reading over her sheet music. Yoo Seul explains she already did and doesn’t want to read it while they’re driving or else she’ll get car sick. Mom is clearly unimpressed with this excuse, telling her that car sickness is just for a moment and the sight reading test Yoo Seul has coming up still requires more practice.
They drive off and suddenly we cut the group of high school boys that made a quick cameo before. They’re still making bad puns as they peddle through a heavily graffitied tunnel. Suddenly they stop as the head boy, our lead Jeong Cha Sik (Kim Jisoo), notes an abandoned piano.
Cha Sik wonders aloud to himself why a person would leave a keyboard here. One of his friends asks him isn’t it a piano, not a keyboard. Cha Sik exasperatedly corrects him (even going as far to say that he’s the reason their group is seen as dumb by others LOL).
He then gives a questionable explanation for what constitutes as a piano but his friend seem to buy it and declares him both athletic and smart. Cha Sik can’t agree more as they move on from the piano. A nearby bum overhears this exchange and looks both amused and slightly disgruntled as the boys ride off. He shakes his head.
Back to the car with Yoo Seul and her mom. (Note that this car even a “National Treasure Pianist” sticker on the back window. Mama Yoon isn’t kidding around). Yoo Seul is reading over her music, motion sickness be damned I guess. Her mother mentions that a professor from a performing arts academy is coming to Yoo Seul’s exam. Yoo Seul acknowledges this with a noncommittal answer but her mother notes that everyone is frantically practicing in order to impress this Professor Moon.
Yoo Seul still seems unconcerned and asks if a window can be opened in the car. Mom gives her a resounding no, convinced she’ll catch a cold. Then she continues on with her lecture: don’t win sloppily like the last competition. She wants Yoo Seul to leave a lasting impression on the professor with a memorable first place performance. Her mother then points out that Yoo Seul’s hands are free, prompting Yoo Seul to take out a hand grip as if she’s heard this many times.
Mom notes that Yoo Seul will need a page turner for this competition because she will be playing on sight and recommends the safest options to her daughter. Her mother then brings up a name: Jin Mok. Her daughter responds with, “Jin Mok? That psychopath?” Uh oh, I sense some drama between these two piano players.
Cut to the piano competition. Jin Mok (Shin Jae Ha) is onstage, about to begin his performance. He wipes the piano keys in front of him with a handkerchief. The announcer asks the competitors who would like to be Jin Mok’s page turner. Yoo Seul looks uneasy and turns around to glance at her mother. Mom gives her a resolute nod.
Flashback to their car ride, starting where we just left off. Yoo Seul’s mother tells her to be Jin Mok’s page turner in the competition. When Yoo Seul asks why, Mom explains that he has been rising as a competitor recently. She’s heard that Jin Mok’s been sleeping in the practice room and playing through the night. Yoo Seul needs to hold him at bay. This is sounding awfully shady right now…
Back to the present, Yoo Seul raises her hand and volunteers. Jin Mok freezes. Hm, someone’s not happy. And he shouldn’t be, as two students in the audience marvel at this event, asking each other “Aren’t these two enemies?” According the male student, they are, and ones that constantly diss each other too. The female student declares this makes Yoo Seul even more frightening.
As Yoo Seul walks onstage, Jin Mok chooses the piece his will be playing by selecting a blank white envelope. The female student in the audience notes that a piece from the Romantics will be rat poison to him. He announces to the judges that his piece is Chopin’s Waltz in E minor op. posth. Yoo Seul smirks and Mom whispers gleefully to herself that it is a Romantic piece.
Jin Mok looks only slightly rattled by Yoo Seul’s presence as they take their positions. He begins playing confidently and Yoo Seul wonders to herself how she is supposed to keep him in check.
Flashback again to the car ride earlier. Mom explains how a page turner can either save or ruin a performance. In a sight-reading test like this one, timing is key to performing well and a page turner has the power to upset this balance. So, sabotage. Yikes Mom. Yoo Seul asks why she has to resort to tactics like this, aren’t her skills enough? Mom says if she’s caught it’s a dirty tactic but if she isn’t, it’s a skill. That’s messed up.
Yoo Seul is still obviously reluctant. Her mom furthers her argument by calling Jin Mok a snail that has been stepped on after losing to Yoo Seul. Finally Mom grabs Yoo Seul’s hand and challenges her daughter to finish him. Yoo Seul eventually agrees.
Returning back to the performance, the male student says if he was Yoo Seul he would turn the pages off beat. The female student denies this, saying Yoo Seul is a high-class that doesn’t need to resort to something like that. Meanwhile, Yoo Seul’s mother is recording the entire performance.
It comes time for Yoo Seul to flip the first page. Jin Mok is performing well and she stands up, reaches over, and turns it perfectly. Her mom angrily exclaims, “This brat, why doesn’t she listen!” then tries to cover it up like she’s shouting at the camera, whoops.
Flashback again, this time even further back, to the two piano players’ childhood. Yoo Seul’s mom is coaching little Jin Mok as he plays while Yoo Seul reads on the sidelines. Her mom stops Jin Mok, saying there’s no feeling in his playing and then demonstrates the song herself. Jin Mok seems more annoyed than anything and doesn’t understand the difference.
A man enters the house dressed in a suit and Yoo Seul greets him. He doesn’t acknowledge anyone’s presence in the room though. Yoo Seul’s mom goes back to demonstrating the piano piece, showing him the wrong way he played it. He disagrees, saying the second time sounded better. This angers Yoo Seul’s mom and she begins calling him a psychopath before she stops herself.
Little Jin Mok doesn’t like this and complains to the man, “Father I need a new piano teacher!” Ah, so this is his father. Everyone is shocked, except for his father as little Jin Mok complains that he doesn’t need to take lessons from a charity case who has never been a soloist. He calls Yoo Seul low-class too. What a spoiled little child.
Present day Jin Mok finishes his piano performance rather dramatically and our male student in the audience is impressed. He compliments his precise playing but the female student says it is a bit “dry.” Jin Mok is clearly pleased with himself though as he bows to the judges. He tells Yoo Seul that he thought she wouldn’t turn the pages properly. Yoo Seul snarkily replies that she considered it for a moment, but realized she didn’t need to. Snatch ’em honey!
A brief screenshot informs us of Yoo Seul’s name and that she is number one in the Piano Department at Han Joo Performing Arts High School. Now it’s her turn to compete and Jin Mok volunteers to be her page turner. Her mother immediately shouts out “No!” and again blames her camera on the outburst. Yoo Seul isn’t pleased as she announces her piece is Rachmaninoff Prelude Opus 23 Number 5. Mom isn’t either.
As she begins playing the female student marvels that this piece is hard for even a man to play. Apparently, having small hands makes the piece very difficult to play. The male student again suggests that Jin Mok should sabotage her by turning the pages out of time. Y’all just looking for drama, aren’t you? She seems to be playing well though.
Going back to their childhood, Yoo Seul’s mom apologizes to Jin Mok’s dad. She explains she lacked the financial resources to become a soloist but all the students she mentors get accepted to Han Joo High School. Jin Mok whiningly complains that she’s the only teacher to not call him a prodigy. His father agrees to fire her, but Jin Mok must find his own new teacher. Mom gets on her knees in front of Jin Mok and says she must have lost her mind temporarily for criticizing his playing as she tries to salvage the situation.
Suddenly, piano playing begins. It’s Yoo Seol and she explains that her mom taught him correctly and to watch closely. Jin Mok tells her to shut up and complains that he was taught incorrectly while Yoo Seol was taught the right way. Her mom is shocked though and says she never taught Yoo Seol to play piano. Ever. She runs over to her daughter, announcing the she is a real prodigy.
Jin Mok is angered by this and slams the piano cover down. Yoo Seol’s mom slips her hands under it just in time, hurting herself but saving her daughter’s hands. Yoo Seol is panicked but her mom announces she’s fine and they’re leaving. She throws some money on the floor, asking why she’d teach someone’s foolish child when she has her own talented daughter.
We return to the present while Yoo Seol expertly plays. It’s time for the page to be turned and Jin Mok stands up and knocks the entire sheet music off the piano. Her mother exclaims that he did it on purpose. Jin Mok apologetically explains that he must have been nervous.
Yoo Seol is coolly unruffled. When Jin Mok tries to pick up the sheet music, she knocks it out of his hand. “Sorry,” she apologizes. “I must have been nervous.” Closing her eyes, Yoo Seol begins her playing again, music still on the floor. Everyone is shocked. Mom looks proudly goes back to recording and one of the judges announces that Yoo Seol is of another class. Jin Mok doesn’t look happy though. He walks off stage with only a “Dang it!” as she ends her performance.
A title screen informs us again of Jin Mok’s name and announces him to be second place in the Piano Department at Han Joo Performing Arts High School.
Now we’re in a stadium where a pole vaulting competition is taking place. Cha Sik is getting a pep talk from his coach about taking a gold medal. But all Cha Sik can worry about is his mom in the stands, whose bag was knocked onto the ground by a “zebra lady” that didn’t apologize. Cha Sik frantically explains that his mom hates being pushed around. This zebra lady pulls out a banner with the name Kang Joon Ho on it. His coach can’t hold him back as he shouts as at her to pick up the strawberry milk carton she dropped next to his mom when she pulled this banner out. Chill dude, you act like it’s a personal insult to her.
His mom mouths to him that she’s okay. But he screams that he’s not okay. Cha Sik demands Kang Joon Ho apologize for those people insulting his mother. But his coach instead apologizes loudly and then furtively explains that Kang Joon Ho is Korea’s national representative and has jumped 17 centimeters higher than Cha Sik.
Cha Sik instead takes this as Joon Ho thinking himself too good to apologize because he has beat him and only gets angrier. He ends up demanding the bar be raised outlandishly high in his next round so that he can beat Joon Ho. After arguing with his coach a bit, they decide on 5.30 meters.
The couple next to Cha Sik’s mom (aka zebra woman + her husband aka Joon Ho’s parents) compliments Cha Sik’s mom on her son’s ambition. Cha Sik’s mom then challenges them to a bet: do they think her son can pass the 5.30 meter bar? I see where Cha Sik got his competitive streak.
The couple explain that their son is national representative material. But the father asks to hear the bet. Cha Sik’s mom says if her son is successful, Joon Ho’s parents will accept her business card. If he fails, she will give the couple her laptop, which coincidentally is her source of income. Well she’s definitely confident, but she shouts out a “Cha Sik, fighting!” for good measure too.
Cha Shik preps for his jump by chalking up his hands. He closes his eyes, starts his run, and clears the pole! Everyone’s shocked and Joon Ho looks displeased.
We get a freeze frame of Cha Sik with his happy winning face, introducing him as the national representative hailing from Woo Jeong Athletic High School. As he celebrates with his coach and teammates, his mom hands Joon Ho’s parents her business card. Her name is Jeong Mi Soo and she’s a writer. She’s done everything from working in theater to ghostwriting speeches for politicians. She happily asks the couple to be promoted well.
Cha Sik declares his next jump will be at 5.50 meters but his coach is outraged, telling him that feat has never even been attempted in Korea. Cha Sik confidently declares his legs are telling him today that he can do it. To which he coach crouches down to face them and tells them “You’re lying!”
Yoo Seul’s mom plays back her daughter’s performance. Yoo Seul arrives and asks that she properly stepped on Jin Mok, right? Her mom isn’t happy the she disobeyed her orders to use dirty tactics though. She points out the fact that Jin Mok himself used underhanded techniques. Speak of the devil, Jin Mok walks by and her mom hastily compliments him, even offering to give him a ride. He coldly rejects the offer.
Yoo Seul challenges him, saying that he dropped her music on purpose. Too bad though, because she memorized all the pieces. Jin Mok asks if she is bragging that she’s a prodigy again. She scoffs, “I’m telling you that I’m not a genius, you’re just nothing special.” Mom is pleased as they walk away, but still tells her daughter that she has a way to go.
Shin Mok goes to church to pray that God punishes Yoo Seul for her arrogance and constant false accusations. He’s tired of constantly being looked down on. As he prays, we see Cha Sik prepping for his pole vault. In slow motion, he clears the bar, only to be stabbed in the crotch by his pole. He coach shouts for an ambulance. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Yoo Seul is back in the car being lectured again by her mother. She looks out the window to see a large truck barreling towards them. The next thing you know, car tires and debris roll across the screen. As this occurs, Jin Mok finishes his prayer with an “Amen” and his phone rings. He’s shocked as a classmate informs him that Yoo Seul was in an accident and has damage to her eyes so severe she may lose the ability to see. He looks towards the altar in horror.
Yoo Seul is in the hospital with her mom and a doctor. She announces that she can discern the presence of light or no light, but is unable to see shapes. Mom frantically asks if she can see her, but Yoo Seul cannot.
The doctor announces that the damage to her optic nerves was severe enough that there is only a slim possibility she may see normally again. Her mother refuses to believe this, even saying she will give her daughter her own corneas. But that cannot save the optic nerves. Her mom breaks down, demanding how her daughter is supposed to play piano when she is blind. The doctor says she should care about her daughter first, not piano but Mom says that “My daughter is piano, and piano is my daughter.” Yoo Seul just looks dead inside. The two leave the doctor’s office, her mother announcing some other doctor will do surgery.
The two get ready to leave the hospital. Yoo Seul’s mother says she will need to practice more, even if her eyesight doesn’t return. Yoo Seul may even become a better pianist because of it. Seriously woman, you are worried about that now?! She goes to fill out the release papers, leaving her stoic looking daughter to squeeze the hand grip she was using earlier.
Her mom takes a moment to break down crying in a bathroom on the way however. She leaves it looking resolute, declaring that she has to be okay.
In a nearby hospital room we see Cha Shik and his mother speak to a doctor. He assures Cha Shik that he doesn’t need to worry about his future marriage and more generations can live on. So the family jewels weren’t too injured then, whew. The doctor then mentions that his spondylolysis is getting more severe though, which just leaves the mother and son very confused. This condition means that small stress fractures are occurring along the spine and his most recent injury has caused a major issue. A metal screw needs to be put in place through surgery.
Cha Sik’s daily life will be mostly unaffected, but he must quit sports. Cha Sik frantically asks that if he does rehabilitation, can he continue with his sports. But the doctor announces this will only cause further bone fractures to occur elsewhere in his body. Cha Sik is clearly disheartened but pretends to be fine with the news when questioned by his mother. He jokes and even tries to laugh it off. Poor baby.
Jin Mok aggressively plays piano in his room, eyeing a framed Jesus portrait as he does so. He asks it why he’s looking at him like that. Someone clearly feels guilty for his earlier ill wishes towards Yoo Seul. He then goes to a flower shop, explaining to its employee he’s not buying flowers for a girlfriend or friend, but someone more like any enemy. Sure hon. He announces he needs flowers for a hospital visit and then rectifies his request, saying he needs them for an apology.
Cha Sik is alone in the hospital now, looking disheartened. He is startled when Yoo Seul bumps into him with her cane. She asks him how to get to the hospital’s rooftop. I have a very bad feeling about this.
He ends up offering to lead her there, even offering to hold her hand but she declines. So he guides Yoo Seul there with her hand on his arm instead. Jin Mok sees them as they pass by when he enters the hospital. He’s horrified to discover that Yoo Seul really can’t see at all.
The two arrive on the roof and Yoo Seul asks if anyone else is around. Cha Sik affirms that there is not and she thanks him before he leaves her. Nooo, please stay! Yoo Seul sets her cane down and shakily climbs the railing at the edge of the roof, looking terrified.
As she hangs onto the railing, Jin Mok arrives with his bouquet. He asks her what she’s doing and if she really can’t see him. Yoo Seul screams that she can’t and Cha Sik turns around. Oh, so he hasn’t left yet. Yoo Seul tells Jin Mok that she’s glad she’s blind so she doesn’t have to see his ugly face and the sheet music she describes as “cockroaches.” She declares that she is totally fine as tears fill her eyes.
She admits her mother still wants her to play piano, even like this, even harder than before. Yoo Seul demands “What kind of mom can be like that?” to the two boys. She then blames Jin Mok for her mother’s change, claiming that she became like this when he ignored her ten years ago. She throws the hand grip she was using earlier onto the ground beneath her.
Cha Sik is still watching the exchange but finally walks away. Yoo Seul explains that she’s tired of it all. Of having to pretend she likes piano. Of having to hate Jin Mok. She says she’s going to end it all and Jin Mok finally starts to look worried. He shouts her name as Yoo Seul lets go of the railing and falls backward off the edge of the roof.
And… lands in Cha Sik’s arms after a short drop from the railing onto another roof below it. Ah, so this is why he didn’t seem concerned taking a clearly unstable girl to a hospital rooftop. She screams out “Mom!” and then is utterly confused after discovering she isn’t dead. Cha Sik explains that they are on the parking lot roof because he suspected she might do something like this. Jin Mok is clearly relieved but she’s furious, asking him if he knows what he’s done. But Cha Sik lectures her instead, telling her that he’s stabbing her in the back like she’s doing with her mother now.
He tells her to stop blaming her mom and “that guy” Jin Mok. He grumpily apologizes for even stopping her. This gets Jin Mok mad, saying it’s entirely inappropriate given what just happened. Cha Sik snaps back that he’s an idiot for bringing flowers to a girl who can’t even see and calls him a country bumpkin. Ouch, but partly true. As Cha Sik leaves, he picks up the piano hand grip Yoo Seol dropped earlier and looks at it thoughtfully.
Back with his mom, Cha Sik brags about his successful rescue. His mom questions why she’d do something so scary and he doesn’t seem to understand either, saying that she’s first place in her performing arts school. His mom agrees that people with everything have more “useless” thoughts like that. Kind of twisted, but okay.
They emerge into a rainy street but when his mom tries to open their umbrella, it shoots out like a rocket. Cha Sik cracks up laughing as his mom tries to fix it. He’s laughing a little too hard though and suddenly he’s crying too, and not from this humorous situation.
His mom hugs him close as he asks what he’s going to do. He has nothing without sports. Mom lets him rant to the heavens as he sobs and holds her close. The broken umbrella lies soggy in the rain.
Times passes as Cha Sik lies lethargic around his house. His mother looks on worriedly. She pulls out a photo album and selects a photo. Thinking back to when her son asked how he’s going to live without sports, she questions, “Could this be the reason?” Interesting, what could this picture be of?
Piano books fill Yoo Seol’s room and her mom talks to her about a piano teacher she plans to meet that gives lessons to the visually impaired. Mom also tells that she will be Yoo Seol’s helper at school, so she doesn’t have to pitifully ask for support from her classmates. Yoo Seol remembers moments in the past where her mother wouldn’t let her ride her bike to school for fear of hurting her hands. She thinks back to all the times she said “yes,” or “okay,” or “I’ll do it!” to her mother’s needs and expectations. And then recalls Cha Sik’s words about deceiving her mom.
Mom is still going on about all her plans for the future to help Yoo Seol with he piano lessons but her daughter interrupts her. “I have something to tell you,” Yoo Seol says.
Back to Cha Sik. He’s unresponsive to his mother’s call to dinner and instead worries away at a sheet of bubble wrap, curled up pathetically beneath a blanket. He only perks up when his mother says she has something to tell him, something about his father. Over dinner, he looks at the photograph of his father, saying they don’t look alike but his dad looks intelligent. His mom agrees, people even called him a genius.
She shows him an article on her phone about his father and Cha Sik is shocked, denying that an amazing person like this could be his dad. Mom disagrees, pointing out that Cha Sik’s slender hands never looked like an athlete’s and that his ringtone is Fur Elise. He gets all excited by this, remembering other events that marked him as something contrary of his dumb jock persona. It’s the happiest we’ve seen him in a while. His mom uses this as proof that he’s smarter than other kids and should never feel like trash (presumably now that he doesn’t have sports).
But then Cha Sik asks: “Does my father know that I’m his son?” His mom denies this. She discovered she was pregnant after she broke up with him. Cha Sik then questions why she never told his father about his existence. Mom explains that she was to ashamed of her living circumstances at the time but now- “Now you’re ashamed of me?” Cha Sik asks bluntly. He says he’s also ashamed of himself for not acting like someone his father would be proud to meet. His mom comforts him by joking that he’s much better looking than his father. She says he’s extraordinary, like his father, even if he doesn’t know it.
Jumping back to Yoo Seul, she resolutely tells her mom that she’s going back to school alone. Her mom says she can’t because of her eyes’ condition but Yoo Seul says she must because of her eyes’ condition. She can’t rely on her mom all the time.
Yoo Seul says that her mom gave up on her life before for her and she doesn’t want her to sacrifice any more. She declares that for the first time in her life, she’s telling her mom a decision she made all on her own. So she has to respect it.
Cha Sik’s mom declares that all of his father’s talents made him arrogant. So he affirms that if his mom is right, he should excel at anything he tries. Cha Sik asks that if he finds a path he shines in again, can he meet his father finally? She agrees with an “Of course!”
Yoo Seul says she’s going back to school to study and attend all her classes and finally graduate. Her mom says that this is a given, brushing her off a bit. But then Yoo Seul drops the bomb: “And… I’m going to stop playing the piano.” Mom is shocked, but Yoo Seul explains she can never go as far as her mom wants with eyes like these.
Cha Sik runs down the street, filled with new energy. He stops when he sees a poster of his father’s piano concert and declares that he will finally meet him. Yoo Seul reaffirms “I want to stop playing piano” just as Cha Sik says with a big smile, “Your son Jeong Cha Sik, will start playing the piano.”
Ooh how fitting: one journey ends while another begins.
The whole premise of a genius piano player isn’t something outwardly original. Similarly, a talented athlete or musician injuring themselves in a way that limits their future is also nothing groundbreaking. But the way Page Turner handled these conflicts was something I still found altogether refreshing and intriguing. None of the characters are so black and white that you hate them. In fact, I found myself rooting for everyone to at least find the better side of themselves. Yoo Seul’s mother especially seems like an overbearing control freak that plays dirty but I think her intentions are pure, or at least deserve some sympathy. She was never able to fulfill her goals as a pianist but has all the hope in the world for her daughter.
Speaking of mothers, it’s very interesting how Yoo Seul’s and Cha Sik’s moms each handle their children’s accidents. Both put in all their effort to bring happiness back to their children but Yoo Seul’s mom is horribly misguided, believing that her own dreams align with her daughter’s. It’s a scary thing trying to live up to parents expectations and I think Episode 1 handled this conflict very well.
On a side note, the cast of Page Turner is remarkably young and fresh. While Kim So Hyun is certainly no rookie, she’s still only sixteen years old but is a remarkably strong female lead. Kim Jisoo, though rising, has been mostly featured as the second male lead of dramas and this is Shin Jae Ha’s first lead role in a drama ever. They are undeniably talented however and Jisoo never fails to make my heart bleed no matter what role he ends up in. What can I say, I’m weak to deep voices and puppy dog eyes.
Finally, Jin Mok begins his story as the typical school rival, but he’s so much more than that. His guilt after praying for Yoo Seul’s comeuppance is very telling towards what type of person he really is. (Hint: it’s not a bad one.) I can definitely see the three students becoming friends when their paths align in the future. I suppose we’ll see how their stories come together on next week’s episode of Page Turner, so tune in then!