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Episodes 1-2 » Dramabeans Korean drama recaps

by Amber Simmons

CEO-dol Mart: Episodes 1-2

A group of estranged former idols reunite as co-CEOs of a local mart. Shenanigans ensue. In all fairness, CEO-dol Mart leans heavily simplistic and silly. But it’s also a cute, sweet, easy watch with a few moments that genuinely pinched my heart a little.


CEO-dol Mart: Episodes 1-2 EXO xiumin

Our story kicks off when a local mart is broken into and ex-idol SHIN TAE-HO (EXO’s Xiumin), is accused of the crime. Tae-ho currently works as a driver for a taekwondo school, and he argues indignantly that his only “crime” is swiping a few candies from the police officer’s desk. While he bickers with the mart’s supervisor, YOON BONG-SOO (Yang Taek-ho), live wires from the mart’s destroyed security camera spark a fire in the building.

Fortunately, another ex-idol, CHOI HO-RANG (Lee Shin-young), happens to see the smoke and rushes in to put out the fire. Spotting Ho-rang on a breaking news report, Bong-soo quickly informs the police officer that he doesn’t actually own the mart — Ho-rang does. (This, of course, is news to Ho-rang.)

Ho-rang works multiple jobs (from construction to deliveries), but back in their idol days, he and Tae-ho were both members of the boy group Thunder Boys. The details of their five-year career are left hazy and washed in a nostalgic glow, but a few answers emerge throughout these two episodes. They were never paid for their work and struggled to get even one hit song. Then one member was involved in a car accident and ultimately passed away (and the poor remaining members found out he’d died while they were onstage during a music show). Ho-rang, as the leader, disbanded them not long after.

What the Thunder Boys didn’t know was that one of their promotional gigs was paid not in cash but in a contract granting them ownership of Boram Mart. Their old entertainment company’s CEO YOON MIN-SOO (Bong-soo’s brother, played by Choi Jong-yoon) “took care of” said contract on their behalf.

Now that the truth is out, Ho-rang makes CEO Yoon turn over their personal documents that were used to make the transaction in the first place. CEO Yoon claims the contract itself has been lost, but he’s secretly brokering a deal for it with someone else, confident the ex-idols won’t be in the mart business for long.

Intending to sell the mart and split the money, Ho-rang summons the other Thunder Boys, none of whom have kept in contact for the five years since disbandment. First to arrive is JO YI-JOON (Monsta X’s Hyungwon), now a struggling fashion YouTuber. EUN YOUNG-MIN (Choi Won-myung) leaves his folks’ farm and butcher shop, but covers his face with a bandana and doesn’t tell the others he’s arrived — that is, until YOON SANG-WOO (Lee Sae-on) walks through the door. Sang-woo had moved to Bali to escape any possibility of snow (the cause of their bandmate’s fatal car accident), and you can tell he’s the maknae because he’s cute as a button and the other four melt as soon as they see him.

Before the Thunder Boys can decide what to do with their mart, they’re inundated with customers who won’t take “We’re closed” for an answer. Instead of figuring out how to lock their door, they sort of shrug their shoulders and start ringing up their first customer… except they don’t know how to work the cash register, so Yi-joon spits out a random (extremely low) price that the stunned ajumma is all too happy to accept and tell all her friends about. Cue even more customers the Thunder Boys are not equipped to serve. To make matters worse, they quickly learn that the mart is steeped in debt and all the unpaid taxes are in their names, not CEO Yoon’s.

CEO-dol Mart: Episodes 1-2 Lee Shin-young

Salvation comes to them in the shape of former Boram Mart part-timer OH YE-RIM (Choi Jung-woon). She’s already met Ho-rang a couple of times — he rescued her phone after she dropped it at his construction site, and she paid him with her favorite idol’s photocard. She also has a personal stake in the fate of Boram Mart, both because she can’t seem to land a job anywhere else and because it was her lifeline of sorts during her late mother’s battle with cancer. Seeing the Thunder Boys’ cluelessness, Ye-rim rolls her eyes and steps in to get things done.

When the Thunder Boys finally get to sit down and talk, their opinions are divided. Ho-rang wants to sell the mart so he can take a lucrative contracting gig in Busan. Tae-ho figures they may as well try to make a little money from it before the building gets seized for its debts. But the undercurrent causing these two to butt heads is that Ho-rang’s decision to disband the group five years ago wasn’t a group decision. At the time, he’d thought he was doing what was best for them all. Only now does he realize the others didn’t — and don’t — see it that way.

They land on a compromise: they’ll have one big closeout sale and then sell the building. Since they need a unique drawing card, Ho-rang calls in a favor from a sweet potato seller he previously helped. The seller isn’t as enthusiastic as Ho-rang had hoped, but agrees to let him harvest the ugly, misshapen ones he left in the field — the lesson being that Ho-rang needs to put real effort into owning his work, even if it’s just a one-day sale before the mart shuts down.

On the day of the sale, the Thunder Boys literally roll out the red carpet for a gaggle of intrigued shoppers. Yi-joon outfits the boys in colorful jumpsuits with cutesy animal pins, Sang-woo distributes handmade flyers throughout the neighborhood, and they offer a deal on Special Honey Sweet Potatoes (TM) + potato sprouts that’s too good to pass up. Despite a number of difficult customers and one jealous competitor, the boys draw on their old idol training and turn up the charm. Even Ye-rim has to admire how personable they are.

CEO-dol Mart: Episodes 1-2 Lee Sin-young, Lee Sae-on CEO-dol Mart: Episodes 1-2 Lee Sin-young, Lee Sae-on

As the day draws to a close, Ho-rang turns to Sang-woo — who has mostly stayed out of the “to sell or not to sell” debate — for advice. Is it better to decide by majority or unanimous vote? (In other words, should he accept that he’s been outvoted?) In Sang-woo’s mind, a majority vote leaves more room for possibility, and he also knows intuitively that what Ho-rang really fears is leading the group into yet another failure. “You can lean on me now,” Sang-woo adds, urging him not shoulder all the burdens alone anymore. Thinking ruefully that a truly unanimous vote is impossible for them anyway, Ho-rang decides to take a risk and declines the Busan job. He’s got a mart to run.

Honestly speaking, does CEO-dol Mart have much to offer that hasn’t been done better elsewhere? Not really. But there’s a thread of earnestness buried under the silliness that makes me want to care about these characters getting their second chance at success together. So for now at least, I’m happy to shrug my shoulders, sit back, and go along for the ride.

CEO-dol Mart: Episodes 1-2 Xiumin Hyungwon


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