Most Korean romcoms put the “rom” part first, with the “com” being more slapsticky and gag-heavy. But a new Netflix series deliberately calls itself a “Comrom,” which means the writers put comedy first. And not just because the main character sees visions when she touches animals’ behinds.
Opening Shot: We see the hands and feet of a young woman running at top speed.
The Gist: Bong Ye-bun (Han Ji-min) is in her school uniform as she runs towards a dock where a car has been pulled from the water. In the car was her mother, who drove it off the dock to kill herself. Ye-bun screams as her mom’s lifeless body is put into a coroner’s van.
She moves to the town of Mujin, where her aunt Jung Hyeon-ok (Park Seong-yeon) and grandfather Jung Eui-hwan (Yang Jae-seong) live. Her grandfather is the local veterinarian, taking care of pets and livestock. On her first day of school, she meets up with Bae Ok-he (Joo Min-kyung), the daughter of an old friend of her mother’s. Ok-he takes care of her charge, using her brash personality to introduce her to guys she likes then get revenge on the same guys when they think Ye-bun is “lame”.
Fifteen years later, Ye-bun has become a vet herself, and taken over her retired grandfather’s practice. Now called “Bong Animal Hospital,” she wants to specialize in cats, dogs and other pets, but her aunt Hyeon-ok insists the money is in cows and pigs, and the practice needs the money.
In the meantime, Moon Jang-yeol (Lee Min-ki) arrives in town, and immediately gets to work in the police department’s Violent Crimes Division. Only the violent crime they’re investigating is a runaway cow, ridden by Ye-bun, who is hanging on for dear life after giving the cow a shot. Jang-yeol was transferred to Mujin after getting suspended from the force in Seoul, and he feels he needs some wins in order to get his old job back. The problem is, crime in Mujin has mostly to do with animals and stolen crops.
The youngest detective, Bae Deok-hee (Jo Min-guk) gets him a room over his sister Ok-he’s convenience store. Calling her “batshit crazy,” he tells Jang-yeol that he became a cop so that one day he can throw his sister in jail.
During a late night visit to examine a pregnant cow, a wayward light from a meteor shower renders Ye-bun unconscious. She sleeps for three days, and when she wakes up, one of the first things she does is pick up her cat. While touching the cat’s behind, she sees the cat’s memories of being rescued by Ye-bun. Then she touches her dog’s behind and sees the treat that he was looking for under the cabinet. Another touch shows her dog getting sad when she leaves the house then happy when she comes back. She’s seeing animal’s memories, and it freaks her out.
When she tells Ok-he about her visions, she suggests Ye-bun see a shaman. The local shaman, Park Jong-bae (Park Hyuk-kwon), who is supposed to channel Gen. Douglas MacArthur, tells her she should become a shaman herself, and he conveniently provides that service.
When she tries to touch lottery tickets to get a vision, it doesn’t work. Then she tries touching the butt of a pickpocket on the bus. Deok-hee sees that and cuffs her, bringing her in for perversion. He’s happy that there’s a “real crime” he can investigate. Later that day, she sees her now-nemesis with Deok-hee, moving a mattress into his new room. When she touches hus rear to catch him when he slips on the stairs, she sees a vision of what got him exiled from Seoul.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Behind Your Touch feels like a Korean romcom crossed with a supernatural show like Ghosts, where someone can see visions that no one else can.
Our Take: There are definitely moments when Behind Your Touch is genuinely funny, and it’s usually during more character-driven moments than visual gags like Ye-bun’s school days with Ok-he rendered in comic strip form. For instance, Deok-hee relishing the day he gets to slap the cuffs on his own sister is one of the funniest lines we’ve seen in any K-romcom, mainly because it felt like a line that wouldn’t have been out of place in a current American dramedy.
Most of the first episode, which clocks in at a Korean-standard 67 minutes, sets up Ye-bun’s story and how she gets her new gift. It also sets up how Deok-hee is super-eager to solve crimes; he wants the town to become developed so that there are more people there to commit violent acts. How long will it take for the two of them to become partners in crime-solving, then partners in romance. Given that the first season is 16 episodes, the writers have the room to take their sweet time.
There’s even some side stories, like the busted romance between Ye-bun’s aunt Hyeon-ok and Deok-hee’s boss Won Jong-mook (Kim Hee-won). There’s also the matter of Dr. Jung, who is campaigning for a local councilman for reasons known only to him.
The best K-romcoms have good side characters that take our attention away from the odd couple who despise each other then like each other then love each other. Behind Your Touch does a great job establishing those side characters, because the gimmick of Ye-bun touching animal behinds and seeing visions will only take the story so far.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: After Ye-bun touches Deok-hee’s butt, he flips her over in defense. We see a split screen of him looking down at her while she looks up at him.
Sleeper Star: Joo Min-kyung is pretty funny as Bae Ok-hee, because she’s the most unabashedly malicious character we’ve seen since Marsai Martin ended her run as Diane Johnson on black-ish.
Most Pilot-y Line: After she treats an elderly dog whose visions tell her that he’s feeling guilty for making his person work and share food, Ye-bun looks at her hands and says, “Maybe they’re not so useless after all.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Behind Your Touch tries to subvert the normal K-romcom conventions by putting the comedy before the romance. Not that there aren’t sentimental moments, but the show wants to be funny first, which makes for much more sophisticated humor than we usually see on shows like this.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.