At the heart of the Korean comedy-drama ‘Once Upon a Small Town’, are Ahn Ja-young and Han Ji-yul. The two main leads have already been through quite an arc in just a span of three episodes.
However, the central tenet to their chaotic relationship right now is a childhood memory that Ja-young keeps close to her heart but one that Ji-yul seems to have wiped off his mind.
Up until now, Ja-young has tried, subtly and overtly, to make him remember the time when they knew each other. However, all her efforts have been to no avail, as Ji-yul doesn’t even know what he doesn’t remember.
So what’s the childhood memory that connects Ahn Ja-young and Han Ji-yul?
The secret summer friendship
The show hints at a possible connection between Ahn Ja-young and Han Ji-yul right off the bat. As soon as Ja-young looks at Ji-yul’s identification, something about it makes her pause in kind of disbelief.
It seems like she remembers him somehow. As the episode progresses, Ja-young keeps acting weirdly inquisitive in front of Ji-yul, whether it be the up-close glances, long stares, and questions about his previous trips to Huidong village.
However, Ji-yul is only impacted by how overtly visible Ja-young is, always accompanying him everywhere and regularly crossing boundaries while trying to probe something inside his brain, with a loving gaze too.
It becomes clear soon, as the second episode kicks off with Ja-young looking at a scrapbook of sorts, and one of its pages is a note written by Ji-yul. It reads, “I’m Han Ji-yul. I’ll come back. Let’s be secret friends again.”
Ja-young sneers at the note, knowing that Ji-yul doesn’t even remember his secret friend from a summer break time long ago. In episode 3 is where she explicitly mentions it, to Lee Sang-hyun.
During a summer break when Ja-young was 12, Ji-yul must’ve visited Huidong and became “secret friends” with her. Ja-young never seemed to stop talking about her secret friend to Sang-hyun. She still vividly remembers a great many details and happy times during that summer secret friendship.
A match made in Huidong
The summer secret friendship, and the fact that the story is built around this central plot point, will more than likely give rise to a new, and possibly romantic development in the relationship between Ahn Ja-young and Han Ji-yul.
However, making this friends-to-lovers pipeline less than seamless is the third vertex of Once Upon a Small Town’s love triangle — Lee Sang-hyun.
He’s already become familiar with the backstory of Ja-young and Ji-yul and is the former’s best friend. However, unlike Ja-young, Sang-hyun has very apparent romantic feelings for his best friend.
Already envious of Ji-yul, Sang-hyun is sure to make things a bit difficult for the two to bloom into a romantic relationship. So while it might be a match made in Huidong for the childhood secret friends, it isn’t exactly a match made with no obstacles.
Ahn Ja-young and Han Ji-yul and a lapse in memory
However, the biggest hurdle for the relationship between Ji-yul and Ja-young to bloom is not Sang-hyun but the lapse in Ji-yul’s memory.
He can not, to a slightly incredulous degree, remember who Ja-young is and what connection he has with her. There hasn’t even been an indication that he remembers even some aspects of a previous visit to Huidong.
In episode 1, when Ja-young asks him about his last visit to Huidong, Ji-yul is just about to speak up but is interrupted by the car bumping into Sang-hyun.
So far, the summer break and Ja-young continue to elude Han Ji-yul, who might eventually remember it all, since the next stage of his relationship with her (they’re the main leads after all) banks on that very development.