Downtrodden Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan) interns at One International where his lack of real world skills challenges him at every turn. Yet, even his better qualified fellow interns have their own handicaps to overcome. Jang Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul) is anxious and rigid, Han Suk Yool (Byun Yo Han) is wildly inappropriate, and aloof An Young Yi (Kang So Ra) faces a female-hostile work environment.
To survive in a competitive office, Geu Rae must convince his workaholic boss, Oh Sang Sik (Lee Sung Min) that his effort, patience, and Go skills make him a viable employee.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: ★★★★
Only 만: ★★★★
Side dish: If you, like the director of this show, are ambitious, and like to labour over your creations, why don’t you try making Sachertorte? It takes a long time, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s a recipe from Korena in the Kitchen to get you started.
Only 만: I just looked at the ratings for “Misaeng” and it looks like we have a definite hit on our hands. The last episode had 8.24, which is crazy high considering that “Misaeng” is a cable show.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: Yes, who knew that the trials and tribulations of the downtrodden Seoul office worker would prove to be such a popular source of entertainment.
Only: For some reason, I always imagined that it did well with office workers, meaning that someone would have a crappy day at the office, and then come home and watch Geu Rae have the same day, but with higher production values.
But, let’s get into the nitty gritty. What did you dislike about this series?
Junggugeo Kaenada: As usual, the lead had to endure the gauntlet of shame at the beginning of the series. Geu Rae was so stoic in the face of abject humiliation that I was not sure if Im Si Wan was acting wooden by choice. I suppose that I should find it refreshing that it wasn’t just the female lead suffering indignity this time.
Only: I guess it was to invoke sympathy for Geu Rae, though it mostly made me uncomfortable. On the other hand, having given us superstar Geu Rae in the prologue, at least we knew it wasn’t going to last forever.
Myself, I wasn’t fond of the pacing towards the end of the show. A few too many episodes were spent on moping or staring off into space, when I felt like the story could have gone forward much more than it did. Stalling the plot like that made the ending seem rushed.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Agreed. Also, I am not sure how I feel about the overall message that office workers should just grin and bear it. From outspoken Suk Yool to aloof Young Yi, it seemed like the newbies all had to eventually just take the abuse, and hope their seniors developed a sense of compassion or get punished by someone else. It resulted in a lot of the moping you mentioned.
Only: They really beat us over the head with that, especially in the case of Suk Yool, who tried to fight back and repeatedly failed. In the end, it was circumstances outside his control that saved him. It was a pretty disheartening message, to suck it up until you get promoted.
Only: Now that we’ve vented, should we move on to what we liked about the show?
Junggugeo Kaenada: Well, if the grin and bear it strategy was the realistic solution in a Korean corporate environment, then I liked that they didn’t pretend that acting mavericky would get the newbies far. In turn, this supported the move of Sang Sik, Geu Rae and Dong Sik to work for their own company. The rigidity of the Korean corporation results in the loss of these good workers. As Geu Rae learns, what is most important are the people you work with.
Only: I liked that they kept the focus on the workplace, without delving too far into anything outside of it, like Geu Rae’s weird relationship with the overly friendly daycare worker, or Young Yi’s possible romance with Mr. Shin.
I also enjoyed the fact that every episode, regardless of how sad it was included some humour. That touch was very true-to-life for me; people laugh and act ridiculous in almost any situation, no matter how miserable.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Of course, we both loved Suk Yool.
Only: Suk Yool! I could write pages about how much I enjoyed him, which is odd, considering he wasn’t much more than an obnoxious weirdo to start with. By the end, he was one of my favourite characters, and that’s saying a lot given the affection I developed for much of the cast. His banter with Geu Rae, their awkward hugs, Geu Rae’s disdain, I loved all of it.
But, we should mention the two characters at the heart of the show, Geu Rae and Sang Sik.
Junggugeo Kaenada: As mentioned earlier, I was initially not a fan of Geu Rae, because he was so pathetic. However, as he became more comfortable and confident, I really liked Geu Rae. I was impressed with Im Si Wan for creating a character whose quiet cheekiness is so believable and consistent. It was an aspect of his character that only came out with his mother, initially. Then, it was revealed to Dong Sik, Suk Yool, Young Yi, and even Sang Sik by the end.
I loved Sang Sik and his emotional outbursts immediately. Unfortunately, when he started acting indecisive in the latter part of the series, it was a little disappointing.
Only: Yes, I was really caught off guard when we spent so many episodes on Sang Sik staring off into space. Especially given that the show was so dependent on Sang Sik to drive the action.
But, overall, I really enjoyed Sang Sik, and it was great to see a character actor like Lee Sung Min get such a great role.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Any other notable characters?
Only: Dong Sik was great; I loved his horsing around with Geu Rae. I also enjoyed Assistant Manager Kang, if only for the visuals, and Mr. Chun for his fantastically soothing voice. Mr. Choi, the executive director, was a really well executed character. The fact that he was so ambiguous, despite Sang Sik’s intense dislike, was really well done.
And, both Young Yi and Baek Ki also had an interesting trajectory.
Junggugeo Kaenada: I feared with Young Yi’s cheesecake introduction that she would be the token female serving as the object of desire in the office. Yet, they really did delve into the sexual harassment and misogyny that the female employees faced. And, she stayed serious and respectable.
I also liked how Baek Ki was constantly shifting between being Geu Rae’s adversary, an indifferent spectator, and his friend. Fortunately, he was consistently fussy and anxious, and that brought about the fantastic sauna scene with Assistant Manager Kang.
Only: What’s your overall take on the show?
Junggugeo Kaenada: I enjoyed it a lot, even though I am not a downtrodden Korean corporate office worker. So obviously, “Misaeng” has some universal appeal. My biggest issue was that it never delved into the same emotional depths that other solid dramas have succeeded in hitting. Not to say that I wanted romance, because I respected that the story stayed professional. However, I do wish that “Misaeng” replaced some of the individual brooding with some more interaction and emotion.
Only: I would agree in the sense that since all of the drama was dependent on workplace issues, and whether Geu Rae got the job or not, it was occasionally a little hard to keep up. The amount of tears and emotion that came with Sang Sik’s resignation, for example, was on par with a surprise cancer announcement, and I don’t know that I bought it 100%.
But, I have to commend “Misaeng” not for only the great direction, and the consistent visuals, but also for how ambitious it was in trying something new, and succeeding so well.