Sunday, 26 October 2014

Misaeng 2014 - Episode 1

"Misaeng" is a TvN Korean drama which is adapted from a popular webtoon. It is about how the protagonist Jang Geu-rae (Lim Si-wan) struggles to survive working in a company.

"A road opens as you tread along it. A road that doesn't open isn't a road. Roads are open to everyone. But not everyone can have the road."

Episode 1 starts with this monologue by Geu-rae. Then we see him chasing a guy down the busy streets of Jordan, gets hit by a car, picks himself up and continues the chase. They run to a rooftop of a building, and the guy jumps over to the next building. Behind him, Geu-rae also takes a giant leap.

Suddenly, the drama takes us two years back to 2012. Geu-rae is a 26-year-old with only a GED (General Educational Development) certificate and without any special skill, except the skill of playing Go (traditional Chinese board game). He quit formal education to train to become a professional Go player, but had to give up his dream when his father passed away and his mother became bed-ridden. With his credential, he can only find part-time jobs such as cleaning the bath house or being a designated driver.


One day, his mum informs him that he has gotten an internship opportunity at a big trading company, One International. He was referred to the company by the CEO of Sungwon, but the show does not tell us who the CEO is or what Sungwon is. This is a mystery which will be revealed later on, I think. His mother tells him, "Be confident. You are super smart. You were the top in your class.", and gives him his father's over-sized suit to wear to work.

SiwanFirst day at work, Geu-rae is sent to Sales Team 3. When the assistant manager Kim Dong-sik (Kim Dae-Myung) finds out that he only has a GED certificate and no relevant working experience, he is shocked and asks, "What did you do for 26 years?" A despondent Geu-rae asks himself too, "What have I been doing for 26 years?"

He struggles to adapt on the first day, he is clueless about everything, and he doesn't even know how to operate the photocopying machine. He cannot speak any foreign language and thus, cannot even handle the simple task of answering phone calls.

He meets the other interns who all seem to possess high educational qualifications. Among them are high achievers, An Young-yi (Kang So-ra) and Jang Baek-ki (Kang Ha-neul). Beautiful Young-yi is the "ace" among the interns who helped her team close a difficult deal after just ten days of interning. Baek-ki is an expert in PPTs but seems like a two-faced person. Geu-rae is sort of ostracized by the interns who are unhappy that he got in through connections, while they had to work their ass off.

Remember mum said that Geu-rae is super smart? We get a glimpse of that the next day when he memorized a list of "employees emergency contact numbers" within a short span of time. I am sure his intelligence and memory power will come in handy in the future, helping him to survive the workplace.

Anyway, Sales Team 3's manager, Oh Sang-sik (Lee Sung-min) is supposed to meet a foreign client, but he has just returned from an overseas trip and cannot make it on time from the airport. Dong-sik has no choice but to send Geu-rae down to entertain the client until Manager Oh arrives. Geu-rae does so using the only skill he has, he introduces the client to the game of Go. When Manager Oh arrives, he is surprised to see the client intrigued by Go, and not angry that he is late. Seems like Geu-rae has the ability to deal with unforeseen situations, or he is plain lucky.  

Manager Oh is someone who doesn't mix business with personal life. He doesn't like Geu-rae who got in through connections, and asks him what he has to offer to the team. Geu-rae replies, "My effort. I have never worked hard so my effort is unused and brand-new." Sounds cute to me but Manager Oh is not impressed. "I'm not buying you. Hard-working guys are everywhere at work." Sad, but true.


Later, because of a cock-up, the interns are sent to the factory to help separate squids from octopuses. They are unhappy because the seafood stinks, and they think this is a task beneath them. Geu-rae takes it in his stride and does it without complaining. Soon, Baek-ki receives a call from Manager Oh saying that they don't have to do the task anymore. The interns bully Geu-rae by not telling him, and leaving him behind alone in the factory to continue doing the task.  

At the end of episode 1, the interns go for a drink after work. Geu-rae goes to look for them after leaving the factory, dirty and stinking. He tells them that he is not joining them for a drink because he has to return to the office to clear some work. They sarcastically ask why he is so hardworking. As Geu-rae turns to walk away, we hear his monologue.

"You say I am hardworking? I'm here now because I didn't work hard. I was abandoned because I didn't work hard."


Ouch. Sad, but true. Those of us who spent our youth having fun instead of studying hard or acquiring skills, tend to fall behind our peers when we enter the workforce. We are abandoned by society, left behind because we did not work hard. To catch up, we have to work doubly hard.

"A road opens as you tread along it. A road that doesn't open isn't a road."

Geu-rae's dream is to be a professional Go player. However, circumstances make it impossible. This "road" does not open for him.

"Roads are open to everyone. But not everyone can have the road."

Geu-rae is lucky to get into the company, but without ability and hard work, he will not be able to pass his internship and get a permanent position. There is a "road" open but he may not be able to take it.

"Misaeng" is a jargon used in Go. It refers to a stone (game piece) which is not yet alive in a Go game but is not dead, meaning there is still a chance for it to come alive. Geu-rae is like a "misaeng" in the company, an intern who cannot fit in, but has the potential to do so if he passes his internship. He is a "misaeng" in his life, he has accomplised nothing for the past 26 years, but is now given a chance to start over again.

The first episode looks promising. Geu-rae is a character that ordinary folks can relate to, and I am rooting for this underdog to succeed. I think this drama will turn out to be motivational and inspiring.

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