I’ve decided to stick with the title Mixed-Up Investigative Agency as my preferred translation for the title of KBS’s new action-comedy drama 얼렁뚱땅 흥신소, which has been translated a number of different other things, all of which I dislike. (I did kinda like one person’s translation using the word “wacky,” but I’ve got my own reasons for going with “mixed-up.”) My aversion to the most common translation, Evasive Inquiry Agency, nearly matches my aversion to that other title that gives me hives, 9 End 2 Outs. (What does “9 end 2 outs” even mean?? It’s supposed to mean “Bottom of the Ninth with Two Outs,” which is in keeping with the series’ extended baseball metaphor.)
(Random) SONG OF THE DAY
Deb – “Cat’s Advice” [ Download ]
Mixed-up Agency comes at an opportune time, because I’m not at all interested in any of its sageuk competitors. Not only does it stand out from all the historical epics, the tone is different and fresh; it’s random and funny without being silly and gag-based, which is how many other series go awry when attempting jokey humor (Merry vs. Daegu, for instance).
At first, I wasn’t sure how the show would manage without a romance storyline, but after seeing the first episode, I think I can see it working after all. It doesn’t mean there’s no mention of romance at all — the first episode and previews for the following hint pretty clearly that Minki’s character falls for Lee Eun Sung’s character swiftly and strongly — but it won’t play out as a source of dramatic storytelling. It might be there in the background, but the series probably won’t center any of its stories or cases around a “love line.”
And speaking of cases…
CASE NO. 1: “It All Starts Because of a Cat!”
First off, let’s get to know our characters:
Lee Minki is Mu-yeol, a Taekwondo instructor who’s hotheaded but not so bright.
Ryu Seung Soo is Yong-su, Mu-yeol’s hyung friend who runs a manhwa (comic book) shop, manning the cash register and reading comics all day.
Ye Jiwon is Hee-kyung, a tarot card reader who conducts her mystical fortune-telling under the name “Aransha.”
And Lee Eun Sung is Eun-jae, who spends all of Episode 1 unconscious (in two separate instances). We barely know anything about her, but looks like she’s in a distinctively different class from the other three, well-bred and wealthy.
The series starts immediately in the midst of action — dire crisis, to be more exact. It’s a scene you’d expect right out of an Indiana Jones flick, except our heroes are much less heroic than Indy. Our four above-mentioned leads plus one unidentified male are trapped when the ceiling of a cavern collapses on them, burying them in rocks and rubble.
Mu-yeol and Yong-su are all right, but Mu-yeol sees with alarm that (the likely-to-become-the-object-of-his-affections) Eun-jae is out cold, buried in rocks and sand when the ceiling crumbled.
Mu-yeol takes his anger out on the unnamed third guy, but Hee-kyung angrily stops the testosterone-y brawl, growling that she will not die like this.
In despair, the fivesome sit back dejectedly, and sink into despair in the ruins…
…and we zip backward to FOUR MONTHS PRIOR.
Before this foray into treasure-hunting, Mu-yeol’s just a Taekwondo instructor who sees his students as sources of much-needed income. Unfortunately, his classes (held in the run-down Gold Building) are dwindling in numbers, as evidenced when one of his meal tickets — er, students — informs him that it’ll be his last day; he won’t be continuing classes anymore.
Mu-yeol’s hyung, Yong-su, lives a slackerly existence running a manhwa store. He gives himself headaches trying to tamp down his anger when cheap teenage kids loiter in the store to avoid paying to rent the books.
Mu-yeol has plenty of vigor and verve but doesn’t really know how to apply his energies; the older Yong-su has more brains and sense but absolutely no desire to apply himself.
These two bums (spoken with affection) laze away their free time and live nondescript lives, scraping by as well as they can. One day, a well-dressed, refined lady steps into their messy quarters in the Gold Building; she indicates the peeling letters stuck to their window that read: “We’ll take on anything you need!” She believes them to be running a sort of investigative agency — not really a detective agency, but more like a cross between a private investigator and an errand service. The guys laugh and start to set her straight — the sign doesn’t refer to them (it’s probably a remnant from an old business) — but the lady peels off two $100 bills if they’ll take on her request. She promises five more bills if they successfully find who she’s looking for.
Having just argued five minutes prior with the delivery boy over what constitutes a free side dish to a cheap bowl of jajangmyun, Mu-yeol and Jong-su jump up and take the job.
Looking for, it turns out, a cat.
Catching the cat, Honey, is much more difficult than initially anticipated. Mu-yeol is determined to do everything he can to find it, thinking of lots of tactics and tricks to ensnare the animal and claim the reward. In contrast, although Yong-su was initially interested in the reward, he doesn’t think the job’s worth all the effort, and wants to quit. He echoes his life’s refrain: “Come on, let’s just half-ass it.”
Meanwhile, another friendly neighbor/acquaintance, Hee-kyung, has hit a bit of a snag coming up with her rent/lease money. The Gold Building landlord is grouchy and naggy, and she employs her formidable acting skills to constantly buy herself more time. (Btw, Ye Jiwon is really, really good. The acting in this series is surprisingly better than what one might expect from the genre — I was expecting silly and goofball with little substance — but that in return elevates the genre itself.) Hee-kyung may not be a good fortune-teller (after she trips: “How can you see the future when you can’t even see what’s in front of you?”), but her dramatic flair does come in handy in other aspects of life.
Hee-kyung spies an opportunity to gain the advantage over her landlord when everyone in the building is overcome with fear after they start hearing eerie noises in the walls, late at night. She cobbles together some dramatic story about why old, unresolved wrongs would cause an angry ghost to linger — and enlists the two guys to help her find the source.
So the three of them check out the noise late at night (the guys are won over easily with promises of food). Once again, Yong-su wants to give up early, telling the others, “Come on, let’s just half-ass it and go.” The three of them make their way toward the eerie noisemaking source, freaked out despite the fact that I thought it was incredibly obvious that it was the cat. The cat, conveniently, that they were looking for. Turns out Honey’s got three additional little ones hanging out in a crawlspace in the wall.
But, I forgive them for the contrivance because of how re-freakin-donkulously cute these kittehs are. Lookee!
Honestly, they’re adorable enough to qualify for CuteOverload.com status — which, if you haven’t visited before, is a site you are surely missing out on. I suspect those of you venturing there for the first time have just lost the next three hours of your lives, cooing at cute things and attempting to pet your screens. It’s just that cute. And I don’t even really like animals.
But anyway. The discovery of the kittens also leads to a discovery of three solid-gold leaf-shaped coin-like things. Ornaments? Plates? Paperweights? Mu-yeol, Yong-su, and Hee-kyung are thrilled at the discovery — until they reach one more time into the wall and extract, with horror, a hand. An awful, shrively, decayed hand.
This begs the question: Do they keep the gold? Do they report the hand? They can’t surely do both — there will be too many questions. They’ll get in trouble if they try to take the gold and they’re caught lying about it later. Do they dare ignore the hand and keep the gold? Dilemmas, dilemmas.
Hee-kyung dreams of wealth and pretty things, and pushes for keeping the gold. Mu-yeol wants to keep it too, but is afraid of being caught. And Yong-su is adamant that they’re inviting disaster if they do anything suspect, and wants to turn in everything. No need to piss off the fates or angry dead spirits.
In the end, the authorities are called, and news of the hand and the found gold draws out multitudes of people claiming the hand (belonging to dead or long-lost relatives) so they can also claim the gold.
As for our heroes, life returns to normal. Hee-kyung goes back to peddling fortunes, Yong-su goes back to running the manhwa store, and Mu-yeol deals with his slowly depleting class ranks.
One day a few weeks after they stumbled across the gold, Mu-yeol goes up to the roof to collect his laundry and comes across a pretty girl, out cold on his rooftop. (And, I suspect, falls head over heels for her.)