Holy moly, this show is intense.
Because of the scriptwriter, this drama’s point of comparison has generally been Sandglass or Legend (which she wrote), but I think the closest comparison is really 2007’s Devil (aka Mawang). Story of a Man is dark, it’s complicated, it’s densely plotted and you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen in the end, but you’re intrigued.
The cast overall is solid, and Park Yong-ha is decent so far in the lead role, as is Park Shi-yeon as the tough girlfriend. Park Ki-woong as the skittish autistic savant is even better. But it’s Kim Kang-woo in the villain’s role who borders on amazing.
SONG OF THE DAY
Jo Won-sun – “아무도, 아무것도” (Anyone, Anything). The singer of Roller Coaster has released her first solo album, and I freaking LOVE it, just as I freaking love this song. [ Download ]
If I continue to recap this drama, I may take a different approach to writing it up. As in, probably not in the order that things happen onscreen. There are certain themes and connections that are revealed piece by piece, and I have a feeling that a straight scene-by-scene summary of this drama might be hopelessly confusing to follow because it jumps around a bit.
I’d still encourage you to watch for yourselves, because part of what makes a tense thriller like this work is how the plot unfolds, not just what happens.
EPISODES 3 & 4
Kyung-ah surprises Shin by paying him a visit in prison, which he tries to reject. But he can’t quite turn his back on her, so he instead asks why she came, speaking with a frustration driven by his own guilt. He’d driven her away purposely, so why is she here?
Kyung-ah tells Shin that she inadvertently led the loan sharks to Shin’s sister-in-law, but she “took care of it” and they’re no longer burdened by his debt. She’s angry at him for not being honest with her, because that means he didn’t value her opinion. Shin grows alarmed at the realization that she took on his debt, which escalates when she doesn’t answer his question, “Are you okay?” He demands, voice choking with tears, “What did you do? What did they do to you?!”
Kyung-ah keeps up her tough exterior (she doesn’t tear up until she turns her back) as she tells Shin that this will be the last time they’re in the same “world” — she’s going to move on now, and taking care of his debt is her last act on his behalf.
Overcome with emotion, Shin grabs at the cage separating them, so desperate to get to her that it’s as though he’s willing himself through the barrier. And when he drops the phone receiver, we see him shouting, but as we are in Kyung-ah’s point of view, his outburst is silent. We can read his lips — “I’m sorry! It’s my fault!” — but until we switch to his side of the glass, we can’t hear him.
This scene is an example of what I mean when I say that this drama’s strength is in its execution more than the story itself. (Not that the story is bad, but the details are what elevate the drama.) Shin’s silent shouting is a nice touch, because their literal broken communication signifies, well, their metaphorical broken communication: Shin is the one to drop the receiver first, but when he lifts the receiver again, it’s then Kyung-ah who hangs up. A nice, understated way to symbolize how their timing has skewed out of step with one another.
We can see from her reaction that Kyung-ah still loves Shin, but like I said, lady’s a tough customer (and when I say tough, I mean mentally). She comes from a difficult family situation, and now she steels herself to take the plunge to the other side of respectability — she’s going to get a job as a bar hostess and rake in the money, no matter what people think of her. This is a career path she’d never have taken of her own volition, but now that she’s been driven to it, she may as well be ambitious.
She gets an introduction with a bar madam, but the madam isn’t impressed and their meeting does not go well. However, another madam (pictured above) overhears their exchange, and likes Kyung-ah.
When Kyung-ah visits this second madam to discuss business, she’s dressed in a coat and baseball cap, chin down as though ashamed to be seen entering one of these bars. The madam picks up on her timidity and doesn’t like it. She asks one of her favored patrons for his opinion — it’s Do-woo, sitting to the side, who looks over lazily and tosses out, “What’d you see in her?”
The madam is about to dismiss her, but Kyung-ah then drops the coat and pulls off the cap, now oozing confidence. She has asked around for appraisals, and knows her own worth — at least 100 million won to start. She’s not going to be played for less. So how about they try this again and make a deal?
Now, for Do-woo. Man, this guy is intriguing, as I discuss more in depth below. He drives his motorcycle along a highway, and closes his eyes as he speeds along — does he have a death wish? He’s not scared, and he’s not even what I’d call cold — he’s blank, and that makes him all the more frightening.
His master plan gets more explanation, as he sets out to ruin another company. First, he sets the online gossipmongers loose at his command, then waits for the right time to swoop in.
The target is a large company called Byukjaewon, which is Do-woo’s true target. Shin’s family company was merely collateral damage in Do-woo’s scheme to devalue Byukjaewon in order to buy it on the cheap. Because of his tactics, rumors abound that Byukjaewon products are tainted and sales plummet. This, naturally, reduces the president of the company to a nervous wreck.
But Do-woo’s genius is not just that he has manipulated the circumstances thusly — it’s what comes afterward. He takes a meeting with the Byukjaewon president, and as a large shareholder in the company, Do-woo affects the demeanor of a concerned investor. I say “affects” because he’s not actually concerned, but he pretends to be afraid because he’s taken a financial hit from the scandal. The president begs Do-woo to have faith and not sell all his shares, because that would kill the company.
Do-woo acts as though he’s brainstorming on the fly, and offers to ask several of his friends to help out — maybe if they get more investment capital, they can save Byukjaewon from ruin. (This explains what he was doing asking all his rich friends for money in the previous episode.)
Thus, Do-woo makes it seem like this is mutually beneficial — he’s all faux sympathy and understanding — and suggests that he could solve the problem by buying Byukjaewon outright. However, because he’s lost so much money already, he can only afford it if the president could offer him a cheaper price. Therefore he has just brilliantly managed not only to acquire his target, but to do it in such a “magnanimous” way that the other man blubbers in gratitude that Do-woo “saved” him.
Prison stuff: Shin is relocated to new room, along with Kyung-tae. His new cell houses less aggressive inmates, but even though he’s safer here, he acts out of self-preservation: Shin refuses to name his attackers when he’s questioned by prison guards. The guards know he’s lying when he says he stabbed himself in a suicide attempt, but without his cooperation, they can’t pursue the matter.
This gains him favor in the eyes of the gang boss, Bum-hwan, who is pleased that Shin protected his minions, and tells him, “You may be screwed up, but you are a man.” He gives Shin the invitation to call him “hyungnim” — essentially inviting him into his gang family.
Shin accepts — it’s more a political move than anything — and immediately asks for a favor. Bum-hwan has connections outside the prison, right? There are two things Shin needs to take care of: (1) His girlfriend took over his debt and is being harassed by the loan sharks, and (2) a woman (Eun-soo) visited him and said some things about his brother’s death, and he needs to find out what she meant.
Bum-hwan’s inquiries turn up something interesting about Kyung-tae, who is dragged before the gang, quaking in fear. Kyung-tae is “Mazinger Hunter” — a netizen who rose to online fame for making some very prescient financial predictions. However, he was caught for spreading false information, pissing off some very important people, which led to his imprisonment.
Bum-hwan tells Shin that if he wants info about his brother’s ruined business, Mazinger Hunter will be able to dig up a pretty interesting picture once he’s given some basic data.
(Kyung-tae is actually based on a recent real-life case of a South Korean netizen calling himself “Minerva” who was recently sentenced to prison for similar actions. The real-life Minerva derived his name from the goddess of wisdom, but I suppose they chose to name Kyung-tae “Mazinger Hunter” because Minerva also happens to be a character in the comic/anime series. Minerva netizen –> Minerva, the robot created to hunt down Mazinger –> Mazinger Hunter. You can read more about the real-life case here.)
Kyung-tae’s internet broadcast persona explains his fixation with his headphones, and his tic of needing to push on an imaginary “button” (on the wall, or table, or something) before he can speak, as though he can only communicate through his internet microphone.
When Kyung-tae is dragged in front of the gang, his plastic headphones get broken. In a sweet gesture, Shin makes a new set of wooden headphones in the prison woodshop and gives them to Kyung-tae — neither man gets sentimental about it, but it’s the thought that counts.
Kyung-tae also keeps abreast of financial information via his uncle, who poses as a lawyer. (Maybe he actually is a lawyer, but his reason for visiting is not for legal advice.) He provides Kyung-tae with the latest financial happenings, and in exchange Kyung-tae writes down instructions for when to buy and sell stocks and at what amount.
Kyung-tae has requested information about the mandoo factory for Shin, and as he glances through the clippings, he finds the links between Byukjaewon and Do-woo’s company, Chae Dong Construction.
Since Kyung-tae’s an odd duck, he doesn’t tell Shin the information directly. Instead, he talks at night to the wall, addressing the empty air as though he were broadcasting this information online.
It’s in this faux-broadcast that Kyung-tae draws the conclusion that Byukjaewon was the original target, which was too strong to take over through a normal M&A process. Therefore, somebody went after Byukjaewon’s key product — mandoo — and started the “trash mandoo” scare (think China and melamine for a real-life comparison) to devalue Byukjaewon. In so doing, the little guys were also ruined — including Shin’s brother.
But now for the interesting point! Even Mazinger Hunter is surprised at this dirty play — that Chae Dong Construction just last week swooped in like an “angel” to buy the dying Byukjaewon for a cheap price, which includes its large plot of undeveloped land that was gained for nearly nothing. What’s the land going to be used for? A large apartment complex construction project, which is not currently well-publicized. How much does Chae Dong stand to make? That’s the question.
And so, when Shin receives another visitor, he knows a lot more about him and his company than Do-woo expects. Do-woo introduces himself as Eun-soo’s brother, and is surprised — but not rattled — when Shin asks, “So did you buy Byukjaewon’s land or not?” Shin presses him for answers — Why mess with a simple mandoo company? What else is he gaining from this?
Shin: “It can’t have been just to buy that piece of land, could it? You must’ve had a bigger reason, something big enough that a person died for it! It can’t be just for that measly piece of land!”
And yet, Do-woo points out how carelessly Shin speaks of money, like it’s insignificant. That’s how people talk about money when they don’t have it.
Shin returns: “Chae Do-woo. You’re right.”
Now, it’s time for one member of the prison group to be released: It’s this curly-haired guy, Joong-ho. By this point, Shin has been accepted into the gang, and he’s pretty much leapfrogged over the other minions to being Bum-hwan’s Number 2.
Upon Joong-ho’s release, he agrees to take care of the loan sharks who had been harassing Kyung-ah. Joong-ho brings his gangsters to scare the debt collector into canceling the debt.
And then, time for Shin’s release. Over the course of his imprisonment, he receives some words of wisdom from Bum-hwan, who advises him about revenge. There are two types: Plan A’s brute force is simple, but unsavory. On the other hand, Shin’s got a brain, so he should try Plan B: “Return back to them what was done to you, with added interest.”
The first thing Shin does upon his release is visit his brother’s grave. Knowing he’s about to set his revenge plan in motion, Shin tells his brother: “I have a favor to ask. For right now, don’t look at me. I have a few things to take care of. Don’t think about me, and when I’m done I’ll come back and tell you about it.”
Next, he tracks down his sister-in-law, Myung-sun, who now operates a food stall. Shin is glad to see her, but Myung-sun is overcome with guilt, and apologizes for never visiting him in prison. Shin isn’t upset because he told her not to visit, but in her mind, she had made the conscious decision to cut him off in order to keep living.
Worse, she confesses that she accepted money from Kyung-ah, and didn’t even ask where the money came from (knowing that it was probably something bad, but not wanting to feel guilty about it). Worst of all, Myung-sun has new debts, because she couldn’t set up her shop without a new loan, and she has to raise her girls. (She’s a weak woman who knows exactly how weak she is, and for that reason I find her relatable.)
Kyung-ah has risen to enormous popularity as bar girl “Jenny,” and cultivates a sense of mystique as the woman who never smiles. While the other girls cling and flirt, Jenny is disdainful and removed. It’s a pretty effective gimmick, because it has all the men scrambling to be the one to make her smile.
She’s also living a luxurious life — perhaps at the expense of her soul, or at least her happiness, because she’s always toting a bored, careless attitude. Until the day Shin comes to her bar, that is.
Her shell cracks at the sight of him, although she does her best to keep her composure and ignores Shin. (Her casual act is betrayed by her shaking hand, which clenches a handful of ice as though to lend her cool.)
Shin forces his way to her, and his reaction is painfully simplistic — he thinks he can rustle up the money to release her from the bar, and asks how much it will take. She laughs, because she makes more than he can possibly imagine. He promises, “I’ll spend my life repaying it.”
Kyung-ah lies, saying she prefers this world now, with its fancy clothing, expensive handbags, and the huge crowd of men begging to take her out on a date.
Shin calls her bluff, and when he kisses her, the defenses come down. At her teary reaction, he tells her, “See, it’s you. You’re my Kyung-ah.”
But she’s still not able to leave this behind, so she asks him instead, “Will you come to my world?” He can drive her cars, drink with her, and be with her here.
Shin leaves without answering. (It should be noted that Do-woo is also at the bar and sees Shin leaving, although Shin doesn’t see him.)
And now, for Do-woo’s rather interesting father issues. They clash over the Byukjaewon land deal, with Chairman/CEO Chae staunchly refusing to agree to Do-woo’s ideas.
At first it seems that his father is being unreasonable, but the great thing about this drama is all the reversals. For instance, what you first see in Episode 3 takes on a whole different (darker) twist in Episode 4.
In Episode 3, we are shown a flashback to Do-woo’s youth when he was around ten years old, and his father had been busy philandering while his mother lay dying in bed. Mom had excused his cheating by blaming herself — he was tired from her long illness. Young Do-woo helped his suffering mother inject herself with painkillers, and may have deliberately caused her to overdose.
However, what seems like an act of mercy in Episode 3 starts feeling chillingly macabre in Episode 4, when we see the flashback from his father’s point of view. When the father had burst in to find his wife drugged, he’d shoved Do-woo aside — not in anger, but in fear, because the boy had smiled, as though in satisfaction.
Now, Chairman Chae despairs, “How do people not know what kind of person he is, when it’s right in front of their eyes?”
Chae had once thought his son was kindly, an angel in fact, who cared for birds with broken wings, or a dog with a broken leg, or a cat blind in one eye. However, before his wife died, she had confessed that Do-woo had been the one to maim the animals, and had begged her husband to keep an eye on him. At the time, he had blown off her concern, thinking it was nothing and probably also hoping he could ignore the problem into disappearing — after all, he couldn’t advertise that his son was crazy. Now, he regrets this as a mistake.
Chairman Chae has been making Do-woo see a psychiatrist (with little success), but now he wants to hospitalize Do-woo.
It’s almost like his father is cursed with the (completely accurate) conviction that his son is evil — but not blessed with enough intelligence or savvy to get anyone else to believe him. Sort of like Cassandra of Greek mythology. Do-woo is so clever that he will always be able to outwit his father, even if his father IS on to him.
Do-woo isn’t about to let his father control him, either professionally or personally. Acting on Do-woo’s order, his subordinate “K” steals briefcases from the car of Director Oh, the chairman’s subordinate. The briefcases contain money that were to be used as a bribe.
Do-woo enters the house as his father is pitching a fit that Dir. Oh lost the money, and calmly sets the briefcases in front of his father. He says that the bribe wouldn’t have worked, and has stepped in — bypassing his father — to cancel a contract and a stockholders’ meeting. Speaking with false solicitousness, Do-woo expresses concern for his father’s early dementia (which his father does not have) and advises him to take it easy.
Chairman Chae makes arrangements with Do-woo’s psychiatrist to commit Do-woo, taking the extreme measure to diagnose him as mentally unfit. The doctor confirms the matter with driver-assistant Mr. Do.
However! Do-woo is not to be outwitted. He anticipates this move, and sends K to handle the matter. As Mr. Do drives home from his meeting with the psychiatrist, he calls his buddy, who owns a tea shop. Mr. Do doesn’t like keeping CDs in the car and asks for a certain song to be played over the phone.
The café owner complies, not knowing that K has taken Mr. Do hostage in the car — he holds him at knifepoint and has cut the brakes on the vehicle. Mr. Do puts up a good fight, swerving the wheel to try to unseat his captor.
On the other end of the line, the café owner’s nephew is cleaning up, and picks up the phone curiously — it’s Kyung-tae, now out of prison. He looks on in alarm to hear the sounds of struggle, and alerts his uncle to the trouble. Unfortunately, he’s too late — K pours gasoline over Mr. Do, drops a lighter in the car, and jumps out to safety.
At home, Do-woo knows what is happening and sinks into melancholy — or, he would if he could feel any. He’s not so inhuman that he can’t feel the importance of emotion. However, he’s incapable of feeling them like normal people.
Do-woo: “People are supposedly half good, half evil. But I think when Mother gave birth to us, she miscalculated. I think she gave all the darkness to me, and all the light to you.”
Half-teasingly, Eun-soo asks if he feels that’s unfair. Do-woo settles back and sighs in his apathetic way:
Do-woo: “Sometimes. On nights like this, I want to cry. I think I ought to cry. But I don’t know how to cry, and that feels unfair.”
And then, Shin finds Kyung-tae. The reunion is rather adorable, because for once you see Kyung-tae actually excited, and Shin affectionately holds up his hand for Kyung-tae to “push the button” and speak back to him. It’s little gestures like this that really make the dynamics enjoyable to watch.
Kyung-tae’s uncle isn’t around at the moment, because he’s gone to the airport to pick up the dead Mr. Do’s son from the airport. This is his son from America, Do Jae-myung (actor Philip Lee).
Oh my god, Do-woo.
I think most of my comments about this drama will be about him, because I am completely fascinated by this character — I haven’t seen such a complex, intriguing, perplexing character on television in a really long time. Even personalities like Dexter or Hannibal Lecter were understandable, but Do-woo is… incredibly mysterious. This is a case of great work in both the acting and the writing; Kim Kang-woo‘s portrayal is so detailed, but controlled.
I know this “story of a man” is about Kim Shin, and Park Yong-ha is doing a decent job so far. But I almost feel like they should have marketed this as they did Devil and focused on the villain as a “portrait of a bent psyche.”
I am just so damn curious to find out what his deal is. Is he pure evil? It doesn’t seem like he’s that far gone, because he knows the difference between right and wrong and even wishes he had a shred of conscience. It seems possible that Do-woo is amoral more than immoral, and is taking advantage of that lack of compunction to further his selfish gains.
For example, I think he loves Eun-soo, which you can see in their brother-sister rituals like making candy together. He’s gentle with her and recognizes her good nature. Furthermore, he seems glad for her good nature.
Do-woo knows she went to prison to apologize for their father, and Eun-soo asks her brother to understand. She knows that everyone thinks she’s crazy — even the people to whom she apologizes — but can’t he let her do this? Do-woo nods and says she can continue.
Then again, some of his acts creep the hell out of me so maybe he really is the devil.
Example: He argues with his father, who rages at him that even if Do-woo were to kill him, he wouldn’t get a penny. He’s cut out of the will. But Do-woo merely asks, “Are you that afraid of me?”
Do-woo tells his father in a hurt tone that most fathers would be proud of having such clever sons. Why doesn’t the chairman feel proud of his son? Do-woo actually allows his eyes to fill with tears (below left) — and both Do-woo’s and Kim Kang-woo’s brilliance is that although he looks genuinely hurt, we know he’s faking this.
In fact, Do-woo fakes emotion several times — toward his father, toward the Byukjaewon president, toward his doctor — and each time it’s so eerie because we know he’s acting, yet it seems so false and real at once.
He has gone through numerous shrinks with no progress, because he treats therapy like a game. With any other character, I’d speculate that he’s hiding his pain behind a mask of calm, but with Do-woo, there seems to be something much darker at play. He makes up pathetic childhood stories to tell the doctor, because he has nothing real to contribute. He tries to undermine his father (since his father is communicating with the doctor privately) by asking his therapist if he’d like to diagnose his father, because he’s worried about the chairman’s mental faculties.
I actually got chills down my spine in the therapy scene. It’s like life is one big acting game for him, whose pieces are moved by false sincerity.
Furthermore, there’s also a physical weakness component with Do-woo, which we first see in Episode 3. There is an intriguing scene with one of his friends who is angry for being left out of the investment circle. Do-woo gives the angry drunk man the opportunity to back down, but when the guy persists, he maneuvers them into an empty stairwell, and unexpectedly lashes out in a fierce sequence of wrestling moves. It’s sudden, and brutal, and seemingly out of character for Do-woo, whose movements are usually so calm and deliberate. It seems that Do-woo is normally so tightly wound that when he breaks out in this flash of violence, he goes way too far and seems almost unhinged.
But what’s even more unnerving is that afterward, Do-woo settles back weakly. It’s like he’s used up all his energy and now he’s exhausted. Eun-soo alludes to her brother’s weekly hospital visits and wonders why he’s not improving; her driver surmises that Do-woo will not improve until he acknowledges that he is a sick patient. She could be referring to his therapy, but there’s something physically off about him, too.
There’s a recurring habit he does, which is to lean back his head out of fatigue. But — and I don’t mean this to sound pervy! — there’s also an element of ecstasy about it. The first few times Do-woo leaned back his head and sighed slowly, I wasn’t sure if he was in pain or in pleasure. It’s almost… orgasmic. No, really. It’s fascinating and uncomfortable at the same time.
I was reading an article that described Do-woo as sexless or asexual, but I disagree with the reporter because I actually find his slow, leisurely movements charged with sexual tension. His actions aren’t sexual, but there’s this uneasy element in the air, and it’s awesome.
- Story of a Man: Episodes 1 & 2
- Currently airing dramas: A roundup
- First teaser for Story of a Man
- Park Ki-woong added to Story of a Man
- Philip Lee in Story of a Man
- Story of a Man to follow the Boys on KBS