Hahahaha. You know what’s funny about my taste in dramas? How utterly unpredictable it is.
On the contrary: This is a pretty sexy show. Solid acting, strong directing, controlled pacing, and a pretty impressive score.
(The website and promo materials are carrying the subtitle “The Slingshot”; I’m not sure what that means in the context of this story, but I wonder if that will be the English-language title this drama takes on. Just fyi.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Pe2ny – “Oneway 08 Remix” [ Download ]
The thing is, I wasn’t sold on the premise alone — it sounds okay, but not automatically compelling. What makes the drama work, however, is the execution — it feels like a movie, in the way that the director really sets a mood. It’s smooth but not overly slick; it moves well but has some fantastic pauses that create moments of tension. That overall tone is what spoke to me in these first two episodes.
After a false accusation destroys a family business, the owner commits suicide in despair. His younger brother attempts to fend off ruthless debt collectors from going after his brother’s widow, but an act of desperation lands him in prison for three and a half years.
What he doesn’t yet know is that an ambitious businessman, the son of a powerful conglomerate’s CEO, has been systematically orchestrating the ruin of many smaller companies on the path to taking over.
What ensues is… revenge? (We’re not there yet, but I’m guessing that’s what happens, once he gets out of prison and starts to put all the pieces together.)
Initially, Kim Shin (Park Yong-ha) is one of those lovable but irresponsible types, who lives a pretty easy life — he’s unemployed (by choice), but comes from money. He has a good relationship with girlfriend Seo Kyung-ah (Park Shi-yeon), although they have a “cool” understanding, spoken jokingly, that she’d never marry him and wants to attract a rich businessman.
His older brother took their father’s small mandoo (dumpling) store and worked hard to build it into a big company. Both Shin’s brother and Kyung-ah prod Shin to get a job or at least work for the company, but he just wants to spend his time frivolously. Big Bro is a decent boss, loving husband, and father to two young girls.
Everything changes when their mandoo factory is featured in a spurious news report — all accusations, no facts — that charge them with using inferior ingredients and feeding the country “trash mandoo” while raking in the profits. Sales plummet, the company is attacked by the public, and Shin’s brother is ruined. The story is proven to be false by an official investigation, but the damage is done.
Furthermore, the shifty news reporter who broke the story refuses to air the update to the story clearing the company. It’s in the paper, he sneers, so he doesn’t have to bother featuring it.
A truly honest man, Shin’s brother is completely crushed by this, and drowning in debts that have amounted since the story broke — with no sales, there’s no money to pay any of their workers, and he’s had to take out huge loans to keep the business afloat. He’s also read all the scathing netizen comments (“Go kill yourself” and “If you commit suicide, don’t jump in the Han River and pollute the water”) — not knowing that the netizen slander is actually the work of people who’ve been paid by a mysterious figure to spread the hate.
Big Bro may know logically that suicide isn’t the answer, but he’s already past the breaking point and doesn’t respond to Shin’s attempts to encourage him. One night, he wanders along a bridge, and in a rash decision, walks right into traffic. He dies.
A suicide ruling nullifies the insurance policy that would have been paid to his widow, and soon loan sharks descend upon her to collect what her husband had borrowed. She’s helpless and has to care for two young girls alone, and has no money.
Kyung-ah surprises Shin by offering her savings, but he laughs because it’s such an insignificant sum. He asks Kyung-ah for a favor, explaining that he inquired around and found a high-end hostess bar willing to hire her — which basically means he wants to sell his girlfriend.
(Bar hostessing isn’t prostitution — although sometimes they can be linked — and usually requires a woman to indenture herself to the bar, in exchange for a large advance of money. Shin says that this bar is a classy place that caters to CEOs and celebrities, but no matter the environment, hostessing is looked down upon as a disreputable gig — the general public attitude toward hostesses is somewhat similar to the attitude that Americans might have toward strippers, for instance.)
Kyung-ah is disgusted with Shin, and leaves.
With no other options, Shin does the only thing he can to save his brother’s family — he takes out his own loan, despite having no way to repay it. Even the loan shark cautions him against doing it, but he takes out a loan to pay off his brother’s — in essence exchanging his life for his family’s.
And then, Shin storms into a newsroom (this is actually the very first scene, in Episode 1) in the middle of a live broadcast. In a blaze of fury, he points a crossbow at the anchor — the same reporter who broke the false story about their business — and shoves a piece of paper in his face, ordering him to read it on the air. (We can guess that it’s an explanation clearing the company’s name.)
But the cameras have cut away to a field reporter, and Shin loses control of the situation. He insists they turn the cameras back to him, but the police arrive and take charge. As Shin is forced to the ground and detained, he grinds out in frustration, “I have something to say to the people! Why won’t you let me say it?!”
For his stunt, Shin is sentenced to three and a half years for attempted murder. As you may guess, he does not do well in prison.
Once incarcerated, Shin’s attitude is one of dull despair, and he manages to piss off the boss of a certain gang (above right). That means Shin is beaten and harassed from the outset, despite his best attempts to remain quiet and unobtrusive. But he’s locked up in a group cell with the boss’ minions, who pick on him gleefully.
The only non-gangster in the cell is a weird, nervous prisoner, Ahn Kyung-tae (Park Ki-woong, who gives an impressive performance). Shin asks how Kyung-tae manages to escape harassment, but Kyung-tae is locked in his own head and doesn’t talk to anyone, only muttering nonsensical things to himself.
Thus Shin endures more beatings. He begs the guards to transfer him to a different cell, because he’s going to be killed here, but they ignore his pleas.
One day, a young woman comes to visit him. She’s Chae Eun-soo, a pure-hearted girl who is kept under strict watch by her father, the rich businessman CEO Chae. With her communication watched and all information filtered (she’s like a lovely bird in a gilded cage), Eun-soo has taken to spying on her father’s business meetings, which is how she has heard of Shin’s situation. It’s like her father (and brother) are so mired in corruption and greed that she feels doubly aggrieved for their victims.
Shin dismisses her, not paying much attention until she mentions his dead brother. Eun-soo explains that she thinks the situation had something to do with her family’s company — but she doesn’t know how to do anything but apologize. So she’s here to apologize.
Now for Eun-soo’s older brother, the brilliant, calculating, ambitious Chae Do-woo (Kim Kang-woo, in another nice bit of casting).
The specifics of his plan are not yet clear, but the gist is this: Do-woo has been ruthlessly destroying smaller companies with the intention of building up his own enterprise. Shin’s family company was only one of many, but it has been noted that Shin’s case has caused more trouble than anticipated, with the bad press and suicide.
However, Do-woo is not all-powerful. Not yet. He’s in the final phase of his big M&A (mergers & acquisitions) plan, and needs an infusion of capital to finish it all off. He asks his fellow rich friends for money to invest, and although the most senior guy refuses, Do-woo is able to convince the others to trust in him.
After Shin’s meeting with Eun-soo, his attitude undergoes a drastic shift. For one, he requests another meeting with her. (She sends him a care package in prison, which he returns unused, but with a note asking her to return.)
Also, when the gangsters start to mess with him, now he fights back, no longer intent on keeping the peace. In fact, he even goes after the gang leader a few times, managing to get in a few punches before he’s dragged off by prison guards.
His erratic and violent behavior raises tensions with the gang, and they organize an ambush in the prison courtyard. Kyung-tae is the only prisoner who sees the gangsters passing around a weapon — a shiv fashioned from a toothbrush. When two prisoners pick a fight as a decoy, the guards are distracted, and the gangsters drag Shin off in the chaos. They beat him and stab him with the shiv, while Kyung-tae nervously alerts the guard, who finds Shin in time to save his life.
Shin had demanded that his sister-in-law sell her place and take the kids far away, and not tell him where she went. Since the loan sharks will go after everyone connected to him, she must cut herself off completely.
Kyung-ah tracks down Shin’s sister-in-law to an out-of-the-way town, and as the two women talk about Shin, they both conclude that he had been purposely hurtful in order to push them away, knowing that remaining close ties with him would only bring them trouble. Kyung-ah also realizes that his crude request to sell her to the hostess bar was only a tactic to get her to leave. He had then held up the newscast to purposely get thrown in jail and out of the loan sharks’ clutches, knowing they would hunt him down.
Unfortunately, the thugs have followed Kyung-ah here, and continue to terrorize the family for Shin’s debt. They take the very last of the widow’s money and promise to return monthly. Kyung-ah sees how traumatized the family is, and follows the loan sharks to make a counteroffer — she will assume the debt, so they’d better not pester the poor woman anymore.
Meanwhile, back in prison, the guard tells Shin two things: (1) He owes his life to Kyung-tae, and (2) He and Kyung-tae are going to be moved to a different cell, so he’d better try to live more quietly now. Shin thinks to himself (and to his dead brother) that perhaps he did have a death wish, attacking the gang boss like he did. After all, that’s what his brother did — succumb to a brief, self-destructive impulse.
I mostly know Park Yong-ha from Winter Sonata and On Air so maybe my impression of him is skewed, but I enjoy seeing him depart from his nice-guy image. Granted, Shin is a good guy at heart, but he’s also immature, selfish, and tough. Park displays some nice acting here, and although I’ve seen him cry plenty before, the tears in Story of a Man are angry, frustrated, intense — kind of like the drama.
As for Park Shi-yeon: I’m curious to see how this relationship plays out. In the beginning, Shin and Kyung-ah treat their relationship with cool nonchalance — the kind of couple who would never say “I love you,” who always joke about not getting serious. But when things get tough, we get to see a reversal, and their actions prove just how strongly they care for each other despite their joking (i.e., when Shin pushes Kyung-ah away, and when she takes on his debt). Even Shin’s sister-in-law urges Kyung-ah to take this opportunity for a clean break, because Shin has already given her a clear out, but she sticks around anyway.
Furthermore, I think Kyung-ah’s future path is going to be interesting to watch. I’m thankful that Kyung-ah is no sacrificial, quietly suffering woman — she is made of tough stuff. And curiously, when the loan shark laughs that her sacrifice is such a touching display of girlfriendly love, she tells him harshly that this has nothing to do with love.
Based on previews, it seems like Kyung-ah is going to cut Shin off, telling him that they now live in different worlds. So while her big sacrifice is done out of caring, it’s not to preserve their love, but rather as one last goodbye gesture. (It also seems she’ll start working at the high-end club Do-woo frequents, and I’m looking forward to seeing them meet — especially since it’s been noted that Do-woo isn’t very receptive to the girls and maintains his distance.)
I last saw Park Ki-woong playing a goofy, immature law student in Love & Marriage, and before that he was Kim Sun-ah’s kid brother in When Night Comes. And my, what a transformation!
You’d never confuse him with his earlier performances, because you may have thought he would be better playing light, comedic roles. But he’s really taken a step up with this disturbed prisoner character. Kyung-tae is constantly frightened, cowering in fear from everything and everyone, and also given to nervous tics, and Park Ki-woong pulls it all off quite well. (Purely from an acting point of view, man it must be tiring to constantly act like a bundle of nerves, twitching as though it’s an involuntary reaction. My muscles ache just thinking about it. )
And now, can we talk about Kim Kang-woo? OMGSOSEXY.
I have been known to fangirl, but it’s never over a pretty face (or ripped bod). There are too many pretty faces out there to squeal over every one, and I’ve got a fangirling limit, yunno? It’s more about presence and charisma, and boy does this character (and actor) have that. Abundantly.
I mean, HOT DAMN is Kim Kang-woo sexy. It’s not his looks (even though those don’t hurt) — it’s his attitude. He’s cool, but I don’t know, there’s something really very *present* about his acting, how it feels much more *there* than I’m used to seeing from pretty lead actors in drama series. Kim sure has grown up well, hasn’t he?; you can tell this is a movie star. He embodies his character’s calm power so well that it doesn’t feel like an actor trying to play cool — he just is.
I’m most intrigued by his character, because he’s obviously this brutal businessman with no sense of compassion, yet already we see hints of weakness. I like that he’s not at the very top of the food chain, because I don’t want to see someone who’s all-powerful. I want to see Do-woo struggle to pull off his risky, colossal scheme, and how he relates to his pure-hearted little sister, and maybe even his possible daddy issues.
I think I’ve raved perhaps more than I meant to. Story of a Man isn’t an automatic win for me, and I’m not positive it will remain good. (I recall that I liked Legend for several episodes, but lost interest after that, so I’m not just trusting writer Song Ji-nah to deliver.) But based on the first two episodes, I was pleasantly surprised.
The directing is the definite highlight here. The acting, the story, the characters — they’re solid. But it’s the directing that makes this stand out. For instance, the tone of the drama is very assured, which the music is particularly effective in setting. I’ve mentioned that this comes off like a film more than a drama, and it’s really true in the care the production has taken in establishing ambiance. (A lot of dramas don’t have the time or budget for ambiance — that falls below essentials like “plot” and “editing” on the priority checklist.)
There are a few scenes that stand out, and maybe the reason I like Do-woo so much is because his scenes are among them. The director takes time to linger on a look or a moment with a strong, controlled sense of pacing. When most dramas are scrambling to shove as much plot into one hour, this drama actually slows down a moment here, a moment there, and you’ve got to have confidence to pull that off. It gives Do-woo’s character this cold, languid intensity, which feels like a huge messy oxymoron, but all those words apply.
I don’t know if I’ll continue to recap this drama. Considering the good directing, good acting, and good production, I think the story will be the thing to make or break it for me. Will it maintain the suspense, or go down the path of predictable and tired? With Queen of Housewives doing well (in the same timeslot), and a bunch more series ready to premiere soon — like Cinderella Man, Six Months, and City Hall — I feel like I have to decide carefully. But I’ll be keeping an eye on Story of a Man, for sure.