If you’re tired of dramas featuring the same old storylines, this just may be the show for you.

History of the Salaryman is one I’ve been curious about, because it seemed so quirky and different from the usual stuff. With Episode 1 now out, I can say that it is indeed offbeat and quirky, with a wryly funny sense of humor. It’s got a fresh storyline in a sea of same-old-same-old (said the person who’s generally fine with conventional stories, granted that there’s a dash of new sprinkled in with the old), moving along at a brisk clip with a dash of wit that I find darkly funny.

History of the Salaryman kicked off with a disappointing 8.7% viewership rating, which is no doubt because Brain is in full swing (16.5%), with Light and Shadow upticking at 12.9%. Brain has two more weeks to go, so the question will whether Salaryman can hang in until then — and then fend off Dream High 2.

SONG OF THE DAY

Salaryman OST – “성냥팔이 소녀” (Little Match Girl) [ Download ]

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EPISODE 1 RECAP

A dark and stormy night. An empty mansion on a hill. A man — our hero — walks in and observes the damage — smashed glass, debris on the floor. A man sits in a chair, with a gash in his head. Dead.

Our hero recoils, then spots a shadow behind the curtains. It’s a woman, and she struggles. He recognizes her — it’s our heroine.

Next thing we know, we’re at the man’s funeral. Police enter flashing a badge and cuff the hero on suspicion of murder. The heroine is likewise cuffed and dragged away, both insisting on their innocence.

And then, rewind!

We open three months prior at a meeting of executives at Chun Ha Group, headed by Chairman Jin (played by Lee Deok-hwa). He was the most prominent person at the funeral, which makes sense since we learn that the dead guy is his son — HO-HAE, the vice-president.

The topic of discussion: Chairman Jin orders his granddaughter, BAEK YEO-CHI (Jung Ryeo-won), to be given executive management lessons. Chairman Jin took her in after she was orphaned young, and this means he’s grooming her for leadership. Ho-hae is her uncle, and he is not happy to be bypassed.

Now to our hero, YOO BANG (Lee Beom-soo), currently one cafe over from Yeo-chi, mooning over her in his countrified accent. He wonders how lovely and refined her voice would be — so we zoom over to her cafe, where she’s swearing up a storm like a vulgar ajumma from the sticks. Yeo-chi isn’t at the executive meeting, because she just doesn’t care.

An employee spills a teeny drop of coffee on her shoe and apologizes; Yeo-chi narrows her eyes and gets ready to rip her a new one. Unaware of the excess of profanity spewing out of Yeo-chi’s refined mouth, Bang sighs that a woman like her is way out of his league.

Bang is unemployed at the moment, and meets with a rep for a pharmaceutical company — he has agreed to be a subject in a clinical trial. As he reads over the agreement, over his shoulder we can see Yeo-chi slapping the waitress and throwing things in the neighboring cafe. It’s one of the many backhandedly funny moments this show gives us.

Hm, but there’s something fishy going on. Bang — as well as the other clinical guinea pigs — is being watched, because somebody’s investigating this secret project.

This is explained by CHOI HANG-WOO (Jung Kyeo-woon), a high-ranking director at Jang Cho Pharmaceuticals, to his boss, Chairman Oh. The two companies (and chairmen) are rivals, so Jang Cho is sniffing around Chun Ha’s secret project. A cutting-age drug called Eternal Youth is being developed to prevent aging and extend life. The project is so secret that not even the participants are informed what it’s for.

Chairman Oh is furious — they’ve poured tons of money into their own project, only to be potentially scooped by Chun Ha? The chairman screams at Hang-woo to fix this, to make sure Chun Ha doesn’t come out first and therefore destroy their company.

Hang-woo outlines three methods of approach: (1) Push to get their drug approved first, (2) interfere with Chun Ha’s investments, or (3) steal the drug. He offers himself as thief.

The thirty participants are rounded up on a bus, to be sequestered during the ten-day trial. Bang sneaks in one last phone call, which tells us that he’s doing this to rustle up Mom’s hospital bills. Some cliches never die. Among the test subjects is Hang-woo, undercover.

Now for CHA WOO-HEE (Hong Soo-hyun), who addresses the group as the head researcher. Coolly, she reminds them of the confidentiality clause, and everyone dons the masks provided.

A Chun Ha team follows behind the bus to make sure nobody’s tailing them, but the Jang Cho secret team is on their tail anyway, thanks to a tracker planted by Hang-woo under the bus seat.

Chairman Jin receives the report of the test, and tells his staff that there are sure to be a couple of corporate spies within the group. His shrewd but underappreciated executive director, PARK BUM-JEUNG (the always-wonderful Lee Ki-young), warns that all thirty could be spies. Bum-jeung’s rival pipes up that there’s nothing to worry about, earning brown-nosing brownie points with the chairman.

Someone yells “Fore!” and everyone dives to cover the chairman, like he’s the freaking king. They turn, and see… another corporate party, this time from Jang Cho, headed by a smug Chairman Oh. They face each other like mortal enemies, and over the phone they taunt each other — Chairman Oh about the “stray” ball, and Chairman Jin about his new drug.

That sparks tempers, and the two chairmen fly at each other in a slow-motion rage, golf clubs swinging. Either the old men are remarkably adept at dodging, or they’re just that bad at hitting. I’m going with bad. They both end up sprawled on the grass, and their loyal armies charge. Okay, this is pretty hilarious.

It gets even better when the sprinklers turn on, giving us something out of a grand-scale battle in a sageuk epic — only instead of deadly warriors, we have wussy corporate execs going at it with flailing limbs, fingers up nostrils, and flying toupees. I am vastly amused.

Meanwhile, the busload of guinea pigs arrives at a remote facility. The test subjects are herded in blindfolded and assigned numbers and jumpsuits. Hang-woo has a few more high-tech James Bond-ian gadgets up his sleeves, and he pulls on glasses that double as a recorder-transmitter.

Hang-woo has to figure out how to get the corresponding earpiece past the metal detectors, but he’s interrupted by the clueless Bang. Or is he not so clueless after all? He calls Hang-woo out on his obvious glasses and tells him he can’t get those by anybody.

Hang-woo sweats for a few seconds before Bang crows, “They’re knock-offs!” Yup, clueless.

Bang introduces himself and his unfortunate name (yoo-bang means breasts, though his name is based on hanja characters). Bang cheerily offers to be friends, but Hang-woo shoves him into head researcher Woo-hee, because this gives him the chance to slip his earpiece into her jacket pocket.

Woo-hee gets waved through security, so once past the checkpoint, all he needs to do is get it back from her. Hang-woo times a collision with her to sneak the earpiece from her pocket, then smirks to himself in satisfaction.

Only to have Bang’s annoyingly clueless voice cut in — he saw the whole thing. Okay, I’m starting to love Bang and his oblivious interference of Hang-woo’s Big Scheme. It’s delightful.

Bang wonders why he’s snatching things in and out of other people’s pockets, and Hang-woo shuts him up by shoving him against a rail. He says he’s just here to earn some cash, so shut up and leave him alone. Bang asks what the little doohickey is, and Hang-woo’s about to silence him with a punch, but they get interrupted by an employee. Test subjects have been called to a meeting.

At Chun Ha Group, Chairman Jin gets down to business scouting investors. Why does he have a pet chicken? Never mind, I don’t care — the fact that he has a pet chicken that he dresses in hanbok and sets in a cat bed is enough for me. Oh, and would you look at that — it has a name, too: Geum-ok. It’s one of the early test subjects of Eternal Youth, and is now aged at a human equivalent of 112 years.

Bum-jeung, sadly, is put on chicken-poop duty. He tries to impress the chairman’s attentive secretary MO GABI (Kim Seo-hyung) and asks her to the opera. He is coolly ignored.

The clinical trial begins. Each subject is given a dose, while Hang-woo observes the details closely. He notes all the security cameras, restricted access points, and modes of entry. Woo-hee and Chief Kim are the only two people who have codes to enter the inner sanctum, where the glowy vials of eternal youth are kept.

Hang-woo slips away to an empty bathroom to report back to his surveillance team, who are stationed in a van outside the premises. The contact is currently being held up by a curious young man who has stopped to inquire — because their van has been disguised with a logo marked “Love Goods” and bearing a woman’s silhouette. (“There’s nothing in here for you!”) HAHA.

Hang-woo reports that outright theft of the drug will be impossible, but they’ll be able to use his observations of the test. He muses that he could block their investors if he had more time to suss out the drug’s effects… not noticing that Bang has entered the bathroom and looks at him curiously. Hahaha.

Luckily for him, Bang isn’t the brightest tube in the glowstick factory, and he jokingly talks to the glasses. Hang-woo shakes him off, then tells his team to look into Bang’s background.

The moment Hang-woo leaves the bathroom, Bang tears through the stalls, looking for something. He feels around the toilet bowls looking for a specially made gum, which is supposed to be there for him.

Flashback: Bang had run into disgruntled Vice President Ho-hae while working as a nightclub waiter and begged for help getting a job. He’d offered to do whatever Ho-hae asked, even eating food off the ground like a dog. Thus Ho-hae had given him the assignment to steal the drug, using the planted gum to hide the pill.

There’s no gum today, which means he’ll have to check back later. Now he wonders, “Could that glasses guy be the contact?”

So late that night, Bang asks his bunkmate, “Who sent you? I know you’re a spy, here to steal the drug.” Hee.

Hang-woo denies it, and demands to know who sent him. Bang decides, “Ah, you’re not on our side. Okay, never mind.” Haha, he cracks me up. He tells Hang-woo that they should just make sure not to get in each other’s way, ignoring the fact that now he’s stoked Hang-woo’s curiosity. Who else here is a spy?

Executive director Bum-jeung tries to educate heiress Yeo-chi on an upcoming business event, but she’s only interested in shopping. Plus, she didn’t give him permission to use banmal — even if he and her father were good friends and he knew her all her life. She warns that she can fire him, and he switches to jondaemal.

Yeo-chi gets in a snit when she finds that the dress she ordered is being tried on by someone else — and her grandfather’s secretary, at that. She orders Gabi to take off the dress, then adds that her grandfather must be paying her too much if she can afford this. Or perhaps she’s seduced the old man into paying her bills?

Gabi agrees to take off the dress, but she’s got a steely spine of her own, and she tells Yeo-chi to stop casting aspersions on the respected chairman. Furthermore, Yeo-chi has no right to talk down to her. Yeo-chi declares that she can fire her, but Gabi replies that she wishes she would. But, as it turns out, the chairman won’t let her go. She takes the dress off right then and there and tosses it over, leaving the store in her slip with her head held high. Yeo-chi fumes.

Testing continues at the research facility, with Hang-woo receiving regular updates from his team. Nothing remarkable turns up on Bang’s background — he’s had a string of part-time jobs, although he makes a yearly attempt to enter the salaryman ranks of large corporations. It’s pretty amusing seeing the amount of energy Hang-woo pours into this nameless nobody, thinking him important.

While working out, Bang drops a free weight on his toe — except rather than crying out in pain, Bang bursts into laughter. Hang-woo steps on the toe, broken nail and all, to see how he’ll react, and Bang just keeps laughing. Finally, a breakthrough: the uncontrollable laughter is a peculiar side effect, and the head honchos are brought in to discuss it.

Woo-hee questions Bang, who laughs all the while. He realizes this is absurd and berates himself for laughing, unable to stop nonetheless. It’s hilarious, the way he looks deranged as he assures her, half-manically, that he doesn’t mean to laugh. There’s only a day left in the trial, though, which means the company will have to keep Bang’s case a secret.

That night he laughs all through dinner… and then a tablemate snatches his food madly. Uh-oh, looks like Side Effect #2 has made its appearance, and the guy shoves people aside while stuffing his face with food.

The surveillance guy assures Hang-woo that this footage is just the thing they can use to call off investors. Thankfully, Hang-woo assures his man that he’s safe from any side effects. And then, as we’re looking at the scene from the point of view of the glasses-cam, it tilts. Hang-woo’s developed a head twitch — HAHA!

At a nightclub, Bum-jeung bursts in to berate Ho-hae — is he just going to let Yeo-chi swoop in and steal the company from him? Bum-jeung has been pestering Ho-hae to join forces, to no avail, but today Ho-hae assures him that he’s got something in the works. He’s planted a spy, and will have the new drug in his hands by tomorrow.

And what does this brilliant mind have in store for it? “If I say I’ll sell it to a foreign company, everyone will come crawling to me!” Or… there’s an option 2, but let’s not spoil the surprise for him. We’re not forgetting how this drama opened, are we?

In the research facility, the hidden spy gets to work. He slides a glass over a security camera, which flashes an image of the hallway looking normal. Is this realistic? Hell no, but this is a drama where the spy puts a finger to his earpiece every time he speaks “in secret” to his team, drawing absolutely nobody’s notice, so let’s just let the camp carry the moment.

Spy Man heads to the bathroom and affixes a wad of gum to the toilet.

Hang-woo fidgets in bed, unable to rest because of Bang’s constant laughing. In frustration, he taps Bang on the forehead — and presto! Laughing stops.

Bang has a flashback to an old fight with his father, who had been insistent that he get a university degree. Bang had assured Dad that he had gotten a decent job with good pay, but Dad slapped him nonetheless, saying that he’d spent his whole life “not being treated like a person” for his lack of education. He’d vowed to send his son to college, and all he wanted of Bang was for him to earn a degree, and to see him heading off to his office job dressed in a suit.

Now in his bunk bed, Bang thinks to himself that in another day, he’ll be able to realize Dad’s dream after all.

On the last day, the test subjects are herded to their final dosing. Bang slips off to the bathroom to get the gum… only somebody’s in the stall. It’s another participant, the unkempt frizzy-haired guy, who finds the gum and, disgustingly, puts it in his mouth. Ewww. Well, he was the guy whose side effect was insatiable appetite, so maybe we can blame Eternal Youth. Yeah, I’m going with that.

This means that there’s no gum for Bang. This was his last chance, and without the gum, all his hopes are dashed.

He emerges from the bathroom and finds Woo-hee there, calling him to the gathering room. She’s chewing gum, and Bang seizes this as his last chance. Approaching her deliberately, he moves in, which makes her stuttery and nervous, stammering, “I know you may find me attractive…”

But he’s intent on retrieving that precious piece of gum, fishes it out, and pops it in his mouth. Woo-hee is disgusted and leaves, muttering about his craziness.

Bad news, though, because an employee spots the glass plate on the security camera and bursts into the testing room, just as Bang is about to take his pill. He calls the proceedings to a halt, declaring a stranger in their midst. Hang-woo and Bang both freeze up as the man approaches suspiciously and orders, “Spit out what’s in your mouth.”

Bang gulps and swallows his gum — just as the man orders Big Appetite to spit out his gum. He tells the researchers to analyze it.

Chairman Jin hears the upsetting news that a corporate spy was discovered. He immediately suspects Jang Cho Group, but his men report that the “spy” was unwilling to confess: “He seems like a highly trained professional.” Pffffft.

The two conspirators — Ho-hae and Bum-jeung — discuss their unsuccessful attempt at thievery, and Ho-hae blames his stupid lackey for failing.

But Ho-hae is all bluff and no brains, so it’s really up to Bum-jeung to drive this train. He muses that Yeo-chi’s dating some idol star — what if they try to mess with that relationship? After all, when Chairman Jin tried to break up Yeo-chi from her previous boyfriends, she’d gone batshit crazy.

At a restaurant in the same hotel, Hang-woo meets with his brother, HANG-RYANG (Jung Hyun-sung, aka Mr. Chief Vampire Prosecutor)… who turns out to be a Chun Ha director. So the brothers are on opposite teams? Or is Hang-ryang a spy?

As it turns out, this is a very busy hotel. Bang waits in the lobby to meet with Ho-hae, while Yeo-chi arrives (wearing that red dress she threatened right off Gabi’s body) to meet her idol boyfriend. She demands to know what Idol Boy (MBLAQ’s Lee Joon) meant by his earlier phone call, in the tone of someone who knows she’s about to get dumped.

Meanwhile, Bang talks on the phone with his mother, assuring her not to worry about his future, and fiddles with a string on the Christmas tree. Which turns out to not be trimming after all, but a loose thread… from Yeo-chi’s dress. HA!

He winds the thread around his finger absently while Yeo-chi argues about the breakup, when he’d just told her this morning that he loved her. She asks why, and he answers, “If you need that reason, let’s just say that it’s because I love myself more than I love you.” Hahaha. Points for honesty, dude.

Yeo-chi asks how much her grandfather paid him: “5 billion? 10 billion?” Lee Joon’s eyes widen and he sputters — he must’ve been paid much, much less than that. Serves you right, you punk! I love it.

He tries to salvage this moment, but she’s heard enough. Throwing water into his face, she orders him to never show his face to her again. She gets up to leave, wondering why everyone’s staring at her… and sees that her hemline is a few inches north of where it began.

Hang-woo comes into the lobby and sees the crowd gathered around Yeo-chi. She spots the source of her humiliation, blithely continuing to wind, wind, wind the string around his hand.

She starts off after him, but Bang’s cell phone signal sputters, so he gets up to chase a stronger signal — forcing Yeo-chi to skitter off after him, lest her hemline get any shorter.

She takes a swipe at him, calling him a pervert, but he’s totally oblivious. The movement causes the Christmas tree to tip, however, with the string still caught around it, and it starts to fall on them. Bang sees that and pushes her out of its way.

Only, he’s pushed her right into a fountain. Oopsie.

 
COMMENTS

A fun outing! I had no expectations of this drama, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect, so I was pleased with this hour. The drama feels assured and is shot beautifully, with a smart editor who knows how to string together moments for witty comic cuts. Thus we get comedy in scenes that aren’t necessarily comic — it’s the contrast and dramatic irony that makes the moment hilarious.

For instance, take Hang-woo the corporate spy, determined to steal the drug or at least information… foiled at every turn by a bumbling buffoon. Okay, Bang isn’t an idiot, but he is dense in the way that makes him totally impervious to Hang-woo’s sharpness. I love that you have a classically handsome, sleek, smart guy on a mission, trying to be the cool hero, only right next to him is the doofus who thinks this is a buddy comedy instead of an action thriller, ruining all his best moments.

There’s a hint of farce to the show, with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and a flash of camp. It’s not as campy as, say, Vampire Idol, which is deliberately outlandish and broad. This drama’s a little subtler with the camp, although that’s not to say it’s terribly subtle — a chicken wearing a hanbok, for instance, can hardly be called nuance. Still, it’s funny stuff.

I loved the stuff in the research facility, so I’m a little wary now that they’re no longer there. That stuff was so random and offbeat that it gave the drama a refreshing feel. Now that we’re heading to the corporate jungle, I wonder if it’ll start feeling more… normal, for lack of a better word.

On the one hand, I’ll be disappointed to lose the quirk factor. On the other hand, this drama really hinges on tone, almost more than plot — this is a basic conflict (company rivalries and corporate politicking) that we get in a lot of dramas, so it’s not novel. What makes it feel different, though, is the stylized aesthetic and the witty writing, so maybe it’ll retain its humor no matter the setting.

There are still a lot of new dramas yet to premiere, so the jury’s still out on whether this drama’s going to join the recap roster. I’d be happy if it continues to be as enjoyable as this first episode, but there’s a lot of competition.

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