There’s No Such Thing As Nice Guys is off to a fantastic start, and hits the ground running. The production feels assured and comfortable as it takes us by the hand and leads us into the hell of our characters’ own making. How far would you go for love? How much is too much?
I love that ‘love’ in this drama is such a questionable thing when it blurs the line between true love and obsession, making for some rich character conflicts right out of the starting gate. Another refreshing quality? The story starts now. Not later, not after a two to four episode backstory, not after breakfast. We’re thrown right into the deep end, and I’m loving it.
Also, Song Joong-ki. Need I say more? (Read below to see me say more.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Massive Attack – “Paradise Circus” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open as an eager young man in white doctor’s wear halts at the sight of a news report, unable to suppress a smile as he watches. His name tag tells us he’s KANG MARU (Song Joong-ki), and he playfully tsks at the screen, “My ajumma is causing trouble again.”
That same ajumma ends the report with her name – HAN JAE-HEE (Park Shi-yeon) – just as Maru is called off to work.
After the opening sequence, we return to Maru scuttling behind a large group of doctors led by SUK MIN-HYUK (Jo Sung-ha). They go from patient to patient while Maru takes notes, until he finally raises his hand to ask why he and the other doctors-in-training are being ignored.
Min-hyuk’s the prickly type, and swiftly puts Maru back in his place – just because he’s wearing a doctor’s coat doesn’t make him a doctor. Maru protests, but Min-hyuk remains firm in his belief that none of the students could give him any useful answers, so why bother with questions?
Their attention is drawn away by a sick boy causing a fuss, though tests have been unable to diagnose the problem. Min-hyuk takes this opportunity to test Maru’s worth, and finally asks him a question he so wanted to hear: “What is this patient’s cause of illness?” Maru gets two hours to find out.
All the signs point to head trauma, though there’s no history of it. Maru agonizes over what to do, until the boy wakes up and tries to pull his IV out. Maru stops him, and the two adorably bicker, even though the subject matter is grave – the boy wants to be discharged since his brother has no money to pay the bill, and Maru eventually agrees to take charge of his hospital bills.
He gives the boy a playful hit on the head, only to have the boy start vomiting. Realization dawns on Maru’s face as he marches back to Min-hyuk with his diagnosis: a brain hemorrhage.
This doesn’t fit with the negative test results or the boy’s insistence that he’s fine, though Maru uses his younger sister as an example of how strong a child’s will can be.
Their escalating disagreement is cut short when the results of the boy’s angiogram come in, with no trace of an arterial tumor to be found. With no more ground to stand on, Maru backs down and admits that he must have been wrong.
The boy gets the all-clear for a discharge, and Maru gets some privacy as he stares at his reflection in a bathroom mirror.
Later that night, the boy is readmitted to the hospital, and new tests confirm Maru’s earlier diagnosis. Min-hyuk asks a fellow doctor to get in touch with Maru: “I need to tell him that, ‘I was wrong and you were right.’ Tell him that, as a teacher, it is very humiliating.”
Having earned his senior’s approval, Maru heads to his very humble home with chocolate in hand, calling for someone named Choco, who turns out to be his little sister.
…Who he finds barely conscious on the floor of her room, running a sky-high fever. He goes into crisis mode and prepares to take her to the hospital until he gets a phone call from ‘Jae-hee Noona’.
Jae-hee is in a panic, as she cries into the phone: “I think he’s dead. No, no. He is dead.” Maru is caught off guard as Jae-hee screams at him to come right away, and though he’s momentarily torn between Jae-hee and his sister, he picks Jae-hee. Ouch.
To rub some extra salt in that wound, Choco desperately begs for Oppa not to leave her alone while she’s sick. He presses a bar of chocolate into her hand and promises he’ll be back before she can count up to five hundred.
Sick and crying, she tells him that she’ll die from her sickness if he goes to Jae-hee. Maru’s conflicted but not conflicted enough, as he leaves her with the promise that he’ll be right back. Famous last words – no one’s ever ‘right back’ when they’re in dramaland.
He sends his home one last lingering glance before he rushes to a motel, and collects himself before he cracks the door open. The first thing he sees is a man lying in a pool of blood, with Jae-hee huddled near the bed.
“Is he dead?” Maru asks, and a shuddering Jae-hee replies that she doesn’t know. He slowly kneels next to the body and checks for any sign of life, and when there is none, Maru sinks back as Jae-hee parrots his same question: “Is he dead?” Maru nods.
She seems genuinely confused, or genuinely in denial, when she asks why he died. It’s a dead (har) giveaway that Maru only has to look at her for her to break down as she proclaims her innocence over and over again, each time with more conviction than the last.
After covering the body, Maru kneels in front of her as she shatters the broken bottle she used as a weapon. His voice is nearly shaking when he tells her to turn herself in – if she was just acting in self defense to keep the man from hurting her, then the police will understand.
This isn’t a viable option for Jae-hee, who knows she’ll lose everything she’s worked for even if that’s the case. Maru doesn’t see how losing her reporter status would be the end of the world, claiming she could just start over – a thought that gets her screaming and reaching for the glass shards to kill herself.
In hysterics, she cries that she can’t go back to the hellhole that she came from and would rather die instead. Maru tries to grapple the glass out of her hand as she cries that her world is over – she’s endured fifteen hard years on her road to being an anchorwoman, and without it, she has nothing.
Maru ends up with a cut on his wrist during the scuffle, but his face has changed. “Can’t I be a reason?” he asks. He claims that he’s spent thirteen years living only for her, like the light at the end of a dark tunnel. “A guy like me… can’t I be a reason for you to live?”
It’s a little eerie that the two of them can sit so close to a corpse, but now that she’s calmed down, they talk a little about God while Jae-hee resigns to turn herself in. She’s barely able to eke out a few words to the police before Maru, looking dead ahead, grabs the phone away from her.
He grabs her in a deep and desperate kiss before he starts to clear the room of fingerprints. Is he doing what I think he’s doing? “I killed this man,” Maru says in a shaky voice. No no no. Snap out of it, man!
“Don’t ever turn back,” Maru tells her, but she doesn’t want to leave him. He tells her that it doesn’t matter to him if he doesn’t become a doctor, but she can’t live if her dream is shattered. Wait, so he’s taking the fall because he thinks he’s the only one who can?
To add insult to injury, he smiles in the face of such a bleak future and reassures her that he’ll be fine. “Just go, Noona.”
We cut to SEO EUN-KI (Moon Chae-won) as she picks up a reluctant man she calls Director Choi for carpooling. There’s a weird, nervous energy around her, like crazy just waiting to happen.
When asked why she doesn’t have a chauffeur, she replies that she’s too temperamental, and when he keeps calling her agasshi, she wonders if he’s purposefully looking down on her. There’s a juxtaposition with the words she’s saying and the tone in which she says them, kind of like sugarcoating a pile of barbed wire.
It doesn’t seem like Director Choi means any offense, even though she’s become his supervisor at the mere age of twenty-three, with only a Harvard MBA. At least, that’s the sort of talk she knows he’s been doing behind her back. Eek.
As they near a tunnel, Eun-ki basically tells him to hold on tight as she starts aggressively driving and talking business statistics at the same time. Whoa. This girl is hardcore.
She accuses him of skimming a little off the top as far as business dealings are concerned, and displays her knack for road rage when another car forces her to skid to a stop. This is almost bipolar, since she yells at the other car before returning to her sweet-yet-not tone with Director Choi.
They finally come to a stop, but the home they’re in front of is where we find Jae-hee standing in Maru’s clothes. She hands a file over to a man she calls ‘Chairman’, and it becomes clear that the murder (or at least the meeting gone awry) might have been something he ordered.
Jae-hee fights back her tears as she asks him, “To the man as precious as my life… Do you know what I have done to him?” He embraces her, while Eun-ki glares from the car.
Maru waits for the police to arrive in the hotel room, with Jae-hee’s words about repaying the debt for the rest of her life echo in his mind. The sound of sirens engulfs him as he calls his little sister, and fights back tears as he tells her: “I’m sorry. For not being able to keep the promise.”
Everything finally starts to seep in once Maru hangs up, and his struggle to hold back his own tears is equally heartbreaking and… well, strange. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for him or whether to give him a good shake of the shoulders. I think I want to shake him, but in reality I feel only pity.
In voiceover, we hear a judge sentence Maru to five years in prison. (Five years for murder? Seems a bit light.)
Six years later. Maru stares soullessly from a Tokyo hotel window as he gives the woman he spent the last night with money instead of warm and fuzzy feelings. She’s an infamous gold digger, and Maru coolly explains that he just doesn’t have the kind of money she’s looking for.
She tries to stop him from leaving with a confession of love, and instantly falls into his arms the second Maru says, without expression, that he believes her. With frighteningly dead eyes, he returns her embrace.
Eun-ki’s in the suite next door, dreaming fitfully of her mother before the man keeping vigil at her bedside accidentally wakes her up.
Turns out she’s slept in because he was concerned for her health, especially with a pre-existing medical condition. Needless to say, she’s pissed, and fumes at PARK JOON-HA (Lee Sang-yeob), who is revealed to be her lawyer.
She springs out of bed and gives him a cold warning – if the business negotiations fail because he let her sleep in, it’ll be off with his head.
Unable to get business off her mind, Eun-ki emerges from the shower wearing nothing but a towel and a poker face as she discusses a cosmetics complaint with a nervous Joon-ha, who tries to keep his eyes averted.
In an interesting turn, Eun-ki reveals that Joon-ha is gay (orrrr is he?), and assures him that she’ll carry his secret to the grave.
Eun-ki meets with the Japanese woman who filed a complaint against their cosmetics brand, and bows formally in apology. She hands over an envelope of money that helps to butter the woman up as they share a meal and dessert, but Eun-ki’s demeanor turns cold as she gifts the woman with the cream that supposedly ruined her face, claiming that the same cream was in their dessert.
It sounds gross, and it still is gross even when Eun-ki claims that their products are so organic, that they’re edible. And if the cream contains metals as the woman said, Eun-ki promises that they’ll both be in the hospital by tomorrow morning.
Eventually Eun-ki gets the woman to drop the act, and reveals her as a Korean immigrant trying to act Japanese. Joon-ha is present as she hands over proof that their competitor paid the woman around $40,000 to file the bogus complaint.
The woman blusters at Eun-ki’s biting remark that she ruined her face for such a tiny sum, but the odds are no longer in her favor. Eun-ki swears to Joon-ha that she’ll make their competitor pay, and if I were them, I’d start running.
She walks outside, barely missing Maru and his lady friend having a one-sided smooching session underneath a tree. Again with the dead eyes. Maru, there is a soul in there, right? *knock knock*
Eun-ki’s vision blurs and she stumbles, though Jae-hee is right there to catch her and fuss over her. Jae-hee is at the resort with Eun-ki’s father, and tends to Eun-ki like a mother even though they look more like siblings.
Once the sweet act is dropped, Eun-ki accuses her of acting concerned only to put on a show. A child comes running out and latches onto Eun-ki, his noona, who’s none to happy to see him. “I guess it runs in the family,” Eun-ki coldly tells Jae-hee. “You both are tactless. And you cling to whomever you see fit.”
Jae-hee just claims that her son, Eun-suk, just likes his noona. Is that such a crime? Eun-ki holds him at arm’s-length, looks him straight in the eye, and says, “What older sister? I don’t acknowledge you as my younger brother. I’ve told you more than one hundred times. Do you still not know what’s going on? Are you stupid?” Harsh.
Jae-hee asks how she can say that to a child, but Eun-ki reminds her that before he’s a child, he’s her son first and foremost. She holds a grudge against Jae-hee for becoming her father’s mistress when she was young enough to be his daughter, and accuses her of driving his wife away.
And because of that, she’s scared of Eun-suk, who could one day try to take the company away from her. She leaves, and Jae-hee is left to comfort her son, only a hop skip and a jump away from Maru.
Maru has his own crying person to care for, friend PARK JAE-GIL (Lee Kwang-soo), who was totally not just sobbing over a girl. Weirdly enough, Jae-gil asks if Maru succeeded when he hands over a bank book.
Ah, so the gold digger originally stole Jae-gil’s heart and money, and Maru sexed the money right out of her. I guess… that’s a cool thing to do for your friend? Does sleeping with someone to get your friend’s money back make you a good friend, or a weird one?
Maru sleeps on the plane ride back to Seoul, and Jae-gil catches a girl eyeing Maru. Hilariously, he writes a warning and holds it next to Maru’s head, replete with pointing: “He’s a pervert and player, and he thinks women are servants.” He also writes a note singing his own praises, heh.
When Maru gets up to use the bathroom, Jae-gil takes the opportunity to hit on the girl, only to be stopped by an imposing gangster, who she reveals to be her boyfriend by writing it on her palm and flashing it his way. Jae-gil immediately backs down. Hah.
Eun-ki emerges from the bathroom only to fall into Maru’s arms, and I love that Maru’s just like, Sigh. Another one? He must get this a lot.
But Eun-ki’s sick and dripping with sweat, and Maru gently lies her on the ground before he checks her pulse. I’d almost forgotten he was a med student once. Is my short-term memory that bad, or is Song Joong-ki’s acting that good?
He leaves her to the flight attendants, who use the loudspeaker to ask if there’s a doctor on board. Jae-hee is in first class too, and worries over Eun-ki’s waning pulse. “Nothing can happen to her,” Jae-hee frets.
Maru’s content to leave his headphones on until Jae-gil jabs him to do something – he was in med school once, after all. Maru’s still not biting, and it takes Jae-gil forcibly removing his headphones and declaring that his sister, Choco, would have died long ago if everyone acted like Maru and passed her by.
Maru finally gets up to escape Jae-gil’s rambling, and Jae-gil smiles: “I knew it. Choco always works for you.”
Eun-ki’s still unconscious and sweating when Maru goes to take a look at her, and he declares that the situation is serious. He asks for her guardian… Oh, crap.
None other but Jae-hee herself emerges, and the shock of recognition registers on both their faces. He looks her in the eye and tells her that he dropped out of medical school, almost like an accusation. Or hell, it’s probably a flat-out accusation, considering the why of it all.
He demands to know their relationship, and Jae-hee admits that she’s her daughter… not biologically, but from her husband’s previous marriage. That’s already a big ouch for Maru, and to add insult to injury, Eun-suk is traveling with them and calls for his mommy.
You can just see Maru’s world crashing down as he struggles to control himself, but things aren’t looking good with the closest airport being thirty minutes away.
He douses his hands in alcohol and begins an emergency procedure to remove the excess water and air out of Eun-ki’s lungs, by sticking a huge and very scary needle into her chest.
Eun-ki starts coughing, and Jae-hee starts freaking out. Maru asks her if Eun-ki’s ever been in a car accident, though Jae-hee can’t focus enough to tell him. He snaps at her, “Has she ever injured her ribs from an accident? You said that you are her mother.”
And damn, does he have a nasty bite to his words. He’s both fishing for information and taking jabs at her, making for some awesome subtext.
He sticks another needle into Eun-ki’s lungs even as she’s coughing up blood, and Jae-hee is nearly hysteric as she tries to stop him. But she says the very un-magic words: “You’re not even a doctor! I told you to stop!”
And Maru just shoots her this look.
Hold me, I think I’m in love.
Putting my Song Joong-ki bias aside, this was a really solid opening. The whole production feels very assured, and we can at least sit back knowing we’re in good hands. The talent is certainly up to par, and I love when a first episode leaves my head spinning with all the juicy dramatic possibilities. There’s just so much to work with.
If I’m relieved about one thing, it’s that we have two characters with a long history and we’re not shown, in excruciating detail, a long flashback of their childhood and how they grew up together. It leaves a lot to the imagination as to how Maru and Jae-hee grew up, and I like the fact that we don’t know everything right off the bat.
For instance, we don’t know or understand why Jae-hee ended up murdering a guy in a motel room, but we know that it’s maybe somehow connected to Eun-ki’s dad. Why? We don’t know. How? We don’t know. We can guess, maybe that Jae-hee was doing whatever it took to climb up the social ladder, but it’s hard to know for sure. Why was Maru none too surprised to see her in a shady motel in the first place? How far does this go?
Maru is a pitiable character for sure, which is something that’s both not surprising (because who doesn’t feel sorry for a martyr?) yet still somehow surprising, because he had a moment where he could choose between his sick sister or his desperate girlfriend, and he chose the latter. But I almost felt bad for the guy, because he looked so conflicted about it, while at the same time he seemed simply unable to fight the invisible pull Jae-hee had on him.
But then we enter a conundrum on how far our pity should go when he brought this upon himself, no matter the reason. It’s like, either he’s the best boyfriend ever or a complete masochist with a martyr complex, someone simply incapable of living just for themselves.
Which makes it doubly interesting that it’s been a year since his release and the plane meeting seems like the first time he’s seen Jae-hee since prison, so we’re left wondering what all transpired in that time between. Or at least I am. That vicious look he gave? Oh man. He is going dark, and I love it.
I thought it was interesting when Jae-gil called Maru out for being a selfish bastard, because all we saw him do before his prison sentence was give, give, give. Granted, the giving was mostly going in Jae-hee’s direction, but something seems to ring false about his facade of Not Caring. Especially when he went out of his way to get Jae-gil’s money back by sleeping with his gold-digging ex. I mean, if that’s not friendship, then what is?
So far, Eun-ki is the character that emits the least sympathy compared to the rest of the characters (though this is pretty debatable with Jae-hee dumping Maru to marry up), but I don’t find her character either too bitchy or too annoying. I kind of like the manic quality she has about her, and how she can turn her Evil-o-Meter from a two to a ten all in one sentence. She’s got her eyes on business, and it’s hard to blame her for disliking her incredibly young stepmother, especially if Jae-hee had something to do with kicking Eun-ki’s biological mom out of the house.
So I guess she does warrant some sympathy, maybe more so than Jae-hee, since it’s hard to get a read on her. I wonder if she sleeps well at night knowing that Maru served an (admittedly shortish) prison sentence for her. I wonder if Maru sleeps well at night knowing he threw his life away for a girl who’s left him. I wonder how well I’ll sleep at night waiting to find out more.
Either way, I’m stoked. Bring on the pain, Nice Guy, because it hurts so good.
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- Nice Guy’s first script read
- Lee Kwang-soo joins Nice Guy
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