Police Unit 38: Episode 4
Between a fracturing team and a mark who turns out to be cleverer than anticipated, Jung-do will have to think and move fast to keep his plans from falling apart. An old friend is determined to place hurdles in his way and seems a lot less friendly than we initially perceived, and Sung-il finally gets to laugh a little at his nemesis, which is just as cathartic as it sounds.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Outside the real estate agent’s house, Sung-il repeats his lines under his breath like a nervous student as he walks up to the door. Sung-hee watches him from her car and makes a call to the police to report a con in progress.
Ma Jin-seok’s real estate agent, Mr. Noh, comes back with the money withdrawn from all his bank accounts, just as directed, and Jung-do sits him down to sign some papers, vaguely blaming information leaks on this age of smartphones.
Sung-il knocks on the front door and introduces himself as a police officer to Mr. Noh. He asks Mr. Noh to come to the police station for an investigation into his voice phishing complaint. Mr. Noh denies making any calls to the police, which flusters Sung-il. He gets nervously argumentative and grabs Mr. Noh’s arm, insisting that he come down to the station right now without asking any questions.
Watching Sung-il’s antics, Jung-do suggests that maybe someone from Mr. Noh’s office made the call, but Mr. Noh is already suspicious of Sung-il and belligerently refuses to go. Matters worsen when Sung-il refers to Jung-do as “the guy from the audit office,” even though they have yet to be introduced.
Jung-do finally intervenes and tells Mr. Noh that it’s a small formality and begins to lead him out the door, when Sung-hee walks in. She tells Sung-il to leave immediately if he doesn’t want to be arrested by the police and informs Mr. Noh that they are conmen.
Jung-do takes off his official-looking ID tag, knowing the game is up, but Sung-il refuses to leave alone when he was the one to start the con. As Sung-hee begins to understand how deeply involved her Chief is in this, the cops arrive on the doorstep.
They ask everyone involved to come to the police station despite Mr. Noh’s protests that he’s left a lot of money unguarded in the house. Mi-joo watches them drive away and makes a call.
At the station, the cops ask Sung-hee and Mr. Noh to wait to have their statements taken, and lead the two con artists away. As they walk down the hallway, the scene cuts to Mr. Noh’s house where someone enters, changes his pants, puts all the money in one bag, and settles on the couch to watch TV.
Back at the station, Jung-do asks Sung-il why he didn’t run away, and Sung-il says it would have been embarrassing to run away by himself. Jung-do comments with a smirk that he’s a good man. In the waiting area, Sung-hee suddenly realizes that the cops used her name and Mr. Noh’s name, even though she hadn’t told them what it was.
At Mr. Noh’s house, two new uniformed policemen arrive to inquire about someone reporting a con, only to be greeted by Burner, who tells them they must have been prank-called. A little while later, Mi-joo picks up Burner outside the house with the bag full of Mr. Noh’s cash, looking mighty pleased with himself.
At the police station, Sung-il and Jung-do are escorted through a long hallway, and they just keep walking and walking… all the way through the other side of the station until they end up coming out the back door. Jung-do smiles and tells the “cops” that he’ll buy them drinks. They clap him on the back and leave, while a confused Sung-il follows Jung-do to a waiting car.
Sung-hee runs through the station looking for the two and just misses them in the parking lot, as Wallet and her henchwoman drive them away. In the car, Jung-do says, “This is what we call a scam. It’s fun, isn’t it?” Sung-il, still grinning from relief, can’t quite deny his enjoyment.
The gang meets Mr. Noh later and puts down their terms. He gets all his money back, but only if he helps with their con on Ma Jin-seok. Sung-hee tracks Sung-il down to the team’s lair and tells him they have to talk. She shares a loaded glance with Mi-joo before leaving, and Wallet mutters that outsiders keep walking in.
Sung-il tells Sung-hee everything over soju and pork skins, but all she has to say is that he shouldn’t go through with it. Sung-il says he understands her position, and agrees that a civil servant shouldn’t be trying to collect taxes by scamming people. But Sung-hee says that that’s not her point. She’s afraid he might get hurt and Ma Jin-seok isn’t worth his life.
When she can’t convince him, she tells him that she’ll get the tax money out of Jin-seok. Sung-il points out that with Commissioner Ahn covering for Jin-seok, it would be impossible, but Sung-hee walks away determined to save Chief.
Jung-do is waiting for Sung-hee outside and comments that she’s learned to drink now. He asks why she decided to be a public servant when she studied art. She tells him that after her experience with him, she craved the security a government job could give.
He laughs awkwardly and says she must be close to Sung-il. Sung-hee admits that she likes him because he’s honest, unlike Jung-do. She walks away before he can say more, telling him not to talk to her again.
At the office, Sung-hee approaches Section Chief Kang and asks for his help. They combine the two section teams and Chief Kang reads out the particulars of Ma Jin-seok’s case. They go out determined to get the tax money out of him that day.
The teams visit all the family members who have had property signed over to them by Jin-seok, but despite their best intentions, they get thrown out and abused everywhere they go. Finally, Sung-hee calls up Jin-seok in frustration and threatens to report him to the prosecutor’s office unless he pays his due taxes.
Back in their lair, Jung-do lays out his plan to entrap Jin-seok. He points to an area on a map and tells the team that they will be selling 16 acres of land worth about $240,000 to Jin-seok. This land, he explains, hasn’t decreased in value in over 500 years. And to sell this unicorn of the real estate world, he needs Wallet to spread the word and lure in the mark.
Wallet looks less than impressed by the plan but before she can say anything, she gets a call from her henchwoman. She arrives at her office to find detective Jae-sung sitting in her chair, drinking her tea. He tells her pleasantly that he’s heard she’s working with Jung-do, and asks what the scam is.
Sung-hee gets called in by Commissioner Ahn for harassing Ma Jin-seok’s relatives. She asks for his help in prosecuting Jin-seok, but he just tells her to apologize for her actions and promise not to do such a thing again. Sung-hee leaves without another word.
Wallet and Jung-do examine a plot of land that meets Jung-do’s specifications. He’s pretty happy but Wallet cuts his thanks short by saying that she’s taking herself out of his plan. She tells him that a detective came by and seemed to know that he had scammed Mr. Noh.
Jung-do tries to appeal to her by saying that no one else can cast the bait to Jin-seok in his plan, but Wallet tells him to either use Mr. Noh or give up the scam. Jung-do doesn’t want to trust Mr. Noh with such an important part, but he says he’s determined to see this to the end.
Wallet looks at him curiously, asking what his real reasons are for pursuing this. She finds it suspicious that Chairman Wang is looking out for a punk like him. She says things don’t add up, and tells Jung-do that her ex-husband once told her that you could date a man who’s been married once before, but you shouldn’t date an aging bachelor, because you can never know his insides. Wallet says that’s what Jung-do is to her, because she can’t figure out his intentions. Jung-do looks caught but doesn’t answer her. She leaves saying that he can keep the land as a farewell present from her.
As soon as Jung-do gets home, someone knocks. It’s detective Jae-sung, and he strolls right in with a friendly smile. Jung-do watches Jae-sung’s shoes track dirt into his living room. It clearly bothers him but he doesn’t say anything.
Jae-sung admires his fancy pad and asks Jung-do whether he rents it or bought it with money he swindled from people. He smiles and says almost playfully that he heard about the real estate scam Jung-do’s planning.
Jung-do acts innocent, and Jae-sung pats his cheek repeatedly in a faux affectionate manner, each hit getting sharper. When Jung-do finally blocks his hand, Jae-sung asks if he wants to end up like his father. A dirty cop and his conman son. He asks if it runs in the family.
When Jung-do says it’s not like that, Jae-sung slaps him hard. He tells Jung-do that if he’s going to pull a con job, to do a big one, because the ones he’s doing now will barely get him any jail time. Jae-sung tells him to pull a big job and then he’ll send Jung-do to jail to rot in there, just like he did to Jung-do’s father.
After he leaves, Jung-do calls someone and tells them that Wallet has dropped out, so now they have to change their plan.
Next day, Jung-do starts the first step of their con on Ma Jin-seok. He asks Burner about the screen golf place Jin-seok visits often. Burner confirms that he visits thrice a week, and Jung-do tells Mi-joo to get a job there. Mi-joo turns up in her earnest, pretty-young-thing guise and nabs the receptionist position.
Next, Keyboard brings out some remotes. They take these to the golf place and test them from behind the counter where Mi-joo stands. With a little help from Burner, they hack into the system and Mi-joo can remote-control who scores what on the virtual golf screen.
Finally, they need a player. Jung-do looks around and his eyes alight on Sung-il studiously taking notes. He laughs at the ridiculousness of the idea while Sung-il looks up to find everyone watching him.
At the golf place, Sung-il wields a club and takes shots at the ball, repeatedly failing to actually hit it. When Ma Jin-seok walks in, Sung-il has to coach himself to not approach him first. But Jung-do’s advice to be patient like a crocodile evaporates in the face of Sung-il’s nervousness.
When he finally manages to hit the ball, Mi-joo ensures it’s an albatross and Sung-il is loud in his celebration. This gets Jin-seok’s attention and Sung-il hilariously squints at him, as if trying to recall who he is. Jin-seok greets him and asks what he’s doing here. Sung-il just says that golf is a small hobby of important men.
Jin-seok scoffs at his pretensions, trying to act as if he belongs in a place visited by the rich. He taunts Sung-il by bringing up Sung-il’s daughter, and how a poor child is studying under the same teacher as his own well-off daughter. He says it makes him sick.
When Sung-il had worried that he would mess up the plan just like last time, Jung-do had told him that he needed to focus on why they were doing this. Now, Sung-il recalls his words. Someone who doesn’t pay his taxes has no right to look down on people based on money.
Sung-il remembers the way Jin-seok had thrown their poverty in his daughter’s face and his eyes harden. He puts away his club and calls Jin-seok out. He tells him to stop mouthing off and play a round of betting-golf with him. Jin-seok laughs and says Sung-il has no money, so why should he?
Sung-il says he can’t take bribes since he’s a government officer, but he needs to buy a new car. He tells Jin-seok to bet enough money for a car and in turn if he loses, Sung-il will stop pursuing him.
From the look on Mi-joo’s face this wasn’t in the plan and was not what Jung-do had meant when he told Sung-il to “follow your instincts.” They decide on a bet of about $1000 per hole up to a total of $10,000. Sung-il exchanges a glance with Mi-joo and then the two players begin to take turns.
Initially, Jin-seok gets a few good shots, but when Sung-il begins to play, he takes hole after hole, pulling out money from Jin-seok’s reluctant grasp. Jin-seok’s shots conversely deteriorate the longer they play.
Jin-seok’s disbelief keeps him from seeing anything fishy until he sits back and watches Sung-il’s abysmal footwork. He looks back on a hunch and thinks he sees Mi-joo pressing something. He immediately goes up to her to examine her counter, and thinking quickly, Mi-joo dunks the remote in her glass of cola and sips from it as Jin-seok looks through her desk.
Sung-il calls him back to play again, but Jin-seok calls an end to the bet. In the washroom, Sung-il asks if losing the money is burning him up. Jin-seok retorts that he thinks of the money as a donation. Sung-il laughs and invites him out for a meal, saying that he can’t keep money won in a bet anyway, so he’ll treat Jin-seok to a meal and return what he won.
Wallet watches the news, as another increase in tax is announced. She calls her henchwoman “Daughter” and asks why corporate taxes keep decreasing while the taxes on the common people rise. Is it because the laws are set by the rich? Wallet says that she’s rich, but this isn’t right.
More out of curiosity than anything else, Jin-seok goes out for that meal with Sung-il. But he can’t make himself eat in Sung-il’s company and asks what Sung-il actually wants from him. Sung-il’s phone rings and he excuses himself to go out and speak to “Section Chief Kim.”
Sung-il loudly bemoans not having enough money to invest in Hwaseong’s New Town development, which could supposedly make him enough money to buy several Mercedes-Benzes. On the other end, Jung-do tells him to stick to the script and not go off on a car-related tangent.
When Sung-il comes back to the table, Jin-seok is suddenly a lot friendlier. He asks Sung-il about the investment opportunity he was talking about and after hesitating a little, Sung-il tells him about this junior of his who works in Hwasung’s City Planning Affairs. Sung-il says this “Section Chief Kim” told him to buy some land in an area that the city is planning to develop. Right before the government announces this plan, the land prices are expected to go drastically up.
Jin-seok asks what the profit is expected to be, and when Sung-il says five times, he laughs that that’s impossible these days. But he excuses himself to go use the restroom and make a call to Mr. Noh, who receives it under the watchful eye of Jung-do. Jin-seok asks about the land development and Mr. Noh sells it hard, advising him to invest everything he has.
On returning to the table, Jin-seok proposes that he fund Sung-il’s investment. He’s willing to give Sung-il five percent of the profit if Sung-il fixes up a meeting with his Hwaseong junior.
In the office the next day, Commissioner Ahn tells Sung-il to pay his rent and start taking time off since it’s unlikely he’ll be able to keep his job after the disciplinary hearing.
Sung-il asks if Commissioner Ahn was the one to warn Jin-seok about their raid on his house. Sung-il wonders how he faces his child without embarrassment. Commissioner Ahn tells him that he’ll look deep into the bribery charges and ensure that Sung-il can’t step into this building again.
Jin-seok comes looking for Sung-il in his office and insists that they go see his Hwaseong junior today, even though the date they fixed is two days away.
Sung-il tries to stall, but Jin-seok tells him that he thought about it, and finds it suspicious that things are aligning so perfectly. He tells Sung-il that people come at him for his money all the time—some come to scam him and others come to jail him. He deals with such people by changing the date on their meetings unexpectedly, like he’s doing right now.
None of Sung-il’s excuses work, now that Jin-seok thinks he smells a scam. So they get in the car, and Sung-il calls up “Section Chief Kim” and tells him that he is coming to Hwaseong with Jin-seok to meet him today.
Half asleep, Jung-do tells him not to joke around. But when Sung-il repeatedly says that they are coming to meet him today and arriving in Hwaseong in an hour and a half, Jung-do finally wakes up enough to register that he’s serious.
Just then, detective Jae-sung gets a call from Mr. Noh informing him that Jung-do is about to pull a con that day.
Jung-do frantically gets into his car and drives for Hwaseong, in a desperate attempt to somehow get there before Sung-il and Jin-seok. He calls Keyboard and tells him to get to the site in an hour. He cuts Keyboard’s complaints short and tells him that if they can’t pull this off today, then everything will go wrong and they’ll all die…
He’s mid-sentence when a semi-truck rams into Jung-do’s car at full speed, spinning him off the road. Through a haze of pain, Jung-do opens his eyes and tries to focus, as blood trickles down his forehead.
I never expected a crime-caper drama to make me laugh so much. While most of that humor is focused on Sung-il, we’re never made to laugh at him without also being in perfect sympathy with him. One of my favorite moments in this episode was right after Jung-do and Sung-il escaped from the police station in Wallet’s car, when Jung-do had mentioned how fun scamming was, and Sung-il couldn’t deny how much fun he was having. It’s such a genuine moment. Sung-il deserves a little fun, but more importantly, he gets to feel the high of fooling a system that has consistently worked against him. His core principles would never let him see the world in the gray shades that Jung-do does, but in this case he just scored a point against the law he’s come to realize is a bully to the weak and the poor. Not to mention, he’s enjoying the biggest adrenaline rush of his life.
The other perfect scene was of course when he kept scoring on the virtual golf screen while Jin-seok could only curse his luck. I loved seeing a laughing Sung-il. Obviously he needed that moment too, because with that boost in confidence, his scamming talents started improving drastically. Later, when he called “Section Chief Kim” to let him know of the change in schedule, I was grinning so hard at Sung-il trying not to sound like he was tipping off his partner in crime. He’s getting good and I get the feeling that Jung-do might find it harder to con him out of the final payoff than he had assumed.
Jung-do has suave down to an art form, which is why his vulnerable moments hit us that much harder. Nobody who knows him could ever imagine that he would let anyone get away with hitting him, let alone avoid eye contact and flinch in their presence. Jae-sung, in this episode, is a completely different presence in Jung-do’s life. Initially, he’d seemed parental and wise. Now, he seems almost obsessed with tormenting Jung-do and asserting his power over him.
The scene in Jung-do’s apartment was chilling for so many reasons. I had the sense that Jung-do’s passive acceptance of Jae-sung’s verbal and physical abuse was years in the making. It’s perfectly possible that Jung-do had learnt the hard way not to fight back. Which is why I find it interesting that his desperation to finish this con seems so deeply connected with his relationship with Jae-sung. Wallet was absolutely right when she guessed that he was playing a different game. And there are shadow players in this that we haven’t yet met.
The other themes that I really appreciate in this drama are those of trust and courage. These are exemplified by Sung-hee in her dogged determination to save the friend she cares for. Just like Sung-il, she is deeply honest, though perhaps less gullible. Her fight to protect Sung-il mimics the situation that he was in years ago with the friend who had been accused of taking bribes. When that friend had asked for Sung-il’s help to fight against the system, Sung-il had refused out of fear and distrust.
At this point, when Sung-il thinks back on that incident, he only sees that the laws that should have protected them, failed both him and his friend. Naturally, his faith in the legal system is shaken. But, Sung-hee hasn’t given up the fight yet. It’s possible that her battle is doomed and she may end up disappointed just like Sung-il, but at least she’s trying to fight within the system, which is something that Sung-il had never done for his friend.
- Police Unit 38: Episode 3
- Police Unit 38: Episode 2
- Police Unit 38: Episode 1
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