Chief Kim: Episode 1
If you’ve been waiting for a wacky hero with a questionable moral compass, then look no further. The first outing of Chief Kim sets the stage for bigger things to come, but for now, it introduces the audience to a hero who believes everything is corrupt and for the taking. Think of it as Robin Hood… except he keeps the money instead of giving it to the poor. Same thing, right?
EPISODE 1 RECAP
During the reign of King Sukjong, a band of thieves wreaks havoc until a new magistrate (Namgoong Min) comes along. In the middle of a forest, amidst burning wagons and fallen comrades, the magistrate rushes towards the remaining bandits and deftly parries and strikes his opponents down. The narrator says that the magistrate should have been rewarded for his deed, but instead…
A different voice interjects, declaring the magistrate a criminal, and the magistrate breaks into modern-day speech as he asks what’s going on. The narrator offers a multiple-choice question with the options of (1) irresponsible and inefficient organizational operation, (2) excessive use of force against criminals, or (3) immoderate display of bravado.
The answer turns out to be (4) dishonest accounting. The narrator explains that the magistrate got caught for embezzling goods, and received the death penalty as punishment.
In the present, our narrator is KIM SUNG-RYONG (Namgoong Min again), also known as “Chief Kim,” who tells this story to his fellow cellmates. They’re impressed by Sung-ryong’s knowledge, and when they ask what he does, he cryptically says that he makes a living off of numbers. Just then, a police officer calls for Sung-ryong, since he’s been discharged.
Once released, Sung-ryong saunters over to an officer’s desk and complains about the lack of apology for locking him up on false charges. The officer apologizes through gritted teeth, and Sung-ryong strolls out of the police station with a satisfied smirk.
The police officers complain about Sung-ryong and his impeccable abilities as an accountant. Apparently this wasn’t the first time they’ve arrested him in order to catch the mob boss he works for, but no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to find any faults.
Outside the police station, the mob boss greets Sung-ryong, and they go off to celebrate his release. Everyone enjoys the festivities except for Boss’s Number Two, who sits with a disgruntled look on his face the whole evening. Once the party is over, Sung-ryong returns home and greets his Danish flag in Danish before passing out.
In a batting cage, a woman dressed in office attire and heels hits every ball, and her identification card tells us she is YOON HA-KYUNG (Nam Sang-mi). She returns to work, though it’s a quarter past eleven in the evening, and while the other offices are empty, hers remains bustling.
The head of the Accounting Department, Director Chu (Kim Won-hae), snores at his desk, much to everyone’s annoyance. Ha-kyung arrives and wakes him up, asking each member if they’ve finished their assigned tasks while reminding them that they’ll have to work overtime.
Employee BING HEE-JIN complains about their chief, who went on vacation during their busy season, but Ha-kyung asks them to cut Chief Lee some slack for taking his first vacation in three years. In order to reinvigorate everyone, Ha-kyung offers to buy food, and the newest employee SUN SANG-TAE leaves to go get snacks.
Parked next to a pond, Chief Lee listens to his voicemail, where a man warns him for the last time to follow orders. Though we aren’t privy to the details, it must be bad news, since Chief Lee looks grim and stares at his family photo.
The next morning, an elderly gentleman takes a morning stroll and stumbles upon a man hanging from a tree in the middle of the path. That man turns out to be Chief Lee, as the news reports his attempted suicide as well as his current, critical condition. At the office, Ha-kyung watches in disbelief alongside Director Chu.
Meanwhile, a furious prosecutor marches into his office and wonders why Chief Lee would commit suicide when he promised to contact him this morning. Seething, he states out loud that they can’t catch Chairman Park of TQ Group without Chief Lee.
The aforementioned Chairman PARK HYUN-DO heads to his office, and Executive Director JO MIN-YOUNG and Director of Financial Affairs GO MAN-GEUM quickly apologize for the Chief Lee scandal. Director Go explains that he only told Chief Lee to turn himself in, but unlike his nervous employee, Chairman Park appears to be unfazed by the incident. Rather, he praises Chief Lee for sacrificing himself for the company, and orders Executive Director Jo to offer the family monetary compensation.
In the accounting department, the atmosphere is tense as they try to reconcile the fact that their chief attempted suicide. Manager LEE JAE-JOON tells everyone that they don’t know what Chief Lee was really thinking, and Ha-kyung reprimands him for his choice of words. Then, to make matters worse, Hee-jin finds an article online stating that Chief Lee was undergoing an internal investigation for gambling, and Manager Lee declares that he was right, which earns him a bop on the head from Director Chu.
Sung-ryong is riding his scooter to work when a man steps in front of him, waving a ledger. He begs Sung-ryong for help, and though he plays hard to get, Sung-ryong eventually advises the man over a bowl of soup.
In a dark room, a man munches on a chicken leg while smiling at a frightened man sitting across from him. This is Prosecutor SEO YUL (2PM’s Junho), and he offers a piece to the other man. However, his friendly demeanor soon changes as he tells the other man that he won’t treat him as a human until he confesses.
To his frustration, Yul’s interrogation gets interrupted, and he goes out to meet with the prosecutor on the Chairman Park case. The junior prosecutor asks for advice, but Yul simply tells him to drop it. Once he lost the whistle-blower, it was game over. Making a gun with his finger, Yul compares their work with Western films: the one who pulls their gun first wins.
Sung-ryong sits at a nightclub and flips through an account book, noticing obvious places where the manager lied. He advises the man to do a better job if he wants to forge his accounts, and the manager begs him to keep this a secret from the boss. Smiling, Sung-ryong explains that a beautiful relationship is a sharing one, and the manager reads between the lines.
Though he accepts the offer of a “beautiful relationship,” the manager expresses his guilt over his actions, so Sung-ryong explains that the timeless trend in Korea is pocketing money. Everywhere is corrupt, so Sung-ryong believes they live in a good world to profit from.
After his workout class, the mob boss is confronted by his number two, who warns him about Sung-ryong. The boss already knows that Sung-ryong is pocketing some of the profits but thinks it’s nothing compared to the amount he saves for them. Number Two then tells him that everyone considers Sung-ryong the real leader of the gang, and the boss slaps him with his towel for talking nonsense. However, the seeds of doubt have been planted, as the boss’s trust in Sung-ryong starts to waver.
Ignorant to the brewing storm, Sung-ryong looks at his assets (roughly 230 million won) and throws a tantrum on his bed. His goal is to get to one billion won, and he wonders aloud if there’s a fast way to make the money. Unfortunately, there isn’t one, and Sung-ryong returns to whining on his bed.
With a search and seizure warrant, men from the prosecutor’s office collect everything from the finance and accounting departments of TQ Group. Thus, both departments end up at a meeting where the Finance Department blames Chief Lee for causing this mess. Director Chu argues back that the prosecutors wouldn’t do an investigation because of one chief, and Ha-kyung adds that this situation is actually the Finance Department’s fault. They continue to exchange barbs, and the meeting resolves without much discussion or progress.
Meanwhile, Sung-ryong watches the news about TQ Group, and calls the whistle-blower pathetic. His secretary wonders why he would say that, so he explains that all big companies need to cheat in order to make a profit. Anyway, society considers whistle-blowers traitors, so only the whistle-blower loses out in his opinion.
His secretary then asks him how someone might make a profit without repercussion, and Sung-ryong tells her that it’s all about principles and attitudes. If you want to avoid repercussions, then take money from people who can’t report it, and if you want to make money, then be diligent.
At the hospital, Ha-kyung and Director Chu visit Chief Lee’s wife, who’s in tears. They apologize for not noticing Chief Lee’s struggles sooner, but the wife doesn’t believe in the reports about her husband, since he hated games and gambling. Ha-kyung asks her if Chief Lee told her anything, but all he said was to keep his location a secret if the company came looking for him.
Chairman Park and Executive Director Jo are at a restaurant waiting for the final member to come, and through the doors, Yul enters. As they eat, Chairman Park asks if Yul will take care of everything as per usual, and Yul asks if everything has been settled with Chief Lee. Executive Director Jo answers in the affirmative, but Yul is confident that the chief was still able to hide something.
As Ha-kyung and Director Chu leave the hospital, Ha-kyung starts to doubt the situation, too. She wonders if Chief Lee was on the run, but Director Chu advises her to just accept things as they are.
Back at the restaurant, Chairman Park asks who will take over Chief Lee’s role, and Executive Director Jo says that the Finance Department will take care of everything. Yul scoffs at her idea, and instead suggests hiring a completely new employee: someone with no pride that they can easily discard at the end.
In his office, Sung-ryong practices his Danish, much to his secretary’s curiosity. He explains that he’s going to immigrate to Denmark and needs one billion won to comfortably settle there. When she asks why he chose Denmark, he tells her that it’s the least corrupt and most upright country.
Just then, the mob boss pays a visit to Sung-ryong’s office and asks to see his account books. They remain cordial, but as the boss flips through the pages, his face turns sour while Sung-ryong becomes rigid.
Ha-kyung and the rest of the department are walking in the lobby when the director from the Finance Department stops them. They immediately start throwing insults at each other, and the director warns them to keep an eye on their new chief.
In the cafeteria, Manager Lee complains about how the company chose an outsider to fill the position rather than promote someone from within the department. Employee WON KI-OK adds that the company is looking down on them, but Ha-kyung puts a stop to the complaints, citing that the new chief must have some qualifications that they don’t have.
At a dock, Sung-ryong calls the nightclub manager to no avail, and eventually goes to meet him in person to ask about the money he promised. He starts to threaten the manager, but Number Two enters the nightclub and stops him. Affronted by this intrusion, Sung-ryong acts tough, but ends up dangling in the hands of a much taller and stronger thug. He protests against their actions, warning them that the boss won’t like this, but Number Two explains that the boss approved of everything.
Sung-ryong goes to confront the boss, but the boss tells him that he’s hired a new accountant from Seoul. He wants Sung-ryong to live an upright life, so if Sung-ryong has no opportunities to steal, then he has no choice other than to live lawfully. Infuriated, Sung-ryong hurries back to his office and barks at his secretary to quickly copy all the account books.
Ha-kyung decides to do some investigating and looks into Chief Lee’s computer. She notices all his work files have been deleted, which raises more suspicions. She visits the hospital once again and looks at old photos of the Accounting Department with Chief Lee.
At his office, Sung-ryong catches his secretary looking at other job openings, but she explains that she was only browsing since she doesn’t have the ability to get hired elsewhere. On the other hand, TQ Group is hiring, and apparently they’re only looking at a candidate’s ability and their interview. Sung-ryong shouts that those are all lies, but as soon as he goes outside, he looks up the job ad online.
Sung-ryong lists off all of TQ Group’s statistics and rankings, and imagines himself in fancy suits and going to work. Unable to contain his excitement, Sung-ryong starts to dance around on the boat (that’s his office, ha) while his secretary watches from the window, clearly thinking something is wrong with her boss.
That evening, Sung-ryong decides to do some studying, but as he tries to grab a book from the bottom of a stack, everything tumbles to the floor. Among the books is a VHS, and Sung-ryong pops it into the VCR to watch. It’s an old recording of a quiz show, and the little boy on screen celebrates with his dad after winning. Sung-ryong smiles at first, but soon becomes somber. Was that him?
The day has arrived, and Sung-ryong arrives at the lobby of TQ Group, looking clean in a suit. Meanwhile, Ha-kyung receives a notice from the Ethical Management Department about her rude behavior towards a superior, and she yells in frustration about the summons.
The director of the Ethical Management Department notes that Ha-kyung has been in her office multiple times already. She orders her to apologize to the director of the Finance Department and turn in a formal letter of apology. If she refuses, then she’ll have to take a pay cut and fulfill thirty hours of volunteer work.
During the test, Sung-ryong fills out the calculations with ease and finishes first in the room. The proctor is baffled by how quickly he finished the test, and reminds him to be here for the interview later.
Number Two visits the mob boss and shares his worries about Sung-ryong. The boss doesn’t think much of it until Number Two mentions the possibility of Sung-ryong keeping a copy of their account book, and the boss suddenly leaps up from his seat and asks where Sung-ryong is.
Ha-kyung makes herself instant noodles at a convenience store, still seething about the apology letter, but then gets a message highlighting the specific paper, font size, spacing, and other minor details about the letter, which only makes her fume even more.
Down the table, Sung-ryong finishes his hotdog, and then tries to shoot the stick into the garbage can. The stick bounces off the edge of the can, soars through the air, and then lands straight into Ha-kyung’s noodles. Peeved, she yells at Sung-ryong for ruining her first meal of the day before telling him to just throw it away.
At the interview, Sung-ryong gives a well-rehearsed speech about his background, which includes a sick grandmother and a poor household. Unfortunately, Director Go states that even though they aren’t looking at credentials, Sung-ryong is bit too below their standards. Understanding that his chances are plummeting, Sung-ryong goes for a Hail Mary.
He gets up and kneels on the table, and as “You Raise Me Up” plays in the background, he begins to recount all the times TQ Group has been the greatest gift in his life. He even tells the interviewers that the last meal his father enjoyed before passing away was the kimbap from TQ Group’s mall.
As a tear trickles from Sung-ryong’s eye, a few of the interviewers get the sniffles themselves. Then, to further make his point, Sung-ryong offers to write a pledge in blood, which Director Go stops him from doing. Coming down from the table, Sung-ryong starts to sob and call after his father, while not forgetting to sneak glances at the interviewers in order to gauge their reaction. Once the interview is over, Sung-ryong returns to his usual bravado and praises himself on his acting skills.
Executive Director Jo takes a look at the candidates and tosses Sung-ryong’s file to the side, since she’s already chosen someone else. On the other hand, Yul looks over the files and takes an interest in Sung-ryong.
Back in his apartment, Sung-ryong prays, promising that he’ll live righteously after ripping off TQ Group. Elsewhere, Yul joins the junior prosecutor who failed in getting Chairman Park, and gives him a few words of wisdom: “The worst thing about getting more losses is that you get used to losing. Once you get used to it, then you forget how to win. That’s the real embarrassing thing.”
A call wakes Sung-ryong in the morning, and it’s his secretary, warning him to avoid the office. Number Two is destroying the place looking for him, and Sung-ryong tells her to get out of there quickly. However, it’s too late, and Number Two orders Sung-ryong to bring them the copy of the account book, or else his secretary will get roughed up.
Still in his pajamas, Sung-ryong returns to the office and lets a clementine decide his fate. He eats each section, repeating “go” and “don’t go” until the last piece ends up as “don’t go.” After a short pause, Sung-ryong stuffs the leftover peel into his mouth and mumbles, “Go.”
Dragging a large gym bag, Sung-ryong makes his dramatic entrance into the nightclub where the boss waits for him, holding a white cat like a James Bond villain. Sung-ryong can’t help but snicker since this whole situation looks like some ending of a gangster movie, but the boss is in no mood for jokes.
They yell back and forth about who should relent first, so Sung-ryong opens his bag to reveal a tank of gas. He takes out his lighter and demands for his secretary to be released, and given no other option, the boss agrees.
The secretary gives Sung-ryong a big thumbs up and quickly escapes from the scene. Trying to run away too, Sung-ryong continues to wave around his lighter as he makes his way towards the exit. But as luck would have it, the lighter slips from his fingers and lands into the enemy’s hands.
With the tables turned, the gangsters charge at Sung-ryong, and he dives under tables and chairs to get away. Number Two goes to check the bag, but it’s empty aside from the large tank. Annoyed, the boss asks Sung-ryong about the account book, but his voice is high and squeaky, since it turns out that the tank was filled with helium.
Surrounded on all sides, Sung-ryong tries to keep the gangsters at bay with a bottle, and suddenly gets a message on his phone. He checks it, and breaks into a goofy grin. The gangsters use this opportunity to attack Sung-ryong, but he’s too happy to notice anything. Though getting kicked and punched, Sung-ryong smiles through it all, because now he’ll be working at TQ Group.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about this show yet. The first episode felt very much like an introduction to both the characters and the main plot. However, I don’t know if it was done in as compelling a way as it could have been. I thought the company politics and conspiracies surrounding Chief Lee were a bit formulaic, and it was hard to feel tension when I didn’t feel a sense of mystery or urgency. On the other hand, I enjoyed the moments that were a bit more comedic and wacky. The oddly specific apology letter guidelines or the hilariously over-the-top sob story during the interview were things I think the show did better with than the dramatic moments. It was in the small things, like Director Chu lying about his army duty or Sung-ryong’s secretary giving him a thumbs up before hightailing it out of there that made me appreciate the small beats of a scene.
That being said, I would personally like it if the show was a bit wackier, and if the last scene was any indication, it does know how to be ridiculous. I’m hoping that once all the key players start orbiting the same space, more comedy will ensue. There’s a lot of potential for Yul to play the straight man, thinking he’s an evil mastermind, while Sung-ryong simply bulldozes over all his plans and does it with gusto. However, at this point, I can only speculate and hope that future episodes will be better, because the first outing still has me wondering what exactly the show is aiming to be. I feel like you’ll either like the wackiness of the show or not, because I’m pretty sure no one is sticking around for the company politics.
Though I found the show uneven, I enjoyed the performances from the leads, and was surprised by how much I liked Sung-ryong at the end. He’s a clear antihero, feeling no qualms about stealing and cheating people, and he doesn’t operate on conventional virtues or principles. However, he’s witty, quick on his feet, and has a devious charm. He knows that he’s the typical bad guy and doesn’t pretend to be the hero. In fact, he openly embraces his role and seems to enjoy breaking the rules and subverting justice. It can be a despicable character that’s too self-centered to be cheered for (in fact, that’s how I felt in the beginning), but the rare moments of honesty and his own self-awareness add some redeeming qualities to him. It also helps that he sometimes comes across as completely bonkers, and you wonder if he might have a screw or two loose in his head.
I liked Ha-kyung for the most part, especially her temper and refusal to ignore wrongdoings. She’s spirited, but also knows how to work with her group and seems competent at her job. Like many things with the show, I enjoyed the parts of Ha-kyung from the latter half more than the beginning. Though I feel hopeful about the leads, I’m still iffy about the rest of the characters. Yul seems a bit bland for now (the character, not necessarily the performance), and the company higher-ups don’t seem like the most interesting characters. The thing that disappoints me the most, though, is the Accounting Department crew. I get déjà vu watching Manager Lee and Ki-ok since I’ve seen both these actors play similar roles together in another drama, and it feels like the same old things being recycled. Granted, there’s still room to grow, and a few key players haven’t even been introduced yet. We’re only just wading into the show’s world, so here’s hoping for more wackiness to come.
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