Duel: Episode 1
OCN’s latest original drama touts itself as a “chase thriller” and the first episode proves that it lives up to the hype. Duel also promises human clones, which is definitely intriguing, even if I’m still unsure how that will all play out in a show about a father searching for his kidnapped daughter. Then again, a little sci-fi mixed in with some action and mystery is always welcome, and I’m eager to see how well OCN continues its trend of “gritty thrillers with a twist.”
EPISODE 1 RECAP
At the police station, chief detective JANG DEUK-CHUN (Jung Jae-young) frantically shoves handfuls of cash into a golf bag. He only has fifteen minutes left before the kidnapping ransom is due so he can save his daughter JANG SOO-YEON, and the last bit of the 500,000,000 won ransom arrives along with prosecutor CHOI JO-HYE (Kim Jung-eun) and her team.
She calmly sits and watches as Deuk-chun zips up the golf bag full of cash. He promises to save his daughter with this money — he’ll pay her back somehow. But he also warns her not to follow him or track him. There’s a tracking device on the bottom on the golf bag, though, so it seems like she plans to track him, anyway.
At 5pm, Deuk-chun gets sent a message on his phone — a clue to where to meet the kidnapper. As he drives to that location, Jo-hye and her team follow him, much to the protest of the other detectives who are loyal to Deuk-chun. She retorts that they must want Deuk-chun’s daughter to die, since they all know that a child is never returned once the kidnapper gets the money.
Deuk-chun arrives at the public park, where he’s to meet the kidnapper. Instead, one of the coffee cart ahjummas hands him a locker rental ticket. He sprints down to the subway station and opens up the locker using the password that was written on the ticket. Inside is a hotel key card.
Jo-hye’s team is still following him, and when one of the other detectives begs her to stop tracking so they can make sure they follow the kidnapper’s rule that Deuk-chun is to “come alone.” But Jo-hye coldly tells him that they’ll stop following him if the detective genuinely believes that when Deuk-chun hands over the money, his daughter will be returned alive. The detective backs down, knowing she’s right — this is the only way they can save Soo-yeon.
When he arrives at the hotel parking garage, the kidnapper sends him a message to leave the golf bag in the car — which makes Deuk-chun assume the kidnapper must be nearby. But the kidnapper also sends a photo of his daughter asleep in the hotel bed. Deuk-chun hurries upstairs to find his daughter — but the bed that looked like someone might be sleeping in it is only filled with pillows. He cries out in grief and frustration.
Jo-hye’s team cautiously enter the hotel room, their guns at the ready. But they only encounter a shocked Deuk-chun, angry that they followed him after he expressly told them not to. Grabbing the radio mic from one of her men, he yells at her back at the station, demanding to know how she could do this to him.
But the golf bag tracking device is reporting that it’s in the area of the train station, and she mobilizes her team to head out and follow it. After they leave, Deuk-chun gets a call from the kidnapper who, using a voice modulator, tells him that he got the money.
Jo-hye has figured out that the golf bag must be on the train headed to the airport. When her team arrives at the airport, he tracking device shows it’s past the security check-point, but Jo-hye knows that a large sum of money wouldn’t make it through security screening. She orders her team to investigate all the golf bags in the departure hall.
They find an identical looking blue golf bag — but it’s actually full of golf clubs. The tracking device now shows itself in the departures hall, but the erratic movements confuse them until they realize that it’s on the back of one of the electronic sweeper carts. They’ve been tricked.
Jo-hye’s calm is momentarily broken when her team reports back. She slams her fists down on the desk in frustration, but then immediately regains her composure and asks where the money is.
Deuk-chun isn’t at the airport, but the bus station. As he’s running around, looking for a specific platform, he finds a bunch of people standing around a briefcase of money, wondering what it’s there for. The kidnapper calls him, telling him he can have the money back because it’s fake.
He insists that the money is real, but when he inspects the money in the briefcase, discovers that it is indeed fake. Desperately pleading with the kidnapper, he promises to make sure to pay the full amount with real bills, but to at least give him back his daughter. Except the kidnapper refuses — he doesn’t trust Deuk-chun any more.
Furious, Deuk-chun calls Jo-hye, demanding to know why she didn’t keep her promise to him. Is money more important than Soo-yeon? He warns her that if something happens to his daughter, he won’t let Jo-hye get away with it. But all Jo-hye cares about is that they now know the kidnapper must be at the bus terminal.
Deuk-chun continues his desperate hunt for his daughter, asking everyone if they’ve seen a twelve-year-old girl in a beanie. One passenger points him to a specific bus, and he gets on to see a young girl in a beanie — but it isn’t his daughter. However, he does spot someone else on the bus and slowly approaches.
He recognizes him as the one who attacked him and took his daughter. The face is correct and the wound on the hand also matches. The young man (Yang Se-jong) looks up at him and cautiously asks if he’s Jang Deuk-chun. In response, Deuk-chun kicks him in the face and drags him off the bus, demanding to know where his daughter is.
Deuk-chun continues to brutally beat on the young man as the young man screams that he doesn’t know who Soo-yeon is or where she would be. The young man tries to limp away but Deuk-chun pulls out his gun and fires a warning shot, then orders the young man to stand up as he points his gun at him.
Watching them through the window is a hooded figure, who smiles to himself, amused by the display outside. Deuk-chun notices the other man, who looks identical to the one in front of him. He demands to know who the other man is, or who the both of them are, but the first young man is just a shocked as he is.
Rewind to ten days ago. Deuk-chun and his daughter Soo-yeon are eating dinner while watching TV. They’re super adorable, and it’s clear that he dotes on her to the point of sacrificing his own desires. She sighs that it’s too hot and takes of her beanie, revealing her bald head. She wonders if she’s ugly, but Deuk-chun asks her who’s daughter is she. She responds, “Your daughter.” And to him, she’s the prettiest daughter in the world.
He reassures her that she’ll get healthier with a stem cell injection, enough to grow up to become as pretty as Miss Korea and have long beautiful hair. But practical Soo-yeon reminds him that there are a lot of other people who are hoping to be selected for the special stem cell injection.
Deuk-chun is confident she’ll be selected since he prays every day for it. Soo-yeon sighs that only good people have their prayer answered, and she knows her father drinks, swears, and smokes everyday. He promises that, starting today, he’ll quit smoking and swearing. As for drinking, well, that will be in moderation. They seal the deal with a cute handshake.
He has to head out for work, leaving Soo-yeon behind for the evening. As he leaves, he reminds her to eat and take her medication. When he asks how many pills she has left, she reluctantly tells him that she only has enough for two more days.
She feels bad that she has to take so much medication when she knows it’s so expensive, but Deuk-chun reminds her he has a job to pay for everything. Besides, he’s just impressed at how well she takes her bitter medicine. Despite their cheerful goodbyes, where he once again asks whose daughter is she (“Your daughter!”), Deuk-chun looks worried.
His team are getting ready to bust an illegal gambling den, but he first demands everyone turn in their phones — the location is top secret. A chief detective of another team hurries out of the station to ask Deuk-chun the location, since he needs it for his own team and without it, won’t know how to command them. But Deuk-chun simply tells him that he shouldn’t command anyone.
Deuk-chun’s team smashes into the abandoned building where the gambling den was supposedly held, but its now empty. There’s definitely a leak somewhere — and that leak is the other chief detective.
He meets with the head of the gambling den, sighing about how hard he had to work today to save them, so he should get some compensation. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. They hand him a stack of cash in a paper bag, asking him to get Deuk-chun off their backs, grumbling that he’s now too strict and doesn’t accept bribes. The other detective says that Deuk-chun got in big trouble for taking bribes before, so of course he doesn’t touch them any more.
Satisfied with his own bribe, he saunters out — only to come face-to-face with Deuk-chun, who chide shim for taking money from criminals. Especially when the rest of the other chief detective’s team works so hard to capture the bad guys. As Deuk-chun arrests the head of the gambling den, he tells the other chief detective that he’ll talk to him later. But if he wanted money so badly, why did he become a detective?
The other chief detective pleads his case, telling Deuk-chun that he just wanted to be able to provide for his son. Then he turns it around, asking how Deuk-chun feels, borrowing money from other friends who can’t really afford it to help pay for Soo-yeon’s medication. He pleads with Deuk-chun to turn a blind eye, just this once, so he can take care of his family.
Apparently that’s the way to Deuk-chun’s empathy, and he begrudgingly releases everyone, giving back the bribe to the other detective to use for his family. Along the way back to the station, they stop at the hospital where Deuk-chun picks up a month’s worth of medication for Soo-yeon. It’s a whopping 780,000 won. His fellow detective even tries to secretly leave his bribe money so that Deuk-chun would find it later to help pay for Soo-yeon’s medical costs.
The next case Deuk-chun works on is the kidnapping of a five-year-old girl. The kidnapper, who they’ve determined to be a woman in her 20’s, isn’t requesting money — simply that the girl’s father should tell the truth. As the detectives wait at the family’s house to hear back from the kidnapper, the father apologizes that he has to be somewhere else, then leaves with one last encouragement to his worried wife.
Finally the phone rings, and the detectives scramble to listen in and record everything as Mom nervously talks to the woman on the phone. They gesture at the mother to keep the conversation going so they can trace the call, and as she tearfully demands to hear her daughter’s voice, she adds that her daughter is severely allergic to milk — if she drinks it, she’ll have a seizure so severe she could die. The kidnapper simply says that she’s sorry, she didn’t know, and then hangs up.
The conversation wasn’t long enough to track the caller, so the detectives are no further than when they started. Jo-hye shows up, greeting Deuk-chun. Apparently it’s been some time since they’ve last seen each other. He’s shocked to discover that she’s taking over the case. Deuk-chun refuses to work on a case where she’ll order him about, and tells his boss that he demands to be taken off it.
He sticks to his guns until he finds his team in the prosecutor’s office, where they were working on the case. Deuk-chun demands to know why Jo-hye wanted to be a part of it, and she simply says that she wants to catch the kidnapper and find the child. It reminds her of Soo-yeon and her sister, but before she can say any more, Deuk-chun cuts her off, telling her to be quiet.
He then orders his men to get rid of the money (or credit cards) that she’s given them, and he takes them out to dinner as a way to protest that he can afford treating them to meals just like Jo-hye could. They’re hesitant at first to partake, but at his gruff insistence, they finally relax and enjoy their meal. Deuk-chun instinctively takes out a pack of cigarettes, but remembering his promise to Soo-yeon, he puts them back in his pocket, untouched.
A little tipsy from dinner, he stops to buy a pretty hair pin from a street vendor on the way home. The cheap trinket is practically a luxurious splurge since he only has 12,000 won in his wallet. He’s happy to show off the purchase to Soo-yeon, who’s at first pleased by the gift, then reminds her father that she hasn’t worn anything like that since she was a little girl, and besides, she doesn’t have any hair.
But Deuk-chun pins it to her beanie instead, and it does make it look more stylish. As Soo-yeon admires herself in the mirror, she notices that her nose has started to bleed. Deuk-chun freaks out like the doting father he is, but she simply dabs at it with a tissue, reassuring him it’ll stop soon.
Later that night, she wakes up to find him slumped over at the table, having fallen asleep while working. She puts a blanket on him and then quietly puts the rest of her carefully saved allowance in his wallet.
In the morning, the detective confronts the kidnapped girls father with all the big, expensive purchases he’s made the past few months. All signs point to him having a secret girlfriend, which the husband admits, and he also confesses that he knows that his mistress was the one who stole his daughter.
The mistress — who also worked for him — got pregnant, but he didn’t believe it was necessarily his child. He gave her the option to either get an abortion or quit, and she did both. He insists he didn’t hide anything, but already told it all to Jo-hye.
Of course, that infuriates Deuk-chun, but when he calls her, she tells him that she only found out recently herself. Besides, he shouldn’t be wasting time getting mad at her because they’ve found the body of the kidnapped little girl.
Deuk-chun enters the crime scene, where the little girl is in the trunk, having suffered a deadly seizure just like her mother predicted. In the front seat of the car is the mistress, also dead. Deuk-chun plays a message on her phone where she confesses that she never meant to kill the girl — she just wanted to get revenge on the man who told her kill her unborn baby.
As he’s bagging up evidence, he gets a call — Soo-yeon has been selected to get the stem cell injection! He rushes to Sanyoung Bio Research Group to sign the paperwork (including waivers since this is an experimental treatment), and balks slightly when told how much it will cost: 300,000,000 won.
Jo-hye is determined to talk to him, despite his efforts to ignore her. Finally she gets into his car when he parks outside the station and demands that they stop investigating the kidnapping case. It’s not like they can arrest the kidnapper — she’s already dead. Deuk-chun insists on justice, but Jo-hye points out that revealing the truth will only end up hurting everyone — including herself, who’s worked so hard to get to this position.
They can pin the blame on someone else who’s willing to take the fall, and in doing so, get a reward bonus of 500,000,000 won each. She knows that he needs the money to save Soo-yeon’s life, but when she asks if his pride is more important, he yells at her to shut up.
He wonders if she ever feels sorry for his wife who died because of her. He refuses to do make any more deals with her ever again. But Jo-hye insists that he was the one who pulled the trigger.
A flashback shows a distressed Deuk-chun pleaded with a man who holds a knife to his very pregnant wife’s throat. The man yells at him, blaming Deuk-chun and Jo-hye for falsely accusing him of killing someone. He’s pushed to the brink of desperation, and shouts that he might as well kill everyone if he’s already being blamed for killing another woman.
Deuk-chun stutters that he’ll call Jo-hye and they’ll figure something out, but when the man’s attention is diverted by someone else, Deuk-chun grabs his gun from where it’s hidden in his waistband and fires off two well-placed shots that knock the man down. As the man fell, though, he ended up fatally stabbing Deuk-chun’s wife.
In the present day, Deuk-chun finishes up his paperwork about the kidnapped girl, then gets an emergency call from his landlady. He rushes to the hospital to find Soo-yeon unconscious in one of the beds. He sits by her side, holds her hand, and weeps.
That’s the turning point for him to agree to Jo-hye’s plan. To save his daughter’s life, he needs all the money he can get to pay for the stem cell injection. He ropes in the head of the gambling den, calling in his favor for letting him off previously, and Jo-hye helps the man with his “confession” to kidnapping the little girl.
As the mysterious young man injects something into his hand, he watches the news and finds out about the girl that has been selected for Sanyoung’s experimental stem cell treatment.
The ambulance carries the still-unconscious Soo-yeon to the treatment center, and Deuk-chun rides along in the back with her, gently talking to her through her plastic protective barrier. The ambulance suddenly stops — the masked driver is none other than the mysterious man. He takes out the other paramedic with a syringe full of something to make her pass out.
He has another one ready for Deuk-chun, but Deuk-chun isn’t willing to give up without a fight. In the tussle, the young man’s hand is cut open, but he still manages to inject Deuk-chun with his knock-out syringe. Before Deuk-chun completely passes out, he yanks the mask off the young man, getting a good look at his face.
That brings us to the moment in the bus station when he sees the two men who have the same face. He handcuffs the first one to a trashcan and then races after the hooded man as best as he can from outside of the bus depot. When the hooded man suddenly turns down a hallway, Deuk-chun throws himself through the plate glass window to follow after him.
What an intense beginning! For a moment I’d wondered if I’d accidentally somehow started on the second episode, but I love that the show began in medias res, as if to say “yes, we said there would be thrilling chases, and we meant it!” Not that I had my doubts, but I am so conditioned to expect the first couple of episodes to be all about the set-up of characters and the main plot, so to be suddenly thrown into a situation before I’ve had a chance to learn everyone’s names was almost disorienting — which is probably the intent. It does make me appreciate that this isn’t a drama that will be holding the viewers hand. There’s almost an unspoken trust that we, the viewers, who have likely seen a gazillion thrillers and procedurals before, will quickly understand the dynamics of what is going on and how we got there, even if we have to fill in the blanks ourselves.
Considering this is also a show by the writer of Nine: Nine Time Travels and Queen In-hyun’s Man, I’m already conditioned to believe that every detail is important. Any time the camera focuses on something that seems inconsequential, my brain is screaming at me to “pay attention!” because it might be a clue later. For example, I just know that hair pin will show up again — and not on Soo-yeon’s beanie. I know that the name of the medical group — Sanyoung Bio — is important. The pills the cheating father was popping — important! The car wash flyer left on the window of Deuk-chan’s car — important! I don’t know why these are important, but I’m convinced they are and we’ll find out why eventually.
Even though no one has mentioned “clones” yet, I’m already anticipating that this “stem cell” research that has been going on at Sanyoung must have created our mysterious young men. Maybe it was by accident, maybe it was experiments gone wrong, maybe it on purpose because, hey, human cloning. But I get the feeling that the hooded clone is kidnapping Soo-yeon not to punish Deuk-chun, but to get back at Sanyoung. Maybe this stem cell injection is what he needs to stay alive. Or maybe those are his stem cells. (Can that work that way? Oh man, is this show gonna make me actually research science-y stuff?)
So there’s already lots of speculation to be had, and I’m eager to see where things go. I have a lot of faith in this writer, especially when it comes twisty, mind-bendy plots. But I’m also already fond of all the main characters, yes, even the ones that seem unlikeable. Deuk-chun is easy to like — he’s a hardworking detective who would do anything to save his daughter, even though it might go against his moral code (or his newish moral code). He’s also a big ol’ softie who will let a few criminals go so they and their families won’t starve. Even though he’s not exactly the “follow all rules, live by truth, justice, and honor” detective hero we so often meet in dramaland, his foibles make him human and relatable.
Jo-hye is probably harder to like, but I don’t care — I already love her. She may be shady in some of her practices but she at least doesn’t want to always have a dead kid on her hands. Or in her case files. Maybe things would have gone better with Soo-yeon’s kidnapping if she hadn’t tried tracking the money (or giving Deuk-chan fake money), but honestly, she seemed like the only one with some sense. A panicked father shouldn’t be in charge of his own daughter’s kidnapping case, especially when he knows that the odds are not in his favor. She may be cold and calculating, but she knows how to get results. She’s probably got tons of dirty secrets that we’ll find out later, but for now, I want to believe that there’s a deeper and understandable reason why she acts the way she does.
As for Soo-yeon, well, I’m normally super cautious when it comes to cancer-beanie kids. Either they’re there as an obvious ploy to tug on my heartstrings or to give another character a sense of purpose, but they rarely seem to be written as full-fledged characters with any hint of depth. However, I’m totally smitten with Soo-yeon and can see why Deuk-chun is so desperate to get her back — I would be, too! Here’s hoping that the first kidnapping case serves more as a warning and less as foreshadowing.
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