Forest of Secrets: Episode 1
With an intriguing story and the characters to match, Forest of Secrets is already off to a strong start. The prosecution office may seem like that small ray of hope for truth and justice to see the light, but unbeknownst to the outsiders, there’s a web of secrets tangled into this forest, revealing a darkness that our emotionless hero is about to find himself encased in – whether he likes it or not.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A young boy lies unconscious on an operating table while a doctor explains that his brain is more developed than the average person’s. Unfortunately, that makes the boy more sensitive to even the smallest sounds, as we see in flashback that the bark of a dog could be like the crack of thunder to his ears.
The doctor declares that he’ll need a partial lobotomy, but because it’s the same area that controls his emotions, he could either suffer from extreme mood swings or not suffer any emotions at all.
After his surgery, it’s clear from questioning that he’s suffering the latter, as he responds evenly but lifelessly to any questions posed about things he enjoys in life. While he can remember flashes of enjoyment from his past, there’s no response in the present. He’s warned that he may still experience certain aftereffects.
We skip to the present day where the boy, now a grown man and prosecutor named HWANG SHI-MOK (Jo Seung-woo), is hit with an intense headache while in his car, effectively holding up traffic behind him.
He pulls himself together while en route to meet construction company CEO PARK MOO-SUNG, who’d asked to speak in private. When he reaches CEO Park’s neighborhood, he has trouble finding his house. Luckily, he runs into CEO Park’s mother, and she guides him to the right place.
She opens the door, wondering why it’s not locked, and nearly faints from the sight of her son lying on the floor, covered in blood. Shi-mok acts quickly and efficiently as he pulls Mom out of the house so he can investigate.
After making sure there’s no one else inside, he evaluates the wounds on the body. With two mild stab wounds and one fatal stab in the neck, he thinks the attacker could’ve resented CEO Park. Shi-mok remembers a scatterbrained CEO Park saying to tell “that bastard” that he would reveal something that wound end him, and that he wouldn’t just die alone.
Next, Shi-mok notices that the knife used for the murder belonged in the house, meaning that the culprit entered weaponless. He suddenly remembers a cable truck passing by when he’d walked up.
He picks up what must be CEO Park’s phone and dials the cable company, demanding the name, address, and a photo of the repairman who was supposed to come by after letting the operator know his name and rank.
Once the police arrive, Shi-mok fills them in on the basics of his findings. However, when CEO Park’s mother faints from shock, Shi-mok starts inching away, seeming uncomfortable. He then takes off inexplicably, pushing past policewoman HAN YEO-JIN (Bae Doo-na).
He ignores Yeo-jin calling out to him, jumps in his car, and speeds off. Cursing under her breath, Yeo-jin gets in her own car and goes after him, siren blaring.
Shi-mok thinks back to his first meeting with CEO Park again, and we see that they’d been introduced by another prosecutor named SEO DONG-JAE (Lee Jun-hyuk). He loses his train of thought when he sees Yeo-jin jump in front of his car, demanding that he get out.
He merely rolls down the window and calmly informs her that he’s a prosecutor and that he’s discovered the whereabouts of the only suspect, repairman Kang Jin-sub. He gives her the address before telling her to turn off her siren (since it could scare the culprit away) and then drives off again, a frustrated Yeo-jin not too far behind.
Shi-mok reaches his destination and finds Kang Jin-sub’s car. And approaching the car is Kang Jin-sub himself, who freezes at the sight of Shi-mok. The repairman turns on his heel and makes a run for it, prompting Shi-mok and Yeo-jin to pursue him.
The repairman successfully gets Shi-mok off his trail by throwing him through a pane of glass, but Yeo-jin refuses to lose him. She chases him all the way up to a roof, pulling out her stun gun to confront him. Kang Jin-sub seems trapped at first, and then he jumps right over the ledge, landing on a parked truck below.
Yeo-jin follows without hesitation, kicking him down to the ground. She swiftly cuffs one of his hands and then flips him over to cuff the other. As she arrests him, Shi-mok catches up and reaches into the repairman’s jacket to find a considerable amount of cash.
The three go to a pawn shop, where Yeo-jin looks over all the jewelry Kang Jin-sub had just sold. While she’s distracted, Shi-mok drags his suspect out and into his car, much to Yeo-jin’s dismay.
When she returns to the station, Yeo-jin swears to find this prosecutor. However, as soon as she leaves the room, Officer KIM SOO-CHAN (Park Jin-woo) receives a phone call concerning a laptop. Hmmm.
Yeo-jin shows another officer a (very) roughly drawn sketch of Shi-mok, though the officer laughs at how terrible her drawing is, ha. Soo-chan then comes out and insists that he’ll find the prosecutor instead and that she should stop by the hospital to see CEO Park’s mother. Yeo-jin and the remaining Officer JANG GUN exchange a funny goodbye, each imitating an overly hunched stature as they bow farewell, ha.
Shi-mok takes Kang Jin-sub straight to his office, avoiding all questions from his fellow prosecutors. Kang is adamant that he didn’t kill CEO Park – according to him, he did come across the body and took some of the jewelry scattered around the house, but that was it. Still, Shi-mok presses, someone had to have let him into the house.
When he tries to ask who would have let him in if CEO Park was supposedly already dead, Kang can only stammer that he’s no killer, even after Shi-mok takes off one of his shoes and finds blood on his sock. Shi-mok silently shows Kang a picture of both the Deputy Chief Prosecutor and Prosecutor Dong-jae, noting that Kang Jin-sub looks at the pictures in confusion rather than recognition.
The chief has Dong-jae sent in to reveal that CEO Park is dead, and that it was Shi-mok who had caught the culprit. The chief doesn’t think this is just a coincidence – surely, Shi-mok and CEO Park had been working together.
Even so, the chief points out, the dead can’t speak, and Dong-jae seems to be in step with whatever shadiness the chief has perpetrated. Without the relevant party present, the chief adds, Shi-mok won’t be able to do anything. The chief orders Dong-jae to have Shi-mok’s hoobae YOUNG EUN-SOO (Shin Hye-sun) handle Shi-mok, since she’d be easy to manipulate.
Back in Shi-mok’s office, Kang Jin-sub defends his past criminal record by saying he’s turned things around, especially since he has a wife and child to look after. He keeps insisting he’s innocent, but Shi-mok isn’t having it. He has Kang taken away.
Prosecutor Eun-soo receives a call about her promotion, and she’s eager to start her first case: CEO Park’s murder. Shi-mok pauses and turns to his hoobae, telling her not to touch this case. She asks if he doesn’t trust her, and he blankly replies that he doesn’t before walking away.
Dong-jae overhears this and approaches Eun-soo, smiling and suggesting they go out for coffee. Urgh… I don’t like this one bit.
Officer Soo-chan catches Shi-mok as he leaves the office, curious as to how he knew Kang Jin-sub was a suspect. But more than that, Soo-chan is curious as to why Shi-mok was at CEO Park’s house in the first place. Eyeing the officer carefully, Shi-mok replies that they were personally acquainted.
As the two part ways, Soo-chan asks if Shi-mok is really going to prosecute Kang Jin-sub. “Of course,” Shi-mok says as he stalks off. “The question is, what should I charge him with?”
Shi-mok heads back to the crime scene and notices a car with a black box parked nearby. He gives the car a good kick and sets off the alarm, making the owner pop his head out a window as he demands to know who’s responsible. Shi-mok shamelessly raises his hand, lol.
After asking the owner to cooperate with his investigation, he receives the video footage. He watches the footage with a pensive look, though we don’t get to see any of it.
He returns to the office later that night, walking in on Eun-soo rifling through the murder/case files on his desk. She quickly apologizes, though he just eyes her and asks, “You think you can do [the case]?” Eun-soo is confident that she can, so Shi-mok sits her down to put her to the test, asking her questions like how she would handle the culprit’s testimony that the victim was already dead when he arrived.
Eun-soo stumbles over her answers until he asks what evidence they would need. She looks up at him and replies that they would need proof that the victim was alive at the time of Kang Jin-sub’s intrusion.
At that, Shi-mok whips out the video footage. Eun-soo’s eyes widen as she watches CEO Park’s figure move by the window as Kang Jin-sub entered. “So Kang Jin-sub really is the culprit,” she says matter-of-factly.
The air grows tense as Shi-mok inserts the footage into a flash drive. Eun-soo stares at it nervously – almost desperately – and then tries to grab it, but Shi-mok firmly states that he’ll give it to her tomorrow.
When Eun-soo leaves for the night, Shi-mok reviews the footage again, thinking back to Kang Jin-sub insisting that he may have been a criminal, but he wouldn’t kill a person.
As promised, he gives Eun-soo the flash drive in the morning. She has him confirm that it contains the original footage and goes ahead and takes it.
Dong-jae (of course) finds her in the corridor, hoping they can discuss the case. He takes her flash drive, saying she should save decisive evidence like that for last, when it’ll be most effective.
Yeo-jin attends CEO Park’s funeral, giving her respects to his mother and his son (who’d come back from the army). Her eyes are heavy as she takes in the sad sight of the funeral, and she eventually takes her leave.
Two months later. Court is in session for CEO Park’s murder case. Shi-mok walks in just as Yeo-jin finishes giving her statement to the defense. He also notices a woman in the audience carrying a child next to a man he seems to take special note of.
Just then, Dong-jae bursts into the courtroom and approaches Eun-soo at the prosecution stand. He makes a show of whispering in her ear and handing her the flash drive, clearly performing the big dramatic moment he’d wanted Eun-soo to save for last.
So she informs the judge that they now have a new important piece of evidence that disproves the defendant’s claim of entering the home when CEO Park was already dead. She claims that they had been analyzing the footage until last night, which catches Shi-mok’s attention.
As expected, the footage makes a strong impact – Kang Jin-sub shouts that it’s all a lie, but the room is already taken by Eun-soo’s argument. With no other way to defend himself, he’s sentenced to twenty-two years in prison.
As the audience files out of the room, CEO Park’s mother leans on a wall, overwhelmed. Yeo-jin rushes over to make sure she’s okay, but is soon distracted by a phone call asking her to go somewhere.
Shi-mok runs into the man who had been sitting next to the woman and child in the courtroom, and it happens to be an old friend of his from middle school. They exchange quick greetings before his friend has to hurry off. Shi-mok then runs into Dong-jae and Eun-soo, but he’s in no mood (har) to congratulate her on her win.
CEO Park’s mother watches Kang Jin-sub being escorted away, and in a burst of rage, she tries to lunge at him with a rock. But then she sees Kang Jin-sub’s wife rushing to him with their child, and the two begin sobbing in despair as they’re torn apart by the guards. The sight makes CEO Park’s mother fall to ground, her eyes filling with tears.
Shi-mok finds her as she starts crying that she misses her son and that she so wishes she had been there for him when he was in pain. Her words trigger a memory within Shi-mok: His mother clutching his hands and saying, “Let’s go together, Shi-mok-ah.” She’d cried that they should just die together, and little Shi-mok had hugged her, desperately apologizing and promising that he wouldn’t misbehave again.
The friend Shi-mok had run into tells his colleague that they’d known each other in middle school. But as he turns away, his cheery smile eerily fades away.
Shi-mok later meets with the chief prosecutor, who finally asks why he’d gone into CEO Park’s house that day. Shi-mok stares the chief down and makes his own verdict: There was a third party involved in Park’s murder – someone that Park could’ve hurt by simply talking.
The chief wonders if Shi-mok plans to attempt to rid the office of the corruption they’re all surrounded in, but Shi-mok says that he knows better. He knows that you can never really get rid of something that’s rotten since it’ll just keep coming back, which he’s seen happen over and over again during his eight years on the job.
Shi-mok then notes that it was reaaally sloppy of the third party to break CEO Park’s TV and send a repairman who was a former convict. Even if Shi-mok thought that Kang Jin-sub was telling the truth about another culprit, the chief notes that Shi-mok was the one to disprove that hypothesis (with the video evidence).
The chief laughs dryly and patronizingly hands him some money for food, saying that CEO Park couldn’t be trusted either – he knows he only joined forces with Shi-mok to rub that fact in his face.
However, Shi-mok sees it differently. And he knows that it took the chief this long to ask why he’d been in Park’s house because the chief had wanted to know what and how much he knew. Shi-mok places half the small sum back on the chief’s desk and bows before leaving, promising to enjoy the food.
Yeo-jin visits a woman who had found her dog killed in the neighborhood. To Yeo-jin’s surprise, it’s the same area where CEO Park had been killed. Upon investigation, she notices something on the fence and takes a sample of what looks like smeared blood.
Yeo-jin is about to get the sample tested when Soo-chan insists he do it for her. Gah, no! But alas, she eventually agrees to hand over the sample, which Soo-chan pockets ominously.
Meanwhile, Shi-mok receives a letter that’s been mysteriously left in his office. Upon reading it, Shi-mok hurries out and calls the prison to warn them that Kang Jin-sub should be heavily watched.
In voiceover, we hear Kang Jin-sub narrate from the letter that he truly is an innocent man and that because he lacks power, connections, and money, he was turned into a murderer.
And in the prison, we see the guards race towards a distraught Kang Jin-sub. As they open his cell door, his final words are, “My death serves as an accusation. My death serves as a clear statement. I didn’t kill him.”
Not bad, not bad at all. We’ve been getting bombarded with more than enough dramas about prosecutors and police officers lately, but hey, I say one more won’t kill us. I was initially on the fence about how to feel about an emotionless prosecutor, but Jo Seung-woo’s portrayal here is slowly opening me up to the idea. For one thing, he’s not a total robot – I get the sense that there was something there inside him, and that it may still be there.
On the opposite side, I was instantaneously charmed by our heroine, Yeo-jin. She’s a badass from head to toe, but past the cop exterior, she seems like a genuinely warm and bright person. We don’t know too much about her or Shi-mok, but I can’t wait to uncover more of their backstories. Thank goodness Jo Seung-woo and Bae Doo-na seem to be in a solid project so far, because the last projects I personally saw them in (God’s Gift – 14 Days and Jupiter Ascending) left a lot to be desired.
And thank goodness I took an instant liking to these two characters, because I already despise pretty much everyone else around them. I love the second leads as actors, but as characters? Nope. I can already tell who is too far gone in the chief prosecutor’s manipulation and who is just beginning to fall under. Shi-mok’s hoobae Eun-soo may be a new recruit to all the deceit, but now that she’s a part of it, I doubt she’ll have an easy time getting out even if she wanted to. She doesn’t seem like a bad person, but that drive to be a successful prosecutor may very well be her downfall, especially if she keeps taking advice from Dong-jae. For all we know, we could’ve already lost the chance to save her from corruption. The promos for this show certainly weren’t kidding when they told us that everyone is a suspect. I trust no one here. And I mean no one.
While this is a solid opening to the drama’s world and its characters, I’m not quite feeling that extra oomph that I wanted – that magnetic pull that I like every mystery/thriller to have. Frankly, it’s just not as fast-paced as I’d like it to be. The drama itself is gorgeous to look at, but if it could just move a little quicker, I think we could have a good one on our hands. Of course, we’re only in introductory territory now, so hopefully that pull comes soon. Thankfully, I do think this drama has the potential to break my heart. Seeing innocent people suffer for the convenience and comfort of the rich and powerful is the kind of stuff that brings out both the rage and the excitement in me.
It’s terrible knowing that so many innocent lives are being ruined thanks to the twisted happenings going on in the prosecution’s office, but I hope that this setup means that a certain prosecutor and policewoman can successfully slip past the grip of corruption and start making things right again.
- Premiere Watch: Forest of Secrets
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- Corruption and dark mystery in new Forest of Secrets teaser
- Guns loaded in Forest of Secrets teasers
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- From behind the scenes and the script reading of tvN’s Forest of Secrets
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