Falsify: Episodes 1-2
Revenge plot. Prosecutors. Cops. Journalists. Initially, Falsify seemed like a thousand other legal dramas that we’ve been inundated with this year (see: Whisper, Defendant). However, these first episodes were a pleasant surprise and had a nice balance between comedy and drama, supported by a dark mystery underneath it all. There’s some talented acting here as well, and I’m pretty curious to find out how our sweet naive judo athlete suddenly turns into a jaded kickass night journalist.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A man walks down a hallway with a thick folder in hand, arriving at an empty room where a desk with a corded phone awaits him. He grumbles as he puts the folder on the desk and picks up the phone. On the other line, a dark silhouette picks up—it’s our hero, HAN MOO-YOUNG (Namgoong Min).
The man giving him information is a cop, Lieutenant JEON CHAN-SOO (Jung Man-shik), and Lieutenant Jeon tells Moo-young not to blackmail him any further and to stop hiding in the shadows and begin acting like a real journalist. But Moo-young tells him to look up at the Patriot Newspaper motto, which is written on the wooden plaque above him: “The eyes of the trash reporter brightens the world.”
Moo-young says he never claimed that he was a real journalist, and proceeds to ask about the details for the setup. The corrupt Lieutenant Jeon has pulled strings from his shady underworld partners to get Moo-young a meeting with PARK EUNG-MO, a local gang boss. Moo-young will pose as the owner of a hostess bar, looking for more girls for his business.
Satisfied with the scenario, Moo-young tells Lieutenant Jeon to open the desk drawer, where he finds photo evidence of his illegal confiscated drug dealings. Lieutenant Jeon is obviously not happy with this situation and kicks the desk before he leaves. Moo-young arrives then, and looks over the photo of Boss Park.
Later at night at a shipping port, Moo-young walks into a large warehouse with slicked black hair and a silvery suit, looking every bit the part of a greasy hostess bar owner. He enters the meeting with Boss Park after handing out some business cards for his fictional bar to the gangsters outside.
They begin discussing business, and Moo-young asks how he could get his hands on more Korean ladies, as opposed to foreign women. Boss Park tells him that domestic women are much costlier than foreign ones, and begins to say how human trafficking is a young man’s game.
He tells Moo-young, who he identifies with, “As you grow older, you want to accumulate power.” Moo-young asks whether Boss Park will enter local politics, and he replies with another question: Why shouldn’t it be possible?
When Boss Park opens the briefcase that’s supposed to contain the cash that Moo-young is handing over in exchange for the women, a live video recording of their meeting is shown on a display screen instead. Moo-young’s been taking it via a secret camera in his breast pocket, and he declares that he now has concrete evidence that Boss Park is a human traffic ringleader.
At first Boss Park suspects that Moo-young is a cop, but that accusation is quickly denied. Moo-young shows him a symbol, and asks if he’s seen it before as a tattoo, vowing that he won’t release any of the damning video he just captured if Boss Park gives him information on the symbol. “I can make your life miserable with a pen stroke,” Moo-young declares.
It’s then that Boss Park recognizes him as the “famous” trash reporter, and things quickly descend into violence, with punches and kicks being thrown left and right. However, Moo-young dodges the clumsy slow moves of the gangsters with agility, eventually getting Boss Park in his grasp as a hostage.
From a remote van, three of Moo-young’s colleagues watch the fight unfold from afar, considering whether they should help him out. The bespectacled LEE YONG-SHIK says they should probably stay behind, claiming that he’s fought against way worse odds in his day. This gets him a dressing-down from Chief YANG DONG-SHIK (Jo Hee-bong) over the phone, as he berates the three for doing nothing while Moo-young fights off the gangsters.
In the warehouse, Moo-young faces off against a small army of gangsters, but he’s able to flee by using the hostage Boss Park as a distraction.
After seeing Moo-young flee, colleague SEO NA-RAE opens a locked warehouse storage room where the trafficked women are located. The three colleagues try to get the scared women to safety, but there’s a language barrier, and they don’t get anywhere before one of the gang members arrives.
Despite his cowardly appearance, Yong-shik ends up fighting the man, using any leverage he can get, whether it be a blow to his groin or a solid hair-pull. Eventually, he gets his hands on the gangster’s weapon of choice: a sledgehammer. He incapacitates the man, but in the process, he also breaks open the concrete wall. When he sees human remains stashed inside the wall, Yong-shik faints in shock.
Moo-young arrives and surveys the remains with a horrified expression, but the team is gone before KWON SO-RA (Eom Ji-won) arrives on scene, revealing herself to be the head prosecutor on this case. One of the forensics investigators explains that there are four female victims that were buried in the wall, and the remains seem to be old. On one victim’s corpse, there’s only one shoe, perhaps indicating that the unfortunate nature of her demise may have come after a kidnapping.
So-ra discusses the case with her second-in-charge, PARK JIN-WOO, who tells her about the nature of the discovery of their victims. It doesn’t look like a gang civil war broke out and caused all the violence, but rather, an outsider seems to have broken into Boss Park’s operations and caused a disturbance that led to the police arriving and taking over the case.
She tries to get more information by talking to one of the gang members, who tells her briefly about the man who was disguised as a Busan bar owner (Moo-young), but who was only interested in learning about a certain symbol.
She meets the local officer in charge, who is not-so-coincidentally Lieutenant Jeon. He makes a gender-pointed remark about how “important” investigators like her shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about these “dirty” field cases. The meeting seems to leave her with a bad taste in her mouth.
But the press is all over it already, and we get to see our first glimpse of our other hero, LEE SEOK-MIN (Yoo Joon-sang). He’s pulled in a favor with his hoobae to tag along on this story, but the hoobae begs him to stay quiet because it seems his heyday is long over after a humiliating past incident.
Meanwhile, Moo-young gets back to an empty home and applies pain relief patches all over his body. He goes over to his case wall and begins to look over it again as memories pop up of his brother slowly going frantic with stress near the end (“I should have never written that article”), though he still believed that karma existed, and that the world would right itself.
Moo-young remembers the globe-like symbol because it’s the unique wrist tattoo on the man who stabbed him and also killed his brother. Remembering how the tattooed man had said that this was retribution for both Moo-young and his brother following him around, Moo-young crosses out Boss Park as a suspect.
Looking up at the symbol surrounded by stories of trafficked women (some of them written by his brother), he stares intently with murder in his eyes and wonders aloud: “Where in the world are you?”
The story switches back to five years ago, when Moo-young was a hopeful judo athlete on probation due to a doping charge. He waits outside the training room wistfully looking in, and asks when he can talk to his coach so that he can put a good word in for him at the association disciplinary hearing meeting.
After he leaves, the assistant coach tells another athlete that Moo-young’s potential career as a judo legend is over, because he’s being framed by the higher-ups as retribution for something he did to an influential person.
Moo-young, unaware of any of this, continues practicing hard by himself. His brother, HAN CHUL-HO (Oh Jung-se), leaves him a voice message where he promises he’ll make things right again, but the numerous cigarette butts around him indicate the anxiety he’s feeling.
Afterward, a suited figure with the wrist tattoo follows Chul-ho to his destination, flipping the lid on a lighter on and off.
A younger Seok-min is shown staking out a reporter-filled campout as everyone lies in wait for a scandal-embroiled big company CEO to come out. He receives a call from Chul-ho, a close hoobae, and Chul-ho tells Seok-min that he’ll give him the entire story when he gets back, and to look out for Moo-young in his stead while he’s gone.
Seok-min’s partner, OH YOO-KYUNG (Jeon Hye-bin) asks how Chul-ho seems to be holding up, and Seok-min says he’s giving him a little bit more time to complete “the story of a lifetime.” Meanwhile, Chul-ho is freaked out by the sudden switching on and off of a light outside his room, accompanied by the menacing sound of a lighter flicking on and off.
The head of Daehan Daily, GU TAE-WON (Moon Sung-geun) walks out of his office after thinking to himself that Chul-ho should really take the easy way out. Judging by the picture of them together, it looks like Chief Gu, Seok-min, and Chul-ho are all old pals.
The following morning, CHA YEON-SOO (Park Ji-young) gets yelled at on the phone for using excessive force. We see that she’s the head of a department in the prosecutor’s office, and that a younger So-ra reports to her.
After getting off the phone, Yeon-soo tells So-ra to seek out Seok-min, the leader of the Splash Team, a journalist team famous for being the ones to (often accurately) break the story of various important scandals in their society first.
Yeon-soo reveals that Seok-min seems to have some information regarding the latest scandal regarding Chairman Min’s escape from the country, perhaps evading a subpoena that would lead to a testimony that would make him incriminate himself.
So-ra catches onto Yeon-soo’s meaning: She wants to use the power of the press to pressure her higher-ups to pursue this case against the powerful people associated with Chairman Min.
After their meeting, So-ra has an incognito meeting with Seok-min near the beehive of press waiting for any news on Chairman Min. Seok-min tells her that the Splash Team has Chairman Min’s true testimony that lists all of his accomplices, since he doesn’t want to go down by himself.
According to Seok-min, Chairman Min thought that he was the one who had been betrayed, so his logic was that if he was going down, he wanted to drag everyone down with him. Seok-min tells So-ra that if she’s willing to stick by her principles, he’s willing to partner up with her and use his vast control of the public’s perception via his stories to help her get to the bottom of the case.
At Moo-young’s apartment, he hears a noise and thinks that his brother has come home after spending so much time away to pursue his story. But it’s only Seok-min, who tells him to do his laundry and cook him some ramen. Despite Seok-min’s insouciant imposition, Moo-young gives him everything he wants, after grumbling a little.
The talk turns to Moo-young’s doping case, but Moo-young claims that he’s never doped before, so he is hopeful that his coach and his fellow teammates will vouch for him at the panel hearing. However, Seok-min tells him not to trust anyone.
The next day, when Moo-young is catching up with one of his teammates, he’s told that the entire team is not willing to vouch for him despite knowing that he would never use performance-enhancing drugs.
The reason is because Moo-young ratted out the attorney general’s relative, who was fixing the judo matches. So the powerful have turned on him, and so has the team. Moo-young is floored by this possibility of corruption killing his bright future in judo.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Moo-young calls So-ra to ask how his case is going after hearing that he’s being framed. He asks her if she’s not taking him seriously because the accuser is the attorney general’s close relative.
Clearly she has a lot on her mind with the big Chairman Min scandal, and she tells him that his case is about to be assigned to a different prosecutor. To her, he just sounds like a boy crying wolf, so she tells him that if he wants her to believe him, he should bring her concrete evidence.
While searching for that evidence, Moo-young tries to get into a building to meet with someone who can help, but he’s stopped at the front gates by the security guards. In his same situation is another man, Chief Yang (though he’s not yet a chief in this flashback, but a journalist at Patriot News, a trash news publication).
Yang recognizes Moo-young as a past national medalist, and asks for an interview on his downfall. Moo-young refuses to be interviewed by such a low-reputation newspaper, but when Chief Yang hints that he might have information about the whereabouts of the doctor who accused Moo-young of doping, he’s suddenly all smiles and interviews.
Back at the prosecutor’s office, Yeon-soo and her colleagues (including So-ra) are being briefed by the Splash Team. Headed by Seok-min, they show Chairman Min’s last interview, where he revealed the exact people who were involved in his illegal activities. Seok-min offers the prosecution team a deal: They’ll make the stories as favorable to the prosecution as possible, and with public opinion on their side, they won’t run into too much interference.
In exchange, the Splash Team wants to be the first in on all the news, and they want to coordinate story release timelines with the prosecution team so that they end up trapping all the criminals involved successfully. But because there are so many powerful people in Chairman Min’s secret ledger, including direct relatives of the most influential politicians in the nation, Yeon-soo thinks that perhaps they might lose more than they’d win in this fight.
However, she makes the determination that the risk may be worth it for the chance to make prosecutorial history by taking down the most powerful people in the nation. So-ra looks over at her with eyes shining full of respect, and Seok-min also looks optimistic about their future partnership.
Meanwhile, Chief Yang takes Moo-young to a practice golfing range, where they find the doctor who accused Moo-young of doping. Moo-young chases him down all throughout several stories of the practice range, even traveling across ball nets to trap him. Eventually, the police are called, and both Moo-young and the doctor are taken away.
But at the local prison, only Moo-young is jailed for assaulting the doctor. He sighs in disbelief at the preposterousness of it all: How could a man who framed him for doping not be in a prison cell while he, the innocent party, is sitting in jail?
Seok-min reports to Chief Gu regarding the future potential backlash that releasing this story about Chairman Min may cause. Chief Gu nods approvingly while Seok-min thanks him for being the person who taught him all about genuine journalism and gave him the hope to pursue his desires.
However, as soon as Seok-min’s back is turned, we see that this is all not true, and that Chief Gu is actually in line with the corrupt folk and not Seok-min’s devoted Splash Team. A lawyer walks into his office, presumably to give him the lowdown on his options regarding what to do with the Splash Team.
While Moo-young gets ready for a night spent in prison, Lieutenant Jeon comes to the station. It looks like he’s still up to no good, as he’s the officer who gets Moo-young’s doctor out of the police station scot-free.
Later, we see that it was a younger Boss Park who got Lieutenant Jeon involved in the business. The mob boss collects the doctor and tells him that this time, they need the doctor to make a fool out of someone.
Chief Gu goes over his plan to take down the Splash Team, the cutting-edge journalism team that made his publication, Daehan Daily, famous. Lawyer JO YOUNG-KI (Ryu Seung-soo) tells him to be careful since Chairman Min’s confessions could easily undermine the entire network of “elders.”
Chief Gu tells him not to worry because he has things under control. When the lawyer asks if it’s necessary to sacrifice the Splash Team just to kill this story, Chief Gu replies that the Splash Team is a great weapon, when wielded by the right hands. But now that those hands are not his own, he says, it’s not necessary to keep it.
In the woods, Boss Park creates a suicide scene for a dead Chairman Min, tucking a letter of diagnosis, presumably written by Moo-young’s doctor, in the dead man’s jacket. He also spills pills everywhere to indicate a possible drug overdose.
And at the print factory, the Splash Team proudly looks at their first story into the Chairman Min investigation that’s hot off the press. The next day, the world learns of Chairman Min’s confession regarding his bribery of five influential individuals. Chul-ho’s eyes grow wide when he sees the morning headlines.
According to one of Yeon-soo’s colleagues, one of the men on the bribery list seemed too quiet when he was issued a subpoena. She’s alarmed by the potential prospect that there may have been a tipoff.
However, it’s already too late to reverse things, because So-ra is already at the deputy prosecutor’s office (he’s one of the men who is under suspicion). She introduces herself and her team as having a warrant to search and seize any of his belongings that may be related to the case.
But the deputy prosecutor just warns her that if she does end up crossing the line, he’ll have no qualms about destroying her, so he hopes she’ll make the “right” decision.
So-ra receives a call from Yeon-soo to abort, but So-ra feels like she needs to go ahead and pursue justice, so she ignores Yeon-soo’s direct command and crosses the line by issuing orders to search the deputy prosecutor’s office. But all of his ledgers and files are already gone, his drawers completely empty—he’s been tipped off, and he’s been ready for this intrusion, so all she can do is escort him in for questioning.
Chul-ho calls Seok-min for a similar conversation: Chul-ho tells him to retract the story immediately, but Seok-min doesn’t heed him. Menawhile, Moo-young gets out of jail, but the prospects for his career look dim because corruption has let his only chance at redeeming his good name (the doctor’s testimony) go.
Chief Gu and Lawyer Jo begin their plan of taking down the splash team, and it all starts with a call. The corpse of Chairman Min is “discovered” by Lieutenant Jeon, who leaks that information to the press. Especially amidst the Splash Team’s initial story of Chairman Min’s confession, his apparent suicide is even a bigger story. Seok-min is bombarded at the station for any more information he might have had on the diagnosis for dementia found on Chairman Min’s person.
According to the diagnosis, Chairman Min was a man whose mental faculties were highly unstable, and as a result, any information he has given to the Splash Team (and by extension, Yeon-soo’s prosecutorial team) has become moot, because he has effectively become an unreliable witness.
Yeon-soo reprimands So-ra for going against her orders and for not aborting when she was told. Because all their evidence based on the testimony of Chairman Min has become unusable, the deputy prosecutor has gone free, and he’s launched a complaint against So-ra.
Yeon-soo tells her that So-ra might even lose her law license due to the “breach of duty” that the deputy prosecutor is accusing her of committing. So-ra doesn’t understand how they can stop the investigation at this point, but Yeon-soo—who is more experienced and less naive in the ways of the world—just tells her hoobae to pick herself up if she does end up hitting rock bottom.
Meanwhile, Seok-min pries open Chul-ho’s locked desk because he can’t get in touch with him and because Chul-ho already seemed to have an idea of what was to happen before the Splash Team was hit with the sudden dementia debacle. Now their entire team has lost their reputation of being a reliable news source, while in Chul-ho’s desk, Seok-min finds documents related to Chairman Min and dementia.
In a conversation between Chief Gu and Lawyer Jo, we find out that the whole plan of using dementia to undermine the Splash Team was all created by Chul-ho. Chief Gu asks Lawyer Jo regretfully if they really have to do away with Chul-ho, who he was fond of back in the day. Lawyer Jo parrots Chief Gu’s words back at him, telling him that a weapon no longer wielded in the right hands is not necessary.
Moo-young comes home from a long day out to find Chul-ho waiting outside their house, looking dejected. At dinner, when Chul-ho asks about his doping case, Moo-young lies, since he doesn’t want his brother to worry about it.
Half-jokingly, Chul-ho wonders out loud and asks Moo-young if he would be willing to become the sole breadwinner if he quit his job. Moo-young seriously replies that if that’s what Chul-ho wants to do, he should do it.
Suddenly, Chul-ho has a vomiting anxiety fit and starts muttering rapidly about an article he should never have written. He tells Moo-young that he needs reassurance so that he can gain the courage not to give up.
At the pharmacy, Moo-young bumps into a man with a lighter while buying Chul-ho medicine. But Moo-young is preoccupied calling Seok-min, Chul-ho’s sunbae at work, because he knows there’s something wrong with his brother, and he’s concerned that it may be work-related.
As he exits the store, he calls Chul-ho over, who looks up and walks in his direction. However, he’s run over by a truck, and the last thing that Moo-young sees of the hit-and-run driver is a constantly flicking lighter out the window.
Moo-young can only stumble over to his brother as he starts crying out for help.
Whoa, pretty intense for our first day. It’s an age-old setup of a man whose brother dies leading to an epic revenge plot, but there’s a reason it has stood the test of time: When justice is meted out and righteous revenge is served, sometimes, it tastes so sweet. The second episode primarily focused on showing the past storyline, and I was happy to see all of our main characters in the days they were less hardened by the world, back when they were clear-eyed innocents who were much more willing to put their trust in others.
However, I’m excited to get back to the present plot line, because Namgoong Min gave me chills with that promise of revenge in his eyes in the last scene before the timeline transition. So far, I like the rapid pace of the episodes because there’s no one point where I’m dawdling around waiting for the next sequence of events to happen. One thing happens in favor of our heroes, then boom, the other side quickly counteracts it. For now, it gives a feeling of helplessness, but I think that’s part of the setup to show how powerful the corrupt are, and to see our underdogs hit rock bottom before they become a team and bounce back to take down their oppressors.
In addition, the female characters in this drama are already shaping up to be kickass women, especially Yeon-soo and So-ra. I’m hoping for Yoo-kyung to take more action centerstage soon, because I’ve seen how Jeon Hye-bin can make a complex character come alive (e.g. Joseon Gunman), but for now, she seems to just be a support to Seok-min. Speaking of whom, I didn’t really know Yoo Joon-sang before, but I’m realizing now that maybe I should go back and start watching some of his work.
His camaraderie with both Moo-young and Chul-min is so easy, and there’s a touching heartfelt affection at the foundation of their relationship. I think even more than Moo-young’s revelation about the world’s corruption and his change from athlete to trash reporter, Seok-min’s fall from grace is a more poignant story. Moo-young changes because of a straightforward trauma, the death of his brother, but Seok-min’s world goes from a bright aspiring journalistic future to tagalong unwanted sunbae after his dreams are literally dashed by the man who implanted them (Chief Gu).
Overall, I think Falsify is off to a good start, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of our underdog heroes getting back at the system. Hopefully, So-ra and Moo-young realize earlier on rather then later that they’re on the same team, instead of going in a cat-and-mouse chase around each other. But in any case, I’ll be cheering for them every step of the way till the final takedown.
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