My Ajusshi: Episode 1
My Ajusshi, tvN’s newest melodrama from the PD of Signal and Misaeng and the writer of Oh Hae-young Again, starts out pretty dark and depressing, but in a good way, if that makes sense. This first episode does a fantastic job of setting up the main characters’ lives and the challenges they deal with on a daily basis, as well as the primary conflict that looks as though it will serve to both polarize them, and bring them together. I find the characters fascinating, and the plot, while simple so far, promises some very interesting revelations as we go forward.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In a dreary office, employees go about their work listlessly until a high-pitched shriek rings out. A woman screams bloody murder at a tiny ladybug, and everyone reacts dramatically except for one young woman, who barely glances over before turning back to her work.
One team manager, PARK DONG-HOON (Lee Seon-kyun) gently reaches out to trap the tiny insect. The ladybug flies off and lands again on the arm of the bored young woman, but just as Dong-hoon is about to catch it, she squishes it with a book.
Dong-hoon heads back to his desk, where his coworkers tease him for having a soft heart. He deadpans that he’s killed pigs before, explaining that you can kill anything as long as you don’t feel bad for it.
They get busted for fooling around at work by their boss, Director Yoon, and we see him depicted as a pog game piece with red stars depicting his status, ha. He tells Dong-hoon that he should be a better manager for the thousand won per minute he’s being paid.
The woman who squashed the ladybug, LEE JI-AN (IU), seems to be a low-level employee, watering the plants and sorting the mail. She goes about her work dispassionately, not talking to anyone. At the end of the day, Dong-hoon sees her in the break room shoving handfuls of instant coffee in her bag, but he doesn’t say anything.
Another executive, Director Park (a blue pog denoting that he’s on the opposite team as Director Yoon), lurks in the security office spying on employees through the CCTV cameras. He spies on Director Yoon’s texts, then meets with two other blue pog executives, Director Jung and Executive Director Wang, to discuss their strategy for keeping the red pog faction on their toes before the upcoming internal election.
As we watch their pogs fighting it out on a baduk board, Director Park tells Director Jung that the red pog directors will be coming after him (it’s unclear why), suggesting he take a short leave of absence. ED Wang agrees, and he promises the nervous Director Jung that he’ll still have his job when he gets back.
After Director Jung leaves, ED Wang grumbles about DO JOON-YOUNG (Kim Young-min), a younger man who is now CEO of the company. Director Park goes to see Young-min (red pog), telling him that Director Jung unexpectedly asked to go abroad for a month and refused to say why. Young-min approves the request.
As he leaves work, Dong-hoon and his coworkers are forced to give up their elevator to Young-min and Director Yoon, who appears to be Young-min’s primary lackey. One employee wonders why Young-min is such a jerk to Dong-hoon, who was his sunbae in college.
Hilariously, the elevator doors accidentally open again. They all just stand there awkwardly for a long, uncomfortable moment, as Director Yoon frantically pokes at the elevator buttons.
Dong-hoon stops at an ATM for cash, then meets with his brothers at a men’s clothing store. He insists on buying his hyung, SANG-HOON (Park Ho-san) a new suit for his daughter’s wedding. Their youngest brother, KI-HOON (Song Sae-byuk), backs him up.
When Ki-hoon steps away to take a call, Dong-hoon quickly gives Sang-hoon some extra cash in case he needs it for wedding expenses. Sang-hoon tries to give it back, but Dong-hoon won’t let him, since his hyung is having a hard time after his wife left him. Dong-hoon claims the money is from his wife, who can’t make it to the wedding, though Sang-hoon seems suspicious of her excuse of a business trip.
While they wait for Ki-hoon, they discuss Dong-hoon’s job as a building inspector. Sang-hoon marvels that some building owners actually want a low rating, as it means they can get permission to renovate.
Joon-young’s driver takes him home, where he changes into comfortable clothing and heads back out again. He lets himself into another apartment, where a woman, KANG YOON-HEE (Lee Jia), confronts him for never answering his phone and making her worry. Joon-young explains that everyone at his company is upset that he got promoted over them, so he can’t risk their relationship being discovered.
Yoon-hee apologizes, and Joon-young assures her that he misses her all day, too. She asks him to take her on a trip, since she told her husband she was away on business, and everything is forgotten as they begin kissing. Oh no, she’s Dong-hoon’s wife, isn’t she?
The three brothers go out drinking, and Sang-hoon tells Ki-hoon that he should make at least one successful movie before he dies. He suggests a horror movie about a middle-aged guy who gets laid off, spends all his savings trying to start a business, then becomes a bum after his wife leaves him.
The brothers picture the main character (played by Sang-hoon, obviously), sick and alone and plagued by a set of injuries that leave him frozen, staring out a window at sunset. Sang-hoon gets carried away picturing the protagonist’s turn to revenge, then his heroic death. Dong-hoon says it’ll fail because there’s one crucial thing missing from this movie: a woman.
Ji-an works at her evening job, washing dishes at a restaurant. When nobody is looking, she bags up the leftover food on the plates and stashes it away for later.
On the subway ride home, Sang-hoon sees Ji-an standing with her back to him, noticing that she’s not wearing socks even in the cold weather. They get off at the same stop, and Dong-hoon trails behind Ji-an for a while. Eventually they take opposite turns, but Dong-hoon keeps looking back towards Ji-an with curiosity.
She heads to a dingy part of town and lets herself into a run-down apartment. She heats up water for her pilfered instant coffee and digs into her salvaged leftovers straight from the bags. She doesn’t even flinch when a light comes on, revealing a man (a loan shark?), KWANG-IL (Jang Ki-yong), sitting behind her.
Ji-an tosses him the money she made today, and he sneers that the tiny amount must mean she wants to see him more often, making it sound like a threat. Ji-an tells him that she hates when people intrude on her personal space, but Kwang-il just invites her to tell him more things she hates. She grumbles that she hates when people make her talk while she’s eating, and Kwang-il purrs, “Okay, I’ll only do those things.”
Her phone lights up with a call from her grandmother’s nursing home, but she doesn’t answer in front of Kwang-il. She goes to the nursing home in the morning, where she overhears a nurse bellowing to her deaf grandmother that she’ll be kicked out if she doesn’t pay her bill. Ji-an waits until her grandmother is alone, then she goes to see her.
Although Grandma frantically signs to Ji-an to leave, Ji-an instead makes a call to her friend KI-BUM (Ahn Seung-kyun). He ignores her calls and texts to come to the nursing home, too busy playing video games. So Ji-an packs up Grandma’s things, and after dark, she wheels Grandma, hospital bed and all, out of the nursing home and into the street.
She stops at a grocery store to grab some drinks and a shopping cart. She bundles Grandma into the shopping cart with a blanket and the warm drinks, and they wait at a bus stop until Ki-bum finally shows up. He’s startled to realize that the pile of old blankets is actually a person, and it’s cute how he politely bows to the elderly lady.
Ji-an and Ki-bum manage to get Grandma to Ji-an’s apartment, where Ji-an instructs Ki-bum to stop by twice a day while she’s at work, to look after Grandma. Ji-an explains to Grandma in sign language not to open the door to anyone but Ki-bum (Grandma signs, “I can’t even get out of bed!”), then tucks her in for the night. She stays up late, drinking stolen double-strong coffee and staring into space.
The day of Sang-hoon’s daughter’s wedding arrives, and Dong-hoon and Ki-hoon help out by collecting the monetary wedding gifts. After a while, Dong-hoon notices that something odd is going on — every few guests, Sang-hoon will rub his nose after greeting a guest, then Ki-hoon stuffs their cash-filled envelope into a separate drawer.
He asks Ki-hoon what’s going on, and Ki-hoon mutters that they’re only doing it for Sang-hoon’s guests. But he chuckles that it seems like Sang-hoon is signaling for him to pull the gifts from the guests giving the biggest amounts, and when Dong-hoon tells him to stop, he confesses that Sang-hoon promised him half. Wow, that’s so sleazy.
Dong-hoon tries to physically take the envelopes from Ki-hoon, and their tussle catches the eye of Sang-hoon’s ex-wife, Ae-ryun. Ki-hoon escapes, and she drags Sang-hoon into the stairwell to rip him a new one for stealing his daughter’s wedding money.
Their loud argument echoes throughout the lobby, humiliating the brothers’ mother. Ki-hoon tells her that Dong-hoon wasn’t involved in their scheme, and she makes him leave before Ae-ryun goes after him next.
Joon-young enjoys a romantic seaside getaway with Yoon-hee, Dong-hoon’s wife, who says playfully that when they’re old, they should run away together. She knows he wouldn’t do it if she asked now, but admits that she wouldn’t, either.
After the wedding, the brothers share takeout and Sang-hoon laments that nobody calls him anymore after his business went under. He’s upset that only two people from his former workplace came to the wedding after he went to their family events (and gave monetary gifts) for over twenty years.
Ki-hoon finally snaps at him to examine his life instead of blaming others. Amen to that. He blurts out in frustration that those people will all come to their mother’s funeral, and unfortunately, Mom comes home and hears him. She tells him to let her know when her funeral is so she’s not rude enough to live beyond that day, ha.
She storms out, and Sang-hoon tells Dong-hoon that he can’t lose his job until after she dies, so that there will be at least a few people at her funeral. He warns his little brother that the day he gets fired he’ll end up like his hyung, sending Dong-hoon and Ki-hoon into giggle fits at the dramatic pronouncement. Ki-hoon says that he’s always felt bad for Dong-hoon, who always chooses his morals over his ambition. That sounds ominously prophetic.
Yoon-hee asks Dong-hoon about the wedding after she’s back home, but he’s grumpy, and he makes it obvious that he doesn’t want to talk.
Dong-hoon and his team go to a jobsite to inspect a water tower, but their drone malfunctions from the cold. Dong-hoon climbs the ladder to measure the tower’s dangerous defects himself, and at one point he slips and drops his equipment while reaching out to inspect a crack in the cement.
They make it back to the office safely after everyone else has gone home. The office is empty except for Ji-an, who doesn’t even acknowledge Dong-hoon when he says it was cruel to kill the ladybug. He asks her what’s the worst thing she’s killed, and after a long pause, she says softly, “A person.”
Director Yoon nervously reminds Joon-young that CEO elections are in two months and that each faction has exactly five people who will vote. He’s scared that Director Park will try to get one of their people fired, and that he’s the primary target. He suggests they fire the least formidable person from the other side, then hire someone to be on their side, making the vote six to four.
Joon-young says that if they’re going to do that, they may as well fire the most powerful person from the opposite faction. Director Yoon makes a call to someone from another company that wants to work with theirs, to ask for their help.
Meanwhile, Dong-hoon’s mom decides they should help Sang-hoon open a small business like a snack shop. She wants to use her house as collateral for a loan, but since Dong-hoon technically owns the house, she asks his opinion. He tells her that they won’t get a big enough loan to make a difference.
At work later, Dong-hoon learns about a large building that has a lot of potential. But the building hasn’t passed inspection in a decade, so the homeowners are upset that they can’t renovate. Director Yoon assigns the project to Dong-hoon’s team since they have the fewest projects, even though Dong-hoon argues that they’re very large projects.
Dong-hoon runs into Ji-an again at a grocery store, and he notices that she’s buying adult diapers. She doesn’t have enough money, so Dong-hoon buys the fruit she removed from her cart and runs to give them to her, but she’s already gone.
Ji-an arrives home to find Kwang-il letting himself into her place, and she growls that she hates when people invade her space. Kwang-il retorts that he warned he’d only do things she hates. Ji-an lunges at him when he starts to go inside, and he backhands her away.
Furious now, Ji-an grabs Kwang-il and hauls him out of her doorway. But he’s much bigger than she is and quickly gets the upper hand, and he punches her in the face and stomach. He tells her that she’ll never be able to pay him back, so she may as well beg him to kill her now.
Ji-an just laughs, and asks if he likes her. She accuses him of using her debt as an excuse to see her, and says that he’s lying about wanting revenge. He laughs, then grabs her and starts punching again.
The next morning at work, everyone is staring at Ji-an, who has a split lip and wears dark sunglasses as she works. A courier arrives later (strangely, never taking off his helmet) and delivers an envelope to Dong-hoon.
Inside is fifty million won in cash (about $46,500 USD), and a note saying, “Please take care of the matter for us.” Dong-hoon stuffs the envelope, cash and all, into a folder and doesn’t say anything to anyone. He notices that Ji-an appears to be looking right at him, though it’s hard to tell with her dark glasses.
Dong-hoon hangs around after everyone else leaves, but Ji-an is still there. She startles him by popping up just as he’s about to retrieve the folder, but she just asks him to buy her some food. Dong-hoon is twitchy as they eat, anxiously waiting for Ji-an to finish so he can go, but she suggests they also go for drinks.
At the bar, she shows him the huge shiner that Kwang-il gave her. He assumes it was an abusive boyfriend and tells her to break up with him. Ji-an just asks if he’s ever beat up a woman, and she actually seems disappointed when he says he hasn’t, since she’d planned on asking him how it felt.
Seeing that she’s sockless again, Dong-hoon asks if her feet are cold, but she just stares at him. Noting his anxiety, she asks if Dong-hoon has somewhere to be. Outside, Ki-hoon wanders by and spots his brother drinking with the younger woman and sends Dong-hoon a text asking who she is.
When they leave the bar, Ji-an tells Dong-hoon to go straight home, then sets off on her own. Ki-hoon comes out of hiding along with Sang-hoon to confront him about the mysterious lady in sunglasses. They don’t believe he was just drinking with a coworker, and Sang-hoon threatens to tell on him when he barks at them and heads back to the office.
When he gets there, the elevators are undergoing maintenance, so he has to take the stairs. On the way, he passes the security office and notes the video displays from the CCTV cameras all over the building. He catches the eye of a security officer, so he darts away and leaves the building.
Ji-an goes back to the office, where she heads to the basement to speak with the janitor. He asks if she has to do this, and she says that Dong-hoon can’t report the envelope missing, since it was a bribe, so it shouldn’t matter who ends up with it. Ah, she did see.
The janitor shuts off the power to the entire building, and while it’s out, Ji-an runs up to Dong-hoon’s desk and grabs the bribe envelope. By the time the janitor turns the power back on, she’s returned to the basement. The security officers blame the elevator workers for the power outage, and Ji-an gets away with the theft.
Dong-hoon wakes with a start the following morning, remembering the bribe money that’s still (he thinks) in his desk. He checks the drawer when he gets to work, and he ransacks his desk when he finds the envelope gone.
Suddenly, he recalls Ji-an’s strange behavior the night before (asking him to buy her dinner, telling him to go straight home), only now it all seems very suspicious. On top of that, Ji-an isn’t at work yet, but nobody knows her phone number when Dong-hoon asks.
Up in his office, Director Yoon calls someone and asks if they sent the money, then makes another call to report that the money was sent. A pair of security officers receive a report of someone taking a bribe, but it’s not Dong-hoon who’s accused — it’s Director Park.
His full name happens to be Park Dong-woon, almost identical to Dong-hoon’s, and he was supposed to have been the recipient of the fraudulent bribe. But he says honestly that he never got any bribe, and the CCTV camera footage backs him up. The security officers investigate to see who the courier delivered the envelope to, and the trail points them straight to Dong-hoon.
At the same time, Dong-hoon realizes that the cameras posted everywhere probably recorded him taking delivery of the envelope. He goes to the security office, possibly to report the truth, but the sight of the officers milling around excitedly scares him off.
Director Yoon learns that his bribe failed because it was delivered to the wrong person, and he freaks out. He tells Joon-young about the mix-up, so Joon-young decides to go with it. He says they can claim that Dong-hoon was angry that his hoobae was promoted to CEO over him, so he decided to get whatever money he could, then leave the company.
Security officers find Dong-hoon at his desk and escort him away forcefully. He sees Ji-an exiting the elevator, but she doesn’t even look at him. Dong-hoon yells her name over and over, growing more frantic as the security officers hold him back.
As he’s dragged into the elevator, Ji-an finally turns around, but there’s no emotion in her eyes.
I really don’t have much idea of what to expect of My Ajusshi, but based on the writer and director, I have pretty high expectations for the show to be thoughtful and to tackle some difficult issues. So far, I like the dreamy, contemplative feel, the wistful background music, and the soft cinematography. It has a similar feel to Misaeng — which I confess I only saw a few episodes of — in the office scenes, which is a good thing. But it’s not all serious — I love the cheeky way the show demonstrates how the corporate world works by portraying the managers as pogs, with their maneuverings playing out on a game board. It cracked me up just because it was so accurate. I hope that sort of dry sense of humor continues throughout the show, to temper the more traumatic events.
I was interested in the characters from the moment Ji-an casually squished the bug that Dong-hoon was trying so hard to catch. What a great way to introduce them and their personalities — he’s the guy who wants to gently handle situations with tact and compassion, while she’s no-nonsense and just does whatever needs to be done, with no room for remorse for those that get hurt in the process. That scene also took away some of my trepidation that this would be an unrelentingly melodramatic show, as the promos seemed to suggest, letting me know that it would also offer a quirky flavor of humor that I like very much.
Personally, I’m a big fan of noona romances, but I haven’t seen a lot of shows like this one where the roles are reversed and the man is significantly older than the woman. But I love the casting here — I’ve been a fan of Lee Seon-kyun’s since Coffee Prince, and IU is one of my favorite actresses because she consistently surprises me with how deep she’s willing to go for her characters. I think they’ll have amazing onscreen chemistry (whether things go into romantic territory or not) once they start working together and helping each other.
Ji-an is already breaking my heart, with the way she lives in crushing poverty because she’s paying a loan shark, even forced to eat others’ discarded food. I’m very curious to know what she needed money so desperately for, though I suspect it was for Grandma’s care. I’m also feeling as if there’s more between her and Kwang-il than just her debt, since Ji-an mentioned him wanting revenge (plus they have the same family name, though that could mean nothing). Ji-an seems as though she’s sunk about as low as a person can sink in life, so low that she can’t even muster up enough emotion to feel depressed over her situation. She gets in Kwang-il’s face and talks back to him, showing no fear, though it’s hard to tell at this point if it’s because she’s just that brave, or she just doesn’t care if he hurts her. But she also has something she cares about and is willing to fight for — her Grandma — which shows that she hasn’t completely given up.
Dong-hoon doesn’t have it so bad outwardly, but he’s got a mediocre job where he gets little respect, two brothers with money problems and a mother who looks to him to help support them, and a wife that’s cheating on him. And now he’s gotten tangled up in a corporate turf war, blamed for taking a fake bribe that wasn’t even supposed to go to him, and it’s going to be nearly impossible to set straight. Right now Dong-hoon and Ji-an are at odds, with Dong-hoon in trouble for a bribe he wasn’t even supposed to receive and Ji-an stealing the money just because she can. But hopefully that will change soon, because I like the idea of these two very different people each finding something in the other that they need, and helping heal each other’s emotional wounds in the process.
- Premiere Watch: My Ajusshi, Let’s Watch the Sunset
- Lee Jia joins tvN’s My Ajusshi as Lee Seon-kyun’s wife
- My Ajusshi cast lineup secured with Lee Seon-kyun, IU headlining
- IU to romance Lee Seon-kyun for My Ajusshi?
- Lee Seon-kyun considers becoming My Ajusshi for tvN
- Signal PD and Oh Hae-young writer team up for tvN’s My Ajusshi