When the Devil Calls Your Name: Episode 1
The first episode of When the Devil Calls Your Name is filled with world building, rule setting, and character introductions, and despite its runtime, it flies by quickly. Promising a fun ride following a cowardly protagonist fighting for his life, the show starts off strong right out of the gate. The creators seem to have a solid grasp of the story they want to tell, and with two charismatic leads at the helm, I’m looking forward to the inevitable clash looming in the horizon.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A man scampers through a field at night in just his robe and arrives at a lush garden to greet a long-awaited friend. The white-suited friend has a song to share with the man, and as the they stroll down the path, the friend’s appearance changes to an aged rocker, an eccentric man, and a chatty girl.
The sound of a single cello fills the air, and as the man’s pen flurries across a music sheet, other instruments join until it becomes a full orchestra. Turning to his friend, he calls him “old man” (which also means “inspiration” in Korean).
The man is composer HA RIB (Jung Kyung-ho), and he watches idol Shi-ho dance on stage to a crowd of adoring fans. The CEO of his management company, JI SEO-YOUNG (Lee El), congratulates him on Shi-ho’s new song topping the charts.
Though Ha Rib sweeps all the awards, he never attends the ceremonies, and instead, he sends Seo-young in his place. Eventually, passing along Ha Rib’s longwinded speeches exasperates Seo-young, and she orders Ha Rib to accept his own award.
The idea dumbfounds him since he despises pretending to be “thankful” when he rightfully deserves the accolades. Despite his whining, he ends up accepting the award for his children’s song in person and states his main motivation for composing music is to give children hope.
However, Ha Rib doesn’t really know the reason behind his motivation or even for whom he composes music. He receives a congratulatory bouquet from a young boy, but hidden inside the flowers is a blank letter that suddenly fills with glowing words: “Did you check this month’s bill?”
At night, Ha Rib drives to an old neighborhood, and after a few winding staircases, he stops at a mailbox and retrieves its contents. He returns to his extravagant home where his roommate Kang Ha notifies him about the neighbors complaining that they’re feeding a stray cat.
Ha Rib reprimands him for calling his cat a stray, and Kang Ha huffs, jealous of the cat for having Ha Rib’s concern. Ha Rib tells him to act as nice as the cat if he wants attention, too. He grumbles to himself that he picked up both strays—the cat and Kang Ha—but the two turned out so differently.
Entering his locked basement, Ha Rib finds his cat, who accidentally knocks down a few objects. As Ha Rib picks up the items, he stares intently at a record by “Liver and Gallbladder” before placing it away with the others.
Ha Rib sighs over an unfinished assignment from a long time ago and burns the bills from the mailbox. He stops at the last one which is a notice for the end of a ten-year contract. According to the bill, there’s only six days left until Ha Rib must turn over his soul to the recipient, Ryu.
Memories of older Ha Rib asking if he dies at the end of the contract flash across his mind, thoroughly spooking him in the present. Whipping his head towards the mirror, Ha Rib comes face to face with his older self who snickers at him.
With a grimace, Ha Rib thinks to himself that he’s not Seo Dong-chun, but as his reflection continues mocking him, he grows even more frantic. Screaming at old Ha Rib to leave, he chucks a book at the mirror and cracks it.
Rewinding back to 2009, an older and grubbier version of Ha Rib hobbles down the street. His actual name is Seo Dong-chun, and unlike his present-self, past Ha Rib is a failed singer-songwriter. His sole companion is his cat who he picked up as an abandoned kitten.
Past Ha Rib sings in the streets for money, but even that meager amount get stolen by a passerby. He chases after the thief for his guitar case, but continuing his streak of misfortune, he slips on the pavement and falls into a hole. Staring into the night sky, he wonders if this is how he dies.
In a quick succession of dreams, past Ha Rib remembers the ridicule and pain he lived through as a struggling musician as well as a moment when he cried in a hospital hallway. He finally wakes up when he recalls a man breaking his guitar and raising a hammer to strike him.
In a brightly lit airplane, a well-dressed gentleman greets past Ha Rib and asks if he knows “Faust.” He explains it as a story of a man who sells his soul to the devil, which is exactly why he brought past Ha Rib here. In exchange for ten years of achieving all his dreams, the gentleman wants his soul.
Since past Ha Rib remains incredulous, the gentleman describes how some people live their lives without failure or fear. The gentleman offers past Ha Rib a chance to live an enviable life, too, and all it costs is his soul.
Past Ha Rib refuses to bargain since it would be demeaning, but the gentleman simply asks if he hates money and honor. Playing along with the gentleman, past Ha Rib asks why he wants his soul, but the gentleman says that it’s actually past Ha Rib who wants to sell.
Flashing back to an earlier memory, past Ha Rib handed a stack of money to a woman, claiming to have stolen it, and she asked him if he even felt an ounce of responsibility. Back on the plane, past Ha Rib tells the gentleman that he avoided responsibilities just like his parents, but the gentleman doesn’t care for Ha Rib’s excuses.
He takes out a book to start the contract, and past Ha Rib talks in circles until the gentleman advises him to whittle down his wishes to single-word answers. With the first wish hidden from the viewer, past Ha Rib’s second condition is money and the third is success. As for his last option, he reclaims his youth.
As soon as past Ha Rib signs the contract, the scene returns to the hole in the ground as paramedics yell at a young man to stay with them. Past Ha Rib wakes up in the emergency room, and after washing his face in the bathroom, he stares at his younger self in awe.
For someone who had nothing, the gifts of youth, wealth, and talent were a deal of a lifetime, but the promised ten years flew by too quickly for Ha Rib. With the deadline soon approaching, Ha Rib knows that he must forfeit his soul, but he has no intentions of giving it up so easily.
Though it took him years to find the gentleman and learn how to destroy him, Ha Rib is prepared to fight. Wearing an oversized coat, he marches into a building and yells for CEO Song, the gentleman from the plane.
Recognizing Ha Rib, CEO Song meets him privately on the roof, and Ha Rib dramatically throws off his trench coat to reveal a metal armor underneath. He unsheathes a sword and points it at CEO Song with a determined expression, but contrary to his bold appearance, Ha Rib crouches down timidly to pick up his suitcase. Heh.
Wielding his sword which cost Ha Rib his entire fortune, he warns the CEO from any trickery since only the sword can pierce the armor he’s wearing. CEO Song asks if he really believes those tall tales, but Ha Rib squawks at the CEO since he has to try something.
He threatens to reveal all the dirty deeds the CEO has done over the years, but rather than be annoyed, CEO Song relates to his desperate attempts. Just like Ha Rib, the CEO is a contract holder, and he tells Ha Rib that the hardest moment will be when he’s reminded of his past like a passing wind because even though your soul is gone, memories seem to come back. With that he walks to the ledge and steps off. Ha Rib rushes to grab him, but CEO Song lets go and falls to his death.
On the news, CEO Song’s death is reported as a suicide since his will was discovered by the police. Ha Rib runs home and burns the bill, thinking that he’s finally won. To celebrate, Ha Rib parties in a club getting drunk, but an angry call from Seo-young breaks him out of his stupor.
Seo-young drags drunk Ha Rib to the broadcasting station since he has a live interview scheduled. While he waits in the lobby as Seo-young commanded, he hears a voice in his head, declaring that five days remain.
The actor from a poster, MO TAE-KANG (Park Sung-woong), suddenly appears in a mist of black smoke, and tells Ha Rib to enjoy his last five days before he takes it all away. Ha Rib argues with the apparition that it’s not true, but he disappears when Seo-young grabs Ha Rib.
Still in a daze, Ha Rib barely registers the start of the live interview as the reporter asks him questions. Quoting a critic, the reporter asks how he feels about being called a “meal of side dishes,” but Ha Rib laughs off the rude remark, acknowledging his nickname.
The interview continues with the same vein of questions, so Ha Rib declares his plan to release a song every month with his new muse. The reporter baits him into promising on live television, and having dug his own grave, Ha Rib weakly agrees.
The backlash is immediate, and the next morning, reporters bombard Ha Rib for more details. Meanwhile, public opinion is split on Ha Rib as some take offense to him calling his previous singers “side dishes” while others want to be his new muse.
Over drinks, Seo-young discusses possible solutions with Ha Rib who has no concrete plan in mind. Despite their bickering, Ha Rib knows Seo-young will help him no matter what he does, and though she denies it, her laugh reveals the mutual trust between them.
A chauffeur, KIM YI-KYUNG (Lee Seol), arrives to drive Ha Rib home, but as she runs over, she slips on the road and falls with a thud. Unhurt, Yi-kyung takes the wheel, and during the drive, a song by “Liver and Gallbladder” plays on the radio.
While Yi-kyung sings along, Ha Rib hears the song in his sleep and dreams of his past self singing in a field. Yi-kyung’s voice mixes with his own, and absorbed by the music, Ha Rib starts playing the various instrument solos.
In actuality, he tosses around like a madman in the backseat and ignores all of Yi-kyung’s warning to calm down. His fingers run up and down the driver’s seat, and when he touches Yi-kyung, she elbows him in the face.
Ha Rib gets treated for his injuries at the hospital, and though Yi-kyung apologizes, she defends her actions as self-defense since he kept touching her. Ha Rib tells her that he was distracted by the music, but neither Yi-kyung nor the nurse seem to think it’s an adequate excuse.
He begins to list his credentials to prove his trustworthiness, but Yi-kyung already knows who he is. Right then, an IV pole comes crashing towards Yi-kyung, and Ha Rib throws himself in between. However, the nurse catches the pole, making Ha Rib look like a lecherous man instead of a hero.
Continuing the drive home, Ha Rib musters up the courage to ask Yi-kyung how she knows that old song. She tells him that she’s a fan of the group and especially likes the b-side of their first album. Her response stuns Ha Rib since it’s exactly what he wanted to hear these last forty years.
As Yi-kyung gushes about the group and the song, Ha Rib can barely contain his joy, and adding icing on the cake, she likes Seo Dong-chun (aka, past Ha Rib) more than the lead singer Lee Chung-ryul. Ha Rib expectantly asks why, and Yi-kyung responds, “I don’t like handsome men.”
At the end of the ride, Ha Rib offers more money as thanks, but Yi-kyung refuses since she’s been paid already. Unfortunately, it starts raining as soon as Ha Rib leaves, and Yi-kyung regrets not taking some of the money.
Nearby, someone breaks a security camera, and though Yi-kyung hears the noise, it’s too dark to see. As she walks away, the strange person whacks something on the ground and then spray paints a message: “not the END.”
The next morning, Ha Rib and Kang Ha find the cat’s dead body in the yard, and Ha Rib is shaken by the sight. Kang Ha is surprised to see Ha Rib cry, but Ha Rib accuses his roommate of laughing at him and lashes out.
Back when past Ha Rib signed the contract, CEO Song told him that losing his soul meant he would lose his tears. In turn, Ha Rib would no longer feel emotions, and while past Ha Rib thought nothing of it, present Ha Rib realizes the weight of those consequences. Hugging his cat’s ashes, Ha Rib weeps and finally understands that tears are what makes people human.
Ha Rib returns to his basement office and cautiously opens the jar where he burned the bills. He finds the paper for his contract unscathed, so he burns it again which causes his leg to erupt in flames. Ha Rib flails around to put it out, and once the fire is gone, he screams at the air for the devil to show his face.
On cue, the doorbell rings, and Kang Ha is stunned to find his favorite actor Mo Tae-kang at the door. Ha Rib doesn’t recognize the star and wonders why he stopped by his house unannounced. After Kang Ha leaves to get drinks, Tae-kang takes out another contract bill and introduces himself as the recipient.
Tae-kang apologizes to Ha Rib for confusing him and explains how CEO Song was merely his stand-in. While Ha Rib processes all this, Kang Ha returns, and failing to read the mood, he tries to sneak a picture next to Tae-kang. Heh.
Dismissing Kang Ha, Ha Rib asks if Tae-kang killed the CEO then, but Tae-kang didn’t expect the CEO to take his own life either. Tae-kang reaches for his spoon to stir his drink, but Ha Rib stole it to make a cross—that has no effect.
Ha Rib asks who Tae-kang really is, and Tae-kang tells him that he used to be called “The 49th Ryu who danced for three days after its birth from a 3,000-day fire,” or Ryu for short. The answer doesn’t satisfy Ha Rib, so Tae-kang introduces himself as Ha Rib’s loyal servant for the past ten years.
Refusing to go down without a fight, Ha Rib lunges for his sword, but Tae-kang uses telekinesis to aim the sword at Ha Rib’s head. Scampering to the kitchen, Ha Rib opens a cabinet filled with objects to guard against spirits and demons.
He employs a plethora of warding methods, each as ineffective as the next, but still manages to catch Tae-kang in his trap hole. Tae-kang looks unfazed by the religious mosaics and glowing cross surrounding him, but then Ha Rib pulls a lever and dumps holy water on him.
Ha Rib assumes that he won but stops mid-gloat when he notices Tae-kang standing behind him, completely dry. Tae-kang hands Ha Rib his bill and bids him farewell until next time.
While surprising, Tae-kang finds Ha Rib’s futile rebellion entertaining, but the real issue is CEO Song’s suicide. He wonders how a soulless human could have a guilty conscience, and his chauffeur, Manager Kang, thinks it could be a side effect.
In the opposite lane, a drunk driver tries to pass a truck and comes speeding right at Tae-kang’s car. Before the cars collide, Tae-kang stops time, and steps out. His left eye and right hand turn demonic, and Tae-kang pulls the drunk driver out of his vehicle with a flick of the wrist.
The drunk driver blames Tae-kang for poor driving, but Tae-kang display of otherworldly powers quickly frightens the driver into submission. Tae-kang lets off the offender for today, but soon after, the drunk driver ends up in a fiery crash.
With only two days remaining, Ha Rib walks with Seo-young down a street filled with buskers, and among the various singers, he hears someone sing his old song. He follows the sound as if in a trance and ends up at a café where Yi-kyung sings.
Ha Rib and Seo-young take a seat as the song finishes, and Yi-kyung sings an original next. As she sings, the audience turns grim, and murmurs of plagiarism float in the air. Her song sounds exactly like Idol Shi-ho’s new single, so Yi-kyung chases after Ha Rib to ask why her song is someone else’s now.
He takes offense to her accusations because he never listens to music, even his own, but according to Yi-kyung, this is already the second time. At first, she thought it was a coincidence, but now, she doesn’t know and questions if they’re fated somehow.
Still peeved, Ha Rib searches online for similar accusations and finds lists of complaints claiming that he plagiarized. Even if he knows that he didn’t, Yi-kyung’s words still nag at him, so he calls his attorney to investigate someone.
Meanwhile, Yi-kyung tells the café owner and the barista that she’s brushing off the incident as another coincidence, but when she stares at the lyrics sheet she worked hard on, tears pool in her eyes. She yells into the sky and demands to know why her life has so many hardships.
Kang Ha watches a special segment about Tae-kang on the television and berates Ha Rib for dashing away his chance to get a picture with the actor. The doorbell rings, but still bitter about before, Kang Ha pretends to not hear it. Ha Rib answers the door himself, but when he goes out to check, the gate is already open.
A man suddenly swings a pipe at Ha Rib’s head, and Ha Rib falls to the floor. While Kang Ha remains oblivious, Yi-kyung arrives at the house and finds Ha Rib bleeding to death. The image of Ha Rib gives Yi-kyung’s flash backs, but she comes to her senses when he calls out for help.
Taken to the emergency room, the doctors try to resuscitate Ha Rib, but it’s too late. Yi-kyung watches from outside as the doctors pull the cover over Ha Rib and announce the time of death.
As promised, the show delivers the funny, and I’m quite satisfied with the first outing. While the initial descriptions made me slightly wary the show would come across as too cheesy, there’s an interesting balance between humor and darkness in the show that works. Often these two aspects occur simultaneously or in quick succession, and it creates a fun tone within the show that doesn’t sway too much on either side. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the characters do, which is where most of the laughs come from. There’s a lot of situational humor mostly at the expense of our cowardly protagonist Ha Rib as he tries to (but miserably fails at) defeating the devil and winning back his soul. Whether he spends fortunes on a legendary sword that sounds like a scam or keeps a cabinet full of holy objects, Ha Rib’s attempts at warding off the inevitable are completely earnest which only makes his actions more humorous. It’s clear to the audience as well as his enemies that these cheap parlor tricks are a waste of time, but as Ha Rib said, he has to try something at the very least. The end results are usually Ha Rib trying to look menacing but ultimately coming across as a scared man trying to take down the sun by covering it with his hands. It’s futile, but Ha Rib won’t acknowledge it. However, this trait of Ha Rib’s is what makes him a fascinating protagonist, and like Tae-kang, I find his antics amusing.
Immediately, the show introduces us to Ha Rib, and just from a few scenes, we get a sense of who he is as a human being. He loves fame and clearly holds himself highly to a laughable degree. He’s pretentious, but Jung Kyung-ho’s portrayal of him makes Ha Rib feel like a lovable jerk. He enjoys life and all its perks after he realizes how fun things can be when you’re the one always winning, but having his life flipped hasn’t actually changed Ha Rib completely. He still yearns for recognition, and meeting Yi-kyung shows just how much he wanted someone to acknowledge his talents when he was Dong-chun. In a sense, the current version of Ha Rib isn’t who he truly dreamed of being because while Dong-chun had a style that was too distinctive, Ha Rib is the opposite. He’s the jack of all trades, composing contemporary pop music, children songs, and movie scores, but like the critics say, there’s no color to his work. Thus, when the show introduces the idea of plagiarism, it all makes sense. The “inspiration” Ha Rib meets isn’t from within but stolen from others through the devil’s powers. The twist is that even Ha Rib didn’t realize this, but now that he’s about to figure it out, it creates an interesting dilemma for our protagonist.
One of the reigning questions throughout the show is about whether the devil or humans make chaos. There’s no doubt that Tae-kang is a force for evil and pries on the needy to gain their souls. However, in the scene with the drunk driver, the ending plays out in a particular way that seems to foreshadow the direction the show will take. While the encounter reveals just how terrifying and powerful Tae-kang is, he doesn’t unleash his wrath on everybody indiscriminately. Though it looked like he was going to kill the drunk driver, he actually lets him go which comes across as benevolent but results in a deadlier end. Manager Kang points out the danger of letting the driver go, but Tae-kang’s response is one of indifference. He seems to let the consequences of wrong actions play out, and the world falls into chaos without need of his meddling. His somewhat blasé attitude is also seen with his musings on CEO Song’s suicide, as he blames humans for being more brutal by taking their own life. He mentions how people commit atrocities out of their own free will, so maybe Tae-kang’s role isn’t about creating chaos but allowing it to flourish. In the end, it’s humans and not the devil that’s creating the evil of this world, so the question remains: will Ha Rib be the same?
Despite it only being the first episode, there are a lot of messages throughout the show and clues for what’s to come. The entire premise requires a certain level of suspension of belief, but so far, there seems to be a solid understanding of the rules of this world by the show’s creators which can make or break dramas with fantasy elements. Even if some things feel farfetched in the real world, if it works within the logic of the show, then it feels convincing to the audience. One hint that was dropped in the first episode that piqued my interest was CEO Song’s death. His dying message to Ha Rib was that the end wouldn’t come until he sees it come, and from Tae-kang’s reaction, it seems like CEO Song is gone for good. However, Ha Rib also died at the end of the episode, yet I’m certain that he’ll come back somehow. If it’s Tae-kang who revives Ha Rib, then the resulting question is why he didn’t bring back CEO Song. It could be that Tae-kang is done with that vessel, but from his uncertainty behind the mechanics of a soulless person’s suicide, there seems to be a way to break free from the contract. With only a day left until the end, Ha Rib has to find a way to save his soul because even if he dies trying, he might not be able to escape.
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