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VIP: Episodes 1-2 (Series Review)

SBS’s mystery melo VIP premiered this week with a sparse but carefully crafted story. The opening week episodes introduce us to our cast of characters, and the drama is intentional about what they show us and when, and just how much we’ll be told about our characters. It’s enough to get invested in the story and set up a bit of a whodunnit, but not enough to give us any kind of solid ground. And that’s exactly how VIP wants it. The only problem with this well-crafted opening? It’s not a very nice story that’s set to unfold.

The drama opens on a sweet note: Princess Ari (Oh Ah-rin) from An Empress’s Dignity makes a cute cameo appearance — but don’t be tricked. This is pretty much where the cuteness begins and ends. VIP is a rather dark story, and while the drama is not exactly eerie, there’s something innately unsettling about it. The drama even manages to pull the rug out from a fairly typical office worker lunch scene at Subway. And if you can make that kind of PPL-driven scene work for your story, well, color me impressed.

The drama is told from the perspective of our heroine, NA JUNG-SUN (Jang Nara). She’s a Deputy Director at Sung Un Department Store, and part of a VIP Management team that caters to the every whim of the disgustingly wealthy. And they take their job verrrry seriously.

Her husband, PARK SUNG-JOON (Lee Sang-yoon), is the director of the team, but you’d never be able to tell they’re a married couple with the office distance and formality between them. Their marriage is not as rosy as the original plot summary led me to believe — sure, they’re dedicated as heck to their jobs, competent, and successful, but to me, they don’t look particularly happy. Neither do they seem to spend much time together outside of work hours. One particular night, Jung-sun buys lingerie, cooks a fancy candle-lit meal, and waits for her husband — but he turns up hours later, long after she’s changed clothes and cleaned up the kitchen. This scene says everything we need to know.

The rest of the team (and cast) is strongly female, and after Jang Nara in the lead, there are three other women set to play a prominent role. There’s LEE HYUN-AH (a fantastic Lee Chung-ah), who’s a bit caustic and controversial, and known for her wild ways and sordid past. She’s quick-witted and posh, but clearly hiding some secrets.

Next up there’s SONG MI-NA (Kwak Sun-young), married to a goofy stay at home dad who’s caring for their two crazy little boys while she works. But Mi-na’s got secrets, too, and from the glimpses we get, it looks like she’s having an affair.

The women are quite likable, from their familiarity with each other to their teamwork — but it’s also clear that each has a little wrinkle in her polished and collected exterior. And that’s what makes them all so interesting.

By the end of Episode 1, we learn there’s a whole lot more at stake for Jung-sun and her colleagues than securing limited edition stilettos and making sure their exclusive VIP perks (like personal drivers and yachts) are used appropriately.

One night, when her husband is already sound asleep, Jung-sun gets a text message from a random number that says: “Your husband is having an affair with someone in the office.” It’s not much, but it’s enough to plant a horrible seed of doubt in her, and the speed with which it takes root proves that perhaps she’s not as happy as she claims to be.

That’s the basic premise that leads the drama, and Episode 2 evolves into a bit of a whodunnit. What makes the drama, for me, is that the execution is really great here. For instance, when Jung-sun gets the text message about her husband, we see Hyun-ah sitting at a bar with her phone, we see Mi-na pausing on a walk with her phone, and we see the newest addition to the office OHN YU-RI (Pyo Ye-jin) also cradling her phone. Which woman sent the message? And who’s the guilty one?

The drama does this a lot, showing us snippets of where our other characters are at the same moment, and using it to build a nice noir-like suspense. By the time we’re through Episode 2, we learn enough about each woman in the office to have reasonable doubt; each has a set of circumstances that makes it possible for her to be the one who’s having the affair with Sung-joon. It’s pretty tricky how the drama works — we, as the audience, go through the same suspicions as our heroine does. And overall, the drama makes an interesting statement around the idea that if you’re looking for a reason to doubt or be suspicious of someone, whether it’s fabricated, assumed, or real — you’ll probably find it.

And so we start a rather unpleasant journey with Jung-sun, who can’t sit still for a second after the information she’s been given. She confronts Sung-joon pretty quickly, and is rather direct about it in a way I quite admire — and it just makes his lies (which are becoming obvious) even more disturbing.

Jang Nara is great here, borrowing all the spunk and fight that she had in An Empress’s Dignity, but taking that into a completely different kind of story, with a thick and almost suffocating emotional climate. That’s not to say this drama feels like This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair, though, since it’s a bit more dense, noir, and also less emotional. Still, it builds a similar mystery around the doings of the straying spouse — and here’s where I get to talk about Lee Sang-yoon.

Lee Sang-yoon’s character is notably absent from a lot of the drama (which I feel is quite intentional), and when he is on screen with his wife, he’s emotionally absent to the extent that it bothers me, and I’m willing to believe anything bad they want me to about this character.

Lee Sang-yoon can play the warmest and most lovely of characters, like his leading role in On the Way to the Airport, which handled marital affairs in a completely different way than VIP is. I guess it’s a bit of good acting that Lee Sang-yoon can make Sung-joon cold and unlikeable without much effort — but that’s the problem: I don’t like him a whit, and I kind of wanted to. In fact, the drama doesn’t even try to make us like him, except maybe in the marriage proposal scene flashback (but that was a waste — I already dislike him enough to not care if he was squishy and loving in the past).

The drama’s opening week ends with Jung-sun catching her husband in quite an obvious lie, after she follows him to a fancy hotel when he claims to be elsewhere. It was a nice touch that even the cab driver who’s tailing her husband for her tells Jung-sun “sometimes it’s better not to know.” (Is this a theme we’ll revisit? Because I’m interested!).

But Jung-sun is already too deep for that, and the confrontation scene (though it ends with a cliffhanger before we learn much), is actually quite awful. Nothing happens except the look between then, but the betrayal is palpable — and it doesn’t make for pleasant watching.

It’s occurred to me that perhaps VIP will be about what happens when we become suspicious of the people around us, and how we can see what we want to see, and find what we expect to find. Or in other words, the dangerous power of that tiny seed of doubt. I’ve kept clear of early summaries and spoilers, so I’m free to wonder here: will this drama truly be a whodunnit? Or even more interesting, will it ask if something was even done in the first place?

I love a good melo, and a mystery melo feels made to order right now — but I’m honestly not sure how I feel about a whodunnit that’s about catching adulterers. Digging into these interesting and complex characters and all their messy secrets is one thing, but watching marriages get torn up is another. That being said, so far the drama is really well-crafted and interesting, and I have high hopes that it will dig into some deep questions and riddles about the human condition.

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This drama reminds me of "Misty" so far which was also about adultery. Wouldn't it be the quite the twist if the person the husband had an affair with was the male coworker?

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This was my thought as well, but I don't get that feeling. I want the show to prove me wrong though, lol.

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This was my thought too, it has similar vibe to Misty, I hope it will equally good (not counting the ending).

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I will watch Jang Na Ra in anything, so it was already sold for me. This is actually interesting though and I hope it is good, because I really hate adultery dramas.

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Hard to find an Asian drama without adultery anymore... but it does evoke strong emotions from women!

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I liked very much the vibe of this drama. I don't think the ML is really having an affair, probably he is lying and distant for some other reason.
But, if he's having an affair, I think no one among the three women is involved, even if we saw all of them have secrets. If the drama will tell a story about an affair, I hope it will do it in a good way.

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I love how intriguing this is. Thank you @missvictrix for yet another stunning piece. I love how you mention it's emotionally suffocating, and I can't agree more. It sure is suffocating, but I live for shows that portray more than what it shows on screen. It's got the right mix of angst and emotion and I am all in for characters who could potentially be on their path to redemption and forgiveness.

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Or even more interesting, will it ask if something was even done in the first place?

That would be a worth while story. Hope it goes there!

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I don’t like dramas about adultery. But I will watch Jang Nara in anything.There’s something in here that is so captivating. I guess I really like her acting. She is one of the best i’ve seen in years. I hope VIP will be one of her best work. I am rooting for it!

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*her

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I really like Jang Nara's character in this! I also don't think this is about an adultery -- I think it's something more, but I guess we'll see. These first two eps kind of reminded me of the Answer Me's guess-who-the-husband-is thing. Hopefully that doesn't happen the whole series.

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I like the women on that show, and don't care about the husband much, but I do agree that seems like it's more to his behaviour than just adultery.

But honestly the thing the bothered me most, why they are working together with him being her immediate suprerior???

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Maybe they got together before they worked together. But a lot of dramas portray bosses dating their employees and no one ever seems to have an issue with it (i.e. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, Oh My Ghostess).

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Still it's awkward and in the prospect of cheating super awkward for the rest of the team. I worked once with on and off again couple and it was exhausting

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"I worked once with on and off again couple and it was exhausting"

I have as well. And you always knew what the day was gonna be like by the stink eye the woman gave the guy. There were not even trying to keep it professional.

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I have not worked with a married couple but I have worked in an office where two of the managers were openly having an affair, and at least the female manager was married with a young child. They worked out of state five days a week, and I think they were housed together (with a third manager who also was from out of state). It was so awkward because we all knew when they started sleeping together because she was so obvious. There were so many scandals at that office in the time I was there that I often forget that I was only there four months.

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@snarkyjellyfish

Wow. They a mess.

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@snarkyjellyfish, wow , that's really messed up. There is a reason most firms are against relationships at work, people think they can be civil but that's delusion most of the times.

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@larelle79
You have no idea. The stories I have of that place. It was a total HR nightmare. Thankfully I was just admin and could watch the whole place go down in flames from the sidelines.

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I'm not dropping this drama. If He's actually having an affair, I want to know who the babe is. If he's not, I want to know why he's emotionally absent. This drama pulled me in.

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Thanks for the recap.

Agreed that Jang Nara is great. Overall my feelings towards the opening week episodes are positive. I really liked ep01 (the hour-long one that airs on Monday, as opposed to the 1st half of it. I'm kinda confused by the whole breaking-episodes-into-2/3 parts thing they've been doing these days) . I liked the actors, the cinematography, the pacing, how effciently it introduces all the characters and builds up the atmosphere, etc. Ep02, however, felt a tad slow and taking itself a bit too seriously in some of the scenes where not a lot happens. But overall it is a strong start, and I look forward to how the story unravels.

Oh and I also look forward to Princess Ari showing up in later episodes, as behind-the-scenes stuff shows that she will.

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wow the first two episodes hooked me from the start which i really didn't expect it to. Jang nara has been doing really interesting dramas lately and i'm hoping this one is also just as good. It definitely has me intrigued by all the characters and those cliffhangers really have me dying already

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I'd be gone the very moment I caught the husband in a lie. I'd be done with him. I'm anxious to see the upcoming episodes to see what she does. Also I feel as in the recap that the husband seemed (maybe purposely) not to show his emotions or any form of affection. How sad.

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Anyone still watching + enjoying VIP?!

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yes! VIP made us curious who is the one was having fair with her husband. I think it was the lady has the family.
ep 6 shows she was pregnant and move out of her home.

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