Shark: Episode 1
Shark, the third installment in what’s being coined as a “revenge trilogy” by writer/director duo Kim Ji-woo and Park Chan-hong (the minds behind Resurrection and The Devil), premiered on KBS this week, taking up the lone premiere mantle against shows well into their respective runs like Gu Family Book, Jang Ok-jung, and… well, pretty much just those two, not counting cable. Dramaland pickings have been a little slim lately.
Premiering to a modest 8.2%, it’s not a show that starts off running, but one that has some engaging stories to share while it walks with you. It starts us off after some things have presumably hit the fan and takes us back to tell us how it all started, and does so with lush cinematography and a promising orchestral score. Everything’s on point and the production feels assured, so watching feels more like a waiting game—we’re presumably not in this for the surprisingly cute romance as much as the revenge, so where’s the beef? (Or has this recent drama lull made me too bloodthirsty?)
SONG OF THE DAY
BoA – “Between Heaven and Hell” from the OST. [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A boy looks straight into a handheld camera, speaking as if to answer an unheard question: “Sharks.”
From behind the camera, a girl’s voice chimes in to ask him what he means. He answers that sharks don’t have swim bladders, so they have to keep moving in order to live—even when sleeping. Even though that makes them strong, he reveals that he likes sharks because he finds them pitiful: “Because it doesn’t seem as if anyone would like sharks.”
As it turns out, the recording is a memory playing through the mind of HAN YI-SOO (Kim Nam-gil) as he sits in an airplane. Snippets of the recording are intercut with scenes from the present, as though Yi-soo is fulfilling the promise he’d made then, when the girl asked him what he would do if she were to disappear.
“I’d have to find you,” a young Yi-soo replied.
“What if you can’t find me?” she asked.
“I’d find you no matter what.”
As Yi-soo disembarks, we cut to a woman preparing for her wedding. This is JO HAE-WOO (Sohn Ye-jin), whom we can presume to have been the girl holding the camera using scientifically accurate drama logic.
In the present, Hae-woo sends a little wave to her good-natured future husband while surrounded by a gaggle of chattering friends, and he can’t help but chuckle when he catches her yawning from behind her hand. Cute.
Meanwhile, Yi-soo enters the busy wedding hall, keeping his gaze downward as people in suits and hanbok brush past. He seems to recognize all of the faces he sees, but seems to hope that no one will recognize him as he makes his way up, up, and to Hae-woo’s door.
She sees his face through the throng, and her expression turns grave. They stare at each other, neither breaking the other’s gaze, as the young Yi-soo from the recording finally answers her question: How will you find me?
“Because, until the day I die, I will keep looking for you,” Yi-soo had replied, at long last. “Because I won’t even be able to die until I find you.”
In the wedding hall, Hae-woo watches Yi-soo intently until he disappears into the crowd. She follows, even in all her wedding finery, until she stands at the top of a winding staircase while he stands below.
But in the moment before she finds him, we see Yi-soo clenching his fist and holding back tears, his aloof facade melting for the briefest of moments. And then, a flashback: Him holding his dead father, him standing in a phone booth right before a truck careened into it.
Yi-soo uses this memory to steel himself so that he can turn back toward her with the coldest and most detached of expressions, one that stops her dead in her tracks. Words he wants to say to her, or maybe just himself, float through the air as he leaves: Go. Don’t look back. Everything is prepared, and now, the time has come.
Oh, I think I’m going to like this.
Twelve years ago.
We find Yi-soo and Hae-woo as students who find themselves pushed together after running from shady-looking suited thugs. They haven’t formally met, but Yi-soo has had his eye on her—which is maybe why it comes as such a shock when she’s so fearless, especially as she declares that she ran away from home. (He seems to be the more bookish, reserved type.)
She drags him to a street stall for food, and he’s so nervous that he up and leaves her while she eats. But Hae-woo isn’t having it, and calls him out for his (lack of) manners, forcing him to stay until she has to run again, once the suited men find her.
Twelve years later, we rejoin Hae-woo after the wedding ceremony as she downs drinks and entertains guests with her new husband, OH JOON-YOUNG (Ha Suk-jin).
They’re interrupted by their well-meaning but very drunk friend KIM DONG-SOO (Lee Si-yeon) as he congratulates the couple—and in his sorry state, he fondly mentions a name that shouldn’t be mentioned: Han Yi-soo. Ah, so they all knew each other growing up.
Hae-woo heads to the balcony for fresh air, but she’s not alone—Yi-soo is there.
She recognizes him from the wedding, but… she doesn’t recognize him as Yi-soo. He’s a stranger to her, as he introduces himself with a Japanese name: Yoshimura Jun, and a Korean name of Kim Jun. (For ease of use, we’ll just keep calling him Yi-soo.)
Their handshake sends us into another flashback, when Yi-soo had first joined Hae-woo’s class, even though she’d arrived late and uncaring. His seating assignment puts him next to Dong-soo, the friend we’d seen drunk at the wedding, as he explains that he’s also a recent transfer and offers immediate friendship.
He and Hae-woo recognize each other in class, but say nothing.
Later, Dong-soo faces off against a gang of school bullies, and the odds are definitely not in his favor. But it’s Hae-woo who comes to the rescue before Yi-soo even gets the chance, displaying a knack for some serious sass, even when the head bully insults her by bringing up her father’s now infamous public affair with an anchorwoman.
The bully goes to hit her after she hits him, but is stopped by Yi-soo. The three friends are set to square off against the gang, but they’re all (literally) saved by the bell.
When class resumes, Hae-woo is nowhere to be found. And the unknown boy who silently watched the fight now returns to beat up the head bully. So, this is our real class jjang, surprisingly revealed to be a young Joon-young (aka Hae-woo’s future husband).
Dong-soo takes it upon himself to show Yi-soo around, declaring that they’re now friends, and “once we’re friends, dead or alive, we’re still friends. Got it?” D’aww.
Of course, when he mentions being wowed by Hae-woo’s guts, she springs up from the library chair she’d been sleeping in to complain about the noise. Dong-soo tries to restore his honor all, I could’ve taken them on without you, but Hae-woo instead focuses on giving her thanks to Yi-soo for helping her out earlier in the fight before she saunters out.
Yi-soo goes home after school to a lavish mansion with manicured grounds the size of a football field, only it’s not his house—he’s moving in with his father and sister to the servant quarters. The house is tiny and cramped, but his little sister, HAN YI-HYUN (future Nam Bo-ra, whom we met briefly in the present), claims it’s already much bigger than their last one.
Hae-woo is the daughter of the house, but before she goes home she’s met with headlines regarding her father’s affair with an anchorwoman. Her anger is apparent for as much as she tries to tamp it down, even though her dad, JO EUI-SUN (Kim Kyu-chul), is all smiles as he tries to cheer Hae-woo up—it’s her birthday, after all.
She tries to escape to her room, past the woman in the foyer that everyone seems to ignore, until the woman finally starts throwing things at Daddy Jo. It’s Hae-woo’s mother and Daddy Jo’s wife, and she’s not happy to hear about her husband’s affair, no matter how he tries to deny it.
Hae-woo can’t take any more and leaves, though in doing so she steps on glass scattered around from the fight. Yi-soo and his family stand outside the front door, overhearing everything, and it’s in the moment that they decide to leave without introduction that Hae-woo comes storming out.
It’s clear that Hae-woo knows (and seems ashamed that) Yi-soo overheard, and in her rush to leave, she brushes off her family secretary’s pleas to check her foot for glass. Since there’s no stopping her, Yi-soo volunteers to follow Hae-woo and keep an eye out.
He doesn’t make his presence known even as he waits with Hae-woo in silence outside the broadcasting station where the anchorwoman from the headlines works. Hae-woo confronts her the second she emerges, her expression harsh and her tone unyielding even as the anchorwoman denies the story and, in fact, denies ever meeting her father.
Hae-woo knows this is a lie, since Daddy Jo had at least admitted to meeting her. She accuses the anchorwoman of being coward, explaining that love itself isn’t a crime, but cowardly love is, especially when it hurts the people around them.
Her words are biting, so the woman raises her hand to slap Hae-woo… but is stopped by Yi-soo. He drags Hae-woo away, and forces her onto a park bench when he notices her limping.
She’s off in her own world, too busy trying to hold back her tears, so Yi-soo takes off her shoe and bloody sock to see the glass stuck in her foot. At least he calls her out for being an idiot in letting the glass lodge into her foot, because they’ll need to go to a hospital to get it out.
That’s the most he goes toward chastising her, and even that’s said in a gentle, caring tone. He helps her wrap her foot and offers his arm to help her walk, even advising her to walk on her heel so it’ll hurt less. Aww. I like him, and so does she.
She recognizes him as the chauffeur’s son, but notes that his dad is more handsome, and that he has a better personality. Yi-soo agrees. Ha.
She starts to perk up, and tells Yi-soo that it’s her birthday so he’ll remember it for the next year. “But, in this kind of situation, aren’t you supposed to carry me on your back?” she quips.
He offers a small smirk in return. “In your dreams.”
Yi-soo and his father meet with Daddy Jo and Yi-soo’s grandfather, who seems to be much more amicable than her father. It seems like Yi-soo’s father chose to move in with his long-time employers in order to save up money for a house of their own, and Grandpa Jo is all for it. Welcoming, even.
In an effort to make small talk, Grandpa Jo asks Yi-soo what he wants to do in the future. Yi-soo: “I want to earn money.” It doesn’t get much more complicated than that, as he explains that he wants to use the money for his father and sister.
When asked how he’ll earn the money, Yi-soo replies, “I believe there is good money and bad money. I want to earn good money.” Why does it seem like he’s taking a dig at her family with the “bad” money bit?
We see the harsher side of Grandpa Jo later, when he confronts Daddy Jo over the affair and subsequent scandal by threatening not to give him ownership of the hotel if he doesn’t shape up.
Compared to Hae-woo’s home life, Yi-soo’s is idyllic and warm. He’s also a model student comparatively, mostly because he actually goes to class, and it’s a point of contention which comes up between them as he tries to get her to mend her ways.
“You think you’re the most unfortunate person in the world, don’t you?” he accuses her, and it’s true if we go by her reaction. “Only you suffer, and you resent everyone who doesn’t understand your suffering, don’t you?”
Yi-soo wants her to rise above, but Hae-woo gets defensive and spits back, “Stop acting like you’re better.” But by the time she says it, he’s already out the door, unwilling to be her friend until she stops moping. (And the tactic works, since Hae-woo starts showing up to class.
He watches her falling asleep at her studies in the library later, and it takes that one moment for him to start falling in love with her. Joon-young remains a silent observer during some of Yi-soo and Hae-woo’s falling-in-love montages, because no one seems to notice him hanging around. (Also, is Hae-woo a narcoleptic?)
Daddy Jo starts throwing a tantrum over all the time Hae-woo is spending with Yi-soo, especially when his house is on their property. Grandpa Jo manages to keep him in line by dangling the issue of succession in front of him, and declares that because Hae-woo is noticeably happier with Yi-soo, he plans to send them both to study abroad.
Joon-young finally introduces himself to Yi-soo, though the air is tense between them when Yi-soo refuses his offer to join the school gang. “You and Jo Hae-woo are very similar,” Joon-young notes. “You either want to win everything or give up everything.”
He uses a handshake to trip Yi-soo, as a way of establishing his superiority in fighting. But Yi-soo is good at fighting even if he doesn’t like it, and he seems to earn Joon-young’s respect when he manages to trip him in return. Hae-woo’s just happy to see them being friendly, since she knows them both.
She explains Joon-young’s story to Yi-soo—how he was a model student until his brother died in a drunk driving accident, so now Joon-young is the class jjang. She’s known him since childhood because their families are close, which means that Joon-young must be pretty well-off, too.
Hae-woo tells Yi-soo that she’s going to take up drawing again, but that the lessons will make it hard for them to see each other. To make up for it, she claims she’ll tell him about a secret hiding place of hers.
Meanwhile, Daddy Jo isn’t having much luck with the anchorwoman, and she gives him an ultimatum: Either he gets a divorce, or she’s out. He tries to buy her with money, leading to a news headline where she accuses him of sexual harassment (read by a mysterious man we haven’t formally met yet).
The headlines have made Grandpa Jo very angry, and he’s not afraid to tell his worm of a son that he won’t hand the company over to someone as incompetent as him. Daddy Jo fires back, “At least I didn’t take a mother from Hae-woo!” earning him a hard slap from his father. Huh. I wonder what that’s about.
Hae-woo’s mother leaves for Canada once she reads the headlines, even though the family secretary, Mrs. Park, begs her to at least say goodbye to Hae-woo. She doesn’t.
Yi-soo reads the headlines at school and goes looking for Hae-woo, who’s nowhere to be found. Joon-young knows she’s at her hiding place and tells Yi-soo where it is, leading to Yi-soo eventually find her at a lake after he searches through a rural forest.
She wasn’t expecting him to find her, but smiles all the same, noting how she’s been filming the lake over the years, and that it never changes no matter how much everything else does.
She’s hurt by her mother leaving, and Yi-soo’s consolation that she might return is of no use, because she knows deep down that her mother will never come back, and has known it for a long time.
Yi-soo sighs that there are some things in life that nothing can be done about, and adds his wish for her to start realizing that, so she’ll stop letting everything she can’t control wear her down.
Like usual, his words cheer her up, and she decides to film him to commemorate, bringing us back to the memories that started the episode. And yeah, it’s a bit odd that when she asks him, “What do you like most in the world?” clearly hoping he’ll say her name, he instead answers: “Sharks.”
We see the recorded conversation play out in real time, ending with Yi-soo’s declaration that he wouldn’t be able to die unless he found her, which works like a declaration of love.
They get interrupted by a sudden shower, and find shelter beneath a tree. The tension between them becomes real as both of them become aware of each other, even though Yi-soo is much more assured and gentle as he pats her face dry with his handkerchief, never mind the fact that it’s still raining.
And then, he kisses her on the forehead.
It’s not the most dramatic or gripping way to end an episode, but it works. Having watched the first two revenge dramas by this writer/director pair, I’m familiar with their penchant for a more thoughtful and contemplative approach to storytelling, presenting emotional moments as a culmination of all that came before them—and in effect, this method tends to force the audience to sit up and pay a bit of attention to the details. (You won’t be lost if you don’t, but you’ll be rewarded if you do.)
That doesn’t change the fact that this first outing did feel a little plodding, since it only exists to set the table and to keep us looking forward to the grand, twisty, revenge-fueled meal to come. While I’m sure that the young love in bloom was meant to grab us by the heartstrings, I found myself waiting more for the other shoe to drop, since I got the sense that that’s exactly what Shark is waiting for, too—it just has to convince us that what happens to these people, and this couple, matters first. So in order to do that, they’re banking on these two young actors to sell a decently conventional romance, and in that sense, the show does deliver, only just enough. In every other sense, the show delivers plenty.
Even if I wasn’t totally sold on the romance (there’s nothing to not be sold on, really, it’s just nothing to write home about—yet), I am enjoying the characters and the world we’re (slowly) building. On the outside, it doesn’t seem very out of the ordinary—she’s rich and privileged with plenty of pride to go with it, he’s poor, hardworking, and fiercely loyal. His father is humble and kind, hers is a heartless snake, kept in line only by her open-minded grandfather who’ll surely have to shuffle off this mortal coil soon so her dad can wreak havoc unimpeded. You know, the usual.
What’s nice about this show is that “the usual” is presented with a high level of proficiency, in a way that feels thought-out, meaningful, and to the point. Aside from Hae-woo’s father, you don’t get the sense that people are acting in one way just because that’s what the script calls for. It’s a welcome change to see characters break from the mold you’ve taken two seconds to put them in, and I was surprised to see so many characters with genuine flashes of humanity reacting in ways that were unexpected, but which made total sense considering how the character was presented and not how this character type normally behaves in other shows.
For instance, Yi-soo’s juvenile fight with Joon-young. Admittedly, I expected Joon-young to be ruthlessly cruel because he saw Hae-woo first (isn’t that how it goes?)—so I was pleasantly taken aback when Yi-soo proved his worth, and Joon-young responded rationally by acknowledging Yi-soo as an individual worthy of respect. They may not be the best of friends, or even friends at all, and they could very well stab each other in the back later, but the fact that they came to understand each other in the first place is a revelation in and of itself, and that sort of person-to-person contact came to the fore in all of Yi-soo’s relationships, whether with Dong-soo or Hae-woo. The roles may be conventional at first glance, but what roles aren’t? It’s how characters are handled that matters, and whether the dialogue reflects a character’s ability to listen, reason, and react accordingly.
It seems so simple, yet so many dramas forget the listening/reasoning part and skip straight to the reacting, which is what leaves characters feeling like caricatures. Shark is not that kind of drama, and gives off the very reassuring sense that it knows exactly what it is, has plans for what it will become, and that it’ll get us there without asking us to check our brains at the door. All good things in my book, so all that’s left is for Shark to put a little more pep in its step.
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