Punch: Episode 1
So intense. I guess we should’ve expected nothing less from the writer who brought us The Chaser and Empire of Gold, since both were exceptionally well-written character dramas—the former having more elements of action than the latter, and the latter having pretty much invented its own brand of excitement when the majority of its scenes were just people talking. Sometimes they’d go from talking in one room to talking in another, but that was pretty much it. And it was awesome.
Punch, it seems, is poised and ready to be the best of both worlds, with one of the more riveting opening sequences in recent drama memory. If this first outing is just a display of what’s in this production’s arsenal, then I’d say we’re in pretty good hands. Fair warning, though: no punches were thrown in this episode. I know that’s what we were all tuning in for.
SONG OF THE DAY
Roh Ji-hoon – “벌 받나 봐 (Punishment)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In the middle of the night, prosecutor PARK JUNG-HWAN (Kim Rae-won) is roused from his modest single room by his panicked superior, who shows him the latest news: someone who isn’t him has announced his candidacy for the position of Prosecutor General, and he wants Jung-hwan to do something about it.
They both know the man on the front page, as the superior Prosecutor General candidate LEE TAE-JOON (Jo Jae-hyun) fumes that he’ll quit his job as a prosecutor if he doesn’t get that position.
Jung-hwan takes this all in coolly, and promises to dig up dirt on Tae-joon’s rival and his family. Tae-joon all but begs Jung-hwan to help him ascend to the role of Prosecutor General, and smiles knowingly when Jung-hwan agrees.
The next morning, harried mother SHIN HA-KYUNG (Kim Ah-joong) runs with her young daughter to make it to the school bus in time, making the occasional quip about her daughter’s penchant for sleeping in.
They’re cute, with daughter PARK YE-RIN making scrunched faces at her mom through the bus window as Ha-kyung takes a call. We know trouble is imminent as soon as the slo-mo starts, and Ha-kyung knows it when the bus suddenly speeds off.
At first the kids don’t understand what’s going on, and find the high-speed ride exciting. But the driver can only try to steer the bus around other cars and obstacles, because the brake pedal isn’t working—and the bus just keeps accelerating.
Ha-kyung runs after the bus as it careens toward a busy intersection and pulls halfway onto the sidewalk. While pedestrians jump out of the way, the kids inside are thrown around like rag dolls as the bus goes crashing into a line of stopped cars. This is horrifying.
As the bus continues to bulldoze through traffic, we see the frightened children inside screaming—and it’s all the more chilling that we don’t hear little Ye-rin crying out for her mother, but only see her mouthing the words.
The bus has a few close calls (way too close), but when a brush with another truck causes the bus to lurch completely out of control, the children are told to brace for impact. Jesus Christ.
With one last cry of “Moooom!” from Ye-rin, the bus collides at full speed into a parked truck. Ha-kyung witnesses the whole thing, and is the first to run to the crash site.
Meanwhile, a cavalier Jung-hwan reports that he was unable to find a speck of dirt on Tae-joon’s political rival, who we’ll just call Director Jung for now (pending a proper introduction). But that’s barely even a roadblock for Jung-hwan, since he’ll switch his focus to Jung’s family.
Before Tae-joon can even make a comment on how difficult that might be (considering that Director Jung’s son is studying abroad in the U.S.), Jung-hwan reports that he’s already taken care of it. A brief flash to events stateside reveals the DEA raiding the target son’s dorm room and arresting him on drug charges.
The way Jung-hwan talks about ruining people’s lives makes it sound like this is an everyday occurrence, which seems to be the idea. Even though there’s risk involved if things go south in the wake of Jung-hwan’s bold move, Tae-joon wryly comments that he’s prepared for either outcome. “Whether I receive a prosector’s salary, or eat beans and rice [in prison], my country will be feeding me either way.”
We finally meet Tae-joon’s rival, Director of Judicial Training JUNG GOOK-HYUN, during a meeting with Jung-hwan. When he’s “advised” by Jung-hwan to step down from his candidacy because of the shame this recent news about his son could bring to the prosecutor’s office, Director Jung agrees to hold a press conference immediately.
But he’s not the fool Jung-hwan takes him for, since he’s trained enough prosecutors in his time to know that this was all an orchestrated scheme. And he will not step down, because only when he’s elected can he bring reform.
Though he veils all these statements as though he’s dictating for his upcoming press conference, the message to Jung-hwan is clear: He knows exactly what Jung-hwan has done and what circles he runs in, and will show them how a proper prosecutor lives.
“Park Jung-hwan!” Director Jung addresses him authoritatively, with a hint of disappointed-father-figure thrown in for good measure. “Are you a prosecutor of Korea?”
Jung-hwan meets his intense stare unflinchingly as he replies matter-of-factly that he is, clearly unmoved by Director Jung’s attempts to appeal to his sense of decency.
To add fuel to the fire, Jung-hwan calls his contact in the U.S. to ramp up the charges against Director Jung’s son. He’s not at all cowed when Director Jung threatens to use his stateside connections, because he’s sure Tae-joon’s connections are much more influential than Jung’s.
Director Jung is left speechless when Jung-hwan calmly shows him a picture of his son being arrested as he mentions how his wife’s heart condition would prevent her from visiting her son for the five years he’d be in prison—would Director Jung really want to do that to his family? Wow. This guy is a class act.
The Minister of Justice and the president of Korea’s right-hand woman, YOON JI-SOOK (Choi Myung-gil), is called to give the president her thoughts on which Prosecutor General candidate is best suited for the job. (It’s an appointed position, not an elected one.)
But in the moments before the meeting, Minister Yoon receives news that Director Jung has renounced his candidacy. Judging by how much she has to bottle her ensuing rage, it’s safe to say she was betting on him.
We find our mother-daughter duo at the hospital, and thankfully, Ye-rin escaped with only minor bumps and bruises. The same can’t be said of the driver, who’s in critical condition.
Ha-kyung overhears a police officer giving the driver’s wife a hard time as he runs through all the different ways this could’ve been her husband’s fault. He’s initially dismissive when Ha-kyung intervenes on the driver’s behalf, but changes his attitude when Ha-kyung says she’s a prosecutor and orders him to give the case over to her.
It’s sweet of Ha-kyung to try and cheer the driver’s young daughter up, and when the young girl wonderingly asks if she’s really a prosecutor, Ha-kyung replies, “Yes. I punish bad people, and protect hardworking people like your father from being treated unfairly.”
Tae-joon seems to know he doesn’t have a friend in Minister Yoon, but tries to smooth things over with her now to ensure a fruitful working relationship between them in the future. It’d be humiliating for two people in their position to be at odds, wouldn’t it?
She’s unafraid to speak frankly, and tells Tae-joon that what’s really humiliating is that a man like him would become Prosecutor General—one who fabricated investigations for purposes of manipulation (Director Jung), and who created a rift in the prosecutor’s office by surrounding himself with lackeys loyal to him (Jung-hwan).
After an exchange of metaphors wherein Tae-joon proves just how deep his dark streak runs, he leaves Yoon with a pseudo-declaration of war.
Tae-joon entrusts Jung-hwan with preparing for the upcoming hearing that he’ll need to pass to get appointed, though fellow team member JO KANG-JAE voices his dissent, since Jung-hwan is already under suspicion for Director Jung’s elimination.
But when the press waiting outside raise the Director Jung issue, Jung-hwan sends an accusatory look Kang-jae’s way. I think we know who leaked that info to the media.
During her investigation into the bus crash, Ha-kyung finds that not only was a defective chip in the engine control unit the cause of the sudden acceleration, the company that produced it knew about the defect and bought them anyway.
It’s only when Ha-kyung finds out which company was behind using these chips in manufacturing and who the CEO was at the time that her partner has a nervous breakdown. Though the company has since been sold, the CEO was none other than Lee Tae-joon’s brother.
That’s enough to make her partner want to shut the case, since they’d be crazy to try and catch a whale with a fishing pole (points for a good idiom)… right?
But Ha-kyung doesn’t even falter in her decision to send Tae-joon’s brother a summons, even though she admits she’s not sure if she can handle the case. If she backed down, she wonders, what would she tell the driver’s daughter? That she quit because the target was the brother of someone powerful? She can’t, and she won’t.
Kang-jae’s rivalry with Jung-hwan comes to a head when the latter refuses to be the former’s errand boy, even though Kang-jae touts his seniority over Jung-hwan as a way of threatening him—he’s been around Tae-joon long enough to have seen many men fill the position Jung-hwan is now in. It can be vacated just as easily.
I love how Jung-hwan’s like, “Oh, okay,” before instructing fellow prosecutor CHOI YOON-JIN (Seo Ji-hye) to promise a certain government agent a promotion if he supports Tae-joon in the upcoming hearing. Oh, and if he also hands over an internal auditing file on Kang-jae.
Kang-jae balks at the open threat to expose his shady dealings with both prostitutes and construction companies, but it only gets worse when Jung-hwan talks about firing him like he’s not even in the room. Needless to say, Kang-jae is pissed.
Ha-kyung has to call her ex-husband to remind him that he’s expected at Ye-rin’s birthday dinner that night, and we see a completely different side to Jung-hwan when he greets his daughter. He knows how to smile? Huh.
It’s clear that Ye-rin adores her father, and the feeling seems mutual, since Jung-hwan seems happy to listen to her chirp on and on about everything and nothing.
But it’s only when Ye-rin tells him that other dads visited their kids in the hospital that he actually engages his ex-wife to ask what happened. Ha-kyung tells him matter-of-factly that there was an accident—she even called him about it.
Only then does Jung-hwan remember the phone call he’d dismissed during his meet-’n-threat with Director Jung, though that doesn’t make him any more amenable to Ha-kyung’s explanation of her investigation.
He outright dismisses her claim that a faulty chip caused the bus to accelerate, even though Ha-kyung has plenty of evidence to the contrary. “I’m going to investigate CEO Lee Tae-sub,” she informs him.
When Ye-rin excuses herself to use the girl’s room, the two get a chance to hash things out: if Ha-kyung went after Lee Tae-joon’s brother, it’d be bad for his campaign and bad for him.
Ha-kyung doesn’t really give a crap about how this might affect his job, nor does she listen when Jung-hwan tells her that her timing couldn’t be any worse. She knows exactly how difficult it’ll be if Tae-joon becomes Prosecutor General, but it’s not going to shake her determination.
She admits she’s curious about something, before telling Jung-hwan that the driver of the bus is in critical condition because he swerved to spare the children.
“Thanks to him, Ye-rin could come here tonight. Who would you choose, Jung-hwan? The one who protected your daughter, or Lee Tae-sub, Lee Tae-joon’s older brother?” Ha-kyung asks.
He doesn’t get a chance to answer before Ye-rin returns, though I wonder if the point is driven home when Ye-rin uses her birthday wish to pray for the driver’s recovery, as well as for the men who made the “bad cars” to get punished.
Though Jung-hwan wants to replace Ha-kyung’s boss with someone on their team to put the kibosh on her investigation, Kang-jae suggests to Tae-joon that Jung-hwan should be the one to go, since he’s sooo trustworthy.
It’s Kang-jae’s way of pushing Jung-hwan out of the circle, even though Tae-joon just wants to send him because he can’t trust anyone else to do the job. Jung-hwan has no choice to do as he’s told, but makes a plan to oust Kang-jae once and for all with Yoon-jin on his side.
Detective OH DONG-CHOON, Ha-kyung’s partner, reveals an anonymous research report he dug up that proves Sejin Auto (Lee Tae-sub’s company) knew the chips were defective before they bought them. If they can find the author and get him to testify, they’d be sure to win.
Ha-kyung is initially dismissive when Jung-hwan calls and asks her to come to his office, since she’s too busy to travel to the Seoul Central District Court. Luckily for her, she can now find him right across the hall.
Naturally, she’s not about to hand over her case to Yoon-jin just because Jung-hwan tells her to, and knows immediately that all the proper tests her ex-husband is ordering in relation to the case are just ways to bury it.
“Ye-rin was on that bus,” Ha-kyung reminds him. “You are her father.” “And you are her mother,” Jung-hwan fires back. It’s because of that that she can’t work on the case—it’s a conflict of interest.
Since he does have a point, Ha-kyung doesn’t have a defense at the ready. Yet.
Ha-kyung visits the driver’s family at the hospital to ask why his wife hasn’t signed off on a potentially life-saving operation for him. She hands Ha-kyung a newspaper touting a headline that her husband was driving drunk when the bus crashed.
Because Ha-kyung overheard Jung-hwan talking to someone about drunk driving, the realization dawns on her that her ex-husband was responsible for putting this story out—while the driver’s wife, utterly defeated, asks Ha-kyung what she should do—should she sign off on the operation when her husband would wake up to nothing but debt and shame?
Ha-kyung cries with her, because she doesn’t have an answer. But her tears run cold when Detective Oh calls to say he found the previously-anonymous researcher. He’s in jail, and Jung-hwan is the one who put him there.
It’s strange to find Jung-hwan living in his mother’s house instead of some dark cave, but that’s where Ha-kyung tracks him down to later that night. Unsurprisingly, things are awkward between her and her former mother-in-law and sister-in-law.
Once they’re in Jung-hwan’s room, Ha-kyung comments on how nothing’s changed. She even knows where to find a birthday card she once gave him, expressing her hope that she’d spend all of his remaining birthdays with him. So much for that.
But she’s here to talk about the researcher Jung-hwan put in prison, and to finally give a retort to Jung-hwan throwing the book at her earlier. He broke the rules by halting an investigation where active suspicion still remained, and by imprisoning someone to silence them.
She wants him to get Lee Tae-sub to admit fault for the defective chips and compensate the driver, but Jung-hwan will do no such thing. If she’s so scared, she can just drop the case.
“I am scared,” she admits. “If I investigate the researcher’s case, your involvement will be exposed.” If that were to happen, she’d have to arrest him and it’d be all over the news—and what would she tell their daughter?
Jung-hwan’s answer is simple: “Don’t investigate.” Ha-kyung argues the driver’s case, and how much he sacrificed to do his job—he even had to take painkillers just so he could drive the bus on rainy days due to an old accident.
But… wait. Oh no. You can see the wheels turning in Jung-hwan’s head as he asks, “How long have you known?”
Cut to: a disciplinary hearing against Ha-kyung, led by Jung-hwan, that ends with her suspension for a month in light of the fact that she hid the driver’s physical limitations during the investigation. WOW. You, sir, are a son of a bitch.
After everyone else leaves, Jung-hwan stays to remind Ha-kyung that it won’t end after her suspension. She’ll be able to return to a desk job at best. His advice? “Spend a lot of time with Ye-rin.”
Ha-kyung: “I’m ashamed… that I was once your wife.”
Off the books, Ha-kyung and Detective Oh question the researcher Jung-hwan imprisoned, who reveals that he ended up there after he rejected a devil’s bargain from Jung-hwan along with everything else.
After parting ways with her loyal detective, Ha-kyung visits friend and mentor Minister Yoon to ask that she be selected as a witness for Lee Tae-joon’s upcoming hearing.
Minister Yoon knows why she wants to take the stand, but also that it would be unseemly for a prosecutor to take the stand at the Prosecutor General’s confirmation.
Ha-kyung knows this, and hands over a letter of resignation for Minister Yoon to use if her actions become too much of a political burden. “If I can’t live as a prosecutor, I should leave the prosecutor’s office,” she says. “I learned that from you.”
While getting a free checkup thanks to his sister (who’s a hospital technician), Yoon-jin calls Jung-hwan with the news about Ha-kyung testifying. He can barely contain his rage during his MRI, where his sister notices something there that shouldn’t be.
He’s in a proper rage once the media gets ahold of the information, since it puts him in a potentially tough spot with his employer—it’s his ex-wife testifying, after all. Tae-joon might decide he’s more trouble than he’s worth.
So when Tae-joon invites him to a scenic spot for a drink, Jung-hwan is a bit on edge. Tae-joon seems relaxed and resigned, even as he tells Jung-hwan that his parents are buried beneath the lake they’re overlooking. It’s a man-made lake, and Tae-joon used the money given to relocate his parents’ graves to pay for his and his brother’s tuition.
It certainly shows how ambitious he is, even though he claims he’s okay with letting it all go now—even though he was hoping to become Prime Minister one day. Ah well. Minister Yoon has agreed to cancel the hearing if he steps down, thus erasing the case.
They stay outside when it begins to rain as Tae-joon explains to Jung-hwan, “You’re the only one I’ve brought here to introduce to my parents. I can’t claim victory alone at the cost of destroying you.” Aw, so he’s sacrificing his candidacy to save Jung-hwan too?
After a long moment of silence and no way of knowing if Jung-hwan is not crying (because it literally has been raining on his face) he cancels Tae-joon’s meeting with Minister Yoon.
“Don’t give up anything,” he says solemnly. “I’ll be the one to lose this time.”
The confirmation hearing begins, but while Ha-kyung waits in the designated witness room, Detective Oh brings her some soul-crushing news: Jung-hwan has filed for sole custody of Ye-rin.
She’s shaking with shock when Jung-hwan enters to notify her that he’s secured a “testimony” that’ll prove Ha-kyung to be a bad mother. She says she understands his position, but to go this low…
“Why do you only understand it now?” he barks at her. “It wasn’t your prayers that saved me seven years ago. It was Lee Tae-joon’s power. If you had understood me then…” Ha-kyung: “If you had admitted your fault then—…”
Huh. So there are some discrepancies in memory here, but Jung-hwan insists that if a man who commits ten crimes can be pardoned, why should he have to quit his job over one mistake?
He’ll make sure she loses Ye-rin if they go to trial, so the decision is in her hands now: “Just like our divorce, Ha-kyung-ah.” He makes sure to stress that familiar tone, like he’s sneering at how close they once were.
Afterward, Ha-kyung gets an unexpected call from Jae-hwan’s sister, who can only eke out through her sobs, “Oppa… Oppa has…”
Cut to Ha-kyung taking the stand at the hearing, but looks like she’s been stunned into silence. When she’s asked what she has to say regarding Tae-joon (this is like the part of the wedding where the priest asks for objections, political style), she recalls the rest of the phone call.
“Oppa… Oppa has a tumor… In his brain…” his sister had sobbed, before adding that Jung-hwan doesn’t even have six months left. To live.
Now, Ha-kyung is faced with a terrible dilemma as she stalls on the stand and struggles to hold back her tears every time she glances at Jung-hwan. When she’s finally called upon to give her statement, every word comes out like she’s pulling teeth…
…But her statement is that she has no statement. She bows her head in shame, while Tae-joon looks to Jung-hwan, all, Did you do that? Jung-hwan nods a yes.
He has no idea that it wasn’t his threat that changed Ha-kyung’s mind, so when their eyes meet from across the room, the bastard actually smirks at her like he’s won.
If only he knew. I’m excited already at the challenge this show has posed to us with such an unlikable lead, because he is undoubtedly one of the most ruthlessly cunning and cold-hearted creatures to ever slither onto our television screens with top billing—because this is the sort of behavior you’d expect from the villain, not from the H-word. (I can’t even bring myself to say it anywhere near a mention of Jung-hwan’s name.)
And I can’t help but absolutely love that about Punch right out of the starting gate, if only because it goes against the mold in so many ways and does it so well. It’s impossible not to wonder what could possibly have happened to this man to turn him into whatever he is today, since we have Ha-kyung to prove that he had to possess a heart at some point in his life. The mystery is in how he lost it, which is one helluva question mark at present.
I can’t heap enough praise on the show’s willingness to really go there when it came to Jung-hwan, because every time I thought he was as bad as bad could get, he somehow outdid himself. We couldn’t even give him a break for being a softie when it came to his daughter, since he was not only willing to overlook the negligence that could’ve cost her her life, he was willing to use her like she was just a thing without feelings or his own blood running through her veins. Like she was just a means to an end, a way to threaten Ha-kyung into silence just so he could keep his job.
Looking back now, the drinking-in-the-rain scene was actually a huge and inordinately clever tease, which only furthers my trust in the assuredness of the storytelling thus far. You’ve got to be sure of yourselves to present a character like Jung-hwan so unapologetically, since they’ve basically created a massive problem that needs a massive solution. Just having a terminal illness isn’t going to cut it, and the show knows that very well. It would’ve been so easy to give us just one moment where Jung-hwan faltered for us to pity him, but that would’ve negated the setup so far. Disliking him and failing to understand him is the point—for now, at least.
But the reason I mentioned the drinking scene is because it could’ve gone the easy route by showing Jung-hwan having a moment of real human emotion, even if I’m not sure how much it would’ve mitigated what he did directly after. The fact that it’s very possible but nearly impossible to know for sure whether he actually cried during that scene was a frankly brilliant move, and why I’m all the more excited to see how on earth the show digs itself out of the hole where Jung-hwan’s heart used to be. Challenge accepted, Punch. Challenge accepted.
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