Radiant Office: Episode 1
Radiant Office starts off exactly as I’d hoped, with equal parts humor and heart, and engaging characters that I fell in love with right from the beginning. It’s all about hope versus despair, and whether a disappointing life is even worth living. What starts out as the worst day ever for three strangers could very well change their lives for the better, if only they can find the strength to dream, even when life seems to have forgotten them.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A young woman in a chicken delivery helmet pulls a truck up to the front door on an office building. She screams, “I’ll destroy you!” then drives the truck through the glass front of the building and into the lobby.
Employees scatter as she steps out of the truck and begins spraying them with a fire extinguisher. Girlfriend is maaad. Suddenly, she drops to her knees and starts to angry-cry, wailing, “Why did you to that to me?”
A few days earlier.
That same girl, EUN HO-WON (Go Ah-sung), now dressed in a skirt suit and heels, sticks a talisman to a sculpture outside the headquarters of Dongki Foods. She caresses the sculpture and tells it that she loves it, then heads inside. She’s cautiously optimistic, having made it to their final round of job interviews.
Ho-won’s nerves start to show themselves during her interview, where she starts off on the wrong foot by almost answering a question meant for another applicant. Her confidence nosedives as the other candidates rattle off long lists of experience and accomplishments.
After ten minutes without a single question directed to her, Ho-won is finally asked about her good grades in school. But one manager, who we’ll come to know as SEO WOO-JIN (Ha Suk-jin), points out dryly that good grades is all she has going for her.
She’s asked what she’s been doing in the three years since graduating college. Ho-won admits that she’s been job-seeking, and has been rejected ninety-nine times. She recalls a video she saw about how to succeed in an interview, then does her best to spin her many part-time job experiences into assets.
Woo-jin actually laughs when she mentions leadership, wondering why a new hire would need to be a leader. He asks why they should hire Ho-won when her job history doesn’t show her to have any of the qualities they’re looking for in an employee.
Ho-won doesn’t give up, adding that her part-time jobs taught her perseverance, as we see her being flogged with a roll of kimbap by a previous employer. She gains momentum and says that she has great anger management skills and an ability to handle any customer complaints.
Woo-jin tells her to prove it, which is how Ho-won finds herself standing in the corner while they conduct the rest of their interviews. Round after round of interviewees cycle in and out, while Ho-won stands there, her feet throbbing in her heels. At one point, one of the interviewers tries to take pity on her and let her go, but when Woo-jin grumbles that she can always quit if she can’t hack it, Ho-won grows even more determined.
Her mind goes wild, though, imagining herself in fencing gear, brandishing a foil at Woo-jin. She pokes at his papers and items on his desk while he studiously ignores her, ha.
Woo-jin grows even grouchier as the day goes on, and when one candidate talks about working hard for their company, he gripes that he’s growing bored with these repetitive answers. He tells the candidate to impress him with something original, but the man stands and angrily says not to hire him.
He points to Ho-won in the corner and asks if that’s original. He reminds Woo-jin that he may be a job candidate right now, but once he walks out of the room, he’s a potential consumer of their products. Woo-jin just waves him out of the room.
That’s the end of the interviews, and one of the other managers tells Ho-won that he’s impressed by her patience and determination. The third manager says that he thinks she’d do well working for them. Woo-jin leaves the room without addressing Ho-won, but she’s so thrilled by the compliments that she doesn’t even care.
She practically floats through her waitressing shift that afternoon, and she calls her younger brother during a break to tell him that she thinks she landed the job. It seems to make him nervous when she asks about their mom, and he quickly changes the subject.
Ho-won promises to send some money to help pay back some loan once she gets this job, then they hang up. We see that her brother is at the hospital to meet with a doctor — about their mother, maybe?
Back at Dongki Foods, it appears as though Woo-jin carries that nasty attitude everywhere he goes. When a fellow manager asks permission to hire a certain unqualified candidate, pointing out that he’s the grandson of a government minister, Woo-jin complains about the rampant nepotism infecting the company and refuses the request.
Ho-won goes home that night to the rooftop apartment she shares with her roommate, LEE HYO-RI. Hyo-ri demands Ho-won’s portion of the rent, but Ho-won adorably wheedles for a week-long extension, saying that she just learned her mother is in the hospital.
Later Ho-won’s aunt calls to pressure her to call her mother, but Ho-won argues that they aren’t on good terms right now because she doesn’t have a steady job.
Woo-jin carries a box of his personal items out to his car that evening, complaining that the company values connections over ability. Uh-oh, was he fired, or did he quit? He makes a call, but all we hear is Woo-jin asking the other person if it’s been three months yet.
That weekend, Ho-won works another temporary job, which involves wearing an ill-fitting uniform and greeting people on the sidewalk. It looks utterly mind-numbing. An unseen supervisor barks orders at her through a headset, telling her to smile bigger. When she’s momentarily distracted by a couple crossing the street, she’s called inside to be disciplined.
As the supervisor rails at her, Ho-won’s mind wanders back to her interview, and she can’t hide her smile. That makes the supervisor yell even more, and Ho-won fantasizes a miniature version of herself on his desk, dancing around and singing a silly little song.
We join the couple that distracted Ho-won just as the girl, HA JI-NA (Han Sun-hwa) is breaking up with the guy, DO KI-TAEK (Lee Dong-hwi). At first Ki-taek thinks that Ji-na is only mad at him for something, but she’s dead serious about ending things.
She complains that he only works part-time jobs and can never afford to buy her nice gifts or take her out for a nice meal, and that she worries that she’s throwing away her future by dating him. Ki-taek has been studying for the civil service exam but has been unable to pass, so he promises to give that up and get a job.
Ji-na scoffs that it’s not as simple as that, and she walks away from him. Ki-taek follows her to give her his scarf, worried that she’ll catch a cold, but she rips it off and shoves it back at him.
The following day, Ho-won joins two of her friends for lunch, celebrating one of them getting a job. Ho-won says that she should have some good news herself soon.
One friend pours Ho-won a drink, saying that it’s consolation for not being hired at Dongki Foods. Ho-won goes still and asks what she means, and learns that they’ve announced the final hires… and she isn’t on the list.
She chugs an entire bottle of soju before driving away on her chicken delivery scooter, crying with anger and disappointment. She pulls over at one point to check her messages, and finds a rejection notice. Rage builds up inside her as she thinks about the humiliation she went through at her interview.
She heads toward the Dongki Foods building with all of Woo-jin’s hurtful comments ringing in her ears. Thankfully, the scene where she drives through the front of the building turns out to be just another fantasy — in reality, Ho-won just putters up to the door on her scooter and falls over. Oh, how embarrassing.
Ho-won pretends to be delivering chicken to Woo-jin in an attempt to talk to him. As she waits for the elevator, she overhears two employees talking about how Woo-jin quit to take another job, speculating that he won’t last long there with his bad attitude. Ho-won feels even worse as she wonders why she wasn’t hired when the other two managers liked her, especially if Woo-jin wasn’t planning on sticking around anyway.
Ki-taek sits in his goshiwon room, drunk-dialing Ji-na to beg her to take him back. She refuses to reconsider her decision and hangs up on him. Ugh, she’s already on a date with a new guy.
Heartbroken, Ki-taek cries and takes some kind of pill. Then he grabs the bottle and swallows the rest of the pills, washing them down with soju. That’s not good at all.
Ho-won is also drinking heavily as she walks along a bridge over the Han River. She thinks about how she’s now been rejected one hundred times for good jobs, and what she takes away from the experience is, “You’re doomed.” She hollers out over the water as if she’s yelling at Woo-jin, asking why he rejected her.
As for Woo-jin, he isn’t giving Ho-won one single thought as he decides to clean out his kitchen. He throws away mountains of prepackaged meals before moving on to his refrigerator, where he tosses out everything made by Dongki Foods.
Ho-won stands on the bridge railing (which is sadly plastered with anti-suicidal notes), wondering why she worked so hard in school if she can’t land a single job. She gets a call from the convenience store manager where she works, asking why she’s late for her shift, and she yells that she’s not coming in. She screams that he didn’t even pay her for her overtime last week, and in her emotional state, she loses her balance and goes tumbling off the railing and into the river.
Ho-won opens her eyes underwater to see her cell phone floating in front of her face. She watches it light up with a text, and reads the word “Congratulations.” She passes out, but thank goodness, she’s rescued and rushed to the hospital.
As the doctors work to revive Ho-won, she relives a memory of herself as a teenager running to her father’s hospital room to tell him some good news. But she finds her mother crying by his bedside, her father having passed away just moments earlier. Ho-won has to tell his still body that she got into college.
Her perspective shifts, and now she’s in her rooftop room. She finds a sticky note reminding herself to apply at Dongki Foods, and slowly rips it to pieces.
Woo-jin meets with his headhunter, who gives him information on the only company left that lives up to his high standards for employers. She warns him that he has a terrible reputation due to changing jobs so frequently, and that only his experience keeps getting him hired. He brushes off her concerns and takes the job.
The doctors successfully revive Ho-won, but the moment she wakes up and remembers the last few days, she starts to cry again. She freezes when she overhears the doctors talking about someone’s test results, which indicate a late-stage terminal illness. The doctor wonders if this is why the patient tried to kill themselves, since they have less than six months to live.
Naturally, Ho-won assumes they’re talking about her, and she peeks out of the curtains around her bed to see if anyone is there. All she sees is the patient in the bed next to hers, also looking shocked — it’s Ki-taek. Then a third patient peers out from behind his curtains, with the exact same alarmed expression on his face as Ho-won and Ki-taek.
A man is brought to the bed next to Ho-won, but the doctors can’t save this one, and he dies with his family right there watching. It’s a horrible thing to witness, and it brings back Ho-won’s sorrow from her own father’s death.
She realizes that she has no money to pay the hospital bill, so she decides to skip out. She pulls out her IV (ouch!) and crouches on the floor beside her bed, trying to avoid the nurse.
HAHA, Ki-taek lands on the floor on the other side, apparently having had the same idea. He and Ho-won communicate their intentions through silent gestures, then the moment the nurse turns away, they make a break for it. Ki-taek does a pretty great job as lookout, and he safely navigates himself and Ho-won past the bustling nurses’ station.
There’s a bit of a hitch when they nearly run smack into their doctor, but Ho-won jumps into a wheelchair, covers her face with her hair, and Ki-taek wheels her behind the doctor’s back and out the hospital doors. They ditch the wheelchair and run until they’re out of breath.
Ho-won surprises Ki-taek by getting the nervous giggles, and she says this day feels like a dream. He agrees that he wishes it were a dream, and gives her a tiny smile in return. A voice calls out to them, and they turn to see the third guy from the hospital, who apparently followed them out. We’ll come to know him as JANG KANG-HO (Hoya).
The three sit together on a park bench, looking like the saddest sacks who ever lived. Ho-won starts to cry, moaning about racking up a hospital bill when she wasn’t really trying to kill herself. Ki-taek asks if that’s why she was at the hospital, and Kang-ho suddenly perks up in surprise. All three of them realize that they were there after (allegedly) attempting suicide, so the patient with the terminal illness could be any one of them.
Kang-ho tells the others why he tried to end things — he has a horrible overbearing mother who berates him for not getting a job yet, blaming his quiet voice and meek demeanor. The three wonder how they can find out which of them is sick when they can’t go back to the hospital, having just dodged their bills.
Ho-won decides that actually, she’d rather not know, because what’s the point? She says that dying is inevitable whether or not you see it coming, so she thinks it’s better to just let it happen when it happens.
The three find themselves on the bridge together, having decided to try suicide again. Ki-taek takes out his phone to record a tearful goodbye message to his parents, and Kang-ho says that he already left a note. Ho-won borrows Ki-taek’s phone to record her own message, though she steps away so that the boys can’t hear what she’s saying. Kang-ho says that it feels good not to be alone, and asks permission to call Ki-taek “hyung.”
Ho-won finishes her message, then leans over the railing to yell her dissatisfaction to the universe: “What did I do that was so wrong? Do you think I wanted to be born poor? Do you think I want to be jobless?” Ki-taek and Kang-ho get swept up in the drama of the moment and join her, screaming their hearts out about the unfairness of life.
Woo-jin heads to the gym, not a care in the world. On the news is a report about three young people who are trying to throw themselves into the Han River at this very moment, and the camera cuts to our three sad sacks, fending off the reporters and rescue workers who are trying to prevent them from jumping.
Ki-taek distracts the reporters, and the three take off running. Woo-jin watches the spectacle on television and sighs that they only think they have hard lives.
After a busy night of failing to commit suicide twice, Ho-won, Ki-taek, and Kang-ho find a restaurant to calm their rumbling stomachs. They only have enough money for one bowl of rice and an order of stew to share. The restaurant owner comes over to fuss at them for not adding the baby octopus to the stew in time, and does it herself.
The three sadly watch the poor creature writhe in the boiling stew, and the restaurant owner takes pity on them and brings them each some rice. She tells them that everyone feels like dying at times, but that there’s really not much to life in the long run.
She realizes that Ho-won isn’t wearing shoes and kicks off her own to give to him. This unexpected kindness makes the three feel even worse, and they choke back sobs as they eat the food gratefully.
The doctor who was treating them in the emergency room, whose name is SEO HYUN (Kim Dong-wook), is mostly just amused when he realizes that all three of his attempted-suicide patients ran out on their bills. He then talks to his father on the phone, who seems to be comparing him to his brother, and sighs that he went to medical school to avoid this sort of competition.
The following morning, Ho-won informs her roommate Hyo-ri that she’s moving out because she can’t afford the rent. Instead, she gives Hyo-ri her laptop, asking her to hold it until she can scrape together the money to repay what she owes her.
She asks if she can check her email one last time since she lost her phone in the river. Ho-won gapes to find a message from another company she applied to, notifying her that she passed the initial screening.
She slams shut her laptop, telling herself that one hundred attempts is enough. But she finds herself at the interview anyway, hoping beyond hope that this time she’ll get lucky. She’s surprised to see Kang-ho there too, and they move to the hallway to talk privately.
Kang-ho asks if Ho-won has been back to the hospital, worried about the one-third chance that he may be dying. Ho-won says she hasn’t, then admits that she came to this interview even though it could be her last.
Kang-ho reveals that there was a huge scandal last year within this company regarding unfair recruitment, so this year they passed everyone who applied. Ho-won says that she thought it was strange that she passed the screening when she almost never does.
Kang-ho tells her that those who have already been interviewed report that the interviewers are really mean, criticizing every tiny thing about the applicants and humiliating those who are under-qualified. This sounds awfully familiar to Ho-won, and she starts to look very worried.
Her fears are confirmed when a man walks down the hall towards them, and Ho-won recognizes him as Seo Woo-jin, the man who destroyed her at her last interview. She ducks as he passes her, but she can’t resist turning back to look at him, only to find him staring right back at her.
I think that Radiant Office is starting out strong — this premiere episode did a great job introducing its characters, setting up each person’s primary conflict and reasons for feeling hopeless about their lives without feeling rushed or confusing in the least. I am so emotionally invested in the trio of misfits already, I can hardly stand it. The chemistry between the three actors is wonderful, and their shared experience of wanting to just end it all, though for different reasons, makes them sympathetic in a way that had me rooting for them immediately. I was concerned that having three of our primary characters suffering from suicidal thoughts would be depressing, but instead they’re just so achingly pitiful that I want to wrap them in a blankie and hug them until it’s all better.
All three — Ho-won, Ki-taek, and Kang-ho — are sensitive souls, which can be a strong asset when things are going well, but it’s no surprise that societal and familial pressure has sent all three of them spiraling into despair, feeling that they have no other way out but death. They’re emotionally vulnerable, though in different ways, judging by the tiny clues we got about each of them. I’m eager to learn more about them, and I’m going to really enjoy watching these three oddballs learn to rise above their lowest moment, when they felt so worthless that they wanted to die, to eventually helping each other find their strength and self-worth.
On the flip side of the personality coin, Ha Suk-jin is pretty much reprising every role I’ve seen him in — the cold, cruel jerk who is really a nice guy deep down inside, if only he could meet the right woman to draw him out of himself. It’s nothing new for him, but luckily he’s very good at this kind of character, and I do always warm up to him once his character starts to relax and open up. We don’t know much about Woo-jin at this point other than that he’s overly critical of others, and that he appreciates hard work and experience over connections. He respects workers who bring something new and fresh to the table, so it should be fun to see him interacting with Ho-won and her two quirky cohorts once they’re all working together in the same company.
I’m pleasantly surprised that the central premise of Radiant Office isn’t exactly what we were led to believe — all of the promos made it sound as if it’s Go Ah-sung’s character who is dying, but I like this setup much better. All three of the hapless losers overheard that someone was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but none of them knows which one of them is sick, only that there’s a 33% chance it’s them. When I go into a show aware that a character is dying, it colors my perception of them, and everything they do is tinged with the futility of knowing they will die no matter what. But it takes a little bit of the darkness out of the story when the terminal person is a mystery, and at least for me, that will allow me to relax and enjoy their office hijinks without the specter of certain death hanging over one of them.
Of course, we do know that one of them will die (assuming the show doesn’t pull a switcheroo where it turns out that the doctors were discussing someone who wasn’t even in the room at the time). But for the characters themselves, the uncertainty of not knowing exactly who it is will allow each of them to examine their lives, and look at how they got to the point of despairing that living wasn’t worth it, and how they can change and make their possible last months in this world count. I’m hoping this will be a story about the three of them living life for the present and not worrying too much about their futures, finding the joy in simply being alive. Because terminal illness or not, you really never know how much time you have left, so you may as well make the best of it.
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