Manhole: Episode 1
All title-related giggles aside, Manhole delivers a whole lot of silly thanks to its hapless man-child protagonist who has a penchant for tantrums and an undying love for a woman he’s unwittingly let slip through his fingers. He may not take his studies seriously, but he’s serious about holding onto his first love, and a magical manhole just may help his cause — or it may just produce disastrous results.
Episode 1: “My Love is Leaving”
A glowing, yellow spark resembling a firefly zips through the sky and heads straight for Seoul. It’s a tiny capsule, and we follow it as it whizzes around the city before floating above the roof windows of two neighboring homes.
Through one window, we see BONG PIL (Jaejoong) drunkenly pour himself another mug of ginseng wine. He pokes his head out and glumly looks across to where KANG SOO-JIN (Uee), dressed in a pretty hanbok, sits in her room, instructed by her mother to stay put until her fiancé arrives.
Cheeky narration and superimposed text inform us that sad doofus Pil is 28, has been studying for the same exam for three years, and is the main character of the story. He fails to grab the glowing spark, and he narrates that his love disappeared like that shooting star, adding that the love in his heart is bitter like a chalice of poison — as opposed to his father’s aged ginseng wine, which gets sweeter over time.
Pil ducks back into his room when Soo-jin moves to her window and narrates that his love for her began twenty-eight years ago, adding that you’re only given one chance in life and it never turns out the way you want it to. The narration continues that he and Soo-jin were born three days apart in the same hospital, but while he waited for the perfect moment to confess his love to her, to his surprise, she decided to marry a man she only met months prior.
Elsewhere, the spark zips through a tunnel and into a manhole, illuminating it with intricate designs.
Pil heads outside and finds Soo-jin’s fiancé, PARK JAE-HYUN (Jang Mi-kwan) and his groomsmen in high spirits as they deliver hahm (a box filled with presents for the bride and her family, courtesy of the groom). Pil drunkenly hollers at them to cut the noise, but when they ignore him, he throws a fit until Soo-jin arrives and glares at him. We’re informed by the show that Soo-jin is the “neighborhood femme fatale who was Pil’s love, but now has a week left until her wedding.”
Pil’s parents – “who gave up on their son a long time ago” – arrive soon after, and Dad, a soon-to-be-retired postmaster, angrily flings his empty ginseng wine bottle at Pil, causing him fall back against Soo-jin.
We flash back to the moment when Pil, “a beast who never knew love, finally became human.” In third grade, Soo-jin was assigned to sit next to Pil, and he was instantaneously smitten, so much so that he posted a drawing of him and Soo-jin as a married couple—but because of it, all the kids started teasing them.
Pil narrates that he was too progressive at the time, and Soo-jin was too conservative. She was reduced to tears and slapped Pil in the face, which is when Pil narrates that everything took a turn for the worst.
Back in the present, the next day, Pil discovers that he’s out of cigarettes and money. But when he tries to ask his parents to spare him some cash, they vanish like the wind, heh.
Pil walks past his friend who owns a juice truck, and she’s already heard about his outburst. She figures he must’ve been upset given his devotion to Soo-jin (describing him as being “like a fly around poop”), but Pil snaps at her for the gross comparison. This friend is YOON JIN-SOOK (Jung Hye-sung), with the chyron describing her as Pil’s female friend who knows everything about him.
Pil arrives at the study hall and impatiently asks the guy next to him for a cigarette. Said guy is JO SEOK-TAE (Baro), who’s been studying for the same exam for six years with no potential in sight, heh. The sign above his study booth reads, “I must study in order to marry a pretty woman!”
Outside, Pil grows agitated when he can’t light his cigarette, and Seok-tae laments that he’ll probably turn thirty before passing his exam due to the slim passing rate. Pil calls Seok-tae out for being so indecisive and for switching from the bar exam to the civil service exam, but Seok-tae insists that judges are public servants, too.
Pil claims that he’s superior since he’s studying to become a cop, and the two start quarreling, but a man who looks too old to be studying yells at them to be quiet.
They snack on instant noodles from the convenience store outside Jin-sook’s food truck. Jin-sook advises Pil to kill Soo-jin’s fiancé, but the preposterous tip infuriates Pil and reminds him that he has such losers for friends. But Jin-sook counters that she’s a CEO/young entrepreneur because of her juice truck, while Pil expresses his determination to thwart Soo-jin’s imminent wedding.
Jin-sook wonders how Pil will accomplish that, but Seok-tae chimes in that she needn’t worry, since Pil is great at stopping things — like that one time when he fell during a high school relay race and prevented his school from competing in nationals. Haha.
That comment results in a hard smack on the head, courtesy of Pil, and Seok-tae cries in pain as the hot soup spills over his face.
On her rooftop, Jin-sook tends to Seok-tae’s stinging mouth while Pil continues to pout about losing Soo-jin. She offers to call Soo-jin for him so he can profess his love now, but Pil throws a tantrum before leaving, upset that he’s too late and that Soo-jin and Jae-hyun may have already spent their first night together. Seok-tae wonders who Jin-sook will end up marrying, and she burps loudly before stating that it definitely won’t be him.
As Soo-jin examines her wedding photos in her studio, her fiancé Jae-hyun, the “31-year-old neighborhood pharmacist and Pil’s arch nemesis” enters and takes a seat next to her. Soo-jin’s dissatisfied by the photos and wonders why she didn’t smile brightly like he did, but he’s grateful for the photos nonetheless. He notices the broken fan in her room then, and Soo-jin says nonchalantly that she breaks everything she touches.
She apologizes for Pil’s ruckus, but Jae-hyun’s a good sport about it and says he’ll get her out of her strange neighborhood in a week. When he walks out, Soo-jin tries to smile like she did in the photo above her desk. Meanwhile, Jae-hyun receives a call from a “Young-joo” (uh oh!) but ignores it with a frown.
Inside a comic book/DVD rental store, OH DAL-SOO (Lee Sang-yi), the “neighborhood hyung and formerly smart film student who’s merely smart” strums his guitar and sings “City of Stars.” Pil enters and asks him for some advice since he’s seen so many movies: How do people in movies stop weddings? Heh. Dal-soo just tells Pil to snap out of it since movies aren’t reality.
Dal-soo doesn’t understand why Pil didn’t stop Soo-jin earlier, and Pil whines that he didn’t know she was getting married and never received a wedding invitation. He wonders why he never received one, and Dal-soo sighs as he wonders why Pil didn’t know better.
Pil whines and throws another fit, shouting that he knew she was dating someone, but that he never expected her to get married so soon. Ever the wise one, Dal-soo reminds him that even with twelve ships, General Yi Soon-shin never gave up, and recommends that Pil check out the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, wherein Hugh Grant stopped a wedding, heh.
Dal-soo commends himself for being so cool, and then HONG JUNG-AE (Kim Min-ji) enters and claps for him, but her smile drops when she sees Pil lying on the couch.
The chyron tells us that Jung-ae is “enemies with Pil and has been living and working with Dal-soo for two years.” She hits Pil where it hurts by asking if he received a wedding invitation and mentions that Soo-jin’s husband seemed tall, handsome, and successful.
And before Pil leaves, he informs Dal-soo that in the second grade, Jung-ae shat a big one in the classroom, lol.
Flash back to high school days to Soo-jin’s birthday, which was three days after Pil’s birthday. Pil had prepared the most exciting party for Soo-jin, who waited expectantly at a playground. Pil came up to her while singing “Happy Birthday” and presenting her with a stack of chocopies lit with birthday candles.
On Pil’s cue, Seok-tae and Dal-soo pushed down the detonator to set off firecrackers around the couple, and Soo-jin marveled at the beautiful sight. But Pil narrates that that’s when things went wrong.
Cops had arrived and ordered them to halt, so Seok-tae and Dal-soo made a run for it, but the firecrackers went off again, trapping Soo-jin and Pil. Pil narrates that that day, Soo-jin went to the police station for the first time and that both their parents had to show up. Pil wonders if Soo-jin had already forgotten about that eventful night.
Back in the present, Soo-jin reaches the top of a mountain and marvels at the view, but after setting up her tripod, she discovers that she didn’t bring her camera. She laughs to herself for making such a dumb move and happily answers a call from Jin-sook and Jung-ae, who invite her for drinks at their usual joint.
Soo-jin arrives at the bar, where the server congratulates her on her upcoming marriage. But the server also admits there’s not much to marriage anyway, and wonders why Soo-jin doesn’t enjoy her life a bit more before getting hitched.
Jung-ae informs her friends that Pil asked Dal-soo how to stop Soo-jin’s marriage, and Jin-sook adds that Pil came to her too, so she jokingly suggested that he kill Jae-hyun. Soo-jin isn’t amused by any of this, but when asked why she didn’t invite Pil to her wedding, she’s surprised that he didn’t receive her invitation that she mailed to him, despite living next door.
Jin-sook explains to Jung-ae why Soo-jin felt uncomfortable giving Pil the invitation in-person by using Jung-ae’s ex (named Gu-gil) as an example, concluding that since there’s no solution to Pil, Soo-jin should just stick it out for a week.
Meanwhile, Pil stops by his friend’s billiards/internet store, and this friend has also heard all about Pil’s outburst. YANG GU-GIL is his name, and he’s the kind neighborhood hyung who’s strong, but simple-minded. He understands Pil’s misery since he felt the same way when he lost Jung-ae, and Pil desperately seeks his advice so that he can marry Soo-jin.
Gu-gil is appalled by Pil’s behavior and states that that isn’t how a man should behave, but seeing how desperate Pil is, he concedes that there is one way — and the answer is speed. He remembers that Pil was a fast runner, but that his starts were rubbish, and suggests a shotgun wedding like the celebrities do soon after they consummate their relationship. At this, Pil finally gets fed up with the lousy tips from all his neighborhood friends.
Elsewhere, Seok-tae gets home and cackles at the wedding invitation on his desk that’s addressed to Pil. He tosses it in a drawer filled with other mail addressed to Pil. (Huh? Why?)
Soo-jin is back at her studio photographing objects and is disappointed to see Pil stop by. He asks her how her stock photo business is going, and she says her photos aren’t selling, but Pil had figured that she was making bank when she decided to marry all of a sudden.
Soo-jin asks him what he wants, so he takes her by the shoulders and passionately tells her he loves her before pulling her into a hug… and I knew it! It was all in his mind.
He’s actually hugging himself while muttering her name, HA, and Soo-jin laughs as she snaps photos of his awkward pose. She scolds him for being a drunken mess yesterday and says that she had to assure everyone that he was her friend. Pil asks if they’re friends, and Soo-jin answers that they’re frenemies, though she can’t believe that the son of a postmaster hasn’t even received her wedding invitation in the mail yet.
Pil says he’s busy these days, but Soo-jin says he has to come to her wedding, since he has the most free time out of anyone and is her dearest frenemy. Pil impulsively drinks from the mug on her desk, and Soo-jin freaks out because it’s scalding hot coffee, but he ignores her concern and gulps it down anyway before running out.
Once outside, Pil frantically drinks from the water fountain to soothe his throat. A concerned passerby asks if she should call 911 for him, but he informs her that his ailment can’t be cured, heh. He’s in a frenzied state and is incredulous that he wasted twenty-eight years just by failing to say, “I love you.”
He lets out some steam at the batting cage and goes back and forth between “I can’t let her go” to “I’ll let her go” with every swing. Jin-sook’s suggestion that he profess his love now and the notion that Soo-jin and Jae-hyun may have already spent their first night together flips a switch in Pil suddenly, and it’s enough to send him running and shouting that he’ll never let Soo-jin go.
He sprints with determination in his eyes and runs right past his baffled parents, through the tunnel, and past the manhole from which faint green smoke emanates.
He arrives at Soo-jin’s photo studio, but she’s already left, so he rings the doorbell of her home. He tells her mom that he has something important to share with Soo-jin that can’t be done over the phone, so her mom tells him to call her to find out where she is, an obvious idea that didn’t occur to Pil at the moment, heh.
Pil calls Soo-jin, who’s saved under his phone as “My Precious” a la Lord of the Rings, but her phone is turned off. He immediately assumes the worst and pictures Soo-jin and Jae-hyun in bed together, with Jae-hyun turning over her phone before getting under the covers with her. Pil panics and resumes sprinting, running past all his friends, and the speed of his pace literally blows gusts of air into their faces. They know Pil’s about to wreak some havoc.
Pil finally reaches the pharmacy and offends the bald pharmacist there when he demands to know where the younger pharmacist is, the one who still has all his hair, heh. The bald pharmacist says that Jae-hyun left work already, and when Pil spots condoms on the counter, he panics even more and urges the bald man to quickly give him Jae-hyun’s phone number.
Pil calls Jae-hyun, but these calls also go unanswered, so he imagines Jae-hyun and Soo-jin in bed again — only this time, Jae-hyun flips his phone over too.
He barges into numerous motels to see if the owners have seen Soo-jin, but he keeps getting forcibly dragged out from every one.
After dashing around like a madman, he finally slows down without having found Soo-jin. He steps on a hose that sprays him, and he can’t help but laugh at his misfortune. He walks past Jin-sook as she’s packing her truck up for the day, and she wonders if he fell in a manhole given his smelly and drenched state.
Pil walks away in a daze, but happens upon a “multi-entertainment space” where he spots Soo-jin walking out with Jae-hyun, hand in hand. Pil, assuming that they did the deed, is very upset and demands to know why they had to do it at such a cheap venue when he would’ve taken out a loan to take Soo-jin to a four or five star hotel.
Soo-jin and Jae-hyun don’t understand Pil’s babbling and urge him to stop crying and speak clearly, but Pil is beside himself and wails that Soo-jin’s always gone when he has something important to tell her. Pil calls Jae-hyun “cheap like the multi-entertainment space,” and next thing we know, Pil is at Jin-sook’s rooftop, lying down with his eyes closed as his friends watch over him.
When he comes to, Dal-soo informs him that he fainted after fighting with the pharmacist, and that Gu-gil carried him here. He wonders how Pil could faint after just one punch (hahaha) and adds that Jae-hyun even provided medicine for him.
Pil sits up and finds Soo-jin off to the side, arguing with Jae-hyun on the phone because he hit her friend. While his friends drink and suggest revenge against Jae-hyun, Pil is concerned about Soo-jin and approaches her.
He suggests they go home since he always gets blamed when she gets home late, so they proceed to walk together.
Soo-jin hands Pil a wedding invitation, and he stares at it for a beat since it’s addressed to “my dear friend Bong Pil.” She asks him to divulge what he had to tell her in-person that was so important, but he hems and haws while she patiently waits.
He manages to say, “Whenever I see you—…” and Soo-jin waits for him to continue, but he struggles and sputters that he really needs to pee, haha. He clarifies that seeing her doesn’t make him pee, but that he needs to pee in this very moment because he didn’t have a chance to pee after running around all day today. Just dig that grave deeper, Pil.
He nervously excuses himself and tells a speechless Soo-jin that he’ll be right back.
Pil descends a series of steps and opens the wedding invitation while standing by the manhole. He crumples it and shouts his regret that there’s so much he wants to say to her, but he doesn’t know where to begin because “I love you” doesn’t suffice, and he worries that professing his love to her won’t make a difference now. Meanwhile, Soo-jin waits around for Pil to return.
Suddenly, the lamp above Pil starts to flicker, and green smoke circles the manhole. Soo-jin descends the steps to see what’s taking Pil so long, but Pil is no longer where we saw him. She looks around and calls his name, but he’s nowhere to be seen.
That’s because Pil is sliding down what appears to be a never-ending waterslide, hahaha. I guess someone fell down the magical manhole!
Above ground, Soo-jin finds his wedding invitation on the ground and is incredulous that he ditched her. After she storms off, the manhole lid rises to burp. Yes, you read that correctly.
We find ourselves inside a high school classroom, where a teacher instructs his students to recite phrases in German. Sitting in the back and fast asleep is Pil, and high school Soo-jin sits in front of him.
Pil scrambles awake after the teacher angrily chucks chalk at him, and he unthinkingly identifies the teacher as “Gestapo.” Oh boy. All the students’ jaws drop at his brazenness, and the teacher flings the blackboard eraser at Pil, but Pil catches it.
That’s when he finally notices Soo-jin in front of him, as well as Jin-sook and Seok-tae, who are also in the classroom. He is beyond confused and wonders why they’re all here in their school uniforms, haha.
The German teacher (who’s never been to Germany) strides toward him with a plastic pipe in hand, and Pil explains that he probably caught the blackboard eraser because he’s gotten hit before and somehow expected it. Pil is still unclear on where he is and why, but the teacher says this classroom will now be hell for him and screams the word “idiot” in German. “What is this horrible déjà vu?” Pil wonders.
Epilogue. Four aliens traveling in a capsule are in Seoul, but find the city too stifling. They float over to Pil and Soo-jin’s homes instead, which we saw in the beginning. Through their capsule they see Pil and giggle at how unattractive and pathetic he looks, hah.
The humor of Manhole isn’t highbrow by any means, but it still works (for now at least) because of a solid cast that’s really owning their characters’ quirks and varying shades of slackerdom. Jaejoong nailed the adult tantrum more than once, and it’s pretty amusing to see him express his misery so uninhibitedly. Pil was presented to us in all his pathetic glory, so I don’t immediately see what Soo-jin is missing by marrying Jae-hyun, who seems perfect on paper (but may have a lingering ex-girlfriend!), but I’m willing to give Pil a chance and hopefully see more glimpses of the sweet boyfriend who once planned a birthday surprise involving firecrackers.
I really like how cool and levelheaded Soo-jin is. She’s known Pil all her life and patiently gave him the chance to spill, and even though he was unable to speak up (in part due to an unforeseen magical manhole), she never rushed him or dismissed his intentions, which is a testament to their strong friendship. She still values Pil as a friend, and it’s clear she’s not one to abandon her friendships simply because she’s about to get married. She strikes me as a very reasonable and genuine woman, and I have zero qualms about that!
The zany editing of this show really adds to the humor and quickens the pace. I liked the cheeky narration that succinctly introduced us to all the characters, and I laughed out loud at how ridiculous Pil looked as he traveled down the manhole. The scene was so cartoonish, and Pil’s limbs suddenly turned all squiggly like he was made of white play dough, so it was hard not to laugh. For once, low-budget animation works in the show’s favor. The aliens at the end looked so bizarre with the huge eyes, but for Manhole, the sillier the better, because it seems the show is tightly adhering to its frivolous tone.
I think the manhole will come in handy for Pil, but I, personally, would HATE to repeat high school all over again (*shudders*). However, it’ll be fun to see Pil figure out how the manhole works and try to make sense of the time travel rules. I loved how confused he was back in the high school classroom, and I also loved how confused his friends were by his behavior. I think I would’ve acted exactly like Pil did if I found myself back in high school, though I probably wouldn’t have pointed at and addressed my teacher as “Gestapo.” Jaejoong’s bewilderment and slow realization that he’s no longer in the present was a delight to watch. Never thought I’d write this very sentence, but I’m ready for more sad sack Pil and burping manhole!
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- UEE and Jaejoong cozy up under the sun in new Manhole stills
- Cast of Manhole throws dignity out the window for new dance teaser
- First look at Jaejoong’s time-slip rom-com Manhole
- News bites: July 1, 2017
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