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Strongest Deliveryman: Episode 1

Strongest Deliveryman, the newest weekend late-night offering from KBS, bills itself as a “hot-blooded youth drama” focusing on the lives of young and broke jjajangmyun delivery drivers (with perhaps a chaebol or two thrown in for good measure). While it’s still unclear where exactly this show plans to take its deliverymen, I think we can safely anticipate an enjoyable character-driven ride.

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

A voiceover introduces us to CHOI KANG-SOO (Go Kyung-pyo), described as a drifter who only stays in one neighborhood for two months before leaving for a new neighborhood. As Kang-soo darkens in sections of a giant wall map of Seoul and packs up his belongings, the voiceover continues to tell us that Kang-soo gives off an “I’m the crazy guy of the neighborhood” vibe.

Riding his motorcycle, Kang-soo zooms back and forth on the empty road, cheering with joy as he revels in the fun of popping wheelies and feeling like he’s flying as he drives with his arms stretched out. But he quickly returns to driving safely (and quietly) when he notices a delivery scooter next to him.

 

As they stop at a light, Kang-soo and the delivery driver are the only two at the intersection. Kang-soo remarks that the man is working late, but the delivery driver says the long hours are worth it because it’s all for his kids.

Just then, a car crashes into the delivery driver, sending him into the windshield and then up over the roof before he falls in a heap onto the road. Even though he’s wearing a helmet, the amount of blood coming from his head doesn’t look good at all. The annoyed driver of the car leans out the window and orders Kang-soo to just ignore it.

With a stunned glance back at the injured delivery man, Kang-soo calls for an ambulance and speeds off after the car. The voiceover from earlier informs us that Kang-soo has a habit of getting involved in other people’s business.

It’s an early morning race through the nearly empty streets of Seoul, and Kang-soo is hot on the hit-and-run driver’s tail. The car weaves through tiny streets, nearly hitting the handful of other people who are out at the wee hours of the morning. The driver thinks he’s finally lost Kang-soo, when suddenly, Kang-soo suddenly appears in front of him, causing the driver to slam on the brakes.

 

Kang-soo takes pictures of the car, license plate, and the driver, then speeds off. The driver tries to follow, but is soon forced to swerve, and his car crashes down a long set of stairs before hitting a wall. When the man tries to flee on foot, Kang-soo pulls up to him and cites the punishment he’ll face for a hit-and-run.

The man desperately tries to plead with Kang-soo, begging him not to call the cops while insisting that he’ll pay for the delivery driver’s medical bills. Instead, Kang-soo demands to know how he’s going to compensate the person who is hungry and angry that they never received their jjajangmyun delivery.

After the hit-and-run driver is taken into police custody, Kang-soo happily speeds off on his motorcycle, but then he has to do front wheelie when he nearly collides with another scooter emerging from an alley. The scooter driver, LEE DAN-AH (Chae Soo-bin), leans and slides under his wheel like a stunt driver, both of them barely missing each other.

When they come to a stop, they yell at each other to watch where they’re going. They’re about to go their separate ways when Kang-soo picks up his phone that fell to the ground during the near-crash, showing Dan-ah the cracked screen. Kang-soo demands that she pay for repairs, asking for her number, but she retorts that she won’t, sarcastically calling him “oppa.”

Kang-soo grabs her wrist, demanding for her phone number, and when he won’t let go, she kicks him in the groin. As he reels in pain, Dan-ah pretends to be concerned, asking “oppa” where it hurts and if she should blow on it to make it better.

Then she tells Kang-soo that she’s already going crazy trying to make ends meet. As she gets back on her scooter to drive away, Dan-ah cheerfully tells Kang-soo that if he has a problem with that, he can just sue her.

Elsewhere, LEE JI-YOON (Go Won-hee) runs from six men in suits. She stops to catch her breath, asking if they can just forget that they ever saw each other. But the suited guys’ sense of duty is too strong, and she continues to sprint through the streets with the men hot on her tail.

 

Meanwhile, we find OH JIN-GYU (Kim Sun-ho) as he enjoys a drive in his fancy car, and when he comes across a narrow street that’s further blocked with delivery trucks along one side, he accepts the challenge. Pulling in his side mirrors, he effortlessly navigates the tiny space, but slams on the brakes when Ji-yoon suddenly runs into the intersection.

Ji-yoon realizes that the only way to escape the men in suits is by going up the road Jin-gyu is now blocking. She quickly apologizes, then scrambles over his car. Jin-gyu watches in horror as the six security guys also tromp all over his once-perfect car in their pursuit of Ji-yoon.

Jin-gyu takes his battered car to his repair shop and is relatively magnanimous about the indentations on the hood and roof, admitting that he was in the way. Before the repairmen work on that car, though, Jin-gyu wants them to focus on getting his street-racer ready, promising them all big bonuses if he wins the race.

Kang-soo slurps down jjajangmyun as chef JANG DONG-SOO (Jo Hee-bong) watches. Based on the intel Chef Jang has received, he knows that Kang-soo is twenty-five years old with five years of experience as a delivery driver, and will only work at a place with jjajangmyun that tastes good.

Kang-soo gives his approval of the noodles, asking to work at the restaurant. Kang-soo reiterates that he’ll only stay for two months, vaguely explaining that he’s just curious about other places. Chef Jang says it doesn’t really matter, since most of the delivery guys barely last a week, anyway.

A gust of wind brings in the restaurant’s owner, SOON-AE (Lee Min-young), who promptly fires Kang-soo when he doesn’t laugh at her terrible puns, ha. Kang-soo quickly backpedals, explaining he was only trying to be polite by holding in his laughter.

When Soon-ae makes another terrible pun, Kang-soo literally doubles over with laughter. She can see through his act, but seems pleased regardless. However, Soon-ae says that she’s not the one who will make the final decision about Kang-soo’s hiring — that will be Dan-ah. Chef Jang and Soon-ae reverently describe Dan-ah’s ninja-like delivery skills, calling her a legend.

Kang-soo nervously waits for Dan-ah, but when he sees that it’s the scooter girl from before, he sighs in resignation. Dan-ah smirks as she tells Kang-soo that his final interview will begin.

 

During the interview, Dan-ah (still calling him “oppa”) tells Kang-soo to sit respectfully. Chef Jang and Soon-ae tell him to sit up straight and put his hands in his lap, adding that whenever Dan-ah calls someone “oppa,” it means she doesn’t like him. Kang-soo starts to pull his knees together with great difficulty, but instead of changing his posture to be more respectful, he grabs his bag to head out the door.

Dan-ah: “You pass.” That stops Kang-soo in his tracks, and Dan-ah explains that someone without any pride also has no sense of responsibility. They all congratulate him on his hiring, but Kang-soo can’t help but narrow his eyes at Dan-ah’s chipper “Well done, oppa.”

Kang-soo settles into his room above the restaurant, spreading out his wall-sized map of Seoul. This is his 33rd neighborhood, and he wonders how long it will take to fill in the entire city.

 

The restaurant is in full swing as Dan-ah and Kang-soo head out for their deliveries. It’s clear that Dan-ah isn’t just a legend because of her quick skills, because an entire school of high school boys cheer like a bunch of fan boys as she walks through the hallway with her delivery. Meanwhile, Kang-soo nervously sets out bowls of jjajangmyun to the angry glares of boxers who were expecting Dan-ah.

In one of the neighborhood’s bustling food alleys, businesswoman JUNG HYE-RAN (Kim Hye-ri) gets a report from her assistant about the amount of customers that visit the restaurants. Hye-ran decides that they need to speed up the opening date of their alley of “Jung Family” restaurants so they can directly compete with this alley of long-standing family-owned restaurants.

It’s no surprise, then, that there are protesters outside Hye-ran’s office when she arrives, declaring that the Jung Family restaurants are unfair to all the family-owned restaurants that were pushed out. The protesters yell that the Jung Family restaurants should leave, but Hye-ran just wants to know when their latest commercial will air.

Kang-soo’s next delivery takes him to Jin-gyu’s car repair shop. Kang-soo marvels at the race car, wondering how much it costs. Jin-gyu says that it’s expensive — and the price doesn’t really matter, anyway, since it’s not like Kang-soo could ever afford it.

 

Kang-soo takes offense at the way Jin-gyu looks down on him and tells Jin-gyu to respect other people, even if they’re just deliverymen. Jin-gyu says Kang-soo shouldn’t take his inferiority complex out on him, and Kang-soo retorts that when someone like Jin-gyu is mad, it’s just “anger,” but when someone like Kang-soo gets mad, it’s apparently an “inferiority complex.”

Jin-gyu pushes Kang-soo in a friendly-but-not-really way as he repeats that Kang-soo is amusing. Kang-soo is ready to punch Jin-gyu in the face, but the car guys quickly separate the two men.

Kang-soo makes his way back to the restaurant, but he’s blocked by a handful of other neighborhood deliverymen. They tell Kang-soo that he’s now on “their” turf, and Kang-soo sighs to himself that there’s people like this in every neighborhood. The ringleader tells Kang-soo to report to a man named Baek Gong-gi at another noodle restaurant, bow respectfully, and let Baek Gong-gi decide what to do with him.

 

Kang-soo jokes that he won’t go see someone named a hundred (“baek”) bowls (“gong-gi”), and instead would rather wait for someone called a thousand (“cheon”) bowls (“gong-gi”). The other deliverymen take offense at Kang-soo’s joke, warning him that Baek Gong-gi is an experienced martial artist, so Kang-soo should be careful about what he says.

It’s just another day in the delivery life when Dan-ah overhears a mother warn her young daughter that if she doesn’t study hard, she’ll end up as a delivery girl like Dan-ah. This is likely far from the first time Dan-ah has heard such a comment, since she rolls her eyes and turns back to the mother, telling her that one actually has to be smart to know the roads and make quick calculations.

When a loan shark gets a little handsy as she delivers jjajangmyun to his new neighborhood office, she grabs his arm and pinches down hard on the nerve, quickly incapacitating him. She also uses her delivery box to knock the loan shark’s assistant across the room.

Dan-ah tells the loan shark that her job is only difficult because of creeps like him, then orders him to never order from her restaurant again. The now-terrified loan shark agrees.

After the restaurant closes, Dan-ah tells Kang-soo to finish up his work by collecting all the empty bowls from the customers. She promises to check on him first thing in the morning when she returns, and she drives off with one last “Good job, oppa!”

Exhausted and hungry, Ji-yoon sits on some steps, craving every little food scent that passes her. She spots the empty bowls set out for Kang-soo to retrieve them, happy to discover there’s still some leftover sweet-and-sour pork on the plate.

 

Ji-yoon tries to talk herself out of eating a stranger’s leftovers, but her stomach wins the argument and she wipes off the chopsticks. Just as she’s putting the piece of pork in her mouth, Kang-soo drives up. He covers up the awkwardness by politely asking if she’s finished eating, and Ji-yoon hurriedly gives him the dishes as she says she’s done — all the while trying to chew and swallow her leftover piece of pork.

Kang-soo tells her to follow him so she can eat some fresh food. When Ji-yoon insists that she’s fine, he grabs her bag and slowly drives off, forcing her to run after him. At the restaurant, he makes her a bowl of fresh jjajangmyun, which she immediately devours.

Ji-yoon’s father worries that his security guys weren’t able to find his daughter. But Ji-yoon’s mother — none other than Jung Family CEO Hye-ran — tells her husband that his way of having people chase Ji-yoon will just push her further away. Hye-ran’s method of cutting off Ji-yoon’s credit cards guarantees that Ji-yoon will return home, since without money, Ji-yoon will be cold and hungry.

Except Ji-yoon currently has a warm belly full of jjajangmyun. Ji-yoon happily thanks Kang-soo for the meal, and he accurately guesses that Ji-yoon ran away from home and has no money. Ji-yoon marvels that Kang-soo knows she’s been on the run for three days, and he wryly points out that’s how long it takes before someone’s hungry enough to eat a stranger’s leftovers.

 

Kang-soo asks how old she is, and Ji-yoon chirps that she’s twenty-three. He tells her not to lie — twenty-three is too old to run away from home, since that’s the age for someone to start living on their own. He knows that she’s really a high school student. Ji-yoon laughs when he says that she looks like she’s seventeen, but she goes along with it.

She explains to Kang-soo that her running away is a textbook case of rebellion. Since she’s always obeyed her parents up until now, all the rebellious urges finally built up, and she finally just exploded in her desire to run away.

Kang-soo sets up some bedding for her in his room above the restaurant, telling her to think of her parents’ faces a thousand times before she goes to sleep. Ji-yoon meekly agrees. After he leaves the room, she cautiously leans over to lock the door, but Kang-soo bursts back in and orders her to lock the window. Then he locks the door from the inside before closing it behind him, making sure that no one — including himself — can get in.

The infamous Baek Gong-gi sits in a mediation pose as all the other delivery guys lounge around him. They update him about Kang-soo, and Gong-gi says they can do whatever they want, but they can’t forget his one rule: Do not harm women or children.

Three of the guys suddenly realize that it’s time for someone named Yeon-ji to return home, and they run outside to appraisingly watch the young woman walk to her apartment. Yeon-ji is Dan-ah’s roommate and a yoga instructor, and when she gets home, Dan-ah chides Yeon-ji for staying out so late when she knows there are perverts in the area.

Dan-ah is busy studying her English homework, and Yeon-ji teases her about it, asking if Dan-ah really has to move to America. Yeon-ji pouts that she’ll be sad if Dan-ah leaves, but Dan-ah says it’s the only way for someone with only a high school degree to escape “Hell Joseon” (that is, the current socio-economic climate of Korea, where the poor people continue to be poor and the rich get richer).

 

Dan-ah proudly reveals that, thanks to her frugality and constant working, she’s only 195 days away from having saved up enough money for a new start in America.

Meanwhile, at the restaurant, Kang-soo makes a bed for himself downstairs on the restaurant chairs. He has a video call with a couple of old friends and sighs when he sees the cracked screen.

In the morning, Dan-ah finds Kang-soo asleep on the chairs. She leans over and quietly calls out “oppaaaaaa,” which would normally be a pleasant way to wake up, but Kang-soo leaps up in terrified shock. She tells him to get started on the day’s tasks, but first, Kang-soo hurries upstairs to check on Ji-yoon.

 

Kang-soo is surprised to find that Ji-yoon is already gone, and she left him a note of thanks (calling him “ajusshi”). Sitting alone by the river, Ji-yoon repeats what Kang-soo told her the night before: that someone aged twenty-three is too old to be a runaway, but instead should be moving out on their own. Her stomach growls and she sadly wonders what she’s going to do now.

Meanwhile, Jin-gyu’s family has breakfast, and his father Chairman OH SUNG-HWAN (Lee Won-jung) imperiously tells Jin-gyu’s older brother that their company is only ranked in the Top 30 of Korea’s businesses — compared to the top three, they’re like a corner store. That means they should be focused on growing and only compare themselves to those who are above them.

 

Chairman Oh’s attention turns to Jin-gyu as he asks his son what he’s been up to. Chairman Oh is not impressed with Jin-gyu’s vague answers and tells Jin-gyu that he doesn’t have any goals and only lives to have a good time, which disappoints everyone. Jin-gyu’s mother tries to intervene, suggesting that Jin-gyu be put in charge of something. But Chairman Oh doesn’t want to lose his company’s competitive power by dividing it up between his sons, and instead tells Jin-gyu to live like he always has — like an “idiot.”

Mom looks worried, but Jin-gyu amicably agrees and nonchalantly continues eating his breakfast. Afterwards, his brother approaches him and apologizes. Jin-gyu just jokingly says it’s nothing as he mocks his father’s commands to always look up, never look down. Hyung hands over an envelope of cash, telling Jin-gyu to get himself a new car. Jin-gyu protests, but it doesn’t take much pleading to get him to accept the money, and soon he’s driving away in an expensive new car.

 

Kang-soo’s used bowls have mysteriously disappeared, and Chef Jang and Soon-ae tell him to report the loss to Dan-ah because, as Soon-ae points out, Kang-soo “belongs” to Dan-ah. Dan-ah has no time for it, though, and simply tells Kang-soo that if he doesn’t find the missing bowls, then he’s fired. What would normally be considered an encouraging “Oppa, fighting!” gesture seems a lot more menacing coming from Dan-ah as she sends Kang-soo back out to find the bowls.

Kang-soo finds some of the other deliverymen that hassled him before, gloating about how they stole his bowls. They send him on a merry chase trying to retrieve the bowls, but Kang-soo focuses on tracking down one of them, even though that deliveryman doesn’t have his bowls. Kang-soo doesn’t care — he wants to know where he can find Gong-gi.

 

Kang-soo finds Gong-gi on a rooftop, practicing his martial arts. Kang-soo asks if he’s responsible for the other guys stealing his bowls, and Gong-gi says that there’s a good chance that he was. Kang-soo isn’t in the mood to play games and immediately tries to fight Gong-gi, but Gong-gi really is talented at martial arts and easily overpowers Kang-soo.

Kang-soo doesn’t give up though, despite the beating. But he’s soon pinned to the ground by Gong-gi, who tells him to leave. Kang-soo rushes Gong-gi one more time, and Gong-gi pushes him to the edge of the roof, growling that Kang-soo can’t beat him.

Kang-soo grabs onto Gong-gi, knocking him off his feet and causing both men to balance precariously on the edge of the rooftop. Kang-soo demands his bowls back as Gong-gi frantically tries to find his footing, fearfully screaming for Kang-soo to let go before they topple over the side of the building.

Epilogue. At a dock by the sea, a teenaged Kang-soo yells at his father, demanding to know where he went, since Dad should be in the hospital being treated for cancer. When Kang-soo finds out Dad left the hospital to go to Seoul to look for a woman, Kang-soo angrily says that they wouldn’t have lost everything if it weren’t for “that woman.”

Dad says Kang-soo shouldn’t call his mother “that woman,” but Kang-soo believes that someone who would run away with all their money doesn’t deserve to be his mother. With tears in his eyes, Kang-soo tells his father to go ahead and die so that Kang-soo will stop worrying about him.

 

As Kang-soo starts to walk away, Dad calls after him, begging Kang-soo not to become hardened because he will no longer have a mother or father if he does. Instead, Kang-soo should live a life as a good person. Kang-soo just continues to run up the pier away from Dad.

Later, Kang-soo weeps as he spreads his father’s ashes out to sea. He vows to be a good person, also promising to find “that woman” and tell her how Dad lived — and died — after she left them.

A train heads to Seoul, and Kang-soo sits alone, staring out the window.

 
COMMENTS

As much as I was enjoying the episode (I laughed out loud more than once, which is always promising), it wasn’t until that final epilogue that everything sort of “clicked” for me. I think it’s because I was struggling to believe that Kang-soo was a renegade bad-ass psycho. Kang-soo is just too fluffy (literally, with that hair, as well as figuratively) to really make me believe that any one would seriously be intimidated by him. So I’m relieved to know he’s not a crazy bad-ass drifter — he’s actually kind and generous, but super focused on getting his job done so that he can systematically go through every neighborhood in Seoul, looking for his mother.

Which meant that all my concerns about the direction and casting abated because the little character moments that felt slightly “off” now have more meaning and make sense. I’m hoping we’ll get epilogues for each of our characters, because I’m pretty sure there’s much more to everyone than the Candy who wants to make enough money to emigrate to the supposed promised land of America, the heiress who’s trying to escape her family’s controlling grasp, and the playboy chaebol that no one takes seriously.

In fact, I get the feeling this show is going to play around with our stereotypical expectations. I’m already fond of everyone, including the second leads. I think Ji-yoon is utterly delightful if only because she seems to have such a positive attitude even while being aware of her situation. I’m also fully on board any potential loveline that might be brewing between her and Kang-soo, if only because you could see how much she respected and appreciated that he didn’t try to do anything but house and protect her. I’m pretty sure I’d have heart-eyes, too, in that situation.

While I’m not quite sure what to do with Jin-gyu yet, I still like him (and his dimples!). Even though I feel like he’s supposed to represent the standard asshole chaebol, there’s something so warm and adorable about him that I feel like he has to be more than that. I definitely sense there’s something darker lurking within him than the breezy chaebol who loves his cars.

The way he casually accepted his father’s scolding actually shocked me. I can’t imagine someone so lightly accepting being called a “byung-shin” — which does mean “idiot,” but in a much less socially acceptable way. To see Jin-gyu cheerfully driving in his new car, shouting out that he’s an “idiot” makes me wonder what his earlier years were like. Maybe Jin-gyu is dealing with being a disappointment by accepting the role provided for him, the cheerful idiot who can be easily distracted by a fast, shiny car.

My only other quibble about the premiere is that the editing still seems a leeeetle bit rough. I was getting whiplash going from a joking moment to a super serious scene without any warning — which is perhaps what the show intends, but somehow the musical and/or visual cues weren’t quite working for me. Again, it’s not a major complaint. I love the goofy comedy as much as the heartfelt, emotional side. Just not randomly jammed up against each other.

Overall, though, it was a solid introduction to everyone and the underlying premise. I enjoyed all the ridiculous jokes (so much wordplay!) and I’m excited about the promise of character growth. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Kang-soo, Dan-ah, Ji-yoon, Jin-gyu, and all the weird and wonderful minor characters in the neighborhood. I also anticipate endless cravings for jjajangmyun.

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It was an ok episode. After Fight my way the bar is set quite high for these kind of dramas that want to show a more realistic picture of life and everyday struggles. Hope the mother is not the ceo lady.

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