Special Labor Inspector Jo: Episodes 1-2
Another classic tale of an underdog butting heads with the corrupt and powerful. Though the injustice can be suffocating at times, our hero might be the breath of fresh air that we all need. Besides, the bigger the bad, the harder the fall. With a charming lead at the helm, the show is off to a good start.
Note: This is just a first episode recap.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A disheveled man in sweats yawns as he drags his feet towards a school to take the civil servant exam. He remembers his father’s sage advice to become a government worker and regrets not listening to him years ago. This is our hero, JO JIN-GAP (Kim Dong-wook).
Jin-gap finishes the test–with the help of a pencil dice–and sleeps peacefully in his pigsty of a room. His neighbor, Lee Dong-young, barges in, hitting Jin-gap’s head in the process, and excitedly announces that they both passed. Jin-gap runs through the streets, sharing the good news with random strangers, and arrives at a police station to tell Officer JOO MI-RAN (Park Se-young).
He describes his plans to live as a “steel rice bowl” (i.e., a secure job with low risks of being fired), and Mi-ran congratulates him since he got the dream job others covet. She ends their conversation before he can bring up another topic, and he stares at her receding back, contemplating her words.
Cleaned up and looking dashing, Jin-gap attends his inauguration and says, in voiceover, that his dream has finally come true. He looks at his new assignment but has no idea what the Ministry of Employment and Labor does. Helpful captions appear on screen, explaining the role of a labor inspector as overseeing work regulations. (Jin-gap: “I’m screwed.”)
Six years later. The Ministry of Employment and Labor is bustling with people, and the haggard labor inspectors explain to angry civilians the limits of their capabilities. Jin-gap’s old neighbor Dong-young tells a woman reporting sexual harassment that she needs evidence, and puts his foot in his mouth when he suggests recording the next time she gets harassed. It goes over as well as you think.
A shout pierces through all the noise, and everyone momentarily looks in Jin-gap’s direction as a convenience store owner fights with a high school student. The student accuses her boss of paying below the minimum wage and not including overtime, so the boss calls her a thief for stealing plastic bags and eating store merchandise. As their fight escalates, Jin-gap tries to pull them apart but earns a bloody nose for his efforts.
Before Jin-gap can even catch his breath, Director Ha bursts out of his office and demands to know which one of them is on the news right now. A recent accident at a construction site makes headlines, and apparently, a labor inspector from their district was assigned to the case. Dong-young confesses to being in charge, but Director Ha delivers a swift kick to Jin-gap’s shin, instead.
He directs their attention back to the news, and on screen is Jin-gap, airing his grievances to the reporter about the ministry. Even with his face blurred and voice altered, there’s no denying it. Director Ha grabs Jin-gap in a headlock for betraying them, and the others try to save poor Jin-gap from their director’s wrath.
While leaving work, Do-young lists off all the labor rights their director violates, but Jin-gap still calls their job “the dream.” Jin-gap spots the student from earlier crying on a bench and sits with her to offer some practical advice: forget about the money and focus on studying.
He gives the student some cash to help pay for immediate expenses, but the student doesn’t want his pity. She tells him that what she really needed in that moment was an adult who would fight for her. On his way home, Jin-gap thinks to himself that civil servants aren’t steel rice bowls but rice pressure cookers; unable to explode no matter the pressure.
As a labor inspector, Jin-gap gets caught in the middle of fights between union members and company representatives, chased by scary thugs who own law-breaking nightclubs, and hit by cars while pursuing runaway employers. He’s even forced up frighteningly tall and flimsy construction sites to persuade a protester to come down. It’s definitely the dream job.
Jin-gap’s next assignment leads him to the National Transport Workers Union, where the leader of the union douses himself in gasoline. He threatens to burn himself if the CEO doesn’t show his face and takes out a lighter. With a shout, Jin-gap throws himself at the leader and gets sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher.
Now that the immediate danger is gone, Jin-gap squeezes through the throng of legs to get some fresh air, muttering under his breath that there’s no talking to them. When he looks up, a high school student stands a stone’s throw away and calls Jin-gap “teacher.” Rubbing the dust out of his eyes, Jin-gap looks again, and in front of him is the same boy, though he’s no longer a student but a union member.
Jin-gap invites his old student, Sun-woo, to the office, and Sun-woo wonders if he quit being a teacher because of the incident. Jin-gap says that he found his true calling and asks how Sun-woo’s been all these years. Sun-woo happily talks about his wife and kid, but when the topic goes to his employment, he tells Jin-gap that he was supposed to be promoted to a permanent position.
Sun-woo explains how he continued driving his bus while others went on strike, holding onto the hope that their paychecks would soon come. One rainy evening, he stopped the bus to pick up an old lady who didn’t have a ticket. Sun-woo let her pay on the spot, even using his own money to give her change. Unfortunately, he absentmindedly put the money in his own pocket rather than the farebox, and his manager showed him the video footage of his “embezzlement.” He was fired immediately.
Though the bus company owed him 5.7 million won (roughly $5,700) in wages, they fired him for stealing 3,100 won (about $3.10). Sun-woo reflects on all the little things he may have done wrong, but Jin-gap tells him that it’s not his fault. Sun-woo cries over the unfairness of everything and begs his old teacher for help.
At home, Jin-gap stares at an old class picture from when he was a teacher, and thinks back to the moment he found Sun-woo beaten and laying on the street. He told him to fight back, and in another flashback, we see that Sun-woo took Jin-gap’s advice and attacked his bullies when they were kicking him.
Jin-gap calls himself crazy for thinking he could help, and his father agrees that he’s crazy. Over drinks, Jin-gap tells his father to quit his factory job since he earns enough for them both, but his father isn’t working for the money. He tells Jin-gap to remarry and forget about Mi-ran who abandoned him during his toughest period, but Jin-gap changes the subject.
After asking about an employment program from another inspector, Jin-gap goes out to meet Sun-woo and tells him the slim chances of winning. In reality, he’s practicing his speech by himself before Sun-woo arrives, which earns him a weird stare from his server. However, Jin-gap never gets to actually say anything he prepared since Sun-woo brings along his coworkers.
They all assume Jin-gap is here to help their cause, and they hand over a stack of documents they’ve procured. Seeing their hopeful faces, Jin-gap doesn’t have the heart to turn them down. Sun-woo thanks Jin-gap for having his back, but his gratitude feels like another burden for Jin-gap.
Jin-gap’s daughter Jin-ah waits for him outside the office to confront him about his recent actions. She asks if he really told the high school student (the part-timer from before) to give up. Jin-ah explains how she bragged about her dad being a labor inspector, but for the first time in her life, she feels embarrassed of him.
Today’s encounters with Sun-woo and Jin-ah replay in Jin-gap’s head as well as an older memory of Mi-ran yelling at him in the rain for not caring about his family. His father’s words about acting like a civil servant also echo in his mind, and Jin-gap sighs over all the conflicting messages swirling inside of him.
CEO Koo Dae-gil plays screen golf in his office while two employees inform him about a labor inspector who wants to meet. CEO Koo orders them to buy the inspector a meal and send him on his way, but apparently, the inspector refused. Growing annoyed, CEO Koo tells them that humans are animals that need to eat. First, make them happy with a meal, and when the moment is right, put a collar on them. Demonstrating his analogy, CEO Koo pets his two employees before viciously choking them.
Dong-young follows his manager to an expensive restaurant and begs him to turn around. The manager rebukes him for acting like a civil servant and instructs him to just follow along. He assures Dong-young that they’re only introducing themselves, and inside the private room is CEO Koo, ripping apart a huge chunk of meat.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Jin-ah holds an umbrella over the high school student from before, and on the ground, the student finds a flyer. The advertisement promises to get back overdue wages, and inside a dimly lit and shady-looking office, the head of the company, CHUN DEOK-GU (Kim Kyung-nam), answers the phone.
Jin-gap reports his findings about the bus company to the entire branch, revealing all the delayed payments and name changes the company underwent. Though it looks like the company is in deficit, Jin-gap finds too many holes in their account books that suggest otherwise. Though the manager who’s originally in charge of the company objects, Director Ha encourages Jin-gap to go for it.
That is… until he sees the face of the man in charge (the employee working under CEO Koo). Director Ha changes his tune and warns Jin-gap against speculations and demands facts. Jin-gap frustratedly points out the need to investigate in order to obtain facts, but Dong-young pulls him aside for a private chat.
On the roof, Dong-young tells Jin-gap to give up because this case is a field of poop. After talking in circles, Dong-young finally confesses that the real CEO behind the company is Koo Dae-gil. Once Jin-gap hears the name of CEO Koo’s foundation, he hangs his head.
The workers protest outside CEO Koo’s company much to his annoyance, and he takes out his frustration on his poor driver. During his foundation’s scholarship ceremony, CEO Koo gushes out compliments to the various guests, but when alone, he spits out curses and records every single bribe he gave out.
Jin-gap tries to file a report directly with the prosecutors but gets kicked out for ignoring proper protocol. He calls Director Ha, but he’s busy meeting with CEO Koo’s employee and hangs up on Jin-gap. However, the dinner isn’t between just the two of them as CEO Koo and his entire soccer team soon join them.
Having overheard the server during the call, Jin-gap finds the restaurant and waits outside for the director. Meanwhile, inside the restaurant, CEO Koo complains about his wife going on strike, but despite his marital woes, he says that the real problems occur when third parties get involved. All the while, he gives Director Ha a pointed look, and the latter clearly understands the message being sent.
CEO Koo’s driver sits next to Jin-gap and offers him food, mistaking him for a driver, too. Soon after, CEO Koo steps out for a call and gets irritated when the other person hangs up on him. As usual, he takes his anger out on his driver, but Jin-gap steps in and stops him from smacking the poor man.
CEO Koo laughs at his audacity and asks who his owner is. He says that Jin-gap needs a muzzle and then taunts him to bite him. As Jin-gap grits his teeth, Director Ha yells at him to stop. Elsewhere, the workers continue their protests, but CEO Koo’s guards attack their camp. In the scuffle, the leader falls to the ground and breaks his leg.
CEO Koo apologizes to Jin-gap for not recognizing him, but Jin-gap looks equally surprised when he learns this is the infamous CEO. Jin-gap and Director Ha relocate to a noodle shop, and Jin-gap accuses the director of brown-nosing. He threatens to report the director if he doesn’t sign off on his request.
Director Ha defends his actions as a tactic and firmly states the importance of knowing when to fall back. Hearing the director’s comments about waiting, Jin-gap blows up and asks if they’re supposed to wait until someone dies. He receives a call from Sun-woo just then but ignores it.
The workers assume Jin-gap has abandoned them and decide to go to the press with their story. Unbeknownst to them, Jin-gap succeeds in acquiring Director Ha’s signature, but he only has a week to close the case.
It’s a small city, and the server at the noodle shop turns out to be the high school student from before. Jin-gap scolds her for working so late, but she isn’t afraid of the law anymore, especially since she got back her paycheck, no thanks to him.
Director Ha sets up a meeting for Jin-gap with CEO Koo, but when Jin-gap arrives, someone else has already gone up: Sun-woo. Jin-gap pushes past the guards and jumps the gate. As he ascends the stairs, he thinks back to his teaching days and Sun-woo’s incident. Though Jin-gap fought for disciplinary action against the bully, he couldn’t touch the director’s son. In the end, his failed intervention only made the situation worse.
In the CEO’s office, Sun-woo asks for his overdue wages, but CEO Koo scoffs at the meager amount he demands. Even so, he denies ever being his employer and describes their actions as a riot. Thus, rioters should be dealt with accordingly, and CEO Koo beats Sun-woo with a golf club until it snaps.
Sun-woo grabs the broken club, but before he can do anything foolish, CEO Koo flies backwards from a kick. Jin-gap stands in the doorway and asks what idiotic owner forgot to muzzle their dog. Wincing in pain, CEO Koo threatens to call the police, but Jin-gap tells him to go ahead since he’ll escort him personally.
CEO Koo orders Jin-gap to follow the chain of command, and calls Director Ha to whine about his subordinate. Jin-gap flashes his signed form to the CEO and gives him a smug grin. Jin-gap 1: CEO Koo 0.
Afterwards, Jin-gap tends to Sun-woo’s wounds and reprimands him for losing his cool and nearly repeating the same mistake as last time. Sun-woo is more worried about Jin-gap, but he tells his old student that as a labor inspector, he has the right to exact the privileges of “special judicial police officers.” If anyone is getting in trouble, Jin-gap declares himself as the designated troublemaker.
Lit with neon lights, Jin-gap struts down an alley as a reporter announces the possible expulsion of a school teacher for alleged violence. Jin-gap stands in front of Deok-gu’s office, but someone stops him from entering. Seeing Jin-gap’s badge, the thug thinks he’s a cop and notifies the others.
The thug throws the first punch, but Jin-gap easily grabs it. Not the brightest bulb, the thug punches again, and Jin-gap grabs both fists. He overpowers the thug and swiftly flips him to the ground. The rest of his thug friends swarm out of the building, and seeing their friend on the ground, they attack Jin-gap.
Though outnumbered, Jin-gap deftly avoids their blows and throws every one of them over his shoulders using different judo techniques. Not even breaking a sweat, Jin-gap addresses the moaning thugs and tells them to give their boss a message: Jo Jang-poong (aka, “strong wing”) is here.
It’s a fun premiere buoyed by a winsome performance from Kim Dong-wook. This show is clearly his vehicle through and through, and he delivers. His natural charms as an actor are on full display, and he makes it all too easy for the viewers to root for him. Even when Jin-gap starts off as a dejected loser, there’s a lovable quality to him as displayed by his goofy smile and lingering feelings for his ex-wife. Then we meet Jin-gap six years later, who now feels like an empty shell of a man despite his proclamations of finding his dream job. Though he tries to convince himself that he’s content with life, deep down he knows that it’s all a lie, and his forlorn looks when no one is watching betray his true feelings. Even when Jin-gap tells others to give up, it’s hard to hate him for it because he looks so torn and miserable as they vent their grief to him. However, as the episodes progress, a glint appears in Jin-gap’s eyes, and by the end, he looks full of vigor and ready to take life by the horns. With such blatant and cruel injustice standing before his eyes and mocking him, Jin-gap rises up to the challenge and faces it head on. Rather than cower or run away from a supposedly insurmountable foe, the difficulty of the task and the barrage of “no’s” thrown his way seem to fuel rather than hinder Jin-gap’s motivation. In some ways, he might be the kind of hero who thrives on adversity and really shows his true worth when the cards are stacked against him. At the end, he throws away his tie and fully embraces his former ego “Jang-poong,” and I, for one, am excited to see what shenanigans he’ll bring to the table.
There are hints throughout the premiere that suggest at a past event that lead Jin-gap to become the man he is today. While the victim of that incident was introduced, the rest of the involved parties are still a mystery by and large. However, it seems that Sun-woo’s reappearance may be just the start as Jin-gap’s past comes front and center. Since this is only the first episodes, a lot of the major players aren’t introduced. In fact, I’m not sure if CEO Koo is even the “big bad” or if someone from Jin-gap’s past will turn out to be another foe in the future. Everything is rather introductory, and the first episodes act more as a catalyst for Jin-gap’s growth and reclamation of his righteous, crime-fighting side. Along with the students, I assume that Mi-ran will come back into the picture, and I’m looking forward to her role. There’s a clear lack of female characters in this show, which is a shame. Hopefully Mi-ran, despite the possibility of being the only substantial female the show may offer, will have something to do with the plot and will be a decently written character. My hopes are up since she’s an officer and the setup of a divorced couple already makes their relationship interesting because there’s a shared history between them.
The topic of the show is dark as it addresses issues of corruption and how the rich and powerful live above the law. CEO Koo feels like a loose cannon who commits crimes without batting an eye, and the violence he portrayed so far has been surprisingly heinous. The fact that he thought he could call the police for Jin-gap kicking him when Sun-woo was in the room, still bleeding from his beating, either shows that Koo’s completely crazy or that he’s completely confident of his control over the authorities (or more likely both). There are moments when he comes across as a goofball, but these only emphasize the ruthlessness of his true nature. On the other hand, the show is also surprisingly funny with random jokes inserted to balance out the heavy moments. The bright tone, ultimately, comes from Jin-gap as a character. Despite being the underdog, there’s something about him that instills confidence. While I know he’s going to have an uphill battle, his smug grin and posture make him feel like a superhero who can’t lose. His final declaration at the end of the episode made me excited to see him take down the villains because there’s no doubt in my mind that Jin-gap will accomplish his goals. Though Jin-ah might have been embarrassed of him before, I have a strong inkling that she’ll soon regret what she said and join me on the sidelines as we cheer for team “Jang-poong.”
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