Miss Lee: Episode 1
Everyone say hello to Miss Lee, tvN’s new office drama starring Hyeri as the ditzy but lovable office worker who somehow finds herself president of a company. The premiere surprised me with its interesting characters and astonishingly plausible premise, and despite not being a big fan of office dramas, I think I’ll be sticking with this one.
NOTE: This is just a first episode recap.
A frumpy, bespectacled young woman runs full-tilt down the street and into a bank, where she grabs a number. When she realizes there’s thirty people ahead of her, she picks up a discarded ticket with a lower number then finds a window and claims she missed her turn. After wiring some money, she plays a claw machine, but stops when she gets a call.
She tells the caller that she’s still at the bank, stuck in a long line, then goes back to her game. But she receives a string of texts asks her to bring back coffee and other items when she returns to her office — she’s definitely the office lackey.
Her name is LEE SUN-SHIM (Hyeri), and she’s a low-level accounting employee at Cheongil Electronics. Her entire job seems to be doing whatever the other employees don’t want to do, from fetching coffee to running personal errands to refilling the water cooler. She looks exhausted, but she does her job with as cheerful an attitude as she can muster.
The office beauty, GU JI-NA (Uhm Hyun-kyung), saunters through the office, attracting the stares of the men and the glares of the women. As the primary accounting employee, Ji-na shares desk space with Sun-shim, and the two are friendly, since they’re from the same hometown.
Over lunch, Sun-shim thanks Ji-na for getting her this job and saving her from part-time job hell. She has some concerns after fielding calls from contractors who say the company’s payments are late. But Ji-na says that’s normal for small companies, and that once their new vacuum cleaner starts selling, the company will recover.
Ji-na puts their expensive steak lunch on the company credit card, and when Sun-shim is unsure about the ethics of it, Ji-na says that they can just fudge the receipts. This becomes a habit, with the two friends going to fancy meals and indulging in shopping sprees on the company’s dime.
Ji-na shows Sun-shim another trick — when preparing monetary gifts for the company’s contacts, she requests twice as much cash as she actually sends , then pockets the rest. She justifies it as compensation for their shoddy pay, and slides half of the cash to Sun-shim, who accepts it with trepidation.
The employees have the option to buy stocks in the company, but the boss tells Sun-shim that she doesn’t qualify, “Because you’re Miss Lee.” Ji-na explains that it’s because Sun-shim hasn’t worked there for a full year yet, but Sun-shim whines that it’s not fair, being only six weeks shy of the one-year mark.
A meeting is called for the presidents of several subcontracting companies, including Cheongil Electronics, by the company that they manufacture home goods parts for, TM Electronics. They’re informed that sales are down, and since Cheongil Electronics came in last in their rankings, they’re to give ten percent of their work volume to the first place company, Seongwoo Industries.
After the meeting, CEO Oh from Cheongil is called into the office of Director Hwang from TM Electronics. CEO Oh says meekly that he disagrees with their evaluation because the new equipment TM bought for them was defective, but Director Hwang is dismissive and condescending. He orders CEO Oh to reduce the cost of their produced items or be fired. He ends the meeting by insisting that CEO Oh pay for dinner after a subcontractors’ golf day at the end of the month.
When he gets back to Cheongil, CEO Oh orders Sun-shim to convene all the executives and department heads in his office. He proceeds to take out his frustration on his employees, who warn him that they have to do things a certain way or risk angering TM Electronics. CEO Oh is frantic to prove that his plan to make and directly sell a complete vacuum will work, and he yells so loud that the entire office can hear him.
Ji-na brings CEO Oh some anxiety medicine after he dismisses everyone, noting that he always comes back stressed from meetings at TM Electronics. She asks if TM gave ten percent of their orders to another company because they know they’re making their own vacuum, but CEO Oh says that Seongwoo lobbied for those orders.
A meeting is called of Cheongil Electronic’s subcontractors, to discuss their last-place ranking with TM. YOO JIN-WOOK (Kim Sang-kyung), one of the higher-ups at Cheongil, says that unlike TM, they will cut a few orders from each subcontractor rather than a huge chunk from only one. The subcontractors nervously ask for the payments they haven’t received, which they need to do business, but Jin-wook snaps that he can’t pay them when TM hasn’t paid Cheongil.
Sun-shim comes in with coffee, and when someone’s phone starts ringing, she finds it under the table. Jin-wook yells at her and harshly kicks her out of the room even though the phone isn’t hers, and she whines to a little dog outside about it as she takes a break.
Sun-shim and Ji-na also happen to be roommates, and that evening, Ji-na advises Sun-shim to get a thicker skin about things like being yelled at. She tells Sun-shim to just ignore Jin-wook, and Sun-shim says that she tries, but it makes her feel worthless and look like a loser.
Ji-na says that Jin-wook was wrong to yell at her, but that Sun-shim lacks self-esteem and lets the other employees treat her badly, like calling her “Miss Lee” instead of her name. Sun-shim says she doesn’t care so long as she has a job, but Ji-na argues that that attitude is why people dismiss her.
She thinks that Sun-shim thinks like a slave because she’s always had unstable part-time jobs, and Sun-shim agrees. Ji-na says that she needs something to motivate her to change her thinking, and she figures that if Sun-shim became a stockholder, she’d start thinking more like an owner of the company.
The problem is that the time to buy stocks is now, before Cheongil starts selling its vacuums and stock prices rise, but Sun-shim isn’t eligible to buy company stocks yet. With her shady sense of business ethics, Ji-na offers to sell Sun-shim some stocks that CEO Oh once gave her, but Sun-shim doesn’t have enough in her savings to purchase them.
She asks her older sister JIN-SHIM (Jung Soo-young) for a loan, but Unni’s answer is a resounding No. Jin-shim leaves to pick up her kids from daycare, and while she’s gone, Sun-shim snoops around her apartment. She must find something, because Jin-shim chases her down the block when she leaves, and when she catches up she finds her bankbook in Sun-shim’s purse.
Sun-shim argues that she’s only taking the money Jin-shim took from her and promised to give back when she gets married. She whines that she’s tired of living broke and wants to be a success, but Jin-shim shrieks that she’s not smart enough to buy stocks and will only lose the money, making Sun-shim stalk away offended.
On the bus, Sun-shim pulls a registration certificate and Jin-shim’s ID from her bag and smirks that this was what she was really after anyway. Her plan is to use their parents’ gravesite as collateral for a loan, confident she can pay the money back quickly. She wears her hair like Jin-shim’s in her IS photo, and her loan application goes relatively smoothly.
Soon Cheongil Electronics’ new vacuum is ready for export to China, though the employees aren’t nearly as excited as CEO Oh. They get excited when he promises raises and bonuses if the vacuum sells well, ha. But then CEO Oh gets a call from Director Hwang, who’s reducing TM’s payment for parts by seven percent.
An employee asks Sun-shim to send money to a vendor whose in-law died, but Jin-wook puts a stop to it, objecting to the fact that he’s more interested in vendors’ extended family than his own work. Pitying the guy, Sun-shim uses her own skimmed cash for the monetary gift, and her coworker quietly thanks her.
She gets a text that her loan was approved, and she yelps loudly, drawing attention. She ignores a call from Jin-shim, who texts with a threat to come to her office if she doesn’t answer, so she goes outside and answers her sister’s next call. Sun-shim apologizes profusely, but Jin-shim is only calling to say that she’s sent some money from her own savings to Sun-shim’s account to help her buy the stocks. Awww, sisters.
CEO Oh forces his way into the office of CEO MOON (Kim Hyung-mook) at TM Electronics, upset that they keep decreasing their unit costs every quarter. He yells that he debased himself and spent a lot of money in order to get the equipment that TM “invested” in Cheongil, and that he has to pay that investment back anyway.
Director Hwang keeps trying to kick CEO Oh out of the office, and CEO Oh shoves him away every time. He declares that he’s terminating Cheongil’s contract with TM, and threatens to report TM for oppression of their subcontractors if they try to take back the equipment.
At that exact moment, Ji-na sells her stocks in Cheongil to Sun-shim, and on his way back to the company, CEO Oh spots Sun-shim polishing the sign to “her” company. Unfortunately, he gets a call that TM somehow convinced the Chinese company not to purchase their new vacuums, so they’re all being sent back.
CEO Oh yells at Director Park (cameo by Kim Won-hae) yet again for failing to get a bank loan, and this time, Director Park is completely done. He yells back that it’s humiliating to beg a bank employee young enough to be his son, and he calls CEO Oh a dictator and turns in his resignation on the spot.
Sun-shim gets a call from CEO Oh telling her to book him a flight to Shanghai. An employee runs in and breathlessly announces that they’re being raided for illegal software, so everyone quickly starts deleting everything on their computers. When the authorities are gone (after warning CEO Oh that he could serve jail time if anything is found), CEO Oh demands to know who recorded and reported all of Cheongil’s illegal activities, but nobody confesses.
He even yells at his son, OH PHILLIP (Kim Do-yeon) for working uselessly in a lab all day instead of going out and making sales. Phillip just glares at him silently until he leaves. LOL, office worker HA-NA lets everyone know that their insurance policy covers therapy if anyone needs a few sessions after dealing with CEO Oh.
The next morning, the employees are worried when their pay hasn’t been wired to their accounts, and Ji-na, who’s in charge of payroll, hasn’t come into work. Sun-shim gets a text that Ji-na went on a sudden business trip, but their pay will be deposited by the end of the day.
At home that evening, Sun-shim gets a flood of texts from her coworkers wanting to know why their pay never arrived. Sun-shim realizes that Ji-na is late getting home, and she’s still not back by morning. Now the head office is getting calls from the factories about the missing payroll.
As soon as she walks in, Sun-shim is attacked from all sides (excepting Jin-wook, who looks kind of sorry for her). She whines that she thinks something happened to Ji-na because she can’t reach her, and CEO Oh has his phone turned off.
People start putting together the clues and conclude that CEO Oh ruined their relationship with TM Electronics, then took all of Cheongil’s money and fled with Ji-na. Jin-wook tells them not to jump to conclusions, but when the trucks arrive to return the vacuum cleaners, their fears seem to be confirmed. Jin-wook calls CEO Moon at TM, but CEO Moon says he has nothing to say and hangs up.
Sun-shim runs home, and she’s comforted to see that Ji-na hasn’t cleaned out her things. But then, in the back of the closet, she finds a note that says, “You can keep all my stuff. This is my goodbye gift. Surprise!” Well, crap.
Recognizing a sinking ship when they see one, Cheongil employees start cleaning out their things. Phillip is frantically making calls to find out what’s going on, and Sun-shim jumps into his car with him, sure he’s going to see CEO Oh.
They end up at the police station, where they’re told that CEO Oh was caught on CCTV appearing to have jumped into the Han River. If he actually jumped it happened off-screen, and no body has been found, but his wallet was near the area. Seeing his father’s ID, Phillip is devastated.
The employees wonder, if CEO Oh and Ji-na disappeared together and CEO Oh committed suicide, what happened to Ji-na? Ha-na speculates that maybe Ji-na tricked CEO Oh and took all the money, and they ask Sun-shim if she knows anything, but she keeps quiet about Ji-na’s note.
The employees consider applying for a substitute payment from the government, but it’s a long, complicated process. They use the company card (which Sun-shim still has, thankfully) to treat themselves to dinner and soju in the company cafeteria, where they complain about being broke and the company possibly going bankrupt.
Sun-shim sobs that she’s always worked part-time jobs and was so happy to have finally been employed by a proper company. She wails that she just bought a lot of stocks from Ji-na, too, using her parents’ gravesites as collateral. Everyone’s heads pop up, furious that Ji-na would scam her close friend. Apparently, Ji-na had already offered the now-worthless stocks to almost everyone else.
Sun-shim tries to slam an entire bottle of soju, but CHOI YOUNG-JA (Baek Ji-won) stops her and says she needs to take action. Young-ja asks how many vacuum cleaners they have (answer: a lot) and suggests they sell them to pay this month’s salaries, before the creditors catch on.
Eun-woo warns them that it’s theft to sell product without the company president’s approval, so Jae-ran suggests they appoint a new company president. Young-hoon thinks that someone would have to be insane to take legal responsibility for all this mess, including dealing with creditors and being questioned by the police.
They realize that as mere employees, they don’t have the authority to appoint a new company president — that’s something normally decided by the shareholders, and CEO Oh and Phillip own most of the shares. They call Phillip to ask his opinion, but Phillip is still waiting by the river as the police search for his father’s body, and he tells them bleakly to do whatever they want.
In their drunken enthusiasm, the employees decide to play Spin the Bottle to determine the new president. Young-hoon gives the empty soju bottle a good spin, and when it stops… it’s pointing at Sun-shim. Everyone laughs and applauds their new boss, President Lee.
Jin-wook arrives in the cafeteria just as Sun-shim is being urged to make a speech. He calls all of them crazy, and Young-ja explains that Sun-shim is basically just a figurehead until they can sell the vacuum cleaners. Jin-wook argues that Sun-shim is just an entry-level bookkeeper whose only skill is running menial errands, and his words hit Sun-shim right where it hurts.
Recalling all the times she’s been yelled at and looked down on, Sun-shim asks, “Why can’t I do it? Why does everyone always look down on me? I’m also an employee, you know! I’ll do it. I’ll be the president of this company.”
I like it! I didn’t think I would, but Miss Lee is cute without being twee, funny but not ridiculous, and I can see where it will become heartwarming as the story progresses. Sun-shim is an adorable character, and I think that her particular flavor of enthusiasm will optimism will go a long way towards saving Cheongil Electronics. She’s only been in the business world for a year, so she doesn’t know how anything works, but I think that could work in her favor. Doing things the standard way hasn’t helped the company succeed, but maybe Sun-shim’s out-of-the-box thinking can turn things around.
That also could work against her, since she doesn’t know anything about how the company operates. We’ve seen that she knows the difference between right and wrong whenever she raised objections to Ji-na’s creative bookkeeping, but she also caved to pressure pretty easily, so she could be a target if someone decided to take advantage of her lack of experience. That’s where Jin-wook will come in — he’s knowledgeable, and he can help Sun-shim learn the ropes. But he’s also prickly and doesn’t seem to like Sun-shim much, probably because of her limited knowledge. I hope that the look of pity he shot in her direction means that he’ll soften up to her eventually.
I have a strong feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Ji-na by a long shot. It was obvious that she was up to something by the way she played fast and loose with company funds, and as the bookkeeper, she was in the perfect position to see this problem coming and start planning an exit strategy. I’m convinced that she even hired Sun-shim because she knew her friend was clueless and malleable, and wouldn’t catch on to her sneaky behavior. There’s not enough evidence that Ji-na was working with CEO Oh when the company went belly-up, but I can see her convincing him to help her clean out the company’s funds then taking off with everything. She’s definitely bad news, and I suspect that once Sun-shim gets the company back on its feet, Ji-na will find a reason to come back.
I think I’m one of a minority of drama-watchers who actually likes Hyeri, so long as she’s cast in the right types of roles for her. She plays the clueless but well-meaning Candy quite well, and I have enjoyed her in roles that play to her strengths (Answer Me 1988 and Entertainer, specifically). I think that Lee Sun-shim will be one of those roles that lets Hyeri shine as the ditzy but determined ingenue, and this premiere episode showed me that this drama will likely be right up her alley.
Maybe I’m mellowing out, or maybe my interests are expanding, but Miss Lee is another example of a genre I normally don’t care for, yet I find myself wanting to see more just to find out what happens next. The execution is a bit dry in parts, and I’d prefer a little more color saturation in the show as a whole, but otherwise I found the characters compelling and the premise kind of cute. The office workers in particular were fun to watch when they would complain or joke around with each other, and I can see them becoming a big family, with Sun-shim at their center. I wasn’t expecting to continue this show, but this premiere changed my mind, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
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