Money Game: Episode 1
Korea is on the precipice of financial calamity, and a failing bank serves as a reminder of the turmoil caused by the IMF Crisis of the ’90s. Our protagonists remember that time all too well, and with one person obsessed with heralding in a new economic era, what will that mean for a nation and our heroes?
Note: This is a just first episode recap.
EPISODE 1: “Under Fire”
Stuck in traffic, CHAE YI-HEON (Go Soo), Chief of Financial Policy at the Financial Services Commission (FSC), watches the news on the small screen on his dashboard. The report explains that after a government audit on a troubled bank, the National Policy Committee called a hearing where Yi-heon’s boss, Chairman Go Sang-ho is being questioned.
Yi-heon’s father, PROFESSOR CHAE BYUNG-HAK (Jung Dong-hwan), former chair of Seoul National University’s Economics Department, calls Yi-heon to ask if he’s going to participate in the national hoax. When Yi-heon explains that he can’t discuss the case, Professor Chae reminds him that when a bureaucrat can’t tell the public the truth, the citizens are being deceived.
As he nears the National Assembly, Yi-heon hangs up. Professor Chae sits among his many stacks of books and journals as the news reports that the current administration is being pressured to liquidate/sell Jeongin Bank.
When he reaches the National Assembly, Yi-heon grabs some reports as he gets another call from his father and runs to the hearing. As part of Chairman Go’s team, Yi-heon is well versed on Jeongin’s customer accounts, including the corporations that took out huge loans. Unfortunately, he’s seated too far from Chairman Go to help him answer an assemblyman’s detailed questions.
Yi-heon is moved to the seat directly behind Chairman Go to feed him information and when the assemblyman catches on, he calls on Yi-heon directly. When Yi-heon is able to report that $2.4 billion of Jeongin’s loans are in default, the room murmurs in disapproval and Yi-heon’s colleagues start to squirm.
At the training center for government employees, FSC Vice Chairman HEO JAE (Lee Sung-min), warns a roomful of new civil servants that pretentious bureaucrats think that they know more than the public. He points out that during the IMF Crisis (International Monetary Fund), the public recognized the signs of a bad economy but civil servants chose to focus on favorable indexes.
One of the trainees, LEE HYE-JOON (Shim Eun-kyung), a Level 5 civil servant, looks up when Heo Jae admits, “I was outraged.” Somberly, he warns the class, “I hope you’ll remember to always be humble and become a civil servant who listens to what the people have to say.”
Before dismissing them, Heo Jae offers to answer one question. When no one speaks up, he points to Hye-joon and asks her, “Why did you become a civil servant?” Her answer is simple, “I wanted to be someone who worked for the people.”
After reminding him about the failure of the civil servants in the IMF Crisis, Hye-joon presents her question, “I’d like to ask what kind of a civil servant you are at this moment.” Hye-joon expresses concern that in light of the current crisis, nothing has changed.
Back at the hearing, Yi-heon is asked if Jeongin Bank should be bought out and after recalling his father’s warning about speaking the truth, agrees, “…it is one of our options.” The answer causes an uproar and when asked if the government’s intervention to save Jeongin Bank was a mistake, Yi-heon softly murmurs, “Yes.”
After considering Hye-joon’s question, Heo Jae has the motto, “The civil servant that can make a Nation prosper,” in mind when he gives a puzzling answer. He talks about the icy cold and sharp volition of the individual in the economic field and Hye-joon takes note.
Yi-heon’s colleagues gang up on him outside the hearing, worried that the bank’s stock will now plummet. He testily reminds them that’s why the government intervened in the first place. When a reporter calls his coworker, he emphasizes that Yi-heon’s comments were his personal opinion, not the government’s official position.
Heo Jae leaves the training center with other senior administrators and the men discuss Hye-joon’s unique situation — she attended an industrial high school, paid her way through a lower tier college and placed third in the Level 5 civil service exam.
As the men part, one of them sees a report of Yi-heon’s comments on the internet. Heo Jae’s friends tease that he’ll become the next chairman but he scolds them for abandoning Chairman Go. Heo Jae drives off but after a short distance, he pulls over to check the reports himself and his lip curls into a smile.
As Hye-joon exits the training center, a young girl greets her aunt and it triggers a memory. In 1998, Hye-joon’s aunt had dragged her to Jaeyoung Bank Headquarters just after it had closed its doors. Hye-joon’s father was among the desperate customers gathered outside of the bank.
Hye-joon’s dad breached a barricade to confront the bank officials as they exited the building. Hye-joon saw Heo Jae speak to a blonde woman in a red pantsuit as she surveyed the unruly crowd. After the woman was driven away, Hye-joon’s father begged the branch manager for help until security dragged him away.
A frightened Hye-joon noticed that one of the bank officials laughed. After her weeping father was dumped on the ground, Hye-joon’s aunt sent her to his side to get him to go home.
Yi-heon endures an awkward elevator ride back at the FSC and lets out a loud sigh when he reaches his desk. Chairman Go texts a summons to his office and when Yi-heon he runs into his friend, Han Sang-min, he’s told that the mood upstairs is icy.
One of Chairman Go’s supporters barges into the office and confronts Yi-heon, who argues, “It’s not like I was wrong.” Yi-heon is accused of ruining the chairman’s career but he escapes when he’s reminded that Chairman Go wants to see him right away.
In his office, an anxious Chairman Go checks the time and walks out. When Yi-heon arrives, he’s told that the chairman just left to see Professor Chae.
Chairman Go kneels before Professor Chae as he busies himself dusting the leaves on a plant. When Professor Chae suggests, “You should use your competence to keep your position instead of asking for help,” Chairman Go insists that the president will listen, if only he’ll make that call.
Hye-joon’s aunt and uncle are hard at work at their chicken restaurant when a well-dressed customer walks in. When he explains that he’s in the area taking care of an apartment building that his mother just gave him, Hye-joon’s aunt fumes.
When the man sits down to eat, Hye-joon’s uncle, Soo-ho, recalls that as kids, he came to him whenever he got beat up. His wife grumbles, “Back when he used to hit on me, I doubted that he’d ever grow up. But how in the world did he become so rich?” She removes her apron and heads for the door, reminding her husband that she promised to help Hye-joon move into her new place.
After Hye-joon has a new piano delivered, her aunt sits on the used mattress and suggests that Hye-joon should have bought a used piano and a new bed. Her aunt is suddenly quiet when Hye-joon places a photo of her father on top of the piano, along with a framed $2 bill and her Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) ID badge.
Yi-heon parks outside of his father’s house and ducks out of sight when Chairman Go exits. When Yi-heon joins his father inside, he’s told that he made two mistakes at the hearing — he shared his personal opinion with the entire country while failing to exhibit confidence.
Yi-heon argues, “You know better than anyone that something needs to be done with Jeongin Bank.” Frustrated, Professor Chae snaps, “You don’t have what it takes to become a minister…you’re nothing but a salaryman,” and then turns away.
Yi-heon is about to leave when the housekeeper announces dinner. When there’s no invitation from his father, Yi-heon claims that he has a dinner appointment but he ends up eating alone at a convenience store.
Over dinner at the chicken restaurant, Aunt shares her hope that Hye-joon will become a minister someday but Soo-ho thinks it’s time for her to get married. Aunt won’t hear of it and urges Hye-joon to buy and sell enough houses to buy a building.
Hye-joon’s cousin Ma-ri joins them after spending the day on a team-building hike. As they eat, Ma-ri asks her parents if they’re all right in the tiny room in the back of the store and her mother sighs that it’s all they can afford. When she invites her daughter to stay the night, Ma-ri opts to stay with Hye-joon.
When Soo-ho asks Hye-joon to introduce Ma-ri to a nice man from the MOEF, she guesses that there must be nice men at the broadcasting station. Sick of his attempts to marry off her daughter and niece, Hye-joon’s aunt yells at Soo-ho to drop the subject.
Later, as she gets ready for bed, Aunt tells Soo-ho that Hye-joon set out photos of her brother. Soo-ho recalls that his brother-in-law was so devoted to Hye-joon that he never even considered remarrying.
Aunt regrets not paying back their loan when her brother asked and wonders if it would have made a difference. The money would have paid for Hye-joon to attend a decent high school and Aunt wouldn’t feel so guilty about sending her own daughter to top schools.
Unable to sleep, Hye-joon sits at her piano. Very quietly, she taps out a few notes and is taken back in time. While a younger Hye-joon practiced a classical piece, her drunk father yelled from his bedroom for her to play his favorite song.
As he sang, “The bright sunny day will be back…You will be able to do anything if you put your mind to it,” Hye-joon dutifully played the melody. Crumpling a $2 bill, his voice trailed off, thick with tears. In the present, Hye-joon smiles sadly at the photo of her father and dumps the $2 bill in the trash.
On Hye-joon’s first day at the MOEF, a senior official is enthusiastic about her until he hears that she graduated from Minju University. Hye-joon’s supervisor shows her to her deck in the International Finance Bureau and introduces her to her colleagues. One of them is a graduate of National University of Singapore and he reports that his classmates at the European Central Bank (ECB) unofficially confirmed that their deal is a sure thing.
Familiar with Hye-joon’s background, the coworker blurts out his surprise that her university produced someone suitable for their department. Their supervisor laughs uncomfortably and reminds him, “No one looks at the school you went to anymore.”
The chief tries to introduce Hye-joon to Director Na Joon-pyo, but remembering that she attended an industrial high school, he’s decided that qualifies her to make copies. With no office assistants around, Director Na hands Hye-joon a report that he warns is top secret and mutters that she probably can’t understand it since most of it is in English.
Chairman Go takes a break from packing up his office to sit with Yi-heon. Chairman Go explains it wasn’t that he was incompetent, he just believed that hanging in there was an important attribute for an administrator. When Yi-heon gets a text from Vice Chairman Heo, an angry Chairman Go waves him away.
Vice Chairman Heo looks at the confidential report meant for the Blue House that Director Na just handed him. When Director Na explains, “I’m being considered for the transfer to HQ,” it’s clear that he’s angling for Heo’s support.
After Heo Jae tosses the report back, a sheepish Director Na tries again, “If you become chairman of FSC, you’ll have to establish yourself politically…so I wanted you to use it.” Director Na is dismissed after Yi-heon walks in but keeps the report.
When they’re alone, Heo Jae promises that if he becomes the next chairman, he’ll resolve the Jeongin Bank crisis right away. After Yi-heon suggests issuing guaranteed bonds to attract a buyer for the bank, Heo Jae reminds him that the move will invite criticism. Yi-heon argues, “I believe government involvement is unavoidable. We have no choice,” which is exactly what Heo Jae wants to hear.
Calling Jeongin’s creditors a cancer on the economy, Heo Jae proposes a major reorganization of the bank. When Yi-heon warns that he’ll be accused of federalizing the economy, he scoffs, “Professor Chae Byung-hak’s minions? Those neoliberalists?”
Heo Jae asks, “You know what free-market capitalists did to our economy after the IMF crisis?” and Yi-hum murmurs, “I do.” Yi-heon is surprised when Heo Jae announces, “You’re my man now.” Later, Sang-min joins Yi-hin at a small restaurant to celebrate and announces that it’s time for him to prove himself.
That evening, Heo Jae is driven through a neighborhood of empty storefronts and the taxi driver frets that the economy is worse than before the IMF Crisis. Heo thinks back to 1998, when as a Level 5 civil servant, he and others were told by the MOEF Deputy Minister, “If you attract foreign capital, you are a loyal servant. But if you fail, you’ll all be considered as traitors.”
When Heo Jae later attended a meeting at Jaeyoung Bank, he sat across from the blond in the red pantsuit, Shannon Lucio, Head of Korea Investment Management at Bahama. Also present were the President of Jaeyoung Bank, Lee Jin-seok, and the local branch manager, Kyung Il-gu.
Ms. Lucio had the sniffles so Heo Jae took out his handkerchief as he recalled the Deputy Minister’s order, “Make sure you swallow your pride before you leave this room.” Before he could offer it to her, President Lee gave her a box of tissues and soon there was a pile of used tissues on the table.
When Ms. Lucio announced the closing of the branch, Manager Kyung begged her to reconsider and he turned to Heo for help. Instead, Heo Jae focused on President Lee as he cleared away the dirty tissues while the Deputy Minister’s final instructions rang in his ears, “Do whatever it takes to bring in dollars.”
As everyone exited the building, Ms. Lucio saw the crowd and asked if they were dangerous. When she was gone, President Lee called her “evil” and explained that she ordered the closure of the branches in order to take every penny. When Heo was driven away, Hye-joon stared at him.
Heo Jae rings the bell to a luxurious apartment and is welcomed by Shannon Lucio. After a review of Jeongin’s troubling financial reports, Ms. Lucio concludes, “Korea never changes, does it?” When Heo Jae stipulates, “There’s a condition,” Ms. Lucio flatly refuses.
He’s interrupted by a call from the Blue House Chief Economic Officer and repeats, “Professor Chae Byung-hak?” Heo Jae later stares into the bathroom mirror and recalls a recent meeting to discuss Jeongin Bank.
Professor Chae had warned that Heo Jae’s proposal was steering the country in the direction of a dictatorship. When Chae advocated that the financial market should be left to recover on its own, Heo bellowed at him. In an attempt to dismiss Professor Chae’s suggestion, Heo reminded the others, “Let’s talk about our financial status. This isn’t a country known for its fertile land.”
Professor Chae seized on that description, “The government should help fertilize the land! Not nip the sprouts and level the land for us.” Heo glared at Professor Chae, who glared back unflinchingly.
Professor Chae is at work on a report for the President with recommendations for the next FSC chairman when Heo calls and asks to meet. Professor Chae refuses and after he hangs up, types, “Chairman Heo Jae isn’t qualified to be the Chief Economic Officer.”
In the morning, Professor Chae leaves his house dressed for a hike. As Professor Chae hikes up a mountain trail, a man dressed in black follows him from a distance. When Professor Chae sits down on a large ledge thanks to a bothersome blister, Heo crouches beside him.
Professor Chae asks him to leave and when Heo remains, he calls the vice chairman unstable. After complaining that Heo never understood the free market, Heo accuses Professor Chae of undermining his mission to fix the nation’s faulty economic policies. Professor Chae tries to explain that Heo’s policies will break the nation’s economic structure and gets called a narrow-minded old man.
Professor Chae begs Heo to open his eyes but all he wants to know is if the academic plans to prevent his promotion. After Professor Chae calls him incompetent and his ideas trash, Heo threatens, “If you stand against me yet again, I won’t let you have your way.”
As Heo turns to leave, an incensed Professor Chae yells that bureaucrats like him are a threat to the country which he cannot ignore. Heo grabs Professor Chae by the jacket and blames scholars like him for the country’s woes.
Heo warns, “Just stay put this time,” but Professor Chae wails, “How can I when I know you’ll ruin our economy?” Fearful because Heo never admits when he’s wrong, Professor Chae vows to keep him from taking the country down the same path.
Heo comes unglued and bellows, “You’re ruining everything,” and he pushes Professor Chae off of the ledge. Panting, Heo looks down at Professor Chae, who’s still breathing. Large raindrops start to fall as his eyes close, while up on the ledge, Heo looks up with determination.
The IMF Crisis in the 1990s, called the Asian Financial Crisis in the U.S. left a lasting impression on everyone who was affected — from government administrators to a certain leading economist and the newly hired civil servant who witnessed her father’s suffering after he was ruined. Obviously, there are strong feelings about the lessons that were learned, or not, and the future of a country hangs in the balance as history threatens to repeat itself. The danger, of course, is that there are certain economic principles that cannot be ignored or avoided but that doesn’t seem to matter when personal ambitions are introduced into the mix. Which is how the passionate Professor Chae ended up at the bottom of that ledge.
No matter how maddening he might have been, Professor Chae possessed a deep understanding of the principles that govern a discipline as complicated as economics. He could see so clearly what others couldn’t or wouldn’t, serving as that lone voice in the wilderness in the hopes of preventing a disaster. But Heo Jae wasn’t interested in Professor Chae’s warnings because he’d convinced himself that he’s the one person to right the country’s economic ship.Furious that someone stood in the way of his vision, Heo responded with that violent act against Professor Chae.
That first hint that Heo is a rogue public servant came when Hye-joon references the IMF Crisis and asks him about his present outlook. Heo talks about volition and the individual in the field and Hye-joon takes notes. I’m so fascinated by her and the way that she seems to absorb information so I can’t wait to learn why exactly she became a public servant. I do think that she wants to serve the public, but I also think that Hye-joon has her suspicions about what really happened during the IMF Crisis and what better place to conduct her research than the International Finance Bureau. Hye-joon remembers all of the players the day that Jaeyoung Bank closed its doors in 1998, especially a certain elegant blonde and Heo Jae.
Somehow, no one seems to know that Yi-heon is the son of Professor Chae and it’s a secret that they actively maintained. As a free market economist, Professor Chae must not understand how his son ended up working for the FSC, which is all too eager to interfere in economic matters. Their final argument and the ensuing chill is doubly tragic in light of Professor Chae’s “accident.” Without Professor Chae to stall the FSC, will Yi-heon’s opinion about the government’s role change? As Heo’s plan takes shape, will he finally understand his father’s concerns and embrace them? I have a feeling that a certain Level 5 civil servant, who’s constantly dismissed because she didn’t attend a top university, is about to blow the lid off of what really happened during the IMF Crisis. That should change the way that her arrogant superiors and contemporaries see her, but until then, Hye-joon will bide her time as she watches and listens.