The Uncanny Counter: Episode 1
OCN’s newest webtoon adaptation is here! We dive quickly into the midst of things as our strange gang of demon hunters carry out a mission and attempt to recruit a new member. We’re introduced to a sweet and empathetic hero that you can’t help but root for. If the opening hour is any indication, we’re in for a heartfelt adventure.
NOTE: This is a first episode recap.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on a rainy night in the city of Jungjin. A young boy named SO MOON draws his family while sitting in the backseat of their car. He’s upset with Mom and Dad for being too busy to keep their promises (they’re both in the police force), and excludes them from his portrait.
Dad SO KWON (cameo by Jeon Suk-ho) pulls out the aegyo until So Moon cracks a smile. The boy lights up when Mom and Dad promise to make time for a family trip, so he etches them into his sketchbook.
Elsewhere, a man limps onto the roof of a building, wincing from being stabbed in the gut. He manages to call So Kwon who picks up while stopped at a red light. The bleeding man is Detective GA MO-TAK (Yoo Joon-sang), who desperately warns So Kwon to be careful. “You have to survive!”
Before Mo-tak can explain, a dozen hooded figures show up and begin to attack. Although he fights back, he ends up falling over the ledge and landing on top of a parked car. As So Kwon listens on with concern, a truck crashes into their vehicle.
Mom manages to fling herself to the back, using her body to protect So Moon. The boy shakenly calls out to his parents, but they’re non-responsive. His leg is crushed and bleeding, causing him to lose consciousness as well.
Before his eyes shut, So Moon spots the truck driver walking towards them and weakly calls for help. This person peers in to check on the family, making no move to assist. This was definitely pre-meditated.
Seven years later. SO MOON (Jo Byung-kyu) has grown up to be a bright and filial grandson living with his maternal grandparents. As he helps Grandma wash up, she tells So Moon to die, blaming Mom’s death on him. Although it stings, So Moon maintains his smile and expertly calms her down. He’s used to this, as she’s ill and not completely herself.
Over the years, So Moon continued to draw and has been recognized for his artistic talents. His room is filled with storyboards and character designs. While rummaging through his shelf, So Moon comes across the old drawing of his family and gets lost in thought.
He leaves to meet with his friends, bringing along his portable CD player and a cane for support. The injury from the crash not only left a scar on his right ankle, but has affected his ability to walk. It’s only once he’s out the door that Grandpa realizes that it’s September 12th – So Moon’s birthday.
So Moon rides on the back of his friend KIM WOONG-MIN’s bike. With them is IM JOO-YEON, who rounds out the trio of best friends. They’re working on a superhero story and eagerly discuss the lead character’s background. So Moon shares his idea of having the hero absorb the power of every villain he defeats, making him stronger each time.
When So Moon spots a woman struggling to hand out missing persons flyers, he makes the effort to go up to her despite having taken one before. His actions confuse his friends, but they follow suit. So Moon explains that she’ll feel less lonely knowing that people care. He’s so sweet!
However, since the people have already been missing for a year, Joo-yeon wonders if they might’ve passed away already.
The trio ends up in line for Unni’s Noodles, a popular hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Woong-min explains to the others that the shop owner refused to sell the land to someone who intended to construct a building there.
The restaurant doesn’t do any form of advertising, yet there’s always a line out the door. It’s an odd place that’s open for merely three hours a day, run by a strange assortment of people. We follow server DO HANA (Kim Se-jung) as she works the floor, speaking gruffly to customers.
In charge of cooking the noodles is CHOO MAE-OK (Yeom Hye-ran), and chopping up ingredients with extreme precision and speed is Mo-tak, the detective from the roof. He’s alive! He’s strong enough to snap a blade in half and catches a knife mid-air, while Hana seems to have super strength. They’re definitely not a normal bunch.
Hana gets a vision of someone being strangled to death by a young man. She zeroes in on a few key details, then rushes into the kitchen announcing that she “found one.” They immediately prepare to leave as Hana explains that the killer spoke in two voices – an indicator of a “level three.”
They trust the patrons to take care of things themselves after they finish eating. The friends finally made it to the front of the line but unfortunately, Hana delivers the news that they’re closing early today. So Moon is enamored by her beauty, watching as she and the others don matching red tracksuits and drive off in a hurry.
Communicating with wireless earpieces, they update their comrade JANG CHEOL-JUNG (cameo by Sung Ji-ru) on the situation. While Mo-tak and the ladies split up to search on foot, Cheol-jung laments that demons sure have terrible timing. He was just about to head over for a bowl of Mae-ok’s famous noodles. Ah, so they’re demon hunters.
Mae-ok promises to make him a special bowl once they deal with the evil spirit and alerts the team to a burst of shimmering light coming from the north side. It’s their territory.
Hana spots the demon and follows closely behind but he catches on quickly and makes a run for it. Hana manages to chase him up to a rooftop, where the evil spirit takes one good look at her before jumping to the next building.
Undeterred, Hana leaps through the air and Mo-tak joins in on the rooftop chase. By now, it’s clear that they each have enhanced physical abilities. At some point, Mae-ok gets hit by a truck but continues running, leaving the driver totally confused, ha.
When Hana loses sight of the demon for a moment, he pops up behind her to demand to know who they are. She gets in a few solid kicks but is quickly overpowered. Mo-tak charges at him and announces that they’re basically Grim Reapers.
Mo-tak and Hana are strong but even so, they barely manage to get him in a chokehold. The demon uses psychokinetic powers to blast them away with a force so strong that their bodies damage the walls.
Before he can deliver the final blow, Mae-ok arrives and catapults a metal pole straight into the concrete wall. Evaluating his options, the demon decides that it’s best to flee.
Cheol-jung warns the gang to retreat, but Mae-ok is determined to catch him. The three demon hunters run towards their territory where Cheol-jung lies in waiting. Mo-tak warns Cheol-jung not to take him on alone, but the demon has already entered the barrier.
Cheol-jung seems to be evenly matched with the demon. However, his strength drops significantly when their territory suddenly fades. With the upper hand, the demon demands to know, “Who are you people?”
The demon skewers him with a pipe and Cheol-jung’s soul. He giggles creepily in multiple voices – it was the most delicious one he has ever eaten. Then, something bright exits the body – a female spirit turns into a ball of light, shooting into the sky. That’s the demon’s cue to leave.
The spirit orb is afraid now that their territory is gone and begins to search frantically for another host. When the hunters finally arrive, they mourn sorrowfully for the death of their dear friend.
Meanwhile, the trio finally settle in at a restaurant for So Moon’s birthday lunch. Noticing the wounds on Woong-min’s face, Joo-yeon suggests that he reports his bullies to the police. They both clam up when So Moon nears, keep the bullying a secret.
After the meal, they walk through a crowded plaza. The spirit orb had been searching for an appropriate host living in a comatose state, but ends up entering So Moon’s body. Time pauses for a moment as he floats above ground.
His friends are worried when he suddenly crashes onto the ground, and the spirit wonders how she ended up inside his body. So Moon felt as if he were zapped by lightning, but that’s not even the weirdest part – his straight hair turns curly right before their very eyes.
When So Moon gets home, Grandpa whips out a birthday cake to celebrate but Grandma blows out the candle. Although she describes So Moon as a precious grandson who brings her joy, she can’t recognize that he’s right in front of her. She finds it ridiculous that he claims to be her grandson and throws the cake in So Moon’s face.
The curly hair remains intact post-shower and So Moon notices that there are black dots on each fingertip of his right hand, as well as one on the palm. He scrubs with all his might and even breaks a bar of soap, but can’t get rid of them.
So Moon settles into bed and places his hand over his chest where the spirit orb entered. He closes his eyes and recalls the sensation of icy cold water shooting through every fibre of his body as he levitated in the plaza. When his eyes open, So Moon finds himself in the middle of a beach.
A woman dressed in white taps him on the shoulder, addressing him by name and introducing herself as WI-GEN (Moon Sook). Startled, he jolts awake in his own room. He explains this to Joo-yeon the next day at the library, but she gets the wrong idea when he mentions that the woman’s touch was so vivid that it felt real.
By chance, So Moon witnesses Woong-min getting bullied at the other side of the library. He interrupts nervously and asks, “Why are you letting them do that? Let’s go.” Woong-min is clearly afraid but tells his friend to leave.
The bullies find this mildly amusing and slaps Woong-min to get a rise out of So Moon. This gets him angry enough to yell back in defiance, which alerts the teacher that there’s a problem.
The leader of the bullies, SHIN HYUK-WOO, watched the entire exchange quietly but approaches So Moon to say that he’s a “funny guy.” Looks like So Moon has a target on his back now.
A wealthy man arrives at a funeral home to pay respects to Cheol-jung. This is CHOI JANG-MUL (Ahn Seok-hwan), CEO of Jangmul Retail, where Cheol-jung used to work. CEO Choi later joins the demon hunters at the head of the table and announces that their mourning period is over until they’re able to catch the demon who killed Cheol-jung.
Now that they’ve had time to think about it, Mo-tak wonders how a demon was able to live undetected until he reached level three. CEO Choi muses that he must be an extraordinary one, as Hana wasn’t able to read his mind nor figure out how many souls he’d stolen.
The team is concerned with Wi-gen’s whereabouts now that Cheol-jung is gone. They’re shocked to learn that she entered the body of a kid who wasn’t even in a coma, wondering if someone healthy can become a “Counter” like them.
CEO Choi relays that according to Wi-gen, the boy is filled with pent-up anger and emotion – so much that he’ll be unbeatable once he blows up. He advises Mo-tak to find and train the kid, as they’ll need him to avenge Cheol-jung.
The police close the investigation on the death of the victim that Hana had a vision of, ruling it as a suicide. A female detective challenges the chief in charge of the case, insinuating that he must be trying to destroy evidence. Other male officers warn her not to act up and criticize her for being an “attention whore,” but she isn’t fazed. In the office, she only manages to find a photo of a man with a sick child.
Meanwhile, mayor SHIN MYUNG-HWI (Choi Kwang-il) notices that the man who used to protest that the city killed his daughter hasn’t been around in a while. His heart is heavy when he learns that the protestor, CEO Kwon of Love Jungjin (the victim from the vision), took his own life. His aide cleans up the protest banners around the city hall and shreds a radioactivity report conducted by Love Jungjin.
Woong-min confronts So Moon in the classroom for attracting the bullies’ attention. He’s constantly afraid of getting beaten up, but what scares him more is that they’ll do the same to So Moon. Hurt that his friend had to go through so much pain in secret, So Moon heads home alone. Apparently, Hyuk-woo’s the mayor’s son and will never be punished.
As luck would have it, So Moon runs into them on his way home. The lackeys steal his cane and hit him with it (ugh), holding him down while Hyuk-woo steps on his injured leg. “Isn’t your life tough enough? How dare you mess around,” he spits.
They find the CD player and toss it around. It’s special to So Moon because it belonged to Mom; seeing how desperate he is to protect it, Hyuk-woo threatens to smash it into pieces. Hana intervenes before that happens and returns the device to So Moon.
He recognizes the noodle shop noona as she takes down the three bullies with ease, pinning Hyuk-woo to the wall. “You act like a king at school, but nobody treats you like a human at home,” she muses before tossing him to the ground.
She orders So Moon to follow her and they hop into a taxi where she shows him that she also has black dots on her hand. Hana mentions Wi-gen and the dream that didn’t seem like a dream, explaining that it’s the afterlife.
They arrive at the restaurant where Mae-ok is super accommodating to avoid scaring him. He learns that their job is to bring spirits back to the afterlife, and he’s to join them.
Mo-tak doesn’t trust that they can work with someone as wimpy-looking as So Moon, but gets distracted when he realizes that he looks familiar. Since So Moon doesn’t know who he is, Mo-tak growls that they should keep it that way.
Under her breath, Mae-ok reminds him that they need the boy to avenge Cheol-jung. They bicker quietly until So Moon innocently breaks up the fight, asking about the dots on his hand. Mae-ok kindly explains that they all have the same marks, as they’re the door to the afterlife.
To open the door, he needs to put his hand on his chest and close his eyes. They gather around and he feels the pressure when they tell him to stay in the afterlife for at least three seconds. Mae-ok convinces So Moon by promising to fix his leg if he joins them.
After the countdown, he finds himself awake on the beach again. This time, he’s able to hold a conversation with Wi-gen as their location switches between the beach and an empty white room.
This place is Yung – the border between his world and the afterlife, where the living and the dead can meet up. It appears to the visitor as a place that’s hidden deep within their subconscious. The afterlife is similar to the living world, except that evil beings are punished while good ones are rewarded.
So Moon hesitantly asks if he’d be able to meet his late parents here, but Wi-gen apologizes that it’s not possible. She manifests a door out of thin air and takes him to a dark alley.
He follows without protest and she explains that their job is to capture the evil spirits who co-exist with the living. To survive, they must find a human host that has a strong desire to commit murder. That way, they can feed off their victim’s soul.
Just ahead of them, So Moon sees a couple fighting. The woman storms away and the man grabs a brick, poised to attack. So Moon springs into action without hesitation to stop him. However, they freeze and he can’t touch them.
Wi-gen explains that is an incident from the past. When time resumes, So Moon cringes while watching the violent murder play out. Wi-gen explains that once a demon latches onto a murderous host, they encourage them to keep killing in order to grow strong enough to control the body.
So Moon worries whether he would be of help, but she assures him he’ll be given great power. However, learning that he might die like her previous partner is what causes him to reject the offer to join the others.
Mae-ok and Mo-tak are dumbfounded by his decision, but Hana can understand why. The three of them were saved from their comatose states but So Moon doesn’t benefit from this arrangement. Wi-gen gave So Moon a week to think about it, but he’s set on his answer. He can’t die first and put his grandparents through all that pain again.
He pleasantly tells them that he had a great time and starts to head out. Mae-ok stops Hana from erasing his memories and urges him to give it a second thought.
So Moon receives a call from Woong-min just outside the shop, but it’s the bullies. They instruct him to go to the school gymnasium with the girl from this afternoon, threatening to beat Woong-min beyond recognition otherwise. Hana hears this with her sharp ears.
The bullies are pissed when So Moon arrives without her, even though he apologizes sincerely and offers to pay their medical bills. Hyuk-woo slaps and throws So Moon around, but he refuses to reveal Hana’s identity.
Woong-min grabs onto Hyuk-woo’s leg, afraid that So Moon will really die. Despite repeatedly asking Hyuk-woo to stop, the bully just gets increasingly violent. Angered, So Moon blocks a punch with surprising strength, warning Hyuk-woo that he has already repaid his debt to him.
This was a solid premiere episode that set up the world in a fun way. So far, it’s easy to follow along – souls like Wi-gen can typically only enter the bodies of those in a comatose state. These people become Counters who capture evil spirits and bring them back to the afterlife. Because they were at the brink of death anyway, they’re willing to fight for the cause. It makes total sense that So Moon would reject the invitation to become one, because as Hana pointed out…he doesn’t actually gain anything from it. However, seeing how kind-hearted and loving of a person he is, I’m sure that he will join to become strong enough to protect his friends and family. He always pays attention to everyone else’s needs before his own, and even his rejection was more for his grandparents than for himself.
Wi-gen told CEO Choi that once So Moon’s pent-up anger is released, he’ll be unstoppable. The bullies are out here testing his patience, so we may get to see the strong So Moon sooner rather than later. I love the bond that he has with Joo-yeon and Woong-min; the three friends warm my heart with their undying loyalty. I just know that adding the puppy-like So Moon with his adorable eye smiles to the noodle shop team will soften some of the rougher members! I’m curious to learn of everyone’s backstories and wonder if they’re all connected somehow. It seemed like Mo-tak and So Kwon (So Moon’s dad) were colleagues, and that they were investigating something dangerous. There’s definitely something sketchy going on in Jungjin city – is the mayor somehow involved in all of this?
Although there have been many fantasy dramas this year involving the afterlife, The Uncanny Counter feels different enough that it doesn’t seem like I’m watching something that I’ve already seen. Most of these fantasy dramas have mystical beings at the forefront, running the show with the support of humans. While there are most definitely mystical beings here, the humans are the ones who are in control this time. I’m already eagerly anticipating heart-wrenching moments to come, especially when Mo-tak eventually learns who So Moon is. (Side note: loving the red tracksuit uniform!)