King of Pigs: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
A mysterious message and a creepy hallucination draw two estranged best friends back into each other’s vicinity. One’s a detective, and one’s seemingly a murderer that’s trying to draw the attention of his middle school companion. The question is, why?
EPISODE 1 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
In a shocking opening sequence, a man whom we’ll come to know as HWANG KYUNG-MIN (Kim Dong-wook) throws up in the bathroom after strangling his wife, who now lies prone on the floor. Across the room, a figure in a hoodie cackles that Kyung-min’s finally become a monster — except when the figure looks up, it isn’t a man’s face that is revealed, but that of a pig. Shivers.
Detective KANG JIN-AH (Chae Jung-ahn) and her colleagues arrive to investigate the murder scene. The air is suffocating with the smell of burnt coal briquettes, giving the appearance of a suicide. However, Jin-ah notices strangulation bruises on the victim, PARK MIN-JOO (Han Soo-yeon). That, in addition to the remnants of vomit in the toilet bowl and the traces of a physical fight, leads Jin-ah to suspect the victim’s husband.
Just then, her colleague pulls back the curtains to reveal writing on the window, written in blood-like red marker.
“To detective Jung Jong-seok: Jong-seok-ah, it’s been a long time. It’s me, Hwang Kyung-min. How have you been?”
Not great, apparently. JUNG JONG-SEOK (Kim Sung-kyu) is currently getting beaten up by a group of thugs in a junkyard — or so it seems, because it’s actually a set-up for a staged video. The police are trying to track down a criminal that goes by the pseudonym Dogpark, by uploading a fake video of an assault he requested on the dark web.
Unfortunately, their plan to request a meeting with Dogpark goes awry when he accurately pinpoints that they’re the police. Turns out the victim that Jong-seok was impersonating is actually bald and wearing a wig, which makes their show of beating him up and yanking on his hair utterly unconvincing.
Pulling up their files, Jin-ah notices that Jong-seok and Kyung-min both attended the same middle school for a year. However, while Jong-seok transferred schools, Kyung-min dropped out entirely.
Back in his apartment, Jong-seok cracks open a can of beer to unwind after his long and tiring day. He’s interrupted by a phone call from police sunbae Jin-ah, who’s at his front door. To Jong-seok’s bewilderment, she checks all his windows, but there’s no sign of writing anywhere.
She asks him about Kyung-min, but Jong-seok hasn’t contacted him since middle school. Showing Jong-seok photos of the crime scene as well as Kyung-min’s message, Jin-ah theorizes that either Kyung-min killed his wife and disguised it as a suicide, or it was a couple’s fight that led to a forced suicide.
The autopsy results are out, and traces of sleeping pills were found in Min-joo’s system. A recent bruise on her body suggests that Kyung-min could have forced her to ingest sleeping pills before lighting the coal briquettes and attempting to die together.
They pay a visit to Kyung-min’s psychiatrist, who began seeing him five years ago. She informs them that Kyung-min displayed signs of trauma stemming from domestic abuse, but that his loving relationship with Min-joo helped his condition improve.
However, she says that his mental state began deteriorating ever since “that incident” two years ago — when Kyung-min discovered Min-joo looking through his childhood photo album. Flaring up uncharacteristically at her, he snatches the album back and chases her out. Later that night, he returns to the storeroom, and seeing his middle school class photo again rattles him. Then he accidentally stumbles upon a pig mask in the same box, and it sends him into a fearful panic. He hallucinates a hooded figure with a pig face watching him from the shadows, and he’s still trapped in his terror when Min-joo finds him.
A flashback shows young Jong-seok and Kyung-min playing games and eating tteokbokki like the best of friends, only for Kyung-min to freeze in his tracks upon noticing a pair of cigarette-smoking boys. They recognize him and call out to him derisively, but he runs off, leaving a worried Jong-seok behind.
Those two boys are Kyung-min’s bullies, and in a particularly awful scene, they chase him down and corner him in a restroom. Bored of simply hitting Kyung-min around, they order him to drop his pants and jerk himself off in front of them. With no other choice, he’s forced to do it, and they cackle at his humiliation.
In an unexpected reversal, Jong-seok and Jin-ah discover that the sleeping pills were prescribed to Min-joo, not Kyung-min. On top of that, she’d been the one to purchase the coal briquettes.
Flashback to the evening of Min-joo’s death. She’d spiked Kyung-min’s drink with sleeping pills, then lit the coal briquettes. However, Kyung-min had regained consciousness, and the bruise on Min-joo’s chest had formed from his desperate attempts at CPR. He hadn’t been strangling her, but trying to make her cough up the sleeping pills she’d ingested.
In the present, Kyung-min tracks down one of his bullies, who now works at a car center. He’s still repulsive as ever, beating up one of his employees with a golf club. As the episode closes, we see Kyung-min in his car as he flicks open a switchblade, grim determination written across his face.
Ooh, I like the drama so far! It handles its reveals effectively, and I like the use of flashbacks that toe the line between memory and imagination. It keeps the viewers on our toes, unable to discern the full truth.
Kyung-min seems to perceive Jong-seok in relation to his bullying in some way, given his fixation on him in the present day. However, I wonder if that’s merely resentment towards him for being a passive bystander, or if Jong-seok had been actively involved in his torment.
I find it hard to imagine that the exuberant young Jong-seok, or the tenacious cop that he grew up to be, could have been capable of participating in such cruel bullying, much less towards his best friend. Surely there must be some other explanation to it? Then again, everyone has skeletons in their closet, and this could very well be Jong-seok’s.
We didn’t get to see that much of Kim Sung-kyu in this episode (or maybe I’m just biased and want more), but I like the gravitas with which he portrays Jong-seok. There’s a compelling groundedness to his acting in the roles I’ve seen him in, and it carries through here as well.
Jong-seok is weary, but not disheartened, and above all he’s cautious and meticulous in his investigations. He’s unwilling to take things at face value, which makes him a good foil to Jin-ah, whose determination to uncover the truth can sometimes sway her into headstrong assumptions.
It’s still unclear what Kyung-min wants from Jong-seok. Is this an elaborately drawn-out plan for revenge, or does Kyung-min simply wish for someone to acknowledge his pain and release him from its grasp? Kim Dong-wook plays Kyung-min with a stoic placidity that keeps us guessing his true intentions.
Kyung-min seemed genuinely blissful and loving in his interactions with his wife, though, so perhaps the shattering of that normalcy is what sent him down his current path. I wonder why she decided to force him into a double suicide — was he already exhibiting signs of instability, and she decided she’d had enough? If that’s the case, Kyung-min’s hallucinations must have been awfully frightening, to push her to such a breaking point.
In any case, I’m curious to see how this mystery will unravel. Kyung-min isn’t a murderer yet, but from the looks of it, it’s likely he will be soon. That definitely won’t do wonders for his mental state, and I have a sinking feeling that the disturbing pig-man is going to show up more often.
On that note, who is the pig-man? Is he a manifestation of Kyung-min’s trauma, or is he a distorted memory of an actual person who once wore that pig mask? Also, who’s the titular king of pigs? So many questions, and I can’t wait to find out the answers.