Rose Mansion: Episodes 1-4 (First Impressions)
Determined to find her missing sister, a headstrong hotel employee enlists the help of a righteous detective to investigate the suspicious residents of her apartment complex. But there’s more to the disappearance than it seems, and they’ll need more than just persistence to uncover the well-concealed truth.
EPISODES 1-4 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Right off the bat, this drama opens with a gratuitously explicit scene that’s completely unnecessary and purely for shock value. Perhaps it might have made slightly more sense if the drama intended to be a slasher flick, but instead, the graphic opening winds up doing a disservice to the actual show. In contrast, the plot is almost frustratingly slow, meandering around for ages just to set up its basic premise.
We first meet protagonist SONG JI-NA (Im Ji-yeon) during the calm before the storm. She works at a hotel, and she’s competent and capable of thinking on her feet. It’s hard work, though, and the only break she gets is when her father calls her to come home immediately — her older sister SONG JI-HYUN (Song Ji-in) has gone missing.
With no other choice, Ji-na returns to her family home at the titular Rose Mansion. It’s really just a fancy name for an old and dilapidated apartment complex, and Ji-na’s clearly less than thrilled to be returning to a past she left behind. Youngest brother SONG JI-SEOK (Ahn Jung-hoon) lives in a dorm away from home to study for his second attempt at the college entrance exam, which means Ji-na has to do most of the investigating herself.
Things quickly take a dark turn when Ji-na discovers bloodstains in the apartment, leading to a lifelike mannequin dangling from the ceiling of their balcony. It’s clad in the exact same dress that Ji-na’s wearing, one that she posted on her Instagram mere hours ago. Shivers.
Unfortunately, Ji-na’s hothead father SONG HYUNG-SHIK (Sohn Byung-ho) isn’t much help apart from verbally harassing everyone he speaks to, including the detectives who are reluctant to take a missing person case seriously. The police station is clearly swamped with cases, and that’s where detective PARK MIN-SOO (Yoon Kyun-sang, yay!) comes into play.
Min-soo is the only person who acknowledges the gravity of Ji-hyun’s case, and he repeatedly sneaks away from the not-so-watchful eye of his team leader to help Ji-na investigate her sister’s disappearance. The case is clearly tied to the residents of the apartment complex, and there’s no shortage of suspicious people there.
First of all, there’s CHARLIE (Kim Do-yoon), the lackadaisical son who only looks after his mentally challenged mother because he has his eye on the buildings she owns. Supposedly having studied overseas, he liberally sprinkles obnoxious English phrases into every sentence he speaks, which is equal parts annoying and amusing.
The more we find out about him, the worse he gets. Not only does he make inappropriate passes at Ji-na (who coldly rebuffs him, as she should), he’s also a grade-A pervert — when Ji-na sneaks into the back room of the mart where he works, she discovers a tablet with numerous lewd videos of nude cam girls.
As if that isn’t disgusting enough, there’s more. When Ji-hyun first arrived at the apartment (prior to her disappearance), he watched the elevator display to find out which floor she got off at, then promptly went home to spy on her through a telescope while pleasuring himself. (I did not need to be subjected to those noises.)
Then there’s SOOK-JA (Lee Mi-do), who runs a home masseuse business. Having known the sisters from their childhood, Sook-ja talks to Ji-na in patronizing compliments that are really just veiled insults — she purposely pokes at sore spots, bringing up Ji-na’s late mother in a manner that’s completely uncalled for. Sook-ja is all fake smiles and sugary-sweet simpering in front of Ji-na, but the moment Ji-na turns her back, her gaze turns disdainful.
Sook-ja is more concerned over Rose Mansion’s apartment prices potentially falling than Ji-hyun’s disappearance, and she’s met with Ji-na’s rightful anger. Still, she’s chillingly accurate (though aggravatingly condescending) when she points out that Ji-na isn’t doing herself any favors by boldly accusing one person after the next.
We soon find out that there’s someone pulling strings behind Sook-ja, though. Affluent resident HAN MI-YEON (strong>Song Lee-woo) is the union president of the Rose Mansion Redevelopment Committee (or so her name card says), and she’s the one that directed Sook-ja to meet with Ji-hyun. That didn’t go as planned, though, since Ji-hyun disappeared.
It turns out that Mi-yeon has also commissioned someone else — we aren’t privy to the identity of the young lady yet, but not only does she secretly film the siblings’ movements, she also approaches Ji-na under the pretense of borrowing her phone for a call. That allows her to obtain Ji-na’s number, and with a scam text (Ji-na, why would you click on the link?) she manages to download a software that allows her to remotely access Ji-na’s phone.
It’s not clear what the young lady’s motives are yet, but one thing’s for sure — she doesn’t appear to be in cahoots with Charlie. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, when he makes a pass at her outside the mart, her reaction reveals that she doesn’t know him.
The resident that’s the most suspicious of all, though, is LEE WOO-HYUK (Jo Dal-hwan), the culprit of the vicious murder in the opening scene. Rightfully ostracized by the building’s other residents, who have vandalized the outside of his unit, he lives in his camping car instead.
Woo-hyuk is still as reprehensible as ever, luring stray cats with food and then killing them viciously. Ji-na discovers her sister’s one-of-a-kind underwear set in his camping car, but it’s inadmissible as evidence since she broke into his car. Sigh.
I suppose that’s a good avenue to lead into my main gripe about Ji-na, which is that she’s so frustratingly reckless. I get that she’s headstrong (which is clearly inherited from her dad) and frustrated with the police’s lack of urgency, but she keeps walking headfirst into danger with no heed to the potential consequences. She seems to barely have any sense of self-preservation, and while I understand she’s determined to figure out what happened to her sister, surely there are better ways to go about it.
Still, Ji-na is sympathetic in her quieter moments. It’s compelling how she has such complicated feelings towards her older sister — on one hand, she clearly has an inferiority complex that stems from her father’s overt favoritism towards Ji-hyun, but on the other hand, she still cares for her sister and wants her to be safe.
There’s more trouble brewing on the horizon for Ji-na, though; not only is her boyfriend cheating on her, but she seems to have an online stalker who’s dissatisfied that she’s taken. In addition, she’s chatting anonymously with a user named Capensis, which is a type of carnivorous plant… not that difficult to see the symbolism there.
In any case, things finally start to escalate by the fourth episode. With the help of Min-soo’s hacker friend OH-BEOM (Go Gyu-pil), our investigative pair discover a CCTV video of a masked man hurling Ji-hyun’s suitcase over the parapet and hauling an unconscious Ji-hyun up the stairs.
It’s revealed that Ji-hyun is alive — Charlie’s mother finds her locked up in Charlie’s apartment — but she’s more interested in snatching Ji-hyun’s bracelet off her wrist than listening to her pleas to be let out.
Meanwhile, Ji-na’s father rashly heads to confront Woo-hyuk himself, believing him to be responsible for Ji-hyun’s disappearance. He’s downright brutal in his treatment of Woo-hyuk, but the tables are turned when he lets his guard down. Woo-hyuk slices his neck with the sharp edge of a can lid, and the episode closes as Ji-na’s father bleeds out.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ll realize there’s barely been any mention of Yoon Kyun-sang, despite my excitement over his dramaland comeback. It’s so frustrating, because the drama gives him so little to work with! At this point, he’s barely more than the typical diligent and upright detective archetype, and it feels like a waste of his talent. Surely he was cast to do more than this, so I really hope the drama steps up its game in this regard.
So far, my favorite scenes of his are the ones in which he’s bantering with fellow detective YOO NAM-YOUNG (Lee Joo-young), but they’re a little too few and far between for my liking. I hope she plays a more active role in the investigation, because right now all the police scenes feel quite disjointed from the main plot.
Also, I find it somewhat unbelievable how quickly Min-soo’s developed a soft spot for Ji-na. I suppose he’s impressed by her tenacity and athleticism, but it feels unprofessional and shoehorned in way too soon. You’d think that for a 12-episode drama (that’s really just 6 episodes, since each is half an hour in length), the mystery would be tighter than the potential loveline, but alas.
Overall, I’m still feeling quite iffy on Rose Mansion. I was looking forward to a darkly thrilling and hauntingly creepy tale about an apartment complex and its enigmatic residents. Instead, what I got was a watered-down amalgamation of typical crime genre tropes, either dialed up high for maximum shock value or waning down into cliche territory.
I’m not a fan of the way it seems to portray mental illness, either. Out of the characters we’ve seen so far, three seem to be struggling with some form of mental disability or disorder; there’s Charlie’s mom, Woo-hyuk, and the lady that lives above Ji-na and screams every day without fail. The drama plays up their instability and unusual tics to emphasize how suspicious they appear to be, which is not a good look.
I suppose I’ll end off with a screencap that pretty much sums up my feelings towards this drama — petulant over Yoon Kyun-sang’s paltry screentime, and disappointed that the drama doesn’t seem to be living up to the potential of its premise just yet. Can we get less rain (I can barely hear the dialogue sometimes), and more Min-soo, please?
- Premiere Watch: Woori the Virgin, Rose Mansion
- News bites: April 23, 2022
- Yoon Kyun-sang goes undercover among the children of Korea’s elite in Class of Lies
- Yoon Kyun-sang, Geum Sae-rok in teacher mode for OCN’s Class of Lies
- Rain, Im Ji-yeon, Kwak Shi-yang and more gather for Welcome 2 Life script read