Posted in Commentary, Drama Series

Misaeng (Incomplete Life): first impression


“A path is not just where you’re walking, but where you’re walking in order to move forward. A path on which you can’t move forward is not a path. A path is open to everyone, but not everyone can have that path.”
(translation: viki)

Gaawdd, Misaeng is painful to watch…

I’ve braced myself for an uncomfortable watch — office grunts and all — but didn’t expect this tvN cable drama to be this raw and real. Big fat thumbs up to the casting director for selecting the right talents for the roles. I have yet to find the weak link in the ensemble, everybody is slipping into their on-screen personas incredibly well. In the hands of less expressive actors, the characters may not be as believable and relatable. Especially Im Siwan’s Jang Geu-rae.

Netizens can be really harsh on idol casting, but Im Siwan is good. I’m not familiar with the popular webtoon this drama is based on, but he is perfect as Jang Geu-rae to me. My heart bleeds for the character i’m cheering for him in an instant.

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I also believe the office work situations portrayed in the drama will be relatable to many working adults and newbies out there. Good for you if you’ve never been on Geu-rae’s shoes; i have and thus experience it firsthand how dispiriting it is. That’s probably why i find the first episode, which was 90-minutes long, almost unbearable to watch. The second episode isn’t as bad as Geu-rae has slowly picking the drill up.

Based on the bits and pieces i read prior to the premiere, i was expecting several main characters to lead the series although the focus of the first two episodes is on Jang Geu-rae. We get to see other characters he’s interacting with most: his superiors — Assistant Manager Kim Dong-shik (Kim Dae-myung) and Manager Oh (Lee Sung-min) — and fellow interns — Ahn Young-yi (Kang So-ra) and Jang Baek-ki (Kang Haneul).

They clearly feel bad for our poor guy but don’t lend him a hand. You don’t work here alone, they say, but what should he do when the others don’t act the part (of a team to him)? We have yet to see their true colors; there’s surely more to them than meets the eye. At the end of the second installment, we see glimpses of the characters’ bittersweet private lives and i look forward to see more of that aspect. Because work and life are never two separate entities.


2012. The 26-year-old Jang Geu-rae is working multiple part-time jobs. One employer advises it’s time for him to look for a real job — he can’t spend his life surviving on these unstable jobs, can he? — and asks if he would like a job in a baduk (game of Go) club. We learn later on that he was once an aspiring professional baduk player but never made the cut as he was juggling training and part-time jobs to support his family. He gave up on his dream when dad passed and neither blamed the situation nor the seemingly bad luck but rather on himself for not working hard enough. It’s not true, but he prefers to see it that way — which then becomes his ‘motto’.

So when mom informs a company wants him in, there he goes the next morning, donning oversized suit of his late dad. Subdued and unsocial, he is like a fish out of water amidst the hustle and bustle of office work. Everybody is so busy no one briefs him yet he’s expected to know the drill. Dazed, he has no idea of what to do or even where to stand. When given menial tasks, he so wants to do it well yet keeps making mistakes. He eventually piteously latches onto the first person he knows, Young-yi, to ensure the never-ending calls are attended to. Polyglot and deft, she is a stark contrast to Geu-rae’s timidness and greenness.

As if the first day cannot be any harder, after the dreaded lunch time, Geu-rae overhears the other interns badmouthing him and commenting how he would not last long. None of them appreciates him coming through the back door, securing the position without interviews and joining 10 days past the commencement date. Sans bragable specs at that. No genius, chaebol, or Harvard/Stanford alumnus, everyone is stumped by his under-qualifications or frankness. Jang Baek-ki, another intern who’s also ahead of the game, even does a double-take (pitifully? sympathetically?). He would approach Geu-rae and be nice to him but merely looks on whenever the latter is in the pit.

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It’s interesting to see which shade of grey a character is instead of the clear-cut good vs evil. Giving Geu-rae’s the cold shoulder doesn’t mean that person is bad. For instance, Manager Oh is understandably upset because he’s assigned someone who’s lacking in many areas, by the higher-up with whom he isn’t in good terms. Plus by the look of it, his now three-man team seems to be in a pinch. He’s giving Geu-rae a hard time but can’t help feeling sorry for him upon realizing his “kid” wasn’t in the wrong. He slowly warms up to him and Geu-rae slowly gains his confidence. Yay!

Misaeng is slated for 20 episodes so i don’t expect Geu-rae to keep scoring next episode onward. However, even if the path he’s walking on is full of obstacles, twists and turns, i am constantly reminded of the opening scene. Present time Geu-rae is still as resolute and persistent but has clearly shown signs of growth. At the very least, he has learned and mastered English 😉

Look forward to #3!

[This shot reminds me of similar jump shot of Dream High. Hopefully this underdog story ends up as compelling and heartwarming as that musical drama. Misaeng has a much better cast and is heading toward the right direction so… *fingers crossed*]



I blog sometimes, gush ofttimes, snark all the time.

One thought on “Misaeng (Incomplete Life): first impression

  1. Pingback: MISAENG. TVN. |

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