Posted in Commentary, Drama Series

Misaeng: final thoughts

Just because you forgot your dream doesn’t mean it stops being your dream. Just because you don’t see the road doesn’t mean it isn’t a road. (Quoting Lu Xun) “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made.”

And they chose the path less traveled by, and that makes all the difference.

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If there’s a drama i have nothing bad to say about, that would be Misaeng. That’s a rare occurrence; usually there will be a niggle or two about a title — be it on its plot points, characterization, or ending — no matter how much i loved it. But for this workplace drama, i don’t think i have any.

Despite its immense popularity and high viewership ratings, Misaeng offers a genre that may not be everybody’s cup of tea. For those who won’t watch it or find it appealing, i think that’s because they are not big on getting embroiled in office drama and politics on the weekends too. I watched the subbed episodes over the weekend, which made me feel as if i was “working” seven days a week for the past two and a half months, but boy it was cathartic. I certainly didn’t expect day-to-day laborious office work can be this compelling. And hurts so good at that.

When i thought it’s gonna go up, it went down; when i thought they’d lose, they won; when i thought the final week would be full of triumphs and happy faces, it wrung my tear ducts out. I’ve become so emotionally invested in the story, the characters and their journey that i feel what they feel, both the negatives and the positives. The show sure knows how to connect with the audience down to such a deep level…

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What separates us from the ending (or the beginning aka that opening scene in Jordan) is the China project, which turns out to be a dilemmatic case between (Senior) Manager Oh and the executive director (ED). The penultimate episode resumes right where Manager Oh caught Geu-rae red-handed confirming his suspicions on the deal and recording their Chinese contact Seok daeri‘s affirmations, a blunder that can blow everything out of proportion. They have no basis or evidence for the business’ shadiness; if words get out and ED actually receives no kickback, they’re doomed.

Manager Oh then tries to assure Seok daeri that there’s nothing wrong with the business and decides to proceed with it… minus the agent. He finally confronts ED about it and asks him to take care of the extraneous agent if the latter wants a smooth promotion to Vice President position — he’ll do his part to make the project succeed no matter what. But ED isn’t happy to be bossed around and to do business differently from what he’s done for the past 28 years in the company. Neither is he happy with anything but a win/win solution — both he and Manager Oh want something out of this deal, so why one of them must back down? Damn, he’s astute.

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Back to square one they go, but that gets the ball rolling. They are in the thick of it when head office personnel come unannounced to investigate this project upon receiving a report from their China branch. Things doesn’t end well. ED is transferred out, but it is Sales Team 3 who takes a harder hit. They are already in bad light from Manager Park’s case; this fallout just attracts more judging eyes. The repercussion is also severer: all One International’s business dealings with Chinese companies are affected and the company pins all blame on Manager Oh’s head in no time.

The company can’t fire him so they take it out on Sales Team 3 to drive him out. And even the rugged Oh Sang-shik starts to falter and seriously considers handing in the resignation letter he’s prepared long time ago.

“What employee doesn’t live with a letter of resignation in his heart? Each night they dream of writing their resignation, and each morning we come to work while writing our resignation, all of us.”

It doesn’t come out of the blue, but still, the heartache… gaawd. Manager Chun, Dong-shik, and Geu-rae can’t even look at him as he takes his leave — the tears just won’t stop streaming down… and he’s not even my boss. What is Sales Team 3 without him??

The team has one last drink, after which Geu-rae tails Manager Oh home in silence all while being told to go home. No matter what Manager Oh said, Geu-rae is blaming himself as he notes that all of this was due to one contract worker’s rash words. He’s contained himself pretty well, but once home, he loses it — kneeling down, he says “I’m sorry” over and over again through his tears.

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I couldn’t imagine Sales Team 3 without Manager Oh sitting at the far-end table, but life work goes on. Geu-rae has less and less reasons to stay but for Manager Oh’s legacy to endure, see things to the end, and win — because there are many things in life we start even though we know the end.

The said end is drawing nigh and the outcome isn’t likely to be overturned. Uneasy, the other three newbies wonder if there’s anything to change that. Ha daeri suggests that they create a buzz, so each of them within their means do what they can to appeal to the company — Seok-yul writes on company’s forum about Geu-rae’s case, history, accomplishments, and what sets him apart from the rest who are more qualified; Baek-ki compiles a list of things Geu-rae helps his team which could support why Geu-rae deserves to stay and be converted into permanent employee; Young-yi and Senior Manager Sun go around to different departments and put forward a request to review Geu-rae’s performance record fairly.

The conversion looks promising and after the final meeting where the higher-ups vote for his fate in the company, Senior Manager Sun walks over to deliver the news… wordlessly. Everybody starts to tear up…

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And i kept hoping it’s a fakeout. Alas, it is not. Geu-Rae spends the rest of the day in a daze, reminiscing the good and not-so-good times he’s had. After everything he’s done, he still doesn’t earn the spot at the corner cubicle. Even after two years of hardwork and perseverance, there’s no space for him at One International. I don’t think i’ll forever understand why companies let people go easily, even the high performing ones; or would rather spend time, money, and effort hiring and training new additions than keep current employees. Maybe that’s a gentle and painful reminder that life doesn’t always go our way even when we stand on the right side.

But… if Geu-rae leaves too, what’s left of Sales Team 3?

Dong-shik can’t help but feel lonely as he looks down from the rooftop to the spot where the trio gulped down spoiled milk. In retrospect, that moment feels nostalgic. Sans Geu-rae, there is an empty space in the four-seater table and it is Seok-yul who misses him the most as he looks like the third wheel now. It’s only complete when it is four of them as comrades and three of them as a team (not to alienate Manager Chun though).

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When we catch up with Manager Oh, he’s starting his own company and hires Dept Head Kim as CEO. Baek-ki asks if Manager Oh has contacted Geu-rae to join his company and Young-yi suggests him to make the first move. But as Geu-rae reaches home, Manager Oh’s waiting at the door and tells him to come to work whenever he’s ready. Ah, the feels~ Cherry on top is when Dong-shik invites himself into the new company. Yippee! Don’t think it can get any better than this.

The rest is the continuation of the Jordan scene. At the end of the chase, Geu-rae repeats the quote about the path he mused in the first episode and closes that in that path, he is not alone. In epilogue, we learns that fate has crossed Manager Oh’s and Geu-rae’s paths long before the latter set foot in One International.

Honestly, by now i’m out of words already, but i i decided to end what i started, so here it is, super late and extra lengthy at that. Misaeng is more about characters than it is about the plot we can truly see how much a character grow and develop, particularly Geu-rae (or Seok-yul who started off smugly pompous but ended up being a favorite), and be there each step of the way. I learned a lot from these people i concur with it being dubbed “The Salaryman’s Bible.”

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The show is also as much about Manager Oh as it is about Geu-rae. Their tandem carried the show and i am forever grateful for the perfect casting — it is so natural it doesn’t look like acting at all. Story-wise, all progress and development is possible because Manager Oh gave Geu-rae a chance. To adapt, learn, and prove his worth. He is still far from perfect, but green and seasoned workers alike are bound to take the wrong step. After all the struggles they’ve been through, it is gratifying to know that they found a place where they can be themselves, uphold their principles, and truly shine.

I mean, a workplace with a motto of “We may lose work, but we don’t lose people”, replete with a boss as protective and supportive as Manager Oh, where do i find thee?

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_
Rating: 5/5
Director: Kim Won-suk
Production: tvN, 2014
Cast: Lee Sung-min, Im Siwan, Kim Dae-Myung, Kang So-ra, Kang Ha-neul, Byun Yo-han
Genre: Workplace/slice of life drama, comedy, K-drama (20 Episodes)

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