Who is the wickedest villain you’ve ever seen in dramaland? For me, Min Joon-gook of I Can Hear Your Voice and Nam Gyu-man of Remember-War of the Son easily come to mind; the former for being the creepiest stalker-murderer, the latter for being the madcap sociopath. But then i encountered this malevolent antagonist who shall put any other baddie to shame: Kim Gil-do.
Usually i dislike it when the characters are black and white as i prefer the protagonists to be flawed (which this drama’s hero is) and the antagonists to not be one-dimensional, but Kim Gil-do is so rich in his darkness. I won’t call his persona layered or fascinating as he sucks at being two faced and exudes an extremely chilling aura it’s repugnant to just see him on my screen.
If this show’s alternate title is The Master of Revenge (which the hero sets out to be, it seems) then Kim Gil-do is The Master of Pretense. He subsists on literal impersonation, a web of lies, and multiple homicide, and we are granted a full backstory on how he became the cold-hearted monster he is now. It is unusual for a drama to open with childhood scenes, yet i suppose it’s unusual to have it centered around the villain’s part? Well, that’s what we got in the first episode, which interestingly was partially narrated by the hero.
Gil-do was a keen kid. One look was all he needed to mimic what he’d seen. Yet, what started as simple food pilfering escalates into identity takeover and eventually murder when he sees fit. Although he could easily slip from one name and job to another as if he’s merely changing clothes, his misdeeds do not stay with the guise he’s shedded because he has only one face. On the run, young Gil-do ended up on the doorstep of solitary Ha Jung-tae, who sheltered and then taught him about noodle making. That might be a good place for Gil-do to settle down and start anew, but greed is part of his DNA that he didn’t even bat an eyelash to (literally) cut ties with his first ever friend following Jung-tae’s discovery of the “Wanted” poster. That’s how he assumed the identity as the inventor of the royal pheasant buckwheat noodles, married into the family owning a famous noodle house in Masan, and made a household name out of the stolen name and recipe.
Despite surviving the fall and losing his memories, Jung-tae remembered his home and retained his noodle making skills. He built a family with the girl who had found him and lived a simple but happy life with his wife and son, Choi Soon-seok. The boy took after mom’s surname due to dad’s amnesia and disability, that Mom figured it’d be for his benefit to figure out Jung-tae’s identity. So, even though Dad recoiled in terror upon spotting Gil-do’s face on the newspaper, Mom decided to meet that person named Ha Jung-tae anyway. It was of course a bad decision, because after feigning relief that “Kim Gil-do” was alive, he proceeded to poison the family and set the house on fire, blaming them for finding him.
Soon-seok wasn’t fully knocked out that he managed to take a glimpse of the culprit and escaped the house before it’s fully engulfed in flames. Hitchhiking a truck, he walked into an orphanage and was called “Moomyung” (nameless) since he refused to talk. Thereafter, he’s worked on locating the man who killed his family based on his vague memory of his face and Mom’s words about Dad’s friend running a big noodle restaurant albeit never thinking of what he’d do when that happens.
10 years have passed when we catch up on the kids’ adult selves and the moment Moo Myung-yi (Chun Jung-myung) comes face to face with his nemesis. It isn’t purely coincidental though; Gil-do (Jo Jae-hyun) was smart enough to check back on the burned house and noticed there were only two bodies found and has since volunteered to cook for one orphanage to another in attempt to locate his “friend’s son”. So, for three episodes, it’s been cat-and-mouse game, with Gil-do as the cat and Myung-yi as the mouse.
It’s pretty easy to pinpoint who the child has become given the date he disappeared and the telling burn scars he sports. Add to that the sketchy orphanage director who’s hungry for extra pocket-money. At first, Myung-yi tries to destroy any old portraits and records that could be used by Gil-do to identify him, but an unexpected turn of events forces him out of the orphanage to fend for himself. Gil-do orders his equally unnerving right-hand man to chase after adult Soon-seok, and when the latter loses the prey’s tail, he reports that the target is dead. Untrusting Gil-do checks the body himself and appears to believe the news, while determined Myung-yi swears to toughen up and sharpen his claws.
Master: God of Noodles is a somber show. There’s hardly any light moment except for the fleeting family and genuine friendship beats. A lot of the scenes are so dramatic and borderline makjang-ish that it isn’t an easy watch. The first week was a bit too slow, the second week was a lot more engaging. I didn’t think i’d be able to endure another revenge melodrama post-Remember, but it’s the elements of surprise and unpredictability in terms of where the story develops that keeps me intrigued, and that’s more than enough reason for me to stick around.
I wonder why they didn’t go with Master of Revenge as the official title. God of Noodles sounds like a manga; plus, this drama feels more revenge-y than noodly thus far. For the record, Myung-yi isn’t the only character who’s after retaliation, or even after Gil-do. Furthermore, some of the plot points are quite trite (abusive father, truck of doom) and/or ridiculous too — like Jung-tae having no fingerprints (how come?), Yeo-kyung parents’ murderer sparing her due to a phone call, or the self-defense becoming a manslaughter.
Cheesy titles and silly details aside, this is a project i checked out for the cast. Jung Yoo-mi is the actress i’ve seen and liked in several dramas but never got around to learning/remembering the name. Lee Sang-yeob broke my heart into pieces with his eyes alone in a couple of his past roles. I loved Chun Jung-myung to bits in Cinderella’s Sister despite the drama’s frustrating second-half. I may like Kim Jae-young the least among the bunch, but he’s not bad here. Together, they are the four friends who have no one but themselves and nowhere else to go but the orphanage. They promise to stay together until they’re 19 but the plan is expedited due to Park Tae-ha’s (Lee Sang-yeob) incarceration. The other three decided to go separate ways and reunite 3 years later when Tae-ha is released.
Seeing their camaraderie (the boys strive to fulfill Yeo-kyung’s wishes, because doing so would make her smile, which in turn become theirs), i thought they would support Myung-yi in avenging his parents’ death, but each of them has their own hidden scars and battle to fight. Like Myung-yi, Yeo-kyung (Jung Yoo-mi) watched her parents dying before her eyes but unlike him couldn’t plot a revenge as the killer was already executed. She has another trauma to overcome: the attempted rape and her whacking the director out of self defense. We know little about Tae-ha’s parents, but he aims to find the truth behind his dad’s death, the reason behind his dream to become a cop and then the decision for taking the fall for Yeo-kyung. I can’t believe they couldn’t come up with a better plan, particularly after learning about his drives, because how can he unearth the truth by being a prisoner? He asks Yeo-kyung to help him by becoming a prosecutor, which she is working on, though hopefully not solely out of guilt.
Gil-young (Kim Jae-young) rounds out the now-split gang, who ended up in the orphanage because his grandma abandoned him. Among the four, he’s the only one smiling broadly at his new odd job. The last key character is Da-hae (Gong Seung-yeon) who also shoots daggers at Gil-do’s picture. We have yet to see how she fits into the picture, but she calls the gangster who knew and sneered at Tae-ha’s father “Uncle Do-kkoo”. She’s also the girl Tae-ha’s crushing on. I wonder if he’ll continue to like her, because although i have yet to warm up to her character, at least that means there’s no third leg between Myung-yi and Yeo-kyung, which i like.
Frankly, i was surprised to learn that the foursome are still 18 in this timeline, cuz let’s be real, they don’t look the part. I had a hard time picturing them as high-schoolers even though the actors do look younger than their age that i couldn’t be happier that we are moving closer to the present. Looking at current circumstances, i doubt they’ll meet-up in three years, but let’s see…