THE SHORT VERDICT:
Measured, slow and deliberate, Misaeng isn’t the kind of show that lends itself to marathoning.
Allow it the time and space to demonstrate its unique brand of awesome, though, and you’ll likely find a lot to like. Understated in its plotting and realistic in its execution, it’s the character and relationship moments that really shine in this show – and get under your skin as well.
Im Si Wan is quite the revelation in this, Lee Sung Min is just plain wonderful, and the rest of the cast is pretty fantastic as well.
Absolutely worth savoring.
THE LONG VERDICT:
To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight for me, with Misaeng.
And it wasn’t even because of the show’s tendency for long, bloated episodes. Nor was it the slow, deliberate pace either. I generally don’t count those as big obstacles when it comes to my drama-watching journey.
It was the fact that for a fair stretch, this show was actually rather depressing to watch.
Seeing our characters – particularly our main character Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan) – struggle so strenuously and so (apparently) fruitlessly in the contains of an unsympathetic system, time after time, left me feeling dismal and disheartened after each episode.
But then a funny thing happened.
As I progressed deeper into the show and its world, and got to know the characters better, I began to care for them in more than just a cursory manner.
Better yet, they began to experience small but significant victories in their journeys. I felt like their victories were mine, vicariously speaking.
By show’s end, I was extremely reluctant to say good-bye, and literally put off watching the last episode for weeks, just to postpone the inevitable.
Yes. Slowly, ever so slowly, I grew to love this show.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
EXECUTION, FEEL & ATMOSPHERE
With many episodes easily running for 90 whole minutes, Misaeng sometimes felt painfully slow to watch. This was particularly true in the earlier episodes when things were especially tough for Geu Rae.
On hindsight, though, I have to say that it was probably because of the show’s treatment of its tone, pace and even episode lengths, that I eventually ended up caring so much for Geu Rae as a character.
Because the show’s pace is deliberate and slow, and because the tone is dark and purposefully ordinary to the point of tedium, the narrative unfolds at such a measured pace that it feels we are literally living through this each day with Geu Rae, minute by painful minute.
And there’s nothing like walking a mile in someone’s shoes to truly empathize with them, right?
Experiencing with Geu Rae, in all of its minutiae, the ostracism and bullying stemming from his being regarded as an outsider, made me feel sad and pathetic on his behalf from the very first episode.
Watching Geu Rae’s mom (Sung Byung Sook) dig deep to buy Geu Rae a new suit, only to see that same precious suit being sullied and stunk up the very first time Geu Rae wears it, made my heart hurt.
Often, we as the audience would see the trajectory rise up to meet us long before Geu Rae ever did, and it was painful to watch him inch towards inevitable doom each time.
Painful as that was to sit through, however, I do genuinely believe that if Show had not shown me so meticulously how Geu Rae suffered mistreatment, and how he weathered each incident, I would have cared for him less intensely.
Watching each episode truly felt like tagging along with Geu Rae on a day at the office. (And, in defense of the 90-minute episodes, one never really knows when a day at the office ends, right? When Geu Rae put in overtime, so did we, in a manner of speaking.)
With its carefully chosen muted color palette, understated plotting and thoughtful, deliberate pace, Show created a believable office world in which we, as an audience, clocked time as Geu Rae’ shadows.
It’s an exhausting and often frustrating world in which he and our other characters work, a world filled with politics and clashing agendas, and decorated with bald-faced lies and artificial smiles.
But, see, that’s the thing.
This world feels so true to life that it even hits a little too close to home for some of us.
The issues feel real; the stakes feel real; and most important of all, the people in this world feel real. And as they learn to navigate this world and start to experience some victories, those victories feel real too.
Therein lies Misaeng’s appeal.
It gives us a sense of solidarity (I’m not alone; there really are other people facing the same issues that I face at work) and a sense of hope as well, as we vicariously taste the victories of our characters and look forward to our own.
There are lots of great characters in this show.
With few exceptions, most characters are created with depth and dimension, and each has his or her own backstory. As I watched them on my screen, I found it easy to believe that each of them had full and fleshed-out lives outside of the frame within which I saw them.
It’d be impossible to talk about every character in the show, so here I’d just like to give my attention to my favorites.
Im Si Wan as Jang Geu Rae
Thrust into a world full of jaded people with fixed perspectives on success, Geu Rae stands out as a pure, untainted canvas; a canvas on which little has been painted due to his prior isolation from the world and its system. He almost feels like clay waiting for the right potter, really.
At the same time, with his fresh, innocent eyes, his reactions to the corporate world at large act almost like a barometer against which we can measure right and wrong.
Not right and wrong seen through the weary eyes of eroded morals, but right and wrong in as close to its pure state as we can humanly get, in this drama world.
As the underdog of underdogs, Geu Rae is measured, isolated and pensive, and Im Si Wan is truly a revelation in how he portrays Geu Rae’s every action and reaction.
Aligned with the show’s understated tone, Geu Rae’s expressions are mostly extremely muted.
But Im Si Wan manages to imbue all of those muted expressions with impressive nuance, so much so that every flick of his gaze, every slow blink of his eyes, and every tiny twitch of his lips, tells us exactly how Geu Rae is feeling, in the moment.
As the show progresses, it was extremely gratifying to witness Geu Rae enjoying moments of success stemming from the fruit of his insistent, untiring, unrelenting labor.
Another extremely satisfying thing, was to see Geu Rae grow in confidence and strength of character; enough to stand up for what he believes in.
On top of that, it was also pretty great to see Geu Rae apply his baduk principles as he encounters the corporate world. His application of those principles, which enable him to see things strategically, sometimes really does make him appear wiser than his years.
Plus, it’s just so great to see Geu Rae doing well, y’know? Anytime Geu Rae did well, my heart swelled with satisfaction, and.. well, pride.
One of my hands-down favorite Geu Rae moments, though, has to be the arc in episode 6, where Geu Rae literally – ok, more metaphorically – gives wings to an anxious and timid Manager Park (Choi Gwi Hwa).
That earnest “I look up to you” effect that Geu Rae has on him is significant, and forces him to act in a way that’s worthy of setting an example.
That’s why Manager Park requested to have Geu Rae with him in the senior managers’ meeting. He really did need him. It was Geu Rae’s expectant gaze that gave him the courage to act in a way that would be worthy of that expectant gaze.
Those wings not only lifted his self-esteem, but enabled him to act in ways he couldn’t bring himself to, before. I just love that Geu Rae gave Manager Park those wings, and that those wings really did enable him to fly.
Geu Rae, underdog of underdogs; not only growing in maturity and wisdom with each day, but actually empowering others too, to be more than they thought they could be. Really now, how great and awesome is that?
Lee Sung Min as Oh Sang Shik (Chief Oh)
I just love, love, LOVE Lee Sung Min as Chief Oh.
When we first meet him, Chief Oh is such a gruff hardass, who openly grumbles about Geu Rae being sent to his team, instead of a better qualified intern.
Over the course of the show, though, through beats big and small, we get to know the man with the idealistic, principled, kind heart beneath the gruff, and it’s just wonderful to see the goodness leak out, sometimes when Chief Oh isn’t even aware.
Lee Sung Min portrays Chief Oh with a wonderful depth and nuance that looks completely natural and effortless on the surface, but which requires tremendous skill and character immersion.
With his mussed-up hair and clothes, eye-bags the size of fists, and a coffee &/or cigarette (or several coffees and cigarettes) never far away, Chief Oh always looks like he’s just barely holding it all together.
The demands of being a team leader, a subordinate, a colleague, a mentor, a husband and a father all exact their combined toll on him, and yet through it all, Chief Oh continues to persist and strive, determined to do the things that are right, rather than the things that are popular.
I just loved getting to know him more over the course of the show, because there’s just so much goodness lurking beneath the gruff.
There are so many things that I love about Chief Oh, that I feel able to only list a few here.
Like the hilarious way he keeps tripping up people that he doesn’t like, when there’s nothing else that he can do, politically speaking.
Yes, it’s petty and immature, but that’s what makes it so great, coming from Chief Oh. Plus, I can’t deny that it’s satisfying to see unlikable characters get some kind of punishment at least.
I love, too, the lengths that Chief Oh is willing to go to, to protect his principles and his team.
When he’s assigned projects that require practices that weigh on his conscience, the extent to which he wrestles with whether or not to decline the assignment and thus risk his team’s future, says so much about the character of the man.
On top of that, I admire his ability to wrestle with and accept an idea, even if the idea comes from an inexperienced newbie. Such a fair person, who truly believes in equal opportunities and learning.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Chief Oh, though, is the kind of father he is.
Throughout the show, we get small glimpses into his family life, and I just love this little beat in episode 5, when Chief Oh is rushing out of the house in the morning, late and barely dressed.
Yet, that doesn’t stop him from taking a moment to pat his boys on the head, tell them to study hard, and plant a kiss on his youngest son’s cheek.
Aw. So sweet, so warm and so loving.
And we see, too, throughout the show, that no matter how terribly badly things are going at work, that talking with one of his sons on the phone never fails to brighten him up.
There’s something just so extremely heartwarming about that.
Quick Spotlights [MILD SPOILERS]
Kang So Ra as Ahn Young Yi
Ahn Young Yi is a pretty interesting character, in that she’s introduced to us as all brilliance, talent and professionalism. And yet, as we get deeper into the show, we begin to see hints of insecurity, vulnerability, and even a touch of social awkwardness about her.
An intensely private and introspective person who doesn’t connect easily with others, Young Yi has her fair share of struggles and challenges at One International, in spite of her talent, and Kang So Ra portrays all of these facets convincingly, making Young Yi come to life as a character.
Even in her most understated moments, Kang So Ra imbued Young Yi with subtle dimension, and made me curious to know more about Young Yi’s backstory.
Nicely done indeed.
Kang Ha Neul as Jang Baek Ki
Impatient, aloof, and believing himself to be quite the know-it-all, Baek Ki wasn’t terribly likable from the beginning of the show.
While Baek Ki’s growth arc was possibly the slowest in the coming, he does eventually make significant strides in maturity and humility, both of which were gratifying to witness.
Over the course of the show, Baek Ki is continually challenged to look beyond the boundaries of what he deems acceptable, and his failure in spite of his inflated self-belief leads to an anger and impatience that feels very true to life.
Kang Ha Neul’s portrayal of Baek Ki’s young hotshot behavior and brooding frustration is extremely credible, and he delivers Baek Ki’s anger and impatience in a very real and palpable manner.
Baek Ki’s eventual change in attitude is well-earned and refreshing to watch, and I enjoyed getting to see beyond the steely unruffled armor, to glimpse the real person underneath.
Byun Yo Han as Han Seok Yul
Seok Yul was perhaps the character who charted the biggest turnaround for me, in terms of viewer experience.
When I first set eyes on him in the early episodes, he truly came across as oily, slippery and far from trustworthy. What a turnaround, then, that by series’ end, Seok Yul had managed to go from being super aggravating, to becoming actually kind of amusing and adorable.
Kudos to Byun Yo Han, for making every shade of Seok Yul equally convincing, and for making the huge change in his persona believable too. That’s no mean feat, and Byun Yo Han navigated it all with a natural, effortless aplomb that I found impressive.
Kim Dae Myung as Kim Dong Shik
I so did not expect to love Dong Shik, but OMG I LUFF HIM.
From simply being an unassuming secondary character with a bad perm, with each additional episode, Dong Shik quickly graduated in my mind to become one of my favorite characters on the show.
As I got deeper into the show, I began to see Dong Shik’s niceness, kindness, empathy, and oh-so-fierce loyal streak, and I couldn’t help but love him.
Kim Dae Myung plays Dong Shik with a distinctly unpretentious vibe that is devoid of vanity. Dong Shik isn’t ever dressed up nicely, beyond the occasional ill-fitting business suit, and he rocks the bad perm all series long.
Not only that, Dong Shik’s spoken lines are, for the most part, pretty unremarkable.
Yet, Kim Dae Myung consistently injects a matter-of-fact sort of depth to Dong Shik, so much so that I always feel like there’s a lot more going on inside of Dong Shik than we sometimes get to see.
SO well done.
For a supporting character, there’s really a whole lot to love about Dong Shik.
I love that Dong Shik is pretty nice to Geu Rae right off the bat in episode 2, despite Chief Oh’s grumpy disapproval.
I love that Dong Shik really cares. Over the course of the show, we see how much Dong Shik cares for Geu Rae, for Chief Oh, and for the team.
I love the little beat in episode 17, when everyone is talking trash about Chief Oh, and Dong Shik drunkenly (and quite violently) swears at them all.
So fiercely loyal, which I love. And so cute too.
Episode 10, though, is where I felt Dong Shik shone brightest, in the moments dealing with the possible shady dealings of Manager Park (a very oily and unlikable Kim Hee Won).
In these scenes, Dong Shik doesn’t say much at all, but his expression says so much: that he doesn’t want to be in this position, but he isn’t going to back down; he’s going to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s intimidating and scary.
Kim Dae Myung really shone this episode, and I loved Dong Shik even more than I thought possible.
Given Misaeng’s understated plotting, it’s the characters and their relationships that truly shine in the show.
With an ensemble cast, there are so many relationships and permutations and groupings that it’s impossible to talk about them all. So here, I’m giving the loving (sometimes quick-ish, sometimes long-ish) spotlight to some of my favorite relationships on the show.
The Four Rookies
Given the fact that our four rookies are assigned to four different teams at the beginning of the show, the process of them coming together as a group understandably takes quite a while.
With differing personalities and work boundaries in the way as well, our rookies journey a long way before arriving at a genuine sort of group dynamic by series’ end.
It was really nice, though, to see moments of solidarity and lending hands sprinkled through the show, among members of the group in their various permutations.
We get to see the rookies interact in pairs, in threes, and as a group of four as well, and as they got to know one another bit by bit in each of these combinations, I felt like somehow, their overall group dynamic strengthened as well.
It was long in the coming, but getting to see the rookies work together as an intact team in episode 17 was quite delightful.
And to then see them collapse in exhaustion, sprawled in an untidy heap, was such a happy, adorable bonus.
Just, totally classic and absolutely worth the wait.
Chief Oh and The Rookies
While this is a dynamic that’s kept fairly subtle throughout the show, I really enjoyed watching the little beats where Chief Oh interfaced with the rookies. So often, something good would come out of it.
With Baek Ki or Seok Yul, Chief Oh would likely provoke thought with an off-handed statement that would ultimately help them see things in a new light.
My favorite beats, though, were the moments when Geu Rae &/or Young Yi interacted with Chief Oh (and each other too, come to think of it).
Their thoughts, said out loud, somehow consistently ping the others’ minds and give them new perspective and eventual headway in their own problems.
There’s something pretty communal about that, how they help one another just by spending time together.
Plus, I love that it flows both ways.
Chief Oh ends up helping the rookies, but often, the rookies end up helping Chief Oh, too, by provoking his thoughts. There’s something about that dynamic that I just love.
Sales Team 3
Oh, Sales Team 3. If every team could work together the way they do, the world would be a much better place indeed.
I just loved the caring, committed, one-for-all, all-for-one dynamic in Sales Team 3.
There is just so much unity and loyalty in this team, that I can completely understand why their team dynamic is the envy of every other team in One International.
A highly committed, high-performing team that actually enjoys working together. What’s not to love?
Over the course of the show, we see many instances of Team 3’s unity, loyalty and care for one another. Like in episode 9, when both Chief Oh and Dong Shik are quick to protect of Geu Rae, each in their own ways, when an antagonist in the form of Manager Park arrives.
It was also extremely gratifying to witness Team 3 score breakthroughs against the odds, as they did in episode 13, with Geu Rae’s help. So. Freaking. Satisfying.
And in episode 16, when Dong Shik first hears that Geu Rae’s sales item, which Geu Rae has been working tirelessly on, will be taken away from him, Dong Shik literally has tears in his eyes. Which is just so, so sweet and empathetic.
Even more touching is the moment in episode 18 when Dong Shik and Manager Chun (Park Hae Joon) realize that taking up the dubious deal offered by the Executive Director (Lee Kyung Young) might just save Geu Rae from having to leave the company.
Their attitudes change instantly and dramatically, and they jump at the chance to take the risk for Geu Rae, even if it means putting themselves in a precarious situation. Augh, my heart. So much loyalty, truly.
Most moving of all, though, is the situation in episode 19, which showed me just how much these guys care for one another.
Just, so many things that moved me in this episode.
Chief Oh tendering his resignation to make things better; Chief Oh trying to convince Geu Rae that it’s not his fault; Dong Shik trying to be strong and hold it in, but then sobbing like a baby outside the restaurant; Geu Rae collapsing and weeping at home.
Just so very heartwrenching, to know just how much these gruff boys care for one another.
Oof. And, sob.
Chief Oh and Geu Rae
Oh, these two. Chief Oh and Geu Rae are absolutely and without doubt the OTP of this show.
Despite a bit of a rocky start, the relationship between Chief Oh and Geu Rae grows and blossoms in spite of the odds, and it’s just heartwarmingly satisfying and endlessly gratifying, to see the gruff demonstrations of affection from one to the other.
What I love even more, is how the help, love and desire to protect flows both ways.
As much as Chief Oh helps and guides Geu Rae through the murky, unfamiliar waters of the corporate world, so does Geu Rae provoke Chief Oh to stay true to his principles and hold fast to his dreams.
And I love that through it all, both Lee Sung Min and Im Si Wan are so nuanced, that we can see the dynamic between Chief Oh and Geu Rae growing and developing over the course of the show, even when not very much is said at all.
Given Chief Oh’s initial conveyed displeasure at Geu Rae joining Sales Team 3, getting to pick up on the little hints of Chief Oh being nice to Geu Rae while undercover, is pretty great.
I really enjoyed watching Chief Oh grow a soft spot for Geu Rae in spite of himself, and finding himself protecting Geu Rae, also in spite of himself. Like how he tripped Seok Yul in episode 3, when Seok Yul was taking advantage of Geu Rae. So awesome.
Or even just the little beats when Chief Oh makes coffee for the team, and serves Geu Rae first. It’s such a small beat, but these little gestures of affection add up so nicely.
I also loved the arc in episode 3, where Chief Oh gives Geu Rae advice to find the center of the tornado, which ends up being the very lesson that Chief Oh learns from Geu Rae too. That full-circle duality was excellent.
I love, too, how well these two understand each other. Like the beat in episode 13, when Chief Oh writes a Christmas card to Geu Rae and simply says, “Jang Geu Rae, you couldn’t have done any better. YES!”
It’s so brief, yet it totally hits the spot. And, Geu Rae knows exactly what he’s referring to, too. I just love how so much is said in so few words.
There are so many moments to love, between Chief Oh and Geu Rae, that it’s hard to talk about them all. But here are my two favorites.
I love Chief Oh’s intoxicated outburst in episode 2, when he drunkenly refers to Geu Rae as “our kid.”
Aw. After all his brusque words, this is the first moment when we get to see how he really feels about Geu Rae, and I love that he’s decided that Geu Rae is “our kid.”
The scene that follows shortly after, of Geu Rae fixating on the moment while alone in his room at home, is so poignant.
He has so little to hold on to, and this little moment means the world to him.
The quiet wonder as the words continue to reverberate in his mind, as tears rise to his eyes, is such a poignant sight.
It’s such a sweetly moving moment, to see how much Chief Oh’s acceptance means to him.
Another favorite Chief Oh and Geu Rae moment of mine, is this scene in episode 5, when a hungover Chief Oh discovers Geu Rae fast asleep outside his door in the morning.
Isn’t that the sweetest thing ever? Geu Rae really is cleaving to Chief Oh like a duckling to a mother duck.
And just look at that awesome bed-hair!
Even though, in all his strong silent gruffness, Chief Oh doesn’t explain in so many words his appreciation for Geu Rae, he does express it in a little more detail in episode 16, when telling his friend and ex-colleague to learn from Geu Rae’s example.
“Our team has a new employee. He reminds me of you.
He works hard without procrastination. But he’s different from you. He works hard but it’s natural and he’s passionate, but still rational.
The young guy’s not drunk.”
So awesome, to hear from Chief Oh’s own lips, just why he loves Geu Rae the way he does.
And we know that admiration flows both ways.
Dong Shik and Geu Rae
As much as I love Chief Oh’s relationship with Geu Rae, I hafta say that Dong Shik’s friendship with Geu Rae ranks pretty high up in my heart too.
In the day-to-day grind of work, we see Dong Shik’s care for Geu Rae grow with each passing day and each new challenge that they face together.
That big brother hyung-nim sort of care from Dong Shik to Geu Rae moved me time and time again, particularly since Geu Rae is consistently so withdrawn. It takes a very special kind of person to keep on reaching out to make a connection, when the other person is so reticent.
On the other hand, it was equally great to see Geu Rae opening up to Dong Shik bit by bit, in spite of his introverted personality.
By series’ end, the love that these two new-found brothers had for each other was one of my favorite things in this show.
I really enjoyed this fairly quick scene in episode 9, which proved to be such a pivotal point in their relationship.
After witnessing Geu Rae being mistreated by Manager Park, Dong Shik asks to talk with Geu Rae on the roof.
Once alone, I kinda love Dong Shik’s concerned tirade, which spills out of his mouth willy-nilly, in his frustration over how Geu Rae’s been mistreated.
“You just keep saying “yes” to everything because that’s what “Geu Rae” means? If you can’t do it, say “no” since it’s ok. I’m not just talking about Mr. Park. Once you start working, your true colors are bound to show when you face frustrations. But not in your case.
You always obey without a single complaint. It seems like you’re ready to accept anything. Like a long-term prisoner who was released. Like you’re struggling to adjust to society…
That was too much. I’m sorry, but you’re really like that. I don’t know your past. I just know you have a GED and haven’t done anything so far. What kind of past can make you this cooperative and self-sacrificing?
You know… I want to get to know you better in the near future.”
As jumbled up as Dong Shik’s words sometimes come out in this scene, his words are so palpably heartfelt.
I love that underneath it all, Dong Shik, despite not understanding why Geu Rae allows others to use and abuse him, just wants to know Geu Rae better. What a sweet heart he has.
And it’s no wonder that it’s this outpouring from Dong Shik that acts as the catalyst which causes Geu Rae to actually open up to him.
By inviting Dong Shik to his home, and eating with him, and showing him all about his baduk past, Geu Rae is being completely vulnerable with Dong Shik, and it’s an understated, beautiful thing to behold.
As much as I love how brave Geu Rae is in this moment, to share his “secret past” with Dong Shik, I love just as much, Dong Shik’s acceptance. Not just even acceptance, but admiration too, as he praises Geu Rae for being amazing.
Better yet, Dong Shik then opens up to Geu Rae about his own past and his personal struggles after graduating from a community college, and the two even talk about what defines success, on a day-to-day basis.
To see the two of them connecting on a deeper level and opening up, is just So. Great.
I simply love Geu Rae’s closing voice-over in this episode: “We reveal ourselves to find comfort and understanding.”
That is so true. He reveals himself to Dong Shik in spite of his initial fears, to find comfort and understanding. And when he does that, Dong Shik opens up about his own past and struggles too.
There had to be a certain amount of trust before Geu Rae felt able to open up to Dong Shik, and the thing is, as he does that and as Dong Shik opens up too, they not only find comfort and understanding in each other, the trust between them is strengthened, and therefore the bond between them is deepened as well.
On a related tangent, isn’t the whole reason we are here in dramaland, revealing ourselves to the extent that we are each comfortable with, all in service of finding comfort and understanding? Such a universal truth, and one which I identify with, so much.
Each Rookie with his/her Supervisor/Team
In spite of each rookie’s rough patches with his or her team, over time, it became clear that each rookie’s relationship with his or her corresponding supervisor &/or team improved over time.
Yes, often it felt slow in the coming, but perhaps because of that, the final fruition felt more organic and believable, than if the turnarounds had been given a swifter treatment.
That believability also made the wait feel worthwhile, to see the rookies finally find their footing and their place within their teams.
By the last stretch of the show, it was nice to see the Resource team finally rally together around Young Yi after their Chief (Jung Hee Tae) stands up to Odious Manager Ma (Son Jong Hak).
While Seok Yul’s situation with Manager Sung (Tae In Ho) was the last to have any kind of significant breakthrough, it was also nice to see his Section Chief (Jang Hyuk Jin) appreciate him more in episode 16.
My favorite rookie-manager relationship, though (aside from Geu Rae’s relationships with Dong Shik and Chief Oh, of course), is Baek Ki’s relationship with Manager Kang (Oh Min Seok).
I just love how their heretofore uncomfortable relationship is unceremoniously thrust into the most awkward of situations, when they run into each other in the locker room of the jjimjilbang in episode 13.
How hysterical, that their eyes meet just as they’ve both undressed. Imagine the horror of being stark-nekkid in front of your stark-nekkid boss, when your relationship is already of the ill-at-ease variety. Eep.
The scenes that follow are painfully hilarious, as Baek Ki nervously and awkwardly tries his best to navigate this Terrible Situation, while Manager Kang doesn’t appear to bat an eye.
I suppose the good thing about being starkers with your boss, is that there isn’t much farther that you can go, on the Embarrassment Scale. Which is when Baek Ki gets up the nerve to ask Manager Kang to have a drink with him.
I really liked the frank and open conversation they have over that quiet beer. Baek Ki admits his feelings of dissatisfaction with himself, while Manager Kang provides much needed perspective and insight on the importance of the work that they do.
Manager Kang’s words make sense; that not all work is flashy and gets the spotlight, but that fact doesn’t make their work any less important or significant.
I believe that the idea that Manager Kang plants during that chat, of finding meaning in the work that you do being a core starting point, is the true genesis of Baek Ki’s eventual turnaround and growth.
By episode 16, it’s pretty great to see how far these two have come, when Manager Kang matter-of-factly congratulates Baek Ki on a job well done. Baek Ki first fumbles in surprise, then grins widely to himself in happiness.
Also. I love this dynamic of small victories giving rise to big pleasures. There’s something so earthy and real about it.
Aside from the characters and their relationships, Misaeng also serves up multiple themes, several of which I found extra thought-provoking.
Here, I delve into two big themes, before giving the quick spotlight to other themes in the show.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
One of the most troubling and disturbing themes that Misaeng takes on, is the issue of gender discrimination.
No matter where we live and work in the world, I believe that most of us have encountered or witnessed some form of gender discrimination.
While Misaeng’s treatment of the issue might appear exaggerated, its focus on gender discrimination in the Korean workplace is both illuminating and troubling.
It really is hard to be a woman in the corporate world, and Director Sun’s (Shin Eun Jung) words in episode 5 sum it all so perfectly:
“Working moms are always the culprit, at the workplace, to elders, not to mention, to your children. It’s impossible without the help of your husband. If you want to keep working, don’t plan on marrying, Young Yi. It’s easier that way.”
How sad, that a working woman is essentially a wrongdoer in everyone’s eyes; whether in the eyes of your in-laws, or your husband, or your co-workers, or even your own children, you’re just not good enough.
Not a good enough worker, for taking time for your family, and not a good enough wife and mother, for taking time away from your family.
It’s a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, and it’s such a hard place to be as a modern woman who desires to have a family and a career.
While that may be particularly true in the context of a still-highly-patriarchal society like Korea, it’s a universal sentiment that I believe women the world over can identify with.
It’s Not Just Business
Another theme that resonated throughout the show, is that it’s really Not Just Business.
One Side of the Coin
We see the first side of the coin in episode 6, when a potential business partner turns out to be Chief Oh’s old friend.
The dynamic that we witness between them, where Chief Oh’s college friend swings between being nice and not-so-nice, shows us that it’s not “just business” after all. Things can get very personal.
On one level, it’s in how Chief Oh’s old friend holds a grudge and uses their business context to take petty revenge.
We see this petty revenge dynamic too, in Young Yi’s team in the same episode, when they take out their frustrations on her, for being a woman, and for giving information to another team.
On another level, the idea of how it’s Not Just Business is in how everyone has their own “baduk game” as Geu Rae puts it.
Everyone has their own agenda, their own needs, and their own path to carve. Their family context and personal growth is all real. It’s all personal.
The Other Side of the Coin
While the first side of the coin can be troubling, I found another, more uplifting side to this coin as well.
In episode 8, when Chief Oh passes out after having a nosebleed, he drags himself to a clinic to get checked out.
In his absence, as people in the office start to realize that Chief Oh is missing, everyone – and I mean everyone – going crazy trying to look for him was very heartwarming to behold indeed.
The worry, care, and fear in Dong Shik and Geu Rae, in particular, moved me.
Just look at the stricken look in Geu Rae’s eyes, as he searches for his beloved Chief Oh.
Truly, it’s Not Just Business.
In this manner, in this way, it’s very personal indeed, and I love it.
With so much meat on its bones, and such a thoughtful, deliberate vibe, it’s no surprise that Misaeng serves up multiple themes over its 20 episodes.
Here’s a collection of the ones that resonated with me and gave me food for thought, even as I continued to enjoy getting to know our characters:
E2. The idea of being alone vs. working with others.
E7. The idea that every day is a new battle, so whatever happened the day before, and no matter how discouraged you got, you bring a new game face to the new battle.
E8. Do principles have a place in the corporate battlefield?
E8. The importance of having a good foundation.
E9. We reveal ourselves to find comfort and understanding.
E10. Essentially, it’s all baduk, and it doesn’t change the world, but the baduk board that we play, is each of our lives, and therefore is our world.
E11. The idea that the world isn’t so straightforward in distinguishing between right and wrong.
E11. Choose your battles to win the war.
E13. Find meaning in the work that you do.
E13. The idea of being absorbed/drunk. Find something to be absorbed in, to keep you going.
E14. The idea of keeping a cold mind and a hot heart.
E19. Endure, and win.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
Episode 20 was bittersweet to watch. Coz not only was I preparing myself to say goodbye to these characters, it was also hard to see them say goodbye to one another.
It was sad to see life go on after Chief Oh’s departure from One International, and eventually, after Geu Rae’s departure as well. Everyone’s concerted, last-ditch effort to help Geu Rae, even with the odds stacked against them, was moving to watch.
That’s how much they care, and it was bittersweet to see them do every little bit possible, and hold on to every last shred of hope, till the very end.
It was gratifying to see Young Yi and Baek Ki, both now much closer to their immediate supervisors; enough to take advice, and even to give some too.
Who would’ve thought we’d see the day? Seok Yul making the tough choice, to not stoop to unveiling his supervisor’s affair, was a big sign of maturity and integrity, which was worth waiting 20 episodes to see.
I felt sad to know that the four rookies won’t be working as a set of four at One International anymore.
But their reunion over drinks felt warm and true to life, and reminded me that goodbyes at work are par for the course, and the friends that are truly worth keeping, are kept. And I have a feeling that these four will continue to mean a lot to one another, years down the road.
I love that Chief Oh started a new company, and insisted on getting Manager Kim (Kim Jong Soo) in as the CEO. Chief Oh is loyal through and through.
I love even more, that Chief Oh was actually quietly preparing to receive Geu Rae, without saying a word to anyone. He is just so, so gruffly sweet.
Vying for my favorite moment in the finale, is the scene when Dong Shik determinedly plants himself in Chief Oh’s new office and refuses to leave.
And the group hug that followed – just, SO. MUCH. WIN.
The expressions on their faces is priceless.
This is just how much they enjoy working together, never mind the lack of security in a young company. That synergy, enjoyment and care means more to them than the stability of a big company.
To be honest, the final scenes in Jordan felt a little shoe-horned in, just to bring us full-circle. Still, it was gratifying to see Geu Rae doing all sorts of things that he’d never been able to do before, like speak in English, and be a thorough badass.
The comfortable camaraderie between Chief Oh and Geu Rae in Jordan was also heartwarming to witness, particularly in the light of the epilogue, that showed us that they’d crossed paths at the wake area of the hospital years before, when Geu Rae had lost his father, and Chief Oh had lost that contract worker that he’d been trying so hard to help.
What a supremely gratifying thought, to consider that they’ve found their way full circle to each other.
Who would have guessed that they would each eventually settle in, to fill those gaping wounds in each other’s hearts, helping to comfort and heal each other, beneath the gruff everyday stuff?
Augh. That thought just fills my heart. So. Much.
In the end, what a perfectly imperfect end.
Completely in line with its title, Misaeng paints an incomplete life in progress, even as the credits roll.
Jang Geu Rae is still work in progress, as is Chief Oh and all the rest of the characters. The roads ahead of them are uncertain, but they walk ahead anyway.
With hope, with determination, with as much wisdom as they have in the moment, and with just a touch of swag, as they follow where their hearts lead them.
Just as we all should.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Measured, quiet and contemplative, yet ultimately uplifting and inspiring. To be savored slowly.
FINAL GRADE: A
Thank you! You just put into words every little thought I had while watching this gem of a show this past week.
Thank you, fangirlverdict. I find myself looking for your review when I’m unsure whether to continue on with a drama or not for one reason or another. I trust your insights, as they’re logical while you don’t hesitate to discuss what gets under the skin and then plays with your heartstrings. Your reviews are full-bodied guides that manage to be informative and lively as well.
I just finished this drama last night and really enjoyed it. I agree the first few episodes were quite sad and disheartening. It was a wonderful watch overall.
WOW–this was an amazing drama that ended with devouring another perceptive review and analysis by the brilliant KFangurl! KFG”s reviews are like hot-fudge topping on a sundae, theabsolute BEST way to end a kdrama!
For me, Miseang is a do-not-miss drama. As a retired corporate worker, I loved the corporate environment, politics and the added layer of baduk life-lessons. Although this is “entertainment,” I was surprised to see all of the things I had learned about working in Asian companies were true–asking your boss to choose your car; staying at work until after your superior leaves; endless, mind-numbing details in Asian business reports; formal behavior such as standing for superiors, bowing, titles; attitudes towards women; gifts; obligatory after-hours drinking; etc. I wish I could go back in time and require those who do business with Asians to watch this series.
The format and style of this drama are so realistic, yet the messages about that setting are heart-warming amidst all of the tension. All of the actors, both heroes and villans, did an excellent job portraying their roles. In so many ways, Mr. Oh reminded me of Mr. Park in “My Mister.” I hoped that Geu-rae would have the opportunity to play baduk with the director and even with Mr. Oh, but I enjoyed that he became a “player” in business .
I have to admit I didn’t care for the Jordan bookends but they did allow the viewer to see the characters working in “happy” context. I did like the idea that the first scenes were about finding something and the last scenes were about the stasifaction of the chase. And I loved seeing Mr. Oh in his travel attire! The extremely brief final scene showing the fated encounter of Mr. Oh and Geu-rae at the funeral could have been just a little longer.
Perhaps someday I will take the time to re-watch this masterpiece, but as a newbie I have so many more dramas to watch……
So far this drama and My Mister are at the top of my favorite-kramas list.
Thanks again KFangurl–you’re the best!
Aw thanks for the kind words Susan, thank you for enjoying the review! ❤️ Glad to know that you enjoyed Misaeng as much as you did.. it’s definitely a unique and thoughtful drama that’s worth the drama hours. At the same time, I understand what you mean, about not rewatching it anytime soon because there are just too many new dramas to watch! 😉
I’m just rewatching this gem, almost finished, and I have to say I LOVE that One International is a company that does actual work. For example that Han Seok Ryul is a textiles expert. Steel. Used Cars, Solar Panels. This was so disappointing in The Good Manager, where it was a kind of nothing company.
Did I miss something? At the beginning of the series Kim Dong shik was married with a young child then in the middle of the series, he’s been going on blind dates. What happened?
Exactly. I spent the rest of the episodes wondering about that. I wish somebody had the answer. Still, I can forgive much worse than this for the sake of Misaeng. I’ve seen about 50 or 60 kdrama so far, and it’s vying for the top slot.
The married guy with a young child was a different character (Kim Seok-ho), one of the interns who got hired but sent to head office. I don’t think he appeared again.
Hey, K. Thanks for the comprehensive review — well-fitting for this iconic masterpiece.
Echoing the general sentiments on Show:
1. Basically the corporate experience depicted in realistic detail — it certainly cut close to home for me.
2. Seeing Geu Rae’s grit to earn small wins in light of his was particularly satisfying, as well as Chief Oh’s steadfastness to his principles, even at the expense of career advancement.
3. Also liked seeing Young-yi and Baek-ki struggle initially — talent alone is not enough to succeed, you also need grit and the right attitude, as the two gradually learned.
Agree that the Jordan finale could have been reduced in lieu of a proper epilogue for the 4 rookies. In particular, I want to see:
1. Young-yi’s continued growth as a leader (perhaps under the mentorship of Director Sun?)
2. Seok kul taking on a factory leadership role, and…
3. Geu Rae’s loveline with the kindergarten teacher explored a bit more. He deserves to experience happiness through a possible romance, in light of everything he has gone through.
Thanks for enjoying the review, Storyteller! 😀 I must say, you do seem to have a knack for coming up with excellent alternatives for our drama storylines! I feel like your idea for an epilogue could be made into a sequel, or at least a movie. 😀
Loved this show. A very special experience to go through. Your review was spot on. This is a series that needs to be savoured slowly because it grows and grows on you. Eventually you begin to feel part of the gang.
Hi alan! I’m so glad you enjoyed this show. You’re right; Misaeng really is one of those shows that needs to be savored slowly. That’s how it grows on you, when you’re not quite looking. 🙂 Thanks for enjoying the review! <3
Just found this on Netflix and really getting into it. Glad to see others found the first episode so gruelling. Great review, I’ll have to come back to it after I’ve finished and read the spoiler sections.
Glad to hear that you’re enjoying Misaeng, Tom! Yay Netflix for suggesting it to ya! 😉 Thanks for enjoying the review, and yes, see you later, when you’re done with the show! 🙂
THIS SHOW. I can’t. I have too many feelings and thoughts that this will probably be so messy but, here goes. (again this is a long post because I’m not capable of short posts, apparently!)
Honestly, this isn’t really my “kind” of show that I am naturally attracted to. For entertainment and when I want to relax, I tend to gravitate towards cheery happy shows, I like happy endings, I like romance, I like funny comedies – all of which Misaeng is NOT. I mean I have my days that I love deeper, introspective, contemplative stuff but usually for fun I wouldn’t naturally fish out a show like this. Also, I heard lots of good things about Misaeng, about PD Kim Won Seok (of course with my favourite show of all time My Ajusshi) and I knew I should watch it but… there was always a funnier, lighthearted, cute, romantic show that caught my attention first.
But then Netflix showed me that Misaeng will be taken off Netflix on 17 June (gosh that’s tomorrow!) and I told myself, I should watch it. But still, I hesitated a little. [Some context is that I’m now transiting, going to start a new job really soon in a new industry that I’m not familiar with.] And the premise of this show – a young guy who is inexperienced, thrown into the corporate world with nothing apart from his Baduk strategies – hit a little too close to home. But I told myself, let’s just try it. And the first 2 episodes were SO HARD to watch. It hurt so much to see Geu Rae struggling wandering around lost in the office, struggling with the jargon, feeling so out of place and friendless. It’s silly but I saw myself as a Geu Rae and wondered even if I made the right choice in changing job and starting all over!! I had to force myself to watch the first few episodes when life was so hard for him. But somehow something just kept drawing me back to the show – you are right that it is so immersive that you feel you ARE Geu Rae and friends, so I cared for them and wanted to know what happened to them.
Thankfully it got better for Geu Rae and friends and I love EVERYTHING you highlighted (in big or small ways) in the entire review.
How each character was so fleshed out and so real that I felt that they were me or they were my friends. The growth of each person. The camaraderie amongst the various teams. The pacing. The acting. The directing. The writing. The OST. Everything. So I won’t elaborate on those. Who knew that a show about work would grip my heart so much? That a missing piece of B/L paper, a presentation (the intern and Jordan project ones), an attempt to sell underwear and socks, a pitch to a client would leave me on the edge as if it was a crime thriller show? Yet that was how I felt.
So coming back to my story – I guess, in a silly way, throughout the show as Geu Rae and friends found their place and found their feet in the company, I felt that when I start my new job, I can be like Geu Rae too. Maybe I’ll be scared but I’ll remember that Geu Rae had an ever bigger change in life to overcome (from Baduk to the corporate world) and if he could do it, so can I. Maybe I’ll be lost in the beginning (thankfully I know how to use a photocopying machine though!), but every day will get a little better. Maybe I’ll be friendless at first but hopefully I can find a tribe like the rookie tribe. And maybe, just maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I can find a boss like Chief Oh and teammates like Dong Shik. But even if I don’t, I”m sure I’ll be fine somehow… every day is a new battle and all we can do is to keep doing our best – and I’m sure that as we keep doing our best, we deserve a message just like Chief Oh’s for Geu Rae – “Jang Geu Rae, you couldn’t have done any better. YES!”
I know I’m rambling so I’ll just attempt to end this off. On a separate track, I felt so much for this show also because this show made me reflect on my years in the working world and about all the teams I’ve been a part of (for good or for bad). When Chief Oh quit, it was a punch to the gut. And similarly as Geu Rae and Dong Shik were anxious about having new teammates (Mr Park, Mr Chun), I could totally relate – I’ve had many changes to my team and felt the same anxiety when new people joined and the same heartache when beloved teammates or bosses left. So much of our working life is either elevated or devastating due to the people we work with and this show made me think back on all the people that I’ve worked with and the relationships I’ve had with them.
What a show. What a journey it has been for the characters and for myself. It’s misaeng, an incomplete life, but we are all on the path towards wan-saeng, a complete life. And even if life is hard in the new job, I’ll remember that just as Geu Rae grew and eventually progressed onto a new job, I’ll remind myself that this job is just one part of my life, and it’s just a season to grow me to be the person I’m supposed to be.
I apologise if anyone feels that I’m being so silly / sentimental / self indulgent to feel like I journeyed with them and even found hope in a show but that’s how I feel right now! And thank you, Kfangirl, for such a wonderful recap that expressed everything I felt! <3 <3 Just, so much love right now!
On a side note, I know this show was made in 2014 but it’s so timeless that I could identify so much with it 5 years later! The only things that didn’t age as well were the flip phones and “are you on Twitter” lol – today it would be iPhones and Instagram. But seriously, timeless show with universal themes and relatable characters! <3
Lol! That’s true! I watched it soon after it aired, so I didn’t have the same retro insights. 😆 Reminds me of Coffee Prince in that way: it’s the flip phones (and in CP’s case, the fashion) that gives it away. Otherwise, it’s timelessly relatable. 🙂
Aw, I’m so glad that Misaeng resonates with you so much, MC! HUGS. <3 It must be rather stressful contemplating your challenges in making a mid-career change, and I can imagine how Geu Rae's journey felt like your vicarious steps into a brand new world.
Misaeng was such a hit in Korea for the exact reasons you highlighted; it made work life come alive, and people all over Korea felt like this was their story; like they were finally being understood. And indeed, when one spends so many hours of every day with colleagues, those work relationships become special, and there is naturally angst around people leaving and new people coming in to take their place. Misaeng does such a great job shining the spotlight on all the nuances in a way that is relatable and accessible.
I'm not at all surprised that this has turned into quite the cathartic watch for you, and has even given you inspiration and courage to face the coming transition in your own career. 🙂 Hugs to ya, MC, I wish you a meaningful and stress-free transition to your new job, and lots of good people to surround you at your new work place. <3
Yes! I appreciate what you said so much. Cathartic is the word! Haha. Thanks for the virtual hugs and a virtual hug back at you too – I appreciate the kind words and yes indeed, may we all find comfort and meaning and good people around us at work (be it in a new environment or at your current workplace!) I really love E9’s theme of revealing ourselves to find comfort and acceptance – may you also have that same comfort for yourself! (and how nice that the theme of comfort appears in both My Ajusshi and Misaeng… I’m so biased :D) <3<3<3
You know, MC, for a similar-but-different sense of comfort, I’d like to suggest Answer Me 1988 and Wise Prison Life, both bring SUCH a glorious sense of community and warmth, where people find comfort in one another, even in the hard and dark times. In the light of your sharing, I feel like these two shows in particular, would suit your mood. <3 Both take a little while to settle (WPL more than AM88), but once the characters are established in your head, it all starts to pulse with a kind of life that feels real and raw, like these characters are people that you know and love. 🙂
oh thank you for the recommendations, they sound wonderful! Argh, now I can’t decide if I should watch WPL, Reply 1988 or The Light In Your Eyes next! (halfway through Her Private Life haha). Which do you recommend?
Also since I can’t reply on the My Ajusshi thread anymore – yay I’m so happy you are enjoying This Week My Wife Will Have An Affair and I look forward to your review!!! 🙂
For your specific current mood, I’m thinking WPL might be the best fit.. Show’s tone takes a couple of eps to settle, so bear with that, but once it settles, the relationships start to form, often rather reluctantly, and it becomes very moving to behold, eventually. Show’s sense of humor can be very corny, so just lean into it and embrace it. 😉 AM88 has a similar quality too, but because WPL involves more people who are not family, I thought that might resonate with you more, given your thoughts about work and colleagues. 🙂 There’s more of a loveline in AM88, less in WPL, which might suit your current mood? I’m not sure.. If you’re looking for a stronger loveline narrative arc, then perhaps AM88 would do the trick. 🙂
I’m traveling for work this week and so my watch of most of my shows will have to pause.. Hopefully I will be able to post a review about This Week Will Have An Affair within the next couple of weeks or so!
that sounds lovely! I don’t typically like prison shows but the community vibe, warmth, and reluctant friendships sound awesome. I’m going to start Prison Playbook (and yay it’s on Netflix!)
ah no worries no hurry. Good luck with your work trip! I really don’t know how you find time to work + watch so many shows + write so many thoughtful and in depth reviews along with living normal life. I really respect your dedication and appreciate all your effort writing all the reviews (be it long or flash)!! Love love love! 🙂
Just a quick comment – I was at Habitat recently (honestbee) and I saw MAXIM coffee!!! In my mind I could just see our favourite newbies making their Maxim coffee in their paper cups…
Also, I’ve finished 5 eps of Wise Prison Life and I love it already. Your recommendations are gold!
Ahhh!! I’m so pleased that you’re loving WPL, MC!!! 😄😄😄 I had a feeling you’d love it, but there’s nothing like confirming for sure! 😉 I can’t wait to hear all your thoughts about it, when you are done! 😀
Also, Maxim coffee really is everywhere in kdramas! 😆 I do a little double-take in my head too, when I see kdrama products in real life! 😉
Chief Oh…one of the best characters in kdrama! I never thought that I would care so much about office drama, but this was so good!
Chief Oh was such a sweetheart. <3 I never thought I would really get into an office drama either, but these characters really got under my skin by the end! 🙂
I really like reading and re-reading your reviews on dramas, especially of shows like ‘Misaeng’. These shows have so much I want to remember and cherish forever, and while I can’t re-watch, it’s really nice to come to your blog and read the review. Thank you so much for being so courageous (in sharing your views) and hardworking (so many dramas so little time)! You also inspire me to write in my own style. kfangurl nim fighting!!
Hi there emijn! Thanks for your lovely encouraging comment! <3 I'm so happy to know that you enjoy the reviews, and even revisit them at times. Your appreciation means a lot; I definitely feel more motivated to keep on writing. Thank you. 😘
Hi from Australia ! My husband and my self watched misaeng and took our time every night to watch one or two eps and found our selves falling in love with this show!!! And we are in our fifty’s ! It’s definitly a more mature show even if it was about young people finding their way if life ! We have two children in their twenty’s so could relate to the struggles of our children finding their way in life !
Hi Joe Ann!! That’s so great, that you and your hubs enjoyed this one, AND found it relatable to your kids’ journeys! 😀 I mean, yes, there are always cultural differences, but some things are just quite universal, aren’t they? <3
I only just discovered this wonderful Korean series here in Texas. Even though it is done in the Korean language and dubbed in English, it was very easy to follow, I fell in love with the characters and well done acting on each of their parts. They taught me a lot about Korean culture and the corporate world and the struggles in this society. And, without sex and profanity, as opposed to so many American shows. The slow and building pace of the characters and situations was refreshing and allowed me to immerse into their world with believability and compassion. Kudos to the actors, male and female, and the writers and producers of this wonderful TV series.
Hi Sandra, welcome to the blog! 🙂 And wow, I had no idea that Korean shows were getting dubbed in English. That definitely shows that Korean dramas are becoming more popular on mainstream outlets, and that’s very cool indeed! 😀 That’s so great, that you enjoyed this series as much as you did. It really is thoughtfully written and excellently acted.
Many western fans of Korean dramas have expressed similar sentiments as you, about it being refreshing to learn about Korean culture, and it also being a good respite from the sex and violence that tends to be a mainstay in western entertainment. If you are keen to explore more Korean dramas, you could check out DramaFever, which carries a pretty wide range of titles. Their videos are geo-restricted to me (I’m in Singapore), but you’d be able to view them just fine, since you are in the US. In terms of recommendations, you might find my list of reviews useful, as I’ve put my grade for each one next to each title. I’ve been branching out to explore Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese dramas, so you’ll find some of those titles there too. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the world of Asian dramas! 🙂
I binge-watched this drama for 3 days. I started watching Monday 12am and finished watching episode 20 today. What i like about this drama was how realistic it was. I felt especially attached to Geu Rae’s character. I was like that when i started working (14 years ago). I was as shy and naive and didn’t know how to open up with my colleagues. My seniors often made fun of me and i’ve had my share of challenges (although not as extreme as what Geu Rae experienced). I had experienced the same heartbreak he did when his courage was not enough to save his presentation with his partner Seok Hyul. I can relate to the helplessness that those who like Geu Rae felt when they failed to save him. The frustration they felt towards the rotten corporate system is very realistic… I held back tears when Geu Rae did not become a permanent employee…
I can relate to the code of conduct that Manager Oh lives by… the kindness that Miss Sun from Team 1 shows her subordinates (treating them as family)… the hurt she felt when she discovered that her subordinates does not think of her as the same.
I can go on and on… To think that i only started watching this drama in netflix because i found Siwan adorable (well he is.. i want to comfort him every time he gets discouraged). To fall in love with it after episode 1 and to binge-watch it until the end.
This is one drama well worth the tears and the eyebags.
Wow, you finished this show in 3 days?!? That’s pretty impressive, Shuhanshi! I enjoyed this one very well, but couldn’t marathon it because sometimes it was too real and therefore too painful to watch. The show did such a good job of letting me vicariously experience Geu Rae’s struggles that I found I had to take it slow – so that I could give myself a break, ha. And yes, I absolutely agree, this show is so good at bringing out the everyday struggles of the average person; it’s easy to identify with the characters, and in doing so, relive our own struggles too. Such a well-done show indeed.
Great review! I’m watching Misaeng and now in episode 17…. it’s really a very good drama! This is the drama that I think I can rewatch again in the future.
I just recently finished watching this show and it easily became my favorite kdrama. I’d say the simplicity of the show’s main theme is what makes it so beautiful. I loved everything about this show. It felt so real and I found myself resonating with the characters many times as I was watching. I laughed, I cried and I felt somehow connected with the characters. It took so much for me to actually watch the final episode as I didn’t want to bid farewell to the show just yet. That being said, I found the ending to be very satisfying. Awesome review, kfangurl! I will be sure to look for your reviews on other kdramas in the future! 😀
I’m glad you enjoyed Misaeng AND this review, jerbug!! 🙂 It really is quite a special drama, isn’t it? It took me a while to get used to it, but once I did, I really felt like I was living life with these characters, and I couldn’t rooting for them. I love that it manages to be so uplifting in its simplicity too. This show deserved all the love it got. ❤
I just finished misaeng a few days ago and i’m glad that i watch this show. Its great!!! I know that this drama got a high rating and many people talk about this drama when i cross over random comment on some kpop/k-entertainment news, so i really curious to what make misaeng lovable for many people. My friend say that its a boring drama and i got the chance to finally watch it and yes, for people who just want to watch light romance comedy kdrama, misaeng story is not their cup of tea. But for me, i also love this kind of story. I love jang geu rae. Instead of giving up, he choose to give his best for his work. His passionate in working never fail to amaze me. I often heard about long working hours in korea that you literally live in your office, and this show proof that. It looks like, you live just for working, and your life revolve around your job. Its not just geu rae, everyone do that. I mean, arent they too hard to themself? We need work-life balance, you know… the pressure is no joke. Like when the intern who fail to got a job in one internasional mention, they try hard to go to best university, even study abroad, and then they try their best to enter a good company, and then working hard at the company. I agree thorough your review, and eventhough i dont get the same pressure like them, i can relate to being newbie, gender discrimination, didn’t do flashy work, office politic, jealousy from another department etc. Oh, one interesting thing that usually come around in my country, about the topic who is better? Working mom vs full time mom. The debate never end, and each of them feel superior to another, and somehow making some people feel inferior.
Well yeah i cant say much about misaeng because as usual your great review made me nod my head along as i read it, but i can say that misaeng somehow inspire me to try my best, made any small step and small win along my life and remember that i’m not alone struggle in life. Life itself is battlefield and for me, success is when i’m happy with my life. Oh.. I need Chief Oh for myself to be my mentor in working field or in life itself ;’)
Aw, I’m glad you checked this one out, even though your friends said it was boring!! I totally get that too, though. If someone’s expecting the kind of narrative rhythm that most kdramas serve up, where a lot of stuff happens and it’s really not very realistic at all, then they’d find this show’s daily sort of rhythm way too slow. But for those who can adjust to that rhythm, there’s really so much to love in this show. I love how heartfelt it all is, particularly in how the relationships grow and blossom. It’s slow and measured, and feels completely believable. I totally felt like I was on this journey with our characters, and putting in overtime when they were putting in overtime. Truly, that’s Misaeng’s appeal – it has the ability to help us know that we are not alone. 🙂 And yes, don’t we all want our very own Chief Oh! 😉
Hi there, kfangurl…
I watch this drama recently only from episode 10 onward and i instantly fell in love with the whole concept – the screenplay, the directing, the cinematography, and above all the characters of each individual. Everything seem so real. I could relate to the whole situation and the characters. They literally give me life.
Anyway, I love reading your review. Thank u. U speak my mind in a beautiful way. I cried reading your thoughts. It was wonderful and heartwarming.
Aw, I’m so glad you enjoyed the show AND this review, luvsushi 🙂 Misaeng definitely doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it is a very rare and special kdrama indeed, for the way the characters creep under your skin and become like your own friends and colleagues. Thanks for sharing the Misaeng love. Hugs <3
Wonderful! You did justice to the show! Your review put words to my feelings when I watch the episodes. Thank you
Aw, thanks flu77! I’m glad you enjoyed the show AND this review. Misaeng really is a thoughtful sort of journey, and I’m glad it got the attention that it did, given how different it is from the usual offerings from dramaland. 🙂
Such a great well written and thought out review. Thank you.
Aw, thanks for the compliments and encouragement – I’m really glad that you enjoyed the review! 😀
I’m not dropping this one!!! I feel like I’m rooting for my son ☺ hwiting 🙋🙋🙋
Woot! Fighting~!! 😀
Watched one episode and this show is making my heart ache , makes me afraid this may happen ( the bullying) to my children going into the work force.
Aw.. Yeah, the first couple of episodes are especially hard to watch, I had difficulty getting through those too. But it gets easier, and Geu Rae makes progress and wins small victories as you get deeper into the show. I hope that makes you feel better and helps you keep watching the show, Nancy. It really is a worthy watch overall. 🙂
I love this show sooooo much.. but it’s quite upseting because there’s not many people around me do like this show.. I like to recommend this show to my friends but they always say that this drama is boring.. until now I just have 2 friends that I know enjoy and find this show isfun and worth to watch.. and thank you for ur review it make me miss the show and the cast <3
Aw, thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the review! It’s also great that you love Misaeng so much, Shenas! It’s definitely quite a gem, for those who are able to appreciate it. That said, though, it’s also true that this show isn’t for everyone. I found the early eps especially hard to watch, when Geu Rae kept getting bullied and ostracized by the other interns.. that was kinda depressing for me. For viewers who are looking to escape from the drag of real life, that alone could be a big hurdle for them to cross, possibly. At least Misaeng does have its fans who love it and appreciate it tho!
I am speechless. Your review is the best I’ve come across on blogosphere. So utterly comprehensive, thought provoking, insightful….I run out of adjectives to describe it. I have watched Misaeng twice now (no FF) and still get those goosebumps reading your review. I love your writing. I am new to your blog but already a fan.
Hi there Mitta, welcome to the blog!! 🙂 Thanks for your encouraging words – what a big compliment!! That definitely helps motivate me to keep on writing for the blog! ^^
Since you’re fairly new to the blog, I feel I must warn you that not all the reviews are as long or as comprehensive as this one.. I’ve learned that not all shows deserve the monster review treatment. Plus, I also learned that if I do that for every review, I actually get to watch a lot less drama! XD So, there are a lot of shorter reviews on the site too. I hope you enjoy poking around! 🙂
SUCH A GREAT REVIEW and I completely agree. Like the show, this review is to be savored, so I’ll be back on other days that I miss Misaeng just to relive some of those moments.
A thought about the slowness of the development. I agree with how in this case the longer format is a part of the fabric of this show. I was suprised to find myself only impatient on a small handful of times. Usually I am the fast forward queen. Most of the other times, the multiple stories were welcome, the need to give time to each character’s trajectory almost demanded it.
Webby!!! 😀 Thanks for enjoying the review as much as you do!! That makes me really happy, really. ^^ And to say the review is to be savored, is high praise that I don’t take lightly at all. THANK YOU. <3
Wow that Misaeng’s long episodes didn't tempt a fast-forward queen to use that FF button!! I do completely agree that the slow pace and longer format is just part of this show's fabric. Messing with it would only compromise the experience of this show, which would be a pity, since the experience itself is one of the prizes from watching this show. 🙂 Definitely a pretty special drama indeed.
i started live watching, but then i had to stop because i was going through a similar situation (co-workers who belittle you and pass off their psychological bullying as “jokes”) . And it was just too hard to deal with. That’s why “Misaeng” was very painful to watch but enjoyable too? Like I’m not Korean, I live in another side of the world, I have a different culture, but I could still relate to what Geu Rae was going throug? Anyway, great review 😀
Aw. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve gone through so much at work, Sunny! Big hugs. I can totally understand how that might make Misaeng rather uncomfortable to watch; it hits too close to home. I’m glad that you still managed to enjoy Misaeng.. beyond the painful part of identifying with the struggles, I think a lot of the appeal comes from the liberating part of tasting their victories. Plus, the issues are all universal to some degree, so it makes total sense that this show might hit home for lots of people who don’t live in Korea. In that sense, I feel like Misaeng is a show that has more to offer than the average drama. It actually offers hope and strength to people, in very real struggles that they face. Precious stuff indeed. <3
Oh Misaeng, how I love thee. XD Great review!
It’s funny but I never felt Misaeng was too slow or the episodes too long. I didn’t even find it particularly depressing. The early episodes were whistful, contemplative and a bit blue but never outright depressing. I loved almost every character equally but must say my fave was definitely Lee Sung Min’s Chief Oh, no contest there. Gosh, LSM was wonderful here!
Your tolerance for dark must be higher than most, coz most people I’ve chatted with seemed to have found at least the earlier episodes somewhat depressing. 😉 But, YAY that you loved Misaeng through and through – I know how rare that is for you these days! 😀 And, I totally agree with you on Chief Oh. Lee Sung Min is wonderful and amazing and just SO GOOD in this! <3
Could be because of where I’m from, I’m more attuned to melancholy. 🙂 Things have to get majorly maudlin before I find them truly depressing.
That, or you’re just a strong woman. Which I completely believe you are! 😉
“By show’s end, I was extremely reluctant to say good-bye, and literally put off watching the last episode for weeks, just to postpone the inevitable. ”
When I read that I roared “ME TOO!” cuz I did marathoned it until episode 19 and watched the last episode only when I was ready to let team 3 go.
At first, I didn’t plan to watch that show since everybody was writing how depressing it was but the fact they were eager for the next weekly dose intrigued me and I was hooked from episode 1. Weird cuz it was indeed depressing but you can’t help but feel for Geu Rae as soon as he step a foot in his new work environment and you want to know what will happen to him, if he’s going to be able to stand the heat and how he will cope with it, if he’s going to get that goddamn permanent position even if it’s to work in a snake nest…
Everyone was well cast.
If it was Im Si Wan’s breakthrough, Byun Yo Han was not bad either. To see his funny, enthusiastic character be drastically tamed by the heaviness of his hermetic hierarchy was heartbreaking.
Kang Ha Neul was steamy hot in Monstar… as a schoolboy. So I didn’t want to imagine what he would be as an adult and I did well cuz for once reality is much better. Absolutely despicable in the first part of the show, his character find the way to redeem himself.
And Oh Min Seok, ah Oh Min Seok… If I notice an actor when I watch a show for another one, then I know that one day I will witness the first one doing great things. Just as Ji Chang wook in Empress Ki or Park Hae Jin in MLFTS, I did notice Oh Min Seok and his lips in Nine despite Lee Jin Wook’s awesomness. And here we have not only the lips but the haircut, the composure, the covet stare (towards the work environment improvement team at ep 19 ) and those Wasser-Wagen-Weiss-Wurst scenes are the cherry on top ( German is my first foreign language, that’s why). He would do a great first lead, why nobody thinks of it ?
This show is a total success in each and every of its aspects, for once I have nothing to complain about. Even the soundtrack is well thought, the songs matching their scenes beautifully. Flawless execution, simply. Except maybe that poster : totally misleading…
OMG, I endorse your comment word by word. From the love to the german-speaking boss to the delay in watching the last episode XDD
Misaeng was indeed wonderful. In my case certainly it stroke a chord, since I work in the corporate environment. Being a woman and starting from the bottom I can identify with all the newbies at some point in every episode. Somehow I felt less alone in my struggles and also cared deeply for characters that felt real, each of them with good and bad traits, and all of them driven by their own stories and motivations.
It was painful to watch sometimes, but Geu Rae’s determination to keep going and his small victories conveyed hope and encouragement. Really great for a TV drama, Misaeng is a jewel 😀
I missed all them when reading this review. I have to rewatch it soon, but at a slow pace, haha!
Glad this review helped you to relive your Misaeng love, Elena! Sounds like your own work journey hasn’t exactly been easy, so it’s great that this show brought you a sense of solidarity. I think that’s a big part of Misaeng’s appeal, especially among the salarymen and -women in Korea. I loved each little victory our characters enjoyed, and I completely agree that these small victories convey much-needed hope and encouragement to viewers. 🙂
asotss!! You put off watching the ending too!! High five, sista, we do have some similar habits! XD
Similar to you, I checked out the show mostly coz of the positive buzz it was getting, in spite of its reputation for being rather depressing. And YES, I was extremely invested in Geu Rae’s journey; I wanted so badly to see him succeed! You are so right, everyone was perfectly cast, from our primary cast down to the Awful Woman-Hater Manager Ma. And Oh Min Seok! Yes, I concur he is a hottie in his own right. I was really quite pleased to see him as a chaebol second lead in Kill Me, Heal Me. He even gets a couple of shirtless scenes, and looks suitably sexy in ’em. I think it won’t be long before he gets his chance at being a leading man! 🙂
PS: I do absolutely agree that the poster is rather misleading. There are some other posters which are more muted, but in the end, I picked this one coz that’s the reason I watched the whole show – so that I could see these characters exult over their well-earned victories. 🙂
Oh, our hottie assistant manager Kang has already done some lead work, though not in prime time. I really liked his character in Chosun Police 3 – he was sweet and kick ass. XD I guess Oh Min Seok is another one of those taking a longer route to bigger and better things. I wouldn’t mind seein more of him in dramaland.^^
Oh, I definitely would be happy to see more of him in dramaland! Oh Min Seok has enough presence and charisma to pull off bigger and better things, and it feels like he’s getting there, even though it’s via a longer route than some others. I didn’t watch any of the Chosun Police seasons, but it’s nice to know he did nicely in there! Maybe it’s time to add that show to the ever-expanding watch list! XD
I like Chusun Police because of the somewhat different take on sageuks, being sort of ‘CSI in Joseon’, ha. S1 was quite good but the ending left lots of things dangling, didn’t watch S2 as it’s pretty hard to come bye besides I’ve heard it’s not very good. S3 is my favourite, it’s more rounded than S1 with a proper ending and I loved the characters. I found the cases pretty interesting as well. You don’t have to watch all the seasons as they are self-cointained and the main characters are different in each of them.
Thanks for the heads-up on Chosun Police, Timescout! It’s useful to know that the seasons stand alone – that makes it that much less intimidating! XD Procedurals aren’t my usual cup of tea, but I’ve managed to enjoy a couple of ’em, so I’m storing this possibility away for a rainy day. I’d probably check out the TEN and God’s Quiz series before this, tho ^^
Elena, Geu Rae’s perseverance is indeed admirable. I like to think I’m not a quitter but what he had to face made me cringe so many times… So I’ve got a lot of admiration for those “everyday warriors” and I hope you won’t have to struggle for too long.
Kfangurl, I need to thank you yet another time for a great discovery because before I read your comment, I didn’t know Oh Min Soek was in Kill Me, Heal Me.
I had to watch the new drama where Hyun Bin was starring in cuz, you know, passionate, erotic-infused kiss may occur but alas, what a fiasco. That drama is flat from flat so I was not so keen in watching another DID nightmare. BUT what I wouldn’t do for OMS ? And BAM !!! I encountered Ji Sung rocking khôl pencil and pink lipstick like nobody else in what will certainly end up in my top 3 of 2015 Drama !!!! So not one but three candies in the same package ? Gosh, I love when this happens 😀
Tee hee! YAY that you discovered Ji Sung, isn’t he AMAZING in KMHM??? I was already a fan of his from long ago, but I was suitably blown away by his amazing performance in KMHM! (Review to come, I promise!) So yes, KMHM serves up not only one charismatic actor, but two! AND, it’s a pretty solid watch too. That’s pretty excellent, I think! 😉
I tried to watch Hyde, Jekyll, Me for Hyun Bin, but even the allure of Hyun Bin couldn’t pull me through that one. I ended up dropping it after about 6 episodes.
Thanks for this! It helped me in reliving all the awesome moments I spent with the show. I can understand that it can be harder to marathon Misaeng. I live watched it but it took so much time even then….haha
One of the other scenes that I loved was when Chief Oh asks Geu-rae to have drinks and then all city lights appear as hearts for him…it was so sweet! Here is the link:
I love everything about this drama and everyone ♥ ♥ ♥
P. S. I found Baek-ki’s senior manager Kang hot… 😉
Y’know, I didn’t notice the heart-shaped lights when I watched it! Thanks for pointing it out, it really IS super cute!!!
For the record, I found Manager Kang hot too. 😉 I was so pleased to see him in KMHM as Ji Sung’s chaebol cousin. For some reason, I was just happy that he got to be a chaebol, after being a salaryman in Misaeng! XD
Another great review Kfangurl, just remind me how I love Misaeng and its characters, for sure I ‘ll rewatch it again someday😄👍 thanks!
Aw, thanks djining! So glad you enjoyed this review! 🙂 The characters and their relationships were the ultimate highlight of this show, for me, so I can completely understand wanting to revisit them! ^^