Moo Yeol is a taekwondo instructor who falls for Eun Jae at first sight when she comes and asks him to help her find gold treasures at the agency. Hee Kyung is a tarot card master and Yong Soo is a manhwa shop owner who passes his days with no dreams nor hopes but gets involved in the gold hunting simply for fun. Moo Yeol, Hee Kyung, and Yong Soo gather together at the empty Inquiry Agency office and they discover a dead corpse in the basement. The four of them later decide to start a treasure hunting project.
Cast & Credits
Every time I thought I'd only give it an 8 or at best a 9, I found myself cheering or laughing out loud or crying soulful tears (yes, you will need a tissue box, maybe not even a box, but at least a few in your pocket), and then I knew I just had to give it a 10. It gets a 10 not because it is perfect TV, but because it was perfect to me. And, yes, I am an unapologetic and rabid Lee Min Ki fan, but you can see in my ratings of his movies that just because I love him to pieces, doesn’t mean I will automatically rate everything he does as a 10 with a 100 hearts after it. I try to be objective, even when it comes to my Min Ki :).
[Note: I will not be using the annoyingly bad English name of Evasive Inquiry Agency when referring to this drama but rather the more apt Mixed Up Investigative Agency (MUIA).]
First things first, if you are planning to watch this drama, be forewarned that it doesn't get truly great until episode 8 (some people might even say 10). Sure, it's loads of fun and entertaining and even exciting and the mysteries are all good enough to keep you going, but it really doesn't enter into the realm of greatness until then when you really start to see the heart and some surprisingly good acting. Up until then it's like the difference between how your chest feels when you are taking an exhilarating ride on a rollercoaster vs. how your chest feels when you realize you are in love. Sure your heart pounds in both instances, and both are lots of fun, but only love is profound and has memories that will last a lifetime.
Ok, so that out of the way, here are 12 reasons why MUIA is so darn perfect:
1. It's unique. One of the things that always tickles me the most and is most likely to land a drama near the top of my faves list is uniqueness, which, as much as I love Kdramas, is not always one of their strong points. I've seen many Kdramas where I've got the whole thing figured out within about 3 to 4 eps and the rest is just seeing where the details differ from the other 15 dramas just like it. You cannot say that about MUIA.
2. It's a true ensemble. Even in other so-called ensemble dramas usually 1 couple stands just a little taller than the rest of the cast, but not in this case. All 4 main characters are equally important to the point where you truly cannot say that any 2 are the stars. It is a true ensemble.
3. There is romance, but it's not really important. What's important in MUIA is friendship and a sense of family that comes not from blood but from loyalty and love and being there for each other in their time of need.
4. Speaking of family -- no meddling parents! Yeah! Meddling parents suck and are a staple of Kdramas that make me sick. So a show always gets bonus points from me when they aren't there!
5. Without being spoilery, another awesome thing about this drama is that it doesn't fall prey to crazy makjang machinations or hand of god reversals even where the story has left the door wide open for them. It is organic and moves where it should rather than being totally contrived for some kind of shock effect. I'm not saying it's totally realistic (because there are some silly and decidedly unrealistic moments), but it doesn't feel manipulated.
6. Conversely, some things that would normally NOT get fixed or reversed quickly do so in a timely manner. And expectations are frequently subverted. If you think something is going a certain way based on your prior knowledge of Kdramas, well, you are probably wrong.
7. The characters are not stock types and therefore feel like living, breathing people that you WILL start to care about. And I’ll just say it right here – Jung Hee Kyung (played by Ye Ji Won) is PURE AWESOME! I often find Kdrama female characters annoying or downright insipid or if they are of the evil type, well, then, pure evil balls of hatred. Not so with Hee Kyung. Yes, she is flawed, very much so. And she definitely has her annoying moments. But she is such an amazingly nuanced and multi-faceted character. She is a fully 3-D person that fits no character type I’ve seen before, similar to several, maybe but definitely not with all of her layers. I love her to death. She is one of my all-time favorite Kdrama characters, not just women, but characters. I love her warts and all (for those non-native English speakers, I mean that I even love her bad qualities).
8. This show has some deeply philosophical dialogue beneath all the fun. So watch out or it might really get you thinking!
9. Even the peripheral characters are treated as real people and you actually find yourself caring about them. This is a fully-populated world of real human beings, not just a set for our main characters to prance around in. (On that note, make sure you watch the end skit after episode 14. It was just the BEST thing ever! For that matter, watch all the end skits. They are pure gold!)
10. Acting! The main actors in this drama, despite some of the over-the-top quirkiness (mostly reserved for Lee Min Ki, a man who has made over-the-top quirkiness an art form all its own, even in photos, and yet still manages to also be a killer actor in serious moments when he needs to be), have some really special moments of greatness. Especially, again, Ye Ji Won, but definitely also Ryu Seung Soo and Lee Min Ki and even in a couple rare instances Lee Eun Song, when she was allowed to break her intentionally robotic character.
11. The soundtrack was fantastic. I think that a soundtrack can do 3 things in a drama: it can just sit there and do nothing to add or detract to the drama to the point where you can’t even remember if there was music; it can be overbearing and annoying or totally inappropriate and ruin the mood like a poop in pool; or it can add to every moment of the drama making it that much better. And, of course, that’s what MUIA’s soundtrack did. When a moment was funny, the music added to the funny, like using the MacGyver theme song during one scene and practically making me fall out of my chair). When a moment was exciting, the music was exciting (which normally meant adding to the funny by using intentionally overly dramatic music). When a moment was melodramatic, the music perfectly fit that mood too, or in a couple of particularly perfect beats, the total lack of music was what moved me the most. They used a huge range of music (theme songs from shows, American, Korean, classical), and each to outstanding effect. Well done, music director!
12. And finally, the best thing about MUIA, PLOT….and details, details, details. I’d say my single biggest complaint about Kdramas (but clearly not a big enough one to make me stop watching since I’ve now seen 116 in less than 2 years) is how they often start off with nicely nuanced and seemingly thoughtful plots and then start dropping balls all over the place about half way through. My understanding is that this is normally due to the live shoot system that most dramas end up in towards the end of their run and because sometimes scripts are being written while shooting is going on (everything I ever needed to know about Kdramas I learned from King of Dramas, hee ;)).
However, MUIA doesn’t drop balls, threads, or any other bits. It is as tightly plotted as any Kdrama I’ve seen – actually, it might be the most tightly plotted one I’ve seen. Everything that happens has a purpose and there are neat clues and details EVERYWHERE. In fact, all the clues are what gives this such a high re-watch value because I can’t wait to go look for them again! I never felt like the show was looping around to the same old plot over and over again (see most Kdramas) or that it was dropping characters and threads like hot potatoes just to suit the main plot (see nearly every TV show ever). It never did either of these things, and even when you might think it did, it will prove you wrong – just you wait and see!
When I was looking into this drama, I saw that it had really poor ratings when it broadcast. It was on KBS2, not one of the 3 main channels, but the ratings were still really poor. And not many non-Korean Kdrama watchers have seen it either because it isn’t on Dfever or Viki. Therefore, I have officially dubbed MUIA: THE WORLD’S MOST UNDERRATED KDRAMA! I think of it as the Firefly of South Korean television, a truly great show unappreciated in its time. So, I have written this review with the hope that my fellow Mydramalist-ers will give this drama a shot and in time, like Firefly, MUIA will get at least a little of the love and appreciation it deserves!
And if all that isn’t enough – IT’S GOT LEE MIN KI IN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Please note that I added a little bit more to this on 3/8, the day after I originally posted it.)
Off-kilter visuals, clever dialogue and ingenious music choices provide plenty of humor (don't miss the little bonus scenes tacked on at the end of each episode), but they’re in the service of serious themes. Without ever becoming overly didactic, the show notes the fragility of life and the importance of embracing the here and now. The protagonists may long for extraordinary riches (in this case, tons of hidden gold), but their everyday interactions are where true value lies. For the viewer, though, the biggest prize is getting to savor this underrated gem of a show. Like all treasures, it may be hard to find, but you’ll be well rewarded if you seek it out.