“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” ? Ursula K. Le Guin Holy crap. What a ride. By far one of the most well-written, well-acted, thoughtful, genuine dramas I’ve watched in a long time. ‘Misaeng’ (literary translated to “Incomplete Life”) which can also mean infinite potential, takes its characters on a journey of discovery, as they seek the paths that will lead each to find his or her own place in life and fulfillment. While 'Misaeng' depicts the most ordinary life of office workers, it doesn’t mean that only office workers can relate to it. It shows the viewers the meaning of one’s ‘life’, something that people often take for granted, not realizing that so many around the world are still searching for it. Also, that dreams can come true even when the odds are against you, that family/friendship is the strongest thing you have, and that forgiveness is what can hold you together. Although this drama is, at times, a tearjerker, in the end, you feel you have learned something. Based on these characters and what they’ve been through, you can set your heart and mind to something and accomplish it. | STORY | Based on a slice-of-life drama of a popular webtoon by Yoon Tae Ho. The story follows Jang Geu Rae (translated 'Yes' in Korean), a 26-year-old former Baduk genius who fails in becoming a professional player and gets thrown into the real world. By an acquaintance’s recommendation, Jang Geu-Rae is able to begin to work for the trading company One International as an intern. However, unlike other interns contending for full-time positions, Jang Geu Rae only has a GED certificate, no impressive work experience, no ability to speak foreign languages, and doesn't even know how to use a copy machine. But thanks to his hard efforts and unmatched perseverance he acquired from playing Baduk for more than 20 years, he lands a job as a 2-year contract worker. As the drama progresses, Geu Rae grows in confidence and strength of character; enough to stand up for what he believes in. But, in the end, what gives him the key to solving the problems in front of him were, paradoxically, insights that he learned from playing Baduk. | ACTING/CAST | To me, ‘Misaeng’ is more about characters development than it is about the story-line. With few exceptions, most characters are created with depth and dimension, and each has his or her own backstory. From Oh Sang Sik to Ahn Young Yi, Jang Baek Ki, Dong Shik and the relatively newbie Han Suk Yool, they each create a character that is so memorable and realistic you could see yourself in their shoes or know of someone who are like them. Even the support casts show a very effective performance and manage to bring humanity to otherwise cliché roles. Each had their own road to travel down, and sometimes the roads coincided with others, and sometimes they swerved away. But ultimately, the road of the office worker is an endless horizon of projects, presentations, and promotions. Some may end up taking that less traveled road, but still, the road continues on. With a perfect ensemble cast, there are so many relationships and groupings that it’s impossible to talk about them all. So here, I’d just like to give my attention to some of my favorite relationships on the drama: 1) Oh Sang Sik/Jang Geu Rae Oh Sang Sik and Geu Rae are absolutely and without a doubt the OTP of this drama. They pumped the show full of good feelings and when one was having a hard time, you could tell how much it affected the other that they did anything they could possibly do to stop the pain. Despite a bit of a rocky start, the relationship between Oh Sang Sik and Geu Rae grows and blossoms in spite of the odds, and it’s just heartwarmingly satisfying and endlessly gratifying, to see the affection they have for one another. As much as Oh Sang Sik helps and guides Geu Rae through the murky, unfamiliar waters of the corporate world, so does Geu Rae who provoke Oh Sang Sik 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 Siwan are so nuanced, that we can see the dynamic between Oh Sang Sik and Geu Rae growing and developing over the course of the drama, even when not very much is said at all. After all the struggles they’ve been through, it is gratifying to know that they found a place where they can be themselves, uphold their principles, and truly shine. I mean, a workplace with a motto of “We may lose work, but we don’t lose people”, with a boss as protective and supportive as Oh Sang Sik, where do I find thee? 2) The Newbies All the interns (Jang Geu Rae, Han Suk Yool, Ahn Young Yi, and Jang Baek Ki) just grew into my heart, first individually and then as a group. With differing personalities and work boundaries, our newbies journey toke 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. I think they totally grew together believably where they were able to learn to respect each other and just be friends. Even the friendships within the friendship like (Baek Ki/Geu Rae, Seok Yool/Geu Rae, etc). Having said that, I did appreciate the care the series took in establishing the characters. There is the seemingly flawless female intern, Young Yi, whose exceptional ability as a woman incurs the resentment of her colleagues. Baek Ki a star intern, he was the image of the elite office worker and was my favorite among the newbies. Lastly, Han Suk Yool the fun intern who is a little too flattering to the higher-ups and a little too careless in about the boundaries of others, but he made the group feel alive. I loved his character to the core, because no matter how depressing and sad this drama can be in at moments, his character is right there to make you laugh and cheer you up. I learned a lot from these newbies that I concur with it being dubbed “The Salaryman’s Bible.” | MUSIC/CINEMATOGRAPHY | The soundtrack had a very relaxed type of vibe to it, that it made me feel for the situations, the people even though the environment itself is cold and depressing. It's not the typical high note, out of this world vocal with an intense orchestra playing in the background, but it's arguably the opposite. It's soothing, calm vocals accompanied with the acoustic piano and guitar. You can also get the comedy feel of the quirkiness of the background music as well. The music was one of the things that set this drama apart from others and also a factor into why I love this drama. I absolutely love all of Part 4 from the OST, since acoustic tunes just serenade with me so well. The only problem I have with the soundtrack is that since the plot is the main standout of the series, the music is faded into the background. I also really loved all the little touches that contributed to the aesthetic and feel of the drama – from the changing title cards showing the changing of the seasons, to the little wings of confidence (cameo by Choi Gwi Hwa), the use of imagery in these cases helped to depict the emotions amidst the storyline and engaged the audience even more. The drama certainly didn’t let me down with the cinematography with its carefully chosen muted color palette, understated plotting and thoughtful, deliberate pace, created a believable office world in which we, as an audience, clocked time as Geu Rae’ shadows. Overall, 'Misaeng' is like watching the truth of any worker's life. It's a bunch of pieces of awkwardness, the hardest moments, the happy feeling when you have done your job, grumpy bosses, the difficulties that woman go through in the office due to marriage, childbirth, and sexual discrimination and harassment, and how staying true to life, their introspection and insights help us laugh at life and face the realities that are often escaped through all other forms of drama. 'Misaeng' shows many aspects of mundane life, but never itself, becomes mundane, taking the viewer on a beautifully poignant, vividly evocative and greatly inspiring journey from start to finish. Initially, it's true that the drama’s structure felt repetitive but in reality, our lives is a repetition as well. With great casting and different characters being protagonists at different instances of the drama, it will outweigh the feeling of repetitiveness. Above all, 'Misaeng' gives hope that relationships in office are not always simply work-related as 'work friends', it can also be bond together. To me, that's the true love-line in 'Misaeng'. It doesn't need to over-complicate the drama of the characters' lives, has no use for surprising betrayals; it actually lays most things out on the table for us. Why? Because 'Misaeng' wasn’t a drama, it was life. This drama is hands down the best drama I’ve seen and rightfully has earned a spot in my 'Forever Favorites' list. No other drama has spoken to me in such a real way. In the end, Misaeng certainly gave another small unexpected fragment to the missing pieces of my 'incomplete life'. FINAL SCORE: 11/10. A big 'YES' from me! MISAENG is the 2014 drama and props to tvN for producing it and to the cast for the superb performances. I believe this is a drama that leaves a viewer of any demographic something to take away, I'd urge anyone reading this to give it a try.
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