Leave it to Lee Kyung Hee to take tired sacrifice and betrayal tropes and infuse new life into it. She’s lucky because her brilliant PD in Nice Guy (The Innocent Man) truly elevates her material, but story wise NG is also quickly finding its own unique footing. Unlike the synopsis indicated, there is really more than meets the eye here with our leading man’s revenge motive. We learn that Maru willingly takes the fall for Jae Hee and does the time, only to come out and still wait around for her? He apparently didn’t know that she married herself an older sugar daddy in the meantime, so he’s turning tricks with women to pay the bills and not as a giant F-you to womenkind. Song Joong Ki infuses Kang Maru with so many layers, not because the man is particularly interesting or deep, but because he’s like a cooped up animal trying to survive in an environment beyond his control.
I’m already disliking Jae Hee even seeing that she’s not all conniving and evil. I don’t like her user attitude, period. But I am really curious about her backstory with the Chairman and how she ended up married to him. Eun Gi went from just okay to totally fascinating within one episode, as I really couldn’t help but be impressed by her hard-as-nails attitude towards everything. It’s clear she’s not a robot and has a lot of unresolved and pent up feelings, but inside her is so much anger and rage that she’s Maru’s female counterpart in many ways. I love how all the leads of this drama are no passive or reactive people, instead taking action to seek the happiness and solace they crave. Eun Gi wants validation and control, Jae Hee wants wealth and stability, and Maru seeks to move past a fictional happiness that no longer exists. These three are clearly going to collide in the messiest of ways, and I’m beyond giddy to watch it all unfurl.
Episode 2 recap:
Jae Hee screams at Maru to stop but he pauses before continuing to treat Eun Gi by stabbing a syringe into her chest and pulling fluid out of her lung. He tells the flight attendant that she’ll be fine until the plane lands in ten minutes. Eun Gi is stabilized and Maru goes back to his seat. Jae Hee stands up abruptly like she wants to go after him but she doesn’t.
Maru walks back to his seat but he’s sweating profusely and unstable on his feet, clearly affected by his unexpected encounter with Jae Hee and stabilizing Eun Gi’s situation. He has to grab a seat back as support.
Eun Gi is being rushed to the hospital and Jae Hee accompanies her in the ambulance. Maru and Jae Gil are in a car headed home. Jae Gil peeked and saw that it was Jae Hee on the plane, and points out that the rumors back then were true, Jae Hee did marry the Chairman of a large company. No wonder initially she visited Maru daily in prison, then it became weekly, then monthly, and then one day she disappeared. Jae Gil wonders why Maru ended up in prison in the first place. He has a stubborn temper but he would never hurt anyone since all he ever wanted was to be a doctor. Jae Gil’s incessant talking about Jae Hee causes Maru to get out of the car and walk the rest of the way.
As Maru walks, he flashes back to his youth when he first met Jae Hee. One time a beaten up young Jae Hee rushes to Maru to ask for help. Maru was washing clothes outside while little Choco eats a chocolate bar when Jae Hee suddenly rushes into his yard asking for a place to hide. He lets her hide in his house.
Afterwards Maru patches up Jae Hee’s wounds, explaining that he’s always wanted to be a doctor. Looks like he’s always been her protector from the very beginning. He introduces himself as Kang Maru and she says her name is Han Jae Hee. Maru knows who she is, she’s the pretty Jae Hee noona in their neighborhood.
Maru flashbacks to college and he’s studying on the lawn with Jae Hee. It’s not surprising that he’s a top student, while Jae Hee is worried about failing classes. She mentions that a female student who comes from a rich family is interested in Maru, so why doesn’t he return her interest? Maru clearly has eyes only for Jae Hee.
Maru keeps walking and when he walks past a street food stall, he flashes back to happier times when he ate there with Jae Hee. He thinks to himself that everything has changed, and he’s not the Kang Maru he was before. He watches as the young Maru holds Jae Hee’s hand and they happily walk off. He tells himself to stop now, there is nothing else he can do. He vows that from now on, it’s over (his waiting for Jae Hee to return).
Eun Gi is resting at the hospital but chowing down on fried chicken and getting some work done. Joon Ha comes to visit Eun Gi, who is interested in the man who saved her life on the plane. Rather than be grateful, she’s pissed because he wasn’t a doctor and still treated her. Though Eun Gi heard that it appeared that Jae Hee and the crazy person who treated her knew each other. Eun Gi gets a call and finds out from a likely spy she has on Jae Hee that Jae Hee has withdrawn a billion won. She wants to know what the money is being used for.
Jae Hae, carrying bags and bags of stuff, walks through her old neighborhood to pay a visit to Maru. We see a man following her, clearly following Eun Gi’s orders. When she gets to the top of the steps, she sees an image of her young self hiding in the corner, covered in bruises.
She hears an altercation and walks to Maru’s place. A man and woman arrive outside Maru’s place and the man proceeds to beat up on Jae Gil. He’s upset that his wife wants to leave him to be with the guy who lives here. Poor Jae Gil gets mistaken for lothario Maru. Jae Gil cracks a stick over his own head to show how strong he. The wife says she’ll leave her husband so she can love Maru in freedom.
Jae Hee walks up and asks if that woman is in love with Maru? She asks Jae Gil what’s happened to Maru?
Maru accompanies Choco to the hospital to get a check up. He’s a patient and solicitous brother, even helping Choco retie her hair. Poor Choco complains about her illness, sadly noting that all she wants to do is live the normal life of a teenager. Maru has been too overprotective now and won’t let her do ordinary things like drinking and going clubbing.
Choco is still bitter and blames Jae Hee for what happened to her brother. Choco screams that if she dies, it’s all Maru’s fault! But she can’t stay mad at him for long and asks him to piggyback her. Choco may come off as bratty but I’m totally with her on this one.
Jae Hee sits with Jae Gil, who tells Jae Hee all about Maru’s life since he was incarcertated. Maru has taken to swindling women out of money so that he can pay for Choco’s medical bills. Maru even thought about selling his organs to make money but its not enough. Jae Gil points out that in Korea, there is no way for a person with a criminal record to earn a proper living. For the sake of Choco, Maru has been living but not truly alive. Jae Gil reveals that Maru has been waiting for Jae Hee still, not willing to move in case she comes looking for him. Jae Gil reveals that no matter what people tell Maru, he stubbornly refused to believe Jae Hee had betrayed him and moved on.
On the way home, we see Maru dutifully piggybacking Choco.
Maru brings Choco home and notices all the gift baskets outside. He places her in bed while Jae Gil tells Maru that Jae Hee came by and left presents and this envelope for him. Maru opens the envelope to find it filled with money.
Maru rushes out to chase after Jae Hee clearly intending to return the money. Jae Hee walks through the neighborhood and her heel breaks. Maru rushes through the neighborhood but doesn’t catch up to Jae Hee.
Jae Hee drives home and flashes back to the night of the man getting killed. She tries to stop Maru but he insists. When Maru walks her out, he takes off his plaid shirt and puts it around Jae Hee’s shoulder. Jae Hee pulls him in for a hug. Back to the present, Jae Hee has pulled her car over to the side and she’s slumped over the steering wheel.
Jae Hee comes home and Eun Gi is waiting for her in the courtyard. The two women sit down for some tea, and Eun Gi’s totally got her bitch face on. Eun Gi wants to know what Jae Hee’s relationship is with the guy who saved Eun Gi’s life on the plane, and why Jae Hee gave him a billion won afterwards. Jae Hee tries to explain that it was to thank him for saving Eun Gi’s life, which doesn’t fly with Eun Gi. Eun Gi suggest that Jae Hee paid Maru to kill her.
Jae Hee switches tactics and says Maru was blackmailing her because he knew that Eun Gi was caught with drugs when she was younger. This shuts Eun Gi up since she has no retort to that. If the media knew, Eun Gi wouldn’t be able to convince the Board of Directors to allow her to inherit the company.
Eun Gi walks back to her room and on the staircase, she flashes back to a confrontation with her ex-boyfriend. He gets on his knees to beg her to cover for him and claim that she was the one with the drugs. He promises that if she did that, his rich dad will help her family’s company, which is in dire straits.
Eun Gi calls her ex-boyfriend, who is carrying a baby and is clearly married. She asks if he remembers her? Eun Gi tells him that she took the fall for him back then because she loved him, not for the money. She calls him an asshole and hangs up. After ending the call, Eun Gi tosses the cell phone in the fish tank.
Maru drives to the Seo house and parks outside. Maru calls Jae Gil.
The Seo family is dining together, including Joon Ha and another lawyer Ahn Min Young. After dinner the Chairman is wheeled away to discuss matter with lawyer Ahn. How’d he end up in a wheelchair?
Eun Gi continues eating with Joon Ha and Jae Hee and drops the bombshell that she’s reported to the police that Kang Maru is blackmailing Jae Hee, plus she’s reporting him for practicing medicine without a license when he saved her on the plane. This clearly shocks Jae Hee.
Maru walks up to the Seo front door and leaves the packet of money in the mail slot. He writes a note on it first.
Maru gets a call from Choco who is frantic. He rushes home and she’s standing in the rain. Two detectives come out from his room and take evidence away. He want to talk to him about him blackmailing Han Jae Hee. Choco screams that her oppa would never do this but the detectives take Maru away. She screams that she’ll wait outside until he comes back. Maru gives her the umbrella from the detectives but she refuses it. Maru asks who reported him and is told the person is Han Jae Hee.
Eun Gi stands in her office looking outside at the rain in a daze. Jae Hee is in a car with lawyer Ahn being driven to the police station. Jae Hee arrives at the police station and Maru is brought in. The detective records this interview. Initially Jae Hee doesn’t say anything, but when she’s pressed, Jae Hee goes with the story and confirms that Maru is blackmailing her family because he knows their dirty secret.
Maru stares at her in shock and anger, not saying anything. The detective questions him but he doesn’t answer any of his questions. In his mind, he tells Jae Hee that she needn’t do this anymore. He had been willing to understand her situation, he knew he no longer inhabited the same world as her and could not be with her anymore. He had already decided to let her go in his heart and she needn’t be so cruel towards him.
Jae Hee goes home and the servant hands her the envelope with the money that Maru returned.
The Chairman is screaming at Eun Gi about her management style at work. He’s so angry at her that he throws a glass ashtray against the wall and a shard cuts Eun Gi’s cheek. He tells her to leave like her mother did if she can’t run the company. He’s not going to leave his company to someone useless, so Eun Gi better shape up.
Jae Hee goes to see Eun Gi, who has put a bandaid on her cut. Eun Gi wants to talk about Maru and the interrogation. Eun Gi heard that the evidence isn’t enough and Maru might be released. He refused to talk during the interview. Jae Hee doesn’t buck under her attitude. Eun Gi says her nickname is rabid dog and even if the police release Maru, she won’t let him off so easily. Jae Hee tells Eun Gi that the 1 billion won has been returned and because the plan failed and Maru ended up saving Eun Gi. Jae Hee says she stills has the trump card that is Eun Gi’s drug prior that she can hold over her head. She tells Eun Gi to compete in a few more years after Eun Gi has grown up. Until then, Eun Gi should stop creating little problems.
Jae Hee goes to tuck Eun Suk into bed and reads him a story. Maru sits in jail that night brooding.
Eun Gi goes to work in the middle of the night. But later she grabs a bottle of soju and starts drinking. She wakes up in her office having slept on the table.
Maru comes home and can’t find Choco. He finds out she stayed in the rain all night and is now in the hospital. Maru rushes to the hospital and finds Choco laying there. Maru remembers Choco’s pain and fear of losing him again, and looks enraged that Jae Hee’s accusations brought forth more pain for Choco.
Eun Gi rides a BMX bike through the woods, which I’m assuming she does to relieve stress and burn off her excess pissy attitude. As she turns the corner, another rider zooms out and the two begin to race.
The other rider crashes into a fallen branch while Eun Gi keeps going. But she turns the corner and loses control of her bike. She grabs onto a branch to keep from falling off. As she is about to lose her grip, Maru arrives and we see he was the other ride. Maru reaches out his hand and grabs the falling Eun Gi.
Thoughts of Mine:
If I could describe Nice Guy with one word, I’d call it “compelling”. This is a drama that rather envelopes the viewer into its narrative, wrapping us up in subtle intrigues and emotional hooks that are not to heavy-handed. A lot of melodramas tend to over sell the “pain” factor, making us think characters are suffering from a surfeit of agony and mental torture, when really it’s not that extreme. I find NG so restrained about it, allowing us to understand Maru’s situation but not feel like the man is marinating in pain. Song Joong Ki does such an incredible job of keeping his feelings under a tight rein, letting his eyes do the talking and never raising his voice. This is one non-screechy drama which is such a relief since melodramas tend to equate eye-bulging-screaming with the expression of emotion.
I love everything the PD does in showcasing the world of NG, from the brilliant use of flashbacks, to the great color and darkness juxtapositions, and the effective use of the environment such as the rain scenes to subtly emphasize the scene. I appreciate that it’s still hard to grasp the entire story at this point, but all the clues are there. I know Maru must love Jae Hee so much he’s willing to let his sister endure more hardships so that he can take the fall for Jae Hee. But how did she become so important to him? And if she were so important, how come it feels like he never really knew her at all, and even six years ago she must be keeping important aspects of her life a secret from him. I appreciate that the writer doesn’t write Jae Hee has wholly manipulative, but she is still responsible for what happened to Maru and even six years later doesn’t step up and make amends to him. Not that she could make amends for what he endured for her, but how far she’s drifted from him is really the clincher in driving Maru to take revenge on her.
In many ways, NG feels like a twisted dark re-do of my all-time favorite Lee Kyung Hee penned drama Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School. We have the first love, the he-goes-to-jail-because-of-her situation, the womanizing to make money afterwards – but unlike Sang Doo, this is not a story where the childhood loves have a chance to prove that love can overcome a bevy of painful memories and hardships endured on behalf of each other. In NG, the sacrifice turns to rage, the pain becomes a weapon, and the first love twists into an ugly spectre hovering over Jae Hee and Maru. They are not going to get their happy ending with each other, and the question remains can they move on past decisions that were made in the moment that have lasting repercussions. I hope so, because I’m so fascinated by both Maru and Eun Gi’s internal torment based on previous painful experiences that I’m already cheering for these two broken people to find a way to heal each other and move on together.