I felt like episode 19 of Nice Guy was intended as a prelude to the ending so I didn’t want to judge it on it on its standalone merits. Its slow burn felt like Lee Kyung Hee was getting ready to do something incredible to behold for her final salvo. Death, more amnesia, swirling camera slo-mo shots of reunion and forgiveness – whatever she had in store, I thought she would go out with a bang. Contrary to my instincts, for once I’m surprised by how Nice Guy chose to wrap out its ambitious story. As viewers we followed the life of Kang Maru for many years as he went from idealistic young med student to angry bitter ex-convict to guilt-ridden man ready to let go. During the journey we got to see bits and pieces of his life through the lens of Jae Hee, his first love, and Eun Gi, his last love. His love with Jae Hee could not survive the temptations of money and his love with Eun Gi was almost torpedoed by mistrust and hidden agendas. Everyone shouldered some of the blame for the bad things that happened, so the drama was about whether these characters could break free from the vicious cycle and find a new start in life.
Could Maru hit restart on his life once all is said and done. Could Eun Gi return to Tae San like she was groomed to do? Could Jae Hee step up to pay her dues for her own sins? I felt that the final episode of NG answered all of these questions but didn’t manage to do so in a way that was as extraordinarily satisfying as the drama has been all along. The ending did its job but didn’t do more when it could have. I now feel like the drama could have actually benefited from a two-episode extension, but at the same time I loved the pacing even until the end. The ending was merely good enough, which is a shame since it was preceded by a drama that I felt was great. On the upside, it didn’t leave me ready to heave heavy objects or left me a sodden mess on the floor. One thing that cannot be denied is that this drama was simply beautiful to watch – a world of fine acting, directing, and writing that is ever so rare these days. Kudos to Nice Guy, thank you for exceeding my expectations in almost every single way, and I only wished Kang Maru could have had the money or sartorial style to wear socks more often.
Episode 20 recap:
Maru asks Eun Gi to run away with him and she stares back at him like he sprouted horns. I feel for poor Eun Gi, who represents the villagers in the storybook she was reading in episode 11 – The Boy Who Cried Wolf – and just doesn’t know if she can trust this boy even just one more time. She tells him not to make false offers anymore, she’s not falling for it again. Right now all she cares about is finding out the truth about what happened to her father and avenging him.
Before she leaves, Maru pulls her in for a hug. Eun Gi gets a call and leaves to go confront lawyer Ahn and Jae Hee’s minion secretary. She accuses him of causing Joon Ha’s accident since it was his car that was caught on roadside camera driving behind Joon Ha shortly before the accident. Eun Gi asks if Jae Hee was behind it but the guy continues to play stupid and claims he did nothing of the sort. Eun Gi goes badass on him and grabs his shirt collar and tells him to continue playing dumb but she’s taking them all down.
Maru goes to Jae Hee’s house to talk with her about turning herself in. Jae Hee refuses and says all she wants to do now is die and she wants Maru to die with her. Maru says he doesn’t want to die, why should he die? Even if he doesn’t have love he will bravely live the rest of his life as given. He wanted to take Eun Gi away and protect her but she won’t go. He tells Jae Hee to turn herself in again and says he’ll wait for her. If she goes to police station he will go with her. On his way out, he clutches his head in pain.
Jae Gil comes home and finds Maru collapsed on the floor.
Choco rushes to the hospital and finds out from Jae Gil the extent of Maru’s medical condition with an untreated subdural hematoma. Choco is upset she was not told since she’s his only sister but Jae Gil says Maru didn’t want her to worry. She doesn’t go into his hospital room to see him.
Maru wakes up and his former med school professor is sitting next to him. Aww, they finally meet! Sunbae doctor tells Maru the surgery is scheduled for tomorrow and asks if there is anyone Maru wants to see or anything he wants to do before then. Maru laughs and asks if he’s trying to jinx it (implying Maru won’t survive the surgery). The doctor knows Maru delayed his surgery to help bring Eun Gi’s memory back and now its time that he take care of himself because there is a lot he needs to atone for still.
Jae Shik goes to see Jae Hee, finding her sitting in the dark. He brings her a corn dog and reminds her that when he was released from juvenile detention and found her outside her school eating a corn dog and he was starving and asked for a bite, she threw it on the ground instead. She’s always treated him like a dog instead of an oppa. Jae Shik wanted to kill Maru for Jae Hee but he can’t kill Maru since Choco treats him like an older brother and cooks for him all the time. If Jae Hee was nicer to him then he wouldn’t waver because Choco was nice to him. Jae Shik says it doesn’t matter anyway since Maru is very sick and will die soon. Jae Hee is shocked to find out that Maru is very sick from the hematoma as Jae Shik continues being Nice Guy’s resident hilarious exposition fairy.
At the hospital, Eun Gi sits by Joon Ha’s bedside and thinks about Maru’s offer to run away with her. She massages his arm and suddenly his finger move. She calls out oppa and sees Joon Ha’s eyes open.
Eun Gi goes home and Jae Hee tells her about Maru’s illness, explaining that its a residual injury from the car accident. Eun Gi goes back to the hospital and she flashbacks to the moment in the tunnel when she sees his car coming towards her and swerves to cause their head on collision. She remembers Maru’s face as slowly breaking into a calm smile.
Eun Gi also flashes back to her conversation with Maru in the car after their aborted wedding, where she informed him that she will take him and Jae Hee down at all costs. She walks to his hospital room but doesn’t go in. Maru hears someone outside the door but when he opens the door there is no one standing there.
Lawyer Ahn calls Jae Hee to tell her that he’s going to take out Eun Gi personally. Jae Hee screams at him not to do it but he hangs up. Jae Hee calls Eun Gi to warn her but Eun Gi doesn’t want to answer Jae Hee’s call. Jae Gil visits Maru in his hospital room and wonders why Eun Gi isn’t here? Maru wonders why Eun Gi would be here and Jae Gil explains that Eun Gi called him earlier. Maru rushes out of the hospital to find Eun Gi.
Eun Gi wanders around the hospital while Maru runs around searching for her. Running is not good for your current condition, Maru. Whatever, you’re not going to listen to me anyway. Maru and Eun Gi finally meet while standing at a wide intersection at opposite ends. They see each other and Maru smiles a wide relieved smile. The light turns green and they walk towards each other. As they get close Maru sees lawyer Ahn rushing up behind Eun Gi.
He grabs Eun Gi and turns her around and gets stabbed by lawyer Ahn in her stead. Lawyer Ahn walks away while Maru and Eun Gi remain in an embrace in the intersection. This is all romantic and whatnot but can someone call an ambulance for this guy and call the cops to catch the other guy!
Maru and Eun Gi sit at the park and talk. Is Eun Gi blind? Can’t she see how pale he is and that he’s clutching his side, which is BLEEDING?!?! Maru tells Eun Gi that he’s tired and needs to get back to the hospital so anything she wants to talk about, can they talk tomorrow? Eun Gi looks worried and says yes.
Maru puts Eun Gi in a taxi to send her off. She asks him one question – why didn’t he swerve in the tunnel, why did he allow the accident to happen without trying to avoid it? Maru says he’ll answer that question tomorrow as well, and he’ll think long and hard about the answer. Eun Gi is reluctant to go and steps back to kiss him. Maru closes his eyes as they kiss.
Jae Hee goes to the cops and gives her confession about everything – she claims to have ordered lawyer Ahn to do everything he did, taking responsibility for the accident, the Chairman’s death, and even the reporter’s death from 7 years ago. The cop asks if she doesn’t want to wait for a lawyer but she says no.
After the kiss ends, Maru puts Eun Gi in the taxi and he stumbles back towards the hospital. He finally collapses in a darkened park path with his eyes wide open. Good lord that was bleak to watch. And unnecessarily dramatic considering how undramatic this drama has been this entire time. Maru’s voiceover about why he didn’t swerve was because he didn’t have the courage to continue his bleak life so he thought it would be fine to end. In his next life, he wants to meet Eun Gi again, because there is no one in the world that could compare to her.
A little girl is talking to the camera and she says her dad’s name is Park Jae Gil and her mom is Kang Choco. The title card tells us its 7 years later and Choco and Jae Gil are married with this adorable little girl. Choco runs downstairs to wake up Jae Gil and turns out they are still living in the same house that they lived with Maru and Eun Gi. Choco kisses a sleeping Jae Gil and he smiles. This is cute and makes me happy, but honestly there has been zero indication that Jae Gil returned Choco’s crush during the drama so I guess while I can accept this outcome it remains a stretch.
Jae Gil goes to the fried chicken shop run by Jae Shik to pick up some munchies. I love how Jae Shik has genuinely turned a new leaf as well. Secretary Hyun arrives and puts a letter on the table and tells Jae Shik to stop writing her love letters. Ha, that was cute.
Lawyer Ahn leaves prison and he sees Jae Hee in a car waiting for her. He walks towards the car and she’s sleeping inside. He pauses for a moment before turning and walking away. Jae Hee wakes up and gets out of the car to run after him but Joon Ha arrives and stops her.
Joon Ha wonders when she got out of prison and Jae Hee says a few months ago. He tells her to give lawyer Ahn some time. She wonders if Eun Gi is doing well and asks Joon Ha to convey her well wishes to Eun Gi. Jae Hee admits that her biggest hurdle is wondering how to cross the mountain that is before her.
We’re in a seaside town and Eun Gi piggybacks a little sick girl to see the local doctor. Eun Gi drops the little girl of and goes back to lock the doors of her bakery which is next door, before running back to the clinic.
The little girl is treated by Dr. Maru and she asks if its true that he studied abroad. Dr. Maru confirms he studied in the US sponsored by his former medical school professor. When asked why he’s come here to the boondocks to be a doctor, Dr. Maru replies that the view is nice and there are pretty girls. Eun Gi stands in the back and adorably points at herself. The little girl asks if those pretty girls include Eun Gi unni. Maru turns to look at her and says he doesn’t know. She asks if its true that he had major brain surgery and lost his memories? Dr. Maru says he remembers facts but cannot remember people from his past, people he knew and people he loved. The little girl asks if its true the Eun Gi unni’s sandwiches and cookies are terrible tasting? Poor Eun Gi looks so worried that Maru will say yes. The little girl asks why Maru goes there morning and night to buy food from her if it tastes bad? Maru just smiles and doesn’t say anything. Hee, cute.
Maru sits in the courtyard between his clinic and Eun Gi’s bakery reading and drinking coffee. He looks up and Eun Gi is hiding in the bakery taking pictures of him. When she sees him she stops taking pictures and tries to hide the camera. He beckons her out but she initially refuses but eventually goes out to talk with him.
He looks through her camera and sees every picture Eun Gi took was of him. He asks if she’s the papparazzi? Eun Gi says more or less. He asks if she likes him? Eun Gi is embarrassed but says she likes good looking guys. He asks when she started liking him and she hems and haws before saying its too embarrassing for her to talk about.
Eun Gi rides her bicycle through town and goes back to the bakery to see a note outside. She heads to the bench next to the waterfront and Maru is sitting there. She sits down and he takes out a red box from his sweater pocket and slides it over to her. She opens it to see that inside are the wedding rings Maru bought for them when they were preparing to get married. Maru smiles at Eun Gi and its clear he remembers her now. The camera pulls away as they sit there smiling contently at each other.
Maru voiceovers (which is continuation of his voiceover when he collapsed at the park of the stab wound): When I meet Eun Gi in the next life, I want us to fall in love in the most ordinary way possible. That is my prayer. I will find out what that woman is like. I will learn to be the kind of son-in-law her dad would want. I will learn the eat the kind of food she likes. I will say I miss her when I miss her. I will go to all the places she’s been to. That is my prayer……and so it renewed my courage. Thank you, and I am happy.
Thoughts of Mine:
Am I happy with the ending? How can I not be pleased with an ending that had everyone paying for their mistakes and finding a measure of happiness down the line in ways that wrapped up all the loose ends. I’m not a masochist, I don’t need bodies littering the floor for the sake of piling on the melodrama factor. The final scene with Maru and Eun Gi on the bench, that was as happy an ending as this drama could get, right? So how come I’m feeling slightly cheated? It’s probably because I felt like Lee Kyung Hee shoehorned in her happy ending. Up until the moment Maru’s hematoma flared up coupled with his getting stabbed as well as finally reaching mutual trust and understanding with Eun Gi, I felt like Lee Kyung Hee was ready to send Maru off to the great pasture in the sky. The amount of coincidences that night, complete with him staggering off in the dark empty park, fairly screamed out “poor sap, he really has the worst luck in all of Seoul.” And then we get a final ten minutes where rainbows and unicorns descended from the sky and we learn that Jae Shik sells fried chicken and has a crush on Secretary Hyun, Choco and Jae Gil got married and had a precocious daughter, Jae Hee and lawyer Ahn are still in their dysfunctional whatever-the-heck weird relationship, Joon Ha makes an obligatory entrance to remind us that he’s fine, and ends with Dr. Maru and his stalker crush Eun Gi.
I don’t have a problem with NG guy ending happily, and I really don’t have a problem with this particular ending, I just had a huge problem with how the first fifty minutes of episode 20 was spent getting to the final 10 minute ending that didn’t flow with what the writer was intending. In every way the ending of NG is the exact opposite of the ending of Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School. While watching NG I kept thinking whether it would dethrone Sang Doo as my favorite Lee Kyung Hee penned drama, and with this ending it’s close but no cigar. Sang Doo still gets the edge for me, because when it pulled switcheroo it felt less on-the-fly the way NG does. In Sang Doo, the legendary OTP of Eun Hwan and Sang Doo, neither of whom ever do anything wrong but keep getting the short end of life’s stick, finally earn their happily ever after. Sang Doo gets out of jail and everyone is waiting for him outside, his Eun Hwan, his daughter, his family. They reunite….and then get run over by a truck. I swear even typing this still brings back the sheer horror on my face watching it. It would be laughable if not for the ending that follows, when his daughter writes that letter and we see Eun Hwan and Sang Doo walking in the countryside and imagine they are really happy wherever they are. That was beautiful, and I realized that Lee Kyung Hee meant to end her story this way.
Here I kept getting the niggling sensation that she wanted Maru to die but didn’t have the conviction to follow through on it for whatever reason. Call it fan service or cold feet, Lee Kyung Hee gave her leading man two ways to die in episode 20 only to give him a miraculous reprieve AND the perfect life he deserved. I suppose a nighttime jogger found his prone body and called the ambulance. Luckily the stab wound didn’t puncture any vital organs or blood vessels. He managed to get both surgeries at once, and the hematoma surgery went well because he was in that lucky percentage not to die during the operation. But he lost his memory, though it wasn’t as bad as Eun Gi’s memory loss. He still had his mental acuity, so his medical school professor sponsored him to study abroad, though I’m not sure which medical school in the US would take a Korean med school drop out unless Maru aced his MCATs. While he was gone everyone else made all the right decisions and their lives moved forward in positive ways. When he returned, Eun Gi left Tae San and chose to follow her heart. If there was one aspect of the epilogue that was the most consistent and didn’t feel forced, it was learning that Eun Gi gave everything up for Maru. Good for her! But overall I am feeling whiplash with the ending that felt like Lee Kyung Hee took a sharp left turn in the middle.
My quibble with the ending is really so minor when placed against the overall brilliance of NG. The ending wasn’t even that bad or out-of-the-blue to ruin the drama. It merely felt awkward but that doesn’t ruin the journey of my enjoyment of this stellar dramatic work. NG can stand proudly as a shining example of what a K-melodrama can and should be. It was emotionally powerful without resorting to cheap tricks of dumping heaving buckets of woe on the characters. The viewer shouldn’t be manipulated to feel sad because writers are trying to out-do themselves in creating the backstories and events to render their characters tragic beyond compare. Maru grew up in relative poverty but he is well-adjusted and smart enough to get into med school. Jae Hee was poor and physically abused but she went to college and became a reporter. Eun Gi had an emotionally terrorist father and was abandoned by her mother, but she went to business school and can run a corporation. What happened in NG is that these three characters carry their emotional baggage and then make bad choices. Jae Hee chooses to get close to the Chairman and ends up in that hotel room defending herself against rape. Maru chooses to take the fall for Jae Hee rather than make her accept responsibility. Eun Gi chooses to blindly trust her runaway heart rather than take it slow with Maru. In the end, bad choices beget more bad choices until each character can break the vicious cycle. In the end that happened and it was truly satisfying to see.
NG was bolstered by having some of the best directing I’ve seen in years. It isn’t as flashy as Kwok Jung Hwan in Chuno, for example, but the expertise and finesse is all there in how seamlessly we are carried from scene to scene without realizing the transitions of camera angles and cut aways are happening. If you turn off the sound, watching NG in silence will truly highlight what a visual feast it is. Quiet but so impactful. I wasn’t that taken with the OST, which was always just one step away from pouring on the cheese. Thankfully it never strayed over the line, but I often wonder what this drama could be if even the music was less in-your-face and more quietly powerful the way the directing was. I’ve already thrown accolade after accolade to all the actors on the across-the-board stellar acting by the cast so there is no need to repeat myself. I wouldn’t say that the three leads deserve awards for blowing me away, but all three definitely took their previous personal best acting performance and one-upped themselves. I find awards all a popularity contest anyway, and the true value of delivering a great performance is for the actor to feel personal validation and to take away a genuine improvement in their skills. Nice Guy won’t make my all time top-10 list but it’s definitely a keeper that I’ll heartily recommend to anyone looking for a great melodrama fix.
Click here to watch all of Nice Guy.