It was a close call, but ultimately I’ve decided to stop recapping Arang and the Magistrate and switch to its newest competition No Such Things as Nice Guys (aka Nice Guy or The Innocent Man). Episode 9 of Arang was nice, but still not much forward momentum in any of the major plot threads that I’m ready to table it and marathon this interesting and pretty drama when it’s all done rather than leaving me grumpy from feeling unsatisfied week-to-week. Episode 1 of Nice Guy, on the other hand, had me loving the package more than the filling (so far). While Lee Kyung Hee’s script feels been-there-done-that in terms of characters types and plot set up, it’s not lifted wholesale from any particular drama or story. So while I have this glaring feeling of déjà vu, the execution makes it feel fresh. I’ve watched so many dramas there is only so much one can do to set up a well crafted betrayal and revenge story. NG doesn’t hit hammer home anything new in particular but I’m enjoying how it paints a general picture and take its time to fill in the blanks because between there are tons of emotional developments. What I’m really in love with is the directing, completely and utterly loving it. It’s quietly confident, without relying on fancy camerawork or gimmicks. The music can be toned down a notch or three, but it’s suitable for the genre and quite engrossing actually. Right now I’m in the mood for melodrama and NG is off to a great start in keeping my interest.
Episode 1 recap:
The camera follows a pair of legs running down hallways and corridors. The legs stop in front of a waiting room where the television is on and news reporter Han Jae Hee is doing a segment. The camera pulls back and we see the legs belong to Kang Maru, a young medical intern who is wearing his white coat so he’s clearly at the hospital.
Maru dawdles to watch Jae Hee with a smile, but when he’s reminded that he’s late for rounds, he rushes to join a group of doctors. The senior residents make the rounds while the interns observe, take notes, and ask questions.
When the rounds end, Maru speaks up and asks the chief resident why he didn’t ask any of them questions? The other department interns were quizzed during their rounds, so why doesn’t he do it? The chief resident chastises Maru for being impertinent – if the interns were asked questions, does he think they are capable of answering correctly? He derides them as knowing nothing yet, but Maru presses back that they are not given the opportunity to show what they know.
A child patient is admitted who fainted at home. Tests are being run now and the child’s brother is on his way to the hospital. The chief resident hands this case to Maru and gives him 2 hours to diagnose the child.
Maru sits with the patient and chides himself for speaking up back there. The kid wants to get discharged and keeps insisting he’s fine. He only calms down when Maru offers to pay for the hospital admittance fee. Maru taps the kid lightly on the head in jest and the kid starts puking. This alerts Maru to the kid likely having internal hemorrhaging.
Maru meets with the chief resident and offers up his diagnosis. Another doctor wonders why the kid insists he’s fine since he must be in a lot of pain, but Maru says his younger sister is the same way, always insisting she’s fine so he’s not worried. The test results come back clean so Maru is wrong and the kid is discharged.
Later that night, the kid is re-admitted to the hospital with internal hemorrhaging, just like Maru initially diagnosed. The chief resident wants Maru called about this. He was wrong and is willing to admit it to Maru. The chief resident thinks Maru will become a great doctor within two years.
Maru returns home to a small place he shares with his sister. He calls her from outside to come get the chocolate he bought her. There is no response and when Maru enters the room, he finds his sister Kang Cho Go (I’ll just call her Choco because she’s so cute) passed out on the floor. She awakens when Maru picks her up but resists going to the hospital.
Suddenly Maru gets a call from a frantic Jae Hee. He tells her before she can speak that Choco is sick and he can’t talk now because he needs to take care of her. Then Jae Hee starts mumbling about needing his help because he knows how to treat injuries and something about a guy maybe being dead. Jae Hee tells him that she’s so scared so Maru takes down her address and heads to see her.
Choco angrily grabs his pant leg, telling him not to go. He promises to be back soon and tells her to count to 500. He wants to pinky swear with her that he’ll be back by then but she pushes his hand away. She tells him that if goes to Jae Hee, she won’t talk to him anymore. Maru still ends up going. Bad Maru oppa.
Maru arrives at a motel and walks into the room to find Jae Hee huddled against the wall and a man covered in blood slumped on the ground. Maru checks his vitals and confirms that the guy is dead. Jae Hee screams that the guy shouldn’t be dead and she didn’t kill him. Maru asks if the man tried to hurt Jae Hee and she was only defending herself?
Maru tells Jae Hee to turn herself in, whatever happened was self-defense and she’ll be fine. Jae Hee refuses since that means her news reporter career will be over. Maru tells her she can do something else with her life, but Jae Hee refuses to return to the hell hole whence she came. Jae Hee would rather die and she grabs a shard of glass to cut herself.
Maru stops her and she accidentally cuts him. Jae Hee worries about Maru’s cut, and he asks her why he can’t be a reason for her to go on with life? He’s been by her side for the last 14 years, so can’t he be the reason for her to live?
Maru and Jae Hee sit next to the bed and Jae Hee asks if Maru believes in God? If there is a God, why is he so cruel to her? Why give her hope to crawl out of despair only to yank it away from her? Why let her believe she can change her life but then dash her hopes? Maru says Jae Hee is blameless and perhaps God is jealous of such a beautiful and kind person like her.
Jae Hee says she’s hungry so she’ll head to the police station and get a bowl of rice soup from them. She picks up the phone to call the police and turn herself in but Maru grabs the phone and then grabs Jae Hee for a deep passionate kiss. Hhhhmmm, having kissy time with a dead body 2 feet away is not so very romantic, even if that Maru is quite the kisser.
Maru starts to wipe the crime scene clean and tells Jae Hee that he’ll take the blame for killing that man so she needs to leave now. Jae Hee doesn’t want him to do this, but Maru says he’ll be fine if he can’t be a doctor but Jae Hee won’t be fine if she doesn’t have dreams anymore. Hey Maru, did you stop and think about, oh, your little sister Choco? What’ll happen to her if you go to prison? Maru insist Jae Hee leave and jokes that he’s hungry as well so he’s off to eat at the police station. Stupid Maru.
The scene cuts to Seo Eun Gi outside an office building. One of her dad’s company directors is headed to meet her dad, the Chairman, and she offers him a ride. She acts all professional and courteous but uses the car ride to belittle employees of the company who thinks she can’t hack it. Eun Gi is cold and curt when she talks, but when a car cuts her off, she lets loose a string of expletives at the driver.
When Eun Gi gets home, she sees Jae Hee outside the family compound and her dad walking out to meet Jae Hee. Jae Hee faces the Chairman and asks if he knows what just happened to her? Jae Hee hands the Chairman a manila envelope, clearly what she went to meet that dead guy to get.
Jae Hee cries and tells the Chairman that because of what he asked her to do, the man she values more than her own life, does he know what has happened to him? The Chairman pulls her in for a hug and Eun Gi watches with a critical eye.
Back to the motel room, Maru stands by the window waiting for the cops to arrive, and they are getting close since we can hear the sirens getting louder. We hear Jae Hee’s voiceover” This debt! I will not forget it. I, Han Jae Hee, will carry the burden of this debt for my entire life.” Maru calls Choco and apologizes for not coming home to her like he promised. Maru tells Choco and he already spoke to Jae Gil and he’ll be taking care of Choco now. Cut to Maru getting sentenced to five years in prison.
Time jump of six years later, where we see Maru wearing a bathrobe and standing in a hotel room. A woman walks up behind him and embraces him around the waist. Maru coldly moves her aside and tells her this is the end. He gives her a check from his wallet and explains that he knows why she was interested in him in the first place. She’s a gold digger and wants him for his money, so now she’s getting paid.
The woman gets frantic and tries to keep Maru from leaving. She initially did approach Maru for those reasons but now she has seen that he’s different than the other men. She really loves him and asks him to believe her.
Maru says he believes her and then pulls her in for an embrace. She keeps apologizing and Maru pats her on the back. His eyes are so cold but she can’t see his face.
Eun Gi lays in bed since she’s not feeling well. Park Joon Ha sits beside her tending to her, wiping the sweat off her forehead. Eun Gi wakes up and finds out what time it is and hears that someone has already left for the airport. She chides Joon Ha for not waking her up, but he asks her to take better care of her body. She sleeps less than 7 hours a week and the doctor has told her to get more rest.
Eun Gi gets ready and warns Joon Ha that if this matter isn’t properly resolved, she’ll fire him. After Eun Gi showers, she walks out wrapped in just a towel to ask Joon Ha about this latest customer complaint over company skincare products. She tells Joon Ha to find that person. She notices Joon Ha is trying to avert his eyes and looks uncomfortable, so she asks if he still like guys or has he changed to liking women now? Joon Ha confirms her gay assumption and she promises to take that secret to the grave.
Eun Gi is dining with a woman wearing a kimono at a Japanese restaurant private room. Eun Gi acts very polite and subservient to this woman and hands her a packet of money. This woman has pock marks on her face and she had complained about the company’s skincare products causing an adverse reaction. The two women converse in Japanese. When dessert arrives, they eat and then Eun Gi hands the woman a gift.
Eun Gi hands the woman a box containing the company’s skincare product that the woman complained about, informing the woman that the dessert she just ate was made using this cream. The woman starts to gag and Eun Gi tells her not to worry, their products are edible and made with fresh ingredients. If it’s true that their products caused her face to melt, then tomorrow both of them will be admitted to the hospital after ingesting it.
Eun Gi confirms this woman is just a shyster, a Korean pretending to be Japanese. Eun Gi shows her the receipt under her Korean name when she bought those products, clearly already with the intention of complaining to the company to make money. Eun Gi tells Joon Ha to call the news outlets to come her for an interview with this woman about how the products are bad. She is willing for this matter to get as big as possible.
Maru is out on a date with the woman from earlier, and they are standing in a field and kissing. Or shall I say, she’s macking on him and he’s just going through the motions and kissing her back. It’s not possible to look even more bored when kissing someone than Maru looks right now.
Eun Gi walks and starts to not feel well, sweating profusely. Jae Hee sees her and walks up to help but Eun Gi shakes her off. When Jae Hee suggests she go to the hospital, Eun Gi tells her to cut the acting since no one is around. Jae Hee’s son Eun Suk runs up to ask Eun Gi to play with him, but Eun Gi says he’s not her half-brother. She doesn’t recognize him as related to her, he’s just Han Jae Hee’s son.
Eun Gi thinks Jae Hee is truly a masterful manipulator, having seduced her father when she was just 24 years old. Her father tossed aside his long time wife to be with Jae Hee. Eun Gi thinks Jae Hee’s son Eun Suk is probably as scary as his mother. Who knows if one day Eun Suk will manage to drive Eun Gi away and remain the sole Seo family heir. Eun Gi walks away, leaving Eun Suk crying. Okay Eun Gi, no need to make little kids cry. Not cool.
Eun Gi walks away from Jae Hee and Eun Suk, and we see in the background on a bridge Maru meeting up with Jae Gil. Oooh, near miss. They discuss Maru’s latest windfall from the woman he was with earlier. Jae Gil jokes with Maru about how far he went to earn that money, how many kisses and how many times he must’ve slept with that money. Maru remains impassive and doesn’t respond to Jae Gil’s baiting teasing.
Maru and Jae Gil are on a plane and a woman keeps staring at Maru. Jae Gil notices and writes on his newspaper to get her attention, and she writes back on her palm. When Maru gets up to use the bathroom, Jae Gil gets up and tries to talk with her.
Maru is waiting for the lavatory to be vacant when the door opens and a woman falls forward into his arms.
This must happen to Maru a lot because he’s just dismissive and tells the woman to watch herself since this is a public place. She doesn’t respond or move and when he pulls back, we see that it’s Eun Gi and she’s passed out. Maru hands her off to the airline staff.
Eun Gi gets moved to first class and she’s still unresponsive. The airline attendants announce to the entire plane asking for a doctor’s assistance. Jae Gil points out that Maru is a doctor but he says he’s not since he was fired. The requests for medical assistance continue and Jae Gil loses his temper with Maru. He asks Maru to consider if Choco was the one who needed help and no one stepped up to help her, how would he feel? Jae Gil’s example works and Maru gets up and goes to help.
Eun Gi is laying on the ground with an oxygen mask around her face. Maru asks where her guardian is and is told the person is calling Eun Gi’s father the Chairman. Jae Hee returns from calling the Chairman and she and Maru meet face-to-face. Both look stunned.
Maru asks Jae Hee what her relationship is to Eun Gi and Jae Hee explains that Eun Gi is Jae Hee’s husband’s daughter from his first marriage, therefore Jae Hee’s step-daughter. Eun Suk pops up asking for his Eun Gi noona and Jae Hee tells him to be calm because Eun Gi is sick. Maru is even more stunned to see the little boy.
Eun Gi’s blood pressure continues to plummet and the nearest airport is 30 minutes away. Maru needs to save Eun Gi now or else she won’t last until the plane lands. Maru discovers Eun Gi coughs up blood and Maru asks if she’s been in an accident recently? Jae Hee asks if Maru is doing anything wrong, but Maru keeps asking if Eun Gi has broken any bones recently? Maru tells Jae Hee that if she was Eun Gi’s step-mother, then she ought to know.
Maru grabs a syringe and gets ready to jam it into Eun Gi’s chest. Jae Hee stops him, telling him that if he makes a mistake, Eun Gi will die. Jae Hee screams that Maru is not a doctor and he can’t do this. Maru stares back at her with rage.
Thoughts of Mine:
I find Nice Guy a great mix of plot and emotion driven narrtaive, where there are things still shrouded in mystery but the story doesn’t stall on those elements as it continues to move forward through intriguing emotional interactions. As far as melodramas are concerned, so far it doesn’t feel makjang at all, and that’s probably due to the restrained acting and directing. We have the requisite rich family dysfunction, the first love betrayal, and the fallen hero looking for direction in life. I appreciate the little twists to make this story less stereotypical, such as Maru offering to take the fall for Jae Hee (we don’t actually see Jae Hee being manipulative at all) and Jae Hee seemingly caring a lot about Maru having taken the fall for her. Yet she ends up with the Chairman six years later, and how that came about is still to be revealed.
I find the acting outstanding all around from the entire cast, not a single weak link in the midst. Moon Chae Won feels a tiny bit wobbly, like she’s still trying out her character for size, but I have faith she’ll settle in nicely. I think one reason this doesn’t feel like an overwrought melodrama is that the emotions are not overly expressed. With the exception of Jae Hee’s breakdown at the motel, which was nicely done and completely realistic, everything else feels really understated. Maru’s feelings for Jae Hee are never opening revealed, but in taking the fall for her its clear she’s of vital importance to her, so much that he would willingly take a path that would keep him from caring for his own sister. Obviously the five years in prison changed him, but we don’t yet know what prompted him to turn to playing women for financial gain. I reckon it’s a easy way to make money and give a giant finger to the entire female gender. I think Song Joong Ki has fantastic chemistry with every character he’s interacted with in episode 1, but I’m really excited to see the sparks that are sure to fly between him and Eun Gi.
Of the three leads, Eun Gi thus far remains the least clear to me on how she got to be this way, cold and relentless. I get that she dislikes her new young step-mother Jae Hee, but where did she get such a big chip on her shoulder about her career. I like that this story sets up the three leads to have unseen depths and untold motivations, so their interactions will be like peeling back the onion at the same time firing up the grill. Maru, Jae Hee, and Eun Gi seem such strong willed people that the headier plot hopefully won’t falter because one leg of the chair can’t handle the pressure. I want to see Maru take revenge on Jae Hee through Eun Gi, but then find the salvation and healing his soul is really seeking. His life took a detour because of his love for one woman, and I hope his love for another woman would be the trigger for him finding a new direction now.