What do you expect and want from a K-drama in general? A swoony romance, a lovely couple that makes you giddy, or maybe some makjang and some melo. I was surprised to love Misaeng in spite of the fact that it is as far from these elements as possible. Set in a workplace and taking a story of salarymen, it is a heart warming ode to the common man who struggles each day to support his family and himself.
The plot shows the journey of Jang Gue Rae, a failed baduk (go-stop) player who gets a job as an intern in a firm. We then see how he transforms from a miserable guy with low self-confidence to an efficient employee. In addition to this, we also see the lives of his fellow interns as well as his work team members, especially his boss who helps and guides him throughout his path in this tough and brutal corporate world.
What I loved the most about Misaeng is the fact that how much I could relate to the characters here. Even if you have never worked in an office like this, we see this world through the eyes of Jang Gue Rae who is also new to this. There is no glitz and glamour in this office. The makers ground the drama in reality and opt for heart-strings tugging drama that simply touches your heart and soul. There is no dressing up of ambience. The simplicity of style is vastly appealing with the episodes regularly showing our interns taking photo copies, making coffee, people constantly working on their computers, which provide a lot of credibility to it. There is an unhurried pace which might seem slow but actually adds in making the moments stronger and poignant.
The drama deftly deals with a range of issues associated with work life like office politics, work pressure and the treatment of women. But most importantly it is entwined in emotional weft and warp and that always makes me feel heartfelt and never fails to bring tears to my eyes, be it of sadness, bittersweetness or happiness. Here and there all through the drama there are wonderful fragments that show the vulnerabilities, victories, team work, bromance, affection and warmth. Kudos to Misaeng for making even the smallest of tasks like completing a presentation, a high stakes one. We hold our breaths and wait as our characters run through each day and struggle and dance with joy as they become the winners or overcome the problems. There is an unmistakable feeling of melancholy throughout the drama but it always gives plenty of hope and lighter moments as well.
The show is full of great characterizations. Not only the main protagonists, but each and every small character stands out and has depth. We see the haunting emotional landscapes of the lead protagonists. Jang Gue Rae instantly wins our sympathy as we see him struggle through his first day as an intern. Wearing ill-fitted suits, having no specs and getting mistreated by his fellow interns, it’s hearbreaking but that makes all the more gratifying as we see him rise and grow in the very same place. It’s great that he never loses his original nature and thinking and even acts as a source of inspiration for others at times. Patience and hard work are his key strengths. Even when I have zero knowledge about baduk, Gue-rae’s constant comparison of life with the game was so amazing to see.
Cheif Oh is indisputably everyone’s favourite man in the show, the perfect example of a salaryman — workaholic, idealistic and warm. His relationship with Gue Rae wins all the relationships of the year and it’s such a pleasure to see them cross all hurdles together, along with Dong-shik, who is another loyal employee under Chief Oh. These three simply make my day!
I like that opposite to our initial perception that only Gu Rae is the intern with problems, the show slowly peels off its layers as we see more of our other rookies — Baek Ki has great specs but he is unable to connect to his senior, Young Yi is efficient but suffers from issues of her past as well as that of being the female employee, and Suk Ryul deals with a lazy and incompetent boss. This thing is also applicable to everyone here. Misaeng never paints the people as pure black or pure white. Each has a human as well as practical side to them, just like real people. I love the whole journey that we witness from start to finish as these rookies learn and grow and the bonds that are formed between them (lovely camaraderie between the four) and with their respective bosses and teams.
The music is an add-on in making the scenes impactful. I loved most of the songs.
Misaeng is blessed with excellent performances. Lee Sung Min dominates the drama with his class act, getting into the skin of his character. He chews up the scenery every time he’s on screen. Im Shi Wan leaves an indelible impression with his honest acting. He perfectly captures the pathos of Jang Gue Rae. As always, Kang Ha Neul performs effortlessly as the smart Baek Ki who is unwilling to mix up but slowly learns to socialize and acknowledge others. Byun Yo Han shines as Suk Ryul, a character I thought I would get annoyed with but he win me over after showing how warm he was by the end. He brings humour to an otherwise serious show and the actor has sheer confidence and distinct likability. Kang So Ra is competent as the confident working woman who is not as cold and practical as she looked at first. All other actors are pitch perfect and the camaraderie is top-notch. There is never a manufactured moment between them.
All in all, Misaeng is one of the best dramas ever!
My Rating: 10 out of 10