Misaeng (2014) is a quiet K-drama that perfectly captures how a job can be soul-sucking and emotionally rewarding at the same time.
Jang Geu-rae (Im Siwan) is our intrepid protagonist, just a guy who spend a whole chunk of his life training to be a baduk player, only to find himself looking for a job after a family tragedy. Geu-rae is very introspective (Siwan does a GREAT job staring into the camera!), so we get a lot of his internal dialogue. At first, it seems like he just isn’t the type to fight back or think that things should be better for himself. He just seems resigned to his fate. So, he looks….a long time, because he didn’t go to college (BADUK!), so he has missed out on an important credential. He takes a few part-time jobs before a family friend (why didn’t this happen earlier!), he gets a job at a company.
This is great! So you think. Sadly, Geu-rae has the worst co-workers on the planet. His fellow interns are back-stabby, and they take every opportunity to make him feel left out and inferior because he does not have a degree. Initially, they do not try to help him get acclimated. Chief Jerk is Jang Baek-ji (Kang Ha-neul), who seems to measure his self-worth by Geu-rae’s failures. But slowly, Geu-rae’s strong work ethic and persistence wins them over (ok, some of them). It turns out they have problems of their own. Not an excuse for them acting jerky, but at least it explains a lot. Together, Geu-rae and his colleagues show how corporate work dehumanizes individuals and forces them to make morally questionable decisions, all for the sake of profit.
Geu-rae’s supervisors make living in a cardboard box under the bridge look like a viable option. This workplace doesn’t seem to have any rules about emotional or physical abuse on the job. Intimidation is the preferred management style. Don’t get me started on the corruption. But just as Geu-rae is the exception among his junior colleagues, Oh Sang-sik (Lee Sung-min) is the ray of sunshine. A veteran worker, he has managed to retain his humanity in this cutthroat office, even if this has meant that he has not been promoted. He is often the voice of reason among the managers. He doesn’t do things that bother his conscience. He treats the workers on Team Three well.
So you think you are just watching an office drama, but Misaeng tricks you into being all in your feelings. In the midst of the corporate shenanigans is the beautiful relationship between Sang-sik and Geu-rae. Initially, Sang-sik sees Geu-rae like others, but he is won over by Geu-rae’s persistence. He sees a chance for redemption over a mistake he thinks he made in the past. Against all odds, Sang-sik tries his best to get Geu-rae a permanent position. Geu-rae comes to see Sang-sik as a father figure, a trajectory that starts over a drunk Sang-sik defending Geu-rae (awww). Even though people are awful at the job, Geu-rae draws close to his cubicle-mates in Team Three. So when you get to the last two episodes of Misaeng, you wonder how this little drama has you reaching for the tissues (I’m not crying, you’re crying!).
Misaeng is a delightful emotional rollercoaster that has become one of my favorite dramas of all time. Special shout-out to Geu-rae’s mom (Sung Byung Sook) and Sung-sik’s wife (Oh Yoon Hong).
Image: Top Star News. http://www.topstarnews.net/hd_photo_view.php?number=89144 (12 Nov 2017).
The Daily Grind: Misaeng (2014) by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.