29 November 2021

K Drama Review: Misaeng: Incomplete Life (2014) 4.1 || 4.7

Oppa packaged this one as an office drama about a baduk player. Oppa was right that it was an office drama. Baduk was mentioned here and there but don't expect it to be a central theme of the show. This is from the director of My Mister, a show that we both loved. So, yes, we had high expectations for this show. And for the most part, it lived up to our expectations. 


Misaeng tells the story of office life at One International, a big trading company in Korea. The show mostly revolves around the lives of four interns, Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan of Run On, Reply 1997, and House on Wheels 2), Ahn Young Yi (Kang So Ra of Warm and Cozy), Jang Baek Gi (Kang Ha Neul of Moon Lovers Scarlet Heart Ryeo), and Han Seok Yool (Byun Yo Han), who were later on absorbed as employees of the company. The show takes us through the struggles of these four guys as they learn to navigate through office drama and politics. 

Im Si Wan as Jang Geu Rae

I liked Im Si Wan in Run On but I liked him even better here. Geu Rae reminded me a lot of Taek (Park Bo Gum) in Reply 1988, as they were both quiet and aloof baduk players. 

Si Wan was very credible as a pitiful guy who was always ostracized and unfairly judged by everyone. Geu Rae would resonate with any quiet, introvert loner who can do both team and individual work but would be avoided by everyone simply because they were the silent type. 

I loved Geu Rae's fighting spirit - how he tries his best to fit in and how he's bold enough to tell his boss, Oh Sang Shik (Lee Sung Min of The Man Standing Next) to teach him how not to work alone and to give him a chance. Any other weak person would have given up with the terrible things he had to go through. 

Despite his misfortunes, it was amazing that Geu Rae still managed to focus on the good stuff. Yes, he was wrongly accused of losing a confidential paper. He was punished and even asked to leave. When the truth was revealed, his boss never apologized. Yet, Geu Rae did not resent what happened. Instead, he focused on the fact and was very happy that his boss called him his kid. And oh, how he rewarded his boss with fierce loyalty after that. 

Although people always discriminated against him because he was "lacking" in terms of education and experience, I was so proud of Geu Rae when he was hired. Yes, it was for a contractual position. But he overtook other guys who had better background than him. I super loved his sales pitch during the interns' final presentation. 

Others find Geu Rae simple-minded. Yet, I find that that actually works for him. He just does as he's told. He stayed to look for squids among drums of octopus even if others slacked off. He stayed with the "pushover" supervisor (Lee Joon Hyuk of Itaewon Class and Hot Stove League), which helped build the latter's self-confidence that helped the company demand better service from a supplier. 

But Geu Rae also has his brave side. He advised Young Yi to take risks and see a senior manager to help get her proposal approved. He even boldly suggested that their team take on a shelved and corruption-riddled project because it was going to bring in money for the company. 

It's amazing how one guy whom a lot of people find "incompetent" actually managed to do a lot of good for the company. 

I loved how Geu Rae slowly opened up to the people around him after living in his own shell for a long time. I liked how his baduk training helped him think in a very logical manner and how that helped him solve problems in the office. 

It's just unfortunate that despite all his contributions and achievements, the company would still refuse to regularize him because of his "lacking" background. 

Im Si Wan was great as Geu Rae who was all bouncy like an eager beaver. But he was definitely at his best when he was acting all melancholic and pensive.

Kang So Ra as Ahn Young Yi

I super loved Kang So Ra here over her character in Warm and Cozy. I liked the wide range of emotions and facial expressions she showed here. 

I loved Young Yi because she was genuinely nice and capable, without being sly and competitive. Yes, she was probably annoyed that Geu Rae would often ask her for help even if she was also busy with her own tasks. Yet, she still helped him every single time. It was very nice of her to explain to Geu Rae that she didn't pick him as her presentation partner because he thought he was weaker, rather, she was just comfortable with him. 

Yes, there were times when I wished Young Yi would fight back against her bully teammates. No one should ever be made to endure those things just to get ahead in the office. But I also can't help but admire her strength in surviving those horrible moments. 

It was surprising to know that there was a sad back story for Young Yi. And I loved how that incident led her team to start to silently rally behind her. 

Oppa told me in the past that Kang So Ra's one of the better Korean actresses. I didn't quite see that in Warm and Cozy. But after seeing her here in Misaeng, I no longer doubt that claim. 

Kang Ha Neul as Jang Baek Gi

I keep forgetting that Misaeng is an older drama. So I often find myself surprised at how different and younger Kang Ha Neul looks here compared to Moon Lovers. 

Quite similar to his Moon Lovers character, Baek Gi is a very calculating guy. He's quite difficult to work with because he only wants to do things that would advance his goals. Even his own boss does not trust him. He's afraid of taking risks so he loses opportunities like when he left Geu Rae with the "pushover" supervisor because he felt it was a lost cause already. And he thinks too highly of himself. Young Yi said it perfectly when she described Baek Gi as someone greedy. It's unfortunate that he still compares himself to Geu Rae even if he's way ahead of him in terms of qualifications and experience. 

Despite his annoying characteristics in the beginning, I warmed up to Baek Gi towards the end. I believe the turning point was when he learned about Geu Rae's sad background. I loved his character development from someone selfish to one who cared enough about Geu Rae that he helped him finish his sales task and he told Mr. Oh that he was willing to help in the China project because he knew Geu Rae's regularization was on the line. And I loved how he bravely advised distraught Geu Rae that their past and their mistakes were not their fault. 

Baek Gi had his cute moments too, especially when he was awkward around Young Yi. 

Kang Ha Neul was great here as he was in Moon Lovers. But I would have to say that Baek Gi was a more endearing character than the prince one. 

Byun Yo Han as Han Seok Yool

Byun Yo Han started out annoying in a cute sort of way as Han Seok Yool. But it was evident right from the start that he was a very skilled employee. And despite his cockiness and fussiness, I really felt that he genuinely cared for Geu Rae. 

His anxiety was a sad story. It was also nice to see his back story about why he preferred on site versus office work. I loved how he was proud of his father even if this was a traumatic thing for him as a kid because their neighbors made fun of him because his dad didn't work in an office like their dads. 

I enjoyed how Seok Yool's rumor mongering helped move the story forward. Although he was mostly happy-go-lucky, I liked seeing him struggle and stand up against his terrible senior. I loved how he was firm yet still respectful whenever he confronted him. And it was amazing how he didn't mock his senior when the latter's shady life was finally revealed. 

Oppa found Byun Yo Han quite over the top. But I felt that his grandiose way of expressing himself was all part of his character and that made him a good actor for me. And if I may add, he looks better with short hair. 

Lee Sung Min as Oh Sang Shik

Although Im Si Wan was advertised as the male lead of this show, there were more moments when it felt that Lee Sung Min was the real star of Misaeng. 

Oh Sang Shik was often a confusing and contradicting boss. He would praise you and be protective of you one moment yet he'd be yelling at you right after. However, regardless of what he says and does, I know that he practices command responsibility and he truly cares for his team, especially Geu Rae. I enjoyed watching how proud he was whenever his kids did something good like when Geu Rae wisely suggested that the steel team's problem be solved by fixing the broken ship to avoid sinking. 

Sang Shik is the perfect depiction of a salaried man who needs to suck up to a lot of people - his bosses, clients, etc. He sets aside his pride to advance the company's interests, yet he often still ends up defeated and embarrassed. But despite that, I love his spunk, especially when he knows he's right. And his passion for what he does and how he never gives up regardless of how difficult and humiliating things are. 

And even if he has a lot of sucking up to do, I love how Sang Shik has non-negotiables too, like never providing girls for their clients. I loved how clever he was in going through a client's wife to avoid the girl service, knowing that the wife was actually the decision-maker. 

It was sad to know why he was mostly harsh with Geu Rae and why he refused to give him false hopes. He did not want him to end up like their previous temp who committed suicide when she was asked to take the fall for their team. 

Yes, I found it quite out-of-character for Sang Shik to push through with the fishy China project. I know he wanted to do it to save Geu Rae. And in the beginning, it was probably fine. But when the red flags started coming out, the Sang Shik I know would have stopped right away. 

In the end, I loved how his main concern was still Geu Rae. I also liked how the newbies were the ones who paid homage to him when he resigned, a testament that he was good, even to the newest employees of the company. 

I liked how Sang Shik gave Geu Rae space after the latter was not regularized. And when he felt the time was right, he asked him to report to work right away. 

It was also a smart move for Sang Shik and his partner to hire an independent president for their company. It made so much sense to avoid conflicts in the future. 

Lee Sung Min is a great actor. The show might have really wanted Im Si Wan to be the lead but Lee Sung Min was so good that he inadvertently overshadowed everyone. 

Kim Dae Myung as Kim Dong Shik

It was great to see Kim Dae Myung (Hospital Playlist 1 and 2) in a different drama with a lighter character. 

I loved Dong Shik's real talk and/or tough love on Geu Rae. He was probably not the best trainer in their team but he always looked out for their newbie, like when he told him that the other interns wanted to have Geu Rae as their partner because he was weak and they'd use him to stand out. 

I also liked how even if he was also generally perceived as weak, Dong Shik endeavored to teach Geu Rae to fight back and to have stronger self-esteem. And I liked how Geu Rae rewarded him by opening up to him about his baduk past. 

Despite being meek, I also loved how Dong Shik does not back down when he knows he's right. 

This show proved to me that Kim Dae Myung is a great and versatile actor. 

Shin Eun Jung as Sun Ji Young

Although Shin Eun Jung had very limited air time, she was one of the characters I really liked. I loved how Ms. Sun was Young Yi's role model, knowing how tough it was to be a woman (and a working mom too!) in a male-dominated field. I really wished she had more screen time. 


Misaeng is a very relatable show because it speaks about the hard truths and harsh realities of office life. 

Like bullying in the workplace and how the company's culture perpetuates this by not caring for their employees especially the junior ones. And how the newbies are always prone to abuses like being made to do menial and non-work related tasks. 

And sexual harassment. How male employees would dish out innuendos that they would try to pass off as jokes. 

And gender bias that still unfortunately exists to this day. How women need to really standout to advance in a company, otherwise, they'd be ignored and even discriminated against. And how women are subjected to very petty policies like not being allowed to wear high heels. And how tougher it is for working moms who need to prove themselves at work yet they're also expected to manage their homes and raise their kids well. Oh that mental load that men take for granted. 

Oh and competition in the office. I liked how the intern presentations were fiercer and meaner versions of the Start-Up competitions. 

Misaeng also showed us the sad reality that in the office, what matters most of the time is how much money you bring in to the company. Your mental health and health in general are often ignored and not prioritized. I felt so bad for Seok Yool when people snickered after he revealed that he was not able to take his anxiety meds. 

And of course, office politics. How people cover up their mistakes to get ahead of others. How people suck up to get promoted. And how bosses refuse to take responsibility even for things that are supposedly within their oversight. Or how employees work lazily yet they deny responsibility when things go wrong. 

It was quite revealing to know that corruption, bribery, and kickbacks are also prevalent in private companies. How disgruntled employees are blinded by the extra income they could get that leads them to enter into fishy deals. 

I still can't understand why whistleblowing is generally frowned upon in Korea. Like how Geu Rae's team was ostracized for exposing corruption in the Jordan project. I don't get why saving face is more important than finding out the truth. 

Another issue I felt strongly about was the temp versus regular thing. I loathed the injustice - how Geu Rae was discriminated against just because he was a temp - he got oil, while the regular employees got ham during New Year. And he was not entitled to any pay raise. And how he was asked to submit a business proposal, which was approved, but he was not allowed to be in-charge of the project. No matter how hard Geu Rae works or how much he achieves, he just could not progress in the company. I felt so bad that we live in a world that's too stuck on backgrounds, achievements, etc. Yes, education can provide a baseline. But shouldn't we judge employees based on their actual contributions? 

It's also sad how relationships in offices are not always genuine. Like how Ms. Sun's team, whom she thought of as family, actually saw her as a competitor. 

On a lighter note, I loved the strong bond Geu Rae formed with his batchmates. I liked how they went through tough times together and how they shared their triumphs with each other. That weekend they spent with Mr. Oh to work on Ms. Sun's project was priceless. 

I was quite perplexed with the China rebate scandal in the end. Was it not the company's decision to disallow the practice? How come they were now claiming that there was only one person responsible for it? Does that mean the onerous contracts were still continued? Didn't the company anticipate the effect of their decisions? Why did Mr. Oh have to take the fall for the company? 


I had mixed emotions about the ending. I loved everyone's effort in helping Geu Rae become a regular employee. I also super loved how Dong Shik and Geu Rae reunited with Mr. Oh. 

However, I felt quite bad that baduk seemed to have been forgotten. In the earlier episodes, baduk seemed like the guiding force in Geu Rae's life decisions like when he helped the "pushover" supervisor and when he helped resolve the corruption problem in the Jordan project. 

I also didn't like the Jordan storyline. Yes, it was probably done to show how earnest Geu Rae was and the lengths he would go to in protecting their company's interest. But it felt quite detached from the entire vibe of the show. 

Overall, I still loved Misaeng because it was very relatable. I just wished the focus towards the end was on something else like on the team three guys probably. 

Oppa says...4.1. They shouldn't have included the Jordan storyline.

Noona says...4.7, probably higher had it not been for the Jordan stuff.