[Review] Misaeng/Incomplete Life – 미생

LIFE OF A SALESMAN

As a child, Jang Geu rae (Im Shi Wan) worked towards becoming a professional Go player. When he fails to achieve his dream, he realizes that he’s entered the harsh, adult world with nothing more than a high school diploma. Through his mother’s acquaintance, he’s gets hired as an intern at One International, a trading company, and joins Sales Team 3.

Leading Sales Team 3 is Sales Chief Oh Sang Shik (Lee Sung Min), a workaholic, and Assistant Manager Kim Dong Shik (Kim Dae Myung), who is incredibly loyal to Chief Oh. Also working at the company in the same intern pool as Jang Geu Rae, there is the intelligent and exceedingly competent Ahn Young Yi (Kang Sora), well-educated Jang Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul) and the garrulous Han Suk Ryul (Byun Yo Han). Jang Geu Rae applies his knowledge of Go to navigate the corporate world.

I had my hesitations about starting this drama because honestly who would want to go home after a tiring day at the office to watch other people go through the same thing? Despite the tears I shed watching our main characters struggle through their trials and tribulations, those tears were incredibly therapeutic as each week would end on an uplifting note or had a thought-provoking moral.

I love the metaphor of Go when it comes to the setting of the office. Although the writer could have used chess or Chinese chess to explain strategy, there’s something that’s more fitting with the game of Go. We all come from the same pot and we all start off identically as every piece is worth the same thing. However, we can succeed with a little bit of luck and circumvent risk through strategic planning. Jang Geu Rae applies that same methodical nature of the game to his job.

Rose Motel – 로망 (Romang*)

장미여관 – 로망

*Romang = English/Korean fusion meaning “romantic”

As the logical Jang Geu Rae, I can see how much Im Shi Wan has improved since his debut in The Moon that Embraces the Sun. Sure, he’s still playing these quiet roles and he’s still got that deer in the headlights expression on his face. Though these two attributes are fitting of his character, he’s gotten better at layering deeper emotions which exposes his loneliness, insecurity and pain.

The drama isn’t your typical K-Drama with a love story. And yet, there’s a pretty great love story between Mentee Jang Geu Rae and Mentor Oh Sang Shik. Chief Oh doesn’t make things easy for Geu Rae but he makes him feel likes he’s a part of the team.

Chief Oh shows what a champion he is for the little guy as he not only defends Geu Rae but other younger members at the company.  It’s up to Geu Rae to see Chief Oh’s example and learn from it.  I know many fans of webtoon series opposed Lee Sung Min being cast in this role as he didn’t look the part but honestly I can’t see anyone else as Chief Oh.  He was so great in this role that even now I have difficulty remember what other roles he’s played over the years, and there were many.

Although the series is mostly narrated by Geu Rae, it’s interesting how they bookend the series with two different narrations both using the metaphor of road for the journey of life. The narrations depict their different personalities as Geu Rae speaks about moving forward and Chief Oh talks about taking calculated risks as he recites Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’.

There are a lot of characters at the workplace and each character had their own quirks. If Chief Oh was like the dad of the team, Assistant Manager Kim was like the mom who nurtured Geu Rae. Surely, he had the ahjumma perm to make him seem more motherly.

Each of the other interns faced unique issues that each had to overcome. Initially, Jang Baek Ki came off as a bit of an antagonist but I think it’s easy to understand his jealousy of Geu Rae. He’s worked hard to get an education and to him it seems like everything is being handed to Geu Rae on a silver platter. Obviously, that’s not the case but as Baek Ki sees Geu Rae getting the support he needs from Chief Oh and Assistant Manager Kim, he’s unsatisfied by his own supervisor’s reluctance to give him harder assignments suited to his level of education. This jealousy simmers throughout the drama until Geu Rae and Baek Ki are forced to team up for a newbie challenge that tests their partnership.

As irritating and audacious as Han Suk Ryul is, he does care about the little people. Enter his supervisor who comes off as a friend at first but takes advantage of the little people. Suk Ryul attacks the problem in a number of different ways but he eventually becomes resigned about challenging his supervisor; his crisis of conflict even causing his to change his distinctive hairstyle. The drama doesn’t directly resolve the issue head on because it’s just not realistic but instead satisfies us by giving the supervisor a public shaming in front of the company that is just what Suk Ryul needed.

Ahn Young Yi faces a number of sexist incidents at the workplace. I’m so glad that the drama addresses this issue as we’re still at an age where women are still trying to break through the glass ceiling and the divide is even more evident in the Korean workforce. Many women find it hard to juggle being a mother and working late hours that they often quit their jobs when they get married. To the companies, they rarely want to promote women as they may end up leaving anyways. It’s quite upsetting but necessary to see the abuse that the women faced in the drama because it’s something that a lot of women might relate to at some point in their lives.  Early on, she looks up to Vice-Chief of Sales Sun Ji Young (Shin Eun Jung), who works full-time and is a mother and wife, and is encouraged to stay on. Young Yi manages to use her intelligence and learns to remain impassive in order to seem like one of the boys.

Through her skills, she proves that she’s an important asset to at least team. Department Head Ma is another story but yet that’s just another reason why the drama is so realistic. You can’t win over everyone as Department Head Ma’s prejudice is so engrained into his personality.

Beyond our main cast, the drama was filled with important guest stars and supporting characters who become important obstacles for Sales Team 3. From the unconfident Deputy Park (Choi Gwi Hwa), who Geu Rae helped him to find his wings, to the despicably dishonest Resources Chief Park (Kim Hee Won), who forced the other Sales Team members to stand together, it was these obstacles that brought important lessons to Geu Rae and Sales Team 3.

Another obstacle to team also came in the form of Executive Director Choi (Lee Kyung Young). As the boss, he needs to ensure that the company makes a profit that sometimes their business practices aren’t always on the up and up. Chief Oh’s honesty stood in the way of Executive Director Choi’s goals. He’s depicted very realistically as he doesn’t overtly discipline his employees. The actor chooses to speak in civil tones even though his eyes seem to express something else. This lack of transparency always put Sales Team 3 in a precarious position with the executives as you’re not quite sure where you stand.

Being unsure of your footing is what the workplace is all about. However if you have a solid support system, it makes the work all the more fulfilling. You work hard because you don’t want to let them down. Sure, as Jang Geu Rae’s employment at One International shows, the result of that effort might not be recognized by top executives but it’s nice that Chief Oh doesn’t leave his team behind.

From the Misaeng OST – 눈물 (Tears)

Unknown – 눈물

The drama certainly didn’t let me down and the cinematography and music all made us feel for the situations, the people even though the environment itself is cold and unfeeling. I so loved this drama and the themes depicted in it that I bought the manhwa series and am aiming to start reading it later this month.

Rating

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