Adding to my heavy load of K-Dramas that I’m currently watching, Forest of Secrets is another drama that I’ve been looking forward to. Yes, the cast is made up of veteran actors but the story somehow feels very timely as it deals with political corruption.
It all begins with the murder of Park Moo Sung (Uhm Hyo Sup). Prosecutor Hwang Shi Mok (Cho Seung Woo) was invited to Moo Sung’s home and arrives there with his mother only to find his body there. He locks his mother out to prevent her from ruining the crime scene and goes about investigating the place. The place looks like it has been ransacked and he notices that the cable is out. He calls the police to report the crime and opens the door for them but doesn’t stay around to answer their questions.
Detective Han Yeo Jin (Bae Doo Na) arrives on the scene and immediately chases after Shi Mok, puzzled by his behavior. Upon learning that he is prosecutor with the Seoul Western District, she tails him on his search for the cable guy. Shi Mok has deduced that a cable guy he saw driving away from the scene is either the killer or a possible witness to the crime. With a quick call to the cable company, Shi Mok finds the cable guy, Kang Jin Seob (Yoon Kyung Ho), just as he is exiting a jewelry store. A chase ensues but ultimately Yeo Jin is able to capture the suspect which Shi Mok then carts off to the prosecutor’s office for questioning.
It is important to note that Shi Mok is smart prosecutor but lacks much emotion. He had neurosurgery as a young child as he was unable to deal with certain sounds in the everyday world which left him cold and emotionless. He is strong in his morals and has a keen eye for details but he often has difficulty when dealing with other human beings.
At the prosecutor’s office, Jin Seob informs him that he was there to fix the cable. He was let in by someone at the front but found Park Moo Sung’s body there when he entered the house. As the cable company doesn’t pay him very much to support his family, he admits to stealing the victim’s valuables and trading them in for cash but insists that he is innocent when it comes to murder. Due to Shi Mok’s condition, he doesn’t show much sympathy for his story but he finds blood on Jin Seob’s socks and questions why a supposed killer would let him in if Park Moo Sung was already dead. Despite Jin Seob’s pleas, Shi Mok has him carted away in order to be processed and stand trial.
We learn that Seo Dong Jae knew of Park Moo Sung and while he was shocked to hear of his death, he is not entirely upset by it. Instead, he congratulates his superior, Deputy Head Prosecutor Lee Chang Joon (Yoo Jae Myung), when he hears the news. Lee Chang Joon immediately shuts him down and tells him that they can’t let their guard down.
After all, Shi Mok was first introduced to Park Moo Sung through Dong Jae. When they had first met, Moo Sung slips him his business card with a credit card hidden underneath. Shi Mok had refused to accept the credit card but later they have another encounter in which Moo Sung tells him that he won’t be going down alone if Deputy Head Lee takes him down. Moo Sung was known to have been a “sponsor” in that world providing money and girls to top prosecutors in exchange for political favors.
At the prosecutor’s office, Detective Kim Soo Chan (Park Jin Woo), catches up with Hwang Shi Mok who raced off after reporting the crime. He was one of the other detectives assigned to Park Moo Sung’s case and although he is aware of the corruption at the prosecutor’s office and assume Shi Mok is involved in the corruption, it’s not yet clear where Detective Kim’s allegiance lies.
Later, Shi Mok returns to Park Moo Sung’s home to see if there is any other evidence he had missed. He sees that a laptop he previously saw in the home is missing. Knowing that Moo Sung was severely in debt, he knew that Moo Sung had been cooped up at home to hide out from his creditors. He surmises that Moo Sung must have always looked out his window before letting anyone into his home and Shi Mok notices a taxicab that’s parked on the street. The taxicab happens to be facing Moo Sung’s front door and he enlists the help from the taxicab driver to obtain the memory card from the car’s camera security system.
The image is blurry but it captures Kang Jin Seob as he arrives at the home, just as he stated. He also notices the curtains move to reveal a figure standing at the window checking to see who is at the front door. Was Park Moo Sung alive when Kang Jin Seob was let into the home?
Young Eun Soo (Shin Hye Sun) is a young prosecutor who is eager to make the grade. She is just about to be made a prosecutor and is assigned to Kang Jin Seob’s case. Shi Mok’s cold behavior creates a wall between Eun Soo and him and it’s clear that he’s not a very helpful sunbae. However, he shows Eun Soo the video he uncovered of Kang Jin Seob and the mysterious figure in the window. As this is her first big case flying solo, she is eager to put him behind bars but Shi Mok makes it clear that he’s not entirely sure about his guilt. Instead, Senior Prosecutor Seo Dong Jae (Lee Joon Hyuk) steps in to offer his assistance.
At the trial, Eun Soo makes the case to the court to explain why only Kang Jin Seob could reasonably be Park Moo Sung’s killer. She uses the video obtained by Shi Mok as evidence with Dong Jae’s help. Upon hearing his guilt, Kang Jin Seob makes a sense protesting his innocence but to no avail. He is sentence to 22 years behind bars.
Shi Mok is present at court and makes a number of observations. He notices Park Moo Sung’s mother listening as well as Kang Jin Seob’s wife, baby and their legal representation. In fact, the aide to Kang Jin Seob’s defense attorney happens to be his fellow classmate, Kim Jung Bon (Seo Dong Won), from his youth. Jung Bon is happy to see his classmate again after many years but Shi Mok is emotionless in return. As a sidenote, I am loving the long observational takes in the drama. While it does slow the drama’s pace as we observe what Hwang Shi Mok observes, but it heightens the thrill. What does that expression mean? What is their connection?
Meanwhile, Yeo Jin is called to deal with another case involving a dead dog. They discover the dog in the backyard which coincidentally happens to be adjacent to Park Moo Sung’s house. The owner mentions that the dog went missing right around the time of her neighbor’s death. Yeo Jin notices that Park Moo Sung’s house is only separated from the backyard by one wall and discovers some blood on the fence that separate the two yards.
In prison, Kang Jin Seob is unable to face his sentence and how that pain would be inflicted upon his family so he decides to commit suicide. However, not before he sends Prosecutor Hwang Shi Mok a letter, again insisting on his innocence.
Shi Mok alerts the prison and races over but he arrives too late to save Jin Seob. Looking at the body, he notices something unusual about the wounds. Jin Seob’s crying wife comes to the prison with her baby and Shi Mok demands to know what Jin Seob whispered to him before being carted off to prison. She resents him and the prosecutor’s office but reveals that Jin Seob said that he would only pretend to commit suicide. It’s hard to tell if Jin Seob did it so that he could provide his family with insurance money after his death or if he had other plans about how to prove his innocence but Jin Seob had believed that the prosecutor’s office manipulated the evidence to frame him.
Shi Mok heads to the forensic lab to check and see if the video that was used as evidence was manipulated. The technician confirms that it wasn’t but it’s clear that the video does not clearly show who is at the window. Upon leaving the lab, he sees Detective Kim Soo Chan leaving the DNA lab and hears him commenting about the evidence found by Yeo Jin.
He’s unable to uncover more details as he is called by Prosecutor Lee to give him a report about evidence tampering by the prosecutor’s office. Shi Mok informs him that Kang Jin Seob is dead but confirms that evidence had not been tampered in his trial. Prosecutor Lee reprimands him for all the news that is being made in the media, which Shi Mok apologizes for, but he leaves it at that.
The next morning, Eun Soo gives a statement in front of the press stating that evidence had not been tampered and that Kang Jin Seob had been given a fair trial.
Shi Mok recalls an incident from 5 months prior when he arrived at his hotel for a work conference. He witnessed Park Moo Sung talking to a young woman at the hotel’s entrance but avoided greeting him as he entered the lobby. Upon checking in, he was told by the front desk that everyone from the prosecutor’s office had been given rooms on the same floor. He rides up the elevator with the woman and sees her walking down the same corridor. He waits at his door to see which door the woman is heading towards but she stops short. He enters his room but takes into account that there are only two rooms at the end of the corridor. Later, he notices that Lee Chang Joon is wet, either from sweat or from a shower, as he greets the other guests at the conference. The other guests at the conference include fellow prosecutor Dong Jae and Police Chief Kim Woo Kyun (Choi Byung Mo).
Shi Mok goes to the police station in to check the evidence once again and encounters Detective Han Yeo Jin. Yeo Jin is tired of getting the run around with Shi Mok and Shi Mok deflects the conversation by bringing up what he overheard previously from Detective Kim Soo Chan and the evidence she found. She asks for more details but he simply gains access to the evidence locker to look at the evidence from Moo Sung’s cases. He sees that he had dialed Prosecutor Lee right after requesting a meeting with Shi Mok on the day that he died.
Yeo Jin later confronts Shi Mok about Moo Sung’s case and the case involving the dead dog as she believes the two are tied. Together, the two head back to Moo Sung’s house to see what they have missed. They check out the fence where Yeo Jin uncovered the blood evidence and Shi Mok discovers that it’s pretty easy to jump the fence and enter Moo Sung’s home. Shi Mok acts out a number of theories to test whether Kang Jin Seob’s testimony pans out. It’s important to note that neither Shi Mok or Yeo Jin trust each other very much but they both believe that they don’t have the whole story in Park Moo Sung’s case and aim to work together. Shi Mok realizes that Prosecutor Lee has enough to fire him for this case going the wrong way but Shi Mok aims to find definitive proof of Prosecutor Lee’s guilt. Yeo Jin warns him about the implications of coming after Prosecutor Lee but Shi Mok is unwilling to do anything until he has all the details and Yeo Jin offers to help.
The next day, Shi Mok gains access to Dong Jae’s office and uncovers a number of files regarding a prostitution ring. One of the file, which is hidden at the bottom of drawer, happens to be of the woman that Shi Mok had seen at the hotel, 5 months prior. Learning that Shi Mok is in his office alone, Dong Jae storms the office to prevent him from looking at the file any further.
Shi Mok apologizes for looking at the file as he didn’t know it was anything that he should not be privy to and exits the office but Dong Jae chases after him. Prosecutor Lee catches them in the middle of their fight and rebukes the two. It’s enough that the press is out for their head and it would bring their office under further scrutiny if the press learns of the discord within the prosecutor’s office. They have to show their best side.
At the same time, the police department is also under fire for the possible mishandling of evidence in Kang Jin Seob’s case. Detective Kim Soo Chan throws Yeo Jin under the bus for letting the suspect go and she dishes the criticism right back at him. After all, he had taken a laptop from the scene of the crime and not filed the evidence properly. It’s not clear what Detective Kim’s motive are for hiding the laptop.
Shi Mok is asked to attend a lunch with other prosecutor’s at the office. It appears that they want to get the inside scoop on the case as well but Shi Mok doesn’t give up any details. Instead, he’s called into Prosecutor Lee’s office and Shi Mok leaves before even getting the chance to eat with the other prosecutors.
Prosecutor Lee seems to lay down the law for Shi Mok. He wants this scandal to go away and he aims that it will be easy to throw a junior prosecutor like Eun Soo under the bus as she is inexperienced. He also tells Shi Mok that he recognizes that Shi Mok is incredibly intelligent and then offers Shi Mok an opportunity at a promotion if he agrees to follow along. Shi Mok asks what Prosecutor Lee expects from and Prosecutor Lee makes it clear that he does not know or have any connection to Park Moo Sung. However, Shi Mok brings up the incident from five months ago which he witnessed at the hotel and asks if Prosecutor Lee has no knowledge of that incident as well. Shi Mok makes it clear that he’s more interested in the Deputy Head position rather than a small promotion and hopes that Prosecutor Lee will stand behind him. The cards are set but I’m not willing to believe that Shi Mok is willing to go along with Prosecutor Lee. Rather, it may be easier to bring him down by if Shi Mok is closer to Prosecutor Lee. I can’t believe that Prosecutor Lee doesn’t have his own assurances so we’ll have to see how this battle will play out.