Sometimes it seems like if you’ve seen one corruption drama, you’ve seen them all but I can’t help but be left on the edge of my seat whenever I watch Forest of Secrets. If you haven’t been watching this drama, I strongly encourage it as it feels timely but I also feel like the show allows the viewers to come to their own conclusions about the characters guilt or innocence.
Lee Chang Joon (Yoo Jae Myung) appoints Hwang Shi Mok (Cho Seung Woo) as the special prosecutor to head up the case of corruption at the prosecutor’s office. It’s quite an interesting decision as Chang Joon knows that it may cause Shi Mok to expose the deeds of his family but I wonder if he made the decision with the bigger goal in mind of appearing impartial.
Shi Mok’s first duty is to look into Seo Dong Jae (Lee Joon Hyuk) to see if he has any evidence. However, Dong Jae is one step of ahead of him as he desperately tries to rid his office of the vital evidence before Shi Mok’s investigators find it. They even tail him to the bathroom but Dong Jae is able to hide the materials before they get there. He goes back to retrieve the evidence he’s hidden and smiles as he believes that he’s gotten away with it.
Shi Mok’s special investigative team assembles in the central office. It includes Han Yeo Jin (Bae Doo Na), Jang Gun (Choi Jae Woong), Kim Jung Bon (Seo Dong Won), Yoon Se Won, Kim Ho Sup and Choi Young. Shi Mok has handpicked each one of these members to help him uncover the corruption even while knowing that not all of the members can be fully trusted. It’s his attempt to keeping both his enemies and allies close.
Lee Chang Joon arrives at their offices so that Shi Mok can formally accept the role in front of the Head Prosecutor at the Central District Courts. He greets the members of the team and then instructs Shi Mok to look presentable before they head over. It’s incredibly suffocating to watch as Chang Joon fixes Shi Mok’s tie as there’s so much that can be read in that shot.
The group is also treated to dinner by Chang Joon’s wife, Lee Yeon Jae (Yoon Se Ah). She outwardly smiles at the group but it’s clear that the atmosphere is incredibly icy, especially between Yeon Jae and Yeo Jin. It’s important to note here the differences in their personalities. Yeon Jae is all about a perfect façade while Yeo Jin is all about what you see is what you get and clearly the differences in their personalities and status rubs each other in the wrong way.
After Chang Joon and Shi Mok join them at the dinner, Chairman Lee Yoon Bum (Lee Kyung Young), Yeon Jae’s father and Chang Joon’s father-in-law, also enters the room to greet the team. It’s clearly a scene in which the opposition is sizing each other up. After he leaves, Shi Mok realizes that it might be best to end the dinner there as no one is in the mood to share a meal. I love the icy look that Yeon Jae gives him as she realizes that she doesn’t have control over the situation. With someone like Yeon Jae, it’s all about who wields power without having a hair on her perfectly coifed head out of place and Shi Mok and Yeo Jin are not the type of people who get easily ruffled by people like Yeon Jae.
Shi Mok returns to the office to continue working while the other team members go off to eat together. Young Eun Soo (Shin Hye Sun) shows up to return the sweater he’s lent her. Seeing Shi Mok passed out at his desk, she rifles through the paperwork to see if he’s uncovered any new evidence that she’s not aware of but he wakes up before she uncovers anything. He tells her to get out but Yeo Jin walks in on the two of them before she’s able to move. Yeo Jin tries to turn around and leave before the others walk in but it’s too late and Eun Soo leaves without much protest. I’m curious to know if Yeo Jin feels any jealousy towards Eun Soo but maybe that’s just me reading too much into the scene.
As Shi Mok believes the corruption has been going on for some time, he brings in the wife of Young Il Jae (Lee Ho Jae), the former head prosecutor of the Western District, who was forced out due to accusation that he was bribed. He is also the father of Eun Soo who has been trying to do whatever it takes to clear her father’s name. Shi Mok brings in her mother to get her accounts of whether her husband was bribed while in office. However, hearing her testimony is just part of the ruse.
In fact, Dong Jae is in a separate room to give his account. He claims that they don’t have any evidence that he was involved but they present him with pictures of the evidence that he had tried to hide. He thought he had gotten away with it but they were onto him. As he leaves the office, he hears that Shi Mok has been question Young Il Jae’s wife which causes him to pass out over the shock.
However, Young Il Jae meets with Lee Chang Joon. He says that he was planning to take the secret to his grave. He had only prepared to stay quiet as long as Chang Joon’s in-laws promised to stay away from his family. Young Il Jae warns them again that no matter what, he’ll keep his promise as long as they keep theirs. Before he leaves, Il Jae looks at his junior and chides him for being so foolish and throwing his own ideals away. Chang Joon clearly knows more than he’s willing to reveal but that he might not be the ultimate bad guy but it makes you wonder who is worse. The bad guy himself or the guy who is protecting the bad guy?
The team continues their investigations while the other side seems to be keeping tabs on them. In a surprising move, Yoon Se Won admits to Shi Mok how he was asked to look into Shi Mok’s past behind his past. Shi Mok admits that he knew all about it and still made Se Won a part of his team. It is also revealed to the team, through Secretary Choi Young, that even though Dong Jae tried to bribe Kim Ho Sup, he had relinquished that money. Meanwhile, Kim Ho Sup had been watching over Dong Jae 24/7 who was taken to the hospital after passing out but Dong Jae has managed to escape while he was asleep. Dong Jae has gone to Chairman Lee to ask for his protection and tells him that he’s willing to do anything. It’s curious to see that Chairman Lee doesn’t openly accept his offer but doesn’t deny it either. I can see why he’s been able to get away with what he’s done for so long because he never fully commits to anything or anyone. He always seems to get things done by proxy and let’s his underlings do the dirty work. I suppose that if you had ultimate funds and power that’s the best way to get things done.
Fortunately for Shi Mok and Yeo Jin, they receive some miraculous news as they receive news that the prostitute Kim Ga Young, who is a pivotal witness in this case, seems to have partially woken up from comatose state.
Knowing that the corruption extends to the police force, Yeo Jin advises Ga Young’s mother that they need to move her to another hospital for her safekeeping without the knowledge of anyone else. Yeo Jin is able to initiate a transfer with the help of a nurse. As the team tries to move Ga Young to a safe place, Detective Kim Soo Chan (Park Jin Woo) shows up at the hospital. A junior detective misdirects his attention while Yeo Jin is able to hide from view. They’re able to help make Ga Young make a getaway but then the nurse informs Yeo Jin about a strange occurrence during one evening.
She confesses that she found Ga Young without her oxygen mask and pillow on the floor. After tending to Ga Young, she exits the room and found Lee Yeon Jae in the hallway. She wasn’t sure about it then but felt that it was important to let Yeo Jin know. Yeo Jin tries to retrieve the CCTV footage from the hospital but Detective Kim has beaten her to it and has already handed it over to Police Chief Kim (Choi Byung Mo), who destroys after seeing the footage himself.
As Gun goes about his investigation, he doesn’t to believe that his own Police Chief is involved in the corruption until he covers some evidence that even he can’t ignore involving Kim Ga Young and him meeting at hotels. Police Chief Kim is called in for questioning and he realizes that even Chairman Lee can’t save him.
Yeo Jin is tasked with questioning him and it’s quite tense to see a detective being tasked with investigating her superior. He refuses to give up anyone else but instead angrily reacts against anything that Yeo Jin asks him, especially any knowledge that he had any kind of relationship with Kim Ga Young. That is, until she shows him pictures taken from the surveillance camera of him and Kim Ga Young in the hallway of some hotel. She gives him a choice to give himself up before she releases the images herself. She tells him that it’s not only about his reputation but the reputation of the police department itself and everything that they stand for in terms of law enforcement. While leaving the office, Police Chief Kim begs Gun to give him a copy of the surveillance footage at that hotel. He’s not asking for the original copy but just a copy for himself.
At the same time, Yeo Jin shows up at Yeon Jae’s door to question her about why she was in the hospital that night. Did she attempt to kill Kim Ga Young? If so, why and how is she involved in the corruption?
Meanwhile, Chang Joon finally takes up his position as the new Chief Prosecutor at Blue House. Once he takes that position, there isn’t anyone that’ll be able to stop him. He takes in his new office and the secretary comes by to give him gifts congratulating him on his new position.
One gift is from the Police Chief, in which Chang Joon has cut ties with now that he is being questioned. It’s a still from the surveillance footage of Kim Ga Young in front of his door. Just as he sees the photograph, the prosecutors from his former office have arrived to congratulate him on his new position. He greets all his juniors, including Hwang Shi Mok. Except that Shi Mok notices the gift box on his desk and the two share a look with each other.