Thursday, October 11, 2012

K-Drama Review: Nice Guy, Episodes 1-2


Read episode reviews for:

Nice Guy--Episodes 1-2
Nice Guy--Episodes 3-4
Nice Guy--Episodes 5-6
Nice Guy--Episodes 7-8
Nice Guy--Episodes 9-10
Nice Guy--Episodes 11-12
Nice Guy--Episodes 13-14
Nice Guy--Episodes 15-16
Nice Guy--Episodes 17-18
Nice Guy--Episodes 19-20

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

To The Beautiful You left a gap in my viewing schedule, so I thought I'd go back and catch some of this half-finished revenge drama, where a guy supposedly gets back at the ex-girlfriend who sent him to prison by dating her grown stepdaughter. With a premise like that, I'm not expecting a lot of fun or joy, and I don't even expect to stick with the drama past the initial 2 eps.

ETA: Boy was I wrong...

Interestingly, the full Korean title of the drama is 세상 어디에도 없는 차칸남자 (Sesang Eodiedo Eobneun Chakannamja), which my limited Korean skills translated as "In this world, where there are no nice men." A better translation is "Nice Guys Don't Exist." Cool, huh?

Maru Sure LOOKS Like a Nice, Vanilla-Type Person, Though.

The show begins with protagonist Maru running through the halls of the hospital where he's earning his medical degree. He is distracted by watching a close female friend of his, Jaehee, working on television as a news reporter.

Why Are All the Lead Girls in Fall K-Dramas Named Jaehee?

Maru and a crowd of other med students are soon following a famous doctor on his rounds, like a flock of white-coated ducklings. Finally, head doctor gives Maru his own case--find out what's causing an 11-year-old boy to have seizures. He's got two hours to figure it out. Maru hangs out with the kid, then diagnoses the child with a cerebral aneurysm and notifies his superiors.

Maru, Schooling Everybody On How It's Done.

The kid's angiogram(?) comes back with no evidence of a cerebral aneurysm, but later on, Maru's diagnosis is proven right. He's a smartie, and he will be a genius doctor someday.

Maru goes home to a ratty low-rent dwellingplace to find his younger sister sprawled on the floor, wrecked by a severe fever.

No Girl Would Let You See Her Like This, Unless She Was Sick.

Just as Maru is about to take her to the hospital, he gets a phone call from Jaehee, his noona (누나 older female friend). She whispers, "Help me, Maru. I think he might be dead. I think he's dead. Can you save him?" Maru is confused and weirdly flattered that Jaehee called him during her crisis. Foolishly, he decides to leave his sick sister to check on Jaehee's emergency.

He takes a cab to where Jaehee says she is. I cringe when Maru arrives, because the curtains shrouding the parking lot in utmost secrecy prove that Jaehee is probably at a 러브호텔, one of those rent-by-the-hour establishments.

What Have You Gotten Yourself Into?

Once inside the hotel room, this is what Maru sees:

I have to hand it to Maru's actor, Song Joongki--he reacts to the scene like a real person would. Not screaming and crying, but confused and hesitant, asking, "Am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing? How did it happen? What do I do about it?" After seeing enough K-dramas, I'm used to instant hysterics when something horrible happens, and while that's where Jaehee's emotional register is (and rightly so), it's not the same intense reaction from Maru.

When Maru confirms that this guy is stone-cold graveyard dead, Jaehee begins to ask, "Why did he die? I didn't kill him." Sure you didn't. The man exploded his own head, completely without any help from you or that bloody bottle you're clutching in your hand.

Situation Gets Worse and Worse-er

Maru wisely tells Jaehee that since she must have been acting in self-defense (or was she? hmm...), it's an accidental homicide and she won't have to do jail time. Jaehee shrieks that her career as a reporter will be over if this gets out. She has lived in dire poverty all her life, and says she'd be better off dead than accused of justifiable murder.

This statement makes Maru angry--Jaehee has kept him going for 13 years, so can't he be her reason for living, too? The look on her face says that's a clear "no," but his words do calm her down. Jaehee begins to talk about her life, and how it seems that God doesn't love her, since he sets her up for failure and dashes all her hopes. As Jaehee uses her cellphone to call the police and turn herself in, Maru yanks the phone away and then we get this:

Not The Best Timing For Telling a Girl You Love Her?

After that heartfelt kiss, Maru goes around the room, wiping fingerprints off every surface. Oh, noooo. He says, "I was the one who killed him. Get out of here and never look back. Only look forward." He's actively preserving her future by sacrificing his. Noooo. He tells Jaehee that he can live without becoming a doctor, but she won't be able to live without being a reporter--without her dream, she'll go insane. He's right, but this makes her sound so pathetic and fragile, unable to cope with reality.

Then the scene flips to an entirely different character, Eunki, a spoiled but well-educated Daddy's girl who has been given an upper management job in Dad's company. She's systematically taking an older man to task for disrespecting her, and I think I like Eunki already.

That Smirk is Equal Parts Smart and Crazy.

She then proceeds to drive like a maniac, getting angrier and angrier as she talks to this executive and tells him he's been conducting shady business deals for years and she won't put up with it any longer. She tells him to pay back the money and leave the company, but then Eunki stops at what I think is her house and sees her dad coming out to meet--Jaehee! Jaehee cries and hands Dad a package, saying she has risked everything to protect him.

Ah, so did she kill that guy because he had dirt on Eunki's Dad, and Eunki's Dad is like Jaehee's sugardaddy or something? All we know is, Eunki's Dad says nothing, but holds Jaehee as she cries and Eunki looks on in concern from her car.

Note That She's Wearing Maru's Shirt--He Gives Her Everything.

Back at the hotel, Maru looks out the window as police cars arrive, then he calls his little sister and leaves her a sweet message, saying he can't come home but he has arranged for a friend to watch out for her and take her to the hospital. The screen goes black and we hear a judge say Maru is sentenced to five years in prison.

"6 years later..."

We see Maru in a lush hotel room in Japan. What happened, I want to know? What happened between when he got out of prison and now?

Well, he's gotten meaner, that's for sure. He spent the night with some nameless girl, who we find out is a gold-digger who hoped he was wealthier than he is. It's an aching moment when you realize how crass and tawdry his relationships have become, compared to the pure-hearted boy from years prior.

There's a Certain Deadness Around the Eyes.
In the same hotel, Eunki has troubled dreams. Her lawyer, Attorney Park Joonha, finally wakes her up and says he let her sleep so long because she's a workaholic and hasn't gotten more than a few hours' sleep all week. It's clear that Joonha at least has some feelings for Eunki, while she's a cold-blooded shark who threatens to fire him if their next business deal goes south. I like her, but she is nuts.

Eunki is heading up a cosmetics company, and she goes to see a Japanese client whose face was scarred by metal pieces found in a makeup product. The lady agrees to eat with Eunki, and Eunki finds out that the lady's lawsuit is a plant by a rival company! Eunki is going to turn the whole affair over to the police.

Eunki, You Crazy Genius, You.

As Eunki walks out of her meeting, Maru is nearby, making out with Random Gold Digger.

Eunki clutches her heart, begins to faint, then recovers as Jaehee, of all people, comes to check on her. Jaehee seems genuinely concerned about Eunki like an attentive unnie (언니, big sister) would be, but Jaehee is not Eunki's big sister--she's her stepmother. Eunki is flawlessly polite and sweet to Jaehee, but after seeing Eunki with the director, the customer, and lawyer Joonha, we know she's only flawlessly polite before she verbally cuts somebody six ways to Sunday.

She Could End You Right Now, Jaehee.

When Eunki finds out that all the employees have left the hotel already, she yanks Jaehee's hand away with a "Don't pretend to care. The audience has left already." Then Eunki gets mean as we see that Jaehee has had a child--the little boy is 4 years old and he runs up to hug Eunki, but she rudely tells him that she does not acknowledge him as a baby brother. So unfeeling--but I still feel like I understand mean Eunki better than clingy Jaehee.

Then we find out why Eunki hates Jaehee extra-bad: Jaehee became Dad's mistress and kicked Eunki's mom out. I may want to slap Eunki for making the tiny boy cry, but more than that, I want to shake some sense into Jaehee. Nothing justifies stealing another woman's man, ever.

Back in Maru-land, it turns out that his fling with Gold Digger was done as a charitable deed to help his friend, who fell for her and lost all his money to her.

Casually Returns Stolen Money.

Maru tricked the girl into returning the money, so it's like a reverse-con. And now we know that Maru hasn't just gotten more worldly--he's gotten manipulative.

On the plane home to Seoul, Maru is in the same place as Eunki again. She steps out of the plane's bathroom and faints. He catches her, then checks her pulse. Then he walks away. Maru puts his earphones on as the plane attendants desperately request that any doctors on board the flight come and help. Eventually he grumps off to aid her, guilted into action by his BFF.

Yay For Pushy Best Friends!

As Maru is tending to Eunki, Jaehee walks back into the compartment. Maru looks at her for a long moment, then announces to the flight attendants, "I am not a doctor. I was attending medical school once, but I dropped out in the middle of the semester."


He asks, "Is this girl related to you?" Jaehee answers, "She's my step-daughter, from my husband's previous marriage." Then Jaehee turns to calm her 4-year-old son Eunsuk, and Maru looks like he is going to vomit because all he did for Jaehee was for nothing. She married a rich old guy and had a kid and forgot all about him for 6 years.

Back to the medical ordeal, Maru says Eunki's lungs are full of fluid, so CPR won't help her. Instead, he'll have to stab her lung with a syringe to draw the fluid out. Eek.
Eunki soon stabilizes and Maru leaves the compartment. There's this great close-up of Jaehee's bangle-braceleted hand clutching her pants' leg as she stops herself from following him. It's as if that gold jewelry on her arm is a symbol of all that's tying her down, and of all that she sold herself--and Maru--to get.

As Maru and his friend Jaegil drive home from the airport, Jaegil provides exposition: "You saw Jaehee again, didn't you? See, I told you she became that rich man's wife--you just refused to believe me. Six years ago when you went to prison, she visited you every day, then every month, then every other month, then stopped coming--that was why."

Ugh, Jaegil, Just Stop Talking.

Now, we get a flashback of when Maru was little, the first time he saw Jaehee. Her face was bloody, and she was running from a dangerous-looking teenage boy. Maru told the guy he hadn't seen Jaehee, then he tends to Jaehee's scrapes.

You Go, Baby Maru! Good Job!

Okay, now I begin to feel sorry for Jaehee. She obviously grew up in a place where she was not merely poor; she was physically abused, probably on a regular basis. Her later desperation is still not remotely excusable, but it is understandable.

In the present, Maru takes his little sister nicknamed "Choco," for "Chocoholic," to the doctor. We don't know what's wrong with her, but we do know that her health tanked after Maru left her to go check on Jaehee six years ago. Now Choco blames Maru for ruining her health and her life.

At Maru's house, Jaehee waits for him while Jaegil fills her in on what she has missed: Maru's father died of a heart attack, and now Maru is deeply in debt, trying to pay for Choco's medical bills when no one wants to employ him because he's an ex-con.

She's So Much To Blame, It's Not Even Funny.

Jaehee leaves before Maru gets home, but she leaves him a huge chunk of cash. Jaegil leaves Maru the message that Jaehee wants him and Choco to move to a better neighborhood and to never think of her again. As if any amount of money would make up for six lost years, total unemployability, and a broken heart.

At home, Jaehee has tea with Eunki, who wonders why Jaehee went to give money to the doctor that saved Eunki on the plane. Apparently, Eunki has had a spy tailing Jaehee ever since Eunki's mom was kicked out of the mansion, and subsequently died a week later. Eunki wants revenge. I kind of want Maru AND Eunki to get their payback, but I wonder if Jaehee is strong enough to take the punishment she's earned.

But Jaehee cross-threatens Eunki, saying that Eunki was caught for drug possession seven years ago, and wouldn't it be terrible if the shareholders and company managers discovered that one, hmm? Eunki flashes back to the past, where she did not have drugs, but she took the heat for the crime because her former boyfriend begged her. Eh, I think that's the same plot point repeated too many times.

What's With These Love Martyrs, Always Taking the Fall?

Eunki decides to accuse Maru of extorting money from Jaehee, just so she can figure out exactly why Jaehee gave him that money. Poor little Choco is left to cry in the rain as police drag her oppa off to the station for questioning. Eunki is forcing Jaehee to accuse Maru, or else to reveal her real connection to him. And then Jaehee ACCUSES HIM. She sits across from Maru and, to save her own precious self, says he blackmailed her for that money.

Maru stares her down, thinking, "I was going to let you go, and leave you alone." But now...what?

We finally see Eunki with her father, and he's so upset over a business decision she made, he throws a glass ashtray against the wall and a shard cuts Eunki's cheek. Dad doesn't even blink, just keeps berating her and saying how she's dumb and he won't leave his corporation to someone incompetent. He says, "If you can't handle the pressure, run away. Just like your mother did."Is he throwing her dead mother, who he betrayed, in Eunki's face?

Can We Get Revenge on Him, Too?

Maru goes home because the police don't have any reason to convict him (he had returned the money earlier). Choco has been taken to the hospital in his absence because she stayed out in the rain, crying over her oppa leaving. I don't feel sorry for her because she knew what she was doing and risked her health, knowing that walking in the rain would not help Maru. Choco has a victim complex--she uses her illness as a means of controlling her brother, then takes no responsibility for her own health or safety.

Then we have a weird, random action scene where Eunki is out racing on a dirt bike, then her brakes go out and she falls over a cliff, only to be saved by another dirt-bike rider--Maru. Huh? What? Why would either of these super-busy people be racing dirt bikes? Why would the writers choose to end episode 2 here, at a place that seems more like a dream sequence than anything?

What Are You Even Doing Here, Maru?

Things I Loved:

1. Maru. What are we supposed to do with this guy? How much will it take to push him from "unprincipled" to "psychopath"? How much can, or should, we justify when it comes to his getting revenge for the past?

I Just Don't Know.

2. Eunki. She's my homegirl, because although she's cold and hard as a steel screwdriver, she's smart, wily, and has yet to betray anyone. The wrong she has done is negligible compared with Jaehee, plus she's living with a verbally and emotionally (and physically) abusive father.

Stay Strong, Sugar. You Can Win This.

The end of episode 2 makes no sense, logically or chronologically.


Poverty. Maru is from a low rent slum, and Jaehee is so desperate to escape from poverty, she is suicidal when she thinks she won't make it out. Lack of money floats in the air above the characters' heads, even after they get money.

God's Mercy/Lack of Mercy. Jaehee wonders why God allowed her to live and to hope, only to drag her down again after the murder. Later, Jaegil says this same thing about Maru--why is God so unfair to Maru? Everything seems stacked against him.

Watch Nice Guy on Dramafever.

Episode Evaluations:

Despite myself, I am so interested in this story. Sweet Maru and the foolish choices he made to help his beloved noona are very compelling. And then to see Jaehee-noona as a serial betrayer whose soft heart only makes her cruelty seem all the more vile? Well, that's worth examining a bit.

And I just flat-out love Eunki. She's hardcore flawed, but she's a genius and a hard worker, and I like her fire and determination. Jaehee seems like a weakling who has to lean on others and trick her way into power, but Eunki's got a spine. I'd share espresso with her any day.

So long as our leads have a few redeeming qualities, I'm going to stick by Nice Guy and see where it leads.


  1. I think I'm going to have fun reading your reviews for this series! What a soap opera!!!

    Dirt bike racing??? That makes no sense. I love it :-)

    1. Yay, I'm glad we'll be "sharing" this series! It's nuts, but it's /smart/ nuts, unlike To The Beautiful You...though that was pretty cute.

      Dirt bikes for the win!

  2. I'm so glad you decided to watch watch this!! As a fan of the variety show Running Man I was looking forward to joong ki and kwang su's drama together so I've been watching from the beginning :) it's been really good every episode it feels like I don't know what to expect because the characters are so interesting and joong ki's acting has been awesome. Hope you like it too. :)

    1. I'm glad I started, too! This show is so vibrant and edge-of-your seat, it's got me invested already, and i'm so glad to hear it only gets more awesome. :-)