Man Who Dies to Live: Episodes 1-2

Yaaas! This lighthearted wackiness is exactly what I needed in my life. Man Who Dies to Live kicked off with a strong start, full of creative characters and relatable struggles. I can’t describe how much I’m already in love with Choi Min-soo’s over-the-top portrayal of an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. Although his quest to find his daughter may be driven largely by selfishness now, I can already see the seeds set in place for the heartfelt connections to come.

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

The story starts off with a tale of a brave man who found himself in a strange land. He began chanting a spell, and was awarded a divine gift. From his hand pointing east, black water (oil) sprang up, and from his hand pointing west, the tears of god (water) arose from the lands.

The narrator trails off to say this man’s name, and the illustration turns into SAYID FAAD ALI (Choi Min-soo) who’s hard at work carving an ice sculpture in a beautifully lit ice cave. As penguins walk around randomly, he introduces his location as the special glacier storage he had imported from the Alps. 

As he leaves the ice container, he throws off his winter coat to a servant who fumbles to catch it while telling his master that lunch is served. He struts through his palatial estate that consist of a luxurious manse and expansive pool, as servants bow to him left and right. He inspects a fresh catch from the sea to eat for his dinner before heading to lunch, where he’s seated at a long table with a gourmet preparation of dishes in front of him, below a ginormous portrait of himself.

In a monologue, he begins introducing himself, and breaks the fourth wall to ask the audience whether they are surprised to learn he’s actually a Korean man. The on-screen subtitles begin spelling out his Korean name, but he quickly puts a stop to that, announcing, “Where you’re from doesn’t matter. Being Korean is nothing to be proud of anyway.” (But for the purposes of recapping, we will call him by his Korean name, JANG DAL-GU.)

Suddenly, his secretary, ABDALLAH (Cho Tae-gwan), brings him an urgent message that the royal guards are here for him. Looking mildly amused and annoyed at the same time, Dal-gu asks him if it’s serious this time.

It appears to be so, and thus, Dal-gu jumps into his sleek electric blue sports car to evade the authorities. A call rings on his bluetooth telling him that his private jet is ready for departure to Paris, and he’s gleeful that he’s almost made his escape from the royal guards, who are here on orders of the king to make him marry the princess.

Three police vans chase him along the dusty road, but when confronted with a blinding sandstorm (in what looks like a deliberate Mad Max: Fury Road tribute), they come to a halt. However, Dal-gu just lets out an excited “Yee-haw!” and races into the heart of the sandstorm. He speeds his way through the sand and emerges on the other side victorious, but unfortunately, there’s a group of guards on the other side waiting for him as well.

Not missing a beat, he just shrugs his shoulders and gets out of the car, making karate moves once he’s out. Guards escort him to the palace, where he’s rebuked by the king for putting off marriage for so long. The king commands Dal-gu to marry the princess, but Dal-gu just says that though he’s sorry to the princess, he must insist on a life of celibacy.

He pulls on the king’s emotions by recalling memories of their shared history together, where he saved the king from potential assassination in an act of bravery by singlehandedly incapacitating the king’s captors. (For that, he was awarded his nobility title as count.) Dal-gu continues by informing his sovereign that he’s sorry, but he cannot marry the princess because he’s not worthy of her.

Dal-gu reveals the existence of a daughter he had thirty-five years ago, and cites his neglect of her as a cause for why he would be a terrible husband for the princess. He even shows them mail from Korea as proof, but the others in the king’s council are reluctant to believe him, shouting that this time, they won’t be fooled by Dal-gu again.

But the king finally acquiesces and gives him an ultimatum: Before the month is up, Dal-gu must find his daughter as proof that he’s not lying or marry the princess. Otherwise, the government will seize all of his assets and properties.

On their way out of the palace, Dal-gu fumes to Abdallah, saying that the king just wants to take all of his hard-earned wealth. He’s also in denial about being a father—apparently, the news that he even had a daughter reached him belatedly because the mail that was forwarded to him was thirty-five years old, having been tied up in storage during the renovation process of the central post office.

However, the silver lining is that this purported daughter has given him one month’s reprieve from the king’s demands for him to marry the princess. He orders Abdallah to find his daughter—wherever she is in the world—and soon, we see them on the plane on their way to Seoul.

From Abdallah, Dal-gu gets the report that his daughter is currently thirty-five years old, and he’s agog at the age, especially after having flirted with a younger flight attendant. He finally learns that his daughter’s name is Lee Ji-young, and when he finds out she’s married, he already goes into father-mode and asks, “To what bastard?”

The screen switches to KANG HO-RIM (Shin Sung-rok), who tries to sell life insurance to his detective friend. His friend asks why he’s selling insurance when he’s a bank teller, and Ho-rim replies that it’s a side job, and that he’d even sell his dignity if he could.

In a park afterward, Ho-rim gets a call from someone nicknamed “Pig-nosed manager.” He doesn’t pick up, but the “Pig-nosed manager” is actually in the park and has seen Ho-rim purposefully avoid his call. As a result, he’s severely rebuked when he comes back to the office.

His boss, the “Pig-nosed manager,” pulls him into a headlock, asking how Ho-rim can even dare to ask for vacation leave when he’s scored the lowest performance reviews amongst the branches. Turns out that they’re old high school frenemies, but now, Ho-rim works under him.

As soon as he leaves his boss’s office, Ho-rim pulls out a drawer full of resignation letters and complains behind his boss’s back, saying that he is a coward who only was promoted due to his wife’s family. But when the manager comes out, Ho-rim can’t say a word to his face, and instead of handing in one of his many resignation letters, he pretends to have lost a pen.

Other coworkers think that their manager is not a man at all, because he so easily bows to his in-laws. They think that they wouldn’t be able to live such a suffocating lifestyle, but Ho-rim has a different opinion: a wife’s family has to be rich. He complains about his own wife, who comes from a poor family and has made him take vacation leave, despite his protests.

At the airport the next day, we see our first glimpse of Ho-rim’s wife, LEE JI-YOUNG (Kang Ye-won), who’s excited for her first trip abroad. She says that she couldn’t travel during their honeymoon (due to her wedlock pregnancy), so she’s absolutely overflowing with excitement at this first family trip, while Ho-rim grudgingly trudges around.

Her affection for her husband is clear when she naughtily slaps Ho-rim and suggests that the next time they come on a family trip, she expects it will be a four-person family instead of just three.

They’re at the airport at the the same time as Dal-gu, who battles a throng of screaming fans at his arrival. He is about to scold Abdallah for letting the press know of his trip to Korea, but the crowd passes him without a glance and reaches for the sparkling pretty boys behind him.

Looking disgruntled, Dal-gu asks whether the boys achieved something as great as an olympic medal, but with a straight face, Abdallah informs him of the existence of idols while going through the motions of TWICE’s “Signal” dance, HA. Dal-gu lets out a tut of disapproval, and wonders what Jo Yong-pil (a famous old singer) is up to.

On the other side of the airport, Ji-young’s family trip has been canceled according to the travel guide, who says that the Cebu airport has been destroyed due to a typhoon. Ji-young is completely taken aback and starts trying to reason with the man while Ho-rim smugly smiles behind her back, satisfied that things have worked out according to his wishes.

She begins saying that she must go on this trip, listing out how hard it was for her to arrange her time just to be able to go. But when the guide proves how unreasonable he is (calling her “ajumma” on top of everything), she starts an actual fight with him, which Dal-gu witnesses disdainfully.

Ho-rim slips away and watches from afar while shaking his head at the impromptu protest his wife has started against the travel agency. He receives a call from a second LEE JI-YOUNG (Lee So-yeon), which he receives with a grin on his face.

When she (to help us tell the two Ji-young’s apart, we’ll call her Manager Ji-young) asks where he is, Ho-rim lies that he’s at an airport about to board a flight for a business trip. When she says she’s also at the airport for a business trip, he suddenly panics, especially after seeing his wife hailing him from behind.

Once they realize they’re actually at different airports, Manager Ji-young asks Ho-rim to go on a vacation with her. Playing hard-to-get, he pretends he might have something on his schedule that might conflict with the vacation, but she doesn’t take the bait. Instead, she says that it’s fine and that he probably should get back to his wife anyway. Then, she hangs up the phone coolly, while Ho-rim tries desperately to call her back and arrange for them to meet.

From the next bench over, Dal-gu has overheard Ho-rim’s entire phone conversation and realizes that Ho-rim’s currently having an extramarital affair. But instead of rebuking him for his immorality, he says that ti’s understandable for a man to have a woman on the side that provides him comfort. (I wonder how he’ll feel once he realizes that his daughter is the woman being cheated on. LOL.) As Dal-gu enters the taxi, Ho-rim is called from behind by his wife.

Later, Abdallah and Dal-gu have drinks at an upscale restaurant together. After a long time away from home, Dal-gu savors his Korean banana milk as if it were an incredibly fine glass of wine. He spots a little girl jumping around by herself, and wonders if his daughter Ji-young might have been similarly precocious when she was younger. Dal-gu gets permission from the little girl’s guardian to dance with the youngster, while she stands adorably on his feet.

Abdallah steps outside to arrange for servants to attend to Dal-gu, but in the blink of an eye, Dal-gu’s dance partner has changed from the little girl to her guardian, the girl’s aunt. They tango together in a riveting dance that ends as Dal-gu drops her in a dramatic head-tilt and tells her, “Look at me.”

EPISODE 2 RECAP

Ji-young, Ho-rim, and their daughter are caught by Ji-young’s mother-in-law as they try to sneak back home after their failed vacation. Turns out that Ji-young had lied to her in-laws that she was going to the country to do some farming.

Her sister-in-law looks through their luggage, finds a passport and swimming suit, and catches her in her lie. Her mother-in-law clucks reproachfully and says that she doesn’t mind that Ji-young went on an international trip without them—it’s the attitude and her lying that’s the problem.

In their home, Ho-rim sings a lullaby to his daughter KANG EUN-BI (Ko Bi-joo) until she falls asleep, but when he enters his bedroom, he finds Ji-young crying in the dark. She’s upset over not being able to go on the trip, and for being rebuked by his mother, even though his mother always goes on trips without them.

At first, he tries to appease her, but it looks like this is an age-old argument with them, and he mumbles under his breath that she should just deal with her own inferiority complexes (of growing up without a father and not being able to go on trips as a child) by herself. Ouch.

She yells at him and tells him that those are her childhood scars, not complexes. She stomps out and goes to the bathroom to cry, but her daughter sleepily arrives and interrupts the crying session because she has to pee. At least she cheers up her mother by telling her that she proudly told her teachers that her mother was a writer, and she asks whether her mom will be writing tonight. Ji-young glances at her stacks of books and remembers all the plans that she had made for when she finally made her big break as a writer.

The scene briefly switches back to Dal-gu dancing with the little girl again as Ji-young thinks of her lost childhood. Then, it’s back to Ji-young and Eun-bi huddled under the covers, talking about bedtime stories. Ji-young tells Eun-bi not to read the fairytales that have the princesses always being rescued by the princes, because those men are usually players. Ha.

Eun-bi asks if her father was like a prince to Ji-young in the past, and Ji-young scoffs at first. But she does say that a long time ago, Ho-rim was the world to her, and she tried hard to gain his attention. She tells her daughter that if she wants a boy, she should work hard for it.

The next day, Ji-young goes to her part-time job, working for her friend WANG MI-RAN (Bae Hye-sun), at an oriental medicine clinic, sorting herbs and making nutrient packets. Her friend is amazed at her superhuman efficiency, but when Ji-young asks for a raise, her friend guilt-trips her by saying that she’s helped so much with Ji-young’s health that Ji-young should be working for free.

Then, Mi-ran asks whether the announcement for the writing contest has been made, adding that she has hope that Ji-young could become a winner. Ji-young tells her she doesn’t know yet, and that she doesn’t want to find out until things are officially announced.

At his job, Ho-rim awaits Manager Ji-young’s call, counting out candies the way you would flower petals: “Yes, she will call. No, she won’t. Yes, she will.” Then he gets the juiciest gossip about their manger from his coworkers: Their manager’s mother-in-law came the day before (when Ho-rim was on his family trip) and grabbed his toupee off because she had discovered that he was cheating on his wife.

In a work massage chair, Ho-rim laughs at his past classmate’s dilemma (despite ironically being in a similar extramarital situation himself) when he finally gets a call from Manager Ji-young, and that makes him light up. Although his coworkers suspect he’s also having an affair, he shushes them into silence.

Abdallah rides his motorcycle to a grungy PI agency, headed by MANAGER HAN (Kim Byung-ok). Manager Han starts talking business about his discoveries regarding Dal-gu’s daughter, but his female employee keeps interrupting by hitting on the handsome Abdallah. When he can’t stand it anymore, Manager Han yells at his employee, who’s revealed to be his daughter.

Finally able to talk business, Manager Han shows Abdullah that he has two USBs: one with Dal-gu’s daughter, Ji-young, and one with evidence that Ji-young’s husband is cheating on her. Abdallah is confused because he thought that marriages in Korea were monogamous, and the manager begins explaining that that same monogamy is the reason for the prosperous culture of extramarital affairs in South Korea. He wants to sell both USBs of information, but Abdallah doesn’t budge and rides off into the distance with only one USB.

Ji-young’s mother-in-law barges into her workplace, bringing all of her friends with her. Her friend has a huge amber ring on her hand, given by her daughter-in-law, and despite Ji-young’s attempts to be a dutiful daughter-in-law, they backtalk her when she leave the room. Unfortunately for Ji-young, she’s able to hear every insult through the door.

Abdallah presents Dal-gu with a picture of his son-in-law, Ho-rim, whom Dal-gu deems to be normal. But when he flips to a picture of his daughter, it’s actually a picture of Manager Ji-young, not the Ji-young who’s actually married to Ho-rim. (Abdallah must have grabbed the wrong USB from Manager Han.)

Dal-gu’s surprised and astounded at first, but then he says that of course it’s expected that such a paragon of stylish womanhood is his daughter. Taken aback by her beauty, there’s a brief and very weird moment where he wonders aloud if she’s already married.

Back at the oriental medicine clinic, Ji-young bids her mother-in-law goodbye with a glum expression, while her husband is in a nearby flower shop getting ready for his date with Manager Ji-young. Both Ji-young and Manager Ji-young end up sitting on benches alongside each other, sneakily sizing each other up (though neither knows the other’s identity.)

Meanwhile, Dal-gu almost jumps from his taxi to greet his daughter (who he believes to be Manager Ji-young), but Abdallah barely persuades him not to, saying that it might shock his daughter, who’s probably resented Dal-gu for leaving her and her mother. After much persuasion, Dal-gu eventually agrees to instead approach the closest person to Ji-young: her husband, Ho-rim.

Ho-rim steps out of the flower shop and realizes that his wife is right next to his girlfriend, so he can’t approach either. Manager Ji-young leaves after five minutes of waiting, and Ho-rim surprises her with the flowers, running out from just around the corner. She’s upset, but is appeased when he mentions that there’s an expensive dinner reservation waiting for them.

Meanwhile, Dal-gu relaxes by the poolside, being massaged by his many attendants while Abdallah plays guitar and sings to him in the background. In contrast, his daughter is hard at work in a much humbler setting as she prepares a special dinner for her family.

Manager Ji-young and Ho-rim enjoy a high-class steak dinner and go shopping, but they’re captured on camera by an unknown photographer. But for every attempt she makes to choose an item for purchase, he steps in and prevents her from getting anything expensive, knowing that he would be unable to purchase it for her.

As the night wears on, Ji-young gives up after hours of waiting for her husband to come home for dinner.

The next day, Ho-rim yells at Ji-young for not waking him up on time for work, and she passive-aggressively tells him that he wouldn’t wake up despite her attempts. He clenches his hand in a fist in warning, but she casually points out that he forgot to put on his pants, HA.

As a result, he’s late to work and is rebuked by his manager, who makes it abundantly clear that Ho-rim is the worst employee they have.

At her part-time job, Ji-young tells her friend that she dreamt of her father last night. She adds that if she ever does meet him, she wants to find out what type of person he is, and then kill him for abandoning her and her mother.

Dal-gu is dressed by his attendants in a fine three-piece suit and cane before being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to Ho-rim’s bank. The manager is almost at a complete ninety degree bend the entire time he’s taking Dal-gu to his office, having picked up that Dal-gu is insanely rich, lol.

The manager sends for Ho-rim on Dal-gu’s request. At first, Ho-rim thinks he’s being called in to be rebuked again, but he sees Dal-gu instead. Rising, Dal-gu takes Ho-rim’s hand in a firm handshake and draws him in while saying: “Kang Ho-rim, I am your father-in-law.”

 
COMMENTS

Coming into Man Who Dies to Live, I had no idea what to expect—would it be a fantasy drama or more like a family weekender? Having watched the first and second episodes, I can safely say that I don’t care what it is, because I love it. (However, the insensitive portrayal of Muslims was definitely the show’s bad.) Choi Min-soo’s character is unconventional to say the least, and it’s amazing to see him in action, watching him breathe life into such a bizarre and wonderfully unique character. Although he’s still largely a man-child, I can already see smidgens of potential for the well of fatherly love in him, like when he danced with the little girl because he was thinking of Ji-young.

However, he still thinks that recovering this bond with his daughter will be a piece of cake, and perhaps after years of living with no hardships and an endless font of material wealth, the concept of emotional hardship has become foreign to him. Perhaps the luxury has compensated for the loneliness he must feel. In nearly all of his scenes, his only close acquaintance seems to be his secretary, Abdallah, who technically works for him. It doesn’t seem like he has any other friends or family, so I can imagine that when he finds the warmth of becoming a part of Ji-young’s little family, he’ll feel the rush of love that he’s been sorely lacking. So I can’t wait to see his future interactions with Ji-young.

Speaking of whom, I can understand that she’s being portrayed as a typical housewife, one who works hard for her family and has made sacrifices both at home and in her career for them. Obviously, her dreams and commitment to become a writer have been pushed aside by the needs of Ho-rim and Eun-bi, but her husband doesn’t seem to understand her at all. I’m loving Shin Sung-rok’s portrayal of a hapless cheating husband as well. For a while after You From Another Star and Liar Game, I thought that I would always see him as a crazy psychopath, but it’s a testament to his acting talent that now I totally believe his character as a live-in-the-moment simple bank teller/insurance salesman.

Obviously, seeing him cheating on his wife is not the best first impression of him, but I’m hoping that soon he’ll learn the error of his ways and return to his wife with renewed love. Of course, it could go the makjang route, and he could end up being a complete asshole by continuing to side with his selfish mother and sister and insisting on divorcing Ji-young to pursue the other Ji-young. However, for now, I’m reserving judgement on him because he’s such a refreshing break from all of the morally upright heroes in dramaland we’ve had lately. Ho-rim’s schadenfreude when his boss was called in by his mother-in-law was so human—I know I’ve felt that way before in similar situations, so his character is absolutely relatable.

But my heart did tug when I saw Ji-young waiting for him to come home while he was happily munching away and having the time of his life with Manager Ji-young. She is turning out to be the exact definition of a typical second lead, and I can already see how she’ll be one of the greatest hurdles that Ji-young will have to overcome to protect her family. But for now at least, I’m enjoying the setup of her ordinary life in contrast to Dal-gu’s absurd, extravagant existence.

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