Is it weird that I think I’ll have nightmares after watching episode 11 of “Pride and Prejudice”?
An actor hits a certain age when he stops playing the dashing, idealistic hero and starts getting even better roles: diabolical old men determined to destroy the dashing, idealistic hero. Choi Min-Soo became a K-drama star twenty years ago as an idealistic young hero (well, idealistic for a gangster) in the ground-breaking 1995 series “Sandglass” (or “Hourglass”). Now, as the cynical Chief Moon in “Pride and Prejudice,” I find him increasingly terrifying. The only way Moon Hee-Man could be scarier would be if he were a vampire. And given that he appears never to leave the office in daylight, that’s already a possibility.
Choi Min-Soo’s experience as an actor shows: for ten episodes, he’s had me believing that Moon Hee-Man was a mixture of good and bad. A jerk, maybe a buffoon, but not an evil genius. A bad guy with a heart, or at least a little hope for redemption.
1. Covering up something bigger than manslaughter. As of episode 10, it appears Jang Chang-Gi accidentally killed Kang Soo’s mother in a traffic accident in 1999. Moon Hee-Man covered it up as a hit-and-run. Moon didn’t protect Jang Chang-Gi out of affection, however. More likely, the accident interrupted Moon Hee-Man and Jang Chang-Gi in the middle of something crooked. Reporting the accident properly would expose their activities and incriminate them in something worse than accidental manslaughter.
2. Getting Ku Dong-Chi kicked out. The first scene of episode 11 picks up with the shock of hearing Director Cha announce Dong-Chi’s transfer. Getting rid of an outspoken employee is a common, everyday bit of evil. But anyone who has worked for a living knows the feeling of disoriented horror when the bosses suddenly reorganize everything and everyone. I relived every “restructuring” of my life during this scene. And I can’t bear the thought of Dong-Chi, Yeol-Moo and Kang Soo alone without each other!
A transfer is better than getting fired. But the fact of the transfer itself reminds us that the characters depend on Chief Moon and Director Cha. Chief Moon makes the point clear with his callousness about the news. (Note: I thought he had asked Director Cha for the transfer. But it appears he went above her head, maybe to Board Game Guy. Or maybe Board Game Guy came up with the idea first.) And this particular transfer will prevent Dong-Chi from pursuing Song Ah-Reum’s information and allow a few very bad people to continue attacking women.
3. General Prince of Darkness abuse of power. We already know Chief Moon is scary. (Remember the drinking contest at the end of episode 3?) He’s in full Darth Vader mode in episode 11.
In the opening scene, he dismisses the team’s work with pointed understatement: “Anyway, I enjoyed your case briefing, Prosecutor Koo. Go pack your bags.”
He then agrees Dong-Chi can keep working on the case till he leaves in a few days, but even the Chief’s agreement sounds like a threat.
“Do whatever you want,” he says as he swaggers out of the room, implying Chief Moon has washed his hands of the matter. Dong-Chi and his team will have to face the consequences of the investigation on their own.
But in his usual unpredictable way, he later interrupts the interrogation of plastic surgeon Joo Yoon-Jang with theatrical craziness. He’s at his most Count Dracula here, a bit wild-eyed, with his large overcoat flapping behind him. He signs the arrest warrant for Joo Yoon-Jang, saying he bets his job as Chief that the courts will approve. He confuses his meaning with complicated wording, but his relish is clear.
“I bet 500 won the courts will let this slide,” he says. 500 won equals 50 cents U.S., which won’t even buy you a candy bar these days. In other words, he’s not betting much. He thinks Joo Yoon-Jang is going down.
Joo Yoon-Jang should face justice. He’s the procurer for a sordid sex trafficking ring that drugs and rapes women—and he dials the creepiness level up to eleven when he claims they engaged in “consensual” acts. But Chief Moon’s cold smile and speechifying don’t reassure me that victims like Song Ah-Reum will see justice. The scene is all about Chief Moon’s pleasure at showing off his power over Joo Yoon-Jang.
4. Using everyone. Moon suggests Kang Soo work as his investigator now. He actually invites him to get lunch sometime along with Jang Chang-Gi. I can imagine so many ways for him to twist and use the naive Kang Soo that just seeing him talk to the young man scares me.
By the latter half of the episode, it appears Moon is also continuing to make use of Dong-Chi. Chief Moon wants to weaken Joo Yoon-Jang and Kim Tae-Hak but he doesn’t want Dong-Chi to go after the other men involved: powerful figures Park Min-Geun or Sung Moo-Young. (I had to check my reference chart—now revised for new developments—to figure this out. This show really likes to rush the exposition. And we even had more than usual this episode.) All four men appear in Song Ah-Reum’s smuggled video footage of the sex ring, so Moon has to play a careful game to keep Dong-Chi focused on just two of the men involved.
The game’s succeeding. With Dong-Chi’s transfer in four days, the young prosecutor only has time to catch Joo Yoon-Jang for crimes smaller than rape and sex trafficking. Thus the sex tape won’t come to light and incriminate Sung Moo-Young, who is Chief Moon’s boss at the Prosecutors’ Office. It also protects Moon from anyone learning about his own past misdeeds, which in some mysterious way connect to the current case.
Chief Moon might defend himself by saying he isn’t as evil as the other guys. Sung Moo-Young is the high official in charge of the Prosecutors’ Office—and if we believe Song Ah-Reum, he’s a rapist. As is Joo Yoon-Jang, the owner of the plastic surgery clinic. And let’s not forget crimes worse than rape. Someone—perhaps Oh Taec-Yoon or his “office manager,” a.k.a. the Broker—gave Jae-Shik the go-ahead to kill Koo Dong-Chi in episode 10. And Jae-Shik and Song Ah-Reum don’t look too healthy when they hurtle out of a window and fall to the street below near the end of the episode.
“Pride and Prejudice” sketches a bleak picture of the higher-ups. (By the way, my subtitles call them “the higher powers,” which sounds religious to American ears—we’d say “higher-ups” around here.) As terrifying as I find Chief Moon, one of the creepy things about this series is that Moon’s the lesser of many evils. At least he’s not a rapist—as far as we know so far.
But I’ve stopped thinking that Chief Moon will be redeemed by the end of the series. At this point, I’m just hoping he won’t start biting people on the neck and drinking their blood.
The creepiness was intensified partly by a pure coincidence: the fictional Prosecutors’ discovery of the sex ring comes at the same time as the real-world news stories about the crimes of American actor Bill Cosby, which remained hidden for decades. One former prosecutor said his office decided not to prosecute Cosby for an alleged rape in the early eighties, despite good evidence. Whatever the truth (an unpleasant truth from what journalists have found so far), it’s an uncomfortable fact that law enforcement everywhere occasionally turns a blind eye to crime, especially when the accused can afford good lawyers. Usually I watch K-dramas with the feeling that everything is happening far away, but this feels close to home. I don’t like rape.
The other thing that made this episode creepy is how it keeps reminding us of the victims of crime. Song Ah-Reum is a relatively minor character, but she has made brief appearances in most episodes. (She first appeared as one of the drug dealers in episode 2.) When she tells her story about the sex ring, she’s quiet and sympathetic. By the time she’s badly injured at the end of episode 11, she’s a familiar face and one of the few people helping Dong-Chi and Yeol-Moo find the truth. She’s not an anonymous victim—I really want her to escape the bad guys.
Yeol-Moo’s mother is another three-dimensional crime victim, who causes some of the havoc at the end of the episode with her careless despair. She joins Jang Chang-Gi for a drive, then abruptly gets out and refuses to go any further. When Jang Chang-Gi rejoins her a bit later, she’s walking mid-highway in the dark, as if she’s trying to get hit by a car. The loss of her son is a permanent wound for her. Simply seeing Kang Soo’s old yellow jacket is enough to send her into new waves of grief.
And Yeol-Moo herself, though she looks less fragile now than she did a few episodes ago, is pretty damaged. We see how hard it is for her to convince her mother that Kang Soo isn’t Han Byul. We see how hard it is to keep her mother safe when she’s depressed. And we learn that as a child, Yeol-Moo often took care of Han Byul because their parents were at work. She has a lot of weight on her shoulders.
After refusing a couple times to tell Dong-Chi that she cares for him, she finally tells him why: she doesn’t think she should—or can—be happy, because she was responsible for Han Byul’s death.
“It’s not that I won’t answer you, it’s that I can’t,” she says. It’s a sad variation on a confession of love, because she has no intention of allowing herself to fall in love. It’s also believable. Her survivor’s guilt makes sense, especially for an eldest daughter. Yeol-Moo also feels responsible for causing her mother’s fragile mental health, and for keeping her safe during her “erratic” moods. Yeol-Moo has a lot on her mind besides cute boys.
I don’t want Yeol-Moo to stay in the prison she’s made for herself. But I’m glad to see the writer and director keeping the relationship between Dong-Chi and Yeol-Moo in the realm of the emotionally nuanced. Glad to see, also, that Dong-Chi listens to her and absorbs what she said.
Earlier, before Yeol-Moo’s answer to him, Dong-Chi pushes his luck to the very edge in the break room—and Yeol-Moo again shows her talent for sheer indifference. She doesn’t appear annoyed that he wants to get close—just resolutely uninterested. But when he leaves a moment later, she locks the door behind him. It strikes me that she doesn’t distrust him so much as she wants to keep him at a distance. When she explains that she doesn’t think she should be happy, her conflicted behavior finally makes sense.
“I’ll go get my handcuffs,” the young woman says with a glance at Prosecutor Lee. Let’s not dwell on what Prosecutor Lee thinks when he hears those words. But it’s clear that the hapless Lee is going to have to help Dong-Chi in order to stay on Gwang-Mi’s good side. Perhaps we’ll see him forced to display competence one of these days.
On the whole, however, this episode is like “Pride and Prejudice: The Empire Strikes Back.” Only at the very end does a little bit of hope arrive. The devious Oh Taec-Yoon—having failed to get Chief Moon on his side—sends Dong-Chi a valuable clue about the 1999 hit-and-run. The last sixty seconds of the episode present a fantastic series of cross-cuts. In one office, Dong-Chi is finding the information—including a recording of Moon Hee-Man’s distinctive voice making an emergency phone call. In the office down the hall, Chief Moon holds the phone to his ear and listens in growing fear to Oh Taec-Yoon’s fake apology for “accidentally” leaving the information on Prosecutor Koo’s desk.
Even though Moon Hee-Man may start episode 12 by running down the hall and attempting to kill Koo Dong-Chi to retrieve the recording, it’s still a thrill to see the chief look worried.
Consider it a little bit of revenge for scaring me this episode, Chief Moon.