38사기동대 ep 1
I’ve decided to take on recapping 38 Task Force kdrama all for the love of Seo In Guk. Tax collecting, scams, con artists, the low life of high-lifers, the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality, and money grubbing are all themes that leave me cold on their own. But with Seo In Guk, crime takes on a new level of interest and somehow I get the feeling that playing a con artist might come easily for him. You know, that grin of his, it’ll make you believe that he has the authority to sell the London Bridge and you’ll gladly sign up for the sales pitch. So, I’m kind of interested in watching him in action. Seo In Guk is back in kdramaland and his fan base is real happy. I will marathon recap to catch up – look forward to it!
There’s a disagreement between Baek Sung Il and his friend and co-worker, Min Sik. Whatever the issue is, Min Sik is in trouble and wants Sung Il to help him out. Clearly it’s beyond the law-abiding ways that things are usually handled, and Sung Il is hesitant. He tells Min Sik not to run away and to hang in there. After all, they need their pensions. By the time Sung Il realizes something is wrong, Min Sik is slouched over in a locked car that is filled with fumes. Sung Il bashes in the window with his fist calling out, “Min Sik! Min Sik! Wake up!” Somehow, there’s got to be more how and what to this story.
Six years later: Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat: the thankless cycle of public officials. More specifically, the life of our middle-aged Baek Sung Il, chief tax collector of Division 3 in Seowon District. The lackluster government office is bustling with mind numbing phone calls and paper shuffling. Sung Il has blocked it all out as he listens with ear buds to an English lesson and circles the answers in his workbook. Co-worker Sung Hee calls out, “Chief!” and finally gets his attention. They have to make a personal call on someone for back taxes. As he and his team head out we read the even more lackluster office motto posted on the wall: Chase until the end and collect it all. That’s motivational?
Field work includes showing up unannounced in hopes of catching an offender – usually a rich business owner whose shameless tax evasion has become an irritating mockery to the system. Needless to say, tax collectors get no respect, and the day-to-day contempt they encounter proves that. It is, in a word, tiring.
One night Sung Il gets home late and can only sigh when he finds his wife asleep on the couch with the TV still on and the bills piled high on the coffee table. It’s hard to tell if Sung Il feels defeated or is simply resigned to a government job with a pension.
Next day, his supervisor, Commissioner Ahn, crunches the staggering taxes in arrears numbers and ups the pressure on Sung Il to bring in more money in his division. Back at his desk, he asks Sung Hee who the biggest offender in their jurisdiction is. She names Ma Jin Seok who owes millions of dollars and is on the national blacklist. Everyone knows the name and how he has evaded paying taxes for years. Sung Il decides they will pay him a visit today. On the way out a co-worker quietly asks Sung Il if he can loan him $5000; he’s been scammed and is worried that his wife will kill him. In fact, he is one of several in the office who have recently been scammed. Sung Il asks how he could have been scammed in the first place; he’s annoyed that his co-worker got himself into such a situation. In the van on the way to bust Ma Jin Seok, the team makes fun of those in the office who got scammed. But Sung Hee comments, “It’s worth being conned once. It teaches you where your place is.” They wonder what she means by that.
Tax offender Ma Jin Seok has clearly been informed by an insider in City Hall that the collectors are on their way. He calls his wife and tells her to hide everything valuable. When Sung Il and his team arrive, they are met by bodyguards.
Blocked by the bodyguards, Sung Il tells them it is an obstruction of justice and they scuffle to get through. Meanwhile, Wife Ma and her housekeeper hide everything valuable under the sofa cushions, in the toilet tank, under the mattresses, etc. Sung Hee breaks through the guards, heads up to the penthouse, and knocks at the door announcing that she is from City Hall. The plan is to seize whatever they can find and put it up for auction. Wife Ma plays dumb and by the time the others show up to conduct a house search they go straight for the sofa, toilet tank, mattresses – typical unimaginative stash places – and seize the loot. Seems like the tax team has it all wrapped up when in walks Ma Jin Seok and tells them to stop; it’s now after sunset and apparently it is illegal to conduct a search at this hour. (Hmm, I’ll have to look into that; has anyone ever heard of such a law?)
It is an embarrassing scene as Jin Seok mocks the housekeeper and the public servants, throwing money around in an ugly display of wealthy privilege. “Money dominates the law. The law is for the rich,” he arrogantly taunts. Sung Il wields all the authority he has, which isn’t much, and ends up punching Ma Jin Seok for being such a jerk. Although it is done in righteous indignation, it’s not the smartest thing to do. He is reprimanded by Commissioner Ahn and higher ups and must go before the Disciplinary Committee.
With the air knocked out of him, Sung Il sits at his desk. It’s late; he takes a stiff drink from a paper cup. Sung Hee tries to cheer him up, telling him that the rest of the team will take some of the blame and maybe the Disciplinary Committee will go easy on him.
Sung Il picks up his daughter, Ji Eun, and they walk home together. She confides in him that school is hard and even though she studies and has cut down on her sleep, her grades are the same. He tells her that she is like him; even though he works hard his division is last and his pay stays the same. There are too many geniuses, he tells her; no matter what you do, you just can’t beat them. Just then, a car hits a puddle and soaks Sung Il’s daughter. The window rolls down and a classmate asks if she’s okay. Who should step out from the driver’s side but Ma Jin Seok who asks, “Don’t you have a car?” He pulls out a wad of bills to cover the dry cleaning. When Sung Il won’t let his daughter take the money Jin Seok says, “Let’s call it even. Your punch for my cash. Okay?” Adding insult to injury he calls out, “Get a car so your tired daughter doesn’t have to walk in the rain. It doesn’t have to be like mine, anything with four wheels will do.” Hitting below the belt appears to be Ma Jin Seok’s specialty.
Still, Sung Il is bothered. He can’t sleep and goes to the computer to look up used cars. He checks his account balance: $5008.20. He sends an inquiry on a used car. The next morning he gets a call and, as luck would have it, the owner is willing to give him a deal on the car for $5000. Sounding a little too desperate Sung Il wonders why the discount is so big but can’t let it go and asks around the office if it’s a good deal. He calls back and asks to see the car and the owner tells him that a friend will show it to him. Sung Il locates the car at the lot, gets in, asks a few questions, and calls the owner back. Sung Il is uncharacteristically careless, but he wants the car so badly and hasn’t mentioned it to his wife that he lets the owner smooth talk him. Sung Il agrees to buy the car without ever meeting the owner or getting the papers in hand, and wires him the money.
When he calls the owner back to verify the transaction, the number is not in service. Huh? !@!Boing!@! He runs to the lot just in time to see the “friend,” who denies everything, drive off. Sung Il’s phone rings – it’s the fake car owner who coolly withdraws the wired $5000 and tells him, “What a loser. You should’ve checked who you’re dealing with. Aren’t you old enough to know better? Next time go through a dealer.” He thanks him for the pocket money and hangs up.
The money he saved for his daughter is gone. *!Poof!* Scammed. Bad.
Hello Seo In Guk! We’ve just met our con artist of the highest caliber, Yang Jung Do. At least in the Seowon district. Handsome in shades and carrying a messenger bag, Jung Do is happy to be in the sunshine.
Flashback: Jung Do tosses a baseball in the slammer. We hear Jung Do’s thoughts in a voice over: After the 1997 financial crisis Koreans got a whole new mindset. Money comes first. Koreans will do anything for money. Money is their religion, parents, friends. Name brands, Mercedes-Benz means you’re a hotshot. He bids a casual farewell to his prison buds, puts on his civilian clothes, and leaves through the prison gate. Now I’m in my 30s and all I do is con people. Every single human being wants the same thing. Money. At the expense of everything else. Once on the outside, the “chairman” has arranged for a car to be waiting for him. People judge others based on money. They should look in the inside. Focus on the EQ not the IQ….” So we get to know a little bit about our lead character’s character.
He wastes no time getting to business making calls to con people by appealing to their basest instinct for money any way, any how. Before he got out of prison, he was given a book of names and phone numbers. It seems the “chairman” is in prison and wants to teach some ingrates a lesson. You know, small timers who think they got away with something at the expense of the chairman and his boys. With that assignment and the book in hand, Jung Do begins making calls to the offenders posing as “banker,” loan shark,” and “investment dealer.” Without missing a beat, smooth talker Jung Do offers deals that are too good to be true, playing on the desperation and greed of those on the list. Burner phones, deposit numbers, credit cards, luxury items, withdrawals ~ before you know it, Jung Do has conned several people on the list out of thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes like it’s a part-time hobby of his. Eye candy in action – thank you!
Jung Do feels like he’s earned his day’s pay and happily hangs out at the club. He gives a friendly wave to a woman who comes over and slaps his face – no doubt he deserves it – but there’s more to that story.
Remember when, a few hour earlier, Baek Sung Il and his daughter were walking home? There was more taking place than we were initially privy to. The woman at the club is Jung Do’s partner in crime, Jo Mi Joo. Unsuspecting Sung Il became the victim of a car scam that Jung Do set up. After all, Sung Il’s name was next on the list (does that have something to do with the opening scene six years earlier?) Jung Do explains the triangle scam to Jo Mi Joo (and us) like this: He (Jung Do) finds a car for sale by owner online as well as the information of an interested buyer who has already responded to the seller. He calls the seller pretending to be the buyer. Then he calls the interested buyer and pretends to be the seller. In doing so, he sets up their meeting and they operate on false information that benefits Jung Do behind the scenes. In the end, the money is supposedly wired to the seller when in reality it is Jung Do’s account that it goes to. The real seller never receives the money and the buyer is out of pocket, in this case, $5000. Scam completed.
Poor Sung Il is left with only the $14.50 that Jung Do returned to him for taxi fare. He’s been burned badly.
So, why does Jung Do hang around to ask Sung Il for a cigarette light? Stay tuned!
- We’re introduced to characters and a plot at a fairly high speed, which is good and gets us by the slow spots in the office. Seo In Guk’s appearance on screen makes the initial boring government office setting acceptable. I have big hopes that the story moves from the office to a much bigger scope with lots of action. Being conned by In Guk wouldn’t be a bad thing in the least in my book.
- I like teddy bear Sung Il. Who can blame him for his foot–dragging pace through a life that, let’s face it, for the last eight years has been as boring and dry as Melba toast and as thankless as every other mid-level government desk job. The joy and motivation have been beat out of him by the “geniuses’ he figures, and this is all he gets for the stick-and-carrot pension.
- The system fails to back Sung Il (again) and as an employee he is feeling stuck, even betrayed, with little hope of moving up or anywhere, for that matter. During a heart-to-heart talk with his daughter he is humiliated by the very source of his woes – the biggest tax offender, Ma Jin Seok. He flaunts his money and power and belittles Sung Il’s lack of clout. Worst of all, he blames him in front of his daughter for making her walk in the rain because he doesn’t even have a car. L for Loser is across his forehead and he hates it. What’s so bad about using the money they’ve saved for their daughter’s education on a car? After all, isn’t it for her not to have to walk in the rain from school? One thing leads to another and poor Sung Il becomes a victim of a minor car scam, caught in the middle of the very thing he hates most. Except, he too – like everyone – wants more. The lure of a deal that sounds fishy enough to make him ask his co-workers is greater than his own reasoning. He is so understandable and you just want more for him and hate to see him become a sucker to a scammer.
- In Guk is back! Scammer from the hammer and we love it! The ending though, why did Jung Do track down Sung Il after he scammed him? Why didn’t he just move on, like always? And why is Sung Il’s name on the list in the first place? I’m sure the opening scene gives us a clue that something happened back then…
- What did you think of the first episode? Add your comments below!