7 February 2017 | ewmayer
Enjoyable office comedy/romance/farce with a more serious backdrop
One of my non-mainstream (being neither Asian nor living there) TV pleasures is Korean dramas - I first got hooked on the historic costume dramas (e.g. Jumong and Emperor of the Sea) about 10 years ago, and more recently have also started watching some of the contemporary ones. The local K-TV cable channel recently ran The Queen of Office (sic), a Korean adaptation of the 2007 Japanese drama "Pride of the Temp" in a late-night time slot. It's a funny, enjoyable office comedy/romance/farce, but with a serious tale of the rise of a 2-tier workforce as a backdrop. Here is the title-sequence narration:
"It's been 16 years since the Asian financial crisis. Korea now has 8 million contract workers. South Koreans' foremost dream is no longer national reunification. It is getting a permanent position. While everyone else yearns for a permanent position, there is someone who has consciously opted to be a contract worker. Ms. Kim is Korea's first ever contract worker by choice. Ms. Kim never works for free. She doesn't forge cumbersome interpersonal ties. After her three-month contract period, she always leaves Korea. But no one knows how she's come to call herself "Ms. Kim" and chosen to be a serial contract worker."
First, some comments about the more serious job-market backdrop for the series. In this fictional play, Ms. Kim does the exact opposite of what at-will employment for low pay and zero job-security or prospects of advancement generally results in - she manages to amass the kinds of experience in each 3-month stint which normally requires decades of work at a job and the kind of dedication that results from employer/employee reciprocity, the latter being a near-extinct beast in the modern 'globalized' jobs landscape. But the series does a good job conveying the financial/employment-parlousness suffered by Ms. Kim's less-exceptional fellow contract workers. The popular Naked Capitalism blog, whose motto is "Fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics and power", refers to the ever-increasing number of workers who have seen what were formerly steady jobs with decent benefits replaced by low-paid, at-will, benefit-less contract positions as "the precariat", in reference to the precariousness of their employment and, as a result, their lives in general. We can thank the global neoliberal-economic project for this trend. Is it any wonder that the world is seeing - belatedly, to be sure - a large-scale backlash against this elite-greed-driven system, in the form of things like Brexit and the rise of populist and anti-globalization political figures such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Marine Le Pen in France?
But, back to the merits of the TV series - because of the strong element of farce in the series, viewers expecting any form of plausibility in the relationship between the two lead characters, Ms. Kim (Kim Hye-Su) and the curly-perm-sporting chauvinist Jang Gyujik (Oh Ji-Ho, who many fans of Korean drama will be familiar with by way of his more recent serious turn in the heartrending 2016 family drama My Fair Lady, and whose character name here is a pun on the Korean phrase for "permanent employee"). Nevertheless the writers manage to balance the comedy with a slower-developing long story arc about a deeper hidden connection shared by the two leads. There are also fine performances by the supporting cast, most notably in form of the characters Mr. Mu (Lee Hee-Jun), Gyujik's extremely-reserved longtime colleague and friend at Y Jang Food Company, and Jang Ju-Ri (Jung Yu-Mi), a young female contract worker from a second-tier university hired around the same time as Ms. Kim, but whose situation more realistically depicts the lot of the temp-worker. My personal favorite episode is the one in which Ms. Kim, Gyujik and Mr. Mu are dispatched to appear in a role-playing exercise for the benefit of an audience of young schoolchildren at the nearby Soybean Paste Academy, wherein Mr. Rice Straw has an unfortunate run-in with Ms. Lump of Raw Bean Paste, and hilarity ensues. I rate this show 8/10, more on the strength of its strong physical-comedy aspects than its character relationships and dramatic aspects.