Cha Tae-Hyun was first offered the lead male role for Chief Kim but he declined. Although he is one of my favorite Korean comedy actors, I am thankful that he made that decision. I think Chief Kim will not be the big success that it is now if it weren’t for Namgoong Min.
Namgoong Min plays Kim Sung Ryong, a Math genius country bumpkin who manages the financial books of shady gangs and small businesses in Gunsan. He works in a shabby office with his cute and perky secretary Oh Gwang Sook.
TQ Group is one of the country’s biggest conglomerates. Estranged couple Park Hyun Do and Jang Yoo Sun leads the company. Their son, Park Myung Suk, is the stereotypical good-for-nothing chaebol. When TQ decides to open its application to anyone who is qualified, Sung Ryong takes the opportunity and gets hired as Chief Kim, the manager to replace Chief Lee as the head of TQ Company’s Business Operations department. This small team (made up of Choo Nam Ho, Yoon Ha Kyung, Lee Jae Joon, Won Ki Ok, Bing Hee Jin, and Sung San Tae) is often looked down upon by the haughty members of the Accounting Department. Their office is located at the stuffy basement maintained by the cleaning ahjumma who (literally) holds the key to the company’s financial secret.
The smart and stern Seo Yool quits his job as a prosecutor and quickly gains a high position in TQ. His presence is a threat to one of TQ’s executives, Jo Min Young. Prosecutor Han Dong Hoon may not be as sharp as Seo Yool but he is determined to investigate and uncover the corruption that is going on behind TQ. To do so, his colleague, investigator Hong Ga Eun, enters the company in the guise of a nerdy intern.
Whenever I summarize a drama plot, I usually write about two to four main leads and some notable major supporting cast. This is one of the rare times that I try to include as many side characters as I can. This just proves how much the drama’s scriptwriter has given enough attention for character development in the show. Chief Kim is surprisingly character-driven despite looking shallow, full of slapstick and sarcasm, on the surface.
On one hand, there’s the exaggerated acting and some parodies; on the other, there is the dark side of corruption and an instigation of murder that sends the former Business Operations Department’s manager into a coma. The drawings at the end of each episode evens out the silly and the serious aspects of the show. The crazy scenes make you appreciate the deep and emotional nuances all the more. It makes me feel like I’m watching a live-action adaptation of a webtoon.
There’s no clear distinction between good and bad. The characters in Chief Kim are all flawed but clearly, their decision in life is what makes the difference.
Numbers don’t lie. People do. As long as I’m honest, there’s nothing as clean-cut as accounting, but it’s not easy to live like that.
– Kim Sung Ryong
Kim Sung Ryong is named after the legendary Jackie Chan but he hasn’t always been on the side of the rightful as he already had quite a few trips in and out of jail. He only dreams of pocketing enough money to fly to Denmark until fate accidentally turns him into a hero and soon he realizes that he can make good decisions and genuinely become Mr. Righteous after all. The effectiveness of rooting for a character like this depends on the performance of its actor and it fits Namgoong Min to a T. He is silly when he is silly but he is scary when he is serious. And damn, he is swoon-worthy. Thanks for the short fanservice shower scene (Episode 7). Too bad this role is not enough to give him a Daesang. No chance since the drama is aired in the same year as Ji Sung who stars in a story as gripping as Defendant’s. Namgoong Min’s chemistry with Junho will probably get them an award though. Hwarang’s Park-Park couple should say goodbye to their hopes of bagging this year’s Best Couple Award because TQ Psycho and Gluttonous Sociopath are totally bringing it home. Luckily, Goblin is a cable drama so they don’t have to compete against its A-List stars’ out-of-this-world bromance. Chief Kim, apparently, is a fan of that show as it uses Crush’s song as background music and even recreates the famous Goblin-Reaper badass slowmo’ rescue scene.
Seo Yool once worked on the side of the law but truth and justice seems to get him nowhere. TQ is exactly the perfect avenue to exercise his abilities and profit from it. And before he knew it, he was unstoppable. Even Madame Jo gets scared of him. As the story progresses, he continues to side with the evil chairman but Sung Ryong successfully gives him a way out and help him regain his pride. Their love-hate bromance is certainly the biggest asset of the show.
Lee Jun Ho is a member of 2PM. I’ve seen him in the hilarious comedy, Twenty, but it’s hard to focus on him when there’s Kim Woo Bin and Kim Ha Neul. Here in Chief Kim, it would have been difficult for any actor to match Namgoong Min especially when he gets all serious and brings his Nam Gyu Man vibes out but Junho is equally charismatic and can seriously hold his own acting-wise which is a feat for idols-turned-actors. He didn’t show off his beastly physique but there’s no better fanservice than his awkward rendition of Twice’s TT.
The biggest character development goes to Park Myung Suk. I initially thought that he would be nothing but the typical caricature of a chaebol with very little screen time but I was wrong. Greedy Park Hyun Do is impenitent until the very end but Myung Suk decides to be the reason for his father’s existence. Unlike Kim Sung Ryong, Myung Suk’s changes are not because of fate or anything. They’re brought about by his own choices. His growth from silly spoiled brat to a responsible future chairman makes some of the most hilarious and heart-tugging moments for the show. At the very least we can thank “D to the O!” for bringing this adorable human being to the world. Dong Ha is such a revelation and I hope this young actor will get more inspiring dramatic roles in the future.
The disadvantage of inserting the romantic trope for the leads in a drama is that the characters have the tendency to eventually turn into some annoying starry-eyed noble idiots. What I like about Chief Kim is that it doesn’t exactly leave the romance angle out but it tries to stay as “realistic” as possible. Namgoong Min and Nam Sang Mi don’t have any romantic chemistry and the Kim Sung Ryong-Yoon Ha Kyung relationship is nothing more than friendship and mutual respect between colleagues. Sparks fly, however, between Yoon Ha Kyung and Seo Yool. For a man who got swayed by his own greed and has lost his way, an equally strong but principled woman is what he needs to keep him grounded. Putting on the first slice of pizza on Ha Kyung’s plate is the perfect metaphor for Gluttonous Sociopath’s growth. The implied happy ending that the second lead actually gets the girl is rare in Kdramaland and Chief Kim does it – sweetly and convincingly.
It’s only April but I already know that Chief Kim is easily going to be one of my top three favorite series for this year. With Introverted Boss and Radiant Office, it’s obvious that corporate shenanigans are the trend for this season but Chief Kim comes out on top as it breaks Kdrama tropes with its irreverent comedy and a one-of-a-kind protagonist. Loose ends are neatly tied up and if you’ve seen Remember: War of the Son, you’d know that Lee Si Un’s cameo is perfect for this bromance-filled show. Everyone ends up where they belong and finally, Kim Sung Ryong’s smug face totally looks like there’s a big possibility for a second season. Yes, please. ^^