Café Minamdang – K-Drama Episode 3 Recap & Review

A ‘Tactical Weapon’

Episode 3 of Café Minamdang starts by shedding light on what the Minamdang crew gets up to while Jae-hui snoops through their house.

They team up with CEO Min-gyeong, Gyeong-ho’s wife, and coach her through the arranged meeting with Cheong-gi. She confiscates Cheong-gi’s phone for the duration of their rendezvous, citing ‘privacy’ as the reason while they copy his data.

Stalling for time, Min-gyeong asks Cheong-gi to hand over the evidence from Gyeong-ho’s murder case before an upcoming general stockholders’ meeting. Cheong-gi, sensing a plot to oust Gyeong-ho, asks for ten times the original bribe. Han-jun okays it since they apparently have nothing to lose, and Min-gyeong makes the deal.

Gyeong-ho’s secretary, Choi, photographs the meeting. He can’t get in touch with Gyeong-ho, ever the man-child, to share his findings.

Mission successful so far, we end up back in Han-jun’s closet with Jae-hui a second away from discovery. She manages to veil Han-jun’s head with the cloth and headbutts him when he blindly latches onto her, knocking him out.

Retreating to her place, Jae-hui answers a call from Do-won. He promises full backing for her revenge against Gyeong-ho. After they hang up, Jae-hui wonders at Han-jun’s relationship chart, which linked Gyeong-ho to Jae-jeong.

The following morning, Jae-hui joins the eager queue outside Café Minamdang, worried that she might have killed Han-jun with the force of her headbutt. She spots Detective Na heading in for an appointment he booked before joining the team and piggybacks his timeslot.

The two of them are waiting in the café when Han-jun saunters in. Detective Na, thinking that Jae-hui once had an unrequited crush on Han-jun, pushes her into him. Han-jun catches Jae-hui for a moment, and then unceremoniously drops her. The way she huffs causes him to recognise her as the young girl that wanted to be a police officer like him.

Jae-hui sits in on Detective Na’s appointment and turns it into an impromptu inquisition. When she accuses Han-jun of using his profiling skills to scam people, Detective Na makes a quick exit. To back up her point, Jae-hui brings up the fact that Han-jun served time three years ago for tampering with evidence.

We jump back two years to the day of Han-jun’s release from Cheonun Penitentiary. Hye-jun, recently fired from the NIS, is there to pick him up. Together they sniff out Su-cheol, who is trying and failing to run a detective agency.

Outside Su-cheol’s decrepit agency, which has been combined with an old shamanic temple, Han-jun overhears a woman complaining that her teenage son disappeared with her bankbook and seal.

The same woman comes inside to seek help from Su-cheol but tries to make a quick escape when she sees the dilapidating office full of shamanic paraphernalia where he conducts business.

Han-jun thinks on his feet, using the information he overheard to get the woman to stay. The unintended consequence of this is that she thinks he is a shaman and starts begging him to help her. She gets him onboard with the offer of payment.

The trio finds out that her son is being bullied into taking out an illegal loan and tracks him to the loan sharks’ den. With the son is Na-dan, still a student. Na-dan grabs the son and the loan papers, making a break for the door. He doesn’t have to run far because Han-jun and Su-cheol stroll in. Su-cheol unleashes his considerable brute strength on the loan sharks and, along with the bullies, they are cowed in submission.

Na-dan sticks to Han-jun, Su-cheol and Hye-jun, trying to convince them to take him on as a part-timer by flaunting his skills as an inventor. Having had a taste, Han-jun is keen to establish Minamdang and accepts. Su-cheol is confused, wondering why Han-jun isn’t focused on finding Jae-jeong’s killer. Han-jun explains that they’ll need money to take on whoever pulled all the strings that got them here in the first place.

Rifling through the shamanic items in Su-cheol’s office, Han-jun finds a gopuri knot. It triggers a flashback to a different, bloodstained gopuri knot, set aflame, and Han-jun crying.

Su-cheol explains that gopuri knots are used in exorcisms to comfort the dead, and Han-jun says that the culprit was holding one when Jae-jeong died. This is why he believes that the culprit is either a shaman or fascinated by shamanism. Hye-jun narrows the suspect list down to shamans with a burn scar.

With some negotiation, Han-jun gets Hye-jun and Su-cheol to agree to join Minamdang. To avoid his mother’s wrath, he also changes its concept to a café combination.

With our origin story completed, we come back to the present, where Jae-hui says that she’ll give Han-jun a chance to explain why he helped Choi Yeong-seop get away. Han-jun is unimpressed with her assertions, saying that she isn’t qualified to be a detective if she can be blinded by her own prejudices.

This gets Jae-hui worked up. She tells Han-jun that his mistake led to Jae-jeong’s death and asks him if he even apologised to Jae-jeong’s family. Han-jun openly acknowledges that he’s wracked with grief every night but does not admit to making any mistake.

With a promise to apprehend him, Jae-hui leaves. That night, she finds an old picture of Han-jun and Jae-jeong, appearing to be close friends. She plans to find Choi Yeong-seop herself, prove Han-jun wrong and then throw her true identity in his face.

Meanwhile, Han-jun goes over his relationship chart and thinks that he can’t apologise to Jae-jeong’s family when he hasn’t found ‘Gopuri’ yet.

The next day, Jae-hui reveals to Do-won that she found Han-jun. He rushes right over and joins her stakeout outside the café. Jae-hui also discloses that Han-jun both reported Gyeong-ho’s attempted murder and got him out of the charge.

Secretary Choi is finally able to inform Gyeong-ho of his wife’s betrayal. Gyeong-ho wastes no time in threatening to kill Cheong-gi if he doesn’t bring him the evidence instead.

Monitoring both sides of this equation is the Minamdang crew. Thanks to their tampering, they see the address for Gyeong-ho’s villa pop up on Cheong-gi’s phone at the same time he does. And so, the four of them – Na-dan, now finally of age, argued his way into the outing – tail Cheong-gi to the villa. They don’t notice Jae-hui and Do-won also tailing them.

The Minamdang crew is parked outside Gyeong-ho’s villa when they realise that Na-dan brought their shaman equipment instead of their fighting equipment. Na-dan suggests they use one of his outlandish inventions to fight as Han-jun throws a fit. He’s cut off by the security guards that circle their car.

Inside, Cheong-gi hands the original DNA report over to Gyeong-ho. Gyeong-ho, rotten to the core, beats him and orders his execution anyway. Secretary Choi and a group of Gyeong-ho’s men lead Cheong-gi into the bamboo forest bordering the villa.

Meanwhile, the Minamdang crew begins Operation Beethoven, which involves tricking Su-cheol into exiting the car alone and fighting off the security guards. Initially spectating like they’re at a sports game, the others eventually get involved in their own hectic brawls.

They emerge victorious in time to see Cheong-gi being taken away. Hye-jun and Na-dan are left behind to signal Han-jun if Gyeong-ho comes out while Han-jun and Su-cheol head into the forest.

Jae-hui and Do-won are parked further away. Jae-hui gets a call from Detective Jung. It’s good news: Min Yu-seon gives them her statement and informs them that Gyeong-ho is in the villa that they’ve arrived at. Do-won wastes no time in securing them a warrant.

Han-jun and Su-cheol make their way through the forest. In his hands, Han-jun carries a bundle that he calls a ‘tactical weapon’. Deeper into the forest, Gyeong-ho’s men drop Cheong-gi into an open grave.

As the warrant arrives, Jae-hui and Do-won hear bells ringing within the forest. They run in and find Han-jun in a clearing, dressed head to toe in traditional shamanic garb.

The epilogue takes us back three years. A burned hand places Choi Yeong-seop’s resident registration card and a lighter in Han-jun’s desk drawer. The next morning, Cheong-gi arrives to arrest him.

The Episode Review

Café Minamdang continues to deliver, keeping its comedic and crime elements balanced nicely.

The origin story of the titular café fits this bill perfectly, being both completely ludicrous and based, at least partly, on tragic necessity. Seo In-guk is also working this balance into Nam Han-jun well, managing to pack tortured emotions into the micro-moments when he allows himself to sink below his mischievous exterior.

It’s also a relief to see that Na-dan could shape up to be more than a pretty server that we see every now and then to fill screen space. On the other hand, the detective team was completely neglected for the duration of this episode. Though, it’s possible that the next episode will spotlight them in a similar pattern to last week.

Jae-hui’s character is at risk of turning into a broken record with all the times she’s declared that she’ll catch Han-jun. Right now, she hasn’t strayed into unlikeable territory, but she’s dangerously close to the precipice. It would be interesting to see her relent a little and enter a reluctant truce with Han-jun or even just be a little more subtle about her plans to take him down.

Bonus points go to Operation Beethoven for being one of the funniest and most chaotic fight scenes I’ve seen in a minute.

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