Payback – K-drama Episode 1 Recap & Review

Red Flags

Episode 1 of Payback: Money and Power starts with us in Mongolia, as a horse gallops across a long, flat field. The rider slams red flags down the entire way, intending to mark out the lot of land he’s acquired. As we find out, money can get you far in this world.

Nowhere else is that evidenced more than in 1990, as our titular main character happens to be in a juvenile center back in Korea. At least for a bit anyway. Eun-yong is soon released after spending time behind bars but he doesn’t have many plans for the future. Eun-yong can more than hold his own though, as rumours have spread outside the bars that he’s a proficient fighter.

A shady man called Kim Seong-tae, flanked by his crew, shows up and offers Eun-yong his business card. The man works within construction and Eun-yong shows off his brilliance by remembering his number almost instantly. As the men ride off, Eun-yong is left alone again. He spends the night in the hospital, eating what he can and washing himself. Ever since he was a child, Eun-yong narrates that finding enough to eat has always been a problem for him.

Eun-yong does have some family dotted around, as evidenced when he sees his nephew, Jang Tae-chun. The kid absolutely loves books and Eun-yong shows up at the bookstore, promising to get him some expensive books he can read back at home. His mother (and Eun-yong’s sister) Eun Ji-hee does the best she can but heading over to her place that night, Eun-yong can tell the place is run-down and in desperate need of repairs.

Eun-yong is determined to do right by her, wanting to make as much money as possible regardless of the means to move her into a bigger apartment. Naturally, that means relying on some rather nefarious means to get money.

In a really slick edit, we fast forward in time to 1998. Tae-chun and Ji-hee are living much more comfortably while Eun-yong is still part of this gang. Driving a bus, they plough right into a construction site and prepare to attack. Only, one of the men happens to be inside a digger and it smashes up their bus.

After a massive fight, Myung In-ju, the leader of this gang, shows up and confronts one of the men. They’re doing all this because he was late on a loan payment and as such, they’re now taking the construction project from him. Eun-yong watches in silence as In-ju forces him to sign over the deed. The man is nefarious in these parts, known as the godfather of loan sharks.

Word of Eun-yong’s talent with numbers spreads to this godfather, who brings him in to work on a real project, away from the gangs. With the extra cash, Eun-yong buys his family an apartment with two bathrooms, just as he promised. Ji-hee goes on to open her own business, becoming a madam rather than a tea girl. As the years go on, she ends up getting drunk while Tae-chun continues to study hard, practicing to pass his bar exam. Desperate to succeed no matter what, we see a lovely montage as Tae-chun does just that, managing to become a prosecutor.

In 2014, Tae-chun shows up at the office, where he’s met with a steely gaze by Hwang Gi-seok, the Chief Prosecutor for Special Investigations. Tae-chun is humbled by the guy, who’s patronizing to him. Tae-chun is desperate to join his team and prove Gi-seok wrong. For now, he’s given a whole stack of cases to work through, including Assemblyman Baek and an issue involving his son getting favourable conditions.

Outside, Tae-chun receives a package from a mysterious female. He heads straight to Criminal Investigations and checks through the documents, which link to Solar Bio and a famous guy on TV calling himself Rambo. Needing an expert to look things over, Tae-chun goes right to the source – Nam Sang-il. Tae-chun admits they haven’t even done any work to investigate him given the man scheduled to check out this case was predisposed so the whole thing was dropped. And the man assigned to it? Gi-seok.

The numbers for this Solar Bio gig are somewhat confusing so Tae-chun decides to bring it to someone who’s quite a whizz when it comes to numbers… and shady, nefarious schemes too. The thing is, Eun-yong not even in Korea anymore, given we saw him out in the country at the start of this episode. Tae-chun faxes over details to Eun-yong regarding Solar Bio, calling in a favour he promised earlier in Tae-chun’s life.

Tae-chun’s promissory note is paid back in full, as Eun-yong decodes the cryptic code used. This information is collected against Solar Bio, using the code 25780. These five digits reveal the real numbers in Bio’s original document. As he feeds this back to his superior, Jeong-su, pointing out insider trading and how two companies have benefited shadily, all of which linking back to In-ju.

Now, Myung In-ju happens to be Chief Gi-seok’s father-in-law, and it’s big news as Tae-chun is given the green-light to file for a warrant. He knows this is going to be a big fight, especially when Mi-seok shows up and stares daggers at Tae-chun while he’s giving a big press conference.

All of this started with those documents from Bio Solar, something that the shady Park Joon-kyung is responsible for. Quite how or why remains a mystery but it’s clear that this conflict is far from over. Tae-chun knows that things are heating up at the office, and he convinces Sang-il to join him for the fight ahead.

Tae-chun has done his due diligence and he’s already got warrants to search both Beauty Sparkle and GMI Bank. The thing is, the CEO of GMI happens to be Chang-hyeon a former district attorney for Special Investigations.

After a rather tense dinner with Chief Park, Jeong-su tasks him with turning Sparkle inside out… but to leave GMI bank for now. When Tae-chun is tasked with staying overnight, he works hard to try and do what’s right, hungry to make the most of this opportunity.

At a book concert for Chang-hyeon, a man steps up and sets himself on fire, pointing out the corruption facing GMI Bank. As a result, Jeong-su decides to approve the previous warrant given it’s now public knowledge. Could it be that this was his plan all along? He’s also told to show up with a huge box labeled Prosecution so they can make a big show of this.

All of this is linked to that mystery woman, who has ties to a deceased party called Yoon Hye-rin. This woman died in a car accident, which is pretty suspect in itself. In fact, before the place was turned into GMI Bank, it used to be called Bluenet and was led by Hye-rin as the CEO. It would appear that Yoon was one of Myung’s victims.

Eun-yong realizes that Joon-gyeong was responsible for the tip-off to Tae-chun and believes his nephew may be in trouble. As a result, he drives over to the airport and decides to hitch a ride back to Korea. The tip-off is actually a message to Eun-yong “Come home, let’s face this together.”

The Episode Review

Payback gets off to a great start ere with a pacey, well-written opener that introduces all our characters, fleshes out the history and seemingly hints that Eun-yong, Tae-chun and Joon-gyeong are all going to be working together to try and take Chairman Myung and his cronies down. Sure it’s not wholly original given we’ve seen this underdogs VS powerful businessmen story played out numerous times before, but it’s no less endearing here.

The show has done an excellent job capturing the tone and mood of this so far and teaming up a military woman, a lawyer and a former gangster together is a nice way of adding some dimension to this series. The fight between these two sides could well turn messy in the weeks to come!

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