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Series / Once Upon a Time in Saengchori

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Once Upon a Time in Saengchori is a Korean series that ran for 20 episodes, from November 2020 to March 2011.

Samjin Securities has a particularly poorly performing branch, in the Seoul district of Garibong-dong. When the president of Samjin, President Park Gyu, finds them goofing around in the office over lunch, he is pissed. When the office gang goes out drinking, and they run into Park once again as they're stumbling drunk out of a karaoke bar, the president is enraged. He attempts to fire the entire branch, but an underling tells him that he can't can them all. So instead, he sends them to a newly constructed branch office outside of the rural village of Saengchori. The "office" is so rudely constructed that it doesn't have a toilet. The idea is to get the branch members to quit. They don't, however. The Garibong employees—pretty Yoo Eun-joo (the female lead), her friend Han Ji-min who's in love with her, and the rest of the gang—actually report for duty in Saengchori.

Meanwhile, Park has a brilliant right hand man, General Manager Jo Min-sung, who is engaged to Park's daughter Bok-soon. Min-sung's math skills are so amazing that he's called a "walking computer", and he is a spectacularly skilled financial analyst—until he's hit by lightning, that is. Min-sung discovers to his horror that he has suffered brain damage that has rendered him unable to even read Arabic numerals, nor can he do any mental math at all, not even 1+1=2. A terrified Min-sung, playing for time and hoping that he can recover his ability to do math, asks to go out to Saengchori to oversee the underperforming branch.

There's also a third plot line. The employees of the branch sent to Saengchori weren't out drinking just to have fun. They were drinking to remember their coworker, Kim Do-sang, who was just brutally murdered.

Not a spinoff off Once Upon a Time.

Tropes in this show:

  • Abandoned Area: When the Garibong gang finally stumble into Saengchori after a long, long cross-country trip on foot, they find the whole village abandoned. Because they aren't very bright, they camp out in a house, eat all the food, and get drunk. It turns out that literally the whole village was on vacation in Hawaii, and when they show up the next day they chase the Garibong employees out of town with scythes.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Ji-min finally gathers his never and tells Eun-Joo this at the end of episode 10.
  • As You Know: Min-sung's mother has to remind him that her husband's premature death left Min-sung as the only breadwinner for her and for his ten siblings.
  • Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: In episode 2 Min-sung is in the toilet when he hears a couple of other office guys talking about how he's been acting strangely lately (although they of course can't guess that he lost his sense of numbers).
  • Benevolent Boss: Man-soo, Garibong branch manager. Too benevolent, as he lets his workers goof off and play games in the office, and in fact he joins in. Stuff like this is why the branch got sent out to the boonies.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: A big damn important kiss, it solved some problems, and caused others. Kissing Eun-joo restored Min-sung's ability to understand numbers...but only temporarily, so he had to kiss her again.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Both the second and third victims, Do-sang and Eun-ah, tried to blackmail Man-soo over their knowledge that he killed a man. He kills them both.
  • Camp Gay: The fashion designer that Bok-soon brings out to Saengchori design her wedding dress is very, very camp.
  • Catchphrase: Min-sung always responds to questions he doesn't want to answer by saying "Do you need to know?" This pisses Man-soo off enough that in one episode he finally says "Yes, I need to know!", but he is a beta male and Min-sung stares him down.
  • Chalk Outline: In episode 3 the detectives contemplate a photo of Park Sang-joon, killed in what was thought to be a mugging, on the ground with a chalk outline around him. (He, Kim Do-sang, and the bartender were in the same photo, and all three have died violent deaths.
  • Christmas Episode: Episode 8 takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The gang gets a tree. They throw a Christmas party as a bonding gesture for the villagers, with all the stockbrokers dressed up as Santa. After he starts feeling guilty for not inviting Bo-ra to the party, Min-sung dresses up in a Santa suit as well and drops off a present at her house.
  • Closed Circle: Leaving Saengchori isn't impossible, sometimes. If the village elder wants to make a point, he'll steal the tires from your cars, block internet and cell phones, and refuse to sell you any food. That will leave the Samjin people begging for food before the end.
    • The village head did this in episode 7 to make a point to President Park. In episode 19 he does this in a far darker context, when he decides he has to kill all the outsiders.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: There's Man-soo, who has killed three people and caused the accidental death of a fourth. Then there's the village head, who murdered the real village head and took his place so he could get all the money when the land is sold. The two crimes have nothing to do with each other.
  • Confusing Multiple Negatives: After the Almost Kiss between Min-sung and Eun-joo when he mistook her for Bok-soon, he ends the encounter by saying "It's not like that I can't say that I'm not sorry for what happened." Eun-joo is left utterly befuddled.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • All Korean dramas run on this. The Garibong gang comes stumbling out of a bar, all very drunk. Who drives right up to them, in Seoul, a city of some ten million? First, President Park, who sees them all tanked to the gills and resolves to fire them. Second, Eun-joo's very strict fiance Hee-suk and his very strict parents. He dumps her.
    • In episode 9, back in Seoul, Eun-joo accompanies Min-sung to a seminar...which happens to be right next to the room where her old boyfriend Hee-suk is getting married. Ji-min wanders into a bar after saying goodbye to his friends...and there's Eun-joo, getting drunk after the disastrous encounter with Hee-suk. Na-young is wandering around the streets of Seoul, lost, after missing her bus stop...and she sees Min-sung and Bok-soon having dinner in a restaurant.
    • The most egregious one is in episode 16, when Na-young and Man-soo eat dinner at a hole-in-the-wall Seoul restaurant, which they picked completely at random, and the woman who serves them turns out to be Na-young's long-lost mother.
  • Country Mouse: Na-young, the village girl from Saengchori who boggles at all the buildings when she accompanies the rest of the office to Seoul. She falls for an extremely obvious scam from a Snake Oil Salesman, she gets lost on the bus, and she winds up ruining Min-sung's date with Bok-soon.
  • Crime After Crime: Man-soo killed his first victim, his old school bully, in a fit of rage. He killed victims 2 and 3 because they tried to blackmail him. Victim 4, Min-young, was actually an accident.
  • Death by Falling Over: While Man-soo definitely killed three people, Min-young's death was an accident. She was running away from Man-soo in a panic when she stumbled down a hill and hit her head on a rock.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Who is that guy in the car?
  • Distant Finale: The last scene skips forward over a year. Eun-joo and Min-sung, naturally, are a couple. It's hinted that Ji-min and Na-young might become one as well.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Han Ji-min is a really nice guy with a secret: he's in love with Eun-joo. In episode 16 he tells her that he's very patient and will wait as long as it takes, even if she's in love with Min-sung at the moment.
  • Drowning My Sorrows:
    • Min-sung gets good and drunk in a bar one night, after he had to pretend to faint in order to get out of a briefing that he now can't deliver.
    • Eun-joo gets hammered in a bar in episode 9 after accidentally wandering into her ex-fiance Hee-suk's wedding and getting humiliated by him and his parents.
    • Min-sung does this again at the end of episode 13 after his secret is revealed to the entire Samjin board, apparently destroying his career. This time it leads to The Big Damn Kiss.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Each character gets these early in the show. Ji-min and Eun-joo are introduced together when she comes to the front door of the Garibong office and finds that it has been closed. Ji-min is there too, and they commiserate on how much it sucks—until she sees the package tape and magic marker in his hand and realizes that he did it as a prank. She starts smacking him as they go in, and their characters and relationship to each other are established.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Yoo Eun-joo has to take some calculated risks towards the end of the series, after Sang-yoon tells her that the killer is almost certainly someone in the office.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Man-soo's picture of his daughters. He looks at it one last time, and in fact calls them, as the Saengchori branch office is burning around him. Soon after he dies in the fire.
  • Feet-First Introduction:
    • President Park is introduced as his feet come out of a limo in front of Samjin headquarters. He is there to kick ass.
    • A random gag in episode 8 has a handsome man arrive feet-first as he comes striding into the office. Min-young and Eun-joo are impressed, but he turns out to be a petty criminal stealing office supplies.
  • First Kiss: Late at night after much soju. Min-sung has been drowning his sorrows to the point that he is swaying and staggering as he leaves the bar. Eun-joo tries to help him out the door, he sways into her, and they kiss. It was electric.
  • Flashback: Several.
    • An episode 6 flashback shows Min-young on a date with Do-sang, the guy who was murdered. He was planning One Last Job, it seems, after which they were going to lead the easy life.
    • An episode 19 flashback shows how the village elders conspired, three years before, to kill the village head, with one of them taking his identity.
  • Foreshadowing: After they are both struck by lightning together, Eun-joo and Min-sung exchange literal sparks of electricity whenever they touch. This sets up the events of episode 13 and 14, when The Big Damn Kiss between the two of them shocks Min-sung's brain, resetting it and restores his ability to understand numbers.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Hee-rin clocks Sang-yoon over the head with a frying pan in episode 18. She then ties him up and threatens to bash him in the head again, before he finally reveals that he is an undercover cop.
    • She does this again in episode 19, bashing two villagers over the head with the pan to free Man-soo.
  • Gasshole: Dal-gook has a pretty serious flatulence problem. At one point he lets one rip and the walls of the flimsy shack that is the new "branch office" shake.
  • Glasses Pull: Min-sung does this when he first sees the flimsy shack that is the Saengchori "branch office". Since he's working there now, he has it whipped up into something more like a real office.
  • Hey, You!: President Park, in his first meeting with the board, starts addressing them all informally even though they're total strangers to him. It's an intimidation tactic.
  • Hidden Villain: The man in the car, who seems to be directing events in the village. He's the one who gives the village head the idea to kill the prior village head and assume his identity. His face is never shown and he's never identified.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: Min-sung realizes that he's driven the wrong way in the thunderstorm, and stops the car. Bok-soon turns on the car TV, where a weather reporter talks about the storm and says that in a storm 1) you should turn off unnecessary car electronics, 2) you should not park in an open space, and 3) you should not get out of the car and walk around or you might get struck by lightning. Min-sung ignores all three and is struck by lightning.
  • Imagine Spot: Man-soo grows paranoid after realizing that Min-sung and Na-young are up to something together. He pictures Min-sung making her his spy in the office...then he imagines the two of them dating, and Na-young taking Min-soo's job...then, hilariously, he imagines the exact truth, that Min-sung has lost his sense of numbers and she is tutoring him.
  • Impairment Shot: A blurred shot of Min-sung is used in episode 4, to show Eun-joo's intoxication, right before she punches him in the face.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Man-soo grows so desperate to know what Min-sung and Na-young are up to in the office that he puts a computer in there with the camera on to spy on them. But because he is a nincompoop, he puts the computer in plain sight, pointing down from a rafter directly above the office table. This gets him a security camera on his desk, pointed at him, so that Min-sung can know where he is at all times.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Such a nice guy, too.
  • Kneel Before Zod: In episode 7, with the Samjin people literally starving and trapped in the town, President Park has to kneel before the village elder, so they can get some food.
  • Left Hanging: Who was the mysterious Hidden Villain in the car, who was giving the village head orders and suggested that he kill the real village head? A couple of times he's on the phone giving the village head orders. At the end, he's being driven away in a limo while the village head is being arrested. His face is never shown and he is never identified. If this was a Sequel Hook nothing came of it.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Being struck by lightning totally destroys Min-sung's ability to comprehend numbers (he literally cannot even read them) or do any math whatsoever.
  • Miserable Massage: In episode 12 Min-sung, desperate for a cure for his brain damage, goes to some kooky alternative medicine guy. He winds up getting a painful massage.
  • Monochrome Past: Used for flashbacks, which are shown in a sort of washed-out color. This is how the flashback is shown in episode 14 when Sang-yoon sees Hae-rin and realizes where he saw her before: when she was running past him as a Runaway Bride.
  • Mood Whiplash: The show is mostly a broad, silly comedy, which occasionally cuts to scenes with a brutal Serial Killer.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Man-soo kills a guy and kills two more people for blackmailing him about it. He kills Eun-ah the bartender when she only wanted $1000.
  • Never One Murder: In fact the show starts with a couple all in a row. The murder of Kim Do-sang is shown in the opening sequence. At the end of episode 2, the detective in charge of the case calls the bartender at the bar where Do-sang used to hang out—and the scene cuts to the woman's body in her bathroom, posed in a similar way to how Do-sang was found.
  • No Indoor Voice: President Park doesn't seem to be able to do anything but bellow.
  • Once Upon a Time: The title evokes the whimsical story, with all the goofy city folks getting reassigned to a Quirky Town where they have misadventures with the weird locals, as well as the fantasy element of Min-sung's Lightning Can Do Anything plot.
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: A close-up shows sweat trickling down Min-sung's forehead, and him mopping it up, as he realizes for the first time that he can't read numbers anymore.
  • Piggyback Cute: If there was any doubt that Eun-joo and Min-sung will get together, it ends in episode 5 when he gives her a piggyback ride after she turns her ankle, while they were trying to catch the stranger who keeps creeping into the office.
  • Plot Hole: There's a plot thread towards the end where President Park decides to fire everyone in the Saengchori branch, and Min-sung drags his feet in canning them...which of course ignores the beginning of the series in which Park sent the Garibong gang to Saengchori precisely because he couldn't fire them.
  • Punny Name: Eun-joo can't resist noting that the new president's name, "Park Gyu", sounds like "fuck you." One of President Park's minions observes that this is another reason they can't fire Eun-joo and her coworkers: if they do and the union files a grievance, the pun about Park's name could get out into the media.
  • Race for Your Love: Episode 17 ends with Eun-joo racing back to Seoul to stop Min-sung's engagement ceremony to Bok-soon. She makes it Just in Time, and he runs out with her, becoming something close to a gender-flipped Runaway Bride.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The whole point of sending the branch out to work in what is basically a storage shed in the middle of nowhere. President Park, unable to fire the whole branch, is hoping that they will quit.
  • The Reveal:
    • Episode 14 reveals that Hae-rin, the pretty woman that most of the men in the office have been lusting after, is actually Park Jin-hee...sister to Park Eun-ah, the murdered bartender.
    • Episode 19 reveals that the village head actually murdered the previous village head, and took his identity, in order to gain control of his land.
    • And of course episode 20 revels that Man-soo, the branch manager, is the killer. He killed Park Sang-joon, his school bully from back in the day, in a fit of rage. Then he killed both Do-sang and Eun-ah because they separately tried blackmailing him. Min-young's death was an accident.
  • Scooby Stack: The three nincompoops—Jin-soo, Dal-gook, and Man-soo—do this in episode 12 when they hear some strange noises in the adjoining room of Hae-rin's house, and they peek through the door. They find out that she's a shaman.
  • Sherlock Scan: Parodied in a random gag about Kim Sang-yoon, the mystery writer who moves into the house next door to our heroes. He meets the village elder and the neighborhood watch captain, does his Sherlock Scan, confidently announces which one is the village elder—and is wrong. Later in the same episode, he meets Ji-min coming out of the house, observes his chopsticks, deduces what Ji-min was eating, and is again wrong.
  • Shirtless Scene: This near-mandatory Korean Drama trope is delayed until Episode 14. It's while Min-sung is taking a shower and showing off his chiseled chest that he realizes he can read numbers again.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call:
    • In episode 4, as Min-sung gets a phone call from his high-strung, high maintenance girlfriend Bok-soon, who wants him to come back to Seoul.
    • Episode 9 has split-screen texting between the three points of our Love Triangle, as Eun-joo and Ji-min's texting about what a jerk Min-sung is, is interrupted by Min-sung texting Eun-joo and telling her that it's time to go to the meeting.
  • Start to Corpse: The show starts with that first murder, in which an unseen assailant chases Do-sang through the streets of Seoul and finally into a public restroom, where Do-sang is murdered.
  • String Theory: Episode 12 reveals that Sang-yoon, the mystery writer who keeps trying out a Sherlock Scan and failing miserably, is actually there investigating the murders. He has the standard wall display with pictures of all the suspects and strings connecting them. He also has realized that Min-young is missing (the audience has seen Min-young apparently murdered at the end of episode 8, although at this point no one else in Saengchori has even realized she has disappeared).
  • That Didn't Happen: Yoo Eun-joo and Jo Min-sung have a hard time sorting things out. After their kisses they agree that it was just about work (it was about work in that he needed her to kiss him to zap his brain back into gear). Later he tries to confess his feelings but Eun-joo, unwilling to steal another woman's man, insists that no, it was just work.
  • Title Drop: Combined with some Lampshade Hanging in episode 15. Hae-rin has figured out that Sang-yoon isn't really a mystery writer. She challenges him, asking him the title of the book he's supposedly writing.
    Sang-yoon: [improvising] Once Upon a Saengchori?
    Hae-rin: What? Does that even make sense? Even an elementary school kid can make a better title than that.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The village head actually isn't the real village head. He was the youth director, and he, and several other citizens of the town, conspired to murder the real village head, so they could take possession of his land, which will soon be sold off for a huge sum when the area is developed. Episode 12 reveals that someone is directing the village master to arrange for villagers to invest with the Garibong gang.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: It isn't hard to guess, since Sang-yoon has been calling the Seoul police and has a String Theory chart in his room. But episode 18 confirms that yes, he is an undercover cop there to investigate the murders.
  • Voiceover Letter: Man-soo learns that his buddy the neighborhood watch guy has left Saengchori by a voiceover letter that Neighborhood Watch left, after he bawled out the Jerkass village elder and then left town.