jtbc (2023) 16 Episodes
Workplace Drama, Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

Another tour de force performance by one of my top favorite Korean actresses, Lee Bo Young (I Hear Your Voice, Mother, God's Gift: 14 Days, Whisper, When My Love Blooms, Pinocchio), kept me glued to my screen for two days watching Agency (2023) a highly rated cable channel jtbc Korean drama that reached 16-17% by its conclusion (very high these days for any K-drama, especially on a smaller cable station like jtbc). The supporting cast were all wonderful to watch as well, some newer faces but also quite a few veteran actors and actresses whom I've enjoyed over two decades of loving Korean dramas. This drama had very little to no romance involved with most of the characters, but lots of endearing professional relationships / growing friendships were depicted with flair and depth and humor. The drama was slightly feminist in tone overall, but not irritatingly so. We root for our main female protagonist to overcome many prejudices in her advertising agency workplace, especially by the rather domineering male managers controlling the firm.

The Story

Abandoned by her mother (Kim Mi Kyung, Master's Sun) at an early age due to domestic violence in the home, by some miracle little Go Ah In (Lee Ye Joo, child; Lee Ga Yeon, teen; Lee Bo Young, adult - funny how all their real names end in Lee!) grows up to be a brilliant student in economics, beating all odds to succeed in the workplace at even greater levels than her much wealthier peers at school. She graduates with top honors and works her way up in various start up agencies until she lands a prestigious job with VC Communications, the nation's top ad agency.

Along the way Ah In makes some encouraging male friends and admirers (two played very well by lovely prolific supporting actors Lee Ki Woo and Jang Hyun Sung) but amazingly nothing turns romantic. She doesn't seem to care; she likes living the single life (can't say I blame her!). It seems she is married to her work and professional ambitions, but those sometimes come at an emotional cost, since she becomes addicted to anti-depressants given to her by her female psychiatrist named Oh Soo Jin (Shin Soo Jung) to help her deal with her childhood mental scars. Her doctor warns her never to combine them with alcohol because that could lead to her sleep-walking at night, which could risk her life if she became self-destructive while under their influence. However, she doesn't always follow her doctor's advice.

With dreams of becoming VC Communications' first female CEO, Ah In has to face the intense jealousy of her primary male superior at work, named Choi Chang Soo, played dynamically well by expert veteran actor Cho Seong Ha, who often plays villains that scare an audience to bits! (such as his evil character in 100 Days My Prince). At first he seems to be in her corner and even helps to promote her at work but it's all fake: he wants to lift her up only to ultimately drag her down and destroy her ambitions at work. (My reaction was funny when he first showed up in the drama, seemingly playing a good guy: "This isn't fooling me!" I said to myself, "He almost always plays bad guys! He's going to change for the worse!" Haha! And I was spot on right).

However, Ah In's support team at work are very supportive and encouraging to her; they are all quite talented at creating various ads for different companies that hire VC Communications, whether the ads are for foods, beauty items, even public service announcements and charities. Actress Jeon Hye Jin (Ruler Of Your Own World, Oh My Lady, Mother) playing lead planner Jo Eun Jung was perhaps the most interesting to watch: she has a young family plus works full time so we get to see her personal struggles trying to be a good mother and a good wife and a good employee all at the same time. Wonderful actor Lee Chang Hoon (Something In The Rain) plays Lee Bo Young's right hand man in the planning department; his character Han Byung Soo was courageous, wise, and dependable. Cutie pie actor Lee Gyeong Min plays the newest employee in planning, Seo Jung Woo, and he's shy and sweet. Plain looking, be-speckled planning employee Bae Woon Hee is played very well by Jung Woon Sung, who obviously dressed down for the role because publicity photos of her show her to be remarkably pretty. (By the end of the drama all these characters felt like extended family to me, they were that likeable!).

Achieving a Lofty Goal Makes Everyone Smile!
To circumvent her male opposition at work headed up by Chang Soo she comes up with a lofty goal and announces it publicly to the company: if in a year's time she hasn't increased sales at VC Communications by 50% she will resign. Chang Soo is at first delighted by her announcement but doesn't quite understand that if he prevents her from reaching that goal the company will suffer and the blame could fall on him for blocking her way behind the scenes.

Surprisingly she ends up finding an unexpected ally in the owner of VC Communications' popular socialite daughter named Kang Ha Na (gorgeous APink star and actress Son Na Eun, from K-dramas Lost, Ghost Doctor, Dinner Mate, Cinderella And the Four Knights). She at first tries to compete with Ah In by joining the firm and promoting her own ideas for its success, but the friction between them doesn't last long when they both basically have the ultimate goal of putting the corporation first. 

Ha Na has an adorable male assistant and chauffeur who has a secret crush on her, named Park Young Woo (actor Han Joon Woo from Pachinko). Because of her natural flirtatious personality he isn't quite sure that she would be a reliable romantic partner for himself so he bides his time and watches over her carefully. Plus he isn't sure that her wealthy family would approve of a servant for their daughter. However, eventually it is obvious that Ha Na likes him too, but will they ever be able to make such a lop-sided relationship work on a personal level? (Btw, this actor Han Joon Woo kept reminding me of a young Ji Sung, who is the actor Lee Bo Young married in real life; his appearance, his mannerisms, even his voice sounded similar to Ji Sung's! It kept making me giggle, especially when he had scenes with Lee Bo Young in the drama. I wondered if she noticed the same things about him that I did? Amazing! I also couldn't help wonder if he was hired for that very reason! He was a real scene stealer, just like Ji Sung was / is in his dramas!).

There are a few cool surprises by the end of this drama Agency, but I won't spoil them for you; you really should check the drama out and enjoy it for yourself. I was kind of torn between grading this drama an A or A+. I chose A for one reason only: about 99% of the drama is about office politics, not ad making. A story about an advertising agency should have shown exactly how they made their ads and hence their money; some sample ads could have been shown, far more than they were. Focusing primarily on internal squabbles and competition among managers at work got a bit tedious, to be perfectly honest. Actually showing the process of ad-making would have enhanced the story-line from an educational standpoint.

In any case the cast was brilliant, the story intriguing, especially showcasing how our main female character Ah In healed from past emotional scars. The reunion scenes between Lee Bo Young and Kim Mi Kyung playing her mother were daebak! I love these two actresses so much. Both flawless thespians. Don't miss Agency. You can watch it on Viki.com. Enjoy!