Story Of A Man (aka A Man's Story or The Slingshot), filmed in 2009, was the swan song K-drama of Hallyu star, Winter Sonata actor, and professional singer Park Yong Ha, who tragically committed suicide in summer 2010 by hanging himself with a camcorder cord in the bedroom of his parents' home; his mother found his lifeless body at a time when his beloved father was dying of cancer. There really was a touch of sadness in him whenever the camera caressed him, even when he smiled. He has been missed by many fans around the world, not just Korea. I thought Park Yong Ha was great as the second male lead in Winter Sonata but here he has the difficult lead role of a man intent on vengeance, and he really shines. Rest in peace, we love you, Oppa, and will never forget you!
This show has the intensity of an I'm Sorry, I Love You; it has lots of great male eye candy for the ladies and lots of intrigue and action for the men. It starts off with an epic dramatic assassination attempt by Yong Ha's disturbed character (who holds a crossbow slingshot style of weapon) which takes place in a television studio during a news broadcast.
The show boasts tension-building, realistic writing, fluid acting by an extremely attractive cast, and superb camera work styled more like a movie than a typical K-drama. In fact as I watched this show I was thunderstruck by all the creative shadow play work that was done with different lighting and camera effects. It reminded me very much of an old film noir style 1940's Hollywood movie. Many times the actors' faces would be half in shadow, half in light, giving them a haunting look. I would hit my pause button just to study how they accomplished this great look. Here's a typical shot which will show you what I mean: put it in black and white and it could be from an old classic movie. The drama won Best Drama Series at the 2009 Seoul International Drama Awards.
Shin Kim (Park Yong Ha) is the carefree younger brother of a married executive who runs a mandoo food manufacturing company (mandoo are popular Korean dumplings). He coasts along irresponsibly in his life while his brother holds everything together financially for the family. He has a long time girlfriend he is only half-serious about, Kyung-ah Seo (Si Yeon Park), whom he beds but has no interest in marrying; she too doesn't want to commit to him but would prefer to marry a rich man.
Then everything suddenly changes for Shin when his brother commits suicide after a false report shows up on television accusing his company of fraud, using bad ingredients to make the food. The false report had been instigated by a stock market meddler - corporate vulture - sociopath named Do Woo Chae (Kang Woo Kim in a terrific performance). The brother had turned to loan sharks to coast along financially when profits started to tumble, but of course going to loan sharks only makes matters worse. Then, because of the suicide, his brother's life insurance company refuses to pay out a settlement to the family. Shin's girlfriend offers to hand over her life savings but Shin declines it, saying it's too small of an amount. He tells her to go work as a bar hostess to help pay off the loans, which upsets her to no end, until she realizes later that Shin had said that to her on purpose to persuade her to get away from him and his whole ugly situation. Shin takes out his own loan with the sharks, which only compounds the misery index for him. He tries to persuade his sister-in-law to leave town with his little nieces so the loan sharks can't find her.
A rare happy moment for Shin and Kyung-ah playing with his nieces
~~~ somebody pass me a hankie.
In desperation to avoid paying back the loan sharks - thinking that if he was in jail they couldn't reach him - plus anger against the destruction of his brother and family business, Shin decides to target the news anchor who broke the original fraud story on the air but who declined to broadcast a retraction later. He walks into the television studio holding what looks to be a musical instrument case but inside is a modern day crossbow - slingshot type of weapon, which he points directly at the news anchor's head while on the air. Utter chaos results. The news anchor starts crying and you can start to see some wild-eyed doubt appear in Shin's eyes. He demands that a retraction be broadcast, but the camera has broken away from the studio and gone to a field anchor instead. Eventually Shin lifts his weapon into the air, emits an anguished cry, and shoots at the ceiling, breaking overhead lights but not harming anyone. The police tackle him, arrest him, and bring him to jail where he is repeatedly beaten and abused by other inmates. He receives a sentence of three and one half years in prison for attempted murder.
Then a young lady he doesn't know comes to visit Shin in jail, named Eun-soo Chae (Yeo Woo Han), a good-hearted girl, daughter of a construction company CEO, Dong Soo Chae (veteran actor Hang-sun Jang from Winter Sonata), and sister of the evil Do Woo Chae, who had destroyed Shin's family. She had spied on her own family, which is how she had learned of Shin’s grave situation. She doesn't have much power to fix anything but she feels the need to formally apologize to Shin, telling him that she thinks his family's destruction had something to do with her family’s company. Eun-soo gives Shin hope for the future. Now instead of being a compliant victim he begins to fight back against his torturers in jail, which actually begins to earn him their respect. He plans on what to do to get his revenge, help his suffering sister-in-law and nieces, and win back his girl once he is out of jail. One of his fellow prisoners released around the same time, Joong Ho (Hyung Bum Kim), even helps him scare off the loan sharks who had targeted his sister-in-law after his brother's death.
Actor Kang Woo Kim playing the sociopathic mergers and acquisitions meddler and murderer Do Woo Chae ...
Note once again the beautiful shadowing camera work in this show - these kinds of shots don't happen by chance.
Shin completes his jail time and comes out to a new world. He finds his sister-in-law working at a food stand to support her girls, and his former girlfriend working at a fancy nightclub. She had helped pay off some of his sister-in-law's debts, for which he was grateful. He asks her to leave the nightclub and come back to him but she says she likes having money now and can't stop. He kisses her like in the old days and she can't help but respond. "You're still you," he smiles at her with love. So now Shin has to come up with 100 million won to get his girlfriend out of the nightclub and an additional 50 million won to pay off his sister-in-law's remaining debts.
Meanwhile the evil Do Woo, who had even helped his sick mother commit suicide when he was young (and also rescued animals to eventually torture them - watch out!), is getting deeper and deeper into his corrupt corporate lifestyle. When he hears his father is arranging for him to be committed into a mental institution he comes up against his father in the corporation first, in a power bid to take over completely, claiming his father is going senile. He even arranges a fiery hit on his father's faithful right-hand man of twenty years, Hee Do Man (Byeong-joo Lee from Secret Garden). Do Woo's sweet younger sister is also beginning to suspect her brother of the murder of Hee Do.
Actor Philip Lee (more eye candy!) as Jae Myung Do ~~
Note once more the face half in shadow, half in light
Shin enlists the help of a wide array of people to help him receive his justice; friends like restaurant owner Moon Ho Park (Moon Shik Lee), past criminals he was in jail with (including the adorable autistic character Kyung-tae Ahn - a stock market genius - played by wonderful actor Ki-woong Park), gamblers, cops, detectives such as the character Detective Kim (played by prolific veteran actress Mi-kyung Kim), and most importantly of all the estranged son of the murdered Hee Do, Jae Myung Do (dreamy American actor Philip Lee from Secret Garden), who flies in from America after his father's death and becomes involved in seeking justice for his murder. It's only a matter of time before Do Woo and Shin have a major confrontation as Shin and supporters plan to bring down Do Woo's construction company and all his corrupt cronies.
As usual for these revenge dramas there are many twists and turns to keep you on your toes. For instance, Shin doesn't really count on his old girlfriend Kyung-ah getting romantically involved with Do Woo, but that's what happens. There will be many other surprises in store for you when you watch this show, some unexpected tragedies, and some special touches (like the restaurant owner constantly playing creepy classical music on old LPs, even when Hee Do is being murdered!), as well as some great dialogue to enjoy. I must admit, though, that some of it gave me the willies, knowing how Park Yong Ha was to die a year later, for instance when he goes to the mausoleum after Hee Do is buried. "I never wanted to come to a place like this ever again," he says. Shudder! In many instances I felt like I was watching an episode of The Twilight Zone, watching Park Yong Ha in his last drama.
But I think my favorite shot of the entire series is one of scene-stealing actor Kang Woo Kim playing Do Woo (gosh, is he a dead ringer for fellow Korean actor Kwon Sang Woo - they should pair them up in a drama or film as brothers!). It's a scene near the very end of the drama, when he kisses Kyung-ah, and one eye opens and looks over at Shin in a very telling manner. You'll just have to watch the drama to understand why that moment is so spine-tingling!
The Great Pretender