I’ve been pretty vocal about my excitement for Manhole and IT’S FINALLY HERE! Manhole premiered yesterday and unsurprisingly, was at the last of the ratings race. I do hope it fares better as the weeks go by as I liked what I saw and I’m excited for all the hijinks. I ended up not being able to follow Reunited Worlds week by week as originally planned so my Wed-Thu kdrama slot is actually free. Would Manhole make the cut? Let’s see!
Reasons for Watching
1. I need my comedy! The teasers were so fun that I went from not interested to super excited about this drama.
2. I love my fish-out-of-water trope (hello, catnip), especially if it’s time travel.
3. I pretty much like all of the actors. I had fun with Jaejoong back in Protect the Boss (I was part of the subbing team for that) and I’ve been fond of UEE since Ojakgyo Brothers. And I enjoyed Jung Hye-sung in Chief Kim so I’m pretty sure I’ll at least enjoy our main cast.
We open with a shot of Seoul, with a streak of light going down it. Next thing we see are fireflies flying around, only to change into streaks of light once again, and stopping by a balcony as a firefly. Our male narrator introduces us to BONG PIL (played by Kim Jae-joong), 28 years old and studying for the civil service exam (level 9: for cops), the main character of this story, drinking his father’s ginseng wine out of a mug. He looks over his balcony to his neighbor’s to see a bride.
Bong Pil compares his love that disappeared like a shooting star to his dad’s wine. After 20 years, you’d think it’d be sweeter but in fact, it’s bitter. Loud noises come from the street and our bride looks out, only for Bong Pil to hide. He muses that it’s been 28 years; their (do you mean your, Pil?) love started 28 years ago. He was only older by three days and they were born at the same hospital. He’s been waiting for the right time to confess his love but then he learns she’s suddenly about to marry. Meanwhile, the firefly he tried to catch a while ago turns into streaks of light that end up in a manhole.
Bitter and drunk, Bong Pil goes out on the streets and tells the merrymakers (they’re having the box ceremony for Soo-jin’s marriage) that they’re too noisy and tries to break them up. Soo-jin’s fiance just looks on.
We’re finally introduced to KANG SOO-JIN (played by UEE) by our female narrator, 28 years old and the so-called femme fatale of the neighborhood, poised to have her wedding in a week. She shuts Bong Pil right up with a single look. Bong Pil’s parents then come out and his dad throws the empty container of wine at him. The female narrator hilariously tells us that his parents have long given up on Bong Pil. Haha!
Bong Pil reminisces where it started going awry. They were on their third grade where Soo-jin was seated next to him and that’s when he started loving her. His method of showing it was too progressive (drawing them together with an X-marks-the-spot on his groin) so they were teased and Soo-jin ended up crying for two hours and hating him.
The next day, Bong Pil tries to ask for money from his parents, only for them to go ninja and missing once he turns corners to where they are. Haha! As in, you can hear his mom chopping vegetables but she suddenly disappears.
Dejected, he leaves his house and passes by YOON JIN-SOOK (played by Jung Hye-sung) and her juice truck. She’s also 28 years old and she knows everything about Pil. And as the promos described her, Jin-sook is mercilessly blunt. I love her and her brand of tough love already. Pil goes to study with JO SUK-TAE (played by Baro), who’s 28 years old too and has been studying for the civil service exam for six years already. They end up getting on each other’s nerves because Pil tells Suk-tae he’ll never pass the exam and Suk-tae counters that he should just give up on Soo-jin.
They relocate to Jin-sook’s juice truck to eat ramyeon, only for Suk-tae to say even more digs at Pil, so Pil hits his head while he’s eating ramyeon. Suk-tae ends up getting burned by the ramyeon. Haha! Jin-sook, on the other hand, suggests killing the groom to stop the wedding. She is indeed insane. I really love her.
They relocate yet again to what looks like Jin-sook’s rooftop where Jin-sook treats Suk-tae’s burns while a whining and brokenhearted Pil rants. Jin-sook tells Pil that he’s been in love with Soo-jin for so long that he should just tell her. Pil gets tantrums thinking that they already had sex and Jin-sook comments that the whole neighborhood knows that he’s in love with Soo-jin and proceeds to call a “neighborhood meeting” by shouting about Pil’s situation literally from the rooftops. Haha! Pil asks them for advice on how to undo everything or what he should do, to which Suk-tae tells him to just wait for them to divorce. That’s no good for Pil and he leaves. Jin-sook and Suk-tae continue drinking and Suk-tae tries to subtly ask Jin-sook who is she gonna marry. Jin-sook can see right through it and tells him that it’s not him. HAHA!
Soo-jin’s fiance, PARK JAE-HYUN (played by Jang Mi-kwan) drops by her office. He’s 31 years old and a neighborhood pharmacist, while Soo-jin works as a photographer. He’s the ever-doting fiance, telling her she’s pretty, dropping by during his lunch break, telling her he’ll be back after work and that they’ll eat out. Soo-jin apologizes in behalf of Pil and Jae-hyun tells her that it’s okay, although Pil’s scary. He comments that there’s only a week left and he’ll whisk away Soo-jin from this strange neighborhood of hers, to which she doesn’t look all that happy. Jae-hyun leaves and a certain girl named Young-ju calls him, which he doesn’t answer. YOU ARE FISHY, MISTER.
Not being able to get helpful advice from Jin-sook and Suk-tae, Pil goes to a DVD and comic book rental shop where his friend OH DAL-SOO (played by Lee Sang-yi) works. Dal-soo is 29 years old and was a smart film student. And the narrator cheekily adds that he’s ONLY smart. Pil asks Dal-soo how do people stop weddings in movies (ha!) and Dal-soo wisely says that life isn’t like movies. He could get arrested or beaten up if he tries to stop Soo-jin’s wedding. Pil bemoans that he was not even given an invitation to the wedding and Dal-soo counters he shouldn’t focus on his lack of an invite. He tells Pil that he lost the battle because he sucked at gathering information. How come he didn’t know that Soo-jin was getting married? In the end, Dal-soo recommends Hugh Grant’s Four Weddings and a Funeral as his advice. Pil can only whine and as he leaves, we’re introduced to yet another classmate of his back then: HONG JUNG-AE (played by Kim Min-ji). She’s been working and living with Dal-soo for two years and she has an antagonistic relationship with Pil. She rubs salt to the wound by telling Pil that Soo-jin’s fiance is tall and handsome, to which Pil walks out, only to come back and tell Dal-soo that Jung-ae pooped inside the classroom back in second grade. HAHA
Pil reminisces how he prepared a birthday surprise party for Soo-jin back in high school. He pulled out all the stops, starting with a cake made up of choco pies, followed by fireworks and sparklers going off in a circle around them. It’s such a magical moment, only to be cut that it was SUPPOSED to be like this.
In reality, cops ended up arriving after Soo-jin blew the candles and his accomplices (Suk-tae and Dal-soo) ended up running, and the sparklers went off but not prettily at that. Soo-jin had to spend her birthday inside the police station, writing a police report, where their parents had to pick them up. He comments that it was like a wedding and that’s why he thinks it was still a magnificent party. I’m sure she doesn’t see it that way, buddy.
Jin-sook is with Jung-ae in Bongbong Pub and she calls Soo-jin to come by for girls’ night. Soo-jin is actually atop of a hill where she’s laughing all by herself, supposedly to take photos, but she forgot her camera. The three girls talk about Soo-jin’s wedding and how Pil’s asking around how to stop it. Jin-sook asks Soo-jin why she didn’t invite Pil, which Soo-jin tells them she sent an invite via mail. Jung-ae tells Soo-jin that she should have given it to him personally; they’re neighbors. Soo-jin explains that it’s odd and Jin-sook takes her side and explains how awkward it is to Jung-ae.
And we’re not yet done with character introduction! (I’m getting tired, y’all.) At Pilseung Billiard Room and Internet Cafe, Pil asks YANG GOO-GIL (played by Kang Hong-suk), a 29-year old neighbor who’s kind and strong, for advice. Goo-gil also regrets not doing anything before when Jung-ae left him. Ooh, there’s a triangle! Pil says that he HAS to marry Soo-jin and Goo-gil is incredulous at this, even calling him a thug. The wedding’s in a week, for god’s sake! Goo-gil tsk-tsks at him, saying that it’s the same when he was in the track team: he had speed, but sucked at the starts. He only needs a great start to win. Goo-gil tells him though that he can still win, if they get a shotgun wedding *wink wink*. Pil won’t accept that as an answer and tells Goo-gil that no one in this neighborhood is normal and he shouldn’t have asked for advice.
Suk-tae goes home and Pil’s wedding invitation is with him and he hides it! Why didn’t he give it to Pil?! In the drawer where he hid it, we see lots of envelopes too. Are those all for Pil? From Soo-jin?? Meanwhile, Pil goes to Soo-jin’s office and he gets huffy when he sees her pre-nup photos with Jae-hyun. Soo-jin asks him what he’s here for and Pil tells him he was just taking a walk. Pil finally tells Soo-jin that he’s in love with her and hugs her… only that it’s in his imagination. He’s actually hugging air. Hahaha!
Soo-jin laughs at him and Pil tries to salvage the situation. Soo-jin then reprimands him for making a scene during her box ceremony and how she had to explain that he’s her friend. He asks her if he’s her friend and she asks him that if he’s not her friend, then what is he? She comments that he’s a friend who’s like an enemy and that she should have been through with him. She obviously doesn’t really mean it. Pil then finally asks why he wasn’t sent an invitation and Soo-jin wonders how it can’t be there yet when his father is a postmaster. Pil asks her if she’s happy getting married and she answers that of course she is. She asks if he’s coming to her wedding and he tells her he’s not sure, to which Soo-jin calls him out that he has the freest schedule in this whole neighborhood.
After he leaves Soo-jin’s office, Pil berates himself for not being able to just tell her that he loves her. He goes to a batting cage, convincing himself he should let her go. But in the end, he decides that he shouldn’t and that he needs to tell her how he feels. He runs to her office and when she’s not there, to her house. But she’s not there too and when he tries to call her, he can’t reach her. His imagination gets the better of him as he imagines that Soo-jin is with Jae-hyun in bed for their first night and that Jae-hyun turned her phone off.
He runs around town and tries to find Jae-hyun at the pharmacy he works on but he’s not there as well. He asks for his number and he also doesn’t answer, to which he imagines that Jae-hyun turned his phone off and put it on top of Soo-jin’s phone. Haha, the innuendo on this show! As he runs, he makes gusts of strong wind, that his friends feel when he passes them by. I love how wacky this show is!
With Soo-jin and Jae-hyun’s first night looming over his head, Pil goes from one motel to another, showing Soo-jin’s photo and asking the receptionists if this woman is inside. He even tries to break into rooms. He has visited every single motel in town but he still can’t find her. Defeated, he ends up walking in a daze and stepping on a hose, only for it to shower him. Walking by Jin-sook’s juice truck, she tries to dry him with a towel, only for Pil to continue walking in a daze.
He finally sees Soo-jin and Jae-hyun coming out of a multi-entertainment room and he assumes that Jae-hyun is so cheap that he brought Soo-jin there for their first night to have sex. Soo-jin and Jae-hyun can’t understand what he’s saying because he’s all half-sentences and crying from anger. As Pil acts increasingly incredulous, Jae-hyun’s patience runs out and he punches Pil.
Cut to the whole gang on Jin-sook’s rooftop tending to Pil. Goo-gil brought him home and as he’s coming to, he asks what happened and where’s Soo-jin. Soo-jin is by a corner, quite pissed at Jae-hyun for hitting her friend. Goo-gil suggests beating up Jae-hyun for coming onto their own and Dal-soo suggests that suing would be better. The whole gang plots how they’ll exact revenge on Jae-hyun and I. LOVE. THEM. And plotting just ends up to drinking. Soo-jin tells Pil that they should join them to drink but Pil tells her that he’ll get her home now since her mom always asks him where she is whenever she’s late for home.
They end up walking together and Soo-jin gives Pil his invitation for the wedding and subsequently asks him what was the important thing he needs to tell her a while ago. Pil works up his courage and gets out “whenever I see you”, to be continued with “my heart races like crazy”. But he ends up blurting “I need to pee”, which he clears doesn’t mean that he feels like peeing whenever he sees her. Ha! He just needs to pee right now and he’ll tell her later. He leaves and hides near the manhole and opens the invitation.
He admits that he now understands and realizes that admitting his love wouldn’t change anything. And that he’s too late. Dejected, he crumples to the ground. Meanwhile, Soo-jin is now worried where Pil is as he’s taking too long. She passes by the manhole and walks further to the tunnel but there’s no sign of Pil around. She’s obviously pissed that Pil ran away.
But we know that he didn’t because he actually ended up in the manhole! Ohmygod, it’s so wacky, my tears are falling from the absurdity of it all. Hahaha!
We then see Pil sleeping inside a high school classroom, with high school Soo-jin, Jin-sook, and Suk-tae. Their teacher notices him sleeping and wakes him up by throwing a chalk. He wakes up and is visibly surprised at what he’s seeing. Their German high school teacher! Everyone in their high school uniform! He calls his teacher annoying and his teacher throws him the eraser, which he catches easily, as if it happened before. His teacher is upset and promises that this classroom is gonna be hell for him. Pil asks himself: “What’s going on? What is this horrible deja vu?”
I love how bright and colorful the cinematography is with this one. The whole neighborhood to which the drama is set seems warm and cheery and it’s also populated by bright characters too. Moreover, I love how everyone seems like a family. You totally feel that these people have grown up together and have known each other for their whole lives. They’re brutally honest and blunt, and they tease each other mercilessly. They feel free to say anything to each other and at the end of the day, even though they rib each other off the most, they also have each other’s backs. Jin-sook is especially blunt yet she also seems to be the mother hen of the group, taking care of them all. From treating Suk-tae’s burn with an ointment, to drying Pil’s hair, to being there for Soo-jin, I wanna be her friend.
The dynamic between Pil and Soo-jin is especially interesting because it isn’t as if Soo-jin is unaware that Pil is in love with her. I assumed that would be the case and if that was it, I would have rolled my eyes because how is that even possible when everybody knows. So I’m happy that Soo-jin actually knows and yet they’re still friends. They’re not awkward together and Soo-jin treats Pil how she treats all her friends, except for the invitation bit, which I’d argue is indeed awkward.
Somehow, I feel like I should feel irritated with Pil because DUDE, 28 YEARS. How come he hasn’t confessed yet? And then here he comes telling everyone that he HAS to marry Soo-jin. Surprisingly though, I don’t feel my eyes rolling at him at any point. It’s because he doesn’t say that he DESERVES Soo-jin because dude, obviously you don’t because you’ve done nothing. I feel like Jaejoong’s innate charisma helped with that. I just can’t help but root for him and cheer him on! Especially since all he did during this episode is pretty much whine around the neighborhood so we can get introduced to the characters. I’m excited to see what happened in the past though that he’s now in this hellhole. Jae-hyun feels fishy because who is that girl calling him? Is he two-timing? We still don’t know but for now, I don’t trust him.
Let’s get to the wacky. Did you see how he went down that manhole? In that white suit or what? HAHAHA. I love how hyperactive Pil’s imagination is and I ADORE that we have narrators, who add cheeky side comments and whatnots. It reminds me of the whimsy that is Pushing Daisies although Manhole is not as whimsical. Despite all the wackiness, I still feel the central emotions where the show is rooted in: regret and iron will and determination. Despite all the bright colors, Pil’s love life is in shambles, all thanks to his non-actions. Or should I say, he does act but his actions all backfire on him.
I’m stoked to see how Pil manages his travels to the past and how it’ll affect his present. More hijinks, please! I didn’t realize there were this many characters to the show and that the friendship circle is larger than four. So I was quite surprised with that. Being in-the-know of the plot from all the promotional materials, I’d say that I didn’t really learn new from the first episode. But now that we’ve established all the characters and Pil has traveled to the past for the first time, I wanna see more of how the plot will take off now. And I’m sure the next episode will show that. SO EXCITED.
VERDICT: While not as laugh-out-loud funny (yet?) as I thought it would have, I enjoyed the first hour of Manhole, mostly because of the wacky humor, quirky style (it has narrators!), and the wonderful ensemble of characters. I’m definitely looking forward to the next episode because I wanna see more time traveling shenanigans. I’ll definitely follow this week by week because I need my dose of comedy!