Misaeng – The South Korean Work Culture

Misaeng, aka An Incomplete Life, is South Korean drama based on the South Korean comic of the same name by Mr. Yoo Taeho.  The story starts off with Jang Geurae, a professional Go-player-to-be who got hit with reality and begins to adjust to the corporate life of a white-collar employee.  The story then follows the lives of several employees and their struggles (ie. work-life balance, workplace discrimination, and the value of an elite education).  The story, the acting, and even the cinematography are superb.  Anyone who’s interested in the South Korean work culture and heck, even interested in good story writing and telling skills, should definitely check out this drama at viki.com.  *Hint, hint: Just get an ad block app and voilà, no interruptions whatsoever.  Anyways, instead of keep praising that this is a great drama, here are the reasons to back the praise:

1) The New Employees

Each of the four new employees are relatable to some extent.

Jang Geurae:  With only a high school degree and no office admin experience prior to working at One International, Geurae has made a lot of awkward (and hilarious) mistakes and behaviours.  His character really takes me back to my first office admin type of job.  While he was initially an outcast and not invited to lunch, I was invited to lunch but because everyone left before me, I ended up having lunch by myself (because I didn’t know where they were having lunch and I didn’t have my coworkers’ phone numbers yet).  Like Geurae, I made up some lame excuse why I didn’t show up for lunch.  *Facepalm*

The main character of the story...only graduated from high school.

Jang Geurae- the main character of the story…only graduated from high school.









An Youngyi:  She’s the new super employee who is capable of anything.  However, she often has to try harder than her less-than-par male counterparts just because she is woman.  In fact, throughout the drama, there are some outright discriminations that she has to deal with, work or home wise.  As a member of the female population, I can relate, especially when the reception duties, coffee making duties, and party-planning always tend to fall on the other female employees when receptionist is out for lunch or vacation.  Male employees never seem to deal with these kinds of things.  And yes, this is North America I’m talking about, Canada no less.

An Youngyi: Super duper capable employee who just can't seem to catch her break.

An Youngyi: Super duper capable employee who just can’t seem to catch her break.









Jang Baekki: Initially, he reminds me of Peter from The Fountainhead, but as the story progresses I have come to the realization (he too) that he is just the new guy that is ambitious and has been overestimating his ability.  He thought he was at the same level as An Youngyi in terms of capability, but he was really not.  There were definitely times when I thought I was being treated unfairly by my supervisor because she/he was not considering me for a project that I thought I could have completed even with my eyes closed.  Looking back now, I realized I was very foolish and my supervisor saw that and knew I was not ready.  Thank you for knocking down my arrogance a few notches.

Jang Baekki: Tsk, tsk, just look how arrogant he is.

Jang Baekki: Tsk, tsk, just look how arrogant he is.









Han Sukyool:  He is somewhat of an eccentric in the company and I believe that has to do with his blue-collar background.  Like him, I was not very used to the “corporate culture” and the need to fit in with all those packed sardine-like white-collar individuals of society.  I thought I was losing my individualism and would become less of a human being if I just blindly follow the words of others (especially my supervisors) even thought I knew their methods were less effective and efficient.  One of my professors was right in that school would be the last place in which we could freely voice out our opinions because one wrong word out in the gruesome corporate world and that could be the end of it.  However, I’m smart enough to learn to be tactful and eventually get my ways anyhow.

Han Sukyool: The freedom fighter of the cruel corporate world.

Han Sukyool: The freedom fighter of the cruel corporate world.









2) The Family Value Tights Closely in the Workplace

I learned from a couple of my Asian-Canadian and business courses that the value of family matters a lot in the South Korean work culture and because of this drama series, I finally get to see the deeper extent of it.  Supervisors actually see their subordinates as family members and the latter sees the former as a father or mother figure (somewhat).  For us who are living in the Western world, we might not experience that much of it.  In fact, I prefer not seeing my coworkers at all after a long day of work if I could help it.  However, the people who serve or have served in the army, or even work (or worked) in the accounting industry might get it (me included for both the army & accounting…surprise, surprise!).  Even the work is hard, one would eventually feel a sense of close connection (like a comrade in the battlefield) to his or her coworkers after working for close to 15 hours per day.  We would end up crying and laughing together.

3) Undergraduate is the New High School Graduate 

Sad, but true.  I glad that this drama pointed out even though it is done quite subtly.  People at One International (with the exception of Jang Geurae) know at least three to four other languages.  Nowadays, even though it’s simple document filing, data-entry, and answering the phone, companies require the candidate to have at least an undergraduate education when a high schooler could have done the job easily.  One might start to think that we would eventually need to know how to jump through fire hoops and sword swallowing in order to get a simple data-entry job.  *sigh* Mind as well get myself started and sign up for circus training first.

4) A Myriad of Workplace Issues

From power-dynamic bullying, working moms, to promotion versus being an ethical businessman.


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