MBC’s Night Light promises a tale of greed and ruthlessness in the city that never sleeps. No, not New York, but Seoul, where the past collides with the future, and fortune favors those who are fearless and desperate enough to do whatever it takes to snatch it from someone else. There’s no shame in being greedy. There’s only shame in losing.
Note: This is just a first episode recap.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Drenched by the pouring rain, a barefoot LEE SE-JIN (UEE) staggers her way down a deserted road. She frantically flags an oncoming car, but freezes when she sees the driver is SEO YI-KYUNG (Lee Yo-won). Umbrella in hand, Yi-kyung steps toward her, calmly pointing out that it’s a pity Se-jin’s dress was ruined since she knows how much Se-jin liked it.
Se-jin realizes, “You knew all along, didn’t you? And you sent me anyway.” Yi-kyung asks how it felt to be her, then tells Se-jin to get into the car.
Se-jin responds by throwing a rock at the windshield. Without batting an eye, Yi-kyung warns icily, “Emotions are money too. Spend wisely.”
Flashback to one week ago to a fancy charity auction hosted by Yi-kyung, who looks incredibly satisfied that every single person on her invitation list has arrived. When she’s told that everyone is waiting for her, she smiles to herself as she reminds him that it’s taken her years to get here — her guests can wait a few more minutes.
Making the rounds at the auction, she pleasantly greets all her guests, especially all the rich CEOs. But one in particular, CEO SOHN, is less than thrilled, and mutters to his son that it’s suspicious how Yi-kyung has managed to grow the company so quickly in just one year.
CEO Sohn’s snobby granddaughter, SOHN MARI (Lee Ho-jung), spots an old chaebol boyfriend and literally drags him out by his ear, demanding to know what he’s doing there. But Se-jin suddenly arrives and slips her arm through his, looking cozy as she adjusts his tie.
Mari boasts that she’d “played around” with the loser boyfriend until just a month ago. Se-jin’s nonchalant reply surprises her: “So?” Se-jin warns her to watch her mouth, then confidently walks away as Mari’s jaw drops.
As Se-jin walks around the party, she catches Yi-kyung’s eye. Yi-kyung amusedly tells her that she recognizes that one-of-a-kind dress because she had wanted to buy it, but was told it was put aside for a rich CEO’s wife.
Se-jin laughs it off, telling her she must be mistaken, but Yi-kyung is firm. She never forgets something she likes — whether it’s a dress or a person.
It seems there’s more than one auction tonight — one for charity, and one for business. The CEOs all gather around a table, looking through the art listings that will be offered much lower than the market value. They’re impressed by Yi-kyung’s gift, but she bluntly tells them it’s a bribe to accept her company (which has been predominately operating overseas) into the Korean market and into their business group.
CEO Sohn points out that her father is the one running the business, and he never wanted to establish a company in Korea. But Yi-kyung tells him that she’s the CEO for Korea and that she’s the one who makes the decisions. CEO Sohn doesn’t care — if she wants to join their business group, then she’ll have to get her father’s signed permission.
The charity auction is still going on, and Se-jin makes a big point of flirting with her date as Mari glares at them. Se-jin pulls out a pretty mirror from her purse, telling everyone that it’s from a famous artist in Japan and that her boyfriend had bought it for his ex. But now Se-jin’s the fortunate owner, and wants a chance to win it fair and square in the auction.
Her date is utterly bewildered by this declaration, and Se-jin whispers that she wants to teach Mari a lesson. Se-jin starts the bidding and Mari immediately raises it. But it’s a surprise to her when Yi-kyung suddenly bids a high amount — she has been keeping her eye on Se-jin and Mari, knowing full well what stunt she’s pulling.
In the end, Mari wins the mirror for five million won (approximately $5,000), but the little wink Se-jin throws her unnerves her. Later, in the ladies’ room, a very drunk Mari tries to confront Se-jin about the mirror, but Se-jin just coolly dismisses Mari as the spoiled brat that she is. In her drunken flailing, the mirror breaks, and Mari wails in dismay.
Yi-kyung enters at that moment, pointing out that it’s a pity such an expensive item is now broken. Se-jin just shrugs — it only cost her $5 at the market.
But Yi-kyung says that if Se-jin is playing the role of the girlfriend, she should have stuck it out until the end. Even so, Yi-kyung is impressed at how well Se-jin has managed to fool everyone. Se-jin asks if Yi-kyung is following her, and Yi-kyung simply hands over her business card, telling her it might be beneficial to contact her.
Se-jin’s chaebol fake boyfriend carefully guards a car that’s suspiciously rocking, but it’s just Se-jin changing out of her fancy dress. He offers her a ride home, but Se-jin reminds him that she was only pretending to be his girlfriend to earn a little cash, which he sadly hands over to her. Aw, but she cheers him on, letting him know he’s worth a hundred of those snobby girls.
Se-jin scurries to the designer store to return to the red dress that her friend, an employee there, had loaned her. Then she returns home to show off her new income to her aunt, who’s exhausted from working at the sauna all day. Her aunt is thrilled to see the cash, but sighs because their rent deposit will be going up, and it won’t be enough.
Se-jin promises to find a way to get the money, but the next morning when she arrives at the fitness center where she works, she discovers that the owner has scammed everyone out of their fees and fled town. The back pay she’s owed looks impossible to get now.
Yi-kyung is convinced that they’ll be able to dig up dirt on CEO Sohn if they investigate his son and granddaughter, Mari. But she’s momentarily distracted by the news that Moojin Group’s CEO is soon to get a verdict for his corruption and tax evasion charges.
The CEO’s son, PARK GUN-WOO (Jin Gu), is on his way to the company to see his father, but CEO Park, in his prison jumpsuit, is happy to ignore everyone. He’s offended that his brother wants him to put on the standard “sickly CEO in a wheelchair” pity display and staunchly refuses to give up his company’s holdings in the Middle East. Gun-woo agrees with his father, knowing how stubborn he can be.
In private, Gun-woo sighs to his assistant that he can’t figure out how to get his father to budge. He also knows that his uncle, despite acting like a worried brother, is already secretly trying to sway the company to his side in order to take over when CEO Park is sentenced to prison.
It seems that his father’s determination to keep the Middle East holdings is based on sentimentality, since CEO Park’s late brother was the one who established them. Gun-woo also seems fond of his late uncle, remembering his uncle’s advice to follow his heart and pursue his dreams.
Those dreams were to be a musician, and as Yi-kyung walks across a familiar bridge in Japan, she reminisces of a time when she and Gun-woo would sit next to the river as he played his guitar.
But she’s in Japan on a mission, and that’s to see her father. The housekeeper tells her that he doesn’t want to see her, but Yi-kyung is determined to wait, no matter how long it takes. However, when she realizes that the branches on the trees are dead, she knows something’s wrong, and storms into his room to find him on his sickbed.
Gasping, he struggles to order her to leave. It seems like he’d had a stroke about a month ago, and he’d ordered that no one tell Yi-kyung about it. The housekeeper sadly explains that ever since Yi-kyung left home, her father had been working himself nearly to death, even trying to go to a business negotiation the day he collapsed.
Yi-kyung knows who that negotiation was with, and goes to them. The gangster-like boss reveals a briefcase filled with money, but then he also puts a gun on the table, telling her that if she wants the money, then she’ll need to be brave. He dumps out all the bullets except one — they’ll play Russian roulette to see who will get the money, and he smirks as he tells her that she has a one-in-six chance of winning.
After his first shot, she grabs the gun and then tells him that instead of spinning the cylinder each time, they’ll just continue pulling the trigger until someone loses. She puts the gun against her head and pulls the trigger — no bullet. The gangster tries to grandstand, but Yi-kyung’s calm and efficient way of taking the gun back after his shot stops him in his tracks. Finally, there’s only shot left — the sixth shot, which guarantees that someone will lose (and, presumably, die).
The gangster is confident that Yi-kyung will surrender, since it’s now her turn and there’s no chance of winning. She pulls the trigger anyway — and wait, it’s an empty chamber! She opens the cylinder to reveal that the gangster had sneakily swapped the real bullet for a fake hollow one, and as she replaces it with a real bullet, she tells the gangster that her father taught her to be humble and honest when it comes to money. She won’t accept these kinds of tricks from him.
She puts the gun against her head and pulls the trigger. Nothing happens, but the gangster is shocked that she would risk her life for a measly 10 million won. She grabs the gun and points it at him (and all his guards point their guns at her), telling him that money is the god you can see — even if you only lose one cent, you still lose a part of your soul.
That’s what her father taught her, as he reprimanded her when she was a young child for losing a yen coin (roughly equivalent to a penny). As both a punishment and a lesson, she was forced to pick up a hundred coins from their rock garden, the effort of which made her sick. But at the end of the day, he tended to his daughter, sick in bed. Although now, Yi-kyung is the one kneeling at her sick father’s bedside.
Back in Korea, Yi-kyung studies the financial statements of CEO Sohn’s family, knowing there has to be a hidden account somewhere. In the meantime, Se-jin goes to Yi-kyung’s office to figure out what kind of job she’s needed for. Director Jo explains that they need her to steal Mari’s phone so they can clone it and try to find proof that her father embezzled company money. He’ll pay Se-jin a million won (approximately $1,000) for what will amount to about five minutes’ work.
Se-jin tries to negotiate him to two million won, pointing out that she’ll have to live with being a thief. But she’s surprised when Yi-kyung suddenly appears to tell her they’ll pay her three million.
Yi-kyung is amused by the fact that since Se-jin is violating her principles, then she must be really desperate for the money. Se-jin points out that every day is desperate when you don’t have any money, but that’s not something Yi-kyung would understand. Except Yi-kyung smiles — she and Se-jin are not so different than Se-jin might think.
As they watch Mari enter a fancy spa, Yi-kyung’s chauffeur/bodyguard TAK (Jung Hae-in) gives Se-jin electronic tools to open the locker and copy Mari’s phone. Se-jin is confident she’ll do well, and sweet-talks her way into the spa, pretending she’s an old friend to get access to the room.
Once alone, she quickly opens the locker with the nifty electronic lock pick and then immediately starts sending a copy of Mari’s phone to Yi-kyung’s office. As everyone impatiently waits for the progress bar to reach 100 percent, Mari suddenly decides she needs to make a phone call. Uh-oh.
Thinking quickly, Se-jin tries to lock the door, and when Mari finally barges in, she covers her face with a sheet mask to hide her identity. She almost escapes without notice, except the mask falls and Mari recognizes her as the girl from the charity event.
Still in her gown and slippers, Se-jin hightails it out of the spa as Mari’s bodyguards chase after her. She’s cornered in a dead end, but bodyguard Tak arrives in the nick of time and easily takes down Mari’s burly men. Mission accomplished! Se-jin gets her three million won, and seems almost sad that Yi-kyung isn’t there to give it to her in person.
Gun-woo and his uncle meet with CEO Sohn at a restaurant. It’s clearly just to talk about what’s going to happen with CEO Park’s company, but Gun-woo has no shame in chowing down, cheerfully reminding CEO Sohn that he’s just a team leader so he can stop referring to him as a company president. CEO Sohn is not impressed with Gun-woo’s lack of business etiquette.
CEO Sohn hears there’s another visitor waiting for him, and he steps out to see Yi-kyung. She suggests he sit down for what she’s about to tell him.
Meanwhile, Gun-woo’s uncle is annoyed by how Gun-woo is acting, and he asks his uncle why he bothered to bring him in the first place. He knows CEO Sohn is a bad apple who will only drag them down if they agree to work with him. Gun-woo says that he’ll figure out how to save the company — and his father — on his own terms.
Yi-kyung shows CEO Sohn proof of his son embezzling money. He’s unperturbed, instead bringing up the fact Yi-kyung must be so desperate to dig this deep into his family’s finances because she wasn’t able to get her father’s signature. But Yi-kyung blackmails him, telling him that if he agrees to vote her into the business group, she won’t reveal to the group the truth of the CEO’s corruption.
He tears up the document and throws it in her face, insisting that no one will believe her. But she calmly reveals that she only has to light the match of suspicion — it’s everyone else who will make sure he’ll burn.
Director Jo waits for Yi-kyung in the car, but he’s shocked to see Gun-woo leave the restaurant first — and just missing Yi-kyung, who doesn’t see him pass by. She knows that something’s wrong, and Director Jo admits that he just saw Gun-woo. Yi-kyung casually says that now she’s back in Seoul, they’re bound to eventually cross paths.
But she’s not as unconcerned as she appears, because when she gets back to the office, she carefully studies a yen coin that she keeps in a special box. She remembers a time when she and Gun-woo were in Japan, hanging out by the river, and his guitar pick broke. She offered the coin as a replacement, but then demanded it back when it was too awkward to use as a pick.
She told him it’s the first coin she ever held, so it was really important to her. He then asked to keep it, promising to work hard and repay her. It’s sweet how he connected the most important thing to her (money) to the most important thing to him (music).
In the present day, Yi-kyung sets aside the coin, and then studies an old picture of her father and Gun-woo’s father celebrating the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Yi-kyung tracks down Se-jin at her home, and Se-jin hurries out to greet her, surprised by the visit. Yi-kyung cheerfully tells her to they’re going shopping. Se-jin is flattered that Yi-kyung wants her opinion on picking out a new wardrobe, but suggests that maybe it would better for Yi-kyung to go with a friend. Yi-kyung smiles, telling Se-jin that she can be her friend for the day.
The women have a fun afternoon of shopping, although Se-jin seems to be trying on more clothes than Yi-kyung, and Yi-kyung is the one vetoing dress choices.
Afterwards, the women arrive at Yi-kyung’s gorgeous apartment, their arms loaded with shopping bags. Se-jin is grateful for Yi-kyung’s gifts, but that’s not the end — Yi-kyung has one more thing to show her.
Se-jin opens up the closet to reveal the red dress she wore to the charity event. She’s stunned to see it again, insisting that it’s too expensive to accept as a gift. Yi-kyung says that she can accept it as payment for another job, if that will make her feel better.
Yi-kyung explains that she needs Se-jin to be pretend to be her. She has two meetings scheduled for the same time on the same day, and the art dealers from Taiwan refuse to meet with anyone other than her. So she needs to Se-jin to pretend to be her so she can go to the other meeting.
Se-jin is hesitant — not about actually doing the job, but wondering if she can really be like Yi-kyung. Holding up the dress against her, Yi-kyung turns Se-jn towards the mirror, telling her that the real question is whether she wants to be like Yi-kyung?
The Taiwanese art dealers arrive, and if CEO Sohn refuses to meet with them because it’s too shady, then you know these guys are no good. More importantly, he’s confident that Yi-kyung won’t be at the business group meeting today.
Director Jo informs Yi-kyung that the meeting is starting, reassuring her to not be worried about Se-jin. After all, this is the best way for them to unsettle CEO Sohn. Laughing to herself, Yi-kyung says that she doesn’t do anything that won’t profit her, so it’s pointless to feel regret.
Se-jin confidently walks down a hotel hallway in her snazzy red dress, but she takes a moment to nervously smooth her hair before ringing the doorbell.
Yi-kyung enters the business meeting, much to the shock of CEO Sohn.
Se-jin introduces herself to the person who answers the door: “I am Seo Yi-kyung.”
I am already loving the dynamic between Yi-kyung and Se-jin. It started off with a bang (literally, with the rock in the windshield), but there’s this low-key current between them that is intriguing and fascinating — and is probably exactly what they both feel about each other. I can definitely see Se-jin irresistibly pulled into Yi-kyung’s orbit because here is a woman with poise and confidence, who isn’t afraid to get what she wants, no matter what — plus she’s rich. And Yi-kyung, no doubt, sees something of her younger self in Se-jin — perhaps what she used to be like when she was in Japan, when she was hungry for success but maybe still had a moral compass keeping her from actually doing anything to win.
It’s a good thing the leads are so interesting, because honestly my brain was kind of zoning out with all the business politics stuff. I get it — CEO Sohn is bad, his granddaughter is a special kind of spoiled brat, and they must be destroyed. It’s critical that Yi-kyung’s company get accepted into the business group because… it is… important? Yeah. Important.
I’m hoping the show focuses more on the women and merely uses all the business stuff as a prop for them going out and destroying everything in their path as they climb to the top. Although, I do like that the show isn’t afraid to address some of the issues women in business face (especially executives). I know we’re supposed to hate the Sohn family anyway, but it was pretty easy to put them at the top of the “villain” list the moment CEO Sohn’s son dismissed Yi-kyung as a business threat just because she’s a woman (and therefore wouldn’t be able to succeed simply because of her gender).
I also love that the standard drama conceit of the “cold-hearted chaebol” and the “Candy girl” have also been flipped on its head. Yes, we have a cold-hearted chaebol, who will calmly and coolly do anything she can to succeed. Yes, we have the poor girl desperate to make money to make sure her family isn’t living on the street. But there’s more to it, isn’t there?
Maybe it’s the red dress inspiring the fanciful imagery, but I have visions of a spiritual tango between Yi-kyung and Se-jin. Or perhaps a paso doble would be more accurate, as Yi-kyung is the one expertly waving around the red cape to attract Se-jin, who fearlessly charges in like a bull. It’s understated, but beautiful, and you just know that somehow they will be inexplicably intertwined. For the better or worse — who knows? While I want them to achieve their goals and live happily ever after, there’s also a part of me hoping for a little All About Eve-type of obsession that ends up ruining lives.
As for Gun-woo, while he had his cute moments (that dinner scene!) and it’s easy to be fond of him because he seems like a good guy, he’s somehow lacking compared to the intensity of the women. That’s probably a good thing, in the long run, but for right now I’m only vaguely curious about what happened between him and Yi-kyung in Japan, and why they’ve ended up practically strangers, unaware the other is nearby. I’m much more curious about why Se-jin threw a brick at Yi-kyung’s car.
Even though this is just a first episode recap, I’ll keep watching the show since it gives me something that feels a little fresh and new (and I love a badass Lee Yo-won!), even if I’m not exactly holding my breath for a happy ending. I do wish that Netflix hadn’t snapped up an exclusive agreement so that it would be more accessible to international viewers while it’s airing. The show might not be a ratings monster, but I think it’s a drama worthy of attention — which it won’t get from the international audience when it’s locked down and won’t be available until months later. I’d love to sic Yi-kyung and Se-jin on the decision-makers, telling them it’s my desperate desire to have this drama accessible to the world.