OCN is the best channel for stylish crime procedurals, and their new mystery thriller is both disturbing and utterly gripping as it reveals the importance of an emergency call center’s response time. After all, how many detectives can solve a case in one day, much less ten minutes? While the subject matter may not be for the faint of heart (warning: there’s brutal violence and mention of sexual assault), it definitely packs a wallop that keeps you on the edge of your seat, desperate to know what happens next.
Chapter 1: “The Voice in the Dark”
In a labyrinth of dark and deserted alleyways, a bloody and barefoot woman desperately attempts to escape a mysterious hooded man who slowly follows after her.
Meanwhile, MOO JIN-HYUK (Jang Hyuk) and his fellow detectives are on a stakeout, but when they see their target arrive, Jin-hyuk decides it’s not worth waiting for back-up.
Instead, their team will take down the gangsters. His phone rings — it’s his wife, but instead of answering, he tosses it aside so he and his men can confront the criminals.
The terrified and bloody woman is Jin-hyuk’s wife, and when he doesn’t answer the phone, she calls the emergency center. KANG KWON-JOO (Lee Hana) answers, and once the caller says that someone is trying to kill her, the call is transferred to her supervisor.
They try to get the woman to give a detailed description of where she is so they can send help, but the call is dropped. The supervisor orders Kwang-joo to call the woman back, but she hesitates. Annoyed, her supervisor hits the dial-back button for her, and the sound of the woman’s phone ringing alerts the mysterious man to where his victim is hiding.
Whispering into the phone, she begs Kwong-joo to save her, but then freezes when she glimpses the mysterious attacker nearby. She leaves her hiding spot, slowly making her way through the alley only to be tackled by the black hooded man. The woman lies helpless on the ground, crying as she begs her attacker to not kill her — she has a son at home.
But the hooded man just smiles and says that she shouldn’t have upset him. His grin eerily gleams from the shadows of his hood as he pulls out a small kettle bell from his pocket and bludgeons the woman to death.
After a successful takedown of the gang, Jin-yuk and his team celebrate over a congratulatory dinner and drinks. He gets a call from fellow detective SHIM DAE-SHIK (Baek Sung-hyun) who worriedly asks Jin-hyuk if he can call his wife. He laughs off the younger man’s request, instead inviting him to join the guys for a drink.
But Dae-shik tells him that he’s at a crime scene of a woman who was murdered after an attempted rape, and they found Jin-hyuk’s wife’s ID in the woman’s wallet. Jin-hyuk still thinks it’s all a joke, pointing out that Dae-shik knows what his wife looks like and can recognize her that way. Except not this time — the killer destroyed her face so that it’s unidentifiable.
Still laughing it off, Jin-hyuk calls his wife anyway, convinced it will prove Dae-shik is worried about nothing. As the phone rings and rings and no one picks up, Jin-hyuk gradually starts to get worried.
He staggers his drunken way to the crime scene. Violent Crimes Unit Chief JANG KYUNG-HAK is annoyed that Dae-shik called him and orders Jin-hyuk to go home, but Jin-hyuk fights him off, falling down near a piece of evidence — the dinner she’d made and was bringing to him, but had dropped when she was fleeing her attacker.
Jin-hyuk fights his way to the body covered in a sheet, recognizing a the bracelet on her wrist. He continues to believe that it’s still all just a big prank, but as he literally falls down drunk, he sees her cold and bloody feet. Realization begins to set in.
The next morning, the news is abuzz with information about the brutal murder, with many blaming the incompetency of the emergency call center for the woman’s death.
Later, a despondent and drunk Jin-hyuk sits in front of his wife’s memorial while Dae-shik attends to the fellow mourners. Jin-hyuk’s team from the Violent Crimes Unit arrive to pay their respects, and also to let him know they’ve found the murderer: a man named Go Dong-chil who was found with Jin-hyuk’s wife’s blood on his clothes.
Jin-hyuk blames himself, though — if he’d been home more often instead of working so hard to pay the bills, she wouldn’t have felt the need to deliver him food and be out that night in the first place. Even so, with a dangerous glint in his eye, he promises that if Dong-chil ever gets out of prison, he’ll kill him.
During the trial, the prosecutor shares the gruesome details of exactly how Jin-yuk’s wife was murdered, much to the horror of those sitting in the audience. The prosecution then calls Kwon-joo as a witness since she was the one who took the call, but she instead tells the court that Dong-chil’s voice isn’t the same voice she heard that night.
It’s a shocking declaration, and Dae-shik whispers to Jin-hyuk that there’s a rumor going around that Kwon-joo believes the man who killed his wife is also the same one who killed her father a few years ago, although her father’s death was ruled as part of an accidental hit-and-run. There’s another rumor that she’s being bribed by Dong-chil’s family to testify that he isn’t the killer.
But Kwon-joo sticks with her story, insisting that if they listen to the recordings — not just the one of Jin-hyuk’s wife’s killer, but the one from her father’s walkie-talkie the day he died — they would be able to hear that they are identical. The courtroom is abuzz, and the judge agrees to listen to the recordings.
Jin-hyuk’s wife’s voice fills the courtroom with her gasping pleas to be saved, but once the recording ends, a puzzled Kwon-joo explains that there should be more to the recording — the call continued past that. She even spoke to the murderer! But that’s the entirety of the call the police submitted as evidence.
Jin-hyuk yells at Kwon-joo to stop lying, and then asks her if she’ll testify differently if he pays her instead of Dong-chil. When he sees Dong-chil’s smug smile, he tries to launch himself at the defendant and has to be forcibly removed from the courtroom.
Three years later, Kwon-joo walks along a street and stops to watch a news story about a victim of voice phishing. Thanks to her super-hearing ability, which she first acquired when she was young after an eye-injury caused her hearing to compensate, she “sees the world with her ears.”
She calls the emergency center to let them know that even though the perpetrator disguised his voice, she can tell by specific and subtle markers that it was the same voice as the grandson of the victim. It was a premeditated crime against a family member, not some random attack.
At the police station, one of the detectives is annoyed that Jin-hyuk brought in someone who might know where Dong-chil is instead of going after a suspect in a brutal murder case.
Dae-shik waltzes into the station, gifting vitamin tonics to everyone and pleasantly using the leverage he has against other detectives to clean up Jin-yuk’s impulsive mess. As he and Jin-hyuk leave the station, the man Jin-hyuk dragged in suddenly recognizes him as the husband of the woman Dong-chil killed, and he laughs as he realizes it all make sense. He says that it’s no wonder his wife was killed in considering what kind of crazy husband she was married to, and Jin-hyuk freezes.
He dares the man to say it again to his face, and the man insists he’s not afraid — after all, the police station has CCTV cameras, so it’s not like Jin-hyuk can do anything to him. He taunts Jin-hyuk as the other detectives warn him not to do anything stupid or he might get suspended. Just when it looks like Jin-hyuk will leave peacefully, he rushes back into the station and starts pummeling the man.
The rest of the detectives leap up to try and pull Jin-hyuk off the man as well as cover the CCTV cameras. It seems this isn’t the first time the “mad dog” policeman has lost his cool in the station.
Elsewhere, Kwon-joo presents her case for a special emergency call center unit to the Police Commissioner BAE BYUNG-GON and the other department heads, including Chief Jang.
She explains that her “Golden Time” unit would make it their mission to arrive at the scene within three minutes and then apprehend the criminal within ten minutes. The first ten minutes of any call is considered the “golden time” of saving a victim’s life.
The men bristle at her idea, pointing out it would undermine the hierarchy of the station’s order if the Violent Crimes Unit are to just wait around for the call center’s command. But she cooly reminds him of all the deaths that have occurred due to the emergency call center’s standard protocol, even going so far as to declare it “criminal negligence.” Hence her proposal to change the rules and create an immediate response team.
Dae-shik scurries after Jin-hyuk, reminding him that it wasn’t that long ago he was demoted from a detective to a lesser-rank officer due to his desperate (and brutal) actions to track down Dong-chil, so he’d better keep his cool if he doesn’t want to lose his job.
He then tells Jin-hyuk that Kwon-joo has volunteered to head the call center division, specifically requesting this station and declaring that she’d take the call center that has the worst call-back rate and make it the most responsive in the country. He also assumes that she must have used the bribe money she received from Dong-chil (to testify that he’s innocent) to pay for her training in the States, and that her success there means HQ seems to support her.
“Seem to” is right, as Commissioner Bae and Chief Jang barely wait long enough to confirm that the call center is as busy as ever before leaving. Chief Jang points out that Kwon-joo is just wasting their time when they could be capturing criminals — such as the murderer who recently bashed in a woman’s head and then cut her up into tiny pieces.
Jin-hyuk arrives just then, loudly demanding to speak to her. Kwon-joo politely tells him they should talk in private, but he grabs her arm and tells her that she’s got some nerve coming back here. She marvels at his crazed attitude and appearance, revealing that she initially wanted him to lead up her response unit, but seeing him now, she’s not sure it will be a good idea.
Laughing, he mockingly thanks her for the honor, asking if she feels good using her father’s death for her own gain. Unblinking, she tells him she doesn’t care what he says or thinks about her. But she promises to apologize whenever he seems like he’s ready to hear it. She turns to leave, but Jin-hyuk grabs her by the shoulder to face him.
Dae-shik rushes up, worried that his “mad dog” hyung is going to cause more trouble, but Kwon-joo stands stone-face before Jin-hyuk as he angrily demands to know why she said that she could hear things no one else could. She wonders if he would believe her if she told the truth. A call comes in just then from someone who says they were kidnapped, and she quietly tells Jin-hyuk to let go of her because he’s wasting precious time.
Kwon-joo takes over the call from a frightened high-school student, PARK BOK-NIM, who reveals that she was kidnapped by a crazy man. She met him on a dating app where he said he’d pay her just to have some conversation, but in the end he led her to a strange neighborhood. When she started to get creeped out and told him the deal’s off, he grabbed her and then choked her enough so she passed out, before throwing her against the wall and dragging her to his hide-out.
As the call center tracks the GPS of the girl’s phone (which is harder to do when it doesn’t have a registered SIM card), Kwon-joo talks to the terrified Bok-nim, trying to ascertain where she is and where the man is. Bok-nim cleverly drops a block from the third story window, which sends her kidnapper rushing outside, assuming she is trying to escape.
Due to Bok-nim’s description of plastic sheeting and a bag full of knives, Kwon-joo knows that the kidnapper plans to kill her, and she begins a “Code Zero” sequence. The “Golden Time” clock officially starts as she orders the response teams to head out.
Offended that she’s ordering him about, Jin-hyuk barges into the call center to confront her. But when he hears Bok-joo’s scared voice coming through the main speakers, he’s reminded of how similar it sounds to the way his wife had pleaded with the call center in her last few minutes. That’s enough to convince him that every second matters, but he warns Kwon-joo this conversation isn’t over.
Chief Jang also protests against her ordering his Violent Crimes Unit around, pointing out that they haven’t agreed to let her have her Golden Time Response Unit in the first place. Kwon-joo doesn’t care — it’s not like she expected them to agree in the first place. All she cares about right now is saving a life.
Dae-shik trails after Jin-hyuk, telling him that Kwon-joo is just trying to use him to make herself look better. After all, she’s sending him out to the same neighborhood where his wife was killed. But Jin-hyuk can only think about is the girl who said “save me” just like his wife did.
Bok-nim starts to panic, asking Kwon-joo where the police are. She starts to cry as she confesses that maybe a girl like her doesn’t deserve to be saved. To calm her down, Kwon-joo gently makes small talk, earning Bok-nim’s trust as they talk about their terrible fathers and how much they hate their names. Meanwhile, her staff hurry to pin-point the neighborhood and Jin-hyuk speeds along in a squad car, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Kwon-joo convinces Bok-nim that it’s important to tell her as many details as possible to the police can find her. She manages to remember enough for Kwon-joo to relay to Jin-hyuk and the other patrol officers an intersection near where Bok-nim was abducted.
Three minutes after Bok-nim’s call came in, Jin-hyuk and the other officers reach the intersection. They spread out to find something that is “very colorful” to use as a landmark, since that’s one detail Bok-nim remembers. Meanwhile, Kwon-joo hears a strange sound in the background as she talks with Bok-nim, but can’t place it.
Jin-hyuk and his partner find a door covered in brightly colored leaflets, and as they enter the dark and abandoned property, Jin-hyuk hears a sound from behind a closed door. He cautiously opens it — but it’s just a cat.
Gaining some courage, Bok-nim decides to make a run for it since she knows her kidnapper isn’t in the house. But as soon as she’s halfway down the stairs, she hears him return (having discovered the brick was just a ruse) and she scrambles to hide behind a door.
It’s now five minutes since the start of the “golden time.”
Kwon-joo tells the police to hurry up their search since the kidnapper is now in the same building as the victim, and Jin-hyuk frantically starts asking people in the neighborhood if they can think of anything nearby that’s “very colorful.” A convenience store ajumma points him the direction of an abandoned daycare center that has a mural of flowers. The center had to close down a while ago when one of its bus drivers was discovered to be sexually molesting the children.
That gives the police not only a good clue where Bok-nim might be, but also the reason why she was kidnapped. However, as Jin-hyuk and his partner race to the daycare center, Kwon-joo feels like something isn’t quite right.
Even so, she reassures Bok-nim that the police are close by and will be there soon, so she should stay put and wait for them. The still-scared Bok-nim whispers into her phone, regretting that she didn’t follow her mother’s advice to stay out of trouble. Kwon-joo reassures her that everyone makes mistakes — in fact, she made a big one herself a few years ago. But the important thing is to not give up or run away. There’s always a second chance.
Bok-nim freezes when she hears the sound of her abductor returning, and this time he’s dragging a metal hammer up the stairs. He searches the entire house, but doesn’t look behind the door where Bok-nim is hiding. Bok-nim tells Kwon-joo that she’s safe, which is a relief. A short-lived relief, though, because the kidnapper finds Bok-nim’s phone charm on the steps, and deduces that she must still be in the building.
Jin-hyuk and the other cop run up to the empty daycare center, but everything is quiet and still inside. A flash of movement catches Jin-hyuk’s attention and he approaches a door.
Kwon-joo still can’t relax. Even though it would appear the case is well in hand, something still seems wrong. She finally realizes that the metal dragging on metal sound she heard earlier was the sound of a metal hammer — the same type of hammer that was used to kill the other women a few days ago. Kwon-joo realizes that they’re not looking for a perverted ex-bus-driver, but a serial killer who won’t stop until he’s succeeded in murdering his victim.
Jin-hyuk breaks down the door — to reveal some construction workers having a dinner break. It’s the wrong place!
Kwon-joo yells at Bok-nim to get out, now, but it’s too late. The kidnapper finds where Bok-nim is hiding and drags her kicking and screaming to the bathroom. Along the way, she drops her phone, but the call is still connected and Kwon-joo can hear everything.
Jin-hyuk and his partner continue to run through the alleyways, searching for anything that might reveal where Bok-nim is. Chief Jang angrily confronts Kwon-joo for suddenly barging into the case his team is working on (that of the murderer who bludgeoned a woman with a hammer and then cut her up into little pieces), yelling that this is why he doesn’t want her Golden Time Unit to be created in the first place.
But he gets a call just then from one of his team that the suspect they had been tracking for that murder turns out to have an alibi. Who’s the one interfering now?
Kwon-joo turns her attention back to Bok-nim’s description of where she is. She’s perplexed by the rhythmic sound she’d heard in the background earlier, but as she looks at the map, she sees a barber shop listed, and realizes that the electronic buzzing and metallic scraping could have come from an old-fashioned barber’s pole.
She relays this information to Jin-hyuk. He reminds her that any false information at this point can mean certain death for the victim, but when she tells him it’s the same guy who murdered the other woman, he remembers he’s one of the reasons the murderer got away. If he hadn’t been so focused on tracking down Dong-chil in the first place, this guy might not have been free to kidnap someone. Running through the alleyways, he retraces his steps until he finds the barbershop he’d passed earlier.
Barely conscious, Bok-nim begs her kidnapper not to kill her. Amused, the man tells her that he has to get home soon, so he promises to make it quick. The kidnapper brings up his large metal hammer and prepares to strike just as Jang-hyuk breaks through the door and runs up the stairs.
It is ten minutes since the incident began.
Yikes. Talk about a cliffhanger!
Even though I’ve watched a lot of OCN’s crime procedurals over the years, I wasn’t quite ready for something this dark and bloody. Despite my instinctive squeamishness, I do really love how the show has managed to keep me in breathless suspense. I was genuinely terrified for both of our victims in this episode — both Jin-hyuk’s wife and Bok-nim. Or still am terrified for Bok-nim, despite my faith in Kwon-joo and her super hearing.
Lee Hana is doing an incredible job portraying a leader who knows that no one will believe her, even when she knows she’s right. I’ve never wanted to punch so many people in the face like I have with all those police chiefs who sneer at her and her quiet determination to make sure that the police actually prioritize saving lives. Of course, she has her own cross to bear, too. Even though she wasn’t lying about hearing a voice that sounded different from Dong-chil, she’s still enduring the weight of her mistake during the call — namely, redialing the victim, even though she knew it would likely tip off the murderer as to where she was hiding. True; it technically was her supervisor who forced the redial, but that just goes hand-in-hand with the whole faulty protocol of the emergency response system she so desperately wants to change.
Considering her skill, she could have easily stayed in America — or transferred to a department where she might actually be immediately respected. She doesn’t have to return home to the “scene of the crime,” but her conscious seems to spurn her to redeem her past mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again. And while it may not bring Jin-hyuk’s wife back, she can also work to make sure it doesn’t happen to other victims. As apologies go, it seems like a pretty good one to me, even if I’m not sure if she’ll ever learn to fully forgive herself.
Then again, she also has a selfish reason of wanting to catch the person that killed both her father and Jin-hyuk’s wife, since apparently no one else but her (and the killer) knows that he’s out there.
As for Jang Hyuk, he can be hit-or-miss for me, depending on the role. I often feel like he’s overacting, which can distract me from the role he’s playing. While I somewhat feel that way here, too, it works more for this role as the “mad dog” grief-stricken police officer, so I think I’ll be able to accept his crazy eyes and cocky swagger more easily than I have in the past.
I do like that so many of our characters have unlikeable characteristics, though — they aren’t perfect and what happened in the past has taken a serious emotional toll on them. The whole “revenge for a family member’s death” isn’t exactly new ground, but it feels like an earned plot-point rather than just a reason to give characters some angst. Jin-hyuk is still in the “angry” stage of grief — a stage I do’t think he’s left since that day at the courtroom. But it feels completely believable! He blames Dong-chil (for good reason, as there’s DNA evidence that he’s the killer). He blames Kwon-joo (for also good reason, since from his point of her, her testimony makes no sense, especially since there isn’t any evidence to back it up). He blames himself, because she wouldn’t have been out that night if he hadn’t been out on a stakeout — or maybe he could have saved her if he answered his phone.
Also, while I’m still very curious about what happened to Lee Hana’s father, I’m going to trust the show to reveal that to me when the time is right. For now, I’m happy to accept her as the no-nonsense leader of a call center that clearly needs better direction, and as the tarnished hero who’s going to help a mad dog get justice.