K-Drama Review: “Man To Man” Succeeds Spy Drama Mission With Flying Colors
“Man to Man” notches a polished espionage story that blended well to its upbeat cast, witty narrative and comedic additives
jTBC’s caper offering, Man to Man, maneuvers an exciting secret service story, which displays thrilling covert spy operations in a lightly cushioned romantic and brotherhood background.
Title: Man to Man
Theme: Action, Thriller, Romance, Comedy
Length: 16 Episodes
Broadcast Period: 21 April 2017 to 10 June 2017
Plus Factors: Explosive Stunts, Adorable Male leads, Thrilling Premise
Oh No Moments: Untidy transition to resolve conflict, weak romance subplot
Related Dramas: Myungwol the Spy, King 2 Hearts, Level 7 Civil Servant
Boasting sleek fight scenes while the resident undercover agent is on a mission, it is the peeling of his furtive human layers that gets you invested to cheer for him, as he communicates with the most unlikely circle of people who he can get involved with.
Man to Man secures its appeal by casting adorable humor on the initial run of the story. Making a stoic and deadly secret agent act as a bodyguard of the nation’s most hilarious action film star as a mission front, draws an inviting spectacle, hence that’s probably how the show kept a stable following throughout.
Kim Seul Woo aka Agent K (Park Hae Jin) is recruited as a ghost agent of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) – Chief Intelligence Agency of South Korea. He is badass, suave, and belongs to an elite class of undercover detective that is summoned only on complex missions.
When another ghost agent working on a case that involves National Security is presumed dead, Agent K is mobilized back to Korea to work on finding three wood carvings which holds the key to a mission of paramount importance.
He is planted to work as a bodyguard for action star, Yeo Woon Gwang (Park Sung Woong), who is up to be invited to a birthday party by a famous Russian business magnate.
The narcissistic popular action star calls him Kim Guard. He encounters Cha Do Ha (Kim Min Jung), the artist’s manager and top fan girl, who develops feelings for him after misreading his gestures.
Agent K is about to erase his presence to the new sphere he is using for his cover, but is sent back to continue with his disguise. Apparently, the second wood carving involves a ring that is given to Do Ha by her con-man father, who used to work with Robert Yoon – a former agent who kept the wooden statues before.
Kim Guard seduces Do Ha to obtain information of where the ring is kept, and is successful in doing so. The main villain, who hired a former ghost agent, kidnaps Do Ha to lure Agent K. He successfully rescues Do Ha with Woon Gwang’s help, but not after revealing his real identity to the latter.
Do Ha, who has truly fallen in love with Kim Guard, confronts the reality that their short- lived relationship is a lie. When his father is pinned down for a sin that he did not commit, she is left no choice but to seek Kim Guard’s help in freeing her father from prison.
Through the actor’s 5 million dollars, they enter a high-end auction to bid for the third wood carving.
Woon Gwang is promised that his money will be returned after the mission, and with his body as a collateral as demanded by Do Ha.
Agent K’s superiors are being manipulated by a business conglomerate CEO – Mo Seung Jae, who harbors animosity toward Woon Gwang as he is the first love of his wife – Song Mi Eun.
The villain CEO puts pressure to NIS high officials, hence rendering them unable to perform their duties. Agent K decides to operate a contingency plan to battle the strong competitor.
Do Ha suggests a back-up plan that involves resurrecting their abated romance through a pretentious relationship to thwart the NIS agent tailing him.
CEO Mo contemplates on the deal set by NIS Chief Jang Tae Ho, which involves releasing his man and Agent K’s handler – Prosecutor Lee Dong Hyun. CEO Mo is in deep thought if he will be prepared on the repercussions of double-crossing Congressman Baek, a former NIS agent.
Seul Woo retrieves the clue from Agent Yoon’s mission details prior to his disappearance through Do Ha’s father. The lovers’ tactic is being used even when the two cannot differentiate that they are not in a pretense anymore.
Kim Guard does an ambushed interview with Do Ha’s father, who gave a clue about Agent Y’s hidden message. He sets forth to a cathedral. Agent Yoon’s priest confidante discloses that Chief Jang came with Prosecutor Lee before Agent Yoon disappeared.
Chief Jang uses Agent K for the deal set with Mo Sung Jae. He traps him with the help of the Russian businessman, who brought the last wood carving to complete the key needed by CEO Mo on his late grandfather’s slush fund treasure quest.
Chief Jang shoots Agent K who falls on the water. He regains consciousness through his memories of Do Ha and his short-lived normal life with Woon Gwang and his crew. He goes to former ghost agent’s crib to seek shelter and medical attention.
Prosecutor Lee learns that Chief Jang is involved in Agent Y’s disappearance because of Agent K’s warning note. He meets Chief Jang to inquire about Agent K’s whereabout. The latter responds that he already left as the mission is almost completed.
Agent K ponders on the recent betrayal served on him while Do Ha worries on why he did not show up on their date. He crawls back to his hideout, and is nursed by Do Ha.
Meanwhile Chief Jang and CEO Mo proceed to the location of the coordinates from the keys they assembled, but they are trapped by Prosecutor Lee who brought them for questioning.
Song Mi Eun uses an escape route of CEO Mo’s agreement with NIS that they will donate the secret wealth to the country. The evil chaebol escapes law through the well-played alibi.
Agent K uncovers the missing note left behind by Agent Y, which is a floor plan of CEO Mo’s office. He makes a deal with him to take him as his secret agent for 5 million USD in exchange he will take care of Congressman Baek.
Agent K seeks the blind priest again but he has since left. He left a note warning him not to go further on the item, which caused Agent Yoon’s demise and also not to trust anyone.
Prosecutor Lee engages in a soju session with Woon Gwang. He divulges how his stern character has changed a lot. The actor worries on learning how the person Kim Guard cares for is his very own weakness.
Agent K threatens Congressman Baek with a voice recording of his involvement on NIS agent’s disappearance so he halts his mayoral campaign to save his face. Kim Guard contemplates if he will leave his risky job and just live a normal life with his newfound love and family.
Agent K works on the cryptic message left by Agent Yoon. While he scans CEO Mo’s office, his wife arrives and is baffled at his invasion. Agent K returns the surprise by acknowledging her as the one, who gave the directive of the mission and greets her as his senior.
Agent K finally solves the riddle of Songsan’s former chairman. He retrieves the tapes needed for the last mission. Prosecutor Lee sets to hand it over to the NIS Director but a raging truck hits him, leaving him in critical state.
Chief Jang realizes how the NIS Director has been the mole in the organization all along.
Prosecutor Lee is charged of espionage as Agent K is being sought for compromising national security. The latter prepares to avenge the fate of his handler by planning to kill the NIS Director. But Woon Gwang and Do Ha thwart his plan.
They show up in the memorial service of CEO Mo’s grandfather per Song Mi Eun’s guidance. Agent K visits Prosecutor Lee in the hospital, and promises his wife that he will finish what his senior started.
Agent K and Song Mi Eun work together to retrieve the copied tapes, not knowing that NIS Director discloses Mi Eun’s identity. CEO Mo sets a trap for his wife but the latter noticed his suspicious eyes.
Agent K and company counter-trap CEO Mo in a live talk show broadcast to reveal all the lies he made, with his heart endangered to be bombed instantly if he does not comply. Mi Eun deals with the traitor NIS Director, who goes to CEO Mo’s office and his evil intention is caught by the hidden camera.
CEO Mo puts the blame to NIS director with his life being threatened. They join Congressman Baek in prison as Prosecutor Lee wakes up and recuperates well in the hospital.
Chief Jang is promoted, while Mi Eun prepares to live not having the privilege of her husband’s rich life. Agent K and Do Ha continue their relationship after the former’s last successful mission.
Agent K prominently struts his undercover detective face in the most irresistible way possible. His expressionless countenance as a spy changes in captivating humor as he blends in to the modern world, where his goal-oriented life as Kim Guard is altered by his forced interaction with framed moments of love and friendship.
Park Hae Jin brings out all his cards on the table by sketching a spy hero that you will trust, hence the audience will just be happily settle, to witness his movements and motivations in the story. Compared to his last drama Cheese in the Trap where he also played a detached persona, his invincible portrayal has made me relied on him a lot as the big chunk of reason why I root for the story.
The ending scene of him accomplishing a mission and heading home to his lady love is just as fitting to his character. True, it would be nice for him to retire and just bask in love, and be adorable with his actor-brother but that will swerve to his profile. So it is nice that the narrative gives a closure befitting of his personal journey.
Endearing Male Second Lead
Yeo Woon Gwang is the participating humor element that cemented the zesty narrative flow. His bromance with Kim Guard is more palpable than the hetero fictional romance depicted in the story if truth be told.
On that note, I enjoyed more of the brotherhood and the inversely proportional blend of his hilarious and adorable action star image to Kim Guard’s prudish bearing.
Mischievous undercover plot
Man to Man won my heart right off the bat, with the laid back approach of the fiery undercover operations. It is a concoction that sets the proper amount of eruptive secret-agent undertakings.
It is to balance the display of his humanity that has since diminished due to his emotionless work nature. Sticking on the engrossing vibe while keeping the staid stratum of the spy genre is what makes this drama a relatable watch.
The narrative flow has maintained a consistent hook by throwing in the comic relief before the rigorous hit of the conflict.
Explosive Fight Scenes
The drawing force of spy stories threads on how well the small tasks and big assignments are worked on. Man to Man sets the conflict clearly from its onset while weaving the character connections.
While the pleasant spirit differs from the usual all-business spy chronicles, it manages to present brawling sequences, attacks, and counter attacks to substantiate the secret service story.
The drama peeks on the elusive lives of incognito detectives keeping up with their jobs while battling politics in the organization.
Smart and Amusing Characters
The cast chemistry along with the heroes-villains showdown projects the story well, hence the run has a stable following. The intelligent characters disable irrelevant bends typical of Korean dramas.
The protagonists focus on their mission as the antagonists work on making life hard and harder for their counterparts. Male lead centered tale yields an engaging appeal due to less poignant scenes.
Man to Man fixates on the outwitting ploys battled by the characters more than analyzing their personal issues. The supporting cast is also commendable, especially Woon Gwang’s team and rogue agent villain.
Weakly Portrayed Villains
The waning episodes land a point where the messy NIS agents annoy me with their fickle decisions and ulterior motives. They successfully label how spies cannot be trusted.
The two resident villains and the twist-conceived villain give powerful punches but it felt like they are visually easy to be taken care of by Agent K.
A half-note of convoluted mind would have helped their depiction more as they are supposed to emphasize the underdog journey for the main leads.
Almost There But Not Quite Romance
Kim Guard deserves his ever-after romance and bromance. But while the lead girl has her charm, it feels like the love frames with the hero is not that heart-fluttering.
I love the scenes of him being in love but my heart did not skip a beat in their sweet moments. If truth be told, I was more drawn to how clingy the top actor is to Kim Guard.
For me, Man to Man is a complete package. It spins smart writing, captivating cast, and neat story. There will be no instance that it will let you down. But it will not sent you so high where you end up being consumed about it.
If you are up for a nicely blended action-comedy spectacle, Agent K will give it to you.