Hallyu (K-Pop, K-Drama)

K-drama Squad 38 makes tax-collecting look exciting

Seo In-Guk in disguise as an executive type in the K-drama Squad 38.

Seo In-guk in disguise as an executive type in the K-drama Squad 38.

There are TV shows about doctors, laywers, police officers and criminals – but tax officials? Who would have thought their work could seem interesting to a TV audience?

Ma Dong-seok (마동석), Seo In-Guk (서인국) and Choi Soo-young (최수영) are the stars of the drama 38사기동대 (variously translated into English as Squad 38, 38 Task Force, 38 Revenue Collection Unit, Police Unit 38).

A team led by Baek Sung-il (played by Ma Dong-seok) works out of City Hall and tries to make tax evaders pay up. Many of the poorer citizens haven’t paid because they don’t have the money. The rich people owe millions, which they could easily pay, but they just don’t want to.

The action takes place in “Seowon City” but it certainly looks like Seoul. I saw one of those orange Haechi taxis in the background of one scene.

The 16-episode show ran from June 17 until August 7, 2016 and is now available in the usual places for binge-viewing. I watched it in two 8-episode sessions. (Up until now I have tried to stay away from dramas because I know that they are like quicksand – once you get in you probably won’t get out, right?)

In the Korean TV drama Squad 38 actor Ma Dong-seok plays tax collector Baek Sung-il. In this scene Baek is pretending to be a Korean-American named Martin Kim.

In the Korean TV drama Squad 38 actor Ma Dong-seok plays tax collector Baek Sung-il. In this scene Baek is pretending to be a Korean-American named Martin Kim.

Is there any country in the world where most rich people pay their fair share of taxes? I wonder. Probably not. That might be one reason why Squad 38 is so popular in South Korea and with fans around the world. I watched it because so many people were praising it on the Internet. Many fans are hoping that the show will return for a second series.

Back to the show. Just being filthy rich is not enough to make these those folks happy. They seem to have an irresistable urge to throw their weight around, snarl, smirk and humiliate others on a daily basis. If something goes wrong, they will never accept the blame, they will pin it on some innocent person, and just laugh if that person ends up in jail. They demand loyalty, from their underlings, but they don’t give it to anyone. It’s so easy to dislike them!

These guys have fancy lawyers, accountants and corrupt friends in high places; they are helped by crooked police, crooked prosecutors, crooked politicians, and crooked bosses right there in the tax department. Baek Sung-il and his team feel like their hands are tied.

But then, after various developments which you ought to see for yourself, Baek Sung-il meets a young con man named Yang Jung-do (played by Seo In-Guk). Yang Jung-do offers to con the crooked businessmen into paying their taxes.

Yang Jung-do has many talents; with his smooth voice he can call complete strangers and talk them into just about anything – it’s called “voice phishing.” He can put on a nice suit, designer glasses, change his hairstyle with a flick of his fingers, walk into any office and start bossing people around. They will do what he says because he acts with authority. He can con the rich guys because he acts even more rude and arrogant than they do. It’s lots of fun to watch.

Essentially Seo In-Guk is playing several roles – Yang Jung-do and whoever Yang is pretending to be at any given moment, whether that’s a real estate agent, a government official or a young CEO. When necessary, he can drive like a demon to make a quick getaway. He also has a network of talented friends who can tap into computer systerms, make fake IDs, charm men and provide the necessary money to carry out the complex schemes he sets in motion.

Oh Dae-hwan plays Ma Jin-suk, one of the many bad guys in 38 Squad; Choi Soo-young plays tax collector Chun Sung-hee.

Oh Dae-hwan plays Ma Jin-suk, one of the many bad guys in 38 Squad; Choi Soo-young plays tax collector Chun Sung-hee.

Choi Soo-young of Girls’ Generation plays Sung-hee, Baek’s most loyal employee. He also gets help from a friend on the police force, played by Oh Man-seok.

There are six bad guys! Which one is worse? You could have great discussions with your friends about that! My vote goes to Jo Woo-jin (조우진) as Commissioner Ahn. As a public servant Ahn should work for all the citizens not just the rich ones. As an actor, Jo Woo-jin is really good at sneering and showing contempt for others. Crooked policeman Sa Jae-sung, played by Jung In-gi (정인기) is quite despicable, too.

A scene that made me laugh showed our team of good-guy scammers walking down the street in slow motion while the tune from the film Nameless Gangster plays. Ma Dong-seok pretending to be “Martin Kim” from the U.S. was funny too. And we there’s a shopping montage, with Ma Dong-seok and Seo In-Guk, too.

I found the first episode to be a bit slow, but then things really pick up! The plotting is quite intricate and full of surprises. Yang Jung-do is always several steps ahead of everyone else.

Two small quibbles – there were a few too many scenes where people just stare, with worried or puzzled looks on their faces, and sometimes our con men tried too hard to sell various “investment opportunities.” Much better to let the victims convince themselves, I think.

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