As our daydream begins, it is 1598 and Hyeupgok-hyun on Gangwan-do is battered by what appears to be hurricane force winds. The fishermen scramble to save their catch and their boats as the storm ravages the fishing village. When the storm clears there is a blessing that accompanies the cursed storm. Villagers comb the beach for fish, washed up on the shore, ready for an easy harvest.
A group of villagers walking the beach come upon a cave. They are astounded by what they find. A mermaid is trapped in the cave by the receding tide. They gaze in wonder and trepidation at the beautiful creature with little clue what to do with her. Later we see that she has been moved into the village and is quickly presented to a powerful village noble. He is warned not to touch the mermaid, as she will steal his soul, erase his memory and drive him mad. At least that is what legend has told these villagers about her kind.
A special banquet is held for the new magistrate who arrives later that evening. At dinner, the new magistrate is complimented on his looks and he is less than modest about receiving them. You might even say that he was a bit vain. The conversation turns to current events and he is asked if he has heard about the mermaid. The powerful nobleman, not too happy with the idea of having his thunder stolen by a guest, decides to show everyone the mermaid. Men with torches rush to the water next to the pavilion and illuminate the reeds and lily pads where the mermaid is imprisoned. Everyone gazes with wonder at the most completely clothed mermaid I’ve ever seen. I know, I know it’s TV, and coconut covered boobies are so cliché. The powerful noble plans to kill the mermaid in order to extract oil from her and use it to keep an eternal flame lit on the tomb of a local historical figure.
Our magistrate seems repulsed by the idea and begins to point out all he knows about the powerful “nobleman”. It seems that he has committed many crimes in order to obtain his position and the magistrate indicates that he has no problem revealing them to the nobleman’s constituents. The nobleman is willing to give anything to keep his misdeeds hidden from those he has power over and so he makes a deal wit the magistrate and trades his silence for the mermaid’s life. That night, the mermaid is set free. She swims near the boat, reveling in her freedom. She approaches the boat and seems mesmerized by the handsome magistrate. She reaches for him and he reaches for her, appearing to be equally mesmerized.
On a cross-town bus, a little girl sits in her mother’s lap and anxiously waits to push the button that will tell the bus driver to stop the bus. Just as she reaches for the button to fulfill a much-anticipated moment, a man on the bus reaches over her and pushes it instead, denying the child her simple pleasure. The man bears a striking resemblance to the handsome magistrate. His name is Heo Jun Jae and he is a conman. We are then shown a series of scenarios with the same man. In each scenario, he is using sleight of hand to relieve someone of his or her money or jewelry.
We next see Jun Jae in a surveillance van with two other men as they listen to a phone call. The high rise across the street is requesting an elevator technician. The elevators are not working and they need the repaired as soon as possible. The three men spring into action, exiting the van wearing identical uniforms and carrying toolboxes. The men make their way inside the building only to be confronted by a security guard. Jun Jae makes a few quick assessments about the security guard based on some simple observations. His assessments made, he produces a very intricately decorated Zippo lighter and with the flourish of an expert, quickly hypnotizes the security guard, enabling them to continue with their mission. They make their way to the office level and change their surroundings to meet their con requirements, shifting photos and file folders to make the office appear as if it is inhabited by the three men.
A sharp dressed woman and her advisor make their way into the office to meet with our group of con men. They are welcomed and offered tea before they get down to business. High above the streets, another man feeds information about the movements of the office’s real occupants to our team of three conmen. It is reported that the real office workers are on their way back, which prompts our conman team to suggest lunch outside of the office. The client is surprised but she and her advisor agree and they all make their way downstairs in the now working elevator. On the elevator ride down they manage to convince their client to “hide” her money with them instead of a proper tax sheltered account in the Virgin Islands. It is exactly what they want.
Our conmen have been successful in separating the woman from her money and they each take their ill-gotten gains and leave the scene of the crime to go on a vacation of their choice. We follow Jun Jae to his first class airline seat. He is chatting up an air-hostess who is convinced that he is a herbalist. Jun Jae looks out the window as the air-hostess tells him that an older passenger had once told her that their destination was still inhabited by mermaids. They both laugh at such an idea as the camera moves to show us the wide ocean just outside of Jun Jae’s window.
We are taken on an underwater frolic to follow the marine life and mermaids as they swim. We follow one in particular as she retrieves a jade bracelet from a hidden grotto. Next, we are given what can only be viewed as a Little Mermaid moment as she emerges from the water holding the jade bangle.
Look at this stuff
Isn’t it neat?
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl
The girl who has everything?
Look at this trove
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you think
Sure, she’s got everything
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more
In the middle of her happy reverie, an underwater wave blasts the ocean floor, tossing the mermaid helplessly to and fro. When we next see her, she is unconscious at the edge of an infinity pool next to the ocean, her jade bangle still on her arm. The mermaid pulls herself up to the edge of the infinity pool and the next thing we know she has legs. She initially seems to be uncomfortable using them but her awkwardness is short lived. She dives into the infinity pool and is immediately given her tail again. Jun Jae approaches the infinity pool and is conveniently oblivious to the mermaid’s presence. There are a few “did I see what I think I saw?” moments but ultimately he convinces himself that he didn’t and he returns to his villa to sleep.
The next morning Jun Jae is jolted awake by a horrible scraping noise and as he walks through his lodgings he is greeted by a trail of food and mess throughout the house. He follows the trail to the closet, where he finds our two legged mermaid hanging up in a sweatshirt, her mouth caked with food. He asks her who she is and gets no answers. He raises his voice and approaches her and quickly receives a kick that vaults him across the room. If one wasn’t enough, he approaches her again and gets another more powerful kick, this time, vaulting him into the next room. As he recovers from his flying and falling, the mermaid has unhooked herself from the hanger and now stands in the doorway to the living room. Jun Jae is determined to answer force with force and he rises to his feet to confront this intruder. The mermaid sees the ocean through the large window and she runs for the ocean. Unfortunately, she is not familiar with the concept of windows and smashes face first into the plate glass, knocking herself out.
Jun Jae ties the mermaid up and takes a few photos of her as he waits for the police to arrive. He tries to communicate but gets nothing from her. He notices that her hand is tightly clenched and so he pries her fingers open one by one expecting to find some precious item that she has lifted from his belongings. Instead, he finds a cherry sour candy. She manages to get it away from him and she promptly eats it. The police arrive and take the mermaid away as Jun Jae protests that handcuffs are not necessary since she hasn’t stolen anything.
The police put the mermaid into their squad car and head for the police station. As they drive she experiences a car ride that would seem average to us but to her, it is a fascination and she moves from side to side trying to take all of her amazing surroundings in. Once at headquarters, her interrogation does not go well. The mermaid is being questioned by the officers but she is still unable to speak. One of the men pulls a tissue from a box on the desk and blows his nose as she watches in rapt enchantment. She is taken by the box of tissues and begins to pull them from the box one by one, slowly at first and then quickly. An officer gets in her face because she is smiling and laughing and he yells at her when his frustration reaches its limit. As we have been shown before she has no patience for being threatened and she delivers a crushing punch that sends the officer flying.
Jun Jae flips through the photos that he took of the mermaid. He discovers that she is wearing a jade bracelet with intricate gold detail. He sends the photo to one of his con man friends to do some research on the item. Later he receives word that the bracelet is very old and very valuable. He is suddenly interested in helping the mermaid out of her difficult position. Jun Jae goes to the police station to retrieve her. The arresting officer confronts him and asks why he is there since he’s already asked him all of the questions that he needed to about the break in. Jun Jae once again makes a few assessments about the arresting officer based and then produces his magic Zippo. He performs a spectacular Jedi mind trick on the officer and convinces him that the mermaid is his wife and they are on their honeymoon. He even points to the woman and suggests to the officer that she is wearing a wedding dress and when he looks, she is indeed wearing one. He releases the mermaid to Jun Jae’s custody with a dreamy look on his face. Jun Jae has been successful in springing the bracelet… I mean the girl from jail.
Jun Jae drags the mermaid around town and they finally end up at a shopping mall. She has some trouble with the escalator and in an effort to move things along, he scoops her up into his arms and carries. The watching crowd applauds at what they believe is a romantic gesture. He takes her to an expensive boutique to buy some shoes for her bruised feet. Jun Jae selects a beautiful pair of jade green shoes. At first, she is not sure what to do with them. She places them over her hands and sticks the toes in her ears with a smile. Jun Jae takes the shoes from her and puts them on her. Of course, you know what happens when a man buys you shoes?? With shoes on her feet, Jun Jae now puts her in a dressing room and asks an employee to help her find a dress while he takes a phone call. Naturally, she chooses a dress covered in pink sparkly scales. She plays with the mirror for a bit, enjoying her reflection. She then walks away from the shop and out into the mall, still wearing the dress.
Jun Jae returns to the dress department after getting an update on the bracelet and its value. The girl is gone. He searches the mall and eventually finds her in the nursery eating a giant lollypop. He decides that she is hungry and takes her for something to eat.
At the outdoor café, she stuffs spaghetti in her face like a ruffian child. He asks her if she is from the jungle. He then shows her how to use a fork. The method of delivery is improved but the result is the same. She sits with noodles hanging out of her mouth as she chews. Jun Jae continues to try communicating with her but it is no use. Later she attacks two pieces of chocolate, one in each hand, as Jun Jae talks to her. He pulls out his magic Zippo and Jedi mind tricks her with it. He gives her a cheap necklace while he steals her bracelet. He takes her back to the mall with plans to leave her there. He sits her down next to the elevator walks away. Just as Jun Jae gets on the elevator he looks back at her in a moment of regret. She looks at her new shoes and smiles.
Back at his lodgings, our Jun Jae packs his bags and prepares to leave. He slams his suitcase shut and walks out the door, leaving only a cherry sour on the floor. Back at the mall, our mermaid begins to notice that the crowd is thinning out. She is finally approached by a mall employee that tells her the mall is closing and it is time for her to leave. She doesn’t know where else to go so she makes her way to the nursery. She sits and waits until finally mall security removes her from the building. They push her out the front door, where it is raining. She squats down and shelters her feet from the water. Out of nowhere, Jun Jae has found her. He shelters her with an umbrella and offers his hand to her. As she looks up at him, we are taken back to 1598 and the night the magistrate released her.
We are now shown where the mermaid got the lollypop. She stole it from a child in the nursery. The child demanded to have it back but she had told the child to “wait”. Her perception is that good things follow the word and so she is happy to use it. She remembers when Jun Jae found her there and she smiles broadly.
What a fun first episode blending past and present with superstition and disbelief. We didn’t get any formal introductions of our characters as far as names are concerned, at least not that I saw. Maybe I missed it. I’m looking forward to learning more of the handsome magistrate’s story and how exactly our mermaid ended up with his jade bracelet. I’m also curious how she’s survived over 500 years since she’s so good at getting washed up on the rocks. I also want to know what skin cream she uses, cause for 500 years old and soaked in salt water she looks amazing.
I’m also excited to find out the why’s and how’s of our con man’s life and how he became a Jedi Master. That should be a good story. The cinematography is lovely and the underwater shots are ethereal and relaxing. This one looks like it has the potential to be a fun romp by the sea.
It’s good to see Lee Min Ho exercising his comic timing. He does a great job as a magician/con man/Jedi Master. His English was better than most I’ve heard in drama land and for that I’m grateful. He was easy to understand even without subtitles. The native English speaking actors weren’t bad either considering that awful acting is usually the norm when it comes to native English speakers in Korean dramas. Jeon Ji Hyeon is lovely as the mermaid and her “fish out of water” routine is simply adorable. I wonder how they will explain how she can speak Korean so quickly. But then again she is a 500-year-old Korean mermaid so it totally makes sense.
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