A frantic, engaging opener that excellently sets the scene for what could be a unique, highly entertaining series.
This recap of the Netflix K-Drama series Cafe Minamdang season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.
Cafe Minamdang season 1, episode 1 recap – the premiere explained
We begin with a flashy entrance into the MK Noble Hotel from the suave shaman, Nam Han-joon, who seems plenty in demand. He’s a sharp dresser, matching with the sleek decor of the establishment itself, which is searching for a general manager. But the candidate currently interviewing, who on the surface seems like a good fit, is told to come back through the fortune teller’s orders, as he views the man as someone with unresolved issues thanks to the fact he once wrongfully dismissed a worker. Subsequent scenes show this process repeating itself, with Han-joon successfully reading the prospective managers’ characters to the point he knows just from how they look whether they are worth hiring.
However, one candidate is fascinating to Han-joon, so much so that he leaves the office he is watching the interview process to check out the “strange energy” he feels face-to-face. There, the charismatic shaman performs an intriguing ritual in a bid to look into what might be off, only for him to realize that the issue isn’t with the man in the seat, but rather one of the people who form part of the recruitment team. So, he asks for the sacking of Ko Ju-won, who sexually harassed someone enough to drive them towards suicide, and for the hotel to post an apology before the press finds out. Impressed, the foreign candidate stands up, applauds, and asks who this shaman is, with the response being that he is the “wonder of Yonghae-dong.”
Next, we’re greeted with a sort of advertisement of just how good Nam Han-joon is, the demand he has, and the myriad of tasks he is able to help with. Then, we cut towards the confident man getting ready for the opening of his coffee shop, with his green suit that he remained on a strict diet to be able to pull off the outfit of the day. But such a fancy way of living is not shared by sibling Nam Hye-jun, the NIS worker he lives with, even if the shaman’s workers appear to adore what they do, and the enamored fans waiting outside buy into this idea of luxury.
Underneath the lavish, modern coffee shop is where the real money-making business takes place, though, as we soon see a VVIP client whisked down for an appointment with the shaman in his extravagant office. Exploiting his troubles, which we discover is thanks to the fortune teller using his NIS sibling, in addition to some private investigating conducted by Soo-cheol, to gain intel on his clients prior to meetings, the begging customer falls for any trick. It does bear fruits for the client too, of course, as the man is able to catch his fleeing ex-wife, but we’re left to presume that any work Han-joon does incurs a hefty cost.
As two police workers celebrate the brilliance of the famous shaman, a daily horoscope foreshadows that their new recruit could cause some unexpected trouble. It does seem humorous at first, with the two men’s grievances purely based around the fact that the rookie wears leather, but a nugget is left in amidst the comedy that a lot of the work these cops are able to complete comes through the rather shady, anonymous dealings of Han-joon and his associates when they leave a call informing them that Ko Ju-won is attempting to head to China.
When watching the new recruit handle the escape plan Ko Ju-won had hatched, Han-joon replays the footage, exclaiming that this person is his style. He even returns to the case when at work, looking at an article entirely impressed by the work conducted. Though this is a man who, no matter how he views the rights and wrongs of the world, still wants to ensure he gets his slice, a point proven by the fact that he reminds the sister of the deceased woman harmed by Ju-won to pay on her way out of their appointment.
Back at the police station, we find out that the new recruit is anything but, as she reveals that she was transferred, and is Lieutenant Han Jae-hui, the “Ghost of Yongjin Police Station.” So, instead of being below the two workers who were happy to treat her like a rookie, she is in fact their rather notorious team leader, ready to guide them, and the actual novice who was waiting to greet the returning unit.
After the story involving a drug cartel’s takedown, which gave Jae-hui her name, is regaled, as well as her famous drive to persist with cases, we see the foursome prepare to begin their first case, one involving a missing person who has been suspiciously quiet. And, despite Du-jin’s grievances over the employment of such a person, he’s told to stick it out by his boss, observe Jae-hui, and get rid of her when the timing is right so they can climb the employment ladder together.
Looking into some of the criminal files at her home near Cafe Minamdang, Jae-hui finds that an assault case she wishes to solve is suspiciously like one involving an officer, who appears to be Han-joon, who was jailed for fabricating evidence. Meanwhile, the irritated shaman finds himself called by a client, who wonders why her husband has returned home high, covered in blood, and worried. He tells the worried woman to check on the situation and then continues doing so while the “spirit” checks the situation. Away from the phone, Han-joon confesses that he’s worried about what might have been done.
As the group continues to pry into what the S&H Group Vice Chairman Shin Gyeong-ho might have been up to, watching his saved dashcam footage in search of evidence, they see that he caused the potential death of a motorcyclist when racing one of his sports cars around with a woman. Yet, instead of doing something serious, they decide to “play along” a bit first due to his wife being a VVIP client, to inform their customer that she will pay if it’s not taken care of.
In time, the group head out to find the dead body, realising it is in a memorial park, and acknowledging their need to discover it before Gyeong-ho’s secretary can after some astute deduction. What follows is a bizarre scene of zombie misinterpretation, prayer and a rescuing of the man hit by the motorbike, finished with a tip-off to the major crime division over what has occurred.
When heading to the crime scene, Jae-hui instantly recognises Han-joon as the same person from the old crime she wishes to further investigate, while he interprets her staring as a sign of affection. When the two meet, it’s clear that suspicions are aroused, as the famous detective seems curious as to how a shaman could have known about the case in so much detail.
Looking to take the hit-and-run case, the Major Crime Division try to put off working on a potentially big task, while Du-jin warns his leader about the fact people have a vested interest in what she is doing, and that she shouldn’t stand out too much. Undeterred though, Jae-hui embraces the challenge for approval, and gets her team ready to begin work.
Later on, Han-joon’s group find out about the team that has taken the hit-and-run case, but find themselves interrupted by the appearance of someone dubbed “Looney.” And, while they search for her, we see that it’s in fact Jae-hui, who has been rummaging through the shaman’s belongings in the hopes of finding something suspicious. A comedic chase scene ensues, one which ends the episode as the detective manages to impressively climb to the top of a roof, confronted by a smug Han-joon.
In the epilogue, we see some context as to why Jae-hui has a vested interest in the case involving Han-joon in his former role as a police worker, as flashback shots show the former running to see a dead body, and the latter slumped down crying in his office.
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