Clear and efficient storytelling capably sets up the cat-and-mouse chase.
This recap of A Model Family season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers. You can check out all of our coverage of this show by clicking these words.
A lot of great film and TV has been about desperate people making terrible decisions for the right reasons. Breaking Bad is probably the most obvious example, but there are countless more. Netflix’s new ten-episode k-drama A Model Family fits the mold so well that it’s almost impressive how many familiar beats it hits within the first twenty minutes of the premiere. After a grim prologue in which a man is buried alive while narration — presumed to be the guy in the grave’s — explains that he should never have taken that money in the first place, we cycle back to find out exactly why he did.
A Model Family season 1, episode 1 recap
And Park Dong-ha has reasons, let me tell you. His wife, Eun-ju, wants a divorce. His son, Hyun-woo, is dying of a heart condition and needs a transplant. His daughter, Yeon-woo, is a teenager (I’ve got one of those floating around my house, and I’m on the cusp of making terrible decisions every day.) And an ill-advised bribe has left him in financial dire straits. In other words, Dong-ha’s life is about to implode spectacularly.
So, when a strange van full of dead bodies and a considerable amount of money rolls into the back of Dong-ha’s car, he does what any self-respecting desperate family man would do — he takes it, tensely evades a police checkpoint, and does his best to dispose of the evidence. A Model Family has ten episodes, so I was surprised to see this one rocketing along so quickly. Halfway through the premiere, Dong-ha has already assured himself that he’s in too deep to stop now. It’s almost like he couldn’t wait to imperil himself and his entire family.
Of course, the back half of the premiere is designed to inform us just how much peril Dong-ha is in. The van and its contents were the responsibility of Kwang-chul, who works for Yong-soo and is a chain-smoking mafioso type who has a week to retrieve the stolen goods lest he and presumably all of his associates end up dead. See? Desperate people. The cat-and-mouse chase is being set up capably here in clear and efficient storytelling. A lot of tension is developed in not just establishing Dong-ha’s circumstances but showing him clearly out of his depth, burying evidence in his back garden (!), and frantically googling advice about large cash transactions.
The episode builds to a moment of suspense when Yeon-woo complains to Dong-ha that she can’t sleep because of a ringing phone — one buried with one of the bodies in the backyard. It keeps ringing incessantly. And after looking up how phones can be traced, Dong-ha naturally panics. So, he has to dig it up before Kwang-chul and his goons trace it to his neighborhood. It’s a close-run thing; they literally pass one another. But that isn’t the real twist. When Dong-ha looks at the phone to see who’s constantly calling it, he notices that it’s Eun-ju.