Updated: Dec 2, 2021
K-dramas churn out several workplace dramas a year, but they’re biased towards the young, scrappy office worker fighting to get into the ranks and the requisite office romance that happens along the way. But what happens to the middle-aged veterans who have paid their dues in countless company dinners and overtime, but cannot quit because they have families to support? On the Verge of Insanity sheds light on the cutthroat Korean corporate culture of a chaebol-owned electronics company and does so in thoroughly entertaining 16 episodes that keep you guessing until the very end.
Choi Ban-seok (Jung Jae-young) has been an engineer in Hammyeong Electronics for 23 years. He’s good at his job and keeps a low profile. Even if he didn’t graduate from a top-tier university, no one matches his practical expertise. But just when he considers it might be time for a change in his career, the company beats him to it and "reassigns" him to the Human Resources Department.
Dang Ja-young (Moon So-ri) is head of the Human Resources team at the main office, where she is Hammyeong Electronics’ best hatchet girl. She’s called in to do the difficult task of laying people off and offering them compensation packages. She has ambitions of her own, and they definitely don’t include training a middle-aged rookie engineer.
But that’s really just the barebones plot. The rest of the story unravels at breakneck speed. On the Verge of Insanity tells the stories of the other employees of Hammyeong Electronics and how they all struggle to survive in a company that always seems to prioritize profit over people. Can you relate?
On the Verge of Insanity is a smart, funny, and heartwarming underdog story, and it works because you find yourself empathizing with its leads. Veteran actor Jung Jae-young (Investigation Couple) plays the scruffy, no-nonsense engineer whose unshakeable principles often get him in trouble. He’s the underdog, but he isn’t a pushover either, and Jung's portrayal makes this completely believable. He’s the reliable guy you want to work with, and the one you hope will somehow find a way to stick it to the man.
He is joined by Moon So-ri (Life), whose character perfectly captures the nuances of a mid-level manager. She must always find the balance between carrying out the unpopular decisions of top management and bearing the brunt of employee dissatisfaction. And then there is Lee Sang-yoeb (Good Casting, Love Affairs in the Afternoon), who so convincingly plays the scheming and slimy Han Se-kwon, Choi Ban-seuk’s young and arrogant boss, that I could actually feel my physical stress levels increase with his presence on screen.
A lot of the credit goes to the screenwriter Jung Do-yoon who avoids cookie-cutter two-dimensional characters that could have made them unsympathetic and less human. The office politics in Hammyeong Electronics move at a fast pace, but the personal lives of the characters slow the drama down and drive home the point that the employees are more than just cogs in the machine.
While there are moments where plot resolutions are a little too contrived, these do not take away from the many important office issues that the drama raises: the discrimination against women, unjust treatment of employees, nepotism, indispensability, etc. All in all, the aptly named, well-researched drama takes its audience on an entertaining, and more importantly, satisfying ride on the verge of insanity and back.