“A man who snoops around a local store in broad daylight, looking out of place, gives a sense that something unpleasant is bound to happen.”
These are the foreboding words that start off the story in 1996, when a man dressed in a baggy suit (Jang Won-young) browses the items displayed outside neighbourhood grocery shop Daesung Mart. With a single Choco Pie packet in hand, he heads determinedly into the store, and its owner, Han Myung-sook (Jin Hee-kyung), greets him with a bright, toothy grin. Briefly shaken when a police siren blares from the TV set, the man proceeds to hand over a crisp ₩5,000 bill to make payment. This gets intercepted by Myung-sook’s 10-year-old son, Ahn Dae-sung (Park Ye-chan), who analyses it and notes that part of its serial number mirrors that of a number of others.
Though Myung-sook initially advises the man to report the counterfeit bill to the police, she comes to realise that there were more in his wallet, which he claimed as “spending money for his nieces and nephews”. Following an verbal exchange between the counterfeiter and his mother, a plucky Dae-sung heads out of the store to alert the police, but not before pulling down its shutters and trapping both adults within. A scuffle breaks out between the counterfeiter and Myung-sook, who gets overpowered at one point. However, when Dae-sung returns with police officer Kim Doo-hyun (Kang Gil-woo), they bear witness to Myung-sook – a former high school volleyball player – raining a merciless spike down on the counterfeiter, slamming a bag of rice grains in his face. Later, as he’s led away by the police, the counterfeiter – whose nickname is Oh Cheon-won – mouths a threat to young Dae-sung: “I’ll see you again.”
Myung-sook receives an award from the police for her valiant deed, which sends customers flocking to her humble shop. Due in part to its soaring popularity, Daesung Mart gets upgraded into a mid-sized supermarket within a span of five years. High schooler Dae-sung (Park Ha-joon) continues to help out, staying true to his word that he would “protect the store” at all costs. This, despite finding a fake ₩5,000 note in a Choco Pie box along with a threatening (albeit grammatically wrong) message assumed to be written by Cheon-won, who had gotten released from prison.
Fast forward to the present day: Dae-sung (Lee Kwang-soo) is now in his 30s and has failed the civil service exam three years in a row. He pays a visit to the father of his long-time girlfriend, Do A-hee (Kim Seol-hyun from AOA), who greatly disapproves of his underachieving ways. Even A-hee herself has seemingly reached her breaking point with Dae-sung, admitting that she’s been sticking around because of the potential value of his family’s supermarket building.
After that dismal visit, a despondent Dae-sung heads back to his dormitory room to pack, intending to head back to his family home. As he leaves, it starts to rain heavily, leaving him no other choice but to make the long trek in the downpour. He passes a Catholic church along the way, where a pink slipper with a red heart is left abandoned at the foot of the Virgin Mary statue.
Arriving at the supermarket, Dae-sung is shocked to find his name removed from the supermarket’s signboard. Thinking that his family supermarket had gotten bought over, he despairs at no longer being the “son of a building owner”. His mother, however, pragmatically informs him that the supermarket is henceforth known as ‘MS’ – after her, Myeong-sook – because in her words, “What have you done for the store to be named after you?” And instead of letting him move back home, Myeong-sook makes Dae-sung put up at the mart’s rooftop storage room. She also allows him to work for her again – though on a month-long probation, to avoid nepotism claims.
Myeong-sook tasks Dae-sung to go on a late-night flyer distribution run, which ends up being rather eventful. Aside from being ambushed by the resident “nunchucks grandpa” (literally a grandpa wielding a pair of nunchucks), Dae-sung is also confronted by Kyung-ah (Kwon So-hyun), a frustrated female resident claiming to have wrongly received a delivery of Choco Pies and tampons, contained in a Daesung Mart bag hung at her door. Dae-sung informs her that only purchases above ₩30,000 would be delivered, and thus couldn’t have been them.
The next morning, the MS Mart team – consisting of Myung-sook, Dae-sung’s elementary school friend Jung-yuk (Lee Kyo-yeob), beauty queen Ya-chae (Oh Hye-won), old timer Gong-san (Kim Mi-hwa), Al-ba (Jo A-ram) and a newly re-hired Dae-sung – gather round for their daily warm-ups and updates. As for Myung-sook’s husband, Ahn Young-choon (Shin Sung-woo), he gets seconded as the ‘branch manager’ for an apartment complex outpost, under the watchful eyes of Women’s Association president (Moon Hee-kyung). Upon a recommendation from Police Officer Kim (Lee Yoon-hee), Myung-sook also hires a newbie for the seafood section, an ex-convict (Park Ji-bin) henceforth named ‘Saeng-seon’.
Later that day, a little girl called Seo Yul (Ahn Se-bin) attempts to buy two bottles of soju, which Dae-sung refuses to sell to her. Yul then produces a pink slipper with a red heart, asking for it to be placed at the lost and found section. Dae-sung, with his superb memory, knows exactly who the slipper belongs to, and even heads to the lady’s apartment to make a special delivery. Aside from a pile of opened delivery boxes, he finds a Daesung Mart bag hanging outside her door – with Choco Pies and a packet of stockings.
Dae-sung is once again confronted by the “nunchucks grandpa” while on his way out. This time, he gives chase as the grandpa jumps into the grass thicket, and soon hears the man’s curdled scream coming from within. Dae-sung, too, stumbles back in shock and screams in horror at his discovery: a dead female body, with a kick-scooter, empty Choco Pie packets and white tablets strewn around her – and a pink slipper with a red heart resting on one foot.
The police arrive to carry out their investigations and when questioned, Dae-sung rattles off what he knew of the deceased, also a supermarket customer: Kwon Bo-yeon, a 24-year-old daycare teacher battling depression, who had saved up enough points to “spend like money” at the supermarket. Seeing how the investigating officer was eyeing Dae-sung with suspicion, Officer Kim jumps in to assure him that Dae-sung has been this perceptive all his life.
The next day, news spreads among MS Mart staff and customers about Dae-sung finding the daycare teacher’s body. For Dae-sung, the biggest news he received from little Yul was how she’d spotted A-hee all dressed up and with somewhere to go. He eventually finds out that his girlfriend was attending a speed dating session at a fancy hotel. Dae-sung turns up there in hopes of seeing her, but eventually leaves. Little does he know, however, that A-hee spent most of the session subconsciously asking her dates about traits specifically related to Dae-sung.
While on his way back, Dae-sung passes the Catholic church where Yul mentioned she’d found the pink slipper. At the foot of the Virgin Mary statue, Dae-sung picks up a white tablet, much like those he had seen scattered near the daycare teacher’s body. Spotting a tablet trail leading to a bicycle stand, he notices a pair of women’s stockings strewn over one of the metal rails. Dae-sung hurriedly hides the stockings in his pocket when Officer Kim – who had come to pray – calls out to him.
Over at MS Mart, the Women’s Association president raises a stink about not having enough of the right coloured stockings available at the supermarket. This sparks a brainwave in Dae-sung, who heads up to the rooftop to discreetly test out different types of women’s stockings, to determine the kind he’d found at the church. He eventually discovers one with the highest elasticity that’s able to stretch without tearing – the same brand he had found in the bag that hung outside the daycare teacher’s door.
At the police station, A-hee receives a call from an ‘anonymous informant’ (actually Dae-sung, who’d inhaled heaps of balloon helium to mask his voice) who tells her that the childcare teacher’s death was due to being strangled “by something soft and elastic, like fabric”. They later meet up at a neighbourhood playground, with Dae-sung telling A-hee that he’d like to assist her on this case as much as possible, also to get her father’s approval. Unhappy at how Dae-sung doesn’t seem to think far ahead, A-hee asks him if he really wants to spend the rest of his life assisting her, eventually pleading, “Can’t you become somebody of your own?”
Back at the supermarket, the MS Mart employees take the opportunity to do their own shopping, as part of their weekly 50% off staff perk. Saeng-seon picks out some items as well – with two pairs of ladies’ stockings among them, which raises Dae-sung’s curiosity and suspicions. Later that evening, a visibly-distressed Kyung-ah turns up at the supermarket with bags in her hands, demanding to know which delivery person has been leaving them hanging on her door. These contained Choco Pies, stockings, tampons – and to the staff members’ shock, something bloody in one of them.
Despite Myung-sook’s assurance that the items weren’t delivered by anyone from MS, Kyung-ah insists on having her membership information removed. To her horror, she finds out that Dae-sung is able to recite details about her without referring to the computer database. This raises Kyung-ah’s own suspicions of Dae-sung, who counters that the perpetrator could be another customer.
Not wanting to jeopardise her business any further, Myung-sook shushes Dae-sung and demands for Kyung-ah to leave. Even after she does, the tensions in the store continue to rise, leading to a big blow up among Myung-sook and the other employees in front of other customers. Dae-sung later attempts to do his own undercover work by manually checking the purchases coinciding with the items Kyung-ah received, even to the extent of noting down his customers’ buys over the next few days.
After closing the supermarket at the end of a work night, Myung-sook thinks out loud about how Dae-sung’s “nosiness” could get them into trouble again, having kept a low profile all this time. She recalls the time she was attacked in her own store by counterfeiter Cheon-won, fresh out of prison and out for revenge. Teenage Dae-sung, who had come to meet his mother, witnesses the scene and saves her by striking Cheon-won at the back of his head with a can of peaches. Officer Kim eventually helped to cover up the situation by pouring a can of tomatoes over the blood pool, telling them matter-of-factly to clean it up.
Myung-sook eventually decides to take on bike deliveries for rival Sam Mart, to kill two birds with one stone: making extra money, while checking out MS’ competitors. After making a separate late-night delivery at Kyung-ah’s apartment complex, Myung-sook decides to head up to her floor. Upon hearing footsteps approaching, Myung-sook hides in a stairwell and spots a person in the corridor loitering outside Kyung-ah’s apartment, whom she eventually ends up confronting and beating up.
This turns out to be Yul’s father, real estate agent Seo Cheon-kyu (Ryu Yeon-seok), who was tasked to check out a water leak in the house. Cheon-kyu asks Myung-sook to enter the apartment with him, lest he gets mistaken again as before. Inside, they both uncover a grizzly find – Kyung-ah’s dead body, her blood diluted by the water around her. Also near the body: a can of peaches and a can opener, which a church volunteer visiting the ‘nunchucks grandpa’ – who had been hospitalised due to shock – had purchased at the mart.
Back at MS Mart, Dae-sung discovers the source of the ‘tablets’ (actually vitamin candies) found at the crime site and the Catholic church: a whale bubble gun sold exclusively at the supermarket. Upon further digging, Dae-sung discovers that the company that manufactures the product was run by none other than the “nunchucks grandpa”.
Dae-sung and A-hee head to the hospital where ‘grandpa’ was being warded, but the man is nowhere in his room, save for his grey-haired wig propped up on a water bottle. At the lobby, however, Dae-sung accidentally runs into ‘grandpa’. Spotting a gold chain around his neck, he realises that he had once again come face to face with his childhood nemesis: Cheon-won the counterfeiter. As A-hee and Dae-sung surround him, Cheon-won makes his move to grab A-hee – and menacingly puts a blade against her throat.
- How the MS Mart staff are not actually referred to by their actual names, but by the departments, e.g.: Jungyuk (butcher/meat in Korean); Yachae (vegetables in Korean); Saengseon (fish/seafood in Korean) and Alba (part-timer in Korean)
- Dae-sung’s punny confession to A-hee in episode 1, using supermarket price labels on produce like cucumbers and garlic. Koreans are known for their food-related puns (among others) as many of those words are homonyms of others.
Questions we have:
- It seems like everyone and their kids are buying up the mart’s super glue guns – what’s the reason for it?
- Why, or who does Yul buy soju for? Does her father have something to do with this request/errand?
- What is the overall significance of Choco Pies – and how does this link to the killer?
‘The Killer’s Shopping List’ airs on tvN every Wednesday and Thursday, and is also available on Viu, Viki and iQIYI in selected regions.