KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Episode 1 of a Heartless City

The 1-2-3 A drama introduction
recap part 1 of 3 | the first 3 episodes 
of a drama in words and pictures

Click on images to enlarge.

Episode 1 :
A game of thrones, Seoul-style.
Dropping from the top of a skyrise is a long way to fall, especially if tossed. 
It’s a glaring night, the neon lights of the evening are too shiny, and a man is sweating and stumbling through the busy Seoul city streets. He’s in a panic, repeatedly looking over his shoulder, the kind of fear displayed by prey who know they’re about to be eaten.
He’s making a call while on the dash, and the man on the other line is a highly decorated, high-ranking police captain: Senior Police Director Min HongKi. “This has to be the last time…I think I’ve been made,” the runner says fearfully, but still gives his boss a time and location for the next drop. And a ‘drop’ is exactly what happens. 
When law enforcement arrives to investigate the tip from their director regarding a big drug meet going down…the man who had been afraid for his life comes literally crashing down from the sky, landing a bloody heap into a parked car in the street.
The camera speeds up to the rooftop where a man stands staring out at the expanse city lights stretching below him, calm and expressionless, a dark figure perfectly a part of the night’s world. “It’s taken care of,” he says grimly into his phone.

An arrangement made in a rain-soaked funeral portends more tragedy to unfold… never less.
Neatly pressed formal police uniforms and even more tightly pressed emotions are being drenched by pouring rain, the crying of mother nature mirroring the crying of family members and friends. So he was undercover all this time. I thought he was on assignment abroad. Keep your voices down, reporters will here you. You’re the one that’s the loudest here! 
After the funeral, Director Min, the dead officer’s handler, stands away from the crowd, his expression somber. A man is with him, but he’s not in dress blues. He is obviously not police or family, and his presence in this awfully formal and official setting is out of place, merely a visitor to the tragedy. “I really thought we were getting close this time,” Director Min tells the other man, bitterness in his tone. He informs former city prosecutor Ji HyungMin that he wants him back on the police force now, this time to lead a Special Investigation Unit task force dedicated to bringing one evil drug lord down: Scale. And, furthermore, HyungMin can do it without worrying about following any rules because the Director wants this done, and he’ll watch the team’s back.

When your girl tells you she prefers potato stew over a fancy restaurant, you really should listen, because it’s never really just about potato stew.
Detective Lee KyungMi arrives at the location of her date a little surprised by how fancy it is, saying she’d have been perfectly happy with a more cozy setting with potato stew. The boyfriend is none other than Director Min’s choice for his special unit. Newly re-deputized Detective HyungMin gives his girlfriend the big news that he’s quiting being a city prosecutor and returning to the police force. KyungMi seems somewhat unenthused at the prospect of having her boyfriend coming back into her turf, but before the argument is pursued, she gets a call from a police friend with a tip that sets her scrambling out of the restaurant.
On the way out, HyungMin grabs the engagement ring back from the special event dessert cart the restaurant staff had been about to roll out.

Our first and brief intro to Yoon SooMin, our heroine, and she doesn’t seem to particularly care for her big sis’ longtime boyfriend Detective HyungMin, and that seems somewhat interesting to note.
The detective couple arrive at a seedy night club and storm into the female staffers dressing room. Detective KyungMi surprises SooMin with her sudden appearance, then leaves her speechless by immediately ripping into her about working as a plaything for men and wasting her life away serving booze. SooMin tries to explain that she’s only there to return her friend JooYoung’s cell phone (who clearly knows KyungMi and is hiding around the corner in fear), but after noticing the perfect boyfriend HyungMin glowering nearby, SooMin instead strips off her jacket and lies that she has to get ready for work now so the cops should all leave.

How many of these Special Unit members will live to see the end? Very few, in all likelihood, as this feels like the kind of show where no one will escape unscathed. 
Detective Ji HyungMin is introduced to the collected members of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) as their designated Team Leader by Director Min. It is explained that their primary target is a man that goes by the alias Scale, a dangerous criminal kingpin in Seoul that runs illegal operations on many fronts, including a narcotics ring and money laundering. It is estimated that his illegal activities net him monies in the upwards of hundreds of millions a year. In order to get at this untouchable guy they’re going to first go after the visible faces of his operation who are his top lieutenants and the organizational leadership: Kim ChoongSup, aka Meth Kim, and Park TaeSoon, aka Halibut. Director Min doesn’t tell the staff here, but earlier, he has already gravely told HyungMin in confidence that many undercover police officers have been sacrificed to gather even this small parcel of intel. The point, the price was too high, the task force can’t squander this opportunity.

If someone lays plastic at your feet when you come to visit, it is time to start saying your prayers...or pissing your pants, whichever is most instinctive. 
Purely as an introduction to his crazy, we are shown how Scale, the Special Unit’s primary target, deals with people that displease him. When Daesung Financing’s President Kim and his son walk into what can only be described as part throne room, part conference room, and part dining hall, pretty young ladies start unrolling long sheets of plastic at their feet. Scale had been chatting on the phone with a congressman before the Kims arrived, and he’s rather upset about a specific piece of legislation regarding social security funds, indicating that his reach and influence spiders into the highest ladders of government. 
After some pithy comments and a creepy “eenie-miney-moe-ing,” Scale casually practices his golf swing on the older Mr. Kim’s face. The shocked son vomits next to the dead bloody heap that used to be his father. Scale points at the younger Kim, “Next time, that’s gonna be you. Get it? You can go now.”

Boyfriend hates that His Woman is a cop, forcing him to watch as she puts herself in danger. Her response? “Then don’t watch.” 
The task force members are after Donghae Construction, a known front for one of Scale’s operations, so as a roundabout way in, they’re hoping to catch a small time crook named Little Bird. When the local drug dealer arrives, the cops are witness to his accepting a little girl as payment for drugs. That sets Detective KyungMi off on a ragerous bend and, ditching her surprised colleagues behind, chases after Little Bird into an empty building. She ends up in a furious elevator fistfight with the man, who has no qualms about beating back on a woman, nevermind a woman who happens to be a cop. We learn a few things about Detective Lee KyungMi at this precise moment. One, she can fight dirty. Two, clearly our police lady has some major emotional issues stemming from somewhere. Three, she’s a reckless wildcard with more bravery than sense, and she clearly has very little regard for her own safety. 
Needless to say, when it’s all said and done, the child was saved but her boyfriend and boss HyungMin is mega-pissed because she scared the shit out of him by blindly running off into a dangerous situation. He’s worried about her safety, and considering her most recent rash behavior, it’s somewhat understandable. But the look she gives him is resentful of his commanding attitude. A boyfriend becoming a girlfriend’s superior officer rarely tends to be a good relationship step...

So this tale isn’t just about criminals of the obvious kind, but the dirty lawyers and the dirty cops that infiltrate positions of power and put the screw to helpless people trapped between these pillars of injustice. 
Little Bird is in custody and the cops are in the middle of questioning the sniveling punk about a murdered girl when some officious suits arrive to take him to a man named Prosecutor Ahn who wants to interrogate him ‘personally’—supposedly. The police have no choice but to let him go. Once again, singled out for notice is the tension between paper-pushing law, the Prosecutor’s Office, and pavement-pounding law, the Police Force.
On the station’s rooftop, HyungMin appears to be stewing about the loss of their link to Scale’s network so KyungMi suggests they go for a drink. He asks instead why she chose to become a cop in the first place, its occurred to him that he’s never asked before.
She answers somewhat wistfully, “Because I want to be able to laugh brightly. If I laugh, the world will follow along and laugh, too.” There is a definite sadness about this woman, as if there is a part of her lost and somewhere else, her self-assurance merely a bravado, but HyungMin misses the subtle layer of her melancholy, and cheerfully asks if they should go now?

If the law is overcrowded with crooks, the only way for the good guys to win is to break those laws themselves. 
HyungMin’s idea of a night out with his gal turns out to be following the tracking device he planted on Little Bird, who’s partying it up with Prosecutor Ahn at a karaoke bar. After kicking everybody out, HyungMin and Prosecutor Ahn establish that they have some serious bad blood between them. Pretty apparent to see that their issue with one another stems from philosophy: one is dirty, the other isn’t. Ahn taunts, “Do you think your father will protect you?” Turns out, HyungMin’s father is the Commissioner of the Prosecutor’s Office. Support from a powerful father or not, HyungMin knows he’s already secure in powerful backing in the form of Director Min and takes the challenge. He wants to know about Scale or he’ll put Prosecutor Ahn in a world of hurt. So this is what the cops wanted all along, Ahn comes to realize. HyungMin scoffs, “What? You think I did all this for a small fry like Little Bird? You have one day to make your decision.”
And Ahn does indeed choose the slimy, self-preserving way out, as predicted. They meet at a children’s playground the next day and the crooked prosecutor hands over a file full of incriminating pictures of Scale with politicians. When Prosecutor Ahn asks why HyungMin is going so far to chase after one man, why he foolishly takes the hard road in everything he does, HyungMin replies it’s to ensure a safe world for kids to play in, like the ones at this very playground. Prosecutor Ahn responds, cynically but with words that ring sadly true, “Don’t kid yourself. It’s those kids who’ll decide what kind of world they want to play in, not you.” The message: you’ll never rid the streets of its crookedness because the people who live in it rarely drive a straight line. The demand will always be there and someone will always rise to meet it.

When we look out [at the city] like this, it’s beautiful.” –HyungMin, to KyungMi, viewing Seoul’s cityscape from the rooftop on a better day than tomorrow will be.
The detective couple want to save their city from the drugs that are ruining lives, taking over their country. They look out at the sprawl below them, and they want to take it back…they want to rid their backyard of the drugs that pass through Seoul’s thriving nightlife, from when it starts at a dead drop, sifts into the clubs, kills anonymous clubbers...
...turns into money that moves through dirty bank accounts, through nameless delivery boys, through a network of small store owners, through multiple back alley handoffs, to find its way home to a lieutenant in a suit…
...who dials a number…that calls one of many anonymous cell phones ringing in a drawer in a faraway nondescript building in the middle of nowhere…where a man answers, “Yes?”

Doctor, the deposit is in. What should I do?”
“Don’t do anything,” the Doctor responds. He’s a young man, handsome, impeccably groomed, from his sharply cut suit to his tightly styled hair. We’ve seen him before—on the roof of the building where an undercover police officer fell to his death after being thrown off. By this man? Perhaps. The Doctor’s expression is impassive as the man on the phone worries, “Are you sure? Scale won’t let this slide.”
As if on cue, another cell phone in the drawer starts to ring. The Doctor looks down at the caller ID. It’s a call from a grave digger. Halibut. Ominous, insistent. His expression already set firmly on grim, turns a notch toward resolved. Time to go see Scale.

Think about it: if the guy across from you isn’t afraid of your badassery, it might just be because he’s the bigger badass in the room. 
The Doctor arrives alone to Scale’s throne-like dine and death hall. He appears to show some deference, although his nonchalant saunter in what should clearly have been a walk of shame shows more conceit than actual subservience. And Scale knows it. At the other man’s approach, Scale sends a glass tumbler flying, which the Doctor sidesteps easily. Scale snarls, “You dodge? You dodge when I meant it to hit you?” The Doctor stands statue-still for the second glassware missile, barely even twitches an eye as it shatters against his head. As Scale steps toward him, a thin line of crimson snakes down the side of his face.
The Doctor matter-of-factly says, “I’ll keep it simple. The current structure is not working. My boys need to eat some meat, too.” He wants a bigger percentage of the profits and Scale laughs, “Did your father teach you that screwed up math?” Then mocks, oh right, the Doctor doesn’t have a father, he’s just a gutter trash whore’s son. Scale grabs his bloodthirsty golf club and makes to swing when his young son suddenly runs in demanding his father keep a promise to take him to see idol group Girl’s Nine. 
Scale points his nine iron at the Doctor, “YOU—my son just saved your life, you remember that, and deposit my money. Or you die, you bastard.” There is the barest shift in the Doctor’s expression at the threat, but a dangerous one: No, your son just saved your life.

The First Meeting…between the Fated, and it’s barely a drive by, although there is blood involved. 
The Doctor enters his neighborhood convenience store to grab some quick first aid supplies, a corner mart where Yoon SooMin is the cashier. She is checking her cell phone behind the register. He drops some bills onto the counter and is already showing SooMin his back before she realizes the customer is on his way out. She stares at the bill too large for the purchase, then at the empty space where her customer had already exited.

Spike was a Space Fighter, too. Please don’t be the Spike of this show, Doc. If you’ve seen Cowboy Bebop, you know.
The Doctor drives, upset and lost in thought, and ends up at what appears to be a rundown amusement park. Empty and remote, and a lonely sight. This is a corner of Seoul that would not follow along with anyone’s laughter—and a place built for laughter that has lost its noise is an immensely sad thing. A ride called “Space Fighter” yawns in colors of faded paint and decrepit metal behind the agitated man in the suit. The location is an odd choice for a bothered gangster to collect his thoughts, and therefore it feels especially meaningful. 
He’s looking at the phone in his hand, as if waiting for a call that just won’t come. “Deposit the money, or you die, you bastard,” Scale’s voice echoes in his mind. Absently, the Doctor touches the dried blood at his temple, and again, it isn’t fear but grim resolve on his face.

That Doctor bastard didn’t give back the money.”
Meth Kim and Halibut are ordered to dispatch of the Doctor, the permanent way, and quickly find his replacement. But the problem is, it is proving difficult to find the bastard Doctor. They grumble that the entire structure of their crime syndicate is built on separate working cells, designed precisely so they can’t find each other, so now, how the hell are they supposed to track this guy down? “He’ll need product pretty soon, we can wait him out,” Meth Kim suggests. Halibut thinks a guy named Soo might know the Doctor’s hideouts. Kim doubts that the flaky Soo would want to get in the middle of it, but agrees that perhaps tempting him with inclusion into a bigger operational piece of the pie might do the trick. And if he won’t help, they can always teach the guy a lesson and remind him of his rightful place. A win-win for them. “Find him and arrange it,” Kim decides.

Soo, you are sexy, please stay alive for as long as possible throughout the duration of this show!
Soo turns out to be a wild stallion of a modern criminal. He holes up in a swanky, ultra-mod pad, and he’s also a frisky little playboy who isn’t so thrilled about his precious sexy time with his lady being interrupted for Halibut. Occupying the same space, Halibut is clearly of the old school, a little overweight, and dressed in leathery unfashionable sports duds. He looks like an aging hustler not too far removed from the grime of the streets. Soo, on the other hand, looks like any other dime-a-dozen rich bad boy, more a fashionable young chaebol in his slick striped suit than perhaps any drug trafficker. Except for the company he keeps, of course, and the slightly menacing manner of his sneer—that gives him away as something not so harmless
He seems to take the news of the Doctor’s defection with a mild case of botheration. As for helping catch the Doctor, he’s skeptical, but Halibut warns him, “The Doc’s crossed a line. If you know where he is, give him up, or you’re a dead man, too.” Soo eventually agrees to help, offers Halibut a spot at his club to unwind while he does some research on the man’s whereabouts.

So even gangsters hang out in cliques…in that, even a sexy gangster hangs out with other gangsters just as sexy cool—with impeccable fashion sense.
Turns out, our boy Soo knows exactly where the Doctor is—and it’s right under Halibut’s nose. Well, technically, above his nose. The sought after fugitive is on Soo’s very own rooftop actually. In fact, the two are much closer than anyone realizes, so much for the compartmentalizing of Scale’s organization. Standing side by side, gazing down at a twilight Seoul laid at their feet, Soo asks what the Doctor is going to do now with the shit hitting the fan. Seriously. The Doctor responds, “You know how it goes, kill or be killed. I have to see this to the very end now.” 
Soo reminds that this isn’t some ‘hotpants’ rookie punk he’s picked a fight with but the Scale. “Then I guess we’re the ones who’ll die,” the other concludes indifferently. You see, the Doctor explains, it took eight long years for him to get to this point and he’s sick of this existence that only takes without giving anything back. After a long sighing moment, Soo shrugs, boxes the air for a second, then agrees, “Yeah, you’re right, there’s not much to this thing called living anyway.” 
The Doctor glances at the other man, at Soo’s total loyalty in face of the no-win, most likely suicidal gameplay they’re about to start, and a shadow of a smile softens his expression. He listens as Soo yanks out his phone, and calls down the order: “Hit them.” 
Elsewhere, a squad of Soo’s thugs with wood bats storm into a karaoke room, kick out the girls, and proceed to beat the living crap out of a very surprised Halibut.
Up on the roof, Soo wants to be clear, “Doc, I did this thing…so I’m trusting you now.” The Doctor’s gaze is faraway, almost dreamy, and when he replies, his tone is that of an old friend. “Soo-ya,” he says quietly, “Those streets, we’re gonna swallow them whole.”

The toppling of a throne. 
The two men and their boys storm into Scale’s kingdom, quite a different sort of entrance than the Doctor’s earlier visit. This time they enter the building loudly, bats and fists already swinging, only to find the reigning king absent and the high seat deserted. 
As the Doc walks through the room, he callously tips over Scale’s chair at the head of the long table. He topples the throne. It hits the floor with a soundless, but firm thud as the Doc’s footsteps fade away in the distance. The beginning of the end of an era. 
Faced with two very determined men intent on getting their hands on Scale that night, Halibut insists he doesn’t know where Scale is hiding, but Meth Kim would know. The Doctor informs his captive that a few suspicious money transfers made by them to Halibut’s bank accounts have already painted him a traitor. Halibut is no fool and understands quite well that he’s already dead to Scale whether he sings or not at this moment. He’s familiar with Scale’s golf club justice. He makes a call to Meth Kim lying that Soo is cooperating and arranges a meet at the furniture factory where the Doctor’s replacement will be selected. “What about me, now you have to tell me how I can live?” Halibut begs. The Doc’s reply is uncaring and simple: disappear or die.

What exactly is the moral mathematics on catching a monster by becoming a monster? At times, why does it feel like the cops in this show play dirtier than the crooks?
As Halibut frantically collects his worldly belongings, specifically cold hard cash, he doesn’t see that members of the SIU have infiltrated Donghae Construction’s factory based on Prosecutor Ahn’s intel. They nab Halibut before he can safely skip town and Team Leader HyungMin, pretending to be a mysterious third party criminal, coerces a location out of the gangster in a much more physical manner than the Doctor. 
When it’s all done and they’d gotten the information they wanted, Detective Shin (second guy from the right) lets it be known that he didn’t much care for the farce. The veteran detectives explain to the newbie that it was the only way to get any real words out of the guy before he inevitably cuts a deal and puts himself out of their reach by hiding under the protection of the Prosecutor’s Office.

We have no choice. 
At a highway crossroads deep into the night on the longest day ever for these guys, Soo meets with Doc to give him the bad news. Halibut’s been flapping his big mouth again, this time to the cops. There’s a Special Investigations Unit that will be crawling all over the furniture factory tonight as the police go after Meth Kim and Scale, having been privy to the same info from Halibut.  
Visibly frustrated, Soo supposes they will have to cancel their plans for now. The Doc agrees, “We have no choice.” He tells Soo to take the kids home, get back to business as usual. 
As Soo and the rest peel away, Doc sits in his own car, and it seems he changes his mind. Or never intended to cancel the night’s festivities in the first place, only take Soo and the boys out of it. The Doctor knows that passing on this chance to grab Kim might be the end of the game for them, and going in quietly and under the radar might be the only way to get it done. He heads in the opposite direction of the other cars. 
And so despite the knowledge that police are positioned all over the factory, the Doctor arrives at the meet location alone. And even by himself, even without a crowd of bat-wielding goons behind him, this is a man who exudes dangerous.

HyungMin doesn’t know it yet, but his future nemesis has just strolled into his life. 
The police have secured the perimeter and are tucked away in every dark corner of the property. A solitary figure casually strolls out of the shadows. “Customer arriving,” one of their guys, Detective Kim, whispers in all their police ears
The first arrival to the factory is a tall, lean man in a dark suit, all of him blending into the deep darkness; the specifics of his features stay carefully hidden in shadow, only vaguely illuminated by the occasional dim bulb and a shy moonlight. He strolls right past all the hiding cops. The man is perfectly calm as if walking through a scene in a play he alone is starring. He appears at ease but everyone with a badge holds their breath. There is a feeling of significance in the air.
Then, for just a moment, the unknown player pauses in his step, tilts his head, listening. HyungMin, nearest to him, stiffens…the tension is so palpable it’s practically a sound itself...and then the stranger in the suit continues his leisurely gait across the walkway and into the factory. 
Soon after, cars pull up and Meth Kim and his dozen bodyguards pile out. Can you verify it’s Kim ChoongSup? It’s too dark to tell anyone apart. As they get closer to the entrance, HyungMin gets the positive ID on Kim and orders, “Stand by. Wait for my signal.”

As suspected, the biggest badass in the throne room was not the puppet king, but the unassuming assassin who stood quietly, all the while confident he could kill them all, if he’d so pleased.
Inside a narrow corridor leading into the factory, a dozen footsteps trample the quiet, their footsteps splashing water and concrete. Suddenly, from behind, the Doctor appears and takes a couple men down. The entourage as one collective identity turns around, almost in slow motion, to face their solo attacker.
Meth Kim stands at the far back, watching, wary. At first he appears smug…but upon meeting the other man’s determined gaze, even with the odds in his favor, Kim suddenly looks unsure, his expression betrays his fear. All the while, the Doc grabs a fallen man’s knife and jacket, wraps his blade-holding hand with the cloth, and lunges forward.
And through the cramped, dimly lit tunnel, our lone man starts his graceful dance, and it is beauty in motion the way he kills. And so easily he does it, like a reed slicing through the wind without resistance, the blade flashing and slashing, systematically stabbing and cleaving through the necks of every obstacle in his way. He ends his ballet of death with his own personal blade
The Doctor has carved his way to his prey, who is the only one still left standing. Kim backs away from the approaching hunter.

Who was that crazy bastard? 
A gunshot echoes through the night, sending the cops scrambling into action. They rush inside. What they find shocks them, a hallway full of dead or dying bodyguards. But no Kim ChoongSup among the fallen. One henchman still alive points the way to his abducted boss and HyungMin runs out just in time to see a dark sedan screeching away into the night. 
He frantically searches faces for the shadowy figure police saw entering the warehouse before Kim and his men arrived. But exactly two are missing by their count. The stranger in the dark suit and Meth Kim. “Who was it? WHO TOOK KIM?” HyungMin demands of a survivor. The henchman manages to remember a name, an alias only really, and knows nothing else about the mysterious man who took them all down—their boss had called him the Doctor’s Son
On a dark empty stretch of highway, the Doctor’s Son is indeed speeding back to his city, and Kim is tied up in the backseat.

Ask Spike and Vicious, coup d’etats are bloody difficult to control...and can make enemies of even old friends. 
HyungMin and KyungMi are sitting in their car, in a daze after a night of perplexing new discoveries in their case. She still can’t believe one man took a dozen men down by himself. HyungMin says it’s certainly doable in a confined space like a corridor, but the more frightening part is that the guy did it in mere minutes. HyungMin thinks aloud that this man must also be after Scale since he went through so much trouble to nab Meth Kim right out from under their noses, which means the madman is in the middle of waging a war on the crime boss. KyungMi is alarmed by the possibility that there is another criminal organization in Seoul big enough and ballsy enough to take on someone as well-connected as Scale, not to mention one that no one’s ever heard of? 
HyungMin shakes his head and states the obvious, “No, not a different organization. This is a coup d’etat.”

Lucky for Scale his son is there, he really might be a life saver.
It sure is a toppling of government, alright. Scale and his young son have just enjoyed a private performance of Girls Nine and are having an affectionate father-son moment when Soo and Doc barge into the room with their posse. Soo calls out with mock cheer, “Long time no see!”
Courtesy of Soo’s boot, Meth Kim gets kicked to the floor at Scale’s feet like trash. Scale takes one look at Kim’s beaten face and knows he’s been sold out.
The Doctor’s Son is a little less exuberant than his partner. His face remains murderously cold and unforgiving, but he speaks pleasantly enough, his words all the more frightening because it is so casually given in a voice of flint: “Did you enjoy the music?”

Go to Episode 2 recaps!


  1. Nice recap :) Just started this show yesterday, it's pretty effin cool. I am a bit worried about the characters, though. It doesn't seem like there is going to be lasting happiness in this drama. Or any happiness at all.

  2. It's totally effin cool!! Heheh. Very well done. I too am scared for all the characters. I really love all the main leads. I am hoping against hope some of them will get a little bit of a happy ending! But it sure seems doubtful...=( But there are so many twists in this show...only 8 episodes so far, but there has been some major shockers already!

  3. nice recaps!! watched this already but i have to read your recaps! thanks!


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