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  1. Based on the true events of the Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan. A group of Korean tourists is taken hostage by an extremist Taliban group in Afghanistan. The Korean government dispatches Jae-ho (Hwang Jung-min), known as one of Korea’s most skilled diplomats, in order to handle the situation. Once he arrives, he asks for the Afghan government’s cooperation and uses every means possible to free the hostages. However, his efforts go in vain. Due to his failure, he’s forced to work with Dae-sik (Hyun Bin), a special agent who is an expert on the Middle East. As they begin making their move to get to the Taliban, the first hostage death occurs. With nowhere else to turn, the two become unlikely allies in a race against time to save the rest of the hostages. [Source: Hancinema] “The Point Men” stars Hyun Bin and veteran actor Hwang Jung Min. This is the first time that Hwang Jung-min and Hyun Bin are meeting in a film. Both are also close friends. Hwang Jung-min, known for his roles in Ode To My Father, Veteran and Violent Prosecutor, will portray a diplomat, Jae-ho, working alongside Hyun Bin’s character, Dae-sik, a national intelligence service (NIS) agent. Hyun Bin was hugely successful in his roles in Crash Landing on You, Confidential Assignment and Secret Garden. The movie is helmed by director Yim Soon-rye (Little Forest). In an interview with director Im Soon Rye for “Women Film Makers”, she mentioned that “Bargaining” focuses on the conflict between Christian faith and Islamic faith. She hopes that the audience will be able to feel what religion is for humans. This is also the first time that such a huge production (20 Billion Korean Won) is being done by a female Korean director. [Credit: hyunbin.english.global.fanclub] The movie is based on the 2007 South Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan. Production of the movie has begun, with cast and crew shooting on location in Korea in late April 2020. Initially, the movie production was scheduled to begin by end of March, on location in Jordan, where filming will primarily be located. However, like many other projects, production was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and following travel bans across countries. (Credit: Naver) “The Point Men” is the first Korean film to film overseas since COVID-19 hit. The cast and crew left for Jordan in July. They completed filming and returned to South Korea in September 2020.
  2. Title: Under the Skin Chinese Title: 猎罪图鉴 (Translate to: Hunting Down Crimes with Illustrations) All episodes are available for viewing Cast Tan Jianci -- Shen Yi Jin Shichia -- Du Cheng Qin Hailu -- Chief Zhang Zhu Jiaqi -- Jiang Feng Lu Yanqi -- Li Han Synopsis: Seven years earlier, a gifted young, up and coming portrait artist, Shen Yi is commissioned by a mysterious woman to draw a portrait. Unbeknownst to him, this leads to the death of a decorated police officer who had recently cracked a big case. When asked by the police to identify the mysterious woman later, Shen Yi is unable to draw her portrait. As a result of this case, he sets his prized artworks on fire, abandons his artistic career for a life as a crime fighter. Sheng Yi has recently been posted to Beijiang Public Security Bureau under the leadership of Team Leader Du Cheng, a somewhat resentful protege of the dead police officer who has a beef with Sheng Yi for his role in his mentor's death. Du Cheng doesn't take Sheng Yi seriously at first but when he sees what the forensic artist is capable of, he develops grudging respect for him. The duo are part of an investigative team that deal with a variety of criminal cases that require Sheng Yi's expertise as an artist.
  3. In the last 2 years I’ve noticed a distinct trend in K dramas and it’s a persistent focus on bullying in all kinds of social contexts. In recent memory the phenomenon has been front and centre in almost every K drama that I’ve watched so I can only presume that this has become an endemic hot button issue for the nation and is now a matter of vociferous public debate. D.P., which stars the immensely likeable Jung Hae-in, is a devastating and brutal exploration of human rights abuses within the armed forces of South Korea. The feeling that one is left with from these short haunting six episodes is that this is merely the tip of an iceberg with far reaching consequences. Bullying exists there not only because it is condoned but because it is a mechanism of control deployed by the hierarchy to ensure that the rank and file know their place and toe the line. It all begins at the top and filters down to the lowliest newcomer with the tacit approval of their superiors. Everyone knows what’s really going on but nobody feels any immediate need to ruffle any feathers. Or even to speak about it. Systemic bullying apparently is accepted practice as part of the army’s regime to “toughen up” the lads especially those wet behind the ears and to maintain strict discipline through the ranks. However, it soon becomes clear that once these moral and ethical lines are crossed once too often, something happens inside the human soul… something irreparably injurious occurs — a place from which there is no return. Jung Hae-in plays Ahn Jun-ho recently recruited by his military masters to track down deserters from the army. He is paired up with Han Ho-yul (Koo Kyu-hwan) who is in part the welcomed comic relief of this bleak cityscape of guilt and abject injustice. Their camaraderie of opposites is pleasing to watch as they navigate the complexities of the jobs with which they have been tasked. The duo are assigned specific cases of conscripted men who overstay their leave or do a runner one fine evening over the barbed wire fence when no one is watching. Each assignment comes with a story palpable with emotions — a combination of the humourous, heartwarming, harrowing and ultimately tragic. Life in the barracks is like a thoughtful war film except that the mob running the concentration camps are your compatriots. Bullying is pure mental torture and escape comes only when you are discharged. Here the showrunners are not content just with critiquing the armed forces but the entirety of South Korean society -- intimating more than once that the abuses in the barracks are a spillover of the dysfunctionality in social relations out in the wider world. Throughout this brief journey we watch the gradual honing of Jun-ho’s skills as a detective and a tracker. There are material perks to the job ie. extended leave which is why he put his hand up for it. For the most part he believes his job to be a necessary evil. It’s a dereliction of duty to escape one’s military service of course. Until that is… the final mission that makes him question everything he believes. For the most part this show is difficult to watch because of the viewer’s position as the helpless onlooker. On top of this are the procession of perpetrators, stark displays of violence and the relentless abuse of power that’s both mentally and physically exhausting. I can’t imagine a revisit in the near future although I’m up for the second season to see where Jun-ho’s trajectory takes him after what he witnesses. It’s also a story that invites a shared anger at how such atrocities could occur in a so-called modern civilized society and why these human rights abuses are still accepted practice on such a scale when there’s supposedly increased political liberty. D.P. is easily one of the best K dramas ever made and it is a veritable masterclass in visual storytelling. Dialogue is kept to the essentials but they provide insight into the characters. Instead the show relies on close-ups of faces and objects to intensify the emotions within the narrative and let the performances and mise en scene do the heavy lifting. Action, they say, speaks louder than words and there’s plenty of that here: travelling, running, fighting, punching, kicking. And then comes the heart-rending sobs to bring it all home when an out-of-control situation turns ugly and is made worse by hubris. What also makes this a work of art are the performances not just from the leads but from the rest of the ensemble whose projection of raw emotions both jolt and demand a response from the audience. While this may be Jung Hae-in's best work to date, there are no slouches here especially when considering Son Seok-kyu and Kim Sung-kyun's contributions to the larger narrative as well. There’s little doubt that all of this is calculated… and guaranteed to leave the viewer with a lingering sense of unease for a long time to come -- a scenario that's more horrifying than any horror show with a finale that packs quite a punch. Plot 10 Storytelling 10 Cast/Acting 10 Production Values 10 Rewatch Value 7 (It's a hard one to rewatch) This post was adapted from a review I wrote for my blog.
  4. Juvenile Justice English Title: Juvenile Justice Literal Title: Juvenile Judgement Revised romanization: Sonyeonsimpan Hangul Title: 소년심판 Genre: Law, Crime, Drama Director: Hong Jong Chan Writer: Kim Min Seok Network: Netflix Official Website: Netflix Episodes: 10 Release Date: Feb 25, 2022 Aired On: Netflix Synopsis A tough judge balances her aversion to minor offenders with firm beliefs on justice and punishment as she tackles complex cases inside a juvenile court. [Source: Netflix] A judge who is infamously known for their dislike towards juveniles becomes the newly appointed judge of a juvenile court in the Yeonhwa District. A victim of juvenile crime in her youth, she faces various cases involving juvenile delinquents and other youths, which helps her discover what it truly means to be an adult. [Source: whats-on-netflix.com] As crimes committed by minors get more violent and cruel, the offenders usually escape any serious types of punishment. Sim Eun-Seok (Kim Hye-Soo) is an elite judge with a personality that seems unfriendly to others. She hates juvenile criminals. Sim Eun-Seok gets assigned to a local juvenile court. There, she breaks custom and administers her own ways of punishing the offenders. [Source: Asianwiki]
  5. Through the Darkness 악의 마음을 읽는 자들 Story of criminal profilers who struggle day and night to read the minds of serial murderers. Kim Nam Gil is back for another heroic role as crime buster, in smoldering look and suits. While he was previously pegged as the fiery priest, Kim Nam Gil will take a new challenging character to become the mind reader of serial killers and high class criminals. Broadcasting Station : SBS Air date: January .14,2021 (tentative), Fri-Sat , 12 episodes Director: Park Bo Ram Writer: Seol Yi Na
  6. There’s a rooftop moment in one of the later episodes between Song Ha-young (Kim Nam-gil), the country’s first criminal profiler and his only female colleague Yoon Tae-gu (Kim So-jin) where they exchange a well-known reference from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous screed Beyond Good and Evil. “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” This quote perfectly encapsulates Song Ha-young’s continual struggle as a pioneering criminal investigator in South Korea and the overall thematic concerns of this tightly written, wonderfully told police procedural of two men’s seminal efforts to incorporate behavioural analysis into the nation’s policing practices. One, a man of science, had the vision and the other had the knack for penetrating into the criminal soul. Both are polar opposites but bring complementary skill sets to the table. Ha-young, dogged and circumspect, is a natural detective seeing connections where others fail to whereas Kook Young-soo (Jin Seon-kyu) a former forensics chief is the extrovert and bulldog of the team. From the start It’s an uphill battle for the duo to claim legitimacy for the fledgeling Behavioural Analysis Team. However, they gradually gain the grudging respect of sceptical colleagues when the application of these radical new ways of thinking about a certain class of criminal element yields results. Criminal profiling, as the drama notes, was always an important addition to an existing but growing toolbox that was still not adequately equipped to deal with an emerging type of criminality. It was never meant to replace more traditional or conventional forms of investigation techniques like canvassing, evidence-gathering, surveillance cameras, forensic science and interviews but to be their companion particularly in instances where the motive of perpetrators are not always immediately obvious. It also helped set the agenda for a shift (for the better) in workplace culture within the police organization. In fact, as someone who has watched many SK cop shows in the past decade, I would venture to say that this drama features some of the most professional and realistic work-based interactions I've been privy to, particularly as the show charts improvements in policing over time. While the drama can be located under the broader category of crime, it isn’t the thrill of the chase of the unknown that keeps one on the edge of one’s seat. Every featured perpetrator is known to the audience early on and each story is staged in similar fashion to a Columbo episode where persistent detectives pry information out of their initially taciturn suspects with enough information to convict them. An analysis and application of behavioural psychology is often the key to loosening tongues during interrogations. This is where Ha-young’s newly acquired expertise really come into its own. It is demonstrated here that his new interrogation techniques work and puts the final nail into the coffin of draconian (and brutal) police interrogation methods of another era. While the show claims to be based on a book written by Kwon Il-young, South Korea's first criminal profiler, I was often reminded of its US counterpart, the Netflix series Mindhunter. While I liked the Mindhunter premise and its fascinating look into the pioneering work of the FBI in criminal profiling, I didn't enjoy its digressions into the bedroom antics of the main male lead. In the case of Through the Darkness, everything it did sat right with me, including the small glimpses into the personal lives of the people who were key to the messaging of the drama. For anyone with a functioning conscience, staring at the abyss will undoubtedly take its emotional toll. As someone in the show notes, "This is not a job for the weak-minded". Even the redoubtable Ha-young, the crusading cop, succumbs to burn out. At this point he is reminded as is the audience is that this isn’t just about him doing his job well but much more importantly, it is his duty to provide answers to the victims and those who grieve for them. On one occasion, after a gruelling interview with one of the show's featured killers, Ha-young turns to Kook Young-soo and poses a heartfelt question, "Why did it have to me?" It is a question that has resonances with Frodo’s question to Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring. Young-soo thinks the question is for him as the team leader but for the heartbroken Ha-young, raised Catholic by his devout mother, it’s a deeper existential question with spiritual ramifications about the nature of good and evil. Ha-young was born for this role and called to it but it was never going to be easy to stare into the abyss without help from friends. As far as the acting stakes are concerned, there’s not a lot to fault especially because here familiar veterans make it all look so natural. Kim Nam-gil who takes on the titular role should of course should be singled out for his understated performance as the quiet and thoughtful Song Ha-young, the man appointed to the task of leading the way for his colleagues. The subtle changes to his manner and facial expressions as he demonstrates his discomfiture and agony during an interrogation for instance, highlights his wide-ranging experience in tackling a challenging role such as this one. The drama is also exemplary in the way that it respects its audience. It assumes rightly that its target demographic is one capable of understanding moments in the narrative without being bludgeoned over the head with exposition overload. The result is that the telling is much more effective because the focus is almost entirely on the showing. Those who enjoy a good police procedural will take all of this onboard and appreciate the pacing that results from the effective use of montage scenes. It may well be a premature call at this point but there’s little doubt in my mind that this well-made police procedural is poised to be one of the year’s best. It might also be this year's Beyond Evil. It not only checks all the boxes but more importantly, it leaves one with a feeling of wanting more. Storytelling 10 Plot 10 Acting/Cast 9 Production Values 10 Rewatch Value 9
  7. This sounds like a promising police procedural with a talented cast too. Synopsis from Asian Wiki Lee Dong-Sik (Shin Ha-Kyun) was once a capable detective. He now works at the Manyang Police Substation in a small city and does all the tedious chores at the station. His life is quiet there. One day, Detective Han Joo-Won (Yeo Jin-Goo) is transferred to the same police substation. He is assigned to work as Lee Dong-Sik’s boss and also his partner. Han Joo-Won is an elite detective and comes from a distinguished background. His father has a good chance of becoming the next chief at the National Police Agency. Han Joo-Won also has a secret. A serial murder case takes place in the small, peaceful city. The case is the same serial murder case that took place 20 years ago and changed Lee Dong-Sik’s life. The two detectives work to catch the killer. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Director: Sim Na-Yeon Writer: Kim Soo-Jin Network: JTBC Episodes: 16 Release Date: 19 February, 2021 -- Runtime: Friday & Saturday 23:00
  8. The Road: The Tragedy of One 더 로드: 1의 비극 A story of the secrets, desires, guilts, and salvation of residents who live at "Royal the Hill," a place where only the top 1 percenters live. Baek Soo Hyun is a popular and respected anchorman. He is known as a journalist with strong beliefs. When he states something on camera, viewers take his words as the truth. Yet, Baek Soo Hyun has another side; he's cold-hearted, and when he wants something, he gets it no matter what and will use any and all means to get what he wants. He is married to Seo Eun Soo, and they have children. Seo Eun Soo is the daughter of the chairman of the Jegang Group and married to Anchorman Baek Soo Hyun. Her father is powerful enough that he wields heavy influence in the political and economic worlds. Seo Eun Soo is herself a popular miniature artist. She prioritizes her family and tries never to lose her dignity, but she encounters tragedy. Seo Eun-Soo attempts to protect her family. Cha Seo Young is an announcer for a broadcast station. She has everything, including a prestigious job, exemplary educational background, and a beautiful appearance, but she is rarely satisfied with what she has. (Source: Naver & AsianWiki) ~~ Adapted from a novel "One Tragedy" (一の悲劇) by Norizuki Rintaro (法月綸太郞). Edit Translation @abs-oluteM
  9. Taxi Driver (aka Deluxe Taxi) Director: Park Joon Ho Writers: Webcomic: Carlos and Lee Jae Jin Screenplay: Oh Sang Ho and Lee Ji Hyun Cast: Lee Je Hoon as Kim Do Ki Esom as Kang Ha Na Kim Eui Sung as Jang Sung Chul Pyo Ye Jin as Ahn Go Eun Jang Hyuk jin as Choi Kyung Koo Bae Yoo Ram as Park Jin Eon Lee Young Ae as the voice of the guide Cha Ji Yeon as Baek Sung Mi There is something about revenge that can be very satisfying if done right. “Deluxe Taxi” asks the question that in a world where the law wants to protect the innocent even if it means guilty people go free, how do the victims of those freed guilty people get their justice? Thus the Rainbow Deluxe Taxi Company was formed to get revenge for the victims of those criminals who have managed to beat the law, whether through fancy lawyers, payoffs, connections, or whatever. If for whatever reason, the law is unable to punish them, the victims can utilize the services of the Rainbow Deluxe Taxi company to administer some vigilante justice. Jang Sung Chul is the leader of this vigilante operation who assembles a team of people who are experts in their respective fields (fighting, hacking, wiretapping, mechanics, etc.) necessary to capture the criminals. Each member has had close contact with a serious crime, some with a miscarriage of justice. For instance, the hacker Ahn Go Eun is the younger sister of a woman who had been driven to suicide by her boyfriend releasing sex tapes of her to online porno sites. However, the boyfriend was left unscathed. The driver and fighter Kim Do Gi had his mother killed by a serial killer. On the surface, Jang Sung Chul himself is a respectable society leader and director of the Blue Bird Foundation which was created to help crime victims who hob-nobs with prosecutors and captains of industry. However, as the head of Rainbow Deluxe Taxi Company, he is ruthless about apprehending criminals. Vigilante justice comes at a price though. In this case, since they are not looking to kill the criminals they apprehend, Jang Sung Chul made a deal with a leader of the underground economy Baek Sung Mi who is involved in all sorts of shady dealings including black market sales of organs. Baek Sung Mi imprisons the people that the Rainbow Taxi Company captures in tiny cells built into the ground where they suffer for their crimes until their punishment is deemed sufficient or they die. The cells are small enough that a person can’t ever stretch out in any direction, and their meals are haphazard, just enough to keep them alive. It does not escape the notice of the good guys that if they did not need her, Baek Sung Mi is the kind of person that they might have gone after. A new elite prosecutor Kang Ha Na joins the Seoul Northern District Prosecutor’s Office, and becomes interested in the Rainbow Taxi Company when she realizes that they seem to be tied to the disappearances of some criminals who had gone free after their trials. At first, she is determined to bring the vigilantes justice as well, until her investigator is killed during an investigation and she is not able to get justice for him. She particularly notices Kim Do Ki as the taxi driver at a number of crime scenes, and even confronts him with her suspicions of his activities. KDK's response "If people like you had done your job right, then I would not have a job to do." The drama is very slickly done, and though it clearly wants you to root for the vigilante team, it does not shy away entirely from questions of what price does vigilante justice exact and is it always fitting and right. Having said that, the members of the team are all well-intended and dedicated to their cause. By bending a few laws such as breaking, entering, wiretapping, kidnapping, etc, they are able to bring about revenge for their clients. The drama can be a bit intense, especially in terms of some of the violence, though they tend to allude to more than they depict. Lee Je Hoon as Kim Do Ki is the dark knight who is the most prominent face of vigilante justice as he drives the potential clients to solicit their decision for revenge or not, the one who does the fighting as necessary and the one who ultimately kidnaps the criminals to take them to their punishment. Kim Do Ki is a man of little words and inscrutable reactions who always gets the job done, aided by the mechanical genius of Choi Kyung Koo and Park Jin Eon who can build or jury-rig anything that is needed for any situation and the exceptional hacking abilities of Ahn Go Eun. Even if their characters can almost be stereotypical (think “Leverage” or other rough/vigilante justice), the actors infuse a sincerity to their characters as well as a sense of fun. It’s definitely a drama worth watching, and there seems to be a second season planned for this drama, with a possible air date of 2022. Plot/Story: 7 Casting: 8 Production Value: 7 Re-Watch Value: 8 Ending Spoiler
  10. Beyond Evil (Korean Title: 괴물) Director: Shim Na Yeon Writer: Kim Su Jin (Mad Dog, Special Investigation Team) Cast Shin Ha Kyung as Inspector Lee Dong Shik, Team Leader of Dangerous Crimes Division at Manyang - Lee Do Hyun as young Lee Dong Shik Yeo Jin Goo as Inspector Han Joo Won, son of the Deputy Commissioner for Police Han Gi Hwan Choi Dae Hoon as Inspector Park Jung Jae, son of Councilwoman Do Hae Won Kim Shin Rok as Inspector Oh Ji Hwa, Team Leader of Dangerous Crimes Division at Munju Cheon Ho Jin as Chief Nam Sang Bae of Manyang Police Substation Choi Jin Ho as Deputy Commissioner Han Gi Hwan Hae Yeon Gil as Councilwoman Do Hae Won Heo Sung Tae as Lee Chang Jin, a property developer and ex-husband to Inspector Oh Ji Hwa Lee Kyu Hoi as Kang Jin Mook, a friend of Lee Dong Shik, Park Jung Jae, and Oh Ji Hwa who has mental challenges Plot Summary When Lee Dong Shik was a young man, he was accused of the murder of his younger fraternal twin sister Yoo Young, though they never found her body, just her cut off fingers. He didn’t go to jail, though, because of an alibi provided by his best friend Park Jung Jae who had an abnormal fascination with deer. The murder is never solved. Both Lee Dong Shik and Park Jung Jae grow up to become police officers. Lee Dong Shik becomes the Team Leader of the Dangerous Crimes Division in Manyang while Park Jung Jae is a senior detective on his team. Their best friend from their childhood, Oh Ji Hwa becomes the Team Leader of the Dangerous Crimes Division at Munju. A new member, Inspector Han Joo Won, is transferred to the Manyang Police Station and paired up with Lee Dong Shik. Han Joo Won is an unusual transfer in that he comes from International Crimes Unit, has excellent credentials and reputation, and is the son of the Deputy Police Commissioner Han Gi Hwan who is assumed to become the next Police Commissioner. Han Joo Wan is young, idealistic, and has himself transferred to Manyang, determined to catch a killer. He suspects that LDS has killed his twin LYY. In Manyang, another murder is discovered, and a serial killer is suspected, one who may be linked to Yu Young’s death. Despite a lack of trust between Han Joo Won and Lee Dong Shik, they suspect everyone, and are able to finally determine the serial killer. However, once jailed and having confessed, the serial killer claims that he did not have anything to do with Yoo Young’s death before he commits suicide. LDS and HJW now have the new mysteries of how the serial killer was able to commit suicide from within a secure jail as well as who really killed LDS’ sister. The question ultimately involves politics, ambition, and money that caused various people to cover up various crimes, creating a conflicting mess of circumstances and actions. For instance, Councilwoman Do Hae Won wants to become the next mayor of Manyang so she is cooperating with Lee Chang Jin who wants to build a brand new expensive complex of buildings there. Commissioner Han Gi Hwan wants to become the next Commissioner and so mentors a Prosecutor to get info and do things for him, including keeping tabs on his loose cannon of a son Han Joo Won. Review While this drama purports to be about catching a serial killer, it is ultimately a psychological drama about trust and relationships, but especially a drama about family relationships, even when they are twisted and hurtful. This drama is a bit of a JTBC specialty as it combines crime with psychology and a commentary on society and the human nature. There is the relationship that Dong Shik has with his family and how the family ultimately crumbles after the death of his sister and he falls under suspicion as the culprit. Both his mother and his father ultimately die with things unresolved, and Dong Shik ultimately left alone, still with the desire to bring justice to his sister’s killer. Not to mention, not knowing where his sister’s body is and so not entirely certain that she was dead or not. There is the relationship between Park Jung Jae and his mother Councilwoman Do Hae Won who is extremely protective and tries to be controlling of her son. When he was younger, Jung Jae allowed her to control him for the most part, especially because he has fey moments where he is obsessed by deer and becomes frightened. Except for his friendship with Dong Shik. His mother was vehement about Jung Jae retracting his alibi for Dong Shik, but Jung Jae stuck to his story which ultimately freed Dong Shik from being a suspect in his sister’s disappearance and presumed death. There is the relationship between Han Joo Won and his father, the Deputy Commissioner, with his father keeping close tabs on Joo Won, but not quite respecting each other. There is also the young prosecutor whom the the father is cultivating and is allowed to almost act like a member of the family. Joo Won’s mother died a long time ago after being confined to a psychiatric facility. Except for Dong Shik whose story about his relationship with his parents ends once they’ve died, the other stories unfold over the episodes as we see the strain of the relationships, flashing back to incidents in their childhoods. Additionally, a number of the other characters also have issues around their family which are explored. Even the serial killer is seen to be motivated in part by family issues. In terms of the story, it is tightly plotted and one has to pay attention because of how dense the material is. While it is primarily about the various characters and their interactions with each other, a some of the scenes end up being a twist on itself as it reveals more about an incident that may have happened or an assumption that was wrong. In terms of the acting, this drama was really terrific all around with an absolutely stellar cast. Shin Ha Kyung deserved his acting Baeksang Award for this drama for a mesmerizing performance of a cop who isn’t beyond bending some laws in order to catch criminals and yet walks the edge for the most part rather than going straight into breaking laws, though he does ultimately break laws in order to catch the serial killer. He’s a flawed person with a temper who is loyal to his friends, but isn’t beyond suspecting them as new information turns up. And, even while he is doing the job that he has, it’s clear that the unsolved death of his sister is still very much alive in his mind. The bromance between Dong Shik and Joo Won takes quite awhile to develop, and honestly, Yeo Jin Goo was a weak point for me in the earlier episodes. Yeo Jin Goo just didn’t feel old enough to play his role, and I found myself wishing for an older actor to have played the counterpart to Shin Ha Kyung. Yeo Jin Goo’s portrayal of Joo Won was a lot of bravado and idealism without the maturity to temper them to produce better decisions and actions. It ultimately worked, but against Shin Ha Kyung’s gritty portrayal of Dong Shik, Joo Won didn’t quite match up and I was left wondering about Joo Won’s actions and motivations which sometimes felt more stereotypical millenial angst. Having said that, I’m probably being too harsh on Yeo Jin Goo’s acting in this drama since he is normally a very good actor. I think he was just a shade too young with his casting for this role. Final note about the Korean title of this drama. The Korean title is actually "Monster', and it speaks to several things, the monster who is the serial killer as well as how he got that way, the monster of greed and ambition that can cause humans to act in such horrific ways even if it's not readily apparent on the outside, and how sometimes the monsters are those who are closest to us, or even ourselves. Ratings Plot 9 Acting 10 Production 8 Re-watch 10 (Have to rewatch it at least once more to see everything you missed the first time.)
  11. Broadcast station: OCN Schedule: August 29-October 11, 2020 / Saturday-Sunday / 22:30 (KST) About the Show: The story tells of people who are living in a mysterious village. A scammer for noble purposes, Kim Wook (Go Soo) stumbles into the village while being chased by a gang he offended. In the village, he gets to know some of the villagers and goes on investigative mission to uncover the mysteries surrounding these people. Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Crime
  12. The Good Detective is not your standard detective fare. I went into it expecting a straightforward police procedural and a race against the clock to save an innocent man's life. I was expecting a Grisham style The Chamber thriller. Instead what I got was a somewhat complex, bleak but ultimately hopeful morality tale concerned with individual choices when presented with real moral and ethical dilemmas ie. what drives individuals to do what they do. The cops and politics storyline is the backdrop to a drama about men and women, who in their pursuit of truth, are up against mammoth external obstacles that threaten to consume them and yet the battle begins within an almighty struggle of the will. The story largely revolves around the investigative misadventures of Detective Sergeant Kang Do-chang, his savvy post-burn out partner Oh Ji-hyuk and a newspaper journalist, Jin Seo-gyeong. After a bumpy start, all three become more cooperative when a matter regarding a death row inmate is brought to their attention. "New" evidence emerges that the inmate at the heart of the matter, Lee Dae-chul, might not be guilty for the crimes he was allegedly accused of. This scenario creates a quandary for the trio and their associates because re-opening the case, as everyone suspects, will be akin to opening pandora's box. However, there's that troublesome, pesky thing called "conscience" that comes into play The first half of the drama sees the gang in a race to save Lee Dae-chul from the executioner while navigating through political roadblocks posed by those who have reasons to bury the truth. Rather than a large scale organized conspiracy, it's more a case of an intersection of various agendas at play, all having their own reasons for wanting Lee Dae-chul executed. There's a bit of a twist, a few nasty hits before those on the side of the angels pick themselves up and start again. The second half sees the motley crew painfully persevering to make gradual inroads to clearing Lee Dae-chul's name. The title might be interpreted in two ways. Firstly it could be a reference to the main character Kang Do-chang but when we first encounter Kang Do-chang, it's not a moniker that he wears well. At the start of the show, he is on the short list for a long overdue promotion. Despite his experience and achievements, he has seen younger men and contemporaries climb the success ladder that's eluded him. Just as he decides that he can only get to the top by not rocking the boat, the Lee Dae-chul case lands right into his lap again. As if Do-chang hasn't got enough on his plate, his impoverished, recently divorced sister with self-defeating alcohol issues seeks refuge with him. Of course the titular detective could on the other hand be pointing to an ideal type rather than an actual person because before a man becomes a cop, he is a flawed human being first and foremost. So an argument could be made that the show is fundamentally an exploration of what that good/exemplary detective looks like. Or how as the story progresses, Kang Do-chang and all those within his circle begin to take on the attributes of a "good detective". One of my favourite parts of the show has to be the male camaraderie especially among Team 2. The banter between Do-chang and Ji-hyuk especially could possibly be my most favourite thing in the drama. I am especially partial to the backhanded compliments, the understated sympathy and the wry humour. There's so much affection and respect between the men belying the barbed personal comments and the jibes. The male relationships are so well-written here, very true to life. At least in my experience of watching men interact. But it is a joy to watch the two male leads become true brothers-in-arms over time. Props to Son Hyun-joo and Jang Seung-jo for their convincing performances. Much praise should also be given to Oh Jung-se (who is rather ubiquitous these days) for his excellent turn as the villainous Oh Jang-tae. In general, the performances of young and old, newbies and veterans alike were better than decent. As for romance, it is played out in understated fashion within the confines of detective work. Oh Ji-hyuk and Jin Seo-gyeong are kept on their toes all the way through as they pursue various lines of inquiry but they steal the odd moment or two over drinks for Ji-hyuk to make his shy confessions and backhanded compliments. Overall I am of the opinion that this is an excellent thought-provoking crime drama that's not just about catching baddies and putting them behind bars. Although some might find the resolution a tad controversial, it does end on a hopeful note. 1. Plot / story 9 2. Cast / acting 8.5 3. Production values 8.5 4. Re-watch value 8.5 If you're interested in reading more about the drama, go to my blog. Beware of spoilers.
  13. Synopsis: During an undercover mission, post-90s policeman Huang Wei Ping got into an accident and became a vegetable. Twenty years later when he woke up, he still retains his youthful appearance. However, when he returned to the police team, he felt out of place and often create a joke out of himself. Together with his "old" partner Li Ming Feng, he set out to investigate the mysterious case of the past. Title: Retro Detective Chinese Title: 复古神探 / Fu Gu Shen Tan Broadcast Website: Youku Broadcast Date: TBA Genre: Comedy, Crime, Detective, Mystery Language: Mandarin Episodes: 24 Director: Wang Junye Screenwriter: Dai Zhengyang, Chang Le Production Company: Youku, I Do Pictures, Fun High, Golden Shield Television Center Producer: Tao Zhanhai Origin: China Info credit: MyDramaList , Drama Wiki, Chinese Drama Info
  14. What would you do or say if a stranger approaches you with the unbelievable opportunity of going back in time — a year earlier — to do it all again? Would you take it? What would you do differently? This is the predicament that detective Ji Hyung-joo, played by the versatile Lee Joon-hyuk, is presented with as he grieves inconsolably over the brutal murder of his beloved partner and brother-in-arms, Park Sun-ho (Lee Sung-wook). He isn’t the only one. 9 others in his cohort are similarly invited to partake in this “reset” — individuals who all carry some kind of emotional baggage and compelling personal reason to get onboard this seemingly farfetched proposition to change the past. What all these individuals have in common is perhaps an inhuman desperation to act. It is almost always the case that time travelling to fix the past in Kdramaland is a dubious notion fraught with problems. It is no different here. For Hyung-joo, things goes well at first immediately after the reset. Armed with foreknowledge he apprehends his partner’s killer preemptively and earn commendation for preventing other related crimes. For Shin Ga-hyeon (Nam Ji-hyun), a popular crime writing web cartoonist, she manages to avoid the car accident that paralysed her waist down but the law of unintended consequences come to haunt her in other punishing ways. Soon, one by one, members of the reset group fall prey to inexplicable deaths which cause our resident detectives to become embroiled in a fight for survival. One of my favourite parts of the show is watching Hyung-joo, initially a second-rate cop grow as a detective and character while navigating the biggest mystery of his career. Lee Joon-hyuk is adorable in the role and especially in his interactions with Nam Ji-hyun. Romance isn’t a key feature here although their chemistry is delightful and there are subtle hints all throughout that these two collaborators have growing feelings for each other. The razor sharp Ga-hyeon is a great sounding board for Hyung-joo who in both his official and unofficial capacity is forced to grapple with a series of deaths related to the “reset” group. Is there something inherent in the reset mechanism that is flawed? Or are there other unknown sinister forces at play? The cast and the performances are undoubtedly the best thing about it and so it should be because as one peels away the insanity one layer at a time, it is clear that this rollercoaster of a drama ultimately about character. Central to the reset idea is its enigmatic proponent, Lee Shin, a clinical psychiatrist whose good intentions of wanting to give people second chances might be a cover for something possibly less altruistic. Her motives are unclear all throughout and the show has viewers questioning them all throughout as she deals with the fallout from the reset. The show benefits greatly from the 12 episode format. The plotting is tight and the mind-bending storyline keeps viewers on their toes. Just when you think you know exactly what’s going on, the show throws in a twist or takes a different turn which leaves you re-evaluating your cherished assumptions. Of course I never expected the show to satisfactorily explain the temporal device although some explanation is offered. In the end the time travelling element is merely a vehicle (no pun intended) for the show to explore age old questions of predestination and individual choice. Plot/story 9 Cast/acting 10 Production values 8 Rewatch Value 8.5
  15. In commemoration of 2020 as a year of significant science-fiction themed productions, I dust the cobwebs off an old gem from the recess of my memories. Circle, which aired in 2017 is a timely reminder that despite the inevitable misses in this genre, the South Korean entertainment industry does come up with the goods from time to time. Besides being a well-crafted sci-fi drama, it is also an emotionally satisfying journey about lifelong family bonds that transcend time and the best laid plans of men. I would say without any reservation that this drama and Life on Mars are in all likelihood my favourites within the genre produced in South Korea. They are, in my opinion, the best exemplars of the genre in terms of execution. First and foremost, Circle is an exercise in masterful storytelling which is also compelling viewing as a crime thriller. To a seasoned sci-fi watcher, the drama might seem derivative on first glance, seemingly having plundered the warehouse of sci-fi tropes bar time travel. Echoes of Equilibrium, Johnny Mnemonic, Gattaca, Serenity, Brave New World find their way to this seemingly modest production that flip flops between two key years: 2017 and 2037. The upside of using familiar tropes (and there’s nothing new under the sun) makes the drama immediately accessible to a larger audience. To its credit, the drama still manages to craft something uniquely Korean from well-used tropes. The story begins with a shared past. A pair of fraternal twin boys and their neuroscientist father have a close encounter with what can only be concluded to be a visitor from the stars. That one event becomes the catalyst to a series of highly dubious scientific endeavours that involve human subjects. Their visitor from outer space named Byul (star) becomes an important fixture in their household in those early years and holds scientific knowledge light years ahead of what earth has to offer. The show fast forwards to 2017. In 2017 the focus is on one of the brothers, Woo Jin (Yeo Jin-goo) who is a top university science major struggling to make ends meet. The abrupt departure of his father and Byul 10 years earlier, left the boys in the care of their grandmother who in 2017 is living in an aged care facility with dementia. His older brother Bum Gyeon recently institutionalised for mental health issues, is obsessed with a series of suicides at Woo Jin’s university which he attributes to a student Han Jung-yeon who is a dead ringer for their childhood alien. At first Woo Jin is frustrated with Bum Gyeon’s paranoia but as he probes further and follows his brother’s trail to keep the latter out of trouble, he gradually concludes that his crazy brother might not be as crazy as he once thought. An enormous burden is placed on the 21-year-old Woo Jin to uncover the layers behind his brother’s other-worldly obsessions. As the storytelling progresses 2017 sets the stage for what comes later. It provides the backstory to what becomes known as Smart City and the motivations behind what eventuates in 2037. In the 2037 timeline, the planet has become a highly polluted, run-down morass of environmental decay. Kim Joon-hyuk (Kim Kang-woo), a detective in Normal Earth has been desperately trying to get into Smart City, a seeming oasis in a dystopian future. It’s a sterile, crime-free environment where its inhabitants are installed with a chip that effectively calibrates their emotions ensuring that human impulses are carefully monitored so that potential crimes are kept at bay. Those who choose to live in Smart City must all agree to having the calming chip installed. This entire infrastructure is monitored by Human B, a powerful corporation spearheaded by a mysterious Chairman. What the residents of Smart City aren’t aware of is that their memories are also blocked. Much of the show delves into the negative and positive ramifications of that. It isn’t clear at first who Kim Joon-hyuk is at first. He seems to be inordinately interested in the case of the missing twin brothers. There’s some indication that he might be one of the twins. He gets his break when an impossible murder takes place in Smart City which sees him embroiled with a hacker known as Bluebird. Circle poses some age-old ontological questions about what it means to be human and raises pertinent ethical questions about the corporatization of science. Science no matter how good the intentions is done by ambitious, flawed human beings who often don’t know when to stop. Or even comprehend fully the ramifications of what it is they are doing. The best part of this philosophical inquiry is that it is done in a suspenseful, entertaining way with an ensemble of experienced and competent cast. Circle differs from most SK science fiction in that it doesn’t leave things entirely to fate or unknown supernatural forces. It is important too to make mention of the production values. Differentiation between the two timelines and elements of the dystopian future is done not just through time stamps but changes in colour palates and technological upgrades such as electronic devices, computers, monitors, weaponry in the 2037. The choice made in the means of long distance communication is also fascinating. The younger members of the cast deserve special mention because they shoulder much of the storytelling rigours. It isn’t just the popular Yeo Jin-goo but An Woo-yeong who plays brother Bum Gyeon. Gong Seung-yeon as Han Jung-yeon is another. Then there’s also the officer from city hall in 2037, Ho Soo, Lee Gi-gwang who turns in a decent performance there. It's hard to believe that this drama went under radar during its initial airing because 3 years on, it is still one of the best most consistently executed K dramas I have seen. If you're in the mood for a excellent crime show, I commend this one to you without any hesitation for your viewing pleasure. Plot: 9 Acting: 10 Storytelling: 10 Production Values: 8 Rewatch Value: 8 Found a trailer for Episode 1
  16. I have often wondered about K dramaland’s ongoing fascination with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Drama after drama in 2020 have made obvious reference to the classic English work of satire and imagination. It begs the question: Are they genuine homages to the source material or are these references merely cynical and blanket justifications for the lack of coherence and consistency in plotting? The answer is important to me at least, because often as a member of the viewing public I am asked to accept things “just because” and often in science fiction or should I say, serious science fiction “just because” just ain’t good enough. The industry has had a checkered relationship with science fiction for as long as I’ve been watching K dramas and there’s little doubt that the best ones have come from the cable networks. Why that is the case is perhaps a subject for another time. So perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise that this production goes wobbly half way. At the start Alice seemed to have all the makings of a good science fiction-time travel story. The elements were all there: fascinating ideas, good production values, a seemingly intriguing plot and even extended action sequences. On top of that, the show was attempting to do what others before had done in combining crime with time travel and in those early days, it seemed to hit all the right notes. Everything seemed to be solidly falling in place in those first six episodes. So what went awry? Joo-won, another recent returnee from military service, plays Park Jin-gyeom, a highly competent detective who was diagnosed at an early age with alexithymia, a condition that renders him unable to empathise and process emotions in ordinary fashion. Even as a child, he shows himself incapable of interacting with other kids and his only friend is the boisterous but good-hearted Do-yeon (Lee Da-in). At age 19, his mother was murdered and he went to stay with the investigating officer (Kim Sang-ho) and his wife. He then made it his lifelong goal to track down his mother's killer. What Jin-gyeom doesn’t know at first is that his mother, Park Sun-young aka Yoon Tae-yi (Kim Hui-seon), was a time traveller from the future. By all accounts she was the one who started it all — discovered time travel and led the way. With the help of colleagues she made time travel a genuine enterprise for individuals with past grievances. Hence the birth of Alice, an enigmatic organization that engages in what I call, time travel tourism. It is established early on that Tae-yi and her partner travels back in time to 1992 in search of a mysterious tome known as the Book of the Prophecy because it contains crucial information regarding the end of time travel. While in 1992, Tae-yi inadvertently discovers that she’s pregnant by her partner and is advised to abort the baby because of the radiation effects of wormhole travelling. During an attempt to retrieve the book, the physicist who was in possession of it then is murdered by a rogue time traveller. Disposing of their adversary not long afterwards, the book soon falls into Tae-yi’s hands. She takes a gander and then absconds with it, much to the chagrin of her partner and lover. Now acquainted with its contents, Tae-yi resolutely decides to remain in 1992 to raise her son as a single parent. Soon, Jin-gyeom in his capacity as a detective is led into one inexplicable crime after another. A girl goes missing, presumably kidnapped and then returns later unscathed claiming that she had been with her mother the entire time. Her mother however, had been on an overseas trip. Then a murder takes place in an apartment and the murderer disappears without a trace. This leads Jin-gyeom into a series of altercations with a key member of Alice, Yoo Min-hyuk (Kwak Si-yang) in the drama’s most exciting action sequences. It’s not really a spoiler to say that unknown to both men initially, Min-hyuk was Tae-yi’s lover and is Jin-gyeom’s biological father. As if this isn’t mind-boggling enough, Jin-gyeom during his investigation into the plausibility of time travel encounters a younger version of Yoon Tae-yi, a physics professor at a local university who may or may not be his mother’s doppelgänger or younger self. It is a question that pervades the entire drama and I for one don’t believe that the show ever deals with it satisfactorily. To be fair time travel is always a tough nut to crack. Sometimes it’s just best to assume that the temporal mechanics works the way it does because it does. No scientific explanation can be given. Often that works as in the case of Signal or 365: Repeat the Year as long as the show doesn’t willy nilly break its own rules, the plot is engaging and the storytelling flows. When the storytelling is good no one really cares how a walkie talkie without batteries can suddenly work so precisely at a particular time without warning. However, in the case of Alice, the temporal mechanics purports to be explained by Choi Won-young’s character as parallel universes. Or is it alternate timelines? I’m never sure. Perhaps something's lost in translation. When a person travels back in time, it supposedly creates an alternate future (a branch timeline) but it doesn’t change the future of the original timeline from which the traveller came. The use of terminology here is somewhat confusing but what is doubly confusing is the insistence of SBS promo department that Prof Yoon Tae-yi is a different person. We are expected to believe that when the maternal version went back into the past and changed it, she may or may not have created a parallel world with another Yoon Tae-yi. The lack of clarity there was, to my mind, the beginning of the downward spiral of the drama. What also upset and sent viewers running in a different direction were the possible Oedipal implications of all of this especially when Jin-gyeom spends the rest of the drama doing “The Bodyguard” routine with damsel-in-distress Professor Tae-yi. As he realises how much trouble he caused his mother as a child, he starts to relive his missed opportunities with the professor who may or may not be his mother's younger self. Especially when he takes her to his childhood home as a refuge from murderous time travelling miscreants. There are hints too that Professor Tae-yi could be developing romantic feelings for Jin-gyeom. The show, it seems to me, repeatedly and deliberately obfuscates the identities of the various Tae-yis. It seems to me that this is an attempt to game the audience right up to the 11th hour but the resolution leaves one more dissatisfied than in awe. There are far too many unnecessary red-herrings particularly in the second half being pulled out of the magician’s hat for my liking. The ideas are interesting in and of themselves but they’re not well incorporated into the bigger storyline. Clearly parts of the show are better than the sum total. Consequently it points to a colossal waste of potential and good will. The ideas are all there for a decent drama and perhaps for the more forgiving that might be enough because the cast do their best with the madness that’s inflicted on them. I wanted far more from the ensemble cast but it seemed to me that the show gradually shifted into Jin-gyeom and Tae-yi melodrama gear which didn’t interest me after a while. One of the bright spots for me was Kwak Si-yang as Min-hyuk. He really came to my attention in this drama and I was rooting for him all the way. His emotional arc was one that I was so looking forward to seeing expanded but alas that was not to be. Furthermore, the entire Alice angle — the origins, the relationships — was completely ignored. I didn’t want just to be told about the good o’l days, I wanted to see evidence of it. Flashbacks would have been nice. Other characters like Do-yeon and fellow detectives essentially became props and scenery. When the show delves into the importance of families — birth ones or the ones that those orphaned find their way to, it does well enough exploring the relationships around Jin-gyeom. It’s certainly one of the highlights of Jin-gyeom’s trajectory to understand himself and his place in the universe to appreciate the people around him who have done so much for him despite his seeming indifference. Yes, I also accept that the show is an unabashed celebration of mother’s love. But they can only do so much drum banging on that theme before it gets really irritatingly old. The ending is for me a nonsensical one. It’s a cop out. A plot hole large enough for two elephants and truck to go through. That’s why I keep mulling over the Alice reference. Do the show runners really believe that we’d be happy going on this journey to accept that the incoherence as something deliberately built into the plot? Like Alice who woke up relieved to find out that it was all a dream. If they did, it was a serious miscalculation on their part. Story: 7 Storytelling: 6 Cast: 9 Production Values: 7.5 Rewatch value: 5
  17. Broadcast Starion : TVN Schedule: 2020-08-15 to 2020-10-04 Saturday & Sunday, 2100 Airing: NetFlix Nationwide & TVN Duration: 60 minutes About the Show : The prosecutor's office and the police find themselves on opposing sides. The prosecutors, including elite prosecutor Woo Tae Ha, want discretionary power over investigations. Meanwhile, the police, including Choi Bit, tries to get complete investigative authority that is independent of the prosecutor's office. Under this tense situation, Prosecutor Hwang Shi Mok and Detective Han Yeo Jin chase after the truth in a hidden case. Source : Asianwiki Genre: Thriller Drama Investigation Drama Crime
  18. On his way to a farewell party thrown in his honour, Hwang Si-mok notices a commotion during a dark, foggy evening along the highway. His curiosity is piqued so he disembarks from his vehicle and makes the usual inquiries. A couple of twenty-year-old lads enjoying a bit of time out have tragically drowned in a local beach in Tongyeong after a bout of heavy drinking. Si-mok does some cursory observation and to his mind, some things don't add up. After thinking on it a bit, he makes further inquiries via his old partner-in-crime, Senior Inspector Han Yeo-jin, who has been seconded to the Intelligence Bureau in police HQ now under the tutelage of Chief Choi BIt. It's clear as she follows-up on the case with old police teammate Jang Geon, that she yearns for fieldwork, finding more administrative work rather more unsatisfying. After passing through a few hands, the Tongyeong case turns into a bit of political football between the cops and the prosecutors. This is doubly significant because of an ongoing very public brawl between the prosecutors and the police over investigative rights. Concerned about the optics over this bickering, the powers-that-be launch a gab-fest that attempts to bring both sides to the table and come to some compromise. As Si-mok heads towards Won-ju, he gets a call from the chief of the Supreme Prosecutor's office, Woo Tae-ha (Choi Mu-sung) who wants him on this team to take the fight to the cops. Unknown to him at the time, this inadvertently sets him up against his old comrade, Han Yeo-jin who is a representative for the police camp. It doesn't take long for the new recruits to this council to realise that this is a political circus erected solely for public consumption. Enter Seo Dong-jae, the show's resident weasel, brown-noser and inveterate networker. He is sick of being transferred away from Seoul in some regional location because it takes him away from his family. His goal is to ingratiate himself with Chief Woo using the police-prosecutor squabble and of course, he's happy to run errands for Lee Yeon-jae from Hanjo as a bonus. She's in a battle of her own with half-brother Lee Sung-jae. He rocks up to Chief Woo's office and serves him up morsels (3 dubious cases) involving the cops that could potential destabilize their position. Chief Woo bites and sends Si-mok along to babysit and ensure that Dong-jae doesn't rock the boat too much. As soon as Dong-jae does his digging in earnest, he disappears and in all likelihood, abducted. This sends everyone into a tizzy. Some in the police wonder if this isn't one publicity stunt on Dong-jae's part, which only shows the level of distrust his reputation has generated over the years. Reprising his role from the first season, Cho Seung-woo continues in fine form as Hwang Si-mok, the irrepressible prosecutor and in-house straight arrow. Two years on, Si-mok's a little older and a little wiser. He wants to do his bit for the prosecutor's office but soon cottons on that things aren't what they seem with his superiors. He and the ever-reliable Bae Doo-na's Han Yeo-jin are the only ones (apart from Dong-jae's family) that are eager to solve Dong-jae's disappearance as they race against the clock. The two are sent on a seeming wild goose chase that end up having enormous, surprising political ramifications for both camps. Both are challenged to put tribal interests on the forefront but in the end their strong sense of justice prevails against all obstacles standing in their way. With the benefit of hindsight, there is a lot to like in this second season. The writer took an entirely different approach and it's not hard to understand why. However, with the burden of expectation of a second season to navigate (a kind of "sequelitis"), it did cause some degree of discontent at least among international fans. I personally thought the set-up took a world and an age to get going although it wasn't without some justification seeing what came later. Perhaps domestic audiences were in a better position to appreciate what the writer was doing because of the socio-political issues that were raised initially. In its defence the approach taken was innovative in terms of the way the 3 disparate cases introduced at the start became interconnected because of the various players involved. Politics gave those cases seeming undue prominence but as it turns out, the three cases -- the Tongyeong drownings, the Segok station suicide and former prosecutor, Park Gwang-su's death -- brought to light systemic problems of corruption within the criminal justice system stemming from individuals flouting the law . The downside to all of this, as a myriad of new characters were trotted out in dribs and drabs, is that it placed the onus largely on the viewer to try and weigh the relative importance of a myriad of supporting characters while tracking their appearances throughout the series in relationship to their specific cases. Even as someone who watches a lot of detective/ police procedurals, I often found myself needing to watch every episode at least twice to navigate my head around this large ensemble of vested interests while wondering where they fit into the bigger story. This consequently slowed the show's progress in the first half. Moreover, in the attempt of trying to be mysterious for its own sake and ramp up the hype, there seemed to be a lot of window dressing in the early days. Despite my issues with it, I stood by the show because of the writer's track record and because, quite frankly, there aren't that many well-written police procedurals that come out of K dramaland in any given year. Overall I feel my confidence in the writer was justified and she delivered in the end. She raised a number of key political issues and wove a decent story around it that contained a more realistic tone. I would add, (I've seen criticisms of this elsewhere) that the writer doesn't write "realistic" political dramas or even what is traditionally called police procedurals. What she does... and many other K drama writers do this, outside of OCN... are metaphysical or political fables or parables. They use the crime genre as a soapbox for some contemporaneous political issue. Rather like what writers like HG Wells or George Orwell did with speculative science fiction. The show's reference to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is quite deliberate and not some casual name drop as the comparisons are compelling. There are deep moral concerns governing the corruption narrative and how individuals can affect the group for good or for ill. The cast as a whole is good value although I wouldn't have minded seeing more of Park Seung-gun who plays Kang Won-chul. Although his role was reduced here, he did remain a presence. Newcomers to the franchise Choi Mu-sung and Jeon Hye-jin are welcomed additions as experienced political operators in the police vs prosecutors battle. Everyone here, no matter how large or small their role, pulls their weight. Overall I enjoyed it. I certainly wouldn't mind a third season as long as the rich writing continues. I'm also in general agreement with the view that the show was probably at its best when the leads (Si-mok and Yeo-jin) were working together rather than as contrived adversaries on opposite sides of the tribal fence. It makes so much sense especially after their collaboration in the first season that they would be natural allies despite working for opposing sides politically. As for romance between them (I had hopes), sadly but perhaps wisely the show chose not to go there. Another season might improve the prospects in that regard. Plot/Story: 9 Storytelling: 8 Cast/Acting: 10 Production Values: 10 Rewatch Value: 8 If you're interested in what I have to say about the show's connection with Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and its moral universe, please go to my blog post. Please beware of spoilers.
  19. After spending 18 years in Seoul biding his time, Bong Sang-pil (Lee Joon-gi) returns to Gisung, the place he spent as a child with his working mother. It is also where he last saw his mother alive. Sang-pil barely escaped with his life and went to live with his gangland boss uncle (Ahn Nae-sang). As soon as the stars align ie. when a series of circumstances come into play, Sang-pil immediately heads back to his hometown in readiness to execute his scheme to take down those who are responsible for his mother’s death. One event includes the suspension and sacking of another lawyer, the hot headed Ha Jae-yi (Seo Yea-ji), also an immigrant from Gisung. Although it isn’t immediately apparent, he’d been observing her for a while. Eventually she becomes embroiled in his big revenge plot. Sang-pil lives up to his appellation as a badge of honour, coming across more as a smooth-talking hustler than a serious trial lawyer. All of that belies a steely resolve and a deep personal anguish to see justice done. He keeps a statue of Lady Justice close-by as a reminder that he will exploit the law as his weapon to do what is necessary to right past wrongs. In their early interactions, Jae-yi is suitably unimpressed with Sang-pil who seems to her more like a trashy gangster who resorts to unethical means to get his way. Sang-pil’s greatest adversary, and the real power behind Gisung is Judge Cha Moon-seok (Lee Hye-young) who is something of a cult figure in the city for her impartial judgments and charity work. In so doing she has built a reputation for being a champion for the underdog. Her late father was also a revered judge. Away from public scrutiny and when the altruistic facade is allowed to drop, Cha Moon-seok is revealed to be a highly corrupt, unconscionable and hugely ambitious political aspirant. Through her the show moralizes about the attribution of god-like status to mere mortals and the problem with blind and mindless devotion. Cha Moon-seok uses her currency as the people’s judge (and her father’s daughter) to wield unchecked power behind the scenes. She is in effect the Queen of Gisung as depicted by all the kowtowing done by her bootlicking minions. According to rumours from certain quarters, Cha Moon-seok was patterned after SK’s first female president, Park Gun-hye who is now serving a 25-year term in prison for bribery and corruption. One of her more prominent subjects is the mercurial An O-ju (Choi Min-su) who has attained a measure respectability as the CEO of a conglomerate despite his lowly beginnings as an insignificant lowlife He does the judge’s dirty bidding and cleans up where necessary. An O-ju is a fascinating figure because despite his background, he isn’t necessarily content to be the judge’s lap dog perpetually. He too demonstrates a flair for the game that he is inevitably drawn into. As Lawless Lawyer is less a crime show and more a revenge-political drama, it’s never any mystery who the conspirators are. What we’re privy to is a cat and mouse game initiated by Sang-pil and Co against the Goliaths of the city starting from the bottom feeders of the food chain. Our titular antihero sets up shop where his mother once had her law practice and manages to co-opt the idealistic Jae-yi to be his reluctant office manager as well as a motley crew of former loansharks. They are the show’s unerring comic relief. The show flies off to a promising start moving at breakneck speed from set-up to Sang-pil’s opening move in his chess game. After receiving a mysterious notebook and Jae-yi’s sacking from her law firm, he jumps into his flashy sports car and into an unknown future. While the show remains entertaining and lively for the most part, it never reaches the pinnacle of its potential as far as plot is concerned. Even if there are Count of Monte Cristo resonances, the juggling act is seldom as adept as other more recent equivalents like Money Flower or Doctor Prisoner. The first half of the show is excellent and loads of fun but then it suffers from a repetitive and weaker third act. I would say in all frankness that the cat and mouse game as it played out lacked the stamina to go the distance. Thankfully though there are some nice action sequences to distract us some of the time which involves the multi-talented and exceedingly agile Lee Joon-gi who does all his own stunts. As a whole the stellar lineup do their best. There’s no doubt every character is well-cast. The veterans Lee Hye-young and Choi Min-su are scene stealers. Choi Min-su often chews the scenery. Both Cha Moon-seok and An O-ju are certainly depicted as larger-than-life characters. They also divert the audience from the flaws of the final act especially when it feels as if the writer has run out of good ideas. While Lee Joon-gi and Seo Yea-ji do a great job with what they’ve been given, (Lee Joon-gi gives a reliably nuanced performance) their characters are often overshadowed by the villains of the piece. The show does a decent enough job taking advantage their terrific onscreen chemistry but theirs isn’t a slow burn romance by any stretch of the imagination which did cause some controversy at the time. Nothing in this show can be accused of moving slowly. As far as memory serves at least. Mention should also be made of the rip-roaring introduction and closing OSTs. It’s one of the highlights in this largely entertaining and good-natured romp. Plot: 8 Storytelling: 7 Cast/Acting: 10 Production Values: 8.5 Rewatch Value: 7
  20. The mention of OCN firsts last week set me thinking about what mine was. After some mulling over I came to the conclusion that it was something called The Virus (2013) which I don’t have a great deal of recollection about. But what makes it vaguely memorable is that it led me to my second OCN drama, TEN which heralded the start of my love affair with the “Only Crime Network”. During The Virus’ original run, ads for TEN S2 were also broadcast. They looked sufficiently eye-catching that I thought I should do a proper job and begin from the beginning. TEN is an all-time favourite for many reasons. It’s a well-written, stylish police procedural that delves into complex, puzzling cases working from the template laid down by the likes of Criminal Minds and Wire in the Blood. The atmosphere is often bleak and moody reflecting the deathly content. The action revolves around a criminal investigation team that handles the most violent crimes occurring domestically. The “ten” comes from the fact that these violent crimes usually have less than 10% arrest rate. This elite team comprises of 4 members (rookie in tow) with a variety of detection and profiling skills as well as policing experiences. The main reason why this show has a special place in my heart is because it is the first Korean police drama that I came across in my early days watching K dramas that I didn’t have to urge to throw things at. It became a great comfort to me that South Koreans are capable of producing good crime shows and OCN is where it’s at. From then on I’ve been an avid follower of the cable network’s offerings… for better or worse. Like with many other OCN shows, it is pre-requisite that the viewer come with a strong stomach. Violent crimes does mean violence… the whole bloody ball of wax. The team is spearheaded by Yeo Ji-hoon (Joo Sang-wook) a renowned criminologist-profiler (after the manner of Gideon and Hotchner) whose motto is “become a monster to catch a monster”. He has a tragedy in his past that drives him to extremes. Back Do-sik (Kim Sang-ho) is the veteran cop who has a couple of decades of field work under his belt. The other talented profiler in this team is the outwardly cheerful Nam Yi-re (Jo-An), psychology honours graduate who has an uncanny ability to read people accurately. Team Ten’s rookie is Choi Woo-shik’s Park Min-ho who doubles as Ji-hoon’s apprentice. The drama follows the unit on a series of knotty problems from domestic crimes to serial deaths. Nothing is what they seem on first appearance. In the first case, the catalyst for the team’s eventual formation, members of the would-be-team are drawn from different vantage points to the murder of a young woman whose twin sister becomes the chief suspect. Ji-hoon’s interest is piqued because it resembles a series of unsolved killings from several years earlier involving women tied up in duct whose fingers are cut up while still alive. The pilot with its convoluted plot and introduction to the team is longer than a normal tv episode playing for about 2 hours. In the time honoured tradition of cop shows, it’s inevitable that cops with different investigation styles butt heads at first. Do-shik, who is old school to the core is sceptical of the new fangled methods but eventually comes to have grudging respect for members of his team when the unit becomes a raging success apprehending culprits in difficult cases in record time. Ji-hoon is aloof and arrogant in Sherlock Holmes fashion but he respects genuine ability when he sees it. On some level, the drama has something to say about team building and necessity for teams to have diversity of approaches and perspectives to achieve success. Each member has their part to play and there are lessons they learn from each other in every case they work. My two favourite cases involve serial deaths. The first one sees bodies disposed of in ritualistic fashion close to a popular recreational mountain trail. Each is accompanied by a biblical quote apparently condemning the victim of some previous crime. While trying to solve the murders, the team work against the clock and a persistent killer to prevent more deaths from occurring. As the investigation progresses it becomes evident that behind the killings is a deep grievance. The second of my favourites is a serious of inexplicable suicides that references The Doors and Jim Morrison explicitly. Do-shik gets a call from a former colleague nicknamed “Dog Nose” who dies before he can say anything. His body is marked by multiple stab wounds which gets Do-shik on the case. He retraces Dog Noses’ steps, dragging Yi-re along. The deceased cop apparently lived up to his sobriquet as he was able to sniff out drugs on from a series of suicide victims which set him on the trajectory to his demise. Soon everyone on the team gets onboard after some inter-departmental wrangling to prove that there’s something far more sinister going on than suicide. As a long time crime buff, TEN is a dream watch. The cases have depth and are mentally stimulating. It’s comparable with the best of the best from the UK and the US. The storytelling is top-notch and engaging on every level. It’s a joy to watch the team work and how their minds play out the solution of the individual cases. Each member is unique and have their own story arc that's integrated into the bigger story. It should be noted that the first season does end on a cliffhanger with Ji-hoon’s disappearance but that is resolved over the course of the second series. The second series although fascinating loses the freshness of the first. As I revisit portions of the drama for this review, I feel a certain nostalgia for it. Despite having watched many crime shows from Kdramaland since, this drama, the first season especially, has a classic feel to it that calls for a rewatch. It has aged well. The actors are noticeably younger but it was this show introduced me to all of them. When I see the actors in different dramas from time to time, I still wonder when we’re going to get a third season. Plot: 9.5 Storytelling: 10 Cast: 9 Production Values: 8 Rewatch Value: 9
  21. It doesn’t seem all that long ago when I caught this high octane, no holds barred blood and guts fest from OCN. Since then it seems to have developed something of a cult following not so much because of the whodunit side of things (which is entertaining enough) but because of the character dynamics. Detective Oh Goo-tak, a known maverick in the force, nicknamed “Mad Dog”, is tasked with grabbing the scummiest of criminal scum after the police chief loses his son to the murderous whims of a serial killer. Much to the chagrin of his “babysitter”, Inspector Yoo Mi-young, Oh Goo-tak scours the local prison(s) for his talent pool: Park Woong-cheol, a former gangbanger; Lee Jung-moon, a genius level psychopath; Jung Tae-su, a slippery ex-contract killer who, for unknown reasons, turned himself in. The cast as a whole is fantastic. It boasts the likes of Kim Sang-joong, Ma Dong-seok, Park Hae-jin, Jo Dong-hyuk and Kang Shin-il who are perfectly cast in their roles. Less impressive is the expressionless Gang Ye-won as the only female crime fighter on the team’s roster. The premise of using “bad guys” (convicts) to catch other “bad guys” (unconscionable criminals that continue to roam the streets committing wanton mayhem) is made more interesting by the fact that Goo-tak is particularly selective about who he picks. As the show progresses, it’s clear that the 3 men are interconnected in some fashion and Goo-tak has his own agenda playing in the background. This entire exercise as one might expect is related to a personal grievance. It should be said too that Goo-tak lives up to his nickname often pushing the boundaries of the law in his fervour to deal out his brand of vigilante justice. Further on the title, it is an intentional part of the show’s DNA to consider how “bad guys” are made. Although the exploration of evil here isn’t profoundly philosophical, I am reminded of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” There’s a clear acknowledgment all throughout the story that it doesn’t take much for anyone to cross the line and fall into the clutches of crime. If there’s a negative to this terrific drama, it’s perhaps the implausibility of the villain… the ultimate “bad guy” but it’s not a huge deal for me because it can be seen as part and parcel of the narrative to explore the corruptibility of evil. With the combination of skill-sets Goo-tak puts together, the team is an overnight success and there are plenty of good action sequences to be had. They catch killers, break up crime syndicates and rescue victims of crime. Their success doesn’t go unnoticed and soon a shrewd prosecutor Oh Jae-won (Kim Tae-hoon) comes knocking on Goo-tak’s door wanting to get in on the action. Of course he too has his motives for doing this and shows an inexplicably keen interest in Lee Jung-moon, who was convicted not only of killing his own parents but a whole lot of others as well. The best part of the drama for me and the most emotionally satisfying aspect of the drama would be the backstories of our favourite convicts. Not only does each character have their shining moment in the present day exploits but we are given glimpses of their past as their stories and connections unfold in the present. My personal favourite among them would have to be Tae-su’s (ex-contract killer) arc. We are given insight into why he turned himself in and where he got his start in the trade. Jo Dong-hyuk surprised me with his multifaceted performance here. Not to mention a thoroughly genuine badass.The lesson from each of their stories is hammered home repeatedly. Even “bad guys” have their limits, their loyalties and their loves. The good news too is that “bad guys” are not irredeemable. Whatever led them to commit crimes against their fellow humans, they are capable of change to the point that they can make the world a better place to live. Perhaps what they need is a miracle of second chances and in this case, a miracle in the very flawed person of Oh Goo-tak. Overall, the cinematography is something to behold, resembling a big screen production than a television show more often than not. It boasts some great set pieces especially in the punishing fight scenes. The atmosphere is moody and bleak right from the word “go” and is relentless in that regard. Bad Guys plays like panels in an adult graphic novel in its harsh presentation of criminal elements and the people that inhabit that underbelly of society that’s seldom referred to in polite company. It’s there and thankfully most of us would never have to deal with it because of the unsung heroes that walk our streets and protect them. Bad Guys is now available on Netflix. Plot/Story: 8.5 Storytelling: 10 Cast: 9.5 Production Values: 10 Rewatch Value: 8 (I’ve watched it at least 3 times)
  22. Judging by the catalogue of dramas in 2020, ‘tis the season of mind-boggling K sci-fi dramas. Not sure if all the relevant parties got together and conspired to make 2020 a year of time travel and parallel universes but there’s just enough to make us suspicious. Train, a product of the OCN production line, is the latest crime puzzler to have completed its run. Just when I thought that OCN couldn’t possibly have anymore up its serial killer sleeve, they somehow manage to pull another one out of the hat. It went largely under the radar during its original run, possibly a result of serial killer fatigue and no popular oppa taking top billing. But for some strange reason, the genre persists as a guilty pleasure of mine. Sci-fi isn’t easy to do well on any given day and it’s a bit of a hit and miss in K drama land. In the case of Train, it seems to get more right than wrong. The script in fact does a better than decent job juggling crime side of things with the sci-fi elements: A dogged detective stumbles on a serial killer’s grave and tracks their origins to a parallel universe which he travels to on a magic disused train but only when the magic rain falls. Yoon Shi-yoon ( I last saw him in Nokdu Flower) proves that he is an acting powerhouse in the making in his dual role as Seo Do-won from both universes. In Universe A, Do-won is a well-liked, kind if somewhat overly driven detective who carries a guilty secret. He is secretly in love with Han Seo-kyung (Kyung Soo-jin), his childhood friend that he rescued from her abusive step family. She too is a crime fighter in her own right — a caring prosecutor who is also in love with him. The reason why he can’t and won’t act on his feelings is because he believes that his father was responsible for her father’s murder. Both lost their dads on the same night. Do-won lost his father to a hit and run that occurred not long after her father’s murder. Oh Mi-sook (Lee Hang-na) is the police captain that raised them both. One night Do-won, in a high speed chase that ends up in a disused railway station, discovers human remains that are difficult to identify but a couple of fresh ones are later found in suitcases along the track. A pattern emerges. Immediately there’s a full-scale investigation into the murders (strangulation followed by bashed-in skulls). As the team digs deeper, Seo-kyung concludes that it’s likely that these bodies are related to her father’s death and it may be that Do-won’s dad might not have been culpable for her father’s death. She gets close to the truth and pays for it with her life. Grieved and inconsolable, Do-won hunts for her killer all the way to Universe B where he discovers that his other self, also a high-ranking detective has recently become a fugitive for killing a known drug dealer. Unbeknownst to them, they both swap universes on the same night. Do-won B is a drug-taking shady cop who is anti-social in his work habits. He is darker, angrier and bitter because his father was convicted for the murder of Han Seo-kyung’s dad. He’s made his life’s mission to uncover the truth and clear his father’s name. One of my favourite things about the show is Do-won A navigating Universe B with the knowledge that he has. It's, in my opinion, one of the better parts of the drama. It’s like watching Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life but bleaker. Almost everyone who is present in Universe A is in Universe B but living out what is clearly a grimmer existence. Do-won, as he gradually discovers, is the variable that makes the world of difference. Overall the show does a satisfying job of wrapping things up which can’t always be said about these sorts of endeavours. It should be said that the performances are a mixed bag. I’m not quite as impressed with the women as I am with the men although Kyung Soo-jin does somewhat better as Seo-kyung B. The drama does quite well (as much as the budget allows) at differentiating between the parallel worlds through Fringe-inspired use of special effects and subtle styling changes. It is curious though that the characters from either universes seemed unconcerned about the marked differences between the two selves. Perhaps it’s a statement about how unobservant people (cops included) generally are especially when life gets busy. The show makes some effort of not making the villain too much of a cliche but it does tread a well-worn path with the added twist of universe hopping. The universe hopping part is what adds an extra dimension to the whole business of crime solving. Frankly I don't think too hard about the mechanics of the parallel universes. It's not the point. The point is that choices do have consequences. Plot/Story: 8.5 Acting/ Cast: 8 Production Values: 7.5 Rewatch Value: 7
  23. As someone who has a penchant for mind-bending, time travelling sci-fi, my view is that this is really one of the best from Kdramaland. I don’t think there are sufficient hyperboles in my vocabulary to adequately express my love for this… what could easily be termed… masterpiece. It’s not a word I use lightly or often but it is reserved for works of art that demonstrate thought and care. The drama, in my opinion, succeeds on many levels, as a uniquely South Korean historical crime drama and as an adaptation of the popular British series of the same name. It’s one of those rare adaptations that captures all that is good about the original while adding its own flavour in a spirit respectful to the source material. The main cast made up of Jung Kyung-ho, Park Sung-woong, Oh Dae-hwan, Go Ah-sung and No Jung-hyun is terrific but there’s no denying that the drama belongs to the talented Jung Kyung-ho who is fantastic in what he achieves here as a man out of time. Central to this mind-boggling piece of science fiction is Han Tae-joo, a highly competent present day detective with a bent towards criminal forensics and chemistry. He’s a by-the-book-guy and is being “punished” for blowing the whistle on some shoddy policing. In an attempt to get back onto the field, he helps his prosecutor ex-girlfriend who is trying to nail a... yes… wait for it… a manicure-obsessed serial killer who is particularly adept at covering his tracks at the crime scene. During a wide scale hunt for the killer, Tae-joo is shot for his troubles and then run over by a black vehicle. Like the BBC series, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” plays in the background before he falls to the ground and succumbs to his injuries. When he wakes up, Tae-joo finds himself right in middle of a main thoroughfare in 1988 with a complete costume change. This also marks his first encounter with Park Sung-woong’s Kang Do-chul, his future frenemy at the police. The two butt heads from the word “go” and all manner of hilarity ensues when the two duke it out with words and fists. The fish-out-of-water scenario is no doubt played up for every bit of humour as Tae-joo wanders around 1988, a confused lost soul, repeatedly questioning his own sanity when he hears voices, the sound of medical equipment, sees light flashes and when tv characters break the fourth wall. He can't work out if he's dreaming, hallucinating or sleepwalking. Moreover, 1988 South Korea is a different world to 2018. It is a place where “criminal forensics” is a foreign language, workplace sexism, as well as police overreach are par for the course. In other words, political incorrectness rules. Tae-joo is kept busy by the seemingly anachronistic presence of the Manicure Murderer who seems to pop up like Wonderland’s White Rabbit leading him on an endless chase for the truth. As he pieces various clues from the era to solve the serial murders of the future, he is forced to confront fragments of his own childhood memories that have been unresolved until now. As time progresses, Tae-joo gradually becomes attached to the people and place he calls home in 1988. The quandary becomes more pronounced as the voices in his head and his grudging affection for his colleagues enact an emotional tug-of-war in which he doesn't know where he stands. The best thing for me in this drama as someone who watched the original is how the show draws on stories from the original and adapts them in accordance to actual South Korean events into the storytelling. In terms of how it draws the audience in emotionally, I’d say that this version surpasses the original. Speaking as someone who was a teenager in the late 1980s, I adored the attention paid to props. It brought no small amount of nostalgia seeing typewriters and cassette recorders as part of the furniture. Like the original this version keeps the audience guessing about what in the world is going on with Tae-joo. To avoid giving away too much I will say this. Just like the original, the ending of this will leave you wondering for days to come. The show can be interpreted in a multiple ways and I have my own views on this. Despite that I highly recommend this and it’s a journey worth embarking on. Plot/ Story: 9.5 Acting/Cast: 9.5 Production Values: 9.5 Re-watch Value: 9
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