The casting director deserves a bonus for this series. I can imagine the briefing notes: “Find us a lead actor who can smoulder. We want someone who can seduce all women, and some men, convey a broad range of emotions, or appear mysterious and enigmatic as needed. The ability to look sexy on a motorbike and deliver a spinning back kick would be good too.” Well, they certainly got all that and more with Kim Nam-gil. Add Han Ga-in as Moon Jae-in, the poor but ambitious outsider who becomes his close confidante and almost lover, and Kim Jae-wook as the loose cannon who took his place as the bastard son but is never accepted, and you get a triumvirate that circles uneasily around each other, never quite settling into the relationships that will satisfy them or you, and setting up the inevitable denouement with the inexorability of an iceberg heading for an ocean liner.
Kim Nam-gil wears this series like an overcoat. He inhabits every shadow, whether he’s in the scene or not. From his very first appearance, the character Shim Gun-wook leaps off the screen. He’s charismatic, eye-catching, conveying emotions at times transparent as glass and at others completely mysterious. I honestly don’t know how he does it, but he somehow manages to convey nuances of emotion without apparent effort. Maybe he’s sold his soul – in which case, he must have got the 2 for 1 deal, because he’s also darkly seductive, as evidenced by his ability to lure every young female in the series.
In every scene, it’s impossible to take your eyes off Kim – he conceals then reveals, and there’s always something more to see. Scratch the revenge-driven bad guy of the title and you find the young boy, sobbing in the rain over his dead puppy, brutally cast out by his adoptive family and waiting for his real parents who will never come. Kim makes this so achingly real you want to take him home and feed him home-cooked food.
The underlying moral seems to be “Never get involved with a chaebol family” – far more dangerous than a triad gang, if only because they have more money and connections, and hence more power to indulge their spite. Those born into the family are all twisted, in one way or another, and of the two boys taken in as the bastard son of the corporation President, one is brutally cast out while the other is accepted but continually reminded of his bastard status, so both are scarred for life.
The chaebol matriarch is planning an exhibition on the theme of masks, and throughout the series, we see Shim Gun-wook, the original Hong Tae-sung, masking his identity and his intention in order to exact his revenge. Occasionally we see the mask melt, and his face falls into a chilling impassivity. Even more occasionally he lets his guard down and shows the vulnerable, lonely man who still just wants to be loved.
The only weak point was the ending – Kim received notification for his compulsory military service with very little notice, so there was a scramble to rewrite the ending scenes and rearrange the shooting schedule to accommodate him. That resulted in some odd scenes using a body double, and a slightly contrived ending, but it wasn’t a sufficient flaw to overshadow what was a powerful series.
The three leads were all excellent, carrying their roles with verve and passion. The remainder of the cast did well, even the unlikeable ones – I confess that the youngest chaebol daughter got on my wick, but that’s probably because I don’t really warm to privileged princesses who dress and act like 5-year-olds and throw tantrums if they don’t get what they want. It’s a shame, because Jung So-min is mostly a good actor.
Probably the biggest disadvantage the cast faced was that they were acting against Kim Nam-gil – when you’re staring into the sun, everything else looks darker by comparison.
You’ll find a song from the OST here.
TV drama – 17 episodes
Alison blogs at Still Just Alison, where she writes about Korean drama, movies, music, and, very occasionally, things that aren’t Korean. But only occasionally.