Co-posted at Still Just Alison
TV drama – 20 episodes
It looked like just another cop drama, but this little gem ticked all the boxes on my Cracking Good Series bingo card.
For starters, the cast: Lee Seung-gi as Kim Ji-yong/Eun Dae-gu, whose mother was murdered in front of his eyes when he was 15, carries his role with a restrained intensity that starts at “To hell with the lot of you” and never flags. He often seems on the verge of explosion as he goes about his secret quest for revenge, hiding his real identity from those he believes to be involved, and the gradual thawing of his character after having been solitary for so long is touching without being maudlin.
Go A-ra as Eo So-seon brings her slightly quirky energy as the outspoken oddball schoolmate of Kim Ji-won who becomes his police colleague. She, like Lee, throws herself into her role, and does extremely well – she’s exceptionally good at dancing like a dickhead, for example. If you liked her in Hwarang or Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol, you’ll like her in this – she has a fine talent for subtle comedy and portraying the flawed Everywoman.
Cha Seung-won, as Inspector Seo Pan-seok, a figure from Kim Ji-yong’s past who is assigned to train the 4 young rookies, is immaculate in his portrayal of the jaded cop. Always slightly larger than life, but never cartoonish, Cha strides through the series as the perfect counterbalance to Lee – two strong actors embodying two strong characters. Both carry their roles with utter conviction and great aplomb, effortlessly creating an air of menace and ambiguity without raising either voice or eyebrow.
An interesting fact (channeling E. L. Wisty again) is that Lee, Cha, & fellow cast member Sung Ji-ru were reunited several years later in the blockbuster A Korean Odyssey. The entire ensemble cast worked together like a well-oiled machine, so there was nothing for me to complain about there.
“But what about the writing?” I hear you cry. “Surely you can whine about that.” Sadly, no, gentle reader – the writing provided me no point into which I could insert the sharp blade of complaint and wiggle it around. Characters were well constructed, the plot was tight and moved along nicely, and in general the series had a high Binge Index.
One aspect I particularly liked was the relationship that developed between the two lead characters. Both are somewhat shy, despite appearances, so there’s little real communication and a lot of face-saving lies, the way it often is in real life (unless you’re Shakespeare, which most of us aren’t). And this is a relationship based on caring and compassion, rather than physical appearance, which is so refreshing – I for one am sick to death of scenes like “Why do you like me?”, “Because you’re pretty”. Gak, get me a bucket. No, our two lovers sidle towards each other like battle-scarred alley cats, denying everything until the moment is upon them (and what a moment that is, gentle reader). Misunderstandings and squabbles follow before they gradually relax into kindness and concern, making for some gently poignant moments that are more moving than the traditional saccharine romance.
Outside of the romance, there are also a number of other touching scenes, including my favourite in episode 6, which shows Eun Dae-gu and Seo Pan-seok each going to bed with videos to comfort them. Both men have demons from their pasts, both are lonely, miserable, and a little broken, but the two are linked by the tragedy in the past and their means of coping with their private grief.
Overall, this ensemble piece is an unassuming series that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a straightforward cop drama, but it packs a lot into this deceptively simple package.
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.