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Beyond Evil (2021) and other stories
Of this current crop of crime shows that's on offer this is the one I like the most. It's not that the others are bad (although some stretch the plausibility factor a little more than I'm comfortable with) but this one offers something that I'm not getting from the others. Perhaps I am a little hasty in my judgement of all the rest. Time will tell. Rather than just say that this has character depth (which it does) I'll say that it reminds me of a decent 19th century European novel. Something like The Brothers Karamazov or Crime and Punishment for that matter.
Beyond Evil or Monster isn't exactly a whodunit in the traditional sense nor is it a police procedural although it has the appearance of both. It is broadly a crime show in that crimes are committed but at the core of this puzzle is not about finding the culprit but for the unreliable outsider trying to come to terms with the dynamics of being a member of a small community. The biggest mystery it seems to me is not who did away with the women. The early reveal indicates that. The most important mystery is what other skeletons are rattling in the cupboards of the Manyang neighbourhood. The men in focus seem to manifest symptoms of mental instability one way or another and for the longest time that seemed indicate that they were prime candidates for Han Joo-won's suspect list. While they are troubled souls, it doesn't necessarily follow that they are murderers.
There's an obsession in more modern crime fiction with psychopaths and serial killers as if to say that people only kill because they're wired differently or unhinged. The ongoing debate of whether murderers are born or made rages on and underpins many a crime show whether Korean or elsewhere. Mouse starts off with an entire discussion about a psychopath gene that can be detected in the womb and so we have a Minority Report situation of preemptively striking before a potential killer can walk among us. But of course, it throws up all kinds of moral and ethical issues as do many of these convenient, quick-fix solutions involving sophisticated scientific processes tend to. (As an aside I'm similarly reminded of the Alzheimer's gene APOE4. Is it really inevitable that someone with that gene will succumb to the condition? It's certainly a risk factor but does it have to be a harbinger of doom if there are ways to mitigate it)
I get the sense that Beyond Evil is swimming in those sorts of waters although it's hard to be certain. There's a home grown psychopath in their midst and Dong-sik seems to have an inkling or two about the culprit. Dong-sik's dilemma is a fascinating one because he has created a persona for public consumption that sees him as prime suspect for the 20-year-old case and he does little to disabuse others of that fact. Instead he plays a cat and mouse game with the veritable outsider, Han Ju-won who saunters into town thinking that it's just a straightforward serial killing case. There's enough of a carrot for Ju-won to stick around, poke, prod and be enough of a nuisance to stir up the hornet's nest. It may be that he is a necessary catalyst for the truth to come to light but the lad won't have an easy time of it.
There's a strain of Educating Jun-won in all of this. Even while he's a hotshot detective from the Big Smoke, there's much he needs to learn about the people of Manyang and people in general. To his credit he seems to be capable of learning from his mistakes. I suppose he thought the clues pointed in one direction and all he had to do was follow them but as he realises clues can be interpreted in different ways.
So why does Dong-sik allow himself to be the town folk's punching bag? To be the figure of suspicion? To me this is the question that needs answering. I imagine guilt factors into his saviour complex. I can't imagine that he is just protecting the perpetrator due to a ridiculous sense of obligation. There has to be something else driving this. Perhaps it is the community as a whole that needs a defender.
I suppose it is easy to think of crimes as mysteries to be solved and forget that there are people behind them. In order to understand why any crime occurs, one needs to get inside the minds and hearts of the people in a case. Red-herrings abound. Lying for whatever reasons is an inevitable complication. What captivates me about this story is that crime is as much a study about communities/group affiliations as it is about individuals. The small town backdrop with its dysfunctional dynamic is an ideal setting for this kind of in-depth examination. There's a festering evil at play and it isn't just the case of the missing women. I would venture also to say that the small town is symbolic of (or microcosm) of society as a spawning ground for criminality for a myriad of reasons. Poverty might be one. Covering up for dysfunctionality might be another.
In a place where you think everybody knows everybody, it's still possible to keep secrets. Moreover, it's becoming obvious that nobody knows everybody as well as they think.