First Impressions: Chase the Truth (2023); Moon of the Day (2023); Perfect Marriage Revenge (2023)
The Imperial Coroner duo are back in a contemporary police procedural where organised crime is a major element. And yes, the criminals are actually organised and very savvy. But what they lack — is unity. Money does that to people. Which is something of mixed blessing for the cops at least. Wang Ziqi plays Chu Yihan, a young hot head officer who becomes embroiled with rival factions of the Northwestern Wolves, a powerful cartel once headed by a mysterious figure known as Gu Mulan. Yihan’s mother, Lin Ke also a cop was sent to infiltrate the organisation years earlier but disappeared along with Gu Mulan. Her whereabouts have been a mystery for 5 years. Yihan along with all her former colleagues are eager to find answers and a resolution to the case but his superiors would rather he leave this matter well alone. Su Xiaotong takes a backseat to the cops and gangsters as folk dancer Gu Linnan or Nana. She’s a bystander for most of those early episodes and it’s a matter of time before she becomes an unwilling eyewitness to how the family business operates.
The Northwestern Wolves were once a force to be reckoned with in the desert region but after a major falling out, every member of the cartel’s leadership went their separate ways. Five years later, one Lao Qiang translated Gun re-emerges from this low trust environment and what ensues is a cat and mouse game with Yihan and the police right in the middle of the hot zone. Yihan’s mentors and superiors are leery about having him in the hot seat for a whole range of reasons but he is adamant and honestly they don’t have that many options. Wang Ziqi is definitely firing on all cylinders in a role quite different to the one he played in The Imperial Coroner. He's a bit of a maverick among his peers but shines as an undercover cop. He’s a one-man fighting machine, a cut above most. But more importantly he's quick on his feet (literally and idiomatically), is capable of making stuff up as he goes and adapt accordingly. He's certainly got the swagger and bravado down pat for the role. His superiors are constantly in fear for his life and the guilt they feel about his mother’s absence is acute.
The set-up for his character and his relationships with his mentors is superbly done in a series of fast-moving action sequences. They’re after a hit man known as Long Qi and his trail leads the cops to a small eatery somewhere among the sand dunes. The road to an arrest in a cop show is seldom smooth sailing. So Yihan and Long Qi are locked into one confrontation after another till he’s safely behind lock and key at HQ’s interrogation room. Yihan is close to Cheng Fan who is his father figure in the force — the man who practically raised him when his mother went deep undercover. He was also his mother’s handler. Cheng Fan has a serious heart issue from a bomb blast and is in dire need of surgery. During an investigation into some trouble that Nana encounters, he collapses.
Romance seems to be a minor part of the show and in those early days the leads spend very little time together for obvious reasons. Yihan and Nana have their first brief encounter when Cheng Fan is hospitalised for his condition. She visits the older man with bestie to thank him for dealing with an unsavoury photographer. Then they cross paths again when she’s attacked by some hooligans in some undercover car park. Yihan comes to the rescue incognito using the name Long Qi.
The great thing about this show is that everything that happens matters. The plotting is masterful. There are no over long stretches of dialogue that go nowhere. Or unnecessary flashbacks. It’s almost shocking that there’s no filler and the impact on the pacing is palpable. Even when I wonder if a scene or a character seems random at the time, the story eventually arrives at an explanation. It doesn’t have the greatest production values but I’m the kind of viewer that is more concerned about narrative and plot than lighting or editing issues.
This must be the year where gangster stories are getting something of a revival in the Asian drama landscape. This show is an absolute blast. Each episode is better than the last. It’s a joy for a seasoned watcher of crime telly to be surprised at every turn. There’s a certain degree of unpredictability and all kinds of beautiful craziness arise when the cops and mobsters collide.
The reincarnation trope has become a regular feature in K dramas in the last few years. The idea of a second chance through multiple rebirths is understandably hard to resist especially where doomed/cursed lovers are concerned. The execution of the trope however has seen mixed success through the years. Moon in the Day is the latest addition to that kind of romance and in all honesty doesn’t do anything particularly original or better than previous productions. It’s derivative and occasionally suffers an identity crisis. That said, there are aspects of the show that work and make this an entertaining watch after a bumbling start.
The story flips flops between contemporary South Korea and the three kingdoms period. Kim Young-dae plays a 1500 plus year old ghost Do-ha who has been watching the lifetimes of his murderer and former lover Han Ri-ta for almost the same amount of time. When his present day doppelgänger, a vacuous celebrity dies, he takes possession of his body to get closer to Han Ri-ta’s current iteration Kang Yeong-hwa dubbed the miraculous firefighter by the media. The set-up is awkward and in all honesty Pyo Ye-jin seems miscast as the pint-sized firefighter who is eventually hired to “protect” the resurrected Han Joon-oh. She does better as Han Ri-ta, the vengeful general’s daughter from Gaya who ends up killing her enemy despite falling for him. Not only is the “I’m a firefighter I save people” aspect hackneyed and overdone but Pyo Ye-jin doesn’t really have the right physique for the role. On the other hand, the tragic three kingdoms era of the show has more rigour — straightforward and logical. The characters, dialogue and context has a tightness and cohesion that the modern day storyline lacks.
The ghost of Do-ha who is now in possession of Han Joon-oh decides that he has to kill Kang Yeong-hwa for the curse to end. For some reason it’s taken 1500 years for him to decide that he’s had enough of hovering around Ha Ri-ta’s reincarnated selves. Or maybe it’s the magic number 19. Possessing a dead man is far more convenient than possessing one that’s alive because it gives him complete free rein to act according to his whims. Kim Young-dae looks like he’s just walked out of a manhwa as ghost-possessed Joon-oh and that’s the performance I’m preferring. Han Joon-oh before his untimely demise was a caricature of an entitled overindulged tantrum-throwing teenager. He’s a ham on steroids. As far as I was concerned his death couldn’t come soon enough.
After 4 episodes my feeling is that the modern day timeline with an odd mix of homicide, celebrity culture and firefighting doesn’t quite know what it is. Regardless of plausibility issues the leads have to fall in love with each other again so the writer does what he/she has to set up road blocks and expedite matters. The first two episodes don’t fare well but somewhere in the third episode, things become less silly. Overall it feels very much a cut and paste job from better shows. Regardless of the problems I’ve highlighted, I intend to keep watching.
Perfect Revenge Marriage has all the elements of a ready-made makjang but also has at its centrepiece one of my favourite romance tropes — the contract marriage. Indeed it is a Cinderella contract marriage story with revenge as it’s plot drive.
Our protagonist is Han Yi-joo (Jung Yoo-min) the adopted daughter of a well-to-do family married to a man who is actually in love with her sister. One day when fecal matter involving her very terrible family hits the ceiling, she drives off completely distraught and is involved in multi-vehicle collision. Not long afterwards, she dies. Heaven, however, is kind to her and she’s given a second chance to alter the dynamics among her adopted parents, sister and fiance rather differently. As she strategizes, she discovers that her overindulged adopted sister is besotted with a young successful entrepreneur in his own right and second grandson to a chaebol family, Seo Do-guk (Sung Hoon). Equipped with advice from her reporter friend who is related to the family, she gatecrashes a blind date and introduces herself to the good-looking Do-guk who is unexpectedly eager to go along with her revenge plans. He is unabashedly the prince to her Cinderella although all’s not that well with him.
Some manner of chaos breaks loose when Yi-joo unceremoniously dumps fiance at the bridal shop and tells him that she’s done. Adoptive mother, a natural schemer, is not one to take things lying down and tries to put a stop to things in her own nasty way. Do-guk’s mother is at first opposed to the match but when she realises that her son genuinely likes this girl and that there’s more to Yi-joo than what she was led to believe. Lee Mi-sook wearing a beehive is terrific as Do-guk’s mother and shows herself to be one of South Korea’s most versatile performers.
Do-guk’s family — brother excepted — are a barrel of laughs. It’s not often that the male lead’s family are so lovely and wonderfully comical especially considering how wealthy they are. Each member of the family has their quirks and much of that wealth goes to actual good philanthropic causes.
Yi-joo is fighting the battle of a lifetime against opposition coming from all sides but one by one, she deals with each courageously and with an attentive clever man by her side. I’m not familiar with Jung Yoo-min but once she sheds the doormat goody-two-shoes image, she and the character comes to life. She bears more than a passing resemblance to Shin Hye-sun at certain angles. Sung Hoon, I remember from Oh My Venus (yup, that was a while ago) and the man really does smoulder well. Also it helps that the chemistry is excellent.
It’s a relief that I can occasionally find a fun, well put together romance-centred show at a time when quantity trumps quality. The show is a breath of fresh air even with its use of common tropes and I look forward to Cinderella dishing out her own brand bitter medicine especially to Step-Mother Dearest. In style.
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