Inspector Koo (2021) Early Look
As regular visitors to this site know by now I am always up for a good crime drama. This looked like new territory for the K drama production line and the premise seemed to justify a peek — an ex cop freelancing as an insurance investigator whenever a junior colleague hauls her out of her comfort zone for the hard cases. As it’s become the habit of K drama storytelling, the lead is a quirky creature that dwells in the darkness of her apartment playing online multiplayer games. It’s not what one might expect from a woman who was once a high-achieving, well-regarded police officer and it’s certainly a surprise to see Lee Young-ae playing such a flawed character. Despite the dishevelled mop that comes from persistent self-neglect and non-existent grooming, the titular Koo Kyung-yi does have her wits about her and Lee Young-ae does a fine job of making this somewhat unlikeable character far more palatable than first impressions might lead one to believe possible.
Like most ex-cops who have fallen on hard times, Kyung-yi has her hard luck story. A shocking family suicide turns into an investigative obsession which leads her on a path to self-inflicted hell. She was undoubtedly a good officer because her detective instincts are very much intact as she goes on a seeming wild goose chase for a man presumed dead. Aside from her inhuman ability to sniff out discrepancies, Kyung-yi possesses the glibness of a grifter as she worms her way into other people’s deepest secrets.
In the background is the story of a serial killer at work dishing out her brand of justice. It’s no big secret who the killer is (all is revealed and confirmed by the second episode) so it turns into a cat and mouse game between two great minds. I’m getting Luther vibes from the interactions between the two women. This is as much a story of a talented detective with mental health issues as it is the anatomy of a serial killer with strong psychopathic/sociopathic impulses. The serial killer is written to be Kyung-yi’s antithesis. Both are smart women who are skilled at using deception to get the job done. To the world the serial killer is a terrible thespian on stage but in effect she hides her bloodlust behind a cloak of affability and innocence. Even her closest relative has no idea what she’s been up to.
I wasn’t too sure what to make of the first episode to be honest. I wasn’t immediately taken by what I was looking at. My first thought was: “Here we go again. Another idiosyncratic cop with a tragic unsolved mystery in her backstory. Great.” The litter dump that Kyung-yi calls home saw me reach for Nodame Cantabile comparisons immediately. However, I was determined to see through my 4 episode litmus test and happily, Episode 2 was a noticeable improvement from the patchy set-up of the first. Besides, it’s not often that a K drama features a striking, visible female protagonist going up against an equally strong female antagonist in a crime setting.
It’s also an added attraction that certain Hospital Playlist alumni have been added in the mix — Kwak Sun-young (Ik-sun), Choi Young-joon (Gwang-hyeon) and Kim Hae-sook (Rosa). Here the fascination lies in the fact that they’re in a completely different context as different types of characters and all are linked to Kyung-yi as colleague, husband and employer respectively.
Kyung-yi also has a mute and longsuffering sidekick “Santa” that she drags along as her chauffeur and all-round dogsbody to pick up after her. Their dynamic is undoubtedly played up to maximize the humour quotient.
Having now completed the second episode, it seems to me that there’s potential for this drama to do something a little different and play out the larger storyline outside the usual tropes. Whether or not it’s able to maintain the quality and momentum right to the end, remains to be seen. 12 episodes it seems to me, should be enough to tell the story of this latest iteration of good vs evil wherever it is headed.