My Week in Dramas 14 October 2023
Parallel World; The Worst of Evil Episodes 6 and 7
It’s been a bit of a hectic week and I seemed to be in a bit of a haze for much of it. I did finish Parallel World early in the week and wrote a review which will come later. Overall it was a decent watch but not one I will wholeheartedly endorse unless you don’t mind a sluggish start and poorly paced storytelling. It is true that Bai Yu and Ni Ni have off-the-charts chemistry but that (sadly) doesn’t, to my mind, manage to overcome all of the show’s flaws. There are plenty of problems with it and it begins with how the source material is adapted. The show does its fair share of set-up and build-up but the payoff drops like a lead balloon.
A better script would certainly be found in The Worst of Evil Episodes 6 and 7. The cast is excellent of course and plenty of praise has been heaped on Ji Chang-wook for his troubles but everyone pulls their weight in this including newcomer BiBi who plays the Chinese representative in this drug triangle. Prior to Episode 7 I thought the show was just treading water and playing it safe with Jun-mo. Afterall everything seemed to be going his way but after the end of that episode, yeah… baby… they really upped the morality stakes. And while the honey trap worked to some extent, Gi-cheul is not so infatuated that he’s completely lost his acuity.
One would expect that a show with such a title would live up to expectations and explore the worst and best in humanity no holds barred. People who are involved in drug trafficking are generally considered scum second or third only to child slavers. For those involved in the trade, it’s more than a business. It’s certainly a way to rake in the big bucks quickly. There’s also a lifestyle that comes packaged with that. It’s very high risk and high returns. So it seems. But like every kind of relationship, a certain amount of trust is required for the distribution channels to function. No one can be everywhere all at once. As I’ve said before, this is Gi-cheul’s dilemma from the start. It might even be his fatal flaw. He states in no uncertain terms to old school friend Jung-bae that he hates being lied to. He wants to trust people but because this is an operation based almost entirely on greed and self-interest, trust is expedient and transient. I feel his disappointment when he finds out that his subordinates and confidants betray his trust but this is par for the course in the game he’s playing.
It’s taken a while for Jun-mo to earn Gi-cheul’s trust. He almost died proving his mettle. He’s also taken a beating for the team. Now he’s caught the eye of the mainland Chinese rep. Miss Lee. It is instructive that someone like Jun-mo seems to be a natural fit for the life of crime but ironically it’s his reliability and earnestness that’s opening doors for him everywhere. I wonder if the show isn’t suggesting some kind of paradox that people who do illegal things are desperately in search of someone they can trust because there is no one they can trust.
On the other side, we have the cops. This is still a K drama which so happens to be set in the 90s so we can expect that law enforcement can’t entirely be trusted to observe the law and exert itself for public good. Cops aren’t angelic beings in human garb. They are prone to all the foibles that afflict the rest of us mere mortals. Already we’ve been privy to police acting like thugs. Police brutality seems to be just another day in the office for Detective Hwang Min-goo who treads on a very short fuse. Also worrying is the chief prosecutor overseeing the undercover operation. He comes across as being dangerously overconfident as well. How far is he willing to go to bring down the entire operation? What price is he willing to exact from Jun-mo and Eui-jeong so that every single person in this “cartel” is apprehended?
It is a double-edge sword using Eui-jeong to humanize Gi-cheul. Because it’s Wi Ha-jun, I like seeing the sweeter, softer side. But it also means that he’s not as menacing as he could be. That I can only speculate is the point. He was a kid who dreamt of being rich so he could marry the girl of his dreams. Sadly the path he took is the one that leads to damnation. In a way, it feels as if he is in over his head with his Japanese and Chinese partners because he is still very reliant on their good graces. To them he is quite disposable, a stepping stone to their larger objectives. Regardless of what he’s achieved in Gangnam, he is still a small fry in a larger pond. Whatever status he has gained among his peers, permanent respectability continues to elude him. I don’t think Eui-jeong is as useless as she’s often seen to be. The honey trap works… up to a point and he is distracted. Momentarily at least. The main reason why the honey trap has currency is because Eui-jeong is the one, the only one. Everything he’s done up to this point, so the show tells us, is for the love of her. Furthermore the married couple are somewhat fortunate too that Gi-cheul is facing all kinds of internal and external challenges at present. However, Jun-mo should get some credit for being able to turn crisis into opportunity. His unspoken collaboration with Chief Seo adds another layer to his exploits and has also taken a rather sinister turn.
The next question that needs addressing is how far the husband and wife are willing to go to fulfill their obligations and keep each other safe. Certainly after the end of Episode 7 it’s obvious that neither will ever be the same after this experience. It would be naive to think that their marriage would stay the same after this even if they stay true to their vows. Indeed the kind of toll this case will take on them when it’s all done and dusted has to be considered.
I’ve been rewatching a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation because I’m now a collector of second-hand DVDs. I am struck (again) by how good many of the stories are despite the production limitations imposed on the cast and crew. Attachment for the characters obviously matter as well. Although I love serialized television, there are times I miss episodic shows and Next Gen does hit the spot. Even though I spend most of my time now watching K and C dramas, it’s a nice change of pace to revisit these old goodies where every bit of exposition in the space of 45 minutes actually has some relationship with the plot.
Parallel World (2023) A Review
Ni Ni and Bai Yu helm the deck in action adventure story as they steer a ragtag team into a raging world of secrets lurking on the other side of the legendary Yumen Pass which connects to the Silk Road. It's sand (lots of it), sorcery and sleight of hand as Ye Liuxi (Ni Ni) and Chang Dong (Bai Yu) navigate an alien environment with pals Fatty, Ding Liu and Gao Shen to solve the 2-year-old mystery of the Camelia expedition. At the start Chang Dong is haunted by the deaths of his fiancee and 17 others who died in a freak sandstorm wondering why he's the sole survivor. Along comes a mysterious woman calling herself Ye Liuxi who is keen to find out who she is and why she's not dead despite being hung out to dry in the desert. Tagging along is Fei "Fatty" Tang who wants in on the action because his antique business back home isn't doing all that well. He's looking for that big score. 20-year-old Ding Liu jumps on the bandwagon on the behest of her godfather a mob boss and the stoic Gao Shen is her bodyguard.
My first advice is to watch this knowing as little as possible. My second to all who dare venture in these uncharted sand dunes is to persevere through the first 10 episodes because there is a treasure trove waiting on the other side of all that sandscape. More or less. To my mind a fair chunk of the first 10 episodes are an indulgent waste of television oxygen but it does provide some useful clues that lead to some "aha" moments later. Overall the pacing is a problem. Not everything that’s shown needs to be in the show. I imagine that this is why the show is unlikely to have broad appeal. .
Aside from the interactions between the leads, the plot is perhaps the best thing about the show. From what I've heard, the story gains its inspiration from the popular Tomb Notes series with more than a few nods here and there to its predecessor. The world building is creative with quite an extensive lore to wade through. The leads and their expanding entourage get the lion's share of development while the show's primary antagonist seem like a cookie cutter entitled second female lead. I have more than a few issues with how she's written and the amount of power conferred on her in the script. Not to mention Ni Ni's experience and charisma overshadows that of her drama nemesis.
Further on the negative side the show suffers the same types of problems that most C dramas do. While the secondary romances are quite appealing they don't add anything to the big story. The show also includes a framing device that seems oddly misplaced unless it's meant to keep the censorship axe at bay. It’s a baffling addition as it doesn't otherwise add much to the narrative. Time could have been much better spent on the resolution which in typical C drama fashion wraps up in haste. Moreover the showrunners don't really know how to properly adapt the source material to take full advantage of the visual medium. This is my continuing problem with C television and the way they handle exposition and foreshadowing. That's why I'm a little ambivalent about the main romance despite the fantastic chemistry between the leads.
All in all it's a decent watch with some missed opportunities especially in relationship to the final act where so much is crammed into the last few episodes that aspects of the resolution comes across unearned. And unsatisfying.