My Week in Dramas 5 October 2023
The Worst of Evil Episodes 4-5; The Kidnapping Day Episodes 1-6; South Wind Knows Episodes 25-30
The Worst of Evil is becoming a weekly must watch. It’s getting better as the story increases in complexity with more backstabbing (literal and metaphorical), expanded avenues of deception and turf wars. When I see the male leads Park Jun-mo and Jung Gi-cheul bonding under false pretences I lament over the fact that these are two men who under very different circumstances could have been friends. It’s quite a shame that Jung Gi-cheul had no one like Captain Seok to set him on a different path. Without a doubt Gi-cheul has great leadership ability, is highly intelligent and a calculating risk taker. There’s something both confronting and charming about his audacity. It is a superbly written character played by a versatile actor whose star is on the rise. Wi Ha-jun adds that layer of vulnerability to the character which arouses a certain amount of pity despite all his criminal activities. A man like that can’t really have friends when the people around him have their own agendas. Even people who have earned his trust over time. But that is the price he pays for leading the life he has chosen for himself. Corruption comes at a cost not just to the soul. His position is consistently tenuous because the kind of people he attracts to his fold are usually the type to sell you out if the price is right. At the end of the day he can’t fully trust anyone because there’s always someone who sees him as an obstacle.
The sham love triangle is no more than a honey trap. The husband and wife happen to be cops. The husband goes undercover and finds himself between the devil and the deep blue sea. The wife happens to know the mob boss. She’s a high school friend and she’s still his first love. She’s using that connection to expedite matters so that the investigation can end ASAP because undercover work is dangerous. Clearly Eui-jeong is committed to Jun-mo. She loves him so much that she married him despite opposition from her father and brothers. When they make derisory comments about her husband’s lack of ambition (and competence) she jumps to Jun-mo defence. Furthermore she married him despite his family’s background. (His father is drug addict) There’s little chance that she will succumb to Gi-cheul’s charms especially if he’s an unrepentant criminal that’s responsible for untold numbers of deaths already. Moreover she’s a cop from a family of cops. There’s a lot at stake for her. He may think he’s fooling everyone but she already knows all the essentials. It bears repeating but he’s in a cat and mouse game that he doesn’t know he’s a part of.
In Episode 4 Jun-mo is saved from killing a rival stooge by the psychopathic Chief Seo — a fascinating character. Of course it’s not necessarily an indication that he’s a mole but it takes a near death experience for him to gain Gi-cheul’s complete trust. With all the gangland shenanigans going on he misses his mother-in-law’s funeral. Or better put, he can’t show up officially as himself because Gi-cheul gets wind of it and uses the opportunity to worm his way back into Eui-jeong’s affections. Ji Chang-wook does a lot of his best acting in Episode 4 where he has to hold himself back from going completely berserk at the wake and its aftermath. More’s the pity that they don’t make Jun-mo a lot darker. In fact they go out of the way to avoid that as much as possible because there’s a morality in here somewhere. Occasionally my mind goes to the US tv series Justified which is largely revolved around the making and distribution of drugs. The show’s protagonist Raylan a US marshall has very definite antihero tendencies which made him fascinating foil to his longtime nemesis. His ex-wife comments once that he went into law enforcement so that he could kill people legally.
Of course all recent happenings in the underworld has thrown a spanner in the works of the Gangnam Union. His Chinese and Japanese distributors are less than impressed that they didn’t get their goods on time. On top of that (as if things aren’t chaotic enough) Gi-cheul is making a play for Eui-jeong which is not entirely surprising considering his past infatuation and the fact that he’s still wearing the necklace from their church days. Of course it seems foolhardy to us mere mortals that an underworld figure would try to woo a cop when you’re Gangnam’s most wanted but that seems consistent with who Gi-cheul is. He is a gambler that plays the high stakes. If he had been a more cautious operator he would still be the manager of a nightclub having to swallow his pride cleaning up after badly behaved rich kids. Gi-cheul dreams big and doesn’t do things by halves. He craves respectability that quick cash offers. He has a big chip on his shoulders due his dysfunctional past. He reminds me of a relative who believed he was destined for better things but ended drifting from one “next big thing” to another. It’s hard to say if Gi-cheul is egotistical enough to believe that he will win the girl as much as he likes the challenge of gaming the system. From his perspective he has already done the impossible by owning the Gangnam Union and most of the nightclubs in the area. Getting away with drug trafficking as long as he has, he’s developed a certain amount of hubris that will be his undoing. The irony of course is that while he’s thinking he has a chance at the prize, he’s already lost the game.
For 4 episodes The Kidnapping Day was a hard watch. Excruciating even. The dumb dad shtick was beginning to wear thin and I persevered because of Park Sung-hoon’s detective character but towards the end of the fourth episode it felt as if the show had turned a corner. The lass who plays Ro-hee (Yuna), the girl genius who is the key to everything is certainly up to the task of conveying all the aspects of the role so it wasn’t her performance that diminished the experience. However there’s a smugness about Ro-hee that I didn’t appreciate although I saw through it as a pose. She’s a lost kid that’s pretending to be an adult because of the failure of the adults around her to parent her. That’s including Myung-joon played by Yoon Kye-sang, the bumbling wannabe kidnapper who turns surrogate father to her. Though I found Myung-joon frustrating, Yoon Kye-sang turns in a really fantastic comedic performance here which could see him nominated for something down the track. Adding to my frustration was watching the leads working from different angles when I was eager for some kind of collaboration. Myung-joon and Ro-hee seemed to be going nowhere with too much time and too few resources like money.
Despite my issues, the plot is good and I believe that it’s adapted from a novel which explains why the plotting is tight. Kim Myung-joon is a father who needs money desperately to pay for his ailing daughter’s medical bills. It’s a hideously large amount and his estranged wife (Kim Shin-rok) calls him up one day with the idea of kidnapping to fund their daughter’s surgery. When a nervous Myung-joon arrives at the designated location, his target wanders in front of his vehicle and collapses right in front of it. With things not going according to plan, he grabs the girl, chucks her into his car and drives off. What he doesn’t immediately know is that the girl’s parents, a prestigious neuroscientist and his wife have been murdered in their home. The police are eventually called in when the family’s housekeeper returns after a holiday. Then it’s up to Detective Park Sang-yun (Park Sung-hoon) and his team to make sense of both Ro-hee’s disappearance and the double homicide.
In one of these rare occasions, the primary investigating team aren’t tripping over their feet due to Sang-yun’s leadership. Sang-yun not only shrewd but actually cares about getting to the whole truth. It’s a relief too that he behaves like a diligent detective always asking the right questions. It certainly doesn’t take him long to work out that the abduction and the murders though possibly related aren’t necessarily perpetrated by the same person. For him and me, much of the frustration comes from watching Myung-joon and Ro-hee constantly on the run from the cops all because she can’t be sure if they can be trusted. This however conveniently leads them into another interested party.
Of course this is merely the prelude to a much larger story about the deceased neurosurgeon and his relationship with the young genius that he raised. At times I’m of the view that Myung-joon is written/directed to be far too silly and lacking in common sense but his simplicity and fatherly kindness does eventually win over the more savvy Ro-hee. What ultimately got my attention and won me over was the reality that Ro-hee, no matter how precocious, is still a child emotionally. And in the end she needs mature adults to be adults and take charge of matters. It feels as if the adults in her life have abdicated their responsibilities leaving her a lonely and frightened child.
In South Wind Knows, the moral of the story is that mothers who rob their own children of agency are more evil than Big Pharma. If indeed that is possible. The devouring mother trope is strong in this one and it’s not just one mother either. Indeed it is double the agony watching two entitled so-called grown ups believing that they can plot and scheme their children’s futures to the nth degree. But it is an old fashioned soap opera and honestly it’s been a while since I’ve gone the distance even though I’m constantly rolling my eyes at the antics of all these conflict-creating stereotypes and plot devices. Yun-shen’s mother is so committed that she’s willing to swallow a lot of pills so that her son doesn’t marry the woman he loves. Some of the crazy is mitigated by the leads’ dynamic which is one of maybe two healthy relationships on offer. Anyway this show is an encyclopaedia of soap opera tropes. And I’m checking them off as I go. Blackmail, gaslighting, evil half brother, evil step-mother, evil mother-in-law-to-be, succession battles, stalkery admirer from work, dysfunctional family dynamics, tantrum throwing females, incurable diseases, incident prone male lead, jealous rivals… etc etc etc.
Yes, it’s possible to enjoy trashy shows but I don’t consider them works of art.