The weekend saw the wrap up of OCN's latest crime offering set in the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). I'd only been following it for three weeks after I'd noticed some chatter about it around the web. All in all, it was a relatively short series (10 episodes) that I found much to enjoy.
As with most of the network's productions, this one grabbed me almost immediately. I was quickly reminded of 1980s and 90s blockbusters like Predator or Alien although this drama certainly doesn't have the same kind of budget to match. A mysterious and dangerous threat has emerged in the DMZ and a team comprising of military specialists is tasked with finding answers and eliminating the threat with the use of force. If I were asked to give this show a label, I would probably struggle to give a short answer. It is certainly a crime show in the broader sense. A crime was committed. Crimes continue to be committed. Like many K dramas there is also a corruption angle to this... of course. Then there are times especially the earlier episodes, when it has the feel of a schlocky sci-fi horror. When I mentioned that this had sci-fi elements, to a fellow K drama viewer from Janghaven, she was surprised. I don't want to give too much away obviously because if you have a stomach for things that go bump in the dark, this is quite a fun watch provided you don't think too hard. But yes, I would add sci-fi to the mix because the unknown threat has much more in common with the X-men than with 1917 if we're thinking along military lines.
Jang Dong-yoon plays a cocky military dog handler, Yoon Dong-jin. Expecting to be discharge in a matter of weeks, he is co-opted to be part of the search team because he is the man with the search dog. Complicating things for him is the appearance of a former flame Son Ye-rim (Krystal) who is a member of the military's research arm. Their relationship is fairly typical of two drama exs who didn't go their separate ways in amicable fashion. When the two aren't flashing heavy artillery around large stretches of forest or abandoned buildings, acerbic bickering with indirect references to their checkered past fall from their lips like second nature. Obviously there's really no time for romance in a scenario like this but it's clear that these two still harbour feelings for each other. Romance here is largely relegated to the sidelines.
Helming the team is Capt Song Min-kyu who is an ambitious career officer who eagerly jumps at the chance at redeeming himself and gaining a promotion in this classified mission. His second-in-command is Lt Lee Joon-sung, who is his opposite in almost every way. The two knock heads repeatedly regarding how the mission should be conducted. Joon-sung prioritizes the welfare of the team over successful, speedy completion. However, it should be said as well that Joon-sung also has other reasons for being on this team. Other members include Joo Moon-cheol (the drones and tech guy) and Park Ki-hyung, the sniper.
As if the team hasn't got enough to worry about, political interference rears its ugly head all the way from Seoul in the form of a presidential candidate with his own agenda. Let's face it, it wouldn't be a Korean drama without corrupt politicians with hair-raising secrets. The current mission seems to be tied up with an incident that occurred in the DMZ in 1997 that included a couple of North Korean defectors and their one-year-old daughter. The show opens with a N. Korean scientist seeking asylum in the south. Not long afterwards her pursuers catch up to her and threatens to create a fracas. The leader of the South Korean contingent agrees to let her go for safety's sake. In the heat of the moment, someone pulls the trigger and all hell breaks loose. As the story unfolds it becomes increasingly obvious that this fiasco has long-term reverberations that touch the team members and the neighbouring village.
Meanwhile the doings of the military operation arouses the curiosity of DMZ museum guide and leader of the local community, Kim Da-jung (Moon Jeong-hee). As a former soldier, her keen military senses tells her that there's something afoot and that the so-called mine disposal team is not really looking for mines or wild dogs. Soon, she, her daughter and the rest of the village are inadvertently drawn into the inexplicably odd occurrences around town.
As a whole, I found the show entertaining as well as exciting in parts even if the plot does hinge on some implausibilities. And I don't mean the sci-fi side of things either. When a camcorder that's been exposed to the elements for the last 23 years finally surfaces at just the right moment for an expose... we're not really talking about science but miracles. Or fate. While it's definitely good advertising for the recorder's manufacturer, it might be a stretch of incredulity for some.
I do think that the first half of the drama is the superior half. Not that the second half is bad but it does get weighed down by multiple agendas and emotional arcs. I certainly think that they have their place but the show does rely heavily on the notion of fated encounters and cosmic justice. Moreover, the show seems to have something to say about fathers and sons. There are varying paternal dynamics at play here. Some healthy, some much less so. But the show rejects the notion that all necessarily follow in their father's footsteps even if a father's influence on his son is palpable even from a distance.
I'm not a particular fan of any of the actors although I recognized Jang Dong-yoon from A Poem a Day and Krystal from Prison Playbook. The acting's not bad for the most part and certainly adequate to the task. The actor who plays Lee Joon-sung (Lee Hyun-wook) caught my eye and I hope to see more of him down the track. While it's not a deal breaker for me, I liked seeing comparable female roles in a rather dominated cast.