I am completely shattered. My heart is still processing what happened. My brain is on hold until my heart gives the all-clear. I am so madly in love with this drama it’s hard for me to let go. The ending was perfect. (It wasn’t, of course — except for in all the important and necessary ways.)
Emotional Spoiler-palooza below! Entire plot ruined!! Beware!!! (With photos even, so skimming is dangerous too!!!!)
Safari is dead.
He died after telling Jin-sook he loved her. He died sheltering the boy he’d shepherded for as long as he’d felt worthy of leading him. (Before the evilest villain in drama history, Chief Min, stole him and twisted him and made Safari into something he’d never wanted to be and trapped him in a world he couldn’t find his way back from.) He died having found the information that would end Chief Min and the twisted drug cabal Chief Min was trying to take over.
And Jin-sook mourned.
That Safari had asked Shi-hyun to take him home to Jin-sook, that she was home to him… I’d begun to silently cry when Safari said goodbye to Shi-hyun and Shi-hyun begged him, in the youngest sounding voice, to stay. When Jin-sook reacted to Sajari’s death, only realizing what she’d lost after he was gone, I began to weep.
Soo is dead.
He died reaffirming his love for Shi-hyun and rebuking Chief Min’s attempt to manipulate him against his best friend. He died doing his best to push Shi-hyun forward into the light. When he cursed himself for still being a burden to Shi-hyun while Shi-hyun begged him to stay… I had to go grab the kleenex box.
Busan is dead. That part was bitterly satisfying. He’d needed killing for a long, long time. I hated that he managed to keep his promise to Shi-hyun. I am incredibly glad that Shi-hyun didn’t follow his prophecy and become another Busan — twisted by the dark world he’d been pulled into.
Chief Min is dead. He died a failure. In the end, he could not conceive of a love stronger than need, a drive stronger than survival. I hated how he hurt and manipulated and lied to everyone around Shi-hyun and Soo-min in an effort to get them alone and friendless and then, once fully discarded, dead. I loved how both Jin-sook and Soo showed how much greater they were than him and his soulless ways. I loved that his efforts only managed to show Shi-hyun how deeply he was loved.
Shi-hyun is dead.
He died in Soo-min’s arms, knowing he was loved by someone who’d seen all of him and hadn’t been frightened. He died having earned the respect of the righteous policeman who’d at first thought him a walking example of all that was dark in the world. He died in the light.
And Soo-min mourned.
And Jin-sook mourned.
And they mourned together.
And Soo-min put her uniform on and stepped forward, into the light, to fill her sister’s shoes and smile at the world so it could smile back.
I absolutely hate that Shi-hyun and Soo and Safari died. But it fit the story incredibly well. And they died incredibly well. None of them wasted, none of them forgotten, none of them unloved.
There was a bit at the end, when Hyung-min’s Head Prosecutor dad comes to the station to turn himself in so that he can regain his son’s respect, that struck me as a little cheesy. It was a character beat that seemed more forced than earned. However… I can let it go. For one, I figure the information Safari found was condemning enough that giving in gracefully was the best choice to make. (Also, knowing he’s cooperating makes the convicting of the congressman and the cleaning out of whatever’s left of their vile rats’ nest of a drug-cabal, an inevitability. So no vain deaths for our beloveds — which is important.)
Plus, that last shot of Hyung-min — his face shadowed in darkness — tells me this isn’t a happy and easy ending for him. He knows the body count his father helped cause — knows it intimately. So this is a bitter victory for Hyung-min and, since that was the note we ended on, it makes his father’s capitulation a lot less saccharine.
But, other than that (really, really minor) wobble the drama had me in its clutches from start to finish. It did an excellent job of telling the story it was telling — staying true to style and tone. I adored all the characters I was supposed to adore, I despised all the characters I was supposed to despise and, most impressively, I made complete 180 turns on several characters introduced on one end of the scale who then fell (or climbed) to the other.
Stylistically, the drama was a pleasure to watch, making use of color and shadow to illustrate the underworld our main characters moved through. Like how Shi-hyun is often shot in dark greenish colors, like he’s under a river. Or the way restaurants would be empty of customers, and even staff, when gangster-world characters went out to dine.
Since it was just with them (as compared to say, eating out scenes with Hyung-min and his reporter) it struck me as a deliberate production choice that signaled the characters’ separation from normal society. Which I thought very cool.
The drama was also a pleasure to listen to. The music was gorgeous and stylistically perfect — from a sad, jazzy, Spanish guitar to dangerous and throbbing bass strings — it set the mood and complimented the visuals beautifully.
Oh, and the clothes! Pure noir style — glamorous dolls, sharp-dressed guys — I loved it! (It was interesting how both Soo-min and especially Shi-hyun wore black or grey when they dressed down to “blend.” It was like they could either be noir-glamour or shadows. They were forgetting how to be normal.)
And the ladies! Oh my gosh my beautiful, strong, badass, completely not helpless ladies!!! I adored, simply adored the scene where Jin-sook is being taken away by Wooden Stick (probably a more intimidating nickname in Korean?) and Soo-min sees it. She and Jin-sook exchange a look and, I’ll admit, I thought, “Oh good, Soo-min can call for help.” Only she goes herself and she and Jin-sook totally take down the goons holding Jin-sook and haul ass out of there. It was awesome!! Girl don’t need to call no man to rescue her sister. She’s got this one, thanks.
(I’m a newly formed fan of Nam Gyu-ri. I’d been neutral before. She’d been fine in 49 Days, but her part didn’t have a ton of emotive heavy lifting to do. This part, however, was highly complex and she impressed me.)
And that’s just one example of many. Eun-soo was a badass cop. The scariest assassin was a woman. And of course, there’s Jin-sook (who actually schooled the badass assassin. To Safari’s amusement.) The women were never damsel-ed. Far from it. Taking them as easy meat was generally a dire, and probably last, mistake.
So yes — Heartless City ripped my heart from my chest but kept it beating. This is a drama that will stay with me for a long, long time. And the characters will be remembered. And loved. Deeply, deeply loved.