In a nutshell: Deliciously noir, this stylized take on drug lords and the police who hunt them pulls viewers into a labyrinth world where motivations are shadowed and cruelty seems the rule. Jung Kyung-ho, as the mysterious Jung Shi-hyun or “Doctor’s Son,” is a mesmerizing mix of burning ambition and icy efficiency. We follow his journey as the story winds its way through the murky, midnight gloom of Seoul’s criminal underworld. Nothing is as it seems here, but the drama is told with an intelligent confidence that rewards a willingness to let go and let it take you where it will. This was a stunningly good drama; a sleeper that deserves to become a hit.
The Atmosphere: The stylish camera work, the gorgeous costumes, the evocative soundtrack all serve to setup an otherworldly feeling. Characters drown in the murky-green…
wallow in the blood-red…
battle in the steel-blue…
and sink into shadow.
Even innocent, natural white has menace lurking beneath its surface.
It all adds to the feeling that the world of this drama is a step or two removed from normalcy. It’s a world regular folk may brush up against every now and again, but when they do, when they get that thrilling fission of excitement and danger, if they’re wise they retreat to the safety of sunlight and routine. Because it’s a world that, once it grips you, doesn’t let go.
The Plot: It’s our players maneuvering within that grip, whether to escape or dominate, that creates the plot. Questions of trust and loyalty, ambition and greed, swirl around all the characters, pulling the viewer into the game as well.
Fortunately, the storytellers have a very firm handle on their tale. There are no shortcuts or cheats used here. Characters may not know the motivations of those surrounding them, may even be going through existential crisis of their own, but the storytellers know exactly what’s going on. They carefully spin out their tale, revealing information in well measured portions, each fragment building on the last, to slowly illumine the shadowy world they’ve created.
The Players: All style and no substance makes for an empty story. That’s where our characters come in. True, they are, most of them, cruel men and dangerous women, dressed to the nines and ready to kill. (Literally.) But, by the end of the first episode characters you know you should despise, will own your heart. And, as the episodes progress, characters you knew you did despise will have wormed their way in as well.
For a drama named for cruelty and heartlessness, there is an overflowing of deeply sincere and deeply loving relationships. And it’s because of that deeply felt emotion that the characters feel real and solid despite the glitz and the glam, the fog and the shadow. (Where those relationships actually lurk is something you need to watch to find out, of course.) It’s the characters that will have you holding your breath as the plot spins out. And it’s because of the characters that the various revelations and resolutions will matter, and matter deeply.
In Conclusion: This is a drama that tells its story with care and precision. It’s chasing shadows in the dark, but it’s a thrilling chase because the answers do come. Intelligent and heartfelt, it’s a drama well worth watching. And then, once you’ve got your breath back, it’s worth watching again.