In a nutshell: The opening episode sets it all up. A man (Jang Tae-san), wrongly accused of murder, goes on the run, desperate to survive the next two weeks so he can safely donate his bone marrow to the dying daughter he’s just learned he has. His race to stay alive, stay out of custody, and arrive for the scheduled surgery creates an intense pace that doesn’t ease until the final episode. In addition, the low state Tae-san starts in (gangster, gambler, hustler, drunk) creates a very steep climb to redemption and fatherhood. The story hurtles relentlessly forward with only a few overly-convenient coincidences occurring along the way. But since those moments more serve the redemption tale than the survival tale, they’re easy to accept. On the whole, every victory is hard earned and Tae-san’s journey is an easy one to get behind. This is an exciting and emotionally engaging watch.
The Excitement: The clearly stated stakes drive the pace which drives the narrative. If Tae-san dies his young daughter dies as well; if he’s captured, he will die. Each episode covers a day. By using the classic narrative technique of the ticking clock, the viewer is aware of when Tae-san last ate, when he last slept, how exhausted and filthy and hungry he is at any given moment. Which means that what would otherwise seem like small victories (finding food, a safe place to sleep, an opportunity to bathe, shoes) become highly important.
But survival isn’t the only driving need in this drama. As the days tick past, Tae-san begins to change as well. He starts off purely reactionary. Things happen to him and the tension comes from his desperate fight to stay just one step in front of his pursuers. But, as Tae-san begins to come into his own, to wake up, he becomes more and more proactive and the game board changes accordingly. It’s a well managed progression that keeps the characters moving forward, rather than spinning in tension-killing ruts.
There are some moments of extreme coincidence in which Tae-san runs into exactly the right sort of person to further his emotional and psychological growth. It’s an unsubtle reminder that this is redemption tale, too! It’s not all action and adventure! But those moments are played with such low-key honesty it’s easy to wave off the plot-manipulation and enjoy the human scene unfolding in front of you.
The Emotion: And that all comes down to Lee Jun-ki. Jang Tae-san is a dangerous sort of character to play. Going through extreme emotional states, almost literally facing off against the world (or at least the whole of S. Korea) it’d be very, very easy for an actor to slide into histrionics and furniture chewing, crashing through scenes with epic expressions of despair and righteousness.
Lee Jun-ki doesn’t do that. Instead he turns Jang Tae-san into the steadying heart of the drama. Starting off as a beaten down fool, he gives us brief flashes of Tae-san’s intelligence and self-disgust, hinting at something hiding beneath the amused resignation. When things start coming at Tae-san with increasing speed and intensity, Lee Jun-ki gives us fear and resentment. Tae-san has settled into numbness and waking up is uncomfortable, even painful. By allowing the “real” Tae-san to be so hidden from the world, and even himself, there’s room for palpable growth as circumstances force him to escape the cocoon he’s wrapped himself in and finally fight for something.
Assisting Lee Jun-ki’s stellar acting, the drama uses two motifs to help tease out the inner Tae-san. The first does not, unfortunately, stick around for very long. Tae-san is a movie buff and we see clips of old action/adventure movies as he figures his way out of various sticky spots. It was a fun way to see Tae-san pushing his rusty mind back into action as he uses their inspiration in inventive ways. But, after the first handful of episodes, the movie-clips cease. Fortunately, Tae-san’s inventiveness does not.
The other motif carries all the way through and it is both delightful and heart wrenching. Tae-san’s daughter becomes his imaginary sounding board, popping up when he’s at his lowest, asking questions that prompt him to work through an issue or come to a decision. It could be sickeningly sweet, but two things keep it in the compelling and insightful range. First, imaginary Soo-jin’s knowledge is limited to what Tae-san knows — if she points something out it’s clearly Tae-san reminding himself of something. Second, imaginary Soo-jin is nothing like the real Soo-jin. (Lee Chae-mi does an admirable job in keeping the two characters distinct and separate.) She’s grave, and watchful far beyond her years, and not always complimentary towards Tae-san.
Once again, Lee Jun-ki teases out all the emotional truths to be had in those scenes. Tae-san is a man alone, struggling with inner-demons he’d spent years avoiding. And Lee Jun-ki plays it that way — egoless and exposed, not hiding behind sentimentality. Which means the moments of emotional growth stand out in stark contrast and Tae-san’s strengthening confidence in himself become something to cheer for.
There’s a strong supporting cast helping to keep the extraordinary events grounded. (The chameleon-like Kim So-yun, as a Prosecutor with personal ties to the case, is another stand-out. Her character begins at an emotionally challenging height, but Kim So-yun manages to express the grief and guilt and rage her character is feeling without getting mired down in it.) But it’s Lee Jun-ki who set the tone and makes us care about Tae-san and the journey he’s on.
In Conclusion: Two Weeks is an exciting drama with more depth than you’d expect — and more heart. It’s not perfectly told — there are a few narrative tricks and coincidences — but it’s definitely entertaining. The plot never gets sluggish or bogged down (a rare enough occurrence to be noteworthy), and the ending is satisfying without being too neat or cloying. Lee Jun-ki’s performance is worth the price of admission alone, but the story is a whole lot of fun as well. The two weeks will fly by before you’re ready to let it go.