City Hunter Episodes 1-5

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What a ride this show is! I’ve been meaning to watch this show as it has been touted as the show to get someone addicted on kdramas. I can definitely see why: exciting action, captivating leads, intense political machinations and sweet romance. This show has something for everyone, which probably explains why it was such a ratings monster during its time.

The premiere was so busy and fast-paced that I was worried it was going to be yet another action-packed, soulless drama, but the pace mellowed in subsequent episodes, providing space for the characters to breathe while also advancing the plot very swiftly. Not many shows are able to do both pacing and character development well, but somehow this show has found that fine balance while also breathing life into commonly used tropes.

The separated parent and child trope is so commonly used in kdramas, but most shows delay any possible sighting or reunion till the second half of the drama. Not in this show! We’re at episode 3 and Yoon Sung has already seen his mum, which complicates an already tense relationship between him and Jin Pyo.

I’m really loving the characterisation of Yoon Sung. What I like is that he is driven by revenge but he is being smart about it and not blindly following the desires of Jin Pyo, his adopted father. What he says about Jin Pyo losing his comrades but him losing his family captures his predicament so perfectly. Jin Pyo is blinded by rage and vengeance; he would kill anyone (possibly even his own son) just to avenge his comrades. Yoon Sung, however, still wants to live a guilt-free, peaceful life after he has completed his mission. His motivations are clearly laid out and perfectly relatable, which make him such an enjoyable character to watch.

The struggle between Yoon Sung and Jin Pyo also adds a layer of intrigue and tension because we not only have them trying to take out the Council of Five, but we have both of them trying to outwit and outsmart each other through the “first one to the target” battle. Nonetheless, the battle is not a simple no-holds-barred winner takes all as they know each other so well, have learnt from each other and still care for each other. What could therefore have been a straightforward assassination attempt for Yong Hak (the upcoming presidential candidate) in episodes 4 to 5 becomes an exciting battle between Yoon Sung and Jin Pyo, ultimately with Yoon Sung saving Jin Pyo from the lift and persuading Jin Pyo that his methods may be better because Yong-hak would have been hailed as a champion of democracy if he died today.

While Yoon Sung’s interactions with Jin Pyo are full of energy and high-strung, his interactions with Kim Na Na are so natural and genuine. There’s always such a wonderful ease and joy when we see both of them on screen, teasing each other and getting to know one another. Park Min Young really excels in these hero/heroine dramas, just like in Healer. However, what makes her character stand out is that she’s not a damsel in need of saving; in fact, she possesses both the mental agility and physical prowess to defend herself. And she clearly enjoys being in the heat of action and being the heroine – after saving Yong-hak, that look of pride and joy in her face is so evident. Regardless of how dire her circumstances may be, Na Na always remains fiercely independent, which is what I like about her. She never declares she needs anything and in fact, is offended when  Yoon Sung tries to step in gallantly with his money and wealth of resources to try to ‘save’ her. This is where Yoon Sung needs to grow in, because while his intellect and resources may easily help him win the battles, winning someone’s heart certainly takes more respect and honour.

A minor complaint I have is that I wish the politicians that Yoon Sung were up against were just a tad more capable and an equal match to him, at least in intellect if not strength. Since he barely disguises himself when he’s in “City Hunter” mode, I’m surprised that none of these highly capable politicians have managed to muster up the resources to identify and locate him. I always prefer our bad guys and good guys to be equally matched, but of course, it’s early in the series and our so-called “good guys” now have the first mover advantage. I’m sure as we progress through the Council of Five, they will wisen up and start taking more decisive action to defend themselves against Jin Pyo and Yoon Sung. Of course, we can foresee that the cracks will further deepen between the two of them before being recovered and that will definitely add to the complication.

I can’t wait to finish watching the rest of this series!

Voice Season 2: Premiere

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I skipped Season 1 of Voice, but decided to give Season 2 a go since the show received such high ratings. Lee Jin Wook joining the cast as psychopathic detective Kang Dong Woo was another motivation for me, because I truly enjoyed his performance in Nine.

Looks like Voice 2 off to a great start with the premiere already breaking OCN’s records.

From what I’ve read, what I can expect is a gritty, dark, fast-paced drama with gruesome murders and intriguing crime-solving. The premiere definitely met those expectations. The first few minutes were so difficult to watch. From there, the episode just takes off in a breath-taking pace with a hostage situation on a train followed by the death of Kang Kyung Hak and then a quick moving investigation that takes place on the go as both Dong Woo and and Kwon Joo set off on a separate paths to find the one who placed the accelerator in Kyung Hak’s car. We are introduced to the villain, who is resourceful and bent on taking down the team. The cinematography is beautiful and I loved the car chase being shot from the top of the winding road, with the voiceover of our villain creepily telling the story of how Eskimos hunt down wolves. In short, I can definitely see why this show is popular as it is energetic and exciting.

It’d be interesting to see how Dong Woo’s psychopathic abilities of reading a crime scene immediately to identify the criminal’s actions and intents complement Kwon Joo’s voice profiling abilities. Already in this premiere, we see Dong Woo’s hints about the shoes serving as an important piece to help Kwon Joo link together what she sees about the skim marks on the road. I have to admit I’m fascinated by the concept of a voice profiler and watching her at work is nothing short of fascinating as she uses nothing but sounds to reconstruct a sequence of what happens.

However, the show’s fast and exciting pace can be a pitfall as the characters were barely fleshed out and many times, merely seemed as chess pieces to move the plot ahead where required. I’ve read reviews about the characterisation being weak in Voice and I’m already seeing signs of this in the premiere. For me, the draw is always about the characters, their stories and motivations; however, this was sorely lacking from the premiere. Besides seeing the gruesome murder of his assistant in the first few minutes, we barely understand more about him.

Based on the trailer in Episode 2, I believe we will get to understand more about Dong Woo’s motivations and I’m liking that potential complicated set up between him and Kwon Joo where there will be a secret investigation into the murderer while his arrest serves as a cover. I’ll give the show a few more episodes before I decide to plunge in till the end. If it’s good enough, I might even watch Voice Season 1.

Are You Human Too? – Series Review

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[Spoilers abound]

It all started with a flight back from a holiday where I watched I’m not a Robot and got completely hooked. Then I became fascinated with robot dramas and started on Are You Human Too? (AYHT). It just happened that the time I got hooked in AYHT coincided with an extended public holiday, so I completed the drama in a few days.

While there were many flaws in this drama, I found it extremely charming and thought-provoking. Let’s get the flaws out of the way first.

First of all, I personally took a long time to warm up to So-bong because she was incredibly wilful in the first few episodes. Things got better when we started to understand her back story and then started defending Nam-Shin III. However, I have to say I never warmed up to her dad, his two side kicks and reporter Jo. It came to a point where I even fast-forwarded through their scenes because the supposed comic effect of their characters just never quite worked. It felt over the top and forced.

Secondly, the show adopted a very lazy way of moving the plot forward by having people lurking behind walls while other characters were sharing important secrets. So-Bong found out about the kill-switch while overhearing a conversation between Young-hoon and Ro-ra; Ye-Na finds out about her dad’s involvement because she’s somehow in the office when he tells his assistant about it. Shin finds out about that Chairman Nam has known all along about Nam-Shin III being a robot because he’s behind a pillar when NSIII is telling David. It’s incredibly convenient and lazy way of revealing things to different characters.

My final beef is the rushed ending of the show. There was way too much plot jam-packed into the last two episodes that we did not get to see how Shin transformed from evil to good. Most of it took place offscreen. There was so much going on with the Shins that I also felt So-bong got sidelined and became rather bland as a character.

Now, on to what I liked, and there’s a lot to like.

First of all, I loved the thought-provoking and deep points raised by the series about what makes us human. Of course, most of us would say it is emotions that make us human and robots will always be inferior because they cannot feel and thus relate to others. However, as shown through Nam-Shin III, emotions do not necessarily make humans superior and it is in fact Nam-Shin III’s unflinching devotion to his rules and principles to help humans that result in him making the right decisions. When I first started watching the series, I thought it’d be about how the robot becomes more ‘humanized’ as he learns feelings. While that happened, the show had a larger point to make about self discovery and realisation. Ultimately the journey for NSIII was not to become human, but to embrace his identity as a robot and not be ashamed of it. He also had to learn to emerge out of the shadow of Shin and realise he was not just supposed to take the place of Shin, but to be his own person/being. That eventually happened when he was able to override Shin’s manual mode and release his hold of So-bong on the roof-top. This also leads to another strength of the show, which is in its characterisation.

I found the show’s characterisation of NSIII and Shin to be extremely layered, profound and complex, especially once Shin woke up. While Shin only truly emerged as a character after the halfway mark, it never seemed like he was absent and his appearance was built upon the impressions we had of him when NSIII tried to integrate into his world. Shin was certainly a very dark character, but all through it, I always felt we could see where all his hatred, resentment and angst came from. He had already developed a cold, hard exterior from having to hide his emotions from a young age. Upon awakening and realising that a robot had taken his place and was in fact excelling in his place, his only reaction was to rebel against it by turning even darker and causing pain to those around him. Ye Na said it the best when she tells him to live his own life, rather than obsess over NSIII’s life. The show did very well in never condoning his actions or causing us to sympathise with him, but it never felt like he was just being evil for the sake of it. While Ro-ra’s death was sudden, it was the only thing that could truly serve to wake him up, that and the message from NSIII that she was sorry to leave him alone again. This is also partly why I’m resentful that we never got to see his redemption story or his reconciliations. There are apologies needed definitely to characters like Young Hoon and Chairman Nam, but all this happened off-screen. What a waste.

Having said all this, Seo Kang-Joon’s performance is nothing short of stellar in this show. In fact, his performance along kept me engaged through the entire series. As a robot, he is such a delight to watch and his attempts to pretend to be Shin in the early episodes provided much laughs, especially when he suddenly changes his facial expression from his usual genial appearance to a more surly, curt look. He plays the innocence and simplicity of NSIII with such charm, yet also in such a mechanical manner that you know he’s still a robot. When Shin appears, he’s able to convey that dark, cold-hearted nature in such a convincing manner that every scene with Shin sends chills down your spine. He’s certainly proven himself to be not just a pretty face, but someone with genuine talent.

Last of all, while I did criticise the rushed ending of the show, I found the series overall to be very well-paced, with always something happening in each episode to keep us on the edge of our seats. There were many genuine shockers along the way – the most impressive one being that Chairman Nam was the sponsor of Ro-ra and was aware of NSIII’s existence the whole while. I loved that reveal because it raised the stakes and showed that NSIII had bigger goals than just to fulfill Ro-ra’s need for her son’s comfort. Of course, I also never saw Ro-ra’s death coming, but upon hindsight, that was inevitable. Weighty moments were balanced with more light-hearted moments, especially when NSIII decided to kiss So-bong to escape marriage with Ye-Na. This was a series that had found that sweet spot between balancing heartwarming moments with steady plot development. Just for its entertainment value, I would highly recommend the show. As icing on the cake, the OST for this show is also fantastic with a great mix of sentimental ballads and light-hearted energetic pieces.