THE SHORT VERDICT:
A slick, stylish crime procedural with a vampire twist.
Plot-wise, it feels a little piece-meal in the earlier episodes, but it really grows into its own by the final stretch. It’s engaging, witty, and well-written, with some excellent attention to detail and a glossy, polished finish to boot.
I’m not a fan of crime procedurals nor of vampire-related content as a general rule, but I really liked this.
THE LONG VERDICT:
I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised by this series, because there was just so much to like.
I’m going to try to break it all down, so that we can see all the awesome pieces that came together to make this show, well, awesome.
STYLE & CINEMATOGRAPHY
This show is just So. Very. Stylish. The first thing that leaps out at you is that this show is one stylish beast.
Seriously. The style and cinematography played such a large part in making the series so edgy, slick and cool, that I felt the need to properly give appreciation where it’s due.
One of the big reasons I’m not into crime procedurals or vampire stories is because both types of stories usually entail a hefty serving of blood and gore, and I am no fan of blood and gore.
There is indeed a fair amount of blood in Vampire Prosecutor, but the show really ups the ante by making the blood appear – for lack of a better description – stylish and even rather pretty. Yes, there is some gore, but nothing that an average viewer can’t stomach, and most of the time, it’s presented so beautifully that you get distracted enough to forget that it’s supposed to be icky and gross.
I mean, check out these blood shots:
Right? Who knew that blood could look so good?
Even the visible traits of our vampire are subtle and elegant. There are no super-long fangs, nor sparkly skin, nor deformed facial features.
Instead, the fangs are small and understated, and the only other physical trait is incandescent blue eyes.
Very tasteful and sophisticated, I thought.
Everything is gorgeously shot, and to up the intensity, snazzy time-lapse sequences are regularly used as pre-cursors to regular scenes, either to place us at the required moment in time, or to set the tone for a particular scene.
Some fabulous arial shots are employed in these time-lapse sequences, and these are also often inter-spliced with shots from various other angles to very cool effect.
Just take a look at these:
These are often night sequences of the Seoul cityscape and sometimes the color palette is desaturated to add a cool – perhaps almost clinical – veneer to our world.
I also found that the time-lapse scenes were used to good effect, to give us a sense of the high velocity at which this world spun. This added tension and style to our storyboard.
Everything was so darkly beautiful.
A nifty range of editing techniques are employed to keep everything on our screens interesting, varied and textured.
Split-screens, varying from simple 2-screen splits to dizzying multiple screen splits, are used fluidly and interchangeably with regular single screens. These often give us a sense of multiple angles to the same set of circumstances as different characters’ points of view are shown to us simultaneously. Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming, coz your eyes aren’t sure where to look, but it does give a heightened sense of movement, which I feel adds to the suspense.
The freeze-frame technique was often combined with reverse-motion, particularly when our prosecutor team was in investigative mode, analyzing sequences of events.
Often applied in unexpected ways, I felt it really added to the style quotient of the show.
Freeze-frames were also combined with regular frames or even fast-motion frames, particularly in fight scenes. Our resident vampire’s skillful fighting was elevated to new levels of badassery with the use of this freeze-frame technique.
Just look at him go here:
Who knew a vampire kicking ass would look this awesome?
All in all, I thought the various style elements came together beautifully to create a completely modern sensibility in the show which was both visually arresting and utterly riveting.
Kudos, show. Nicely, nicely done.
Yun Jung Hoon as Min Tae Yeon
Yun Jung Hoon is pitch perfect as the broody, cool, highly intelligent prosecutor who also happens to be a vampire. And who looks fabulous with smoky guyliner, I might add.
When we first meet him, he is intense, rather aloof and highly focused on solving the case at hand. His adeptness of mind and agility of thought is impressive, and he is all business while he outsmarts pretty much everyone else:
At other times, particularly with – or in reference to – his close associate Soon Bum (Lee Won Jong), he allows his cheekiness to peek through, and he shows flashes of adorable when he smiles:
He also regularly shows moments of dry humor, which I love:
And of course, there are also times that he goes all fierce and badass, either when he’s vamping out (which surprisingly isn’t even all that often), or when he’s dealing with baddies with pizzazz:
As the series progresses, Tae Yeon slowly starts to show vulnerability as well, and Yun Jung Hoon portrays that vulnerability with perfect sensitivity and restraint:
I really enjoyed watching Tae Yeon as a character unfold over the course of the series. Yun Jung Hoon did a fantastic job making Tae Yeon come to life, building him up as an effective anchor for the entire show.
I loved Tae Yeon as a character, and Yun Jung Hoon became Tae Yeon for me. Love.
Lee Young Ah as Yoo Jung In
Lee Young Ah did an excellent job portraying the prosecutor who’s new to the team and anxious to make her mark.
Prosecutor Yoo has got a number of things stacked against her: she’s new to the team, she’s young, she’s a woman in a man’s world, and she’s small and petite to boot. But she’s determined, energetic and perky, and doesn’t easily take no for an answer.
She’s cute, but she ain’t no pushover, and that rawks:
As the series progresses, we start to see some of her wry humor, and more and more of her personality shines through.
I love this particular “tsk” face of hers:
By the end stretch of the show, her personal baggage gets drawn to the surface, and her tough exterior peels away to show us glimpses of her inner vulnerability:
I started out feeling fairly indifferent to Jung In as a character, but by the end, I really liked her. Kudos to Lee Young Ah for imbuing Jung In with facets of steel and of velvet.
Lee Won Jong as Hwang Soon Bum
Lee Won Jong as Soon Bum provides a fantastic foil to cool, charismatic Tae Yeon.
Soon Bum is vain, bumbling, and full of hero worship for Tae Yeon, and their interactions are often laced with humor at Soon Bum’s expense.
As a character, Soon Bum often brings the funny, mostly without even trying.
He has a strong weakness for sexy women and is often distracted during important discussions because he’s too busy ogling the sexy coroner (Kim Ye Jin):
Soon Bum wants to be as badass and cool as Tae Yeon, but is often left trailing behind in Tae Yeon’s blaze of glory.
Here, he’s getting as much of a heroic moment as he can, kicking the baddies that Tae Yeon’s already taken down:
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
My favorite comic scene involving Soon Bum is in a later episode when he gets his head stuck in a helmet while kidnapping an information source:
When Soon Bum realizes his head is stuck in the helmet, he moans, “What the heck? Why is this helmet so small?”
His “victim,” tied up nearby, pipes up matter-of-factly, “It’s not the helmet that’s small. Your head is big. Really big!” *snicker*
Victim then panics and backpedals, “A man.. should be big everywhere. You’re really handsome. I’m jealous, Hyung-nim.”
BWAHAHA!! I literally laughed out loud at this scene.
The humor in the show gets better and better as the episodes progress. Seriously.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
While Soon Bum provides a lot of fodder for humor in the show, he’s not just a cheap comic device either. His love for Tae Yeon is deep and genuine and some of his scenes with Tae Yeon are really sweet. (More on that a little later)
In my opinion, this is hands-down the best role that Lee Won Jong’s played. Ever.
Kim Joo Young as Choi Dong Man
In comparison to the rest of the cast, Dong Man is a relatively minor character, but he rounds out the team as the maknae / intern who does a lot of the grunt work for the team.
He’s like Soon Bum-lite in some ways, because he brings some humor to the show in a similar fashion to Soon Bum: his facial expressions and his ogling of the sexy coroner.
Similar to Soon Bum, he does have his flashes of seriousness and intensity as well:
Although Dong Man is a fairly minor character, he is an indispensable part of the team and by the end of the series, I had a genuine affection for him.
The most awww-inspiring relationship in the show is the bromance between Tae Yeon and Soon Bum.
They are as different as chalk and cheese, but their trust and affection for each other runs deep.
When Tae Yeon gets backed into a corner, the only person that he trusts and calls on, is Soon Bum.
After Soon Bum hands him the blood samples that he’d asked for, the conversation that takes place between the two is sweet, funny & embodies the affection and regard they have for each other.
Eager to help, Soon Bum asks, “What should I do now?”
Tae Yeon replies wryly, “Don’t die, and keep yourself alive. I’ll call you when it’s time.”
Soon Bum nods, and then adds perfectly earnestly, “From now on, if you’re short on any blood to drink, call me immediately. I’ll consider it as a blood donation and pull out some of my blood for you, okay?”
Aww. That is just the oddest, sweetest thing to say, ever.
Can’t you just feel the brotherly love in the air?
It Smells Like Team Spirit
At the beginning of the series, the team members feel dispersed and scattered, with only Tae Yeon and Soon Bum sharing a bond.
By the end of the season, however, the banter between them is cute and funny and points to a deeper connection and trust among them. It’s sweet to watch how the team members come together as a united whole.
Towards the end stretch, when suspicion is cast on Tae Yeon and he is being hunted by his own superior Chief Jang (Jang Hyun Sung), each of the team members do all that they can to support him, help him and root for him.
Jung In lies to Chief Jang that she hasn’t seen Tae Yeon, when she totally has; Dong Man tries to buy time for Tae Yeon by first shielding his computer screen from Chief Jang, then putting himself in the way of the SWAT team running after Tae Yeon, and Soon Bum slips Tae Yeon keys to his handcuffs so that he can escape.
I loved how every single member of Tae Yeon’s team never doubted him for even an instant, even though empirically speaking, the evidence was against him. That’s trust, yo.
The bonds of unity start to show themselves in the language as well.
In their conversations with Tae Yeon, both Jung In and Soon Bum use the word “uri” (we). Jung In says to Tae Yeon, “We’ve been doing fine until now” and Soon Bum says, “We’ll always be on your side.”
Tae Yeon’s thoughtful response, as the relationships sink in for him, is: “Those (“uri”) are nice words to hear.”
Indeed they are.
Hints of Romance
There isn’t a full-blown romance in the show, but there are certainly hints of attraction between Tae Yeon and Jung In. I like that the writers tease out the attraction bit by bit over the course of the series.
This makes every little hint of attraction all the more meaningful. Every look and every turn of voice, everything that’s done, as well as everything left unsaid and undone, takes on deeper shades of meaning.
Importantly, this treatment of their potential romance allows the action to take center-stage.
Here’s where I finally reach a bit of a flaw of the show.
At the beginning of the season, I found the episode-to-episode crimes a bit of a letdown. I’d expected each episodic crime to be more smartly written. Instead, the earlier episodic crimes seemed a little too simple and convenient, which I felt took away from the show’s cool factor.
If the writers had managed cleverly written, Oh-I-totally-didn’t-see-that-coming types of crimes from the get-go, that would have taken the show to a whole other level.
The good news is, the episodic crimes got more interesting as the series progressed, and by the end of the season, the show had found its sweet spot.
THE OVERARCHING STORY
The details of the overarching mystery are dispensed to us, bit by bit, from episode to episode.
All we know in the beginning, is that Tae Yeon is single-mindedly trying to solve the big mystery of his sister’s death. The details of how she died, when she died, where she died, and what happened that night are hazy at first, but the big picture starts to take shape as the writers divulge more tidbits of information to us over time.
As we progress through the series, and as more clues to the Big Bad are revealed, the show starts to feel less piece-meal and more whole. It almost feels like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle floating around in space, inching their way towards one another and slowly fitting together, piece by piece. The entire series becomes more interesting and absorbing as a result.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILER ALERT]
I have to say, I was very satisfied with the ending.
There was no cliff-hanger ending – something that I’d wondered about, since the show has a second season – and no lazy writing either. Plus, a lot of questions that we wonder about all season long get answered by the last episode.
There is suspense, tension and excitement as well as sadness and pathos as we unveil the mystery of the Big Bad and Tae Yeon comes face to face with the truth that he’s been searching for all along.
One of the most heart-wrenching parts of the last episode was the death scene of Tae Yeon’s doctor-bartender friend (Park Jae Joon).
In his last moments, he desperately urges Tae Yeon to drink his blood in order to save himself, that he might be strong enough to catch the Big Bad.
I found this scene really sad, not only because it put Tae Yeon in such a terribly conflicted position, but because of the desperation of doctor-bartender to find some kind of redemption through his death.
The huge amount of guilt that he must have been living with, knowing that he was the one responsible for creating the Big Bad, and therefore indirectly responsible for all the carnage over the years, must have been crippling.
The unveiling of Chief Jang (Jang Hyun Sung) as the Big Bad was a pretty big surprise, though that unveiling was done in stages over the last few episodes. It’s true that sometimes your enemies are a lot closer to you than you think.
On top of that, I thought the twist that the writers served up, about Tae Yeon’s sister Yeon Ji being the unwitting Smaller Bad, was cleverly done and yet full of pathos.
I found Yeon Ji’s story very sad.
She was an innocent victim even while she was part of the big bad. I pitied her. Not only had she died once before, she’d been brought back from the dead and turned into a vampire by pure accident, and being as young as she was, she couldn’t control her bloodlust. And now, she had to die all over again.
So, so tragic.
I could feel Tae Yeon’s helplessness, distress and pain as he came face to face with the fact that the only way for the cycle of murders to stop was for his beloved sister to die – again. *tear*
What this does, though, is give us a deeper understanding of Tae Yeon’s sense of righteousness and justice.
He’s the kind of prosecutor who will relentlessly pursue justice, regardless of the personal cost. And that’s the kind of prosecutor I want to see stick around for Season 2 and perhaps beyond.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Cool, badass and full of substance. Gotta love him!
FINAL GRADE: A