Flash Review: Liar Game

Watching Liar Game, for me, has been a demonstration of just how subjective drama appreciation really is.

You know that saying, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, or, as the case may be, one viewer’s crack is another viewer’s meh? Totally applies here.

During the course of its run, I came across quite a few raves about this show, which is why it made it to my watch list to begin with.

I read comments that used generous terms like “brilliant,” “fantastic,” and “excellent” to describe Liar Game, and went in with cautious high hopes.

But, try as I might, I just couldn’t get into this show.

For the record, Liar Game is not a bad show. In fact, I was reasonably engaged and on board, until about the halfway mark.

Here’s a quick list of plus points:

1. Show possesses a strong theme, which is sustained pretty much throughout the show: Is it so wrong for people to trust one another?

2. Set-up is efficiently done, and by the end of the first episode, we’re pretty much good to go.

3. Appropriate casting. Kim So Eun is suitably trusting and naive as Nam Da Jung; Lee Sang Yoon is smart, jaded and quite fearless as Ha Woo Jin; Shin Sung Rok is mysterious, shrewd and more than a little shady as Kang Do Young.

4. Show is quite clever at how it resolves some of the game conundrums, and demonstrates some good examples of how to think out of the box.

5. Show does its best to make the games and how they work accessible to the average viewer.

…And then here’s the stuff that just didn’t work so well for me.

1. As I got deeper into the show, I started to get bored of the games. I just couldn’t seem to care about the games’ outcomes, and who won and lost. The stakes that the show painted simply didn’t resonate with me, I guess?

2. Part of the reason I got bored of the games, is coz there were a good number of instances where, despite Show’s best efforts to explain everything to me, I just didn’t get it.

I guess math and logic just aren’t my strong suits. I’m guessing more mathy types would be having a field day, though.

3. Sometimes the screen time spent on the game and the suspense around it felt a little mechanical, coz character development took a backseat at those times.

The show does try to balance things out with character beats outside of the game arena, but I guess it just wasn’t enough for me.

4. Long game stretches peppered with smaller character beats also meant that I spent a lot of screentime with my head more engaged than my heart. Which left my heart on the verge of checking out by the mid-point of the show. Not great.

Eventually I started to feel like sitting through the games were the dues I had to pay, in order to find out more about the backstory, in which I was relatively more interested.

5. I felt the rhythm of the show was a little uneven, especially during the stretch where odd-numbered episodes served as set-up episodes, and even-numbered episodes served as resolution and payoff. That up-again, down-again feeling felt a little jerky to me.

6. In the later stretch, the show worked really hard to make itself feel creepy/scary/intense to the point of horror-movie-scary, but I felt like it was all the work of editing and careful background music choices, applied to create the desired effect.

And, I just wasn’t feeling it. No matter how Show tried to demonstrate to me that I was supposed to feel excited/scared/nervous, I just couldn’t get into it.

So why did I sit through the whole thing, right?

Well, I guess I was curious enough about all the questions and non-answers that Show was serving up, that I just wanted to know the final answer. Which is probably why I liked the last episode more than most of the other episodes. Coz it finally served up some answers.

Honestly, I think it helps to think of this as a manga-inspired world. I think with that lens on, things would feel more organic and make more sense.

That said, though, I still don’t think this show is for me. I do recognize that this is a case of my taste bucking the trend, so you might well like this more than I did.


Worth checking out if you like tricksy mathy games and dark manga.



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┐( ̄ー ̄)┌ (@Storia_Spirit)

ngl Liar Game is one of my favourites. Easily top 10 Kdramas on my list. I’m sad that you didn’t enjoy it! But I guess it’s not for everyone and that is totally fair enough! Lee Sangyoon was broody and angsty and INCREDIBLE here. He’s actually very attached to this character he’s absolutely ITCHING to do a season 2! (& I agree we definitely need a season 2)
Shin Sung Rok is an absolute scene stealer though and he’s honestly one of my favourite on screen villains, yes, he was better here than in You who came from the Stars to be quite honest. His villain in that other drama was so 1 dimensionally evil that it was boring. I found that the villain here was compelling since he was incredibly mysterious and you never really fully understood his agenda until the very end when they revealed what went on in their childhoods. Of course a lot of that owes itself to his incredible acting, from his facial expressions to his crazy laughs, he had it all. lol. One word for how I feel about Liar Game: Awesome.

7 years ago

Heh. I’m not surprised to see that you love Liar Game! I knew that I was the one bucking the trend, with my inability to get into this show. I guess tricksy mathy things are just not for me. I was always not that great in math. 😂 There was too much game and too little character development for my taste, but I’m glad that this show made everyone sit up and take notice of Lee Sang Yoon. I’ve always had a soft spot for him since I saw him in Life Is Beautiful, and I’m super pleased that he’s much more mainstream-popular now! 🙂

Admin A
8 years ago

I loved it, I absolutely did. The games worked brilliantly for me, and I think I actually preferred the games to the backstory. Da Jung was unbelievably naive, but Do Young was so amazing that it more than enough made up for it. I don’t think I ever found anything hard got understand, but it was justen complicated enough for my mind to stay engaged. And my mind was so engaged, way more than it ever has been while watching a kdrama, that my heart happily took the backseat.

8 years ago
Reply to  Admin A

Aw, it’s great that you loved Liar Game, Admin A! I think you are most definitely a more nimble thinker than I am, when it comes to solving tricksy puzzles! I tried hard to keep up, but it was really tough for me, and I eventually found it too hard! XD This is definitely one of those times when I fall into the minority. I think lots of folks managed to enjoy Liar Game like you did. Too bad it just didn’t work for me, no matter how hard I tried!

8 years ago

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8 years ago
Reply to  zuzu

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8 years ago

OMG! This is the first time I read that someone didn’t like Liar Game! LOL 😛
I agree that the games may look a bit difficult to understand at times, but I think I didn’t put too much brains into it at those times and just enjoyed the excitement of it all…
I loved the show and specially Lee Sang yoon ♥ who never looked hotter than this!

8 years ago
Reply to  snow

I honestly don’t know why I didn’t take to Liar Game like so many other viewers did. In fact, I was quite disappointed about that, since so many people seemed to love it! Weirdly, even when I tried not to care that I didn’t understand the games, I never found the show exciting. 😛 But I do agree that it was interesting to see Lee Sang Yoon taking on such a different sort of look and persona, compared to his usual more sunny characters. 🙂

8 years ago

I didn’t get into it too but it’s a different reason for me. I already watched the J dorama version prior to watching the Kdrama so as hard as I tried, I always compared. Both shows are the same premise and almost the same execution, save for a few plot points and characters. And both show had its shares of hits and misses but I still preferred the J dorama simply because the games weren’t as complicated to setup and explain, it was just the same games they played eith the same twists, turns and down to the loopholes but I kept scratching my head almost every episode. The explanations was just too complex and very hard to follow. And one more reason why I liked the dorama more is because of the male lead: Akiyama-san, a total genius hottie portrayed flawlessly by Shota. (Ha Woo Jin and LSY did nothing for me, but I totally swooned for Shin Sung Rok.)

8 years ago
Reply to  Rica

Ah yes, it’s hard not to compare, when you’ve already seen a previous version of a show. I totally get that, Rica. 🙂 I haven’t seen the J-version of Liar Game, but have heard mostly good things about it. If you loved the J-version, I’d imagine that it’d be hard for a K-version to steal your heart 🙂 Especially when there’s a preferred hottie in the previous version! ^^

8 years ago

Aww! It sucks that you didn’t like it much. Liar Game was one of my favorite dramas last year. I love mysteries and mind games and psychological thrillers so this was right up my alley and I think it was done really well. But I understand your reasons for not liking it either. I agree, it was sometimes hard for me to understand some things too but it didn’t bother me much and I usually understood it if I watched it 2 or 3 times. I liked using my brain and it was like I always had to be on my toes. It was like I was a part of the games so that was fun.

Awesome review! 🙂

8 years ago
Reply to  hira15

Ah! See, that’s probably the missing link for me, hira! 🙂 You sound like you’re the brainy mathy type, who won’t take it lying down if you can’t follow the logic of the games. That got you to rewatch the episodes and really tackle them. I am the type who believes that general television should be accessible to the average viewer, and I actually felt alienated by the complicatedness of the games. I’m sad that I didn’t love this one, but glad that you liked it! 🙂

Snoopy's Twinkie
8 years ago

For the time being, I’m staying away. Too much on my plate, yes, but I was also never a huge fan of the J-version…saw season one and then couldn’t get myself to return for season two. As much as I adore Lee Sang Yoon and Kim So Eun, this series has been delegated to the bottom of my must-watch list…glad your review validates this decision. 😉
Another great review, kfangurl!

8 years ago

I’ve not seen the J-version myself, but I’d say that if you didn’t love the J-version much, that this might not be your cup of tea.. That’s the sense that I’m getting, that one either loves this kind of show, or.. well, doesn’t. I wanted to love this, given all the positive buzz it was getting, but I just couldn’t get into it. If you’ve got limited drama hours to spend, you’re probably better off spending ’em elsewhere 🙂

8 years ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Ooh, haha I’m here to offer a differing opinion! I haven’t watched the K-drama, but I’ve watched the J-drama, and it was THE drama that got me into J-dramas. The first season, and the first movie are really good, because of a. the very in-character acting, b. the atmosphere created, by the music and the colours used (really good use of colours to create mood), and c. the chemistry. The second season is a bit draggy, not worth the time, and I haven’t watched the second movie (because the lead actress had been changed and her chemistry with the male lead had been so good in rest of the franchise that I couldn’t bear watching the male lead with another female lead).

Male lead (the Ha Woo Jin character): Akiyama Shin’ichi, played by Matsuda Shota
Female lead: Kanzaki Nao, played by Erika Toda

Matsuda Shota was also in the Japanese Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango), and (a feel-good drama that takes a rather refreshing look on relationships), Love Shuffle. I felt that he had completely become Akiyama in the drama, to the point where I believed that Akiyama’s personality and his real personality were similar, and couldn’t wrap my head around his slightly goofy (sometimes) characters in HYD and Love Shuffle. It was like watching Kim Soo Hyun in Dream High after seeing him in The Moon Embraces the Sun. Plus, Matsuda Shota is quite hot (don’t look at the posters, they put this blonde wig on him) and really, really looks like his character in the original manga.

I had the same experience watching Erika Toda as Kanzaki Nao. She had played roles in other movies/ dramas before, but I didn’t recognise her partially because she was so into her role as Nao that I equated her to Nao and didn’t even think of her as an actress. They had completely sucked me into their world.

I do agree that it IS quite a heavy show, tbh not much romance (in the first season, or even the second, you only get /some/ in the first movie) and sometimes a little over-exaggerated (quite a bit of hopeless collapsing on the floor). But I’d really recommend it because of the a. b. and c. reasons there. In fact, I thought their chemistry was so good that I trawled tumblr hoping to find just another drama they were both leads together (unfortunately, nope).

sorry this is all about the j-drama when this is a mostly (totally) k-drama site. I’m not very good with logic, but I enjoy a good story and this pulled me right in, so I’d say give it a try.

again, thanks for this blog ^^ really appreciate your work (yours and Lady G’s)

p.s. I couldn’t bear to watch the K-drama version because the J version was such a big part of my J drama experience and Matsuda Shota was so like Akiyama, and Lee Sang Yoon/ Ha Woo Jin just looks different from the manga, that I was scared the K-drama would disappoint.

8 years ago

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, chameleonboater! I do think that one of the big challenges of watching a new adaptation, having loved the original, is the tendency to compare, and the likelihood of disappointment.

I haven’t watched the original Liar Game myself, so I’ve kept this review comparison-free. At the same time, I’ve heard both positive and negative responses to this version, from lovers of the original. I’d say that if you’re curious, it’s worth checking out if only just to see. You can always rewatch the original afterwards, to wash away any disappointment that might arise! 😉

8 years ago

Gotta agree with chameleonboater. The J-drama was excellent and Shota was fantastic as Akiyama. I’ve not like Shota in any of his other roles (maybe except Love Shuffle), but in Liar Game, he was Akiyama. He also had wonderful chemistry with Toda Erika – they were so believable together that Akiyama without Nao and vice versa just didn’t have the same zing (re 2nd movie).

Lee Sang-yoon is a very poor copy of Akiyama, I couldn’t bear to watch him strutting around trying to look cool and failing. The games were tedious and kinda sucked the tension out of it. No high stakes involved because they made it into a game show, so there was no thrill or fear if the characters couldn’t win to pay off the debt. I don’t know what’s with the Do-young character, but if he was Yokoya, that was a meh choice too.

P.S to kfangurl: very nice blog you have! Like your detailed reviews, they’re a great read.

8 years ago
Reply to  junny

Heh. I haven’t seen the J-version of Liar Game, so I can’t comment on that. But, thanks for the compliment, junny! Encouragement is always precious ^^ Also, welcome to the blog! 🙂

8 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. The moral dilemma was intriguing and I felt vested in finding out how each character would navigate through the twists and turns. However, the game specifics became too convoluted and I found myself tuning out. I will admit that about half way through, Nam Da Jung’s wide eyed naivety no longer felt plausible…or admirable.

That said, I watched the whole drama, too.

8 years ago
Reply to  sisterdoc

Sounds like you and I had similar experiences with Liar Game, sisterdoc! XD I was interested in the characters, but the games left me cold. And while I wanted to like Nam Da Jung, her naivete got pretty old by the later stretch – and it wasn’t even that long of a show! XD I’m happy to know I’m not alone! 😉

8 years ago

I wanted to like it too but just couldn’t get into it. The games were too complicated and the heroine’s naïveté drove me up the wall. But I liked the hero. Am currently watching Life is Beautiful where Lee Sang Yoon plays a guy who smiles all the time. He looks so different in Liar Game!

8 years ago
Reply to  DBChen

Ooh! I found Lee Sang Yoon ADORABLE in Life is Beautiful!!! And I loved, loved, LOVED that show – I’m so glad that in spite of how Liar Game didn’t work out for you as a drama, that it got you to check out Life is Beautiful. I feel like that’s a sorely underrated drama. I hope you love it as much as I did!! 🙂