You know how they say fine wine takes time?
Well, it actually took me a pretty long time to appreciate Heartless City. Truth be told, I was slow on the uptake with this one.
While many of my dramaland friends fell in instant love with this show (and others felt an instant disconnect), I fell somewhere in that vague no man’s land of not hating it, but not quite loving it either.
Show later fixed that by creeping up on me and laying firm hold on my heart in the later episodes, so much so that the moment I reached the end, I actually went right back to the beginning for a partial re-watch. Kinda crazy, but completely true.
So maybe my appreciation is sorta like fine wine? 😛
THE GOOD STUFF – MY TOP 3 PICKS
1. Show’s general handling
Cinematography, music, tone, vibe
Dark and beautiful are two words that keep coming to mind, when I think about this show’s tone and presentation. The crisp, polished cinematography is dark and beautiful; the music is dark and beautiful; the general tone and vibe of any given scene is also dark and beautiful.
What I find dissonant and very intriguing, is how, even though things can and often do move fast within this world, there is a distinct air of languidness that pervades it.
That sensuous and sardonic flavor is an attitude that transcends the pace at which this world spins, and that incongruity, of the languorous overlaying the fast-paced, is, I think, one of the big things contributing to Show’s coolness factor.
Likewise, the OST has the same languid mood to it. The tracks often have a touch of mournful to them, and yet, always possess a bit of edge.
Mostly, the rhythm is measured, yet unrelentingly driving, washed over with a trance-like flavor. It’s atmospheric and quite hypnotic, and is a perfect fit for this drama’s cryptic world.
The storytelling in this show is assured, yet completely unreliable, in a manner of speaking.
Watching this show feels like trying to piece together a rotating puzzle that’s made up of constantly shifting pieces.
You constantly feel like you’re trying to maintain a sense of balance, while standing on quickly shifting sand. It’s fascinating and challenging, and also, really tiring. 😛
The narrative point-of-view shifts a lot, from the point-of-view of the cops, to the point-of-view of the members of the shadowy and secretive drug organization the cops are trying to crack, and then back again.
Which consistently messes with us as an audience, since it affects who we feel we want to root for.
The world that writer-nim paints, is one in which there is no black or white. Everything is a mass of varying shades of gray, in a drama world that seems to just keep unfurling, to reveal hidden recesses and a magnitude that we never expected it to have.
Messing with our heads seems to be one of writer-nim’s main aims, and I must say that Show succeeds at it, and very well too.
Turning stuff on its head
One of the things that Show does well, is turning stuff on its head.
Essentially, as key information is revealed to us, everything in its new context looks entirely different, like it does when a kaleidoscope turns. It makes the mind spin, as our brains furiously work with each new piece of information, to dismiss old connections that are no longer valid, and make new ones.
Like in episode 4, when it’s revealed that Baksa (Jung Kyung Ho) is actually an undercover agent, everything about our story as I understood it, changed:
Why Baksa wants to overthrow the drug lord at the top: it’s not for personal power, but to fulfill his mission.
Why he’d thrown away the phone so that Kyung Mi (Go Na Eun) wouldn’t be able to contact him: it wasn’t because he was on the wrong side of the law, but it was to give way to Hyung Min (Lee Jae Yoon).
Show does this twisty thing a fair bit, what with Safari (Choi Moo Sung) turning out to be an undercover cop as well, in episode 10.
While this twistiness is generally a good thing, I definitely feel that Show went overboard with this, so much so that the shock factor completely wore out by the later stretch.
That late in the game, with Show continuously pulling reveals like this out of its sleeves, it no longer surprised me when someone was revealed to be a dirty cop or an undercover agent.
I mean, seriously, it got rather ridiculous by the end; it felt like the entire drug underworld was made up of undercover police, which, ha.
Note to writer-nim: there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, after all.
Still, that large-scale twistiness is one of the big reasons I went back to the beginning again after reaching the end, so there’s that.
I just had to see how everything looked once I knew who all the dirty cops and undercover agents were (it felt like I was watching a very different show indeed).
2. Jung Kyung Ho as Shi Hyun/Baksa
Jung Kyung Ho is, in a word, perfection, in this show.
I don’t know what magic happened during his MS stint, but Jung Kyung Ho came back from MS with a brand new onscreen magnetism and charisma that I find completely and utterly mesmerizing.
As Baksa, Jung Kyung Ho comes across as flawlessly multi-layered, enigmatic and intense. He doesn’t look like a gangster, what with his sharp suits and impeccably coiffed hair, but he’s got a quietly dangerous air about him that’s unmistakeable and quite chilling.
From channeling a cold-as-ice crime lord, to unleashing his quick-as-the-wind ass-kicking badassery, to revealing Baksa’s inner vulnerabilities, Jung Kyung Ho nails it all.
Perfection, I say.
Plus, shout-out to how lithe, lean and mean Jung Kyung Ho looks with that full-back tattoo, which was unfortunately blurred out for broadcast.
Wowza. Dangerously beautiful, right?
I love that Baksa is cool and unruffled most of the time, except for sudden bursts of necessary violence. It just makes him feel all the more dangerous, coz you just never know when he’ll unleash his latent inner ninja.
Yet, that hawk-eyed inner ninja is always there beneath the surface; watching, processing, and sharply judging whether his intervention is necessary. It’s so freaking scary-cool.
I also love the fact that Baksa is a hands-on yet mysterious sort of crime lord, a combination that I find intriguing and very compelling.
I mean, you’d expect someone as sharply suited and as perfectly coiffed as he, to give all the orders and let his minion do all the dirty work. Not so Baksa.
It gives me a bit of a thrill, that Baksa’s name is so revered by many, but his face is known to so few. Which makes it possible for him to walk among people to do his own investigations (like he does in episode 6), without anyone suspecting that he is Baksa.
He interacts with Attorney Ahn (Kim Jung Hak) multiple times as “President Jung,” and I found it ironic and rather amusing that Attorney Ahn has absolutely no idea who he’s really dealing with.
The scary badassery
When Baksa’s all suited up, he looks so refined that he comes across as almost scholarly. But when the badass fight moves come out, he’s swift and lethal, and incredibly efficient at taking down his opponents.
I love that unexpected quality to his badassery; the dissonance between his outer scholar and inner ninja is one of my favorite things.
It’s all the more unexpected since Jung Kyung Ho’s build is more wiry than brawny, and it’s endlessly satisfying to see Baksa effortlessly leave scores of bigger, buffer men felled in his wake.
Like this scene above, in episode 7, where Baksa, refreshingly not in a suit, but in a sleeveless tee, all sinewy and glistening, takes down drug dealer guys something like 10 to 1. Very naise indeed.
Still, there’s nothing quite like seeing Baksa in laser-sharp, cold, efficient action, which is why I’m including this quick clip from episode 1. How breathtaking is he, as he takes down multiple armed men, all by himself, and so quickly too?
Now that’s what I call a full-on scary cool badass.
In short, Baksa is mesmerizing. He’s quiet & calm, but also precise & quick – & ruthless. Talk about taking bad boy up several notches.
The hidden tenderheart
Despite Baksa’s ruthless streak, he does have strong and very real feelings of affection and loyalty towards those closest to him.
The way he consistently encourages Soo (Yoon Hyun Min) and Jin Sook (Kim Yoo Mi) to leave the business, shows how he really does care about them, not as business connections, but as people, and as family.
Plus, how about that time he gives Director Min a new briefcase coz he’d shot the old one? I thought that was really sweet of him. (The giving of the new briefcase thing, not the shooting thing, just so we’re clear, heh.)
Sometimes Baksa’s tenderheart tendencies go as deeply undercover as he does, but that doesn’t stop his true affection from showing through. I love how much this humanizes him, especially when contrasted to how cold and calculated he needs to be the rest of the time.
Jung Kyung Ho’s amazing delivery
Jung Kyung Ho delivers an amazing, engaging, thoroughly mesmerizing performance as Baksa, through every milestone and every facet of his journey.
Whether we’re seeing Innocent Shi Hyun or Jaded Baksa, he is completely convincing in the moment, so much so that I can actually believe that Baksa is a real, living, breathing person.
There are so many instances of amazing that I could potentially talk about, when it comes to Jung Kyung Ho’s performance as Baska, but I’m picking this scene from episode 8, when Safari intervenes in the many-to-one fight, and hits Baksa on the back of his neck with a metal rod.
The crippling pain brings Baksa crumpling to the ground, and Jung Kyung Ho kills it, in a way that I didn’t even think was possible. It’s obvious that he really went all in for the scene, and it almost hurts to watch his face contort from the pain.
In the moment, Baksa’s physical pain and despair are palpable, and as his thoughts go back to happier times with Safari, the sense of betrayal and sadness, that it had to come to this, is crystal clear.
Augh. Such a great scene, even though it was really hard to watch.
3. The bromance
The bromance between Baksa and Soo is the stuff of sageuks; the two men are so devoted to each other, that they literally – and regularly – lay their lives down for each other. Nothing screams bromance quite like being willing to die for each other, right?
At the end of episode 8, when faced with death’s door and no apparent way out, Baksa makes his final request to Safari all about saving Soo. He’s literally asking for Soo’s life in exchange for his own, and that’s love on the most epic scale possible, really.
And when the police arrive, truncating Safari’s plan to kill him, the first thing Baksa does, is to save Soo, even though he’s weakened and injured himself. It’s loyalty and love in spades, and I can’t help but be moved by it.
STUFF I STRUGGLED WITH – AGAIN, THE TOP 3
1. This drama world is really dark
Those of you who’ve known me for a while would probably know that I don’t generally like dark things. I enjoy a well-told story almost regardless of context, but, when faced with a choice between light & happy, and dark & disturbing, I would choose the light & happy, no contest.
I mean, that’s the whole reason I came to dramaland to begin with, y’know, for the light & happy, so that I would be able to escape from the downers of Real Life for a bit.
Which means to say, I could appreciate the dark beauty of Heartless City, but deep down, there was always a disconnect at a heart-level, for me. My heart consistently felt disturbed by just how messed up this drama world is, even as I grew to care for the characters in it.
In this world, nobody’s clear-cut good or bad. Everybody’s a shade of gray. And everybody is messed up. And their relationships are messed up too. Hardly anyone trusts anyone, and hardly anyone actually means what they say. A
nd, on top of all that, everything is a commodity in this world. Position. Power. Drugs. Money. Sex. Life. Everything is murky, and at least a little bit sick &/or twisted.
Show’s murky and intoxicating nature tilts you around, and after a while, you get confused about which way is up. Lots of viewers loved that quality in this show, and I.. didn’t.
I found it uncomfortable at a very fundamental level, and throughout my watch, it was a struggle to reconcile this dark drama world with my very uncomfortable heart.
Here’s just one example of a messed-up character being too disturbing for my liking.
In episode 4, Hyung Min forces Soo Min to become an undercover agent, without a lick of training. I found this disturbing on multiple levels:
1, She’s going to be put in a very dangerous situation, and she has no training whatsoever, to help her defend herself;
2, This is a situation where Soo Min will be required to prostitute herself as part of her cover. Kyung Mi would have never allowed it;
3, Hyung Min basically doesn’t give her a choice in the matter;
4, He actually rationalizes that this is the only way he can help Soo Min. Which is so twisted I can’t even.
5, Hyung Min actually does have evidence to clear Soo Min of the charges. Which means he withheld evidence so that he could force her to go undercover.
UGH. Combined, all of this made me so disgusted and angry with Hyung Min that I started to actively dislike him. Worse, afterwards, he treats Soo Min without a shred of empathy or sympathy, and regards her only as a source of information.
Some viewers might argue that Hyung Min’s bad behavior is because he’s struggling with rage, loss and grief, but seriously, it’s so telling what kind of person he really is, judging from his behavior. And his behavior in this situation tells me that he’s an ass.
Instead of protecting Soo Min, as Kyung Mi would have wanted, he forces Soo Min into a degrading and dangerous situation, and then withdraws all emotional support from her. Blech.
2. The idea of power
Power and the struggle for it, is an on-going motif throughout the show. We see it all the time, in the kill-or-be-killed world that our characters live in, where it’s justifiable to kill a friend, if it will help you gain power.
The facet of the idea of power that I want to talk about here, though, is the perceived power held by the women in our drama world.
While watching the show, I’d come across effusive comments by other viewers, of how powerful they felt the women are, in this show; from the glamor, the makeup, the fashion and the high heels, to the way the women made a difference to the narrative.
The thing is, try as I might, I just couldn’t see the women as powerful. In fact, I couldn’t help but see them as sad. Coz even though they may think they have some kind of control & power, at the heart of it, they’re prostituting their bodies.
I feel that Jin Sook put it best, in her words to Soo Min in episode 7.
“You need to make money, but there isn’t anything you can do. There’s no place that’ll take you in. The only thing you’ve got is your body, so you’ve made your choice. But there is still some pride left in you. You don’t want to cry, but tears won’t stop coming.
You want to curse and scream. But you can’t because others might think you’re crazy. All the bitches in this business are like that. No one does this because she likes it.
If someone was doing this because she enjoys it… then that’s a real crazy bitch for sure. You may think, ‘It’s because it’s the first time.’ ‘I’ll get used to it after a while.’ That won’t happen. You’ll feel like that forever.”
There’s a clear sense of sadness and pathos that comes through Jin Sook’s words, and it’s clear that she still feels this way, after all this time in the business. Even though she may appear to have power, she is really a victim of a vicious system.
Which ties in to my first point, about my struggle with this show. Everybody’s twisted and sick, and everyone’s a victim of crime, greed and deceit, and nobody’s powerful.
3. It’s hard to keep everything straight in your head
The title of this section is self-explanatory, but let me just say, this show is no easy watch.
There are so many characters, many of whom are known by more than one name, that it’s hard to even remember who’s who, and how they are connected. Plus, Show’s got a way of dishing out game-changing information at regular intervals.
I mentioned this earlier in the review, but you really need to work to figure out which parts of your understanding of the story and characters still stands, every time Show dishes out one of these nuggets of information.
It’s an intricate and complex web that writer-nim weaves, and the sheer impossibility of keeping so many connecting dots and threads straight in your head makes confusion almost a given.
At least, that was true for me. I personally found it really hard to keep things straight in my head, at any given point in the show.
THE LESS GOOD STUFF
I feel like I’ve already alluded to Show’s tendency to feel somewhat repetitive in its later stretch, so I’ll just highlight the other thing that didn’t work so well for me, in this show.
The OTP connection
I might be going against the grain with this one, but I hafta say, I never quite bought into the OTP’s love.
I found their interaction milestones abrupt and basically lacking in logic. From the repeated chance encounters to them eventually developing deeper feelings for each other, none of it actually felt natural nor organic to me.
I get that sometimes a romantic connection isn’t logical, and is driven purely by attraction and chemistry. But this is an instance where I wasn’t convinced by the OTP’s supposed attraction or chemistry.
I believe a lot of it has to do with Nam Gyu Ri’s delivery, which I found unconvincing and unnatural, even though I can tell that she’s trying hard. There are times when Jung Kyung Ho sells it enough for the both of them, but overall, this pairing just never worked for me.
An example of the lack of logic driving behavior, combining with awkward delivery to create an unnatural-feeling sort of effect, is every time Soo Min pushes her way into Shi Hyun’s space in the earlier-episode chance encounters.
Every time Soo Min spots Shi Hyun, she behaves in an unnaturally over-friendly manner, even though Shi Hyun’s dour expression and unwelcoming reaction give her no encouragement to do so.
Even though she nearly gets stabbed after running after him and making the mistake of trying to touch him, she continues to push herself into his space in subsequent encounters.
I mean, who does that? I know she’s supposed to be thoughtless, but it’s really hard to buy that someone would actually behave in this manner, especially since Nam Gyu Ri’s delivery of these moments is overly bright.
Additionally, the kiss and subsequent sex in episode 9 & 10 doesn’t feel natural nor organic to the story or the characters.
I mean, I can rationalize that Shi Hyun feels lonely and lost on the inside, and that plausibly, Soo Min’s casual warmth draws him to her and makes him want to connect with her, hence the kiss and the sex.
The point is, though, that it didn’t actually feel natural to me both times I watched the episodes, and I needed to rationalize it.
It’s just hard to imagine that Shi Hyun would be in the mood for kisses and sexy times, given the magnitude of the issues he’s up against, which is why I think the kiss and the bed scene were shoehorned in as fan-service, rather than something organic to the story that the writers set out to tell.
On the upside, Jung Kyung Ho is dead sexy in the bed scene and the kiss scene prior. Just, so sensuous and swoony. Puddle.
For the record, I appreciate the various efforts that writer-nim makes thereafter, to show us that Shi Hyun and Soo Min mean more to each other than just a casual one night stand. It’s just, it never felt like quite enough, for me.
I would’ve preferred if Show had chosen to go one way or the other; either deepen the loveline properly, or not have one at all. I think either way, that would’ve made this feel like a stronger drama.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I didn’t love the ending, to be brutally honest.
By the time we hit the final stretch, the show is littered with undercover cops, all not knowing that everyone else is also an undercover cop, so much so that it’s laughable.
Undercover cop has been Baksa’s right hand man all this time, not knowing that Baksa is also undercover; Baksa’s been after Safari all this time, also not knowing that Safari is undercover; Soo Min’s undercover, trying to get Baksa, not knowing that Baksa is undercover.
Oh, what a tangled web of tag we weave, and it’s all between the undercover cops. It’s ridiculous, really.
And in the end, almost everyone dies. Which is tragic. Worse, Shi Hyun’s death feels sudden and almost random. The ones who don’t die, are left behind to live with tears in their eyes. Which is all just really sad.
I mean, yes, Show does offer a sliver of hope, with Shi Hyun’s voiceover at the end, and the shot of his back, now wearing a light-colored suit, which he never wore previously.
But, it really does feel like one of those cold comfort things that dramas tend to pull out; the alternate fantasy world that makes no narrative sense whatsoever and has nothing to do with the drama’s story.
It’s hard to believe that Shi Hyun’s still out there somewhere, still being a badass, since we pretty much witness his death, but I suppose believing he’s alive is better than believing that he’s dead.
Even though it was only in the last few episodes that Show managed to lay hold of my heart, and even though I don’t love the ending, this turned out to be a truly unforgettable watch.
Thanks to Baksa being such a tragically lonely, ultimately sympathetic badass protagonist, Show continued to linger with me, long after the final credits.
In spite of its flaws, Show’s got a special beauty that sets it apart, sort of like a meteorite that only comes along once in a while.
And just like a meteorite shines bright by burning itself into nothingness as it journeys through the atmosphere, so it feels like Show did the same, burning its own characters ruthlessly into nothingness, while showcasing the beauty of the flame.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Darkly beautiful & cleverly twisty, but also somewhat confusing & decidedly disturbing. Importantly, Jung Kyung Ho is flat-out amazing in this, and makes it all worthwhile.
FINAL GRADE: B+
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this show on Viki here.
GETTING AROUND GEO-RESTRICTIONS
If you’re geo-restricted, a VPN service would help you get around that. Not only does it provide online safety, it also gives you access to lots of great geo-restricted content.
I personally use NordVPN. You can find my review of NordVPN here.
You can use my affiliate link (here!) to enjoy up to 60% * off, with prices starting as low as US$3.29 per month.
* This used to say 73%, but because NordVPN’s changed the way it calculates the discount, it now says 60%. BUT, it’s the same great price, starting from US$3.29 a month!
An article on why it’s not illegal to use a VPN to access legal streaming content can be found here.
Thank You, Fangirl for mentioning this drama in you post on antiheros. As a fan of both Jung Kyung Ho and an antihero, I went right past Stop and that evening started Heartless City. What a drama stealer KJH turned out to be. And I know I’m repeating everyone else sentiments, but it sure bares repeating! Agree with your assessment of the “girl power” in this drama…totally not there. Jin Suk was ‘hard’ not powerful. She was jaded against a world that had turned her into a sexual object. Kim YooMi’s performance was second only to Choi MoonSung’s. And what a standout performance for him in Noduk Flower.
Oh, Fangirl! I’m really so glad I read your review (and so glad for your thoughtful reviews in general but especially this one!)
I know you recommended this show because of my recent love for Jung Kyung-ho and asked me in the Touch Your Heart comment if I was loving it. Which… at that point in time, I wasn’t. I confess I struggled a lot with this show – so much that despite the JKH love I dropped it about halfway in and read recaps for the rest of it. And then I struggled even further with my decision to drop it – I was asking myself if there was something wrong with me because someone with similar tastes to me had recommended it (and gave it a B+ which is pretty high) and why did I not like it? Could I not appreciate it?
And then I read your review and it was an AHA! moment for me. You put exactly into words how I felt about this show.
You are so right that it is GORGEOUSLY done. A very rare noir that was so well done in terms of the mood, lighting, cinematography, music, themes and plotlines. Even though I’m watching it many years later it didn’t feel like it aged badly (the handphones were the only giveaways) – I think you could watch this show in another 5 years’ time and it would still feel fresh. Also, I can see why JKH is stunning in this show. So so different from how we’ve usually seen him as the nice affable guy. In here he’s mesmerizing – it feels like he prowls like a panther when he’s with his enemies and you can never quite be sure how things will unfold, fight scenes feel like choreographed dances, the cold dark vibes hiding the caring vulnerable heart. It’s a potent combination and it’s definitely a standout performance. So, so good. And I loved the bromance between Soo and Paksa – so heart stirring.
BUT. I realise that THE thing I struggled with was how dark, bleak and hopeless this show was. Though lately I’m not in a rom-com mood, I still like my shows to be thoughtful and tender. Even in shows that lean dark in the beginning like My Ajusshi don’t feel so bad because Ji-an fights back well and Dong-hoon has his brothers and that show eventually brings such great community and warmth that it makes the initial darkness work. But this show – I can appreciate the greys and the fact that people are forced into doing things they don’t want to but it was just so dark and disturbing that I couldn’t shake it out of me. While I appreciate that that is a mark of a good show but it also led me to have disturbing dreams and insomnia at night so I decided, enough. Haha. It just felt like endless fighting, endless struggle, endless pain with no purpose. Even at the end, when so many of them die – I could imagine a new head taking over and nothing would have changed. That was just so depressing and hopeless. I was so disturbed by how the undercover police were all essentially manipulated in, without any support. And the part about the women – I so agree with you, I never saw them as powerful. Even Jin-sook was often used as a pawn in someone else’s game and had to put up with men pawing at her. The bit she said about the prostitution life was so painful because you could see that it was true and she couldn’t escape it.
Also I really didn’t like the OTP. Hahaha. I’m sorry but the actress playing Soo-mi looks a bit plastic :X so I just couldn’t connect much with her. I felt that Paksa and Kyung-mi’s confusion and angst when they meet (just before Kyung-mi dies) had more chemistry despite the short runtime. The initial connections felt too random and weird – agree why would Soo-mi be so friendly with a guy she barely knew? And of what I read in the recaps I understand that they would have deeper connections but I just don’t buy it. This show would have been better served without her – there was enough conflict and plot without needing a love line.
Ok that’s all! Sorry for the long comment as usual. I’m thankful for your recommendation just so that I could see a very well-done noir drama and JKH in a standout role. I would say that this show is not one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon… which makes it pretty powerful though uncomfortable. In any case take care and stay safe, my friend!! <3
Hi MC! Dang, I’m sorry this show gave you bad dreams! 😬 I wouldn’t have recommended it, if I’d known you’d be having sleepless nights as a result! 😛 I’m relieved that you found it worthwhile, if only to see Jung Kyung Ho as Baksa. He’s just so magnificent in this; I thought it would be a pity to miss this performance of his. The fight scenes are just 🤩🤩🤩.
But yes, it is dark indeed, and it portrays a very disturbing picture of the world that is ruthless and cold; a system that uses and abuses, and then discards. And THANK YOU, we agree that the women just were not powerful in this world, despite the large number of viewers who’d waxed lyrical about the powerful women, when the show aired. That perplexed me greatly, when I watched the show. Like, where are the powerful women? How are these women powerful? They’re VICTIMS. Hello..? 😵
Again, I’m relieved you found it worth your while dipping your feet into this one. But now, I’m rethinking my recommendation of Chuno. It is fantastic and Jang Hyuk is glorious in it, but it’s not a show that ends well, exactly. You need a particular lens to find the ending moving, and I’m a little concerned that perhaps you need something more tender and hopeful for your next drama after this one. 😅 If you’d like to see Jang Hyuk in action, maybe go for Money Flower first. That one is dark, in that it’s revenge-themed, but it’s well-handled, and isn’t as dark as this show, and has a reasonably good ending. I was satisfied with where we ended, if that helps. 🙂
Sorry for the late reply! No please don’t worry I didn’t expect to have nightmares too! Perhaps now I have more vivid dreams so it affected me more than I expected. Yes it was still worthwhile to watch JKH being so different and magnificent 🙂 And don’t worry I will get around to Chuno and Money Flower in the right moods 🙂 I think I went looking for the opposite of Heartless City so I’m now on Hospital Playlist and I realise I’ve missed this gentle type of show so will probably move on to Reply 88 after this (ready to go back to the husband guessing game!) I hope you’re doing well! And about your reply on the other “dramas for men” thread – yes Ill have to introduce the hubs to a Chinese show perhaps that would be easier to swallow. I honestly tried NIF a while back but I was so confused in the beginning. Is there any primer on who’s who and what’s happening? Or is it ok to be utterly lost and eventually I’ll figure it out?
Some Korean dramas have a certain operatic quality about them. To enjoy them, suspension of disbelief is essential, and so is the refusal to nitpick at some minor flaws in the writing. Heartless City belongs to this category. I decided to not let the flaws of the show distract me from the compelling story of Baksa. Another show that had a similar effect on me was Queen Seondeok. There was so much to nitpick, but with such great villain and such great antihero, who cares? As for the ending of Heartless City, I am inclined to hope that poor Baksa is not dead, but staged his death in order to be free of the mess he was in. The fact that he did not get a proper death scene is significant. There were so many death scenes in the show (Safari, Soo, even Scale!), so it would have made sense to give Baksa a good death scene if he were to be killed off. Or maybe everything is just wishful thinking …
That’s a very eloquent way of putting it, Snow Flower.. an operatic quality! I hadn’t thought of that before. That lens does change how one might respond to the show 🙂
That’s also a good point, about Baksa not getting a good death scene. I think the writers wanted to keep us guessing, with that lack of a death scene, juxtaposed by that glimpse of his back in the final scene. I still haven’t quite made up my mind about whether he lived, in the end!
Ahh this review puts all my thoughts into words! Awesome! I too feel that the romance between shi hyun and soo min wasn’t well-developed, but rather abrupt and unnatural. But well, at least we got to see the super hot JKH in episode 10 😉
Glad you enjoyed this review, Hazel!! As much as certain parts of Heartless City didn’t work for me, I can’t begrudge it too much, because it gave us Jung Kyung Ho as the amazing and unforgettable Baksa. ❤
Spot on review!
Thank you, Snow Flower! 😀 I’m glad you enjoyed this review <3
hello again hehehe – as you can tell, Bogummzz is currently spazzing through your entire blog haha. I love this drama so so so much – Baksa was as you said, the driver and the train in this show + his bromance with Soo was just beyond all other bromances in dramaland (from what i’ve watched). I’ve always felt that Kyung Ho’s dramas have never been like ‘rating’ successful, but his acting is just beyond 5 star. Absolutely loved him in his other dramas – he drives the show no matter what the role – a true actor indeed.
Okay – i’m gonna go find something else to read now haha – soz for all the notifications 😛
Tee hee. I love that you spazzed through the blog, Bogummzz! This blog is kinda like my baby, and it makes me happy when the older posts get some love too. 😉 And yes, Jung Kyung Ho is such a fantastic actor! I never appreciated him as much before he went away to MS, but honestly, he came back from MS with a compelling depth that I’d not noticed prior. He’s just so good in everything I see him in now, I even enjoyed Falling For Innocence because of his performance. ❤ Of course, Baksa is possibly the most compelling and charismatic I’ve seen him, so far. ❤
after i watched fashion king guess what i watch thisss drama !!! and just wow whats with the tragic ending !??? what a life !! but this one is better that fashion king to those who watch fashion king can probably feel me 😀
Oh my! This is definitely a very different drama than Fashion King!! 😆 I personally couldn’t get past E1 of Fashion King, but did dip my toes into the last ep, just to see. I can only say, I’m glad I bailed on that show! 😝 Heartless City is not perfect either, but it’s pretty special in dramaland, for its noir flavor and moody atmosphere. And Jung Kyung Ho is just amazing and fantastic as Baksa. 😍😍 Glad you liked this show better, Ruth!
I like your review again…LOL..haha
This is the only series that I watched of this main male lead actually. I took glimpses of that one w/Jang Nana… Don’t like it at all, this is the only drama I think that he looks HOT like seriously bad ass good looking? hahaa…. Yes, I don’t like the OTP’s connections either cuz it was very limited but the kissing scene was the best I have seen on kdramas cuz most of them are very bad. But I think the prob that we don’t see the connection is basically they don’t have a lot of scenes together so how can we feel chemistry when we weren’t even given much of anything to go with. I like that copy 2nd lead too cuz he is pretty HOT as well but I too did not like his character here. He’s borderline shitty for a guy. I mean, this innocent girl was basically forced into being an UC and she even wanted to give her first time to him and he refused??? I mean, I totally understand the loyal to the dead g/f or whatever but hell the girl is going to be forced to be w/some stranger b/c of her soon to be prostituted mission and just throw her in the water like that is just so NOT cool. I find that so weird. Otherwise, I had a good time watching it when it was shown.
Hey there cyn! Glad you enjoyed Heartless City and Jung Kyung Ho in it! Honestly, he was my absolute favorite thing in this show, he is just so amazing and badass; he just clean blew me away. 😍😍😍 Yes, I have to admit the kisses were pretty hot for a kdrama, but the lack of connection really threw a damper on it for me.. I never did feel their connection, and I felt like Show’s efforts to push the romance made it all feel quite unnatural. They should’ve just let Baksa be badass; that would’ve totally been enough to keep me tuning in, seriously! 😂
If you’d like to see more Jung Kyung Ho, you could consider Falling For Innocence.. It’s not Heartless City and he’s not Baksa, but I definitely enjoyed that show more than OMHE. You can check out my review here, if it helps. 😊
I’m late on this post, but I just wanted to say all the undercover cops show us just how crazy Director Min was. The people above him knew he was out of control, but without seeing all the undercover cops he secretly put into the crime world, we wouldn’t know that this guy was a lunatic trying to climb the criminal ladder.
The ending makes sense to me. While I would have preferred Baksa to live, he was treated as he treated the world. When he killed Chairman Cho, it reciprocated and he had to die. A dark ending for a dark movie. Thanks for the review and for all the comments. It’s nice to have discussion on such an awesome show.
You’re very right – Director Min was totally crazy. It’s nuts how he basically threw all kinds of undercover agents into the mix, often pitting them against one another.
Augh. Your interpretation of the ending is so dark & melancholic. 😛 You’re right, it weighs out and works with the rules of the heartless drama world. And I do think the writers meant for it to be taken that way. That last shot of Baksa in the white suit is probably one of those bones they tend to throw audiences to make it all feel a little better, never mind the lack of logic. Glad you enjoyed the review!
Ive been looking for this OST everywhere, I love it but cant find it.
Hi there Tracey 🙂 Unfortunately, this OST isn’t available on iTunes. You can try the links here. I hope that helps! 🙂
About how everyone is undercover cops, I think it’ll make more sense if you see things from Director Min’s perspective. He wanted to get rid of Safari so he made Doc’s Son, and to control/monitor Doc’s Son he sent the right-hand man. Or does that sound too much like justification lol. Anyway, JKH is soo phenomenal here and yet he’s vastly underappreciated. He’s one of the best in his generation imo.
Well, that IS a different perspective that I hadn’t quite considered, Bossu! That does help things to feel a little less farcical. I don’t know if it explains all of the undercover agents, but it does sort of help. Except, it makes me hate Director Min even more, for the way he used people like easily discarded chess pieces. And no honesty nor transparency on so many levels too. Ugh. His character made my blood boil, in so many ways.
And yes, Jung Kyung Ho is absolutely phenomenal in this, and in every other show I’ve seen him in, post-MS. And I do think he’s getting more appreciation now than before, which makes me happy. He IS a treasure. <3
Director Min is cray-cray lol. Yeah JKH is more appreciated nowadays but more like, internationally? I thought in Korea he’s still considered B-list actor (can’t be any more happier if I’m wrong). His recent projects aren’t really hits rating-wise but yes his performances are always great, yet I do want him to take meatier roles like this one XD
Hmm.. You’re right that the international audience seems to appreciate him more than Korean audiences, as in, I see a lot more gushing about Jyung Kyung Ho internationally whereas we don’t see him making lists of Top 10 Most Popular Actors that we sometimes see coming out from Korea based on polls. At the same time, I do think he’s better appreciated in Korea now than before. Mainly because we see him getting a steady stream of leading man roles. Before MS, he played second lead a lot, and mostly beta males. Now, we see him getting leading man roles, and those characters span a spectrum instead of dwelling mostly on beta male types. At least we can see progress, in that sense? 🙂
I bow to the director of this for the whole noir feel of this drama because I tend to find that k-dramas and movies go full on dark and gritty. This drama is one of the few that tries for the noir feel and pulls it off. I agree with your review about 98.5% Ha! JKH is fantastic, and I think it’s great that he is offered and accepts roles both like this and his most recent dramas.
I also have similar complaints that you had especially about the repetitiveness. At one point when we find out about another undercover cop, I remember thinking they jumped the shark. It was too much and became a little harder for me to take seriously. I also actually think the drama could have withstood no romance, but because they did have one they definitely should have spent more time on it because it did, indeed, feel like it was kind of just thrown together. I liked the actress in 49 Days but felt she needed a bit stronger material to pull this off.
My biggest pet peeve though is for the whole undercover cop scenario, and I guess it’s because I’ve watched various k-dramas and started a Korean movie or two with undercover cops. At some point some officer is threatening the undercover cop that if he doesn’t stay under, they’ll destroy the paperwork and no one will know that they’re really a cop. Stop it people. This makes no sense. I never want to see that again because it’s ridiculous. In one movie, I think it’d been like 10 years undercover or something like that. Sorry, rant over.
I look forward to your review on OMHE. I loved the beginning but nooooooooo a love triangle. Argh. I think I stopped at epi 5 so I need to know if it’s worth a go but it looked like it got really angsty which is a pet peeve of mine in a rom/com where people are drunk getting married….allegedly….and dressing up as farm animals.
Two final thoughts:
Thanks for showing the tattoo. I think it was actually blurred out on the site I watched it on.
Also the actor who played Safari was fantastic. He had a way of delivering his lines that worked for me, tired and world weary but pragmatic at the same time.
Hee! 98.5% How precise you are, Kat! XD You’re so right that the more repetitive Show got with the undercover stuff, the harder it became to take it seriously. It became farcical towards the end. Thankfully, I genuinely cared about Shi Hyun by then, so I pressed on for his sake. And I actually would’ve preferred them to have done away without the romance, coz it felt so unconvincing. But then again, if they’d done that, we would’ve have been slain by Jung Kyung Ho’s kisses and general sensuousness in E9 & 10 – oh, what a conundrum! XD
As for the tattoo, it was blurred for broadcast due to Korean broadcasting guidelines. Similar to why they blur out Baksa’s blade when he takes it out. (Of course, they weren’t very consistent with the blade thing, but whatever.) So those shots of the tats were from BTS stills.
And YES, Choi Moo Sung is great! He’s so convincing in all the roles I’ve seen him in. I mean, who would’ve thought that Safari would one day be Taek’s teddy bear dad?? I’d love to see more of him on my screen. 🙂
I’m 8 eps in to OMHE at the moment, and I agree that Show was much better in its initial eps. That whole farm animal drunken marriage thing was the best! Right now, I’m still on board, and Jung Kyung Ho is delivering with so much heart and soul that he grabs me whenever he’s onscreen. I still don’t dig the love triangle thing, but it’s not annoying me, and hopefully it won’t be too much of a downer going forward. I’ve heard that it does get draggy tho, so I’m cautiously steeling myself for it, and keeping my focus on Jung Kyung Ho’s lovely onscreen presence instead. 😉
Jung Kyung Ho is truly phenomenal is Heartless City. I was amazed by his talent. Maybe I’m a bit strange on this one, but I really loved the drama before the twist of Shi Hyun being a cop in episode 4. I just loved how mysterious and powerful he was, and I was really expecting the drama to go more the route of Soo Min beginning to soften the tough bad guy’s heart causing him to question his life and decisions. The drama really did take on a completely different tone after that reveal. But I did still like it after. Would have liked to see more romance of course, but I completely understand why the drama didn’t delve into that more. I did like it enough that I’m definitely going to check out My Beautiful Bride at some point 🙂
Oh, you’re not strange, Kay!! I actually would’ve preferred if he wasn’t an undercover agent too!! Coz I was already liking Shi Hyun and rooting for him before the reveal, even though I completely believed him to be a bona fide crime lord, which messed with my head a little bit, in a good way. So the reveal did take the wind out of my sails a bit, despite achieving the shock impact really well. That would’ve been a really cool direction to take the show in, I must say. It’d force us to decide to root for a true antihero, rather than an undercover hero.
Now that I’ve compared the two dramas side by side, I feel like Heartless is darker and more atmospheric than MBB, but the signature touch is still very much present. I hope you enjoy MBB when you do get around to it! 🙂
I’m only half through Cruel City mostly because I’ve been fearing the ending. I know that mafia/bad cop stories can’t end well. Despite this, I’m really loving Jung Kyung Ho and I loved this review.
Aw, I’m glad you enjoyed this review, humbledaisy! 🙂 Jung Kyung Ho is SO GOOD in this show that he makes it worth subjecting yourself to the risk of angst and sad endings, I say. I took the long scenic route to finishing Heartless City as well.. I often took at least several days to rest between episodes, sometimes longer. So, take your time on this, and savor the Jung Kyung Ho awesome! 🙂
Yessssssssss. One of my earliest kdramas. This is where JKH became BAE. I have been in love with him and Soo ever since. I tried MBB becuase they came from the same writing team. ( still struggling with that one )
Hyung Min as a character was my biggest complaint. It has forever marred my view of the actor who played him. Why was he even there?
You are so right about the twisting story. At one point I just gave up and thought everyone was an undercover police officer or police informant of some sort, it got ridiculous.
I felt like the lovelines were soap operaesque throughout the show. Everyone was in love with someone who was secretly in love with someone else. It was getting ridiculous.( Ji Sook and Baksa and Safari and the evil police chief guy…ugggh too much)
The OTP romance did feel inverted.I figured that somewhere down the line there would be a romantic connection due to all the chance encounters between Soo Min and Baksa. Despite the blinding hotness of ep 10 *fans self* , theOTP felt lackluster in the later epsiodes I found myself just hoping for another kiss to salavage it.I was more annoyed that this new Soo min attachment would put Baksa in danger unnecessarily.(like in the last episode. ..I’m still upset).
Despite all of this I LAHVED Cruel City and it remains in my top ten to this day.
Wow, Heartless City was one of your first kdramas??? Talk about different! And of COURSE Jung Kyung Ho would be elevated to Bae status after this; he’s AMAZING in this. Like, I always used to see him as the go-to beta male second lead, which pretty much sums up the majority of his drama roles before he went off to MS. And then he comes back and does THIS? OMG. I was completely blown away. He’s so compelling and commands the screen so effortlessly in this. And ever since. He’s definitely one of my favorite actors now. <3 <3
I absolutely agree about the lovelines! I thought it was a bit much as well, with so many people nursing secret crushes on so many other people, and all the lines criss-crossing like no tomorrow. And YES, that loveline between Baksa & Soo Min DID put him in more danger than necessary, and because I never bought into the depth of the loveline anyway, that felt quite frustrating.
I know what you mean about Hyung Min basically ruining Lee Jae Yoon in your head. That's what happened for me too, until I watched Heart to Heart and suffered a strong case of Second Lead Syndrome thanks to him. He does really well in there as the warm, likable second lead, so if you're looking to reset your impression of Lee Jae Yoon, that's not a bad way to go. 🙂
I did watched that H2H and it definitely made him more likeable, but then he turned into a douche for a while in that one too …so there was that.
I kept hearing glowing reviews for Cruel city. I’m into action/asian gangster/crime movies so I gave this a try and was hooked. It was sooooo good I introduced it to my non drama addict friend and she was totally hooked for the entire run. Unfortunately she has not fully dived into the kdrama world but she loved Cruel city so much she downloaded some of the songs from OST hee hee. Such is the power of Jung Kyung Ho.
Haha, yes, he did turn into a douche for a bit in H2H, but the eventual turnaround and happy ending was enough for me, to basically fix the Hyung Min Effect overall.
That’s so cool that your non-kdrama-loving friend loved Heartless City so much!! Indeed, such IS the power of Jung Kyung Ho! <3 <3 I seriously cannot stop marveling at his post-MS transformation. He was good before MS too, just, not THIS GOOD. Now he captivates me EVERY time he's on my screen, and I LUFF him, and it's just really weird but really cool. XD And I do love that he's getting so much more attention now, and lots of drama roles too. <3
This show was a mixed bag for me, too, but I absolutely respect the caliber of acting that most of the actors brought. (Nam Gyu Ri was just meh for me, and I agree with you that I just wasn’t sold on the OTP.) In particular, Jin-Sook was my favorite character. She was so multi-faceted, and Kim Yu Mi played her so well. She was equal parts mother/noona/lover/friend to Baksa, hard and soft-hearted. Just an amazing character, and I probably cried more for her than for anyone else.
And now that I’ve read this review, I’m probably going to hear “baksa adeul” in my head for the rest of the day. (They say it so much in the show. 🙂
Ah, Jin Sook. She was quite the textured, multi-layered character, and I definitely felt her pathos. Such a sad existence she had, really, in spite of the brave front she put up. :/ Kim Yoo Mi did a wonderful job of making her come alive. I wish some of her awesome had rubbed off on Nam Gyu Ri, who really was the weak link among the actors in this show. 😛
I more or less concur with you, though the darkness didn’t bother me as much. Maybe because I tend to like my actiony stuff ‘darker’.
JKH was a revelation but I also loved many of the supporting characters, like Safari. Choi Moo Sung is a very versatile actor, he was such a sweet teddybear in ILiCDD, ha.
Oh, I know I’m definitely in the minority in terms of feeling uncomfortable with Show’s darkness. I know heaps of other people who loved it for its darkness, so I’m not at all surprised that you enjoyed it too! 😀
And YES, I love Choi Moo Sung!! Loved him in ILICDD too, and OMG I loved him even more, in AM1988! He’s awesome. And yes, exceedingly versatile! <3
haven’t seen this show but I wish JKH has this hairdo in all his shows *sigh*
Oh yes, doesn’t he look simply wonderful like this?? <3 I want to say that his awesome visuals are reason enough for you to make time for this drama, but I hafta admit, there's a lot more to appreciate in this drama than just JKH's hair! XD Watch it, snow! Jung Kyung Ho's badassery makes it more than worthwhile!
I loved this one 😍😍😍 , i agree with everything you have written , even when I don’t like some scenes , I still love it bec of JKH . I wish he is in EVERY scene hahaha
You’re absolutely right, Nancy – Jung Kyung Ho made EVERY scene better when he was in it. <3 He is THE heart and soul of this show, even though there are many other excellent actors in this.
Woah. It’s a Heartless City review!!!!
After finishing OMHE and loving Jung Kyung Ho in it all over again, I finally watched FFI (despite my allergies to business dramas) where I kept thinking it should have been really called ‘Falling for Minho’, JKH was fantastic in it once again and I was having withdrawals so I re-watched Heartless too!!
Thanks kfangurl, a really great review!
Aw, I’m glad you enjoyed the review, HyunnJi!! 😀 It’s been long in the coming, and I’m just glad that writing about My Beautiful Bride gave me the nudge I needed, to finally write this one! 🙂
And I completely concur that Jung Kyung Ho is fantastic. I loved him Falling For Innocence; he made that show enjoyable, in spite of all its flaws. I’m now watching OMHE, and he’s the main draw, again. Any and every scene that has him in it, is better than the ones without him in it, basically! <3 I can so understand your urge to rewatch Heartless City, in the face of Jung Kyung Ho withdrawal.. He's AMAZING in this! <3