After the epic awesomeness of Healer, and the oodles and oodles of Ji Chang Wook melty in it, I had high hopes for his next project, especially if said next project had any kind of action slant. I mean, literally Every. Single. Time. Healer parkoured off a building, I swooned. (I guess I kinda have a thing for a hero who also happens to be an action superhero, heh.)
Sadly, even though The K2 diligently delivered on the action front (perhaps too diligently, even), this show just didn’t work out for me. I couldn’t make it to the end of this one, even if Ji Chang Wook got to kick butt quite regularly, and looked pretty sharp in his suit – or out of his suit. Ahem.
THE NOT-SO-GREAT STUFF
Let me state straightaway that there are folks who really do love this show. I personally don’t get why, coz I failed to love this one despite really wanting to like it, but, they’re out there. So just because this show didn’t work for me doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work for you.
Also, I watched 11 episodes of this show’s 16, before I decided to call it quits. In this first section, here’s the stuff that didn’t work so well, for me.
1. Everything leans indulgent
Right off the bat, this show looks and feels polished, which in itself is not a bad thing at all. At the same time though, Show also leans distinctly indulgent in its writing, and particularly in its execution, and this indulgence, when combined with the polish, just made everything feel rather pretentious, to me.
[MINOR SPOILER] By the end of episode 1, I was already tired of seeing Anna (Yoona) running around barefoot wearing some kind of white dress, and the fight scenes all felt overly long and protracted. I mean, I found the fight scenes tiring just to watch; I can totally see why Ji Chang Wook said it was very tiring filming this show. Eek. [END SPOILER]
As I got deeper into the episodes, it occurred to me that this show has a strong Chuno–Yong Pal flavor to it, which is no surprise, since this show shares Chuno’s PD and Yong Pal’s writer. As much as I love Chuno, though, the same grandeur that feels fitting in Chuno feels a bit (ok, a lot) heavy-handed here, given the modern-day context. Too much pulsing choral music adds to the pretentious feel of this drama world; it feels as if ordinary folks like me should feel awed to get a glimpse into this highly dysfunctional world. Meh.
At the same time, the kind of world this is smells so much like Yong Pal; high society, high technology, and high on personal agendas with a side of revenge. It definitely feels way less fresh the second time around, and this just feels like another sector of society from Yong Pal’s world. Also meh.
Suspension of disbelief is a must, because from the small moments to the big ones, there are many instances that just made me go, “Wha..?” [MINOR SPOILER] Like the time in episode 2, when Anna runs around barefoot in the middle of the night in her white nightgown looking like a deranged woman, and the designer guy whose car she falls in front of, takes one look at her very terrified, very stricken face, and promptly decides poetically that she is his muse. Um. What? [END SPOILER]
2. Yoona as Anna
Yoona is a very pretty girl, but acting really isn’t one of her strengths. In a not-too-demanding light and cheery role, I think she can do well, and I liked her as such a character in Prime Minister and I. Unfortunately, the (admittedly poorly written) role of Anna only serves to highlight Yoona’s limitations as an actress.
As a traumatized recluse, Anna doesn’t speak much, which means that it’s that much harder to connect with her as a character. In the absence of dialogue, Yoona’s limited acting range is unable to lift Anna off the page to make her come alive with nuances in her emoting, and I found Anna a very flat character for all of the 11 episodes that I watched.
I do feel like Yoona put a lot of effort into the role, and even threw vanity out the window, what with Anna looking like a mad woman for much of the earlier episodes, and running around a lot while barefoot and sometimes drenched to the bone to boot. Unfortunately, her effort didn’t quite pay off for me, and I found her delivery rather try-hard. Also, I found all the hyperventilating that Anna does in the early episodes pretty hard to watch.
[SPOILER ALERT] One deal-breaker scene for me, with Anna, is in episode 4, where she literally dances around the kitchen with the packet of ramyun. The scene is supposed to be cute and adorable, with our cue coming from Je Ha (Ji Chang Wook), who watches her with amused eyes and a soft smile. But, I found the scene cringeworthy and hard to believe. Cringeworthy because the delivery felt stilted; hard to believe, because with Anna being so closed-off and traumatized, that much joy and happiness actually showing on her face, under any circumstances, was hard to believe, for me. I tend to think a smaller reaction would’ve been more believable. [END SPOILER]
Anyway. It took me some time to conclude that when I didn’t expect Yoona to deliver nuance, and when I accepted that Anna’s ailments weren’t quite real, it was easier to watch her scenes. Ouch. I know.
3. The OTP
Again, here’s where I differ greatly from fans of this show; this OTP just never worked for me. After pondering the whys for pretty much my entire watch, I conclude that it’s equally a lack of chemistry and poor writing that made this OTP flop for me.
Chemistry – or rather, the perception of it – is a funny thing in that, sometimes, pretty much everyone can agree on whether or not there is chemistry between actors, and sometimes, people see heaps of chemistry between two actors that others just.. don’t. This is one time I fall into the “don’t” category; I felt like Ji Chang Wook and Yoona didn’t have much with each other in the way of sparks. In some scenes, I even found their romancing rather awkward – even when it wasn’t supposed to be.
On the writing front, I found Je Ha’s quick affection for Anna hard to buy into, and many of their couple scenes felt clichéd and forced, to me.
Show does try to create a context where we see Je Ha as the kind of guy whose heart warms easily to those who need help. Like how he warmed to the old couple, and the lovelorn instructor, and the kitten from way back. All added up, logically, it should make it easier for us to buy that he would soften towards Anna very quickly as well. My problem, though, is that I never bought properly into this as something that was organically a part of Je Ha’s characterization. I mean, it’s a weird and conflicting tick for someone who has so little care for teamwork and the like.
The ramyun scenes in episode 5 sat even more uncomfortably with me than the initial ramyun dancing in episode 4. Je Ha’s little-boy joy at preparing the surprise for Anna, and Anna’s little-girl joy at the surprise, and the two of them literally dancing in their own corners of the house was just all very hard for me to swallow, because Anna isn’t convincingly endearing that way (thanks to both the writing and the acting), and then to see Je Ha’s eyes soften towards her, and affection warm his face while watching this very unconvincing “cuteness,” felt altogether very stilted and hollow to me.
Sad to say, the OTP cute basically did not land well for me every time it showed up, and Show insisted on serving it up in more and more generous helpings as the episodes progressed. Generally speaking, I found that I instinctively recoiled from it because Je Ha seemed too invested in Anna’s safety, like it made him scared, and that took away from his coolness factor. It made me feel like he wasn’t on top of the situation, which, y’know, is pretty unbecoming for a K2 Cool Cat. On top of that, I didn’t feel very engaged with Anna as a character, and that also affected how much I liked this OTP.
Ji Chang Wook as Je Ha
I thought Ji Chang Wook delivered his scenes reasonably well, and he especially shone in the action sequences. The fail for me, is the writing around Je Ha’s character. As we progress through the episodes, we are told more and more about Je Ha, and we learn more about his abilities, his personality, and his history.
What didn’t work for me, I think, is that the bits and pieces that we learn about Je Ha never did come together for me as an organic whole. In my head, I know that he’s supposed to be that guy who can ninja-slice your neck off if he wants to, but has a teddy bear fuzzy heart. But in execution, I found that it all didn’t mesh very well for me. Sometimes it felt odd because Je Ha can be so cold when he’s in the thick of action; sometimes it felt odd because (as I mentioned above), he gets so personally invested in Anna’s situation, before he even really knows her.
For what it’s worth, I feel Ji Chang Wook did a reasonably solid job of the script that he was given. It would’ve been even better if he could’ve somehow lifted the character above the patchy writing, which I know is asking for a lot – but since Lee Jun Ki recently did rise above Moon Lovers, I can’t help feeling a little wistful that we didn’t see Ji Chang Wook do the same here.
WHAT KEPT ME GOING – AT LEAST FOR A WHILE
Admittedly, that’s quite a hefty section of stuff that didn’t quite work out for me with this show right off the bat. At the same time, there were some things that kept me intrigued. Ordinarily, this would be a good thing. In this specific case, though, because I ended up giving up on this show, these good things perhaps weren’t quite so good after all, in the sense that they were enjoyable enough to keep me watching – and thus prolonged my time with this show, ha. 😛
1. Song Yoon Ah as Yoo Jin
In the earlier episodes at least, I found Song Yoon Ah very charismatic and pretty spectacular as Yoo Jin. She made Yoo Jin intriguing, often playing her with an interesting mix of cool evil and simmering emotion.
The writing around Yoo Jin also felt interesting. She’s all business and steel on the surface, but there are glimpses of vulnerability and sadness, and this made her feel intriguing, even if I didn’t always find her sympathetic. Song Yoon Ah’s delivery of these nuances – again, at least in the early episodes – is excellently layered and restrained, and I found myself very much intrigued by this antagonist.
[SPOILER] A great Yoo Jin scene is the one in episode 5 where her position is threatened. Yoo Jin’s fears run undercurrent throughout the scene as she fights to keep her cool and her position, and I found the entire scene quite compelling indeed. Really nicely done. [END SPOILER]
2. Strong chemistry between Je Ha & Yoo Jin
To my eyes, Ji Chang Wook and Song Yoon Ah shared such a strong and sparky chemistry that it completely overshadowed the lack of chemistry I was feeling with the OTP. In fact, early in the show, I began to wonder if these two were the intended OTP of the show, and if Je Ha’s hints of romance with Anna were just thrown in there as red herrings.
This totally didn’t turn out to be the case, of course. Which is fine by me, since an interpersonal connection can be interesting and meaningful without romance in the picture as well. And I did find Je Ha’s interactions with Yoo Jin quite compelling indeed. Specifically, I found the shifting power balance between the two characters an interesting phenomenon to observe, and I found myself consistently enjoying their scenes together. Well, at least for the earlier stretch of episodes anyway.
One of the earlier instances where I enjoyed Je Ha’s scenes with Yoo Jin is in episode 5 during Yoo Jin’s aunt’s funeral, where he’s a cool rebel badass that anticipates Yoo Jin’s needs without being told. That was cool to watch. Plus, the way his cool badassery unsettles Yoo Jin is also cool. Her instinct telling her that he’s not someone she can tame, and that he’s dangerous, felt spot-on to me, and pretty much sums up the appeal and fascination of their interactions.
The scene of Yoo Jin being rescued by Je Ha, and how he directs her in what to do, all calm and matter-of-fact, without her instruction to act, is an interesting scene for the power shift between them. She, with her status, isn’t the one with power. He – the one with the strength and smarts to rescue her – is the one with the power. I found that intriguing, and wanted to see more of how their relationship dynamic panned out going forward.
There was some furore over whether or not Yoo Jin had romantic feelings for Je Ha, with the production coming forward to state that Yoo Jin did not love Je Ha romantically.
Contextually, it’s easy to see why people were saying that Yoo Jin had romantic feelings for Je Ha. More than a few times, scenes are interspliced in such a way that it suggests a romantic attraction. [MINOR SPOILER] For example, in episode 11, we see that Yoo Jin keeps telling Je Ha to come back alive. Then, she tells her husband (Jo Sung Ha) that she no longer has feelings for him. Right after that, she puts on makeup, thinking that she will go see Je Ha, and then looks conflicted and disappointed when she sees him having dinner with Anna and the Offensive Team members. [END SPOILER]
I personally think that the context and portrayal do hint at the likelihood of romantic emotion in the mix. I suppose a more neutral way of putting it is that Yoo Jin’s got a definite soft spot for Je Ha. She clearly favors him, even over Chief Kim (Shin Dong Mi), who’s been loyal to her for years.
3. Spots of funny
I’d be the first to say that the humor in The K2 doesn’t always work. Sometimes, things are unintentionally funny, like the expanding lift scene in episode 4, and sometimes the funny is oddly placed and does weird things to the tone of the show. Sometimes, though – specifically in the earlier episodes – the humor actually worked for me, and that helped to make the watch just that little bit more enjoyable.
[MINOR SPOILER] One of the spots of funny that I remember fondly, is the entire arc in episode 4, where all the JSS bodyguards around Je Ha react to the newbie who turns out to possess Ultimate Ninja Skillz. The martial arts instructor scenes are funny, but the naked group fight in the showers takes the cake. Way to mix badass with funny AND glistening sexy eye candy. I was very tickled indeed. (For the curious, I’ve embedded the nekkid group fight scene at the end of the post, coz I’m just helpful that way, heh.) [END SPOILER]
DECIDING ON GOODBYE
Honestly, if the balance of good vs. less good had stayed consistent, I probably would’ve watched this show to the end. But, this show is a beast which never did allow its parts to stay constant, and as the episodes progressed, I found everything slowly but surely going more and more downhill for me. Not good.
1. Logic breakdowns [SPOILERS]
I already knew from the beginning that logic wouldn’t be that strong in this show. Just that muse incident with the designer guy in episode 2 was enough to be a clue. But, I hafta say that logic broke down more and more as the episodes went on.
Here’s a (pretty large) handful of instances that stand out in my memory:
E6. The church scene. In such a small church, all these bodyguards sidling up the side aisle to get to Anna is freaking obvious, yet nobody bats an eye. Se Joon’s and Yoo Jin’s pained and shocked expressions are just as freaking obvious, with Yoo Jin even crying tears of fury. Again, in such a place with many eyes on them, how could it be directed this way, to make it such that nobody seems to notice? Anna successfully blending into the choral number is also a logic breakdown. Even if the number was performed by nuns from different churches, they would’ve met to rehearse. The “impromptu” harmonies for Amazing Grace worked until the end, where they went for a non-standard ending. That just can’t be done impromptu. Just, so many holes in the entire scene.
E6. The CPR scene. Argh. I know other kdramas are guilty of this too, and I hate it Every Single Time, but honestly, I expected better skills from a highly trained ninja warrior like Je Ha.
E6. Anna’s social phobia. In this episode’s escape, she’s so coherent while interacting with people, and isn’t scared of public spaces with lots of people. And, she just opens up to Je Ha right away, on the park bench, too. I just don’t see how this is all supposed to pass for making narrative sense.
E8. Je Ha’s logic that once the public loses in interest in Anna, that she’d be dead, just doesn’t work. Yoo Jin has had to be wary of Anna all this time, that’s why she’s kept Anna hidden away under such strict surveillance. And the reason she hasn’t killed off Anna, is to retain control over Se Joon. So, just because Anna is out in the public eye doesn’t mean that she’s dead once the public loses interest. Yoo Jin would still want to keep Anna alive to control Se Joon. It’s only when Yoo Jin has no more interest in controlling Se Joon that she would kill Anna – unless Show’s forgotten that?
E8. Je Ha getting Anna to talk so openly and freely, when she is supposed to have an actual medical condition that makes her afraid of people, just seems way too easy. Also, Show seems to have watered down her medical condition a lot. From her inability to interact with people and the inability to go out in sunlight, suddenly she’s able to stand in front of a crowd of people and (non-flash) cameras in broad daylight. I feel like Show’s insulting my intelligence or something.
E9. The fact that Anna’s sociophobia is no longer a thing feels like a cop-out. Am I really supposed to believe that she was faking it all these years because she didn’t like her security people? But what about how she behaved when she was on the run in Barcelona? She seemed properly spooked by people then. Headdesk.
E11. Twas a pretty dumb strategy, sending in Je Ha to kill Representative Park (Kim Gab Soo) when they knew that he still suffers from PTSD and is unable to actually kill people. How on earth did they forget that very critical little detail?
I can suspend disbelief fairly well for my kdramas, but honestly, when logic fails are this spectacular and this frequent, they become really hard to ignore.
2. Yoo Jin is no longer cool
To make everything that much worse, Yoo Jin actually became less and less interesting to me, as the episodes wore on. The more she did typical villain things, the less fascinating I found her; I felt like she was losing layers, which is a huge pity.
Essentially, Yoo Jin’s increasing lack of restraint resulted in her reactions feeling too big, and her tears, too fierce. She lost a lot of cool points in my books, and whatever facets she had as well, alongside.
THE END – FOR ME ANYWAY
At the episode 11 mark, I probably could have kept going purely out of habit, but I stopped to think about it, and realized that I pretty much didn’t care about anything or anyone in this show.
I didn’t care about all the political shenanigans, particularly since everybody was such a dirty politician. I didn’t care what happened with the central romance because I found it hard to believe that the OTP loved each other, out of the blue.
I didn’t care about Anna, because I didn’t believe Anna as a character, because what happened to all her phobias and panic attacks? By this point of the show, she was behaving mostly normally, and I just found it too unbelievable. I didn’t care what happened to Yoo Jin, because she was no longer compelling to me, and it seemed to me that she was losing control too much of the time. I cared a teeny tiny bit about Je Ha, but I found him too invested in Anna’s well-being, and losing control too easily over her – which also made him lose cool points with me.
With so little that I cared about on the table, I just couldn’t rationalize spending another 5 hours of my life on this show, and that’s when I decided to call it quits.
SPECIMEN B: THAT NEKKID FIGHT SCENE
For the record, this nekkid fight scene was funny and glorious, and really the only 2 minutes and 39 seconds of this show that I would classify as a must-watch. Enjoy: