THE SHORT VERDICT:
Slick, gritty, and with more than a dash of blood and violence, Show isn’t your typical nor traditional Korean drama, that’s for sure.
I think what Show does well, is tell its story in a manner that’s equal parts twisty, action-packed and emotionally compelling. In that sense, I feel like Show is quite well-rounded and perhaps therefore more able to reach a wider audience. For example, you might not be into fight scenes per se, but you might be emotionally invested enough in our protagonist’s journey, to see it through anyway.
Very solid, and very bingeable, if you’re in the mood for a revenge tale with its fair share of grit.
THE LONG VERDICT:
So the reason I was curious to check out this show, even though it’s not in my typical drama wheelhouse, is because I’ve heard that this is quite the breakthrough role for Han So Hee, and I wanted to see her in action, for myself (Han So Hee’s excellent; I’ll talk more about that in a bit).
What this meant, though, is that I watched this as quite the noob at this sort of revenge-crime-thriller genre. Therefore, there are likely some things that are much clearer to other, more seasoned viewers.
Generally speaking, Show had me quite effortlessly on the edge of my seat, as it dished out its twists and turns, and I found it all quite engaging and dizzying, at the same time.
Overall, I thought this was well done – but I feel compelled to qualify that I don’t know a great deal about this genre, and therefore am likely easier to please than the seasoned revenge-crime-thriller veteran. 😅
OST TRACK 1: MY NAME
Here’s the title track of the OST, My Name, which I found to be the track that tended to stick in my head, while I was watching this show.
I like how it’s got a laidback yet edgy vibe to it, like it’s a pacing panther, just waiting to unleash its coiled up power.
If you’d like to listen to it on repeat while reading the review, just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. Stuff can get pretty violent. Just as a rough gauge, I’d say that if you covered your eyes each time stuff on your screen got on the more extreme end of bloody, gory or violent, you’d still manage to watch at least 65-70% of the show. So, it’s not terrible, most of the time.
2. Suspension of disbelief is required. There are things that wouldn’t add up too well, if studied under a strict analytical lens. For example, basically everyone in this drama world is typically highly functional even after serious injury and blood loss.
Learning to shrug and roll with it works best, to make this watch an enjoyable one. Thinking of this show as a dark fantasy helps – thanks to Trent, for suggesting this lens!
3. This is an antihero sort of story, with our protagonist on a personal mission for rogue justice. Therefore, there are times that she does things that are illegal, &/or otherwise questionable. If this sort of thing bothers you, then perhaps this show isn’t for you.
STUFF I LIKED
Han So Hee as Ji Woo / Hye Jin
I’d thought Han So Hee did a good job of playing “The Other Woman” types in World of the Married and Money Flower, but it did feel like Han So Hee was getting typecast; she kept getting cast as pretty young things with romantic fixations. That applies to both World of the Married and Money Flower – and it also applies to her role in Nevertheless.
I can see why Han So Hee would pick a gritty sort of role in a revenge story like this; it’s just the ticket, to prove herself as a serious actress with range.
And I’d say that Han So Hee does prove herself as an actress with more depth and substance, than her other roles might have suggested. I thought she did an excellent job of the role, with some especially stand-out scenes.
As a character, Ji Woo / Hye Jin tends to be closed off and reticent, and yet, I found it reasonably easy to tap into what she might be feeling, at any given point in time. Very nicely done, I thought.
E1. Ji Woo goes through a lot, in just this first episode, and the range of events gives Han So Hee the chance to show us a range of expression as well.
I immediately feel sorry for Ji Woo when we meet her; she’s just a teenager in high school, and yet, she has to deal with such awful things on a daily basis. Policemen tailing her and harassing her every day because they’re after her father; schoolmates gossiping about her and ostracizing her; classmates’ parents and teachers all wanting her out of the school.
It adds up to a lot, and I’m not surprised that that decision, to have her transferred to another school, because she was making everyone “uncomfortable,” would be the straw to break this camel’s back.
Han So Hee plays Ji Woo with a mix of sullenness and fragility, interlaced with toughness, that I find an unusual and intriguing mix.
She makes me curious to know more about Ji Woo, and that’s before I even know more about Ji Woo’s context. And, in Ji Woo’s most difficult moments, I do feel like Han So Hee’s digging deep, to portray Ji Woo’s emotions; her fear, terror, sorrow and hopelessness.
It’s awful, that Ji Woo lashing out at her dad, about how awful things are for her, would be the thing that brings Dad (Yoon Kyung Ho) back to check on her – which is how he ends up getting killed. Dang. That’s a terrible burden to carry; Ji Woo’s basically wracked with guilt that Dad had died because of her.
No wonder she’s so desperate to find Dad’s killer. And how horrible, that no one seems to be interested in actually bringing Dad’s killer to justice. It’s understandable that Ji Woo would attempt to find the killer on her own, and it’s horrible to watch those guys beat her up and abduct her, just because she’s vulnerable.
E2. This episode, I was bummed for a while, because it appeared like Han So Hee wasn’t playing Ji Woo with the same interesting mix of fragility and feral-ness that we saw in episode 1.
However, I realize that it makes sense that Ji Woo isn’t played that way for too long. After all, she has to toughen up real fast, and with our story moving fast as well, it really isn’t long before all we see is a tough, hardened crust. I’m assuming that the pain and fragility is still there, but now, it’s hidden underneath an armor that Ji Woo’s created for herself. All that to say, I think Han So Hee’s delivery of Ji Woo is still solidly on point.
E2. The attempted rape scene was hard to watch, and it’s made so much worse by the fact that those guys really take so much glee in the thought of raping Ji Woo. I was very relieved that Ji Woo is able to hold onto enough of her reflexes, despite her woozy state, to defend herself. At the same time, I can see how this incident would force her to create an even tougher armor for herself.
For the record, I do think Ha So Hee does a good job of portraying Ji Woo’s fear and horror when she’s fighting to protect herself while drugged, and also, her grievous wretchedness, when she cries over her father’s shattered urn. It’s just.. different, from what we saw of Ji Woo in episode 1, and I found Ji Woo in episode 1 nothing short of haunting.
All that said, I do rather like the bit where Ji Woo (Hye Jin, now?) keeps surprising other people, who underestimate her because she’s a girl. She’s got guts and she’s got some sharp fight moves, and I really like the idea that she’s proving to be so much more than people think.
On that note, I also wanted to say that I appreciate how her fight moves are much sharper and faster, now that she’s a seasoned fighter. That flaily quality about her fight moves, which we’d seen in episode 1, is now gone. Nicely done, I thought.
E3. It’s becoming very clear that Hye Jin looks to Choi (Park Hee Soon) for approval, and her loyalties are to him. She’s ready to shoot Pil Do (Ahn Bo Hyun) in order to save Choi, and, she’s also ready to use that gun that Choi had given her, which was supposed to have been used to kill her father’s murderer. Both feel like risky moves, and it’s clear that Hye Jin would do both things, if that’s what it takes to save Choi.
E5. It seems pretty significant to me, that when Do Gang Jae / Scarface (Chang Ryul) taunts Hye Jin to kill him, she can’t find it in herself to shoot, but the moment he starts to spill her real name, she doesn’t hesitate to silence him with her gun.
She might not be vicious in the sense of actually wanting to kill people (unlike Scarface), but she can and will kill, in order to protect herself.
E6. What a world-tilting revelation, for Hye Jin. She’s believed in Choi, and trusted him with her life, for years. Even when she’d suffered, she’d trusted him. She’d worked to protect him, at her own risk, while undercover. And she’s just discovered that he’s the one that she should have been after, all this time. For someone whose entire mission in life is to avenge her father, this must hurt, and shock, and frustrate Hye Jin, on such a deep level.
That scene where Hye Jin stops the car, and ends up flailing on the floor, barely able to breathe because she’s hyperventilating, is really well done, I thought. Han So Hee really delivers this of raw, trembling, overwhelming horror mixed with helplessness, and I can believe that Hye Jin’s processing this all in a very painful manner.
That decision to burn that tattoo right off her chest, right there in the car, is such an extreme one. Yet, I can believe that someone as scrappy as Hye Jin, who has found her entire life for the past 10 years to be a complete lie, would absolutely do something as drastic as that.
I don’t know if I can buy that she wouldn’t even wince at the burning of her flesh, but I get the idea, that she is now determined to divorce herself from the organization that had, up to recently, had her complete loyalty.
E7. It feels.. complicated, generally speaking. Hye Jin’s feelings towards everyone and everything, and in particular, Cha and Choi, for one. She’s spent such a long time being endlessly loyal to Choi, that it feels like a huge adjustment, for her to suddenly think of her as her enemy.
Also, judging from how Hye Jin goes to the hospital to check on Cha, it feels like she carries some guilt, likely for the suspicions and assumptions she’d had about him, when she’d thought of him as the person responsible – or at least involved – in her father’s death.
That beat, when Hye Jin puts her father’s ashes next to her mother’s, and apologizes for having misunderstood him all this time, is a really poignant one. I feel like if she’d only known what he did for a living, her entire life would have been different, and she would have been able to live without encountering some of her most damaging wounds.
Park Hee Soon as Choi
Drug lord Choi is arguably the most fascinating character in this drama world.
He was basically like a kaleidoscope, in my eyes, in the sense that with each situation that we see him in, I’d see a new side of him, and sometimes I’d even see him in a whole new light. And, some of these sides seemed at odds with each other, which made it all the more interesting and intriguing. He made me want to know which side of him was closest to his true self.
Big props to Park Hee Soon, who oozes effortless, restrained charisma as Choi, and makes him as magnetic as he is enigmatic. Maybe he should always play a sharp-suited, conflicted drug lord, heh. 🤩
E2. I am very intrigued by Choi this episode, because it’s becoming clear to me that he’s not quite to be trusted.
There are times when he seems like Ji Woo’s life-line, like when he punishes Do Gang Jae, who’d tried to rape her, and when he promises that no matter what she does, the organization will take care of her.
And there are also times when he seems like a genuine friend to Ji Woo, what with him accepting that tumbler of camomile tea from her, and talking about old times that he’d shared with her dad. Plus, he specifically talks about the time that Dad had come to his rescue, and basically saved his life, back in the day.
BUT. There are also times when we see that he’s being coldly calculative about Ji Woo. He tells his righthand man Jung, that Ji Woo being in the Narcotics team will benefit the organization, and then calmly agrees that they’ll have to kill her, if anything goes wrong.
I’d (naively) imagined that even drug lords have some kind of honor code, and I’d imagined that Choi was protecting Ji Woo because of his past ties with her father. However, it’s dawning on me that Choi isn’t protecting Ji Woo at all.
He basically lets her sink or swim, in most situations that he places her in. He didn’t even warn her that someone would try to assault her, even though he says that he knew that she would have to deal with this kind of situation, at least once.
If he knew that she was in such real danger, why didn’t he say anything? Is there any real benefit to her not knowing in advance? After all, once she’s been attacked once, she’ll be on her guard, much like how she would’ve been on her guard, if he’d warned her..?
E5. My opinion of Choi continues to evolve, as our story unfolds.
I’d imagined that Choi would be pretty ruthless, if it came down to sacrificing Hye Jin, but this episode, we see that he puts himself in danger because of her, to Jung’s chagrin. Additionally, when he perceives that Hye Jin is in danger of being outed, he attempts to get her to leave the country.
To my eyes, this definitely seems like he’s trying to protect her. After all, he could have had her killed instead, if her presence in Narcotics was proving to be inconvenient for him.
That being said, I do think that part of the reason Choi trusts Hye Jin as much as he does, is because he knows just how much she’s glommed onto like a duckling to the first living thing it sees. I think he understands just how important he is, in Hye Jin’s eyes, and therefore how she would put him first, and not lie to him. I believe that that’s why he knows that he can trust her.
E6. I find it interesting that Hye Jin brings that photo right to Choi and asks him about it. I feel that this is because she trusts him, and therefore believes that he will tell her the truth. And the thing is, what Choi tells her sounds pretty plausible. It matches what Hye Jin knows of her father, and it’s possible that Dad had defected to the organization, while forsaking his old job and his old life.
Choi’s clearly thought about his cover story, for if and when Hye Jin ever asked about her father having been a cop.
The thing is, Choi’s emotions around all this, as he talks with Hye Jin, feel very real. I am leaning towards the idea that Choi really had felt deeply about his friendship with Yoon Dong Hoon, and his regret at Yoon’s death, and his wistfulness for the past, is real.
This means that Choi had had Yoon Dong Hoon killed, and then taken in Yoon’s daughter, and trained her to have Cha killed, for having sent in Yoon undercover, all the while allowing Yoon’s daughter to believe that she’s going undercover on a revenge mission. That’s.. messed up.
E7. It feels like Choi’s feelings towards Hye Jin are even more complicated than Hye Jin’s feelings towards him. He’s known all this time, that Hye Jin is the daughter of a traitor, so to speak, and he’s been using her, by deceiving her. Yet, there’s a part of him that defaults to wanting to protect Hye Jin.
He goes to turn himself in, in order to test Hye Jin. And previously, when it had looked like Hye Jin’s cover was in danger of being blown, he’d gotten Lawyer Kang (Baek Joo Hee) to get her a fake passport, and a place to go, that would at least imitate the beachside life that she’d once dreamed of, with her father.
And now, this episode, when Hye Jin gets arrested for helping him, his instinct is to get her out – even though he has concluded that the reason she’d gotten him out, is so that she can kill him.
Yet, at the same time, when Jung tells Choi that Hye Jin is likely to have found out the truth, and they need to kill her, it doesn’t seem that Choi disagrees.
In fact, it seems like Choi endorses that ambush that Jung springs on Hye Jin at her apartment. That feels so mixed up and messed up, right? On the one hand, he’s trying to kill her, but on the other, he wants to get her out of police custody.
I can only conclude that this is an example of some kind of underworld code of honor. Like, I’ll get you out since you got me out; let’s settle our scores away from the glare of the law. Kill me if you can, and I’ll kill you if I can..?
The connection between Hye Jin and Pil Do
I’m honestly pleasantly surprised by how well Show teases out the connection between Pil Do and Hye Jin.
I mean, we start out with quite a bit of distance between them, with Pil Do holding a grudge and Hye Jin determined to keep to herself, and we don’t have a great deal of screen time to work with, and yet, the connection that forms between them feels organic and believable. I thought this was really nicely done.
Since I don’t have a dedicated section for Ahn Bo Hyun, I just wanted to also say that I thought he was very good in this role. I don’t see any traces of his past characters that I’ve seen before, like in Yumi’s Cells, or Itaewon Class. He comes across as a completely separate, different person here, and that’s pretty cool.
E4. How interesting, that Cha passing Hye Jin’s personal file to Pil Do, only seems to increase Pil Do’s empathy for her. I mean, yes, he’s suspicious of her, and tails her, but Hye Jin’s determination to track down Scarface seems to win him over, and he’s quick to attribute it to the death of her fake druggie dad.
E5. I’m pretty impressed that under circumstances where she’s severely disadvantaged, and Scarface looks set on killing her, Hye Jin would ask for Pil Do to be released, because, in her words, he has nothing to do with this.
This feels like a big thing for Hye Jin, because she’s been driven by revenge for so long, and has been so suspicious of the people around her, particularly the people from the police force, that it’s surprising to think that she might have developed some real loyalty to someone from the police.
On a similar sort of note, I feel that Pil Do’s reactions this episode, when it comes to things concerning Hye Jin, come from what feels like a much more personal place than before. Now, it doesn’t just seem like he’s defending her just because she’s his partner and it’s his duty to do so. Now, it feels like he’s personally invested, and has some kind of personal stake in Hye Jin’s wellbeing.
From the way he tries to protect her even when he is himself cuffed and helpless, to the way he doggedly works to apprehend Scarface and his cronies afterwards, everything Pil Do does, has that extra layer of personal involvement and investment to it.
The scene where Scarface puts Pil Do and Hye Jin in that van in the compactor, and leaves them to die, with the compactor steadily coming down on them, was really hard to watch. And I say this, even while knowing that they would survive it, somehow. That’s good execution; Show had my throat in its grip, even though my brain knew that everything would work out.
The desperation of both Pil Do and Hye Jin, to free themselves and each other, is so visceral. Even as they struggle, there’s a sense of hopelessness about their struggle, because their efforts feel so ineffectual in the face of the relentless descending of the crushing plate. Ack.
It says a lot, that when Pil Do doesn’t think he’s going to make it, he shouts at Hye Jin to get herself out, while she can.
By the same token, I feel that it also says a lot, that when Choi arrives and rams his car into the compactor, thus stalling it and saving Pil Do from being immediately crushed, Hye Jin’s instinct, despite her loyalty to Choi, is to get Pil Do out from under there.
The fact that she hesitates, the way she does, and doesn’t just run to Choi, does show how she’s grown loyal to Pil Do, in spite of herself.
And then there’s how Pil Do tells Hye Jin about how he’d lost his little sister to drugs, and promises Hye Jin that he’ll help her nab whomever it is, that she’s intent on catch. That’s definitely stepping into personal territory, right there.
E6. The fact that Hye Jin suffers from nightmares after killing Scarface indicates that she really is quite vulnerable, underneath her tough exterior.
For this reason, I’m glad that Pil Do seeks her out, just to keep her company. She says that she’s fine, but he knows that she’s not, and insists on just sitting with her, and drinking with her, for the evening.
That’s really thoughtful and empathetic of him, I feel. And I do tend to think that this stems from his own experience; most likely from the first time he’d killed someone. He seems to know from experience, that the aftermath of killing someone, is not an easy thing to deal with.
I find it significant, that when Pil Do asks about Scarface knowing Hye Jin from before, she tells him the truth; that he’d tried to rape her after drugging her, and she’d sustained the scar on her hand, trying to wake herself up from the drugs. She leaves out other details about Dongcheon, of course, but the thing is, she’s essentially telling Pil Do the truth about a very traumatic and vulnerable time in her life.
Also, there’s the thing where he asks what she likes to do, and she eventually tells him that she likes to sit by the beach. That is also something that’s very true and very personal to her, because that’s her memory of Dad. I think this all says something, about her level of trust in Pil Do.
On his part, I do feel like Pil Do’s sense of compassion for Hye Jin has increased, now that he knows about Scarface and how he’d attempted to rape her. I can feel him processing Hye Jin’s trauma, just from looking at his eyes. He looks stunned, sad and sorry, all at the same time.
Lee Hak Joo as Jung
I just wanted to say that I surprised myself by growing a soft spot for Jung, even though he’s a supporting character who doesn’t enjoy all that much screen time.
For some reason, I rather like him. He seems really loyal, in the context of his chosen organization. He’s so focused and dogged, when it comes to accomplishing whatever mission Choi gives him, and he appears to be completely sincere in supporting Choi, without harboring his own agenda, as well.
Kim Sang Ho as Cha
I also found myself having a soft spot for Cha, despite Cha’s true agenda being kept vague for a good portion of our story. This is probably leftover affection from me having seen Kim Sang Ho play so many good guys, like his role in Sweet Home.
[SPOILER ALERT] I was most impressed with Cha’s guttural reaction in episode 6, when he realizes that Hye Jin is Yoon Dong Hoon’s daughter. His anguish, shock and horror, as he wails about how Choi’s gotten Hye Jin under his wings, so tangible. Really well done, I thought. [END SPOILER]
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Chang Ryul as Do Gang Jae [SPOILERS]
To be honest, I found that I didn’t instinctively understand Scarface and his revenge agenda. I guess I had trouble putting myself in his shoes, and therefore only tried to understand him from an objective viewpoint, which.. didn’t work very well.
Many thanks to Trent, who helped to shed light on 2 things that I found especially perplexing about Scarface.
1. I didn’t get his revenge against Jung.
It makes sense to me that he’d hold a grudge against Choi for the way Choi had punished him, but man, that attack on the Dongcheon gym was something else. However, I didn’t get Scarface’s revenge against Jung, because it had been Choi who had meted out the punishment that had turned him into Scarface. Meting out the same punishment on Jung feels like a coward move to my eyes, honestly, because it’s not Jung that Scarface should come against, but Choi himself.
Trent’s take: Scarface sees Jung as a reasonable proxy for Choi, and also, he is maiming Jung as a warning to Choi, that he will be next.
2. I didn’t get his revenge on Hye Jin.
His revenge didn’t really make sense to me, in that Hye Jin really didn’t do him wrong. He was the one who’d tried to rape her; she’d simply fought back, to protect herself. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me that just because she successfully fought back, and he got caught and punished, he wanted to kill her.
Trent’s take: From Scarface’s perspective, he was on the way to winning the big competition when Hye Jin swooped in and basically stole his place as the winner. And so he set out to have a little “fun” (and get some payback) on the girl who beat him, and instead, he ends up maimed and exiled. Of course he wants revenge.
Thanks, Trent!! Looks like I have a lot to learn, about putting myself in the shoes of a guy like Scarface. 😅
Last but not least, I also wanted to say that, oddly enough, even though Scarface continues to curse Hye Jin with his last breath, I find that I don’t relish his death.
In fact, I even feel a little bit sorry for him, because it feels like he’s been so misguided, that he’s ended up wasting – and cutting short – his entire life. Or maybe that’s just credit to Chang Ryul’s delivery. There’s just something about Scarface’s dying breath, that makes me feel some pity for him.
The grittiness of this drama world
Our drama world is very slick and polished, but at the same time, it’s also very gritty, if that makes sense. It’s a world that’s dark with dubious intent, and where danger’s lurking around every corner.
It’s necessary, given the premise of our story, but I have to say that this drama world isn’t a world that I’d like to exist in. 😅
[SPOILER ALERT] For example, the “training grounds” where Choi drops Ji Woo, in episode 1, feels like some sort of wild safari, where you’re left to fend for yourself against all manner of danger and wild animals. The conditions are pretty horrible, and the trainees here don’t appear to have any kind of manner of decency, judging from the way they treat Ji Woo. [END SPOILER]
The fight scenes
E1. So far, I find the fight scenes violent enough to make a statement, but not so violent that I find it difficult to watch. Also, I think that so far, Ji Woo’s fight moves and reflexes reflect her Beginner status quite well. Her movements have a flaily sort of quality to them, that I can believe would come with being a relative newbie. That’s very good attention to detail, I feel.
E2. The fight choreography in this show is proving to be rather interesting. What I mean is, there are some moves that feel like they come out of nowhere (to my untrained, non-fight accustomed eyes of course), like how Ji Woo /Hye Jin basically spins that guy around on his back on the ground, so that his arm is painfully twisted in the wrong direction.
E4. I haven’t seen a whole lot of knife fight choreography, but on first impressions at least, Choi’s moves remind me a lot of Jung Kyung Ho’s drug lord’s fight moves in Heartless City. Those were also short, sharp, stabby moves, while he fought one to many. Both scenes are equally badass, I think.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Specific bits that I found tough to watch [SPOILERS]
E3. The scene where Scarface attacks the place with a bunch of guys, all wielding huge blades, and all basically hacking at whatever bare flesh they come across, and impaling anyone who gets in their way. Eep. That was a very violent, bloody spectacle indeed.
E5. The whole thing where Scarface confronts Hye Jin and tries to kill her and Pil Do, is so stressful to watch. When Scarface stabs her in the leg, and then relishes stepping on her wound, I winced at the squirt sound effect, and at the imagined pain of having a fresh stab wound bear the weight of a full grown man. Yikes. 😵
E7. I found it hard to watch Hye Jin tend to her own gunshot wound. Does she even remove the bullet, before stapling her wound shut? That niggles at me, I have to confess, but as Trent pointed out to me, it’s possible the bullet only grazed her arm.
The specific occasion when the police behave like jerks [SPOILERS]
E4. The whole thing, where Cha Gi Ho and Pil Do go to the memorial service of the fallen gang members, feels so unnecessary. In fact, I think less of the detectives for going, because even though I know that they’re looking for information and clues, they don’t go about it in a manner that’s helpful to anyone.
They act in such an annoying manner, and are pretty much disrespectful, even though the gang is mourning their dead. And, nothing that they do actually gains them any information anyway. Pil Do going around and giving his name cards to gang members, saying to call him, if they feel like talking, feels downright insulting. Unless I missed something here, I honestly feel like this was a waste of time for everyone involved, especially since they don’t gain any information from it, nor acted in a manner that would have helped them gain information.
To be brutally honest, this beat dulled my respect for both detectives. It almost feels like they’re there just to gloat. And maybe bait the gang members towards personal violence, with their rude behavior.
Logic stretches [SPOILERS]
I know I said earlier, that suspension of disbelief is required while watching this show.
However, just for the record, here’s a quickish rundown of the various times during my watch, when I felt the need to close my eyes and just roll with it:
E1. I do think there’s some suspension of disbelief needed, around Choi’s set-up. I mean, since his drug activities are so illegal, isn’t it a bit of a stretch that he’s got this glossy huge office, where people can be seen systematically packing drugs..? I’d always imagined that that kind of thing would be done in secret, and not in a glossy office where the cops could bust in, at any time?
Also, I find it a bit of a stretch, that Ji Woo would even know where to find Choi, since she isn’t presented as being very familiar with Dad’s work. Also, she’s only 17 years old. What would she know about where to find a drug lord?
E1. While I don’t know how realistic it is that Ji Woo learns so well so quickly, I rationalize that we don’t actually know how much time has passed from the time Choi comes to give her that lesson on attacking her opponents’ vital points, to her competing in that all-in-one brawl. Perhaps more time has passed than I think. And also, there’s the thing where Choi’s said that Ji Woo has potential.
E2. I agree with Trent, that there is some suspension of disbelief required, that a petite woman like Ji Woo, would be able to beat up so many bigger guys, but I’ll take it, while assuming that there’s something to be said for skill, over brute strength.
E3. Things get complicated this episode, with the Narcotics team out to ambush Choi. This means that Hye Jin’s out there on the field, in a situation where she’s supposed to nab Choi, when instead Choi had planted her in Narcotics, so that she’d be a help to him and the organization.
It makes me wonder how thoroughly he’s thought this through, or how much he’s even talked with Hye Jin about this. I know Choi is made out to be the strong, silent type, but it seems foolhardy to plant someone in a team that’s legitimately out to get you, and not talk about contingency plans..? I’d pegged the organization as being more.. well, organized, about things.
Jung wonders why Hye Jin hadn’t called them to let them know in advance, and Choi ignores Hye Jin’s calls for some time too. I get that they’ve just lost a lot and are sore, but it just doesn’t make sense to me, that it doesn’t occur to them that Hye Jin might not have been in a position to alert them.
E4. While I would like to say that Han So Hee’s pull-ups are impressive, I think there’s some CGI involved. What I mean is, it’s highly unlikely that her muscles are lifting her weight on their own, because of the relative lack of strain and definition visible, during the shot. I’m pretty certain that if she were lifting her body weight on her own, there would be a lot more visible strain and definition in her arms.
My guess is that she did those pull-ups with the help of a resistance pull-up band, and the pull-up band was subsequently CGI-ed out. Still makes for a pretty cool shot, though, if you don’t look too carefully. 😅
E5. The twist reveal, that Yoon Dong Hoon had been undercover, blew my mind. What doesn’t make sense to me, is, if Detective Jo (Kim Byung Cheol) had known that Yoon Dong Hoon had been an undercover cop, then why did he harass Hye Jin / Ji Woo the way he did? I mean, it doesn’t make sense, period, that the cops would harass her, but if Yoon Dong Hoon had been one of the cops, and Detective Jo had known about it, it makes even less sense.
THEMES / IDEAS
Here are the top themes that come to mind, when I think about this show:
1. Loyalty. What that means, and the price that comes with it.
2. What’s the true price of revenge, and is it worth it?
3. Context really is everything.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Well that was quite the whirlwind of a finale.
Coming in, I wasn’t really sure where Show would lean, ultimately. Would Hye Jin get Choi via the long arm of the law, or would she go rogue? Maybe a more seasoned viewer who’s more in tune with this genre’s general patterns and tropes would have been able to predict the outcome, but I honestly wasn’t able to guess. I was just holding onto my hat, along for the ride. 😅
What I appreciate about this finale, is how it’s as much of an emotional journey, as it is an action-packed one. It’s not just serving up more and more action, to amp up the adrenaline quotient in this show (which I have the impression that action flicks tend to do). Instead, Show digs into the emotional side of things, while also amping up the action, and I feel like the combined impact creates a pretty excellent amount of oomph.
There’s the whole question of how Hye Jin responds to Choi, in his promise that he won’t let Hye Jin go to prison. On the surface, it sounds like Choi’s asking her to come back to him, and be on his team, but in the context of our story, this really is Choi asking her to come to him – to fulfill her promise of killing him, like she’d said.
That’s dark and twisted, but I don’t think that Choi has an actual death wish. Rather, he wants to settle this score, according to the laws of their world, and that’s why he’s telling Hye Jin to come to him.
The way Hye Jin gets out of custody at the hospital is a great combination of creativity, quick-thinking, and good ol’ sharp fight skills. And of course, there’s the detail, that the medical assistant who helps her, is the same woman whom Hye Jin had shown kindness to, at Mango’s drug joint. This particular beat is very kdrama, I feel, but y’know, I like it. I like the idea that the good that you do, inspires others to repay the debt of kindness, sometimes when you least expect it.
I am relieved that Cha makes it, and I’m also glad that he wastes no time in telling Pil Do the truth about Hye Jin and her dad. Hye Jin’s in a difficult position, and it’s definitely better for her to have Pil Do on her side, than pitted against her.
Ahn Bo Hyun does a great job of showing us Pil Do’s complicated thoughts, as he processes this world-tilting information about Hye Jin. I mean, in his mind, one minute she’s a felon who’d stabbed Cha and left him for dead, and the next, she’s a victim whose father had been an undercover cop. It’s a lot, and Ahn Bo Hyun conveys very well, how every last gear in Pil Do’s head, is going at full speed, to try to keep up with the changing narrative.
Kudos too, to Han So Hee, because aside from her fantastic delivery of the complexity of Ji Woo’s grief in episode 1, I feel that her delivery of Hye Jin’s wild-eyed desperation this episode, is a close second, and some of her best work.
I like the idea of Pil Do coming at Hye Jin with compassion instead of animosity, and I like how they fight off those attackers from Dongcheon, and then take off in the getaway car that Butterfly Lady has provided. I also think it’s a nice touch that Pil Do takes Hye Jin to the beach because he remembers her talking about wanting to go.
I’m on board with the idea of the bed scene, even though my brain protests that it’s hard to believe that anyone would be in the mood for sexytimes, if they’ve been stabbed, but.. this is just how Show rolls, in that people in this drama world have the superhuman capacity to be highly functional despite serious bodily injury.
I can understand the idea of Pil Do and Hye Jin wanting to connect on a physical level, as an extension of the mutual understanding and acceptance that they’ve established. However, I have to confess that I’m not big on the execution of the scene itself. It looks rather awkward to my eyes, and some of it feels intentionally gratuitous, to me.
I think this scene would have benefited from a more restrained, less in-yo-face execution, because that would have kept the focus on the emotional connection between Pil Do and Hye Jin, without veering off into the relative sensationalism of lots of bare skin, which I felt didn’t serve much (if any) narrative purpose.
Although I find Choi’s agitated outburst a little hyperbolic in execution, I think I get the idea, that he’s always been emotionally invested in his friendship with Dong Hoon, and all of this – Dong Hoon’s death by Choi’s own hands, and Hye Jin’s quest for revenge – is finally coming to a head, with him reaching breaking point. In particular, I can believe that the idea that Dongcheon is possibly doomed because Hye Jin looks like she’s going to testify for the prosecution, would be a big contributing factor to Choi losing his composure in such a big way.
While Pil Do’s death feels like one of this genre’s favorite calling cards – build up the emotional connection, before unceremoniously ripping it away, for maximum emotional pain – I think the reasoning behind it is sound enough to get Show a pass on this front. I can buy the idea that Choi would want to kill Pil Do, for the sole purpose of getting Hye Jin away from the legal path she was about to embark on, and back on the path of rogue justice.
And Choi reads Hye Jin very accurately, too. It only takes the few seconds after Pil Do’s death, for Hye Jin to decide that she’s going to have to kill Choi with her own hands, after all.
The final showdown between Choi and Hye Jin is bloody, slashy and stabby, but above all, it’s emotional.
It’s clear that Choi’s out to prove a point; that Hye Jin won’t be able to kill him, just like her father hadn’t been able to kill him, while Hye Jin’s struggle, aside from fighting her own physical exhaustion, is to prove Choi wrong, and avenge her father’s death. Plus, now, it’s not just about avenging Dad, it’s about avenging Pil Do as well, who’d literally died because of his involvement with Hye Jin.
It feels like some kind of dark poetic justice, that Hye Jin ends up killing Choi, using the very skills that he’d taught her, once upon a time.
I’m a little disappointed that we don’t get to hear any final words from Choi before he breathes his last, and I also feel that it’s a stretch, that Hye Jin would be able to get away with killing Choi, after fighting him in his office with her bare hands and therefore surely leaving fingerprints behind. Also, there’s the thing where the CCTV in the building would have surely captured her entering the building and fighting her way to Choi’s office.
But.. that’s just not how Show rolls. This is a dark revenge fantasy, where details like these don’t actually matter; what matters is that Hye Jin got her revenge, and lived to tell the tale. I think we’re meant to just believe that she’s slippery and skilled enough to evade detection.
I did think it was a poetic touch, that we get to see Hye Jin visiting her family grave.
I was rather puzzled at first, by the placement of the third urn, because, given the situation, how could she have had access to anyone’s ashes, right? But I rationalize that perhaps she’s put an empty urn there, to represent Pil Do, along with his keys (because I’d hate to think that Hye Jin might have stolen Pil Do’s ashes out of his family grave 😳).
It’s a scene that’s rather sad to my eyes, because Hye Jin is all alone in the world, even as she stands there in that cemetery, and gazes upon her family. But the silver lining, I suppose, is the fact that her revenge is finally done, and even though Pil Do’s gone, she now sees him as family, and will always have him in her heart, as family.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Dark, slick and emotionally-driven. Solid, with the right lens.
FINAL GRADE: B+