Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

City Hunter (Siti Hyonteo)

Iris was my first Korean drama and it left a good enough impression on me that I knew that I would revisit the world of Korean drama again. This time I decided on a topic of revenge and City Hunter seemed to fit the bill. Why? Because revenge tales are always awesome. 

City Hunter is a 2011 drama loosely based on the 1985 manga of the same name. This particular telling of the story moves the events to Korea and changes some names and a bit of background around. I haven't read the manga (and I'm not even sure if it is available in English) so I don't know exactly what all changes there were, but I know there were plenty. 

In October of 1983 there was a covert mission led by South Korea to infiltrate North Korea and kill some pretty big heavy weights. The attack was in response to a terrorist attack from the North, but the orders for the counterattack were given without the president of South Korea's permission. Facing a possible international incident if the secret mission is discovered, a terrible decision is made by men with too much power. The five men who ordered the counterattack agree to a vow of silence and erase the existence of the 21 soldiers that they sent on the mission. 

With the soldiers lying dead in the waters of Nampo, the five men go on with their lives and ascend to further greatness. The story seems to end there before it could even begin. 

However, one of the soldiers survive the betrayal and makes a vow to enact a terrible revenge on those that betrayed him and his fellow soldiers. 

Lee Jin-pyo (Kim Sang-joong) manages to make his way back into South Korea and kidnaps the son of the man that saved his life in the Nampo waters. He then escapes to the Golden Triangle where he can train the ultimate soldier for his revenge. 

28 years later a young man named Lee Yoon-sung (Lee Min-ho) emerges from a car in South Korea after a recent trip to America. His instructions are clear: Infiltrate the Blue House, discover the identities of five particular men, and do not get attached to anyone. 

Despite (or because of) a rigid and harsh upbringing, Lee Yoon-sung is a bit different than his surrogate father and this causes a slight clash between the two. Both of them are after revenge, but it's how their methods differ that causes this friction. 

Lee Jin-pyo wants blood. Lee Yoon-sung wants justice. 

Adding to Lee Yoon-sung's troubles are an enchanting female bodyguard named Kim Na-na (Park Min-young) that wants to love him (and hate him) and a headstrong prosecutor named Kim Young-joo (Lee Joon-hyuk) that wants to put the heroic "City Hunter" behind bars. 

Life isn't easy for this aspiring hero. 

This series is twenty episodes and each episode has a runtime of an hour and a few minutes. The format is the same as it was for Iris and I really like this approach to making television shows. I suppose all Korean shows are like this and I hope they are because I plan on watching more Korean dramas. 

One thing about dramas that may make them a bit more of an acquired taste is that they do tend to be melodramatic. Almost like a soap opera. They have moments where they get absolutely over the top with the tears and lovey dovey stuff. Common sense even gets thrown out in favor of prolonging the story. 

It can be frustrating, but in a good way, I think. 

At the risk of contradicting myself, I will say that I think the pacing was pretty good. There was just the right amount of fluff to keep the action from seeming monotonous and the right amount of action to keep the fluff from completely losing the suspense of the entire episode. Of course, your mileage may vary. These types of shows want to provide an intense reaction in their audience so they really go for it all, no matter what. The dramatic scenes are absolute tearjerkers and the action scenes and fucking movie-level. There's no middle ground. There is a good deal of humor, but this isn't really a laugh out loud comedy. It's cute, though. You'll probably get a goofy smile on your face before your next cryfest. 

These types of series can wear thin for some people that don't have the patience to go from one extreme to the other. Some people watching this for only romance will be disappointed. Some people watching for only action will be disappointed. It's a hybrid. You'll either have an appreciation for it or not. I do. I don't mind the melodramatic and lovey dovey stuff because I've seen enough anime and movies from East Asia that it just clicks with me. 

The cast is rather exceptional and I especially liked Lee Min-ho, Lee Joon-hyuk, and Chun Ho-jin in their respective roles. The latter portrayed the president of South Korea 28 years after the events of 1983. Ironically, the actor Chun Ho-jin actually started his acting career in 1983. 

The only gripe I have with the series would be its ending. It's not that I didn't like it, but it could have been a lot more powerful. Ironically, if it had been more powerful I probably would have fucking hated the ending. You'll know what I mean when you see it. 

All in all, I was extremely impressed by this drama. It is excellent. Highly, highly recommended. I saw it on Netflix, but you are welcome to see where and how you want. You just might need to dole out some dollars to buy the DVD if you want to find it (ahem, "hunt" for it) on Amazon or YesAsia. Dramas are expensive. 

Most of the episodes end on an insane cliffhanger so I imagine some binge-watching will be in order. 

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