KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hero (2009)


(Nov 2009 – Jan 2010)

who’s in it
Lee JunKi (Iljimae, Time Between Dog and Wolf)
Uhm KiJoon (World Within)
Yoon SoYi
Baek YoonShik (Harvest Villa)

what’s it about
If politicians represent the will of the people and the media serves as the voice of the people—what happens when things get lost in translation? In an ideal world, a politician is a servant of democracy and the role of the media is to be an unbiased watchdog for the truth, but society isn’t perfect and neither are the people in it. This is a truth of all nations, of course. Corruption cannot be denied, we must accept that pockets of wrongdoing must certainly exist in all areas of our modern life, especially in our politics, for we are all human beings and that makes us weak to greed, lust and jealousies. Certainly it is true that individuals can become corrupt but the landscape as a whole can still be free of dirt, but what if the problem is systemic? What happens when many powerful arms join forces in that breach of trust with the public they serve? Do they become unstoppable? If our world leaders, our press and our law moved against us as one unit to pursue their own agendas, would there any hope for the average citizen to find justice against them?

That is the question Lee JunKi finds himself facing in this comedy that wants to make you laugh, but also wants to ask some somber questions. Lee JunKi plays a struggling, celebrity-chasing tabloid reporter for Monday Seoul, but he has a dark past and yet a better reason for pursuing journalism, and it isn’t to hit on kpop idol hotties like KARA. When he unwittingly gets involved in the vengeful affairs between an organized crime boss just released from prison after 15 years and an old high school rival and fellow newspaper man, this paparazzi guy begins to realize it is time to remember why he became a reporter in the first place.

Opposite our goofy, rule-breaking reporter in every way, Yoon SoYi plays a straight-laced and conservative lieutenant of a criminal investigations unit who dislikes Lee JunKi on first sight. Needless to say, as their respective pursuit for the truth merge as one unified goal, these two realize there is a broad gap between the justice told to the public and the injustice that lies just behind that false screen.

16 episodes


wildcard factor
This one’s a feel good drama that provides way too much expository dialogue...a lot of deep thinking is not required to follow along, as everything is spelled out every step of the way, and depending on your point of view, this can be considered a good thing or a bad thing. What would be a good comparison? I would say…it feels a lot like a satisfying Disney movie where good people go up against some really bad people, and against the odds, they are able to make a meaningful difference in the world.

first impressions
What is it with Lee JunKi and totally damaged characters hemorrhaging on the inside but smiling on the outside? I tell you what, I dunno and I don’t care why he gravitates toward these Robin Hood/Iljimae-esque roles because God bless him for it, as this is my favorite type of dark hero on him. He was pure melodramatic awesomeness in Time Between Dog and Wolf…here, he completely sheds that cool super spy image and adopts a less machismo one, a somewhat wimpy sort of fellow that isn’t his usual archetype. It’s impossible to ever completely forget that it’s Lee JunKi we’re watching, naturally, because Lee JunKi is Lee JunKi (I mean, it’s like someone handing you a piece of chocolate and telling you it’s supposed to be a zucchini), but for the first time I saw less of action A-List Hallyu superstar Lee JunKi and more of a normal guy, one that isn’t immune to moments of sniveling and cowardice. And I liked it.

I wasn’t a fan of this drama’s rather exaggerated start but I found the story of the abandoned crime boss and his quiet determination for justice rather mysterious enough to continue onto the second and third episodes. I was fairly positive I knew where this show was going, but it was engaging enough to keep me from turning it off. I’m not sure this one is for everybody, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s going to be one of those change-my-life type of offerings, but I can see an abundance of heart about to come just around the corner.

Quickly, I will add, I wasn’t sure how I felt about last-minute-casting Yoon SoYi and her portrayal of the female detective as yet. I thought her performance was a little on the weak side, but she seemed capable enough to improve once she became more comfortable in the role…

gave up

snoozer moments
A constant tendency for the characters to delight in overly preachy talk about the power of the press, the reach of grassroots activism and the amazing impact that a single person can have on the psyche of an entire nation…very inspiring, indeed, but at times, a little to bluntly presented, as blunt as an after school special extolling the importance of civic duty.

Yes, occasionally, especially when Lee JunKi and company were feeling overly oppressed by The Man. In fact, there is one particular scene that comes to mind where a drunky Lee JunKi begins harassing a young couple about the errors of neglecting their duties as socially responsible citizens...the way the scene is shot, it really comes across as the show pleading with the viewership (ROK) to be more participatory in current affairs. While I commend the noble message, as I mentioned in the snoozer moments, sometimes it was overmuch, this in-yo-face “the moral of this drama is” type of obvious ministry. I would have preferred a much more deft approach...it would also have made the drama more compelling.

what didn’t work
Not so much what didn’t work but more who was merely satisfactory. Yoon SoYi, who jumped into the role when Kim MinJung vacated after an injury, did not have the strongest showing. She was an adequate female lead, in that she was attractive and pleasant to watch, but she did not quite fit the character or convincingly play the role of a detective of the streets. She was never completely believable as a criminal investigation team leader driven by duty and obligation. The blame might partly rest with a blandly written female character, but I also think the actress wasn’t the best choice for the part. This is not a slight against her acting ability, only the observation that actors can be compared to clothing in that there is a wide assortment of types, and some outfits are best fit for certain occasions while not for others. Not all actors can fill every role, due to no fault of their own, but simply because. Playing tough cop aside, luckily, she managed to have some cute chemistry with Lee JunKi.

what did
Uhm KiJoon. As Lee JunKi’s badass evil half, I thought he was really good here in this intensely complicated bad guy persona. He served as an example of what could have gone wrong had Lee JunKi taken a different path in life. Uhm KiJoon was villainously dislikable, which was the point, but also a character obscured in so much darkness it was difficult to read him clearly—and I mean “obscured” in a good way. Very interesting, this kind of ambiguous character shading. There was a sliver of light to him, a small glimmer of doubt as to his true identity, and that was really the most inriguing part of this show, this one character’s instability. I liked the way Uhm portrayed this completely dispicable character without remorse, but somehow managed to convey vulnerability without compromising that core corruption within the character.

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
If I may be super shallow for a moment, I want to say that I don’t know what they did to poor Lee JunKi, but he was not looking his best here. He had fried hair the color of burnt apricots, a pallid complexion that made him a bit sickly in appearance, and on top of that, they dressed him in overly bulky attire that made his profile seem oddly lumpy. As Yoon SoYi’s herself comments in the drama, he was not unlike a neighborhood ahjumma in presentation. Come on, people! Lee JunKi couldn’t save the world with his usual perfect black hair? Hmmm? Oh, alright, fine, I give. I suppose the orange hair was an effort to de-glamorize him. And I can’t really complain as it worked. He was definitely yanked down to earth.

what kept me going

Stories about underdogs daring to achieve the unthinkable, of Davids trying to slay Goliaths, of little trains thinking they can…they are lovable shows. Tales about people fighting to right a wrong is a bait that always makes for a good hook. And I was a fish that took the bite. Lee JunKi and his colleagues were so unjustly treated at every turn, I wanted to see them prevail at the end.

Other factors:
predictability Very, very much predictable. There was no doubt whatsoever that our heroes would perservere and eventually find vindication, and in that regard, the show was lacking. Its biggest weakness was this very predictability, this lack of any real suspense. But I suppose this drama was never about being a thrill ride but an overly sincere commentary about the abuse of power, maybe even a call for citizens to be more proactive about the politics of their nation instead of simply handing off the keys to someone else. A call for ROK’s citizens to move beyond being a victim but participate and take charge of their future. Possibly something like that with a pinch of dramatic liberties thrown it. Let’s say Hero didn’t paint the most flattering picture of the South Korean justice system. Like I mentioned above, a little preachy, this one, and not in very subtle language either.
engrish Not really
originality Not really
eye-candy Hmmm…I’d have to say, not really
hair and fashion Definitely not a high priority

is it worth trying to find?
Well…plainly speaking? Not really. It was enjoyable for what it was, but it wasn’t a fantastic watch. There were definite highlights, such as the seething relationship between our hero and his archrival, or the tender mother-daughter moments between Yoon SoYi snd Lee HyeSook, or even the tentative romance between Lee JunKi and Yoon SoYi, which were nice interludes between the “justice for all!” main story line (although romance was not a deeply explored aspect of the drama)…

...but after a while, this whole thing started to feel less about the characters and only about the power of the pen and the movement of information, which sure, I think is something everyone can appreciate in this age of netizens and bloggers—a new vital world where information is so widely and speedily shared—but the message was perhaps too simple and too commonplace. I might have liked this one more had there been something a bit more insightful than what was eventually offered.  

total enjoyment factor 

total disdain factor

why this review is completely biased
I have an inclination to be soft when it comes to Lee JunKi, but I watched this one with relative objectivity. In fact, I imagine my rating could be considered rather low, perhaps a little insulting in the eyes of Hero fans. But it isn’t my intention to disregard the value of this safe and easy-to-like show, one that wrapped up very nicely and left me with a positive afterglow. But I gave it such an average review because when I thought about this drama as a whole, while it was watchable, it was not especially memorable.

could a non-kdrama fan like this

Lee Junki fans won’t be disappointed, others might be less enthused by it. Hero had a good message, decent story and despite its tendency for bombastic heart-to-hearts, it ended on a meaningful and affecting note. I wish there’d been more time spent on developing Lee JunKi and Yoon SoYi’s relationship...I wish there’d been more to the adversity Lee JunKi faced than a battle against The Big Corporation...I even wish we’d been given more time with the other characters, including our mega-anti-hero Uhm KiJoon...but then again, maybe civil participation is a worthy enough message to stand alone.

I’ll end this review with one of my favorite interactions from the drama:

Lee JunKi has just come home after being beaten to a pulp by some bad guys. When his niece, who is played adorably by Kim HyangGi, sees his condition, she asks, “Uncle! Did you get into a fight?!” Lee JunKi replies, “No! Is your uncle the type to get into fights?” The little girl snorts, “So what? You just stood there while they beat you?”

It’s funny because that’s exactly what happened! Heh. Maybe it’s one of those scenes that needs to be watched to be appreciated. Oh, I dunno why, maybe I’m just weird, for some reason that just cracked me up.

1 comment:

  1. lol... i gave it up too... TT
    BUT i plan on finishing it one day.. cuz it's leejunki.. and i feel too sad that it got low ratings and i always support underdog dramas so ill definitely finish it. may LJK come back soon to us!!
    (ps: i do LOVE him in TODAW but i thought he was handsomest in fly daddy fly. and zucchinis are yummy)


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