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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bad Guy (2010)


Bad Guy
나쁜 남자
(May – Aug 2010)


who’s in it
Kim JaeWook (Coffee Prince)
Kim NamGil (Queen SeonDuk)
Han GaIn (Witch Amusement)
Oh YunSoo (Jumong)
Jung SoMin (Playful Kiss)
Kim HyeOk (Sons of Sol Pharmacy)

what’s it about
Hell if I know.

I lie, I do know:

Kim NamGil is our Bad Guy, and I’m not killing the suspense by adding that the title is meant to be somewhat ironical. Obviously, our hero is not really evil since we drama viewers will need to find a reason to like him for 17 hours. I apologize, I’m already editorializing.

Back to the plot: as a child, Kim NamGil suffered a grave scar (literally and figuratively) at the hands of a rich and powerful family. This heartless family maneuvered the fates of people they considered below their social class and pretty much screwed everybody over. If you guessed “birth switching” story, congrats! Imagine confetti and balloons showering down around you in jubilee.

Kim NamGil grows up to become a stoic, brooding, and somewhat badass stuntman, one with a vendetta against the whole of the aforementioned rich and powerful Hong family. Like most pseudo-sociopaths, he’s nurtured this obsession to the point of actually believing that he wants it, when in actuality, he’s just crying on the inside. His hate runs fairly equal for the entire family, but for the sake of keeping it within 17 episodes, he gives special focus to the offspring: the tormented youngest bro Kim JaeWook (his doppelganger, although it could be argued Kim NamGil is actually Kim JaeWook’s doppelganger), older and uptight sis Oh YunSoo, and the youngest sis, tart Jung SoMin, who is the only one who seems relatively happy in the show (initially).

In Kim NamGil’s defense, this family does make revenge really easy for him. Lambs to the slaughter.

director
Lee HyunMin (Sorry, I Love You, Winter Sonata)

You can see where this is gonna go...can’t you?

screenwriter(s)
Kim JaeEun (IRIS)

commitment 
17 episodes

network
SBS

first impressions
Very stylized…cryptic. Cinematic, even. Any show that starts with a roof and a blood splat on the pavement below sets a tone, I do believe, and it’s not a cheerful one. For some reason, Old Boy popped into my head almost immediately, and that made me exceedingly anxious, as years later, I am still woefully traumatized by Park ChanWook’s psycho-claustrophobia-inducing revenge film. I hated that film. I really, really did. That movie had a lot of themes I loathe. It was an excellent film, to be sure, but I still hated it. What can I say? I’m a sensitive soul. Moving on.

The hero you’re supposed to root for:
Kim NamGil
He seemed like he was capable of carrying this thing…there was definitely some good eye-charisma being utilized at appropriate intervals.

The heroine you want to like but kinda maybe sorta don’t:
Han GaIn
As our main female protagonist, I found her a tad disappointing. As usual, her perfume was far too fragile to play any kind of a strong female role, but on the hopeful side, she did share with us some surprisingly intriguing emoting in the early scenes. She was reaching deep to find her inner “spurned woman looking to climb ambition’s ladder” character. This could be the role that will make me believe in the Han GaIn I want to like, but have not found yet in her previous works.

The tormented second female lead:
Oh YunSoo
Personally, I find her to be one of the most beautiful Korean actresses around and she is quite capable of doing heavy, so I knew she was going to be splendid here. No doubts in this corner.

The one that may steal the show:
Jo SungMin
This was an interesting new face, youthful and carefree, yet a hint of malice there as well. The perfect casting to play a young rich girl looking to rebel with the wrong guy. Even after only a couple hours time with Jo, I hoped her role would be encompassing enough for us to really sink our angst. She was quite a compelling character. Naïve yet callously cold.

The real reason why you’ll watch this drama:
Kim JaeWook
Okay, he totally blew my socks off (and I wasn’t even wearing socks at the time, now that’s talent). Who was this guy? Surely not that waffle dude from 1st Shop of Coffee Prince! Not that pretty boy from Antique Bakery! Oh, but it was! Who knew he could act—so feckin’ completely? When he broke down (which was often), I totally believed this guy was about to lose his mind, lunch, and all his internal organs. All that was missing from his acting was the “I’m about to go batshit” involuntary eye-twitching, which as you know, is physically impossible to manufacture on cue, even for veteran actors.

The whole setup for this drama was convoluted and filmed with such creative production that it felt like something special...

Besides, I needed to find out out why everyone was so damn upset.

wildcard
Kim JaeWook v. The Entire Show

Kim JaeWook was awesome and there were some other great performances scattered in there as well, but the show itself was a histrionic mess. Not only was it the kind of show that required constant rewinding—“WTF just happened?”—and constant leaning forward—“WTF did he say?”—but worse of all, many a times it simply MADE NO SENSE.

Start this one if you are ok with being unsatisfied by the end. If you’ve ever dated, you know the feeling I’m talking about. Think about it for a sec. Yep, that’s the one.

gave up

snoozer moments
The 75% of this drama that made no sense.

soju-guzzling
These people didn’t need alcohol’s aid to fall into a pool of their own vomit. They often collapsed to the ground in broad daylight completely sober. I could count on my hands the number of times there were happy.

what didn’t work
At first, I thought the fast editing and the cut-and-run storytelling style was creative and inspired. When they started to use it as a way to keep secrets from me, it became annoying. The heightened style itself would have been welcomed if it hadn’t been used as misdirection while the magician show performed its cheap tricks. It merely added more char to an already overcooked and difficult to swallow story. For a melodrama, it was missing a lot of actual drama that follows the melo. Oh don’t get me wrong, it had a great deal of wallowing music and indulged heavily on the slow motion nervous breakdowns, but it was all for naught. It evoked few genuine emotions. After all, it was all too plain to figure out where this story was headed. Yawn.

What else lacked luster? Han GaIn. I don’t know what it is about this pretty and petite actress, but she does not convince me of edgy ever. Maybe it’s her big puppy eyes but even with the Big-Girl-Bangs, she looked like she was a twelve year old pixie playing with the big boys. I couldn’t buy into her character. She was no Ha JiWon (Bali reference). Was Han GaIn’s portrayal of this good-girl-gone-gold-digger a limp try because it was beyond her ability OR were her character’s motives supposed to be this ambiguous and unreadable? I could not figure her character out at all. This woman was supposed to be deception upon vulnerability upon artlessness—and lots of inner disquietude at having to juggle the contradictions. But I never knew what her expressions were supposed to convey at any given moment. It was maddening. It was no wonder the men in the show couldn’t figure the girl out either. She was truly enigmatic…but not in that good way. Transparency is a good thing, people.

what did
Whoooosh.

Hear that? That would be the sound of Kim JaeWook stealing the show.

Oh, and Shim EunKyung, who played Han GaIn’s younger sis, was also kinda adorable and worth mentioning.


notable scene(s)
Like many tortured heroes, Kim JaeWook had major daddy-issues. I especially enjoyed this scene where Kim JaeWook tells off papa via the PA system, funny yet sad:



Also, how great is this shot of him as a small figure in front of the large glass building? There were some great shots exploring the external manifestation of Kim JaeWook’s loneliness (yeah, I may be stretching). One thing the show did do right was the painting of scenes. There were many very prettily shot moments.


what made me want to gouge my eyes out
Stupid paper cranes, fountain pens, and that damn glass mask—ok, the glass mask was a pretty decent allegory. Best case scenario, it was an erudite Man in the Iron Mask reference about doubles, deceptions, and emotional dungeons. Who was replaced and who was the real heir?

Worst case, it was an unintended coincidence, but they still got lucky with the allusion.

what kept me going
I’ve been really suffering from second-lead syndrome lately. I fall hard for the guy/girl that doesn’t get squat by the end. As many fans can probably relate, it’s hard to like a drama when you find yourself NOT rooting for the leads. So I finished this one feeling terribly bummed for Kim JaeWook’s character, who was the true victim in all of this. He had nothing to do with nothing in regards to the central “ugly” of the plot, but he was the one getting bitch-smacked every which way. Unfair!
______________________________

Other factors:
predictability Yes
engrish No
originality Hmmm...I’m gonna say no
eye-candy Kim JaeWook
hair and fashion N/A
______________________________

is it worth trying to find?
Perhaps, if only to witness Kim JaeWook giving his best performance to date

total enjoyment factor 
5/10

I’m going to take a second to explain my ratings. Dramas are long beasts so they are difficult to grade with a single number. Often, the ratings can [understandably] feel unjust. I wish I could grade them per episode, but that would be a ridiculous exercise. In the end, the numbers are based on the level of fulfillment a drama gives me by the end. The story, the characters, and this goes without saying, the way it wraps up. Bad Guy would have ranked much higher…maybe even a 7...but for the stupidity of the ending. Seriously. That’s just not a good way to go out. Contrived does not even begin to cover it. I felt completely manipulated.

Fellow drama fan and often a sounding board friend, clockwork, had this to say: “The whole drama was too stylized, trying to hide the fact that it had no substance. It also failed its other goal, which was trying to cater to both younger and older audiences both.”

I think that’s a fair sum up, and not just because I agree with it.

total disdain factor

why this review is completely biased
Frankly, I’m surprised I liked it enough to even give it a 5.

could a non-kdrama fan like this
Not a chance

verdict
I wouldn’t say the drama was a complete wash. We have Kim JaeWook giving us a head-turning wonderful depiction of a man struggling with his place in the world and the search for redemption. Worth it just to watch him really grow into his acting in this meaty role.

Thoughts on the conclusion, highlight between the brackets for spoiler text:

While I did not particularly care for the manner in which the show duct taped its loose ends, I grudgingly admit there was a certain poetry in Kim NamGil’s swan dive death. He had lived life without a name of his own, and so it was appropriate that even in his death, his name stayed elusive.

When his corpse was found, the only true fact that the police knew about him (and his body) was the only real thing we had all known about him in life: he had been a scarred man. Who had he been? A lie, really. Right before his death, he learned that everything he had believed as the truth had been a falsehood. He had lost his way. That was the native struggle of this show, the search for identity, and that was also the obvious tragedy because while Kim NamGil’s broken character was able to find his true name, he could never turn back time to find or become the person he should have been in the first place. 

The most perplexing question was the unanswered mystery, and frankly, the whole point of the drama: what had been Kim NamGil’s motives? Revenge? Had he really been a Bad Guy? Or had it all been a self-destructive effort to feel close to his lost family? Perhaps a revenge scheme concocted by a hurting child could never truly have been about revenge. This thought hovered tantalizingly at the end of the show, therefore I liked that Kim NamGil died without an identity, which was exactly how he had lived his life. Fitting end, yes, but my beef with it? Not delivered well. I still maintain that the manner in which we arrived there was too contrived. I think Bad Guy knew Kim NamGil had to die for the story to close, it simply couldn’t find the organic way to do it.

Anyway, that was the story we were supposed to care about from beginning to end, but for me, the show felt most human and real when it discussing Kim JaeWook’s loveless life. The most heartbreaking aspect of Kim’s story was, unlike Kim NamGil, he did not understand why he felt such the outsider. He grew up alone in a crowded family without ever understanding why there was such emptiness there. A color blind black flamingo in a sea of pink, senses he is different, but cannot figure out why (note: I am not claiming that flamingos are color blind). While both men spent a lifetime searching for understanding after being tossed away by their original parents...only one half of that tale felt truly sympathetic to me. }

Perhaps the inconsistencies in the story should be graded on a curve because the drama was forced to cut short due to Kim NamGil’s unexpected call for duty into the military, but me thinks three more episodes really would not have made that much of a difference anyway, not really.

3 comments:

  1. lol... you're too kind...
    I would have given it a lower score... you're right, about everything, as usual. and yes, KJW totally stealed the show.
    sigh. i don't even want to talk too much about this drama. it leaves me such a bad taste in my mouth. in its defense, the whole KNG to the army was quite a hurdle but even so, i think that even without the whole problem, it still wouldn't have faired much better. yes, i think i'm being unfair. but that's the drama's for making me want to gouge my eyes out.

    and yes... i never thought i would say this but i secretly wished this year was a bit less rich in terms of drama. not that i didn't enjoy the crazy ride but it was a crazily long uninterrupted ride, and that can be overwhelming. too much of anything can be hard to handle, even if it's too much of good. but i guess better that than a year of crappy nonsense (right??). i sincerely hope it hasn't used up all its quota of noteworthy dramas and that 2011 still has lots to offer.
    and omo... the joseon x-files are totally BRILLIANTLY written!!!!
    i'm so glad you checked it out. totally underrated if you ask me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bad Guy being one of my all time favs, I must come into it's defense. 4 points that got me hooked.

    1. Guy plays with 3 women(young innocent hotty, poor girl with a personality, and a strong noona business woman) He also flirts with the attractive grandma, which was funny and kind of hot. This is pretty much every guys fantasy, to taste different flavours of several women.
    2. Family love. Experience what it's like to have a brother. Seeing your family which you haven't seen for 20 years and reminiscing about the good and bad.
    3. Cinematography and soundtrack. Beautiful, so much chemistry between the two. I've never, never, never, seen a drama that was shot better than Bad Guy. If you're in to photography, it's must watch. The DP is a genius.
    4. The psycoticness of the lead. He loves, he misses, he hates, he wants revenge, he second guesses, he's crazy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All very good points, you defend your show well. Kim NamGil’s interplay with the different women was for sure one of the show’s more engaging ideas. And I do agree with you about the show’s cinematic style and music. In fact, 어디에 (Where) by 미 (Mi) was one of my favorite OST tracks of 2010.

      Delete

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