복면검사 (The Man in the Mask)

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복면검사 (The Man in the Mask)

KBS2 – 16 Episodes
A Kim Jonghak Productions Production
Timeslot: Wednesday and Thursday Evening, 10:00 PM
Genre: Procedural, Romantic Comedy
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 65 Minutes
Runs from: 2015/May/20~Jul/09

WITH 주상욱 (Ju Sang-Wook) as Ha Dae-Cheol; 김선아 (Kim Seon-Ah) as Yoo Min-Hee; 엄기준 (Eom Gi-Joon) as Kang Hyeon-Woong; 전광렬 (Jeon Gwang-Ryeol) as Jo Sang-Taek; 황선희 (Hwang Seon-Hee) as Seo Ri-Na; 이문식 (Lee Moon-Shik) as Jang Ho-Shik; 박영규 (Park Young-Gyu) as Jung Do-Seong); 이원종 (Lee Won-Jong) as Ji Dong-Chan; 노영학 (Noh Young-Hak) as Ha Dae-Cheol; 주다영 (Ju Da-Young) as Young Min-Hee; 김병춘 (Kim Byung-Choon) as Park Dong-Pyo; 홍석천 (Hong Seok-Cheon) as Pi Seong-Ho; 이기영 (Lee Gi-Young) as Kang Joong-Ho; 정애리 (Jung Ae-Ri) as Im Ji-Sook; 박정학 (Park Jung-Hak) as Lee Kang-Kwon; 

CREW Production Director 전산 (Jeon San) B-Team Director 김용수 (Kim Yong-Soo) Main Writer 최진원 (Choi Jin-Won) Executive Producer 손기원 (Son Gi-Won) Chief Producer 홍석구 (Hong Seok-Gu) Producer 안준용 (Ahn Joon-Yong) Director of Photography 권혁균 (Kwon Hyeok-Gyun) Lighting 임정훈 (Im Jung-Hoon) Editor Yellow Candy 선한샘 (Seon Han-Saem) Art Director KBS Artvision 최현서 (Choi Hyeon-Seo) Music 박성진 (Park Seong-Jin) Action Choreography Seoul Action School 정윤헌 (Jung Yoon-Heon) 송원종 (Song Won-Jong) Assistant Writer 김혜영 (Kim Hye-Young) Assistant Producer 유호준 (Yoo Ho-Joon) 이상현 (Lee Sang-Hyeon)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 6.6% (05/20 - E01)
LOWEST: 5.3% (07/02 - E14)
AVERAGE: 5.65%

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Photo ⓒ KBS, Kim Jonghak Productions

SYNOPSIS

By day, Ha Dae-chul is a by-the-rules prosecutor; however by night he becomes a masked vigilante seeking out criminals unpunished by the law. Also pursuing justice is violent crimes detective Yoo Min-hee, but will the two be allies or adversaries. [Wikipedia]

FIRST LOOK

I'd quote Battlestar Galactica and mention that infamous “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again,” but then I'd probably be assaulted by nostalgia and a slight case of inferiority complex as a student of the K-drama game. But yes! Seeing this industry stupidly pair people who have no business working together is not exactly unprecedented, and even the most optimistic out there understand that it's not a practice that will end anytime soon. We've seen this particularly for what concerns bad PD-writer combos – the most obvious would be Noh Hee-Kyung… and just about everyone she's worked with in the past, really. But sometimes it even happens for PDs sharing the director's chair. The most egregious example would be trendy shlockmeister Lee Jang-Soo at the tail end of his career being paired with Kim Jin-Min, pretty much the most talented Korean TV producer at the time (and I'm afraid he still retains that title, albeit Ahn Pan-Seok has been delivering a lot more as of late), in war melodrama 로드 넘버 원 (Road No. 1). Moments of brilliance and some of the best war sequences in Korean TV history living in a strange symbiosis with absolutely unwatchable tearjerking pap. It was like the bastard child of The Pacific and a Venezuelan telenovela from the 1980s.

A few years down the road and here we are at it again, in what's an eerily similar and equally dumbfounding pairing: Jeon San represents the kind of unassuming 1990s directing that now feels quite outdated – simply because back then writers ruled supreme, and all a director needed was to be technically proficient in as non-invasive a way as possible. He worked with greats like Jo So-Hye in 젊은이의 양지 (Our Sunny Days of Youth) and Kim Woon-Kyung in 파랑새는 있다 (Bluebirds), but I'd be hard pressed to call his directing style anything that jumped at you for its idiosyncrasies; he would simply do a honest job and depend on the quality (or lack thereof) of the writers he was paired with. Now Kim Yong-Soo is a whole different story: I hesitate to call him anything like a prodigy, because he's been with KBS a good 20 years and was only belatedly allowed to debut after a half decade of shockingly innovative shorts and mini-dramas. He's the epitome of the new breed of K-drama directors, much closer to the film industry for what concerns their artistic sensibility and ability to transcend the old role of the drama producer (especially through the use of visual storytelling). Kwak Jung-Hwan might have a more astute and pungent verve particularly when it comes to delivering a compelling message, but few are as capable of conveying emotions through visuals as Kim is.

Well, they paired these two together, like throwing olive oil and fresh water inside the same bucket. My only question is… why?

You can see the results right away: half of this show is so eager to break out and charmingly go all B-movie on us, it can barely keep it together. Kim even pays homage to Kim Ji-Woon's zany classic 반칙왕 (The Foul King) by having the young Dae-Cheol train in the same exact gym of the film, not to mention the fact the titular Asura X (played by Song Kang-Ho) subtly features in one of the promotional posters in the background – and sure enough, Lee Won-Jong played one of the wrestlers in the 2000 comedy. Whenever the drama winks at its genre potential (something I assume Kim is responsible for), it's brimming with the kind of spontaneous energy that is infinitely more endearing than the hyper, manufactured shenanigans that populate most trendy dramas broadcast today. Even the visual palette is refreshingly muted and somber, which would be the perfect canvas for smart B-movie superhero fare done Daredevil-style.

But alas, this is still a mainstream Korean drama trying to be a, well, “Korean Drama.” You know what I mean: we get the obligatory childhood phase littered with coincidences, fateful encounters and promises; we get heightened reality populated by one-dimensional characters whose main purpose is either that of eliciting emotions on the cheap or revolving around the main trio's characterization. So it's hard to be compelled by the interesting but ultimately derivative premise – of the much too pragmatic prosecutor by day donning a mask to fight for justice by night.

It's a bit like what happened to Kim's endearing but terminally flawed 아이언맨 (Iron Man): it takes a little more than a fascinating premise to build a satisfying story, particularly when you're way too concerned with shoving a dreaded “love line” down the viewers' throat, lest cheerleaders who've only come for their favourites might have to engage their brain for anything other than staring at the screen waiting for pretty faces to mug for the camera. In this case Kim is a little luckier on the acting side: Kim Seon-Ah and Ju Sang-Wook have been eternal underachievers, but their acting is functional – if a little insipid. Eom Gi-Joon and the other veterans do a lot better, and the other characters who have yet to make their appearance are mostly played by reliable performers (or promising youngsters who are still a bit rough around the edges but hardly offensive, like Hwang Seon-Hee), so we should be in good hands. It's too bad the script is so ordinary, so afraid of being something other than the usual we've come to expect from an industry that still annoyingly refuses to take itself seriously.

Ultimately this is not a bad show, and if Min-Hee's complete brushing-off of Dae-Cheol's fateful romantic calling means that the dreaded OTP will remain in the backburner for most of the story, it might even attempt at doing something other than putting obstacles in the way of two largely uninteresting people's petting charades. Perhaps it could aspire to become a simple drama, not just an empty star vehicle merely done for the sake of escapism. It would be a start, you know?

FINAL VERDICT

...but then they'd have to do something with that start.

By now it's become this industry's eternal conundrum: do you continue to pose as a “Korean drama” in the hope of somewhat recovering the public's favor, or do you grow up and join the rest of the world as a mature television industry, finally fulfilling your untapped potential? The question is all the more topical now that these shows no longer meet the approval (and most importantly earn the interest) of the public. You can belabor plot points of these soulless copycats and debate on who will end up with whom all you want, but fact is that Korean dramas have never been this irrelevant in the Korean entertainment's grand scheme of things, going all the way back to the early days of the medium in the mid 1950s. This level of indifference is unprecedented, as only a couple of home dramas manage to really score a blip on the radar of public acceptance. It's gotten so ridiculously bad that something like 프로듀사 (The Producers) and its scrawny low 10%'s average is heralded as some kind of flagbearer of a huge revolution – just because it made a little money with its inordinate amounts of PPL and Kim Soo-Hyun's drawing power in China. Flavor-of-the-month cheerleading sensibilities aside, that kind of mentality can only send you into a downward spiral, which is what has been happening in Yeouido since the end of 2007 – and I could make a political statement about that, but let's keep politics out of the equation for once.

I just refuse to accept that all you can subject someone of Kim Yong-Soo's talent to is this, yet another Korean Drama. By that I obviously mean something that starts eclectically winking at genre tropes to then predictably becoming a jumbled mess that tries to be something for everyone – a little bit of slapstick comedy here, the customary dose of fateful coincidences and semi-romantic shenanigans there, syrupy intrigue with villainous caricatures, action, tear-gas melodrama… there's everything. Nothing is done well though; nothing shows enough focus to be taken seriously or stand out on its own, and even the sum of all those parts leaves a lot to be desired, given the scatter-shot flow and lakc of thematic punch. I would even take a “jack of all trades, master of none” at this point, but nothing here ever manages to find any identity. So all you do is shift from one emotion to the other in a complete vacuum, with nothing cohesively connecting those moments, and nothing left for you to ponder at the end of their run. It's junk food, and now more than ever we need properly cooked, healthy food for thought.

펀치 (Punch), 풍문으로 들었소 (Heard it Through the Grapevine) and 앵그리맘 (Angry Mom), so far this year's most successful shows in critical terms, all share a few common traits: focus, and a refusal to adhere to facile Korean drama conventions like the dreaded OTP. For this show to work, it would have had to keep working on that B-movie ambiance, and treat everything else with a dead serious approach. But then there is no narrative focus, and the only character even remotely believable is Eom Gi-Joon's – as both leads wildly overact and bring down the proceedings a few notches whenever paired together, moments where the show goes from a somewhat watchable procedural to frivolous fluff.

Those who lap-up everything this industry throws at them like Pavlov's dogs without ever worrying about the consequences of their short-minded “affection” for this industry might continue enjoying the fruits of this sinking ship in blissful oblivion. But those of you out there who are not here to celebrate but to cerebrate know that it's no rocket science. These shows are scoring 5% for a simple reason: the only public that still sticks to Korean dramas – after the industry decimated its own audience by systematically killing diversity – is the dishwashing horde that demands makjang and little else. In the rare instance when Korean dramas venture out of their self-imposed narrative glass ceiling, stats indicate that a portion of those who abandoned the industry seem to be willing to make a skeptical and possibly short-lived comeback – all three aforementioned shows did significantly better than the usual 5-6%. Because they don't suck?

The market has been cornered by crap by now. So whenever you show up with something that's at least remotely intelligent, some people seem to notice and quality somewhat pays off. What do you say, isn't that worth trying?

Well, not this time. Once again, not this time.

ACTING GRADES

75 엄기준 (Eom Gi-Joon)
70 전광렬 (Jeon Gwang-Ryeol)
70 이기영 (Lee Gi-Young)
70 엄기준 (Eom Gi-Joon)
70 박영규 (Park Young-Gyu)
70 노영학 (Noh Young-Hak)
70 이원종 (Lee Won-Jong)
70 박정학 (Park Jung-Hak)
67 이문식 (Lee Moon-Shik)
65 정애리 (Jung Ae-Ri)
65 주다영 (Ju Da-Young)
61 황선희 (Hwang Seon-Hee)
60 주상욱 (Ju Sang-Wook)
57 김선아 (Kim Seon-Ah)
57 김병춘 (Kim Byung-Choon)
50 홍석천 (Hong Seok-Cheon)

57

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