If you are an honest drama viewer, you know that you never come to any new program with a clean slate. We all sift our dramas through our personal experience, belief and opinion sieves. This is something I’ve always known but once I began watching dramas, it was so glaringly obvious, at times I truly thought I might be crazy. For I’m not innately (nurture not nature) elitist or sexist or intolerant but somehow, when watching dramas, I realized there truly are people that I can’t understand no matter how hard I try and sometimes it’s based solely on what side of the planet we grew up on, what our parents taught us and how we choose to view the world through those lenses. That sentiment blew up again for me while watching this drama.
When I heard Lee Minho was doing City Hunter[which is now available on Dramafever] I was excited. I knew he’d have to truly step it up to even compare to the original work, but I was still hopeful to like it. I suppose I knew there was no way he’d be Saeba-san but as close as we can get, or something in the ballpark, I’d definitely be down for. But then, more and more was being released and said and talked about and with each new release, each new picture, I knew I couldn’t watch that drama… until this past weekend, when my drama buddy and I marathoned the last 13 episodes (we’re a mess, we know).
After, I finished, I knew I had to do an OMS post because, well, I just know there are others who felt the same I did. I just wanted you to know, oh you’re NOT ALONE!
1. New Adventures of City Hunter
I’m just going to say it…SBS’s City Hunter, should have NEVER been named City Hunter! I’m a purist by nature, so it’s always hard for me to deal with tweaks and changes to original pieces, but if done well, I can handle it. This wasn’t. From the onset, this show was nothing like the manga or the anime and for that I’m royally annoyed with the creators. If the show had been billed “in the same vein as” or “birthed from the idea/concept of” I could’ve dealt with it and moved on, but for the first five episodes I was just pissed it had nothing to do with the original piece.
But in episode 5, things started to make sense. The “city hunter” aspect started to take form and I cooled down a bit (though that didn’t last long). You see, the issue with naming a show after an original work, billing the show as it’s live adaptation but actually creating an entirely different show is just false advertisement. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy aspects of the drama but it isn’t until you get over the bad taste of expectation that you get a chance to accept the drama for what it is.
The truth is, the majority of my gripes deal with the original setup, because, though Lee Yoon Sung( Lee Min Ho) is considered the “city hunter,” he really isn’t. He is kind of thrust into this role and that in itself would be fine but in all actuality, would he even be “hunting the city” if not for his revenge endeavor? Wait for it… NO!
I will admit that it’s his investigation into the “men of the 1983 conspiracy” that opens his eyes to many of the issues going on in and around the city but his button of injustice is triggered by his commission to take those men down. I’m thankful that he was willing to do that, along with buckling the corruption of those in power but ultimately, it was all just a coincidence. All of the justice that was inevitably served was collateral damage. For, due to their initial acts, they had been able to acquire power, which made it easier for Yoon Sung to target them, but I postulate that they would have been targets even without their high ranking positions. And if this had been the case, there would be no city hunter.
2. City Hunter and the Love Crutch.
Romances in dramas can really drag a good thing down. And unfortunately most dramas are guilty of this. When the drama begins, we already know who the OTP is and Min Ho sells the love sick infatuation thing as Poochai, when he’s in Thailand, but after he lands in Korea, we as the audience, are to believe he’s spent 10 years training for his rampage of vengeance. Therefore, when he meets Kim Nana (Park Min Young) and his residual feelings resurface, though it’s understandable, it’s unrealistic. And like most things that begin from an odd point, everything kind of makes little sense from then on. For a man who was “supposed” to have revenge on his mind and a goal in place, he was too easily side-tracked by those sticky things we humans call emotions.
I know I’ve stated this before, but I love revenge dramas. This genre is one of my favorites and if romance is involved it’s always tortured, unrequited or just plain impossible. I like to see where the character’s motivation really lies– what is most important to them. In this drama, however, the romance angle should’ve taken much more of a backseat. For one, I never bought Lee Min Ho and Park Min Young as a couple. There was always something too buddy-buddy about them (on-screen). Therefore, I never believed that Yoon Sung and Nana should enter a relationship that involved “love.” I was, however, sold on them being partners. This idea didn’t kick into gear until episode 5 (when the show actually got interesting) but, it was rather clear that if these two characters stayed in their current state, a romance wasn’t possible. So what did the writers do? They changed Nana.
Kim Nana was never a favorite character of mine, one, being it was ludicrous for her to be qualified enough as a Presidential guard but also because she was overly assuming and critical (of others), nosy and loudmouth in her personal life. I found these facts annoyingly hilarious at first, which progressed into rich and pungent irritation, that then settled on insulting, when the shift in her character began. For once she was “in love” with Yoon Sung, she abandoned all these things for a period of time which made even less sense.
Another thing, would be that Yoon Sung is constantly warned by his father, not to fall in love or be strayed by love and was often proven to be right. I’m not saying that love is wrong or shouldn’t be tackled in a revenge story, it’s just the CH didn’t sell the need or believability for this one well at all. Everytime Yoon Sung would whine about protecting what was important to him I would roll my eyes. It wasn’t that this shouldn’t be a goal or even an aspiration but seriously the kid just had his priorities all out of whack. The drama never did a good job making his ties to anyone beyond Bae Ajussi (Kim Sang Ho) and his dad believable. Therefore, his emotional ties to varies people just didn’t click. Most of Yoon Sung’s rantings came across as the self-righteous whining of a puffed up grade-schooler, rather than a man truly against a wall fighting to protect those he loved.
3. A City Hunter Tackles Motherhood
I can’t imagine living twenty-eight years without knowing my mother, thinking she abandoned me, but most importantly, I can’t imagine my mother sitting around hoping I’d magically return after I was stolen from her. The circumstances surrounding the reality of kidnapping are sticky but in this drama, it was pretty cut and dry, therefore, from a woman’s perspective it makes so little sense that Lee Kyung Hee (Kim Mi Suk) remained clueless about Park Mu Yul’s (Park Sang Min) death, Lee Jin Pyo’s survival which lead to her son’s abduction and the President’s involvement.
Revealing bits of her past, makes Kyung Hee out to be a little savvier than the character we meet in the present. [I’m not sure if this was a last minute addition but I can’t say it was. Practically from the beginning of the drama, I had inklings they may pull that tired trick and they did, so I wasn’t surprised at all.] I’m not implying that because she had an affair, she’s a schemer or even a woman of the world but more that since she’s a woman who has made hard choices and been bullied, she actually had a mind of her own that she used on occasion. Also factoring in the fact that she was a barmaid and engaged in an extra-marital affair, she actually had guts and was progressive in her thinking.
Therefore, when we realize that she’s spent the past twenty-eight years just twiddling her thumbs, living like a pauper in sickness and poverty, it’s unnerving and confusing but most of all disappointing. Kyung Hee may have felt powerless but she wasn’t stupid. I felt she was ultimately without determination. I could understand if she had waited one year, maybe two for Jin Pyo to return, to wait for an answer or take his advice and move on but she did nothing. Nothing at all but mourn. She didn’t go to Choi Eun Chang(Chun Ho Jin) for answers or acquire the means to fund a worldwide search, instead she waited. She waited decades for someone to come to her. Does that sound logical? These actions aren’t that of a woman who loved her child or her husband. That statement is harsh but that’s how she’s portrayed.
As the audience, we are to pity her, for her feelings were disregarded and ignored, her family ripped from her within a matter of days and she’s spent all these years alone–but how has she spent those years? In the drama, people pitied her and if I didn’t know her circumstance, perhaps, I would have too. For, if she didn’t know who had her kid, what her husband and colleague did for a living or knew the PRESIDENT OF KOREA, perhaps I’d have more sympathy. Lee Kyung Hee’s characterization was just plain lazy. And this is yet another gripe I have with the depiction of women on-screen. Are we so fragile, so weak that we have no forethought, no follow-through? Can we really not function without someone else (mainly a man) guiding, protecting and instructing us?
Lee Kyung Hee was portrayed as hapless and helpless when she wasn’t at all. Yoon Sung makes a statement that she should’ve at least lived well over the years. And he was right. At least if she was going to wait, shouldn’t she have been presentable when the miracle occurred? I won’t say that she was the worst depiction of a mother or a female but she’s definitely the tip of the iceberg. Anytime I think of her, it’s plain laughable the questions she asked Eun Chang and Jin Pyo when she saw them again. Had she really not put the pieces together? Had she truly shut off her brain? Depression is one thing–actually, something I would acknowledge as a plausible factor, but nope CHdidn’t give me that straw either.
4. The City Hunter, Scapegoats and the Big Bad Wolf
There are two regular occurrences in Korean drama that I absolutely despise, no, detest: unnecessary redemption and the Big Nasty syndrome. [The first being giving the abhorred criminal mastermind (or maniacal crazed wench) an episode to cry and do one thing right, subsequently erasing all previous wrongs and the latter shoveling all wrongs in the lap of one character.] Both are ridiculous but the latter grinds my senses into dust. And yes, CH is guilty of this. The entire story is based (or set in motion rather) on an incident that happened with a secret military operation that led a set of officers literally dead in the water, assassinated by their own government. Lee Jin Pyo (Kim Sang Jung) was the only survivor and once he realized his friends and colleagues had been murdered, every action from that point on (on his part) was damage control, then later gave way to his thirst for retribution.
Creating a character with a one track mind is relatively difficult, because it’s fairly unbelievable. No one lives with one goal, one motivation, therefore, when characters like this surface, they innately ring false. What is worse, is when a character is hinted to being multifaceted but later drawn to be completely flat. Jin Pyo was a masterfully complicated man and for that I loved him. However, somewhere near the middle of CH (episode 12, I believe, in which I actually laughed out loud, it was that ridiculous), he got shafted and the audience (mainly me and my drama buddy) was bamboozled!
I will readily admit that Lee Jin Pyo was never painted in pinks and lavenders, with little rainbows and fairies flying around him, but he also, wasn’t the evil mastermind or diabolic assassin he was depicted as when the story began to wrap up. He was actually the only character I understood from episodes 1-20. His motivation made complete sense to me (it was Yoon Sung I didn’t get). Sure, Jin Pyo wanted to kill people but that was his form of revenge, eye for an eye. Like I said earlier, it’s rarely that easy and even Jin Pyo got a dose of that, but there was never a time that his method felt manufactured, until the final half of the series.
In the last few episodes, the drama decided to pin all of Yoon Sung’s problems on Jin Pyo and I felt that was a cop out. From the onset, Jin Pyo always made choices that were hard to stomach but appropriate to him, in his situation, given his occupation and life experience. I can’t say I agreed with him, but he earned my trust, which was more than Yoon Sung ever did. I found it appalling that Jin Pyo was a character so misunderstood by the hero, to the point that almost every problem was inevitably “his” fault, cause in the world of odds, this just isn’t plausible. What was even worse, the hero often belittled his pain and refused to acknowledge his heart in the matter.
Lee Jin Pyo was ruthless but rightfully so. He manipulated but only when pushed. These are actually traits of someone with integrity and a goal, whether or not emotionally misguided. CHunfortunately, twists Jin Pyo into a self-serving, bitter old man out to cripple and abuse everyone around him. Even in his last moments, no one acknowledges the fulfillment of Jin Pyo’s plan, rather, it’s seen as a desperate bid for redemption.
Jin Pyo’s ultimate sacrifice was inevitable and planned from the beginning in his mind and I often never understood Yoon Sung’s skirt of this issue. The relationship between father and son often chaffed me because Yoon Sung’s love for his father always seemed conditional. Jin Pyo was riddled with issues and a darkness that wafted his every move but his love for Mu Yul and Yoon Sung was ever-present.
Revenge dramas usually have a culprit or a catalyst and CH was no different, however, by the end of this story, the victim became the villain (falsely and unrealistically). On his shoulders the writers threw every conflict, hangup, hindrance and crime, short of killing his own friends. And that was downright disgusting.
5. The City Never Sleeps but a City Hunter Needs His Naps
One of the best things in revenge is the motivation and transformation of the character from naïve unreserved optimist to jaded realist. It’s when the character finally finds some backbone and eats of the bitterness of life. I relish these moments because it’s only a matter of time before payback is coming.
Yoon Sung on the other hand, never quite makes this leap. He always had one foot in Thailand (Poochai) and another in Korea (Yoon Sung), he never made a real choice. Once Yoon Sung makes it to Korea, I suppose this was his only huge transformation. I was looking for another in the second half but it never came. It felt as though they were leading us down that path but siked us out and doubled back. Don’t get me wrong, I actually felt his way of revenge was a better process, over Jin Pyo’s but he never proved as much. He also always made a point to point out that his method was better.
The character of Yoon Sung confused me because his actions and words were so different. He never truly was a man of his word. It’s true that initially he was a tool of Jin Pyo’s to take down his enemies but Yoon Sung never approached the situation in that matter, though he constantly blamed his predicament on Jin Pyo. It made more sense for him either to wholeheartedly take on the plight to avenge Mu Yul or play out the plan solely out of dedication and loyalty to his father (Jin Pyo). And though he perpetrated the former, Yoon Sung did neither.
6. City Hunter earns a cookie.
All my earlier points ripped at the foul stench of rotten portrayedCH but this last is an affirmation for something I feel the drama did well. Though there were plenty of things that didn’t sit well with me and this story, one thing the drama got right, was create a good foundation for a revenge, then fast-forward and reiterate a deserved punishment. The “incident of 1983” could have been an isolated occurrence, where those men never made another shoddy deal, lived with integrity and felt true remorse for the lives they ruined, but they did not. This fact made it easy to hate these men and left me stunned at the degree of their corruption.
Though four out of the five men were virtually one dimensional, the rampage upon their lives and careers felt well deserved and necessary. These men had lives, families and careers but the carnage they instigated and left behind was vial and senseless. The world and societal pressures in CH never give way to manipulate the viewer into blind understanding or sympathy (feigned or otherwise) of these men or corruption at large. Their goals and motivations may have been human and in the case of President Choi, even humane, but at the center were base and vacuous ideals that kept the drama’s city hunter vehicle afloat (in a good way).
Kim Young Ju(Lee Jung Hyuk) was a great representation of this. Though he wasn’t a favorite character of mine, his presence, motivation and turmoil as a human being was portrayed well. As a man, son, husband and do-gooder, his plight was palpable and real. There were several inconsistencies with his convictions, conclusions and results but CH made him the straight arrow and role model of Yoon Sung and that I can admit was translated pretty well. Young Ju wasn’t perfect but his goals were clear and his ideals set above and apart from almost everyone in the city he served. Though Young Ju and Yoon Sung won’t be able to fulfill their dreams of a better world together, their was a camaraderie in the last few episodes and moments between the characters, where they both seemed to understand that they were on the same side, fighting the same battle.
Giving CH this kind of character, as well as allowing Yoon Sung this type of (non) rival, sold the drama as an on-going topic of conversation, rather than a one hit wonder. It gives the viewer the sense that the true heroes are the ones that pave the way, more so than those that carry the torches and finish the race. Perhaps, CH wasn’t really about a man who becomes the city hunter but more a coming of age story about the revelation of destiny, fate, service or calling. When the series ends, Yoon Sung is given the opportunity to embark on a new life or rather an enlightened life and I can live with that. He gets to live the way he wanted– without the burdens of the past. Like I said, if this story was more about Yoon Sung’s future as a city hunter, this concept plays out very well. Therefore, his pivotal relationships were with Young Ju and Lee Jin Pyo, and that I can buy into.
I have to say that overall I realized that I watched a drama, from beginning to end, that really wasn’t made for me.
City Hunter is definitely on my “Meh” list of the year. It enters the ranks with Sign and Homicide, though thinking about it, I probably enjoyed those dramas a bit more (though they weren’t as well done). At times when you watch a drama you really don’t know what you didn’t like, or why you didn’t love it like others around you, but this drama isn’t one. CH didn’t live up to it’s name and truly never lived up to my expectation, even when I reluctantly let go of my initial desires. I won’t say I hated it, for I feel the entire cast did a wonderful job. The directing was great, the effects lived up to the hype and the stunts were well done. Shoot, I even sang along to a few of the OST tracks and absolutely loved the entire instrumental score. When thinking about the finished product, I can’t complain or denounce CH as a failure, because it wasn’t. I was entertained and actually sat through the entire series. But ultimately, I’ll never understand the unconditional love this drama receives, for admittedly, I’m just not a fan.