I love discussing dramas with other people, therefore, I’ve finally roped a buddy into agreeing to voyage on a new adventure with me. So, welcome ripgal, from Ripgal’s Insanity Haven *hoots and applause* I know, I know, I’m ecstatic to have her, mainly because though we agree fairly often, we have this uncanny way of disagreeing just as much. Therefore, we plan to just chat about the drama and hope to be entertaining and give a taste of what goes on in our heads as we watch dramas.
Thanks to ripgal, we’ve chosen Heartless/Cruel City, which from the look of things, promises to give us oodles to gawk and gab over.
Unnichan: So am I the only one excited? It’s Kyung-ho plus noir. Two very lovely topics of conversation!
Ripgal: Jung Kyung-ho fangirls unite, you know me right, eye-candy check!
Unnichan: Haha. So glad we can always count on you for that.
Ripgal: Of course chinggu, what is K-drama without the swooning and salivating? Life wouldn’t be life without my eye-candies. I’m that shallow.
Ripgal: …Okay better cut it and let you start off.
The city is hustling as undercover officer, Jo, looks over his shoulder and bustles through traffic and crowds. He’s being followed and calls his commanding officer, turned Superintendent Min Hong-gi (Son Chang-min) to inform him, underworld Kingpin Scale (Kim Byung-ok) has setup a meeting with the Chinese and he’s been made. They know the jig is up, so Min sends his people to the rendezvous but there’s no Jo in sight, until he falls from the sky, at the dismay of his retrievers. Atop the building, Jung Shi-yun aka The Doctor (Jung Kyung-ho) reports into his cell— “It’s done.”
At the memorial, Jo’s co-workers whisper about their ignorance of his post, when soon-to-be Prosecutor, Ji Hyung-min (Lee Jae-yoon) saunters up and has an aside with Min, who’s undeterred by this set back and appoints Ji charge of a new task force– Target: Scale. In his office, Min gives Hyung-min the specs on Scale’s organization and charges him with tracking down as much intel as possible. That night, Lee Kyung-mi (Go Na-eun) meets Hyung-min over dinner, eager to hear about his talk with Min. He deflects ’till the food arrives, then drops, he’s returning to the force. She immediately believes it’s for her and they argue, until she gets a call and runs out. Hyung-min follows taking the ring from a cake the waitress was about to roll out for them.
Yoon Soo-min (Nam Gyu-ri) shows up at her friend’s job to pick up her cellphone and minutes later, Kyung-mi bolts in to drag her out. She lights into her for being irresponsible and a burden while an embarrassed Soo-min tries to explain. But when Kyung-mi refuses to listen, resolves to prove her sister’s disappointment and Hyung-min drags her away.
Hyung-min comes correct at the opening unit meeting and gets directly down to business with the lowdown on Scale. The organization has hands in everything, from petty gangs to drugs, money lending to sex workers. And since Scale is just the figure-head, Hyung-min surmises their “in” is through organization leaders, Kim Choong-sup, aka Meth Kim and Park Tae-soo, aka Halibut.
Meanwhile, Scale’s next appointment walks in, Pres. Kim, with his son, as his secretaries drape plastic before them. In a game of eeny-meeny, Pres. Kim wins but tries to default to his son but that angers Scale more and he cracks a club over his head for squandering his money. Amidst vomit and blood, Scale promises son equal billing next time.
The team is staking out Donghae Construction, known as Scale’s money laundering facility. Their task is just to observe Birdie but when a father hands his daughter over to him as drug payment, Kyung-mi hops out in pursuit, Hyung-min hot on her tail. Luckily, with a briefly elevator brawl, Kyung-mi gets the girl, the team gets Birdie, with only one knife scrape between them. At the hospital, Huyng-min, tells Kyung-mi to quits, ’cause she’s his “woman” but she thinks he should go first. They try to interrogate Birdie but they’re sidestepped when word from above, a certain Prosecutor Ahn comes down. Birdie readies to fly the coop, when Hyung-min stops him long enough to promise they’ll meet again soon. And they do. Thanks to a tracking bug Hyung-min places on Birdie’s lapel, he leads him directly to Prosecutor Ahn. But before that, on the rooftop, Hyung-min pulls Kyung-mi close and asks why she became a cop. And with a smile she answers simply, “So when I laugh, the world laughs with me.”
Ahn reluctantly cooperates and meets Hyung-min at a public playground carrying incriminating pictures of Scale and Chairman Park Choong-mo. He wonders what Hyung-min’s endgame is and he replies— “In order to make the world safe for them (the kids), I have to rid the world of trash like you.” But Ahn counters — “Those kids create they world they want.” Later, Kyung-mi and Hyung-min reconvene in their spot as he looks out into the city and vows to track down the hidden ninety-five percent of illegal substances and abusers and squash them.
The Doctor is summoned before a glass throwing Scale, which the Doctor dodges, to Scale’s fury and they go for a redo. Scale needs his money, but the Doctor needs time. The only solution? The golf club. But the game is stopped short by Scale’s fatherly love and Baby Scale’s K-pop addiction. The Doctor waits at his money drop but no one shows, nor has he applied the badges he bought for his head, when Scale’s death window closes. So he sends Meth Kim to take care of it and gleeful satisfaction, he and Halibut set to elect a replacement. Halibut interrupts a half-naked Kim Hyun-soo(Yoon Hyun-min) with a “nark on Doctor” request. Soo feigns compilation but later relays the details to the Doctor. His response? It’s been eight long years, now it’s time to do some eating— “You kill or die. Let’s take it to the end.”
The Doctor’s crew goes into full swing, overthrow Halibut and zero in on Meth Kim to dethrone Scale. But the Doctor isn’t the only one who knows Halibut is the weakest link, ’cause he’s snatched by thug posing Hyung-min and with one blurry knife, knows all the biz. Nightfall. Furniture factory. News of loose lips travels fast and the Doctor dismisses his boys to live to fight another day and arrives alone. The Unit lays in wait for facial recognition when Kim arrives but once he enters the building, one man after the other falls victim to the Doctor’s fist or blade. Still outside, the team readies to unload, when a gunshot rings and a bloodied man steps through the doorway. The Unit breaks through to find the narrow entrance littered with suits and Hyung-min bolts into the night, as the Doctor slinks back into the city, Meth strapped in the backseat. Most are dead, some injured but Hyung-min manages to get the name of Mr. Mystery Attacker—-The Doctor’s Son.
Kyung-mi and Hyung-min sit in awe of one man immobilizing ten men in less than twenty minutes. But the question is why, until Hyung-min concludes, it must be a coup. The Doctor is a usurper. Meanwhile, Papa smiles, Baby Scale as he coos, “Appa jang!” during his personal girl group concert, when Soo kicks his way in and throws Meth at his foot. Then the Doctor saunters in— “Did you enjoy the performance?”
Unnichan: Going into this episode, I didn’t really know what to expect. Cable has come up and bit me so hard that at times I’m not sure if I’m just in a trance by the wonderlust or the dramas are really that good, you know? Plus, I was antsy about Jung Kyung-ho’s return but hesitant to whether Korea could hit the right note with a mafia drama. Then the drama started and all my anxiety flew far above this glittering city swaying before me.
Ripgal: I wasn’t really worried about Jung Kyung Ho’s return to the scene. I’ve always liked him as an actor and often thought he had more than what meets the eye, an intensity that never really got to explode through his earlier project choices, a fire waiting to break out. Though he isn’t as prominent or popular as others, there’s just something about him that makes him more than just a decent actor.
Unnichan: Oh I agree! I’ve liked him in every project I’ve seen and couldn’t wait to see him take on this role. I only scan a synopsis, if I’m curious enough and when I read he’d been the villain, I knew I had to see him take on this challenge.
Ripgal: And, Shi-hyun aka Professor/Doctor is the perfect comeback for Jung Kyung-ho, the actor. He doesn’t need another caricature, sweet boy-jerk role to add to his belt, I’m glad he’s trying something different. A character painted with shades, layers that we’re not quite sure of yet. A character that warrants exploration and understanding, despite what it entails.
Unnichan: Truly, when we’re tracking Jo, you know he’s doomed, then he falls from the sky… How the camera pans back and there’s The Doctor (Shi-hyun)? Ah! That was perfection. It’s this moment where he’s looking over the city like Batman or some other masked crusader and yet, we know, he has no intention of saving lives or ending mayhem, he is the mayhem.
Ripgal: I love your take on his overlooking of the city before him, a city loomed in darkness amidst the glittering and effervescent lights. He feels cold and empty, unwavering and passive… what is he trying to tell?
Unnichan: Well he isn’t the only one looking out into the city. Hyung-min takes a similar position but quite a different stance, don’t you think? It’s like he’s a part of the city, desire to be enveloped in it. Not in that “sweep me away” sense but like he enjoys the sights and sounds. We have a few scenes with both men in this position and Hyung-min always seems more intrigued and protective, while the Dr. at one point says my favorite line in the entire episode, “Soo, let’s swallow those streets.”
Ripgal: Good point about both Shi-hyun and Hyung-min! They are essentially looking at the same city, the same colorful blinding lights, and yet, they harbor such drastic feelings towards its massiveness.
Unnichan: I salivate over mafia stories. But I’m usually in love with the gangster. For some reason, cops turn me off most times, unless we have grey areas. True, real, gritty, muggy areas. This drama gives us that. Mostly because at present we have two guys, we have no reason to dislike, beyond their occupations and that’s not good enough, right? They’re both quick and shrewd and fearless.
Ripgal: As always, if you pit a gangster against a cop, their positions and stances will always differ, the splitting perspectives, always there. That’s why gangster genre always excite me, the exploration of justice done right, or justice to be pursued no matter in whatever means available, there is no black and white in definitive. To Shi-hyun, it’s justice, to Hyung Min, it’s justice all the same. Their positions differ, so do their perspectives of the same concept.
Unnichan: But we’re not really dealing with distinct foils right? The city is dark and dim and distant, from both perspectives.
Ripgal: Well, you could feel Shi-hyun’s lingering coldness towards the beauty before him, they mean nothing to him, probably a brutal reminder that no beauty exists without the sacrifice made behind. Hyung-min on the hand shows signs of hope and positivity. He looks into the city with a sense of belief and hope that someday, one day, things will be better for the city he lives in. Misguided faith some may call it, but somehow assuring.
Unnichan: So do you think that’s what we have here… despondency vs. altruism? ‘Cause I definitely say Hyung-min is a tad too arrogant for that. Not in a negative or off-putting way, but I think that’s what I actually like about Hyung-min— his arrogance. He’s a chauvinist too but what man isn’t when it comes to love?
Ripgal: I’m not sure writer is going full force on that argument, because I’m also on the boat that Hyung-min isn’t as saintly or magnanimous as we or some think. It’s perfectly fine because ain’t he human like us? I’m so far pretty okay with his so called arrogance and chauvinism because of my experience with Korean leading men and cops in general (in K-drama), they have to hold an opinion (an aggressive one!), they MUST or else they’ll be a wishy washy wuss, haha.
Unnichan: Which I suppose leads to his question to Kyung-mi about her reason for becoming a cop. They’re relationship is interesting. Or should I say, she is?
Ripgal: I’m not too comfy about him asserting his opinion on Kyung-mi though, for her safety sake or otherwise. I’m not sure I’d feel nice with people making decisions for me without consultation or discussion prior. They love each other and all, but I wish they’d shown us the talking things out part.
Unnichan: I agree with you here. My eyes narrowed quickly each time he said something dumb. She’s a POLICE OFFICER! I think as any independent female, it’s kind of this slap in the face that he has this “you’re my woman” thing going on. I also agree that we should have more talks but some reason I just chalked it up to how they love. That they mean the things they say, but they don’t believe it’s bigger than what they have.
Ripgal: Kyung-mi is also a pivotal character, I believe, a crucial trigger to the “grand” entrance of Soo-min (Nam Gyu-ri’s character) in coming episodes.
Unnichan: Oh heck yea Kyung-mi is pivotal! And did Kyung-mi’s Soo-min insinuation bother you at all? Already, I like Soo-min, just because I actually “felt” something for her. Big sis bursts in and throws all her dirty laundry in front of strangers and sexy Oppa (that perhaps she has a crush on?), without batting an eye or taking a breath, all self-assured and rash. Every time I see that scene I could kick her! As a big sister, it lights me up. She’s so clueless.
Ripgal: Awww, you noticed lil sis’s crush oh Hyung-min too? Why does everyone have to like everyone in dramas? How convenient, huh? But I’m gonna be a total sadist by making a prediction, that Kyung-mi may meet her demise sooner than expected, and in that bringing the trio Shi-hyun, Shi-hyun and Soo-min into the picture. It’s so obvious from the posters.
Unnichan: Ha! It’s convenient and icky. I’m beginning to believe that it’s not only a drama crutch but a societal issue that needs addressing (not having a mind of your own). But urmm… I’m not at all afraid to admit I’m a sadist to the core. I can’t wait ’till our key players are circling one another! I can definitely foresee how anything happening to Kyung-mi would change Hyung-min and Soo-min, exponentially, forever, yet I also recognize a great potential for her shattered innocence against the Dr.’s apathy.
Unnichan: But I am concerned that her death or whatever, may be a red herring. Call me sadistic (again) but wouldn’t that be gold? Not that the Dr. is any form of innocent but more that it begs the question, does it matter? Is justice, justice, as long as it’s just?
Ripgal: It’s a very strong hunch, and I hate it because I like Kyung-mi a lot. Red herring or not, I’m all for “something to happen”. Love it when dramas take us for a surprise ride.
Unnichan: I think I’m supposed to like her. She’s driven and opinionated, capable, I suppose. But she’s also assuming and hot-headed, reckless. Like when she ran in to “save” the little girl? She’s a little too much, too half-cocked, for my taste.
Ripgal: I like Kyung Mi, for the reasons you’ve stated. Not perfect cop material, but I think her traits and personality are just as warranted for being a cop, as Hyung-min. The urge and keen endeavor for pursuit of justice— I don’t have a problem with that. Though, I am not particularly hung up on why he likes her, plainly because it’s been presented to us from the very beginning (i.e. a writing device) for us to feel for both of them before something horrible happens to one of them. It’s a bit too convenient IMO but I’d rather have that than writing spent on too much lovey-dovey mushy stuff (I like my gangster noir hotsexy but no cheesy!). I do like them as a couple though, both actors are doing quite well with conveying the emotions of being in love.
Unnichan: Oh I couldn’t agree more! Buckets of sexy sexy, no bleeding hearts. Well, unless there’re bleeding hearts. But then again, I do love me some (substantial) tortured romances.
Unnichan: But seriously, Hyung-min and Kyung-mi are all sorts of adorable and in a perfect puppy filled playground, they’d last forever. But it’s almost like, even they know that’s never gonna happen. It’s the elephant they’ve named and sat on their couch, yet refuse to feed cause it may crap and make itself known or something. Weird analogy but you get it right? From the ring to their petty arguments, but they’re on the same team and they love each other, so it doesn’t matter. They understand one another, so it’ll all be fine.
Ripgal: Which in turn makes you more curious about and intrigued by Hyung-min’s back story, don’t you think? It’s rather interesting that drama chooses to start off with Hyung-min (at least a lot more emphasis is given to him), when Shi-hyun should be the main point of our show. But as the episode flows by, you somehow feel that it’s the right thing to do. The gradual building up of our protagonist, his character, his motivations and his back-story.
Unnichan: I liked that structure as well. Like we are introduced to him at a rainy funeral, he strolls up and we know— “Our hero has arrived!” But, Hyun-min is interesting because he’s in a perfect shell. He has all the makings of the greatest man on the planet but he’s human, he’s broken like everyone else. Yet at this point, we don’t quite know how deep or why.
Ripgal: By showing how capable Hyung-min is right off the bat, we’re automatically placed in a match of deceit and between these two main guys, how lovely. I particularly hate it when dramas purposely dumb down one to make the other the winner (you get me), I like it when 2 opponents are of equal caliber or at least are on the same level of playing field. Take for instance Hyung-min’s genius plan to extort (sort of) information from Halibut, even I was nearly fooled. I totally went, “NO!,” that’s not how cops are supposed to work! Ha!
Unnichan: Really? That’s hilarious. I wasn’t duped but definitely like that both men are crafty and like I said earlier, quick. I was trying to decide whether it was that “genius” element that Koreans love to use and perhaps it is, but I can’t discredit that Hyung-min is savvy. He connects dots at warped speed. Like when he and Kyung-mi are in the car. He’s thinking aloud, eliminating factors and she’s stumbling to keep up because she’s too “at face value.” Which I’m sure will get them in trouble someday.
Ripgal: His character arc is particularly intriguing, mainly due to his estranged relationship prosecutor dad, who has affiliations to people that he doesn’t like, people who are always on the wrong end of the law. That one rooftop scene with Kyung-mi sums it all up, that Hyung-min, aside from his already burning passion for what is right, has a mission to accomplish—to topple anything and everything related to drugs. It never occurred to me that narration of his, would slowly become the revealing motivation and driving force behind his actions. You could feel and see him all burned and heated up when things don’t go his way, and somehow, you sense all these mean something to him – it’s not just about catching the bad guys.
Unnichan: ‘Cause we all have stereotypes and misconceptions, right, but there’s a reason this man gave up one area of law enforcement to toil in the trenches in another. I mean he’s excellent at his job and I love him as a cop but I don’t know, he’s a big fish somehow. Sure, we could say it’s his “possibly” corrupt dad but am I wrong to believe there’s more? Or wait, am I back to my arrogance angle?
Ripgal: Haha! But, I feel that this arc will come into more importance in later eps, be a stumbling block to his job/position, or rather, a dilemma to his decisions in deciding who to side with later on. I used to think prosecutors and cops are or should be buddies best friends, so it’s rather refreshing, that this drama is painting a greyish picture of the relationship. In that, not all justice and fairness can be achieved without the other, and yet within that relationship, it’s not always all a bed of roses either.
Unnichan: Oooh stumbling blocks? Yes, please! Hyung-min has hang-ups and that conversation with Ahn did prick him. Basically, because the man had a point and don’t we all hate it when jerks make sense? I’ve actually seen that “separate” entities factor more than once in drama and I feel that’s closer to the reality of things. I mean, how can the police and prosecutors really be bffs? Even Law&Order didn’t sell that. It’s more like you said, that they need one another, therefore, they need(have) to work together. In life, I bring everything down to motive, for motive, makes or breaks any decisions, imo. Police and prosecutors, rarely have the same motives but their endgames usually line up, so they focus on that picture. It does shift conventional loyalties but that’s the game, right?
Unnichan: So, we finally get to talk about the other side of this coin. The Doctor is finally in! And instantly my favorite character. Like I said, from the first minutes of the drama, I knew I was going to love this kid. It’s not even that we know too much about him at present, but more that I already know I identify with him and his story will appeal the to me most.
Ripgal: I purposely wanted to leave Shi-hyun aka Dr. to the very last of our thoughts, because he’s such a fascinating character to probe and talk about. He’s not necessarily the most original or creative I’ve seen (we’ve seen so many similar constructs) but definitely is one penned and carved out with considerable effort. The drug lord successor, our main antagonist, the cold and unfeeling Dr. You want to know if there’s something more to his icy and calm exterior, you want to know who he is inside.
Unnichan: Is he unfeeling? I’m not there, yet. Cold, definitely but indifferent, no. He’s precise, decisive. Deliberate. There’s definitely more to him, but I’m not sure it’s what we want or imagine. Like Hyung-min, he doesn’t fit with a specific criteria or label, nor is he “not” a gangster, you know? It’s kind of like my issue with Hyung-min, something just isn’t right, but what?
Ripgal: The construct of Shi-hyun’s character is very similar to that I’ve seen in a lot of Chungmuro gangster films (see: Ha Jung Woo’s Nameless Gangster). The meshing of brutality and humanity, the blending in of righteousness and friendship into this world of darkness, such elements run equally deep in this drama.
Unnichan: It’s that idea that he’s different but the exactly the same. That there are absolutes in this world or at least one— humanity.
Ripgal: Shi-hyun is so disaffecting, calm and fearless, heartless without a blink. But yet you sense insecurity, vulnerability and an urge to break free. He is just as human as Hyung-min . I’m not sure if it’s because of my Jung Kyung-ho bias or because he’s doing such a fantastic job of showing that brewing vulnerability underneath, I cannot contain the overflowing feels I have for this man. Oh, I’m so dead, why do I always love mah gangsters? 😛
Unnichan: You’re not alone. There’s a whimsy with gangster/mafia characters, that I’m grateful this show has tapped. I respect Shi-hyun, already as a person and a leader for stepping up and taking action. But he’s also this rogue, lone wolf type. Perhaps it’s because I think he’s bold and irresistible. Not that he’s courageous because he just does what he has to do. It’s this dog-eat-dog world and he ain’t getting bit (i.e. the dodge), unless he wants to, you know? At one point he tells Soo that it’s (his coup d’etat) a necessary evil [not his exact words]. I loved it, because it’s blunt and factual (incidentally something else he has in common with Hyung-min). It comes back to his resolve, his acceptance of his world. And it’s up to us (the audience) to take the initiative to understand that world.
Ripgal: A lot of my favorite scenes in Ep 1 are scenes of Shi-hyun being alone, pondering pensively on his next course of action, against his drug-lord boss, he aims to topple. I question his motivations and drive, and I’m not very sure of what his ultimate goals are. He’s hard to read. But again, this might just be a game of survival, it doesn’t matter who you are where you are. It’s just how brutal and realistic life is, that it’s a man-eating survival of the strongest/fittest world we’re living in. Don’t wait until you’re eliminated, you take the first jab.
Unnichan: My favorite moments dealt with Meth Kim’s takedown; the corridor, the getaway. It’s calculated and taciturn, but assured and flawless. Undeniably sexy, of course, because it was a rhythmic hypnotic scene, yet ruthless with no hints of loathsome. How can you do that? Then the car just glides stealthily across the highway. That reserved slickness— all Kyung-ho. That depth without affect is what makes the girls swoon.
Ripgal: Bromance is overrated people say, but the term always gets to me. Shi-hyun may be the Dr. to everyone, shrewd and aloof, but I appreciate that he has a friend, Soo to make up for solitariness and loneliness. The way he confides in Soo, it’s endearing enough to get me all awww inside. I like that he does it in a very matter of fact way, as if Soo’s apart of his life, as if they’re in this world alone, and against it together. If something ever happens to this friend of his, I’m gonna cry a river!
Unnichan: Yes, yes and YES! The “in it alone” part resonates big time! And Soo all on his own is lovely. Everyone needs a “ride or die,” especially in this world, though I do wonder how long it will last. Get your tissues ready.
Unnichan: And, I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between a “bad boys” and a “bad man.” I don’t like “bad boys,” for the simple fact, I feel they’re idiots. But a “bad man” is a person I can venture to comprehend. For, I feel it comes down to the stereotype or misconception of the moniker, “bad” in regard to the actions of a man. In that, the word “bad” plus boy (guy) or man, is what changes it’s context and in turn, how the person is viewed. Therefore, a “bad man” may do what I consider “bad” things but in his world, those practices are normal and correct, even just. It doesn’t make him right, but I think a “bad man” knows that he lives in a subculture that he’s chosen to embrace, hence he practices, it’s justice and abides within its laws. While, a “bad boy (guy)” is just the bane of all human existence.
Ripgal: Wow, great take on the distinction because it makes perfect sense and I fully agree with you. You’ve put a lot of thought into that, huh chinggu?
Unnichan: *sheepish grin* Well, I am quite a pensive gal…