So one of my favourite-ever podcasts, The Horror Virgin (in which two people force their friend to watch horror movies even though he’s terrified of them), has a blog and I wrote a little something on my favourite horror kdramas!
Some stray thoughts while watching this show through the lucid lurgy of my covid booster jab (please get it if you’re able to) that turned into a recap of sorts:
First: them opening credits are suitably mental.
…As was that trippy opening sequence with the Fight Club-esque boxing nightmare (I’d thought it was real from the previews) that sets up the Anti-Corruption Unit’s Senior Inspector Ryu Su Yeol‘s social positioning nicely: He thinks he’s got (literal) clout, and it seems like people are in his corner, but they just want to use him for their own ends.
Writer: How do we show how reckless this idiot is? Let’s have him wake up in a bathtub FULL of water, then traipse around his flat in soaking wet clothes and then fall over like a dickhead:
Su Yeol finds his car damaged, so he Karens off to the security office to demand to see the CCTV footage… which shows it’s actually him that did it. I’m glad we’re already touching on this.
[Why would you go to work right after not remembering that you trashed your own car? Did he just think he was that wasted?]
He whines to himself about still having to make car payments when he runs into his ex Hee Kyum, who immediately calls him out about screwing over her captain just so he could get promoted. When he tries to make her feel small by bringing up their break-up (ew) and that he’s her senior (double ew), she tells him he’s the problem. He tries to snark his way out of it but she’s not having any of it and flips him effortlessly to the ground. I love how she flips the back of her jacket like it’s a superhero cape as she leaves. Like a cat pretending it didn’t fall over, he jokes that she was “practicing her kicks” outside. Yeah, no-one’s buying that.
At work and he’s late (obviously). His partner Jae Seon asks if he drank last night. “Hey, that’s not important.” Ha.
The man they’ve brought in for questioning is already there, and Su Yeol makes up a flimsy excuse for his lateness about the cafe being busy. [He really is the person who shows up late with a Starbucks.] But at least he brought coffee for everyone. Iced americanos, though. Cheapskate. The man they’re questioning is Kim Gye Sik. Su Yeol extends a hand but it’s met with an icy stare from Kim Gye Sik, who points out that this “isn’t exactly an honourable situation, is it?”.
Su Yeol tries to look like he’s defusing any tension but with the emotional expertise of an external HR consultant coming in to fire everyone. He offers condolences for what happened to Gye Sik’s slain colleague Tak Min Su, but he’s watching the other man’s behaviour. Gye Sik recalls the situation: he saw Min Su fall from a height, saw the suspect fleeing and shot him, but the suspect, too, fell to his death. Cut to the present and Gye Sik is distraught, but Su Yeol has this look on his face that he can’t wait for the other guy to stop crying. Out of context, he looks like the world’s biggest arsehole.
Su Yeol mentions that the suspect, Sim Sang Ho, was close to Min Su, even helping him get clean from drugs. Gye Sik dismisses this by mentioning the suspect’s drug history (implying potential for violence), and that he only shot him in the leg. But Su Yeol pokes holes in his story – the suspect had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time, and was on the edge of a rooftop with no railings, and that any DNA evidence of the killing was washed away by the rain – effectively accusing Gye Sik of murdering his own partner and covering it up. Whoa – that’s a really heavy accusation. Two older cops – the Chief and the Commissioner – on the other side of the room’s two-way mirror mention in the same breath that Gye Sik is the best cop in narcotics, but that his ego was getting too big and that he pissed off the Commissioner’s nephew. So this is all politics.
In what’s probably not even midday yet, Su Yeol drinks expensive whiskey in Chief Kwak Bom Pil‘s office, the latter stringing the former along with talk of promotion. He calls Su Yeol a “fox” (heh) for pretending not to know he was drinking with the Commissioner’s nephew last night.
Drink every time Su Yeol complains about his back. But, at the sauna, he complains to himself about Hee Kyum’s silver-spoon upbringing and why she can’t just live comfortably and quietly. On the verge of a steam-room haze, he notices a dude in full motorcycle leathers and a bike helmet, and his first instinct is to think it’s a delivery man. Ha. He is here to deliver, but not food – he silently walks up to Su Yeol (without slipping), and immediately beats the shit out of him – throwing him on the floor, hurling him against a sink so hard it breaks, rubbing salt in his eyes, garrotting him with a shower hose and spraying him with scalding hot water and, finally, sucker-punching him into the pool. He sinks into the water, and we’re right back where we started.
It’s the perfect place to put that title card. Chef’s kiss!
Time to meet our wholesome cinnamon bun character: Officer Oh Kyung Tae, whose presence is so threatening that a gaggle of tiny children smash into him and almost knock him over, but he responds with a genuine smile. He spots a young girl putting up a poster and is about to gently tell her it’s not allowed when he notices it’s a missing poster – and that the missing person is the girl’s mother. Oh 😦
Kyung Tae takes her to the station and meets Do In Bom, the detective assigned to the mother’s case, who dismisses the woman as a runaway drug addict because of her past. He asks Kyung Tae why he cares. That’s like asking a rainbow why it’s so colourful.
As a palate cleanser, we’re back to this dickhead Su Yeol Karenning it up at the sauna’s front desk (he legit asks to speak to a manager), complaining about the man in the helmet and why they can’t find him on their CCVTV, and keeps repeating that the attacker even wore his shoes in there. The poor minimum-waged employee apologises repeatedly and tries to placate him with a refund, but Su Yeol is insulted by the offer and argues that it’s not about the money, it’s about the principle of running a business properly. He’s interrupted by a phone call from Bom Pil and, sensing he’s about to get promoted, his mood/ego lifts. He brags about how busy he is, berates the employee for treating a long-term customer this way and repeats his disgust at the offer of a refund as he storms off… only to return seconds later to change his mind. When he can’t produce the original credit card he paid with, he ragequits, stage left. Ha!
Back to Cinnamon Bun Kyung Tae, who’s walking the little girl home while carrying her little purple backpack for her. She tells him that her mother would always message her every day, even when she was abroad, but that she’s never been to her mother’s place because she’s “busy”. If that implies what I think it does, I wish things were safer for that line of work. He promises to find her mother and she offers a clover leaf she found and an adorable smile in response. Please protect these two at all costs.
Back again to our favourite dickhead, whose day is marred by the arrival of an even bigger dickhead, Senior Inspector Ju, in a garish yellow Porsche (“I bought it to celebrate my son’s first birthday.”). Su Yeol teabags Ju with his impending promotion, only for Jae Seon to maniacally run over to him and basically break it to him that… he’s not getting promoted. It’s Ju, and it’s the only reason he’s here.
In Bom Pil’s office, Su Yeol is seething. In what seems to be an office tradition of saying abject bullshit and expecting the other person to believe it, Bom Pil explains that Ju’s father is childhood friends with the Commissioner. An enraged Su Yeol points out that there’s no way that’s possible since the two grew up around 3 hours away from each other. Bom Pil just deadpans “Good point”. Lmao. Su Yeol isn’t happy, but Bom Pil negs Su Yeol with a rundown of his history: He got the highest score on his entrance exam, but he only graduated high school, never went to college, and wasn’t born with wealth or any of its connections. He tells Su Yeol he needs a “reality check”, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone want to chew off their own lip so angrily.
Kyung Tae and his colleagues discuss the girl’s missing mother, named Jeong Yu Na. They, too, write her off as a drug addict/runaway that doesn’t need bothering with. Sigh. They joke that they usually just deal with missing cats (is that a Strangers From Hell reference?). A diligent Kyung Tae isn’t giving up, and forgoes a rather sad-looking bowl of jiajangmyeon to rush off when he gets a lead: He’s found the building where Yu Na lived.
The night-time security guard tells him he doesn’t remember Yu Na and that he doesn’t have time to help (hmm). He then runs into a resident who tells him Yu Na’s unit number, and he has a locksmith come to basically break in, while the security guard dobs him in over the phone. Oh, Officer Oh, can you please be careful?
Inside, the flat is quite homey. I like the set details: plenty of stiletto heels in the hall, a full bar cubbyhole stacked with top-shelf booze, a cozy couch and cute photos of Yu Na and her daughter, but a sad little kitchen area with run-down, stained appliances. Kyung Tae smells bleach in the bathroom and, on instinct, lifts up the drain to find a clump of hair mixed with blood. Bingo.
In pops Detective Do who doesn’t say anything – but instead brutally, and I mean brutally – attacks Kyung Tae. It’s horrifying to watch.
The next morning, Bom Pil calls Su Yeol into his office and, picking from a box of colourful macarons, offers him the yellow one (heh). Su Yeol declines, his ego still bruised from before, but perks up when Bom Pil tells him of an opportunity to curry favour with Assemblyman Do – yep, the cousin of that Detective Do. Su Yeol declines, citing Detective Do’s famous reputation as a “ticking time bomb”, but caves when he finds out that the Assemblyman specifically requested a meeting with him.
I understand networking among people who rank higher than you but, fuck me, I wasn’t prepared for the level of second-hand cringe in this scene. At his brother’s pizza shop, a simpering Su Yeol greets Assemblyman Do with a drink on a tray. Assemblyman Do sits but Su Yeol remains standing, snivelling, bowing, bursting out fake laughs, and the already existing, significant height difference between the two makes this darkly comical. It’s like watching a giraffe squash champagne grapes for a hamster.
Su Yeol promises to smooth things over and sees him off with another bow. In walk his older brother Dong Yeol and mother, and Su Yeol chides the both of them for having her come in when she’s still recovering from the back surgery he paid for. Mother Ryu replies that she said she’d pay him back, and Dong Yeol mentions that Su Yeol is so caring and technically the family breadwinner since he also opened up the shop for him. Su Yeol seems exasperated by all of this talk, as does Mother Ryu, who starts swatting the older brother with a rag. Su Yeol hands Mother Ryu a menu and tells her to “hit him harder”. Ha! I don’t think there’s a lack of love in this family.
Su Yeol and Jae Seon arrive at Kyung Tae’s substation, and the former yells at the latter for making the station head wait outside for them. Su Yeol tries his “it’s just a chat” line but his face drops when he sees Kyung Tae’s – it’s so bruised, bloodied and swollen that on such an innocent-looking face as Kyung Tae’s, even a wankering bastard like Su Yeol feels a twinge of sympathy.
Thankfully, for Su Yeol’s ruthless assholerypirations, this goes out the window when he “chats” to Kyung Tae about what happened. When Su Yeol becomes yet another voice to ask “Why are you bothering?”, Kyung Tae can only answer with the truth: that he’s a police officer, and that he just wanted to help because he’s a police officer. Su Yeol dickheads back with “You think you’re the only police officer?”, pointing out that Detective Do is also a police officer, as is he, and snarks that maybe Kyung Tae thinks he’s better than everyone and that everyone else should quit.
Unfortunately, Helmet Man does not show in this scene to kick him in the balls. But Su Yeol does listen when Kyung Tae says he saw blood in Yu Na’s flat. Off they go!
But nothing’s there. Kyung Tae swears on what he saw, but Su Yeol dismisses him as an American crime drama addict.
Su Yeol meets Detective Do at a cafe, where the former tells the latter to offer an apology. Do balks at this, and Su Yeol pulls rank, saying that the only one he has to be nice to is Assemblyman Do, not Detective Do. He thanks Do for the drink and then leaves. It doesn’t seem like the detective’s ego will let Su Yeol handle things quietly, though.
Back at the station, Su Yeol is flummoxed by Kyung Tae’s spotless work record. There’s nothing he can use against him, so he tells a weight-lifting Jae Seon to get some dirt, no matter what. But Jae Seon isn’t having it (yay!) and, weights still swinging, he has a go at Su Yeol and gives him shit for working this hard for such an ignoble cause. Su Yeol claps back and scolds Jae Seon for bringing in his weights and tries to lift just one of them, but his shoulder pops with a disgusting crack. You deserve it, you dickhead! Jae Seon mocks him for being out of shape. Ha.
Meanwhile, Kyung Tae can’t let this go, and stops by Yu Na’s unit again, where he runs into a neighbour. She starts telling him info, but cuts herself short and runs into the bathroom. When he follows her, he finds her pretending to be fighting him off – even hurting her hand with broken glass – while the aforementioned shitty security guard arrives and turns him in. It’s a set-up.
Now Kyung Tae’s being questioned by Jae Seon, who actually offers sympathy via food. But Kyung Tae’s facing a serious accusation of sexual assault by the neighbour. What a mess.
In the hospital, Su Yeol questions the neighbour, but his body language is just that of someone who does not give a shit. And we know why: The neighbour can’t answer a single question without changing her story multiple times, prompting Su Yeol to phone Detective Do and tell him to stop muddying up the process with his shitty attempts to handle things.
Back home, Su Yeol tries to relax with a beer in his boring flat but realises this case isn’t going to be as morally straightforward as he wants it to be: Detective Do’s attitude is complicating things, and Kyung Tae is far from the egotistic pariah that Gye Sik was being painted as.
But there’s little time for more thought as in comes Helmet Man, who boops Su Yeol with said helmet until Bathrobe Dickhead falls unconscious.
He wakes up groaning in Yu Na’s bathroom, which is UV-lit to show a myriad of blood stains. But, wait? UV light? How? Cut to Helmet Man, still in full leathers, swinging a UV light like he’s at a school rave. Su Yeol tries to fight him by punching his bare fist onto the helmet like a fucking idiot, to which Helmet Man responds by kicking him back into the bathtub and knocking the shower curtain over him like a raccoon he’s just cornered in his garage.
Su Yeol chases his attacker outside only to find him on his motorbike, running literal circles around him and terrorising him with the bike until he wakes up, back in his chair in his flat. Alone again, Bathrobe Wanker tries to convince himself that it’s just a dream.
At the disciplinary hearing the next morning, Detective Do rattles off some bullshit about how bad he feels for hurting Kyung Tae, who sits silently next to him. The disciplinary committee uses Kyung Tae’s breaking and entering, along with the sexual assault accusation, as negative points against him, but adds that the Anti-Corruption Unit “sorted it out”. Like shit, they did. But of course a naive trusting Kyung Tae runs into Jae Seon and Su Yeol outside, where he thanks the latter profusely. Out of earshot, Jae Seon rightfully berates Su Yeol for even including the sexual assault accusation in the report, to which Su Yeol arseholes back with “What was I supposed to do? Hide something that actually happened?” Fuck you.
Outside, Detective Do “thanks” Su Yeol and shows him footage of what appears to be Yu Na using her credit card at a convenience store, implying she’s alive. Hmm. Su Yeol gets a positive-seeming call from Assemblyman Do.
Despite everything, Kyung Tae has gone back to Yu Na’s flat again – and alone, again (I’m going with brave and determined instead of stupid), where he discovers the unit has been emptied and renovated. He remembers the birthday present the little girl had mentioned and clocks it as the giant bear toy he saw previously, and he rushes out to the bins to scramble for it. He finds it, and I swear it looks like he’s holding it like it’s an actual child.
Su Yeol arrives at Assemblyman Do’s estate – it’s a party for his daughter, but there seem to be mostly adults there. Poor kid. Su Yeol grabs a flute of champagne and does the aimless “fuck I don’t know any of these people” shuffling about that you’re lying if you’ve never said you’ve done it.
The first person to greet him is, to his chagrin, Detective Do, who offers to get drunk with him to defuse the awkwardness but then deliberately makes a beeline to some other random person. Ha. Su Yeol spots the Commissioner who he thinks is greeting him, so he bows, only for the Commissioner to walk right by his bowing arse to say hello to Assemblyman Do. Ouch.
Giving up (I would, too), Su Yeol necks the entire glass of champagne, only to be spotted and called over by Assemblyman Do. In a moment of panic, Su Yeol spits out everything and rushes over to be introduced. The Commissioner: “Oh, it’s you. I know you, of course.” HA!
Assemblyman Do excuses himself to put his daughter to sleep (not like that) and leaves the two men to chat. The awkwardness is painful. After some silence, Su Yeol tries to break the ice by mentioning what a pleasant night it is, only for the heavens to choose that moment to crack with such loud thunder that the Commissioner visibly jumps. Pfft.
Assemblyman Do overhears his wife talking about one of the gifts, a giant teddy bear with a nannycam… and remembers, ten days ago, at Yu Na’s flat, while half-dressed, yelling at Yu Na’s body (corpse?) for “bleeding so much”, that there was a similar bear there.
Luckily that bear, as we cut to it, is in the arms of Kyung Tae, who tries to reunite it with the little girl at the place he last dropped her off. But the woman who lives there said the girl and her grandmother left without a forwarding address. On his way home, he’s knocked over by a passing biker, and it’s then that he notices the hidden camera in the bear. Bingo!
He sprints home and plugs in the camera’s memory card. But he’s interrupted by Detective Do, who brutalises him even more horrifically than before. Sob.
Meanwhile, a drunken Su Yeol is being driven home (by a designated driver, in his own car) while he swoons over the business cards he’s collected.
Kyung Tae tries to swallow the memory card, but Detective Do literally reaches into his throat and yanks it back out (jesus christ), before sloshing petrol over the entire place. He stops to stare at Kyung Tae’s bloodied, gasping face. Conscience?
Back to Car Dickhead, who’s feeling a bit sick, so he asks the driver “not to drive so rough”… only to find that he’s alone in the car and someone is actually just shaking it – guess who?
Su Yeol leans out of the car to vomit and Helmet Man taunts him, saying that it’s fate they met again. Su Yeol tries to punch him but is no match for Helmet Man, who swiftly grounds him with several kicks and breaks his phone before he can call 112. Helmet Man drags him around like a ragdoll and brings him to Kyung Tae’s rooftop flat, demanding he apologise. But when they open the door: KABLAMO!
Su Yeol tries to flee, but Helmet Man knocks the wind out of him with a stomach punch, and forces him into the flat. Su Yeol sees Kyung Tae lying unconscious and tries to revive him, but he’s out. A pillar collapses and blocks their exit, and Su Yeol yells at Helmet Man, asking how the hell they’re going to get out. Helmet Man smashes a nearby window and gestures downward. Without much choice as the fire creeps closer to the stove, the trio make a calculated leap and land, back-down, on top of a car. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Kyung Tae is still unconscious, but Su Yeol’s arm under his neck broke his fall.
But Helmet Man not only pulled off a superhero landing, he did it while literally on fire. Facing an utterly astounded Su Yeol, he brushes the fire from his arms like it’s just dust, removes his helmet, and smiles.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ru Su Yeol.”
Su Yeol, a crumpled, bloody mess, grimaces, but Helmet Man grins broadly in reponse.
And that’s episode 1!
Bloody grand stuff so far. To say it’s living up to its title is an understatement, but there hasn’t been a slow moment. We’ve seen snippets of side characters but enough to create intrigue, and I’m curious to see where this murder case goes.
As for Helmet Man/K: I don’t think it’s a secret that he’s a split personality, but how is he manifesting? Is he a real entity brought into existence, or is he entirely in Su Yeol’s head, like in Fight Club?
With the duality of Su Yeol and K, the concept so far feels like a bit like a reverse Venom (good making bad good), but with the both of them being unhinged in some way, I can’t wait to see how crazy this will get. I always love a redemption story arc, but I hope they don’t rush it – it’s awfully satisfying at the moment seeing such a dickhead of a lead character getting his shit handed to him throughout the episode.
I’d thought we were getting 16 episodes, but perhaps the pacing would be more manic in just the 12. Can’t wait for the rest!
So many of the non-dialogue shots are so screenshot-worthy. What a grand DP!
Credit to Lee Dong Wook for making Su Yeol watchable despite the fact that the character, so far, is an utter bellend of a piece of shit (by design). And props to his physical comedy – that spit-take was gold.
“You’re a fox” I see what you did there.
Su Yeol’s flat is DEPRESSING. Most of those shelves are empty, there’s nothing on the walls, and he has a single-seat chair with no other living room furniture.
The four-leaf clovers on Yu Na’s bathroom mirror 😦
Helmet Man/K seriously uses the front end of his bike like a sword in the chase scene, coming so close to practically dismembering Su Yeol.
I’m loving Jae Seon as what could be the show’s voice of reason while Kyung Tae is the moral compass.
The rain/water scenes introducing Helmet Man/K are absolutely a reference to Blade Man and I refuse to believe otherwise.
That bowing clown at the party a stone’s throw away from giant Su Yeol and his hunched, ready-to-bow shoulders. Heh.
I have misophonia-triggered OCD, so it pains me to realise that K definitely punched Su Yeol so that he fell backwards onto his own vomit.
I have been in a house fire. This is accurate.
Maybe Su Yeol just drowned in the bathtub and this entire show is just a a dream.
I don’t think it’s cheating to use a Korean drama series for my horror-thon, seeing as an episode tends to run near-feature length (almost 70 minutes here), and Netflix is adding more and more kdramas since they started getting more popular (and all I can say is fuck yes). Watching via Netflix Party (now TeleParty), I let a kdrama-virgin friend pick from a pool of candidates and he went with Mystic Pop-up Bar, a Netflix Original.