Even though I quit using Twitter, it doesn’t mean that you should be robbed of my short, pithy little comments (to be read with a lisp or not, as you like). So I’ve created The Chirper, available on the sidebar. It’s like Twitter, but so much better. Now you can come here and read the contents of my sick, bloated id without having to go anywhere else! I’ll update it throughout the week. (I stole the name Chirper from my son’s favorite program, The Thundermans, which parodied it as a social media platform for teenage girls. As Rosa Blasi said, “Chirp chirp, girlfriend!”)
The South Korean cop show Tunnel is a K-drama for people who like K-dramas. A little less polished than Possessed, it still has a bizarre charm that draws you in. In an inversion of the British cop show Life on Mars, Tunnel tells the story of a cop in 1986 who is attacked by a serial killer and finds himself sent thirty years into the future, to 2016. There’s an understandable culture shock, particularly concerning the advancements in forensic science in the intervening decades. Some of it’s played for laughs, with inconsistent results. Much of the plot concerns itself with the protagonist dealing with this temporal dislocation, the grief of losing his wife in the past, and trying to catch the same serial killer…or his copycat.
Park Gwang-ho, the time-traveling protagonist, is portrayed as an old-fashioned dinosaur, and his anachronistic way of speaking, acting, and performing his law enforcement duties works well. He’s just clumsy enough to be excused from being subject to assault charges in 2016’s more sensitive times. The actor Choi Jin-Hyuk does a decent job with the role, though his ability to project sadness is a little less convincing.
I call it a K-drama for people who like K-dramas because it takes some dedication to get through the earlier episodes before the show grabs you. Two of the principal characters are amazingly unlikable and opaque, deliberately so, and this tended to be a turn-off until the events of the plot caught up. One character pops in and out without him going anywhere story-wise, which was jarring. Some of the more graphic parts were blurred out for censorship reasons (I imagine), a choice that took one out of the show from time to time.
Despite these quibbles, the show does everything else right. The end is satisfying, the whodunit aspects of finding the serial killer work, and you care what happens to whom. Once you get into it, it gets its hooks into you and won’t let go.
I’m a bit more ambivalent about the K-drama Life, but that may have something to do with the show’s political/social aspects than its quality. I’m sure I’d appreciate it more if I lived in South Korea or had personal experience with the issues the show brings up, but other online commentary says that its depiction of life in Seoul is accurate.
It’s a medical show, but unlike most American hospital dramas, the focus is less on the patient of the day than it is the power struggle between the medical staff and the new executive brought in to make the hospital more profitable. This emphasis on the bigger picture allows the plot to address ideas like privatization and its attendant changes to medical care with more detail, instead of tacking them onto the beginning and end of each episode the way other dramas might. It would be foolish to draw parallels between South Korean medical care and American health care, so I won’t bother. Suffice it to say that Life has a point of view, but it doesn’t let that bias change a good story.
The protagonist Ye Jin-woo, played by Lee Dong-wook, is kind of an unknowable figure, even after close to sixteen hours of watching him. I’m not sure if it’s a function of the performance or the writing, but you never really understand why he does things; his motivations are unclear. Not terribly likable, he simply plays a role and that’s that. His handicapped brother Sun-woo is a more accessible character who comes right up to the edge of becoming tragic without quite getting there. What really shines is the relationship between the two, which is multilayered and complex.
Ye Jin-woo’s opposite number is the hard-charging businessman Gu Seung-hyo, who’s not quite a villain and not quite a decent fellow, but you get to know him and even like him a little, despite yourself. He’s played by Cho Seung-woo, who had also portrayed the emotionally distant protagonist in the legal drama The Stranger. Here he shows a little more range; he’d almost have to. Yoo Jae-myung, who was also in The Stranger, does a turn in Life as a surgeon with a somewhat troubled past, and invests depth and pathos into the character that’s desperately needed.
More a slice-of-life story than a tightly-plotted narrative like other K-dramas, Life provides a window into South Korean health care, journalism, and big business that’s interesting, but not compelling.