THE CRIME WITH KOREAN CRIME DRAMAS
In the last couple of months, there has been a wave of crime dramas hitting the Korean tube. The two that stand out in my mind is Sign (싸인) and Crime Squad (강력반) as they were both lead by an A-list cast. They were two procedural dramas that aimed to bring the American and British type of crime drama to Korean audiences.
Sign is about forensic doctors solving murder cases. The drama intended to show a behind-the-scenes look at the people and the process of crime solving using scientific methods. Headed by a big name cast, it aimed to bring a CSI level of show to Korea. An energetic, rookie investigator, Go Da Kyung (Kim Ah Joong) teams up with a famous but prickly forensic doctor, Yoon Ji Hoon (Park Shin Yang). Initially they butt heads due to their different crime solving methods and differences in personality but later become a dynamic duo to uncover the truth through science.
Crime Squad focuses on a group of detectives at the Seoul Gangnam Homicide Division who solve crimes with their variety of skills and investigative methods. Detective Park Se Hyuk (Song Il Kook) becomes a cop after the accidental death of his daughter. Distraught over the loss, he wanted to gain an understanding of what cops do in order to solve crimes. Hotheaded, Se Hyuk relies on his instincts to solve cases while the police chief, Jung Il Do (Lee Jong Hyuk) is by-the-books, often causing the two to clash. Trailed by a hotshot, tabloid reporter, Jo Min Joo, (Song Ji Hyo), the homicide team solve cases together.
Right off the bat, I was intrigued by the gritty look of these two dramas from the cold, stainless steel look of the medical examiner’s autopsy room and the caged, unkempt offices of the homicide detectives. The sets felt very American despite that most Korean police stations look like plain offices with white walls. Beyond the set, the script didn’t cast enough of a seedy light on this underworld. One major problems is that Korea isn’t familiar with homicide crimes the way Westerners are. I mean, Korean cops on the beat don’t even carry guns. That just shows the low level of crime there to let’s say New York City. While the writers used real cases for the scripts, a lot of the stories just didn’t present enough of a risk or was as thrilling as I hoped it would be. That’s not to say that crime doesn’t happen in Korea. It does but it doesn’t happen very often. I think it was that lack of firsthand experience that attributed to the problem with the scripts.
Other than that, it’s a Korean drama and with all Korean dramas, it felt that it needed to create a romantic triangle or square and create one, single storyline for the main characters that will take you through to the end of the series. Sure, I can believe that there will always be cases that will remain open and unsolved for a length of time. I just think that it was unnecessary. Even at the end, the main OTPs were kind of left up in the air and the single storyline felt forced as they tried to quickly wrap it up in the last episodes.
The stories that I did like was the serial killer story in Sign and the story of the jealous, plastic surgeon and the starlet in Crime Squad. Both stories got you into the killer’s mind as way of providing a clear motive for their actions. The way the story was told was also clear and concise and didn’t jump around too much from the characters’ storyline to the solving of the current case. There was a crime, the team goes about different methods to solving it, a member of the team is usually put in jeopardy as they’re about to solve the crime, the rest of the members leap at the last minute to save their partner. It was simple but it worked.
Another problem with the drama was that both the lead characters are quick-tempered. While Park Shin Yang and Song Il Kook are excellent with bringing emotion to the forefront, I almost wished that they had refrained a little. I blame the directors for not reigning that in a bit. While I could take a scene or two of this, when you are repeatedly watching someone yell and get angry all the time, you tend to not have sympathy for them and it’s a turn off. When that person is your lead character that’s supposed to take you through various stories throughout the series, it’s a big problem.
The thing is it’s not like Korea can’t tell crime stories as there are many great, Korean crime movies. Although the drama told the story of a single case, I thought The Devil (마왕) was pretty compelling and suspenseful. Albeit being a sci-fi, Joseon X-Files: Secret Investigation Record (조선X파일: 기찰비록) did an excellent job telling an investigative story in which the team investigated various, mysterious cases. It even weaved a common thread throughout the entire series without forcing it as isolated, unsolved case. Each episode stands alone on its own as well as a series. I was hoping these two dramas would have followed Joseon X-Files’ lead. But mostly, I just think that Korea is on unfamiliar ground if you compare these shows with shows like Law & Order, Wire in the Blood, Crossing Jordan, and etc.