[Review] The Nightwatchman’s Journal – 야경꾼 일지


A fantasy drama set against the backdrop of the Joseon Dynasty, the nightwatchmen patrol the streets after curfew to hunt evil supernatural beings. Lee Rin (Jung Il Woo) is a crown prince, who, like his father before him, has the ability to see ghosts.  However, he refuses to acknowledge the ghosts when his father succumbs to an evil entity which takes his life.  Instead, he relinquishes the throne to his half-brother Ki San and lives a playboy life outside the palace.

Coming from a tribe with supernatural powers living in the Baekdu mountains, Do Ha (Go Sung Hee) has the ability to communicate with nature.  Do Ha’s sister also succumbed to the same evil entity that once inflicted the king, so she comes to the city with the aim of finding her sister.  Together with other nightwatchmen, they attempt to rid the world of evil spirits.

I think being busy at work these days was mostly an excuse to procrastinate writing this review.  There are so many problems that it’s hard to know where to begin.  It starts right from the first episode with its hokey CGI and cackling villain that made the drama feel like a bad B-movie.  I had compared the drama to the 90’s New Zealand TV shows, Hercules and Xena, but what they lacked technically, they made up with a fair plot and likable characters.

I have to admit that I had forgotten Jung Yun Ho was in the drama and remember letting out an audible groan when I first caught sight of him in an episode preview early on as Kang Moo Suk.  I don’t feel that he was as bad as he has been in previous performances.  Or maybe I’m so used to his colorless acting that I’ve surrendered my common sense.  It’s hard to tell.  I think what annoys me more is reading entertainment reports regurgitating comments fed to them by PR people about how he’s working diligently and putting extra effort into learning the acting craft.  I could see that he was trying to make a conscious effort to try out different tactics but acting is a talent which he just doesn’t have.

It’s easy for critics like myself to go on an endless tirade about how awful he is and that he’s just not improving.  However, I think the issue he faces is being typecasted into roles where his characters are typically stoic.  On the one hand, I understand the director wanting his wooden performance to fly under the radar but he’s U-Know Yun Ho; he’s not going to fly under anyone’s radar.  Frankly, playing a stoic character is much harder than playing a garrulous one who can use the dialogue as a crutch rather than just depending solely on facial expressions.

Strangely enough, Kang Moo Suk wasn’t the character I hated the most.  That honor belongs to Sa Dam (Kim Sung Oh) regardless of the fact that he’s a villain.  Firstly, Kim Sung Oh deserves a much better written character for the quality of actor that he is.  Secondly, I don’t know if he just been pulling our leg or taking some weird direction from the director and experimenting with cartoonish megalomaniacal style of acting but he came across as purely comedic in the first few episodes but downright irritating by the end.

Thirdly, I can’t count how many times Sa Dam had Lee Rin in his grasp but it didn’t make sense as to why he didn’t try to kill him there on the spot instead of throwing in convoluted, supernatural twist.  Sa Dam’s menacing sneer is worse than his bite and it just adds to the ridiculousness of the drama.

On the other hand, I did enjoy watching Lee Rin’s half-brother Ki San (Kim Heung Soo), being haunted by an alternate version of himself.  Kim Heung Soo was really great at playing the two sides of his character, the cowardly versus the nefariously, scheming.  Unfortunately for the actor, even he suffered from the curse of bad writing.  The drama never really addresses his mental condition.  Is he being haunted?  Does he suffer from dissociative personality disorder?  If he was just talking to a version of himself (think: angel vs. devil), why was he the only character dealing with a dichotomy of personalities at least in the literal sense?

Instead, the drama glosses over it making me feel that the writers never really had an answer for what he was experiencing.  At the very least, we got to see a more definitive conclusion with Park Soo Jong’s (Lee Jae Yong) change in personality.

So you might ask why I continued to watch this drama?  Honestly, I checked in week after week to watch Jung Il Woo and Go Sung Hee.  I’m disappointed that Go Sung Hee’s follow up to Miss Korea was this drama because she’s very capable of playing the lead.  I even think that she and Jung Il Woo had decent chemistry with their unique repartee early on in the drama.  However, in the third act of the drama, it felt like Jung Il Woo didn’t care about the romance plotline, Go Sung Hee comes across as a bit distracted and the drama focused most of the plot on their characters battling Sa Dam.  The ending feels like a patch-up job in order to keep the OTP together but did it in a way that has no emotional follow through.  While their characters sustained me for most of the drama, any positive scrap I could have held onto is crushed by this ending.

I suppose I could hold onto the delightfulness of ghost trio (Go Chang Seok, Lee Se Change and Kang Ji Woo) that follows around Lee Rin as they were delightful but I can’t really think of anything else.  Sure, you could watch it with a satirical eye but I bet most viewers’ reactions will move past the sarcastic laughter and onto extreme irritation over the repetitive plotlines, unfulfilled stories, exaggerated performances and underwhelming performances.  There’s so much in the drama and it’s all over the place, that it makes the drama an utter mess.



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