[Review] Spy – 스파이


Park Hye Rim (Bae Jong Ok) is a former North Korean spy turned stayed-at-home mom.  Unbeknownst to her, her son Kim Sun Woo (Kim Jae Joong) is an agent at the National Intelligence Service.  When Hwang Ki Chul (Yoo Oh Sung), an old comrade from the North comes to town, he turns Hye Rim’s life upside down.

Spy is very much a drama that is in possession of the spy story handbook.  The writers seemed to know what works for the story and were fully in control of the plot.  On the downside, it made the plot very predictable and even if it misfired, it wouldn’t have been nice if they had attempted to throw a surprising curve ball.  However, I’m not going to penalize a drama for not being innovative if it works for the structure overall.  The drama is based on the Israeli drama, The Gordin Cell, but rewritten with the current North-South Korea conflict in mind.

The thing that compelled me to check in week after week was to see the family dynamic.  There were so many secrets in Sun Woo’s family from Hye Rim being unable to reveal her covert past, Sun Woo divulging that he’s a South Korean spy or the truth of Lee Yoon Jin’s (Go Sung Hee) past.  As the viewer, we are understandably privy to the secrets much sooner than the characters themselves but there were a number of details that were withheld until the writers wanted us to feel the significance of the secret and effect on their relationships.

Mamamoo – 내 눈 속엔 너 (My Everything) (Set My Sights on You (My Everything))

마마무(Mamamoo) – 내 눈 속엔 너 (My Everything)

I have complimented Kim Jae Joong’s acting in the past but he’s certainly laid everything he’s learned out on the table.  To put it delicately, the drama certainly has its far-fetched plot developments, especially towards the end but Kim Jae Joong went full-force on his adrenaline of emotions of feeling scared and angry that I’m almost willing to forgive the nonsensical writing.  It made me focus on what I needed to feel in that moment rather than focusing on the logic of scene.  Having said that, I still don’t believe a man could single-handedly fight off a trained spy after being shot nor do I believe that he could sit through hours of his mother’s surgery after the ordeal.  Still, Kim Jae Joong has come a long way.

As for Go Sung Hee, this is by a far a better role for her than what we saw with the pitiful The Nightwatchman’s Journal.  However, I hope that she isn’t confined to roles that depict her as the nice girl next door when it comes to leading roles.  That would be putting her talent to waste and any fans of Miss Korea know what she’s capable of.  She has the makings of a leading lady but typecasting her to a generic female trope would be a bad idea.  Again, I like to see her role in Spy as a stepping stone for more interesting roles and dynamic characters in the future but I just didn’t feel that Yoon Jin was all that interesting of a character.

As a veteran actress and middle-aged woman, it would be easy for an actress like Bae Jong Ok to be casted in the same motherly roles over and over again.  In some ways, she does depict the typical housewife here. However, I appreciate that she challenges that mold and impressed that she’s able to hold her own in the action scenes.

Jo Dal Hwan has been making his rounds in an impressive number of K-Dramas and K-Movies in the last two years, thanks in part to his appearance on Our Neighborhood Variety Sports.  He’s a very talented actor who is good at playing character bit parts. As Kim Hyun Tae, he’s the black sheep of the agency but while we get tidbits of his fascinating backstory, the drama delve far into Hyun Tae’s past.  We get enough to understand Hyun Tae’s motives for helping Sun Woo and he plays an integral part in being Sun Woo’s support system when he decides to go rogue.

Aided by the acting, I did notice that there were some deliberate but very subtle costuming choices in the drama.  It was interesting to see the various women on the show, especially those who have defected to the South.  I don’t think it was a coincidence that they were all wearing grey turtleneck sweaters as the drama seemed to be making a position on where the characters’ political allegiance stood.  They didn’t fully trust the agents of the South but they were all making a life or hoping to make a life in the South.

The actors do a good job in driving home the emotional connection between their characters.  It’s the driving force that directs most of the plot.  Despite a few illogical, action sequence hiccups, the drama does use the spy drama handbook to its advantage.  It knows what works and despite its predictability, I’m satisfied with the ending.  Fans of Kim Jae Joong should definitely check this one out as it is the last drama before we send him off to the army.



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