[Review] Monster – 몬스터

I LOVE YOU BABY, I’M NOT A MONSTER

Born into a wealthy family, Lee Guk Chul (Kang Ji Hwan) was a spoiled, chaebol heir.  However, he loses his eyesight in a car accident that also takes the lives of his parents.  Shortly after, his aunt is murdered as well and although he survives several murder attempts his greedy uncle, Byun Il Jae (Jung Bo Suk) steals his inheritance.  Having lost everything, he grows up as a beggar, relying on his wit and superhuman hearing to survive the streets.  Years later, he undergoes surgery with the help of a Chinese arms dealer and adopts a new identity as Kang Ki Tan in order to exact revenge on the people who have taken everything away from him.

Cha Jung Eun (Sung Yuri) first meets Guk Chul when she works as his maid.  Though Guk Chul is initially rude to her, he develops feelings for her.  Due to the numerous attempts on Guk Chul’s life, they become separated.  Years later, she also takes a new name and as Oh Soo Yeon she applies for an internship at Dodo Group.  She meets Ki Tan but the two are unaware of their shared past.

Do Gun Woo (Park Ki Woong) is the illegitimate son of Dodo Group’s Chairman Do Choong (Park Young Kyu).  He has lived most of his life in the US with his mother and abusive stepfather.  After a violent altercation, in which Gun Woo ends up murdering his stepfather, his mother takes the blame and commits suicide.  He returns to Korea with Byun Il Jae’s help who intends on using him as a tool to takeover Dodo Group.  Gun Woo develops a mutual rivalry with Ki Tan.

When it was announced that Kang Ji Hwan was going to be in this drama, it felt like it was because he was in image repair mode after his scandal two years.  What better way to do that than reunite him with one of his best co-stars, Sung Yuri.  Despite my hesitation over the revenge plot, it was the promise of cutesy bickering between Kang Ji Hwan and Sung Yuri that drew me to the show.  And we got quite a bit of that early on in the drama but the cuteness quickly becomes overshadowed by the dark plot.

For me, 50 episodes is a marathon and with a melodrama, it doesn’t hurt to have a few, interspersed scenes of romance and comedy.  I just didn’t feel that it was enough.  Kang Ji Hwan is best when he’s outrageously comedic and Sung Yuri is best when she’s ditzy and sassy.  It’s not that these two can’t deliver the raw emotions of a dramatic scene but they give their characters more credibility when they’re not solely consumed by doom and gloom.  In fact, I would think their melodramatic scenes would come across as more emotional if viewers got to see both sides, such as in Hong Gil Dong, but skewing the drama to one side doesn’t showcase what these talented actors could have delivered for the project as a whole.

Initially, I found Do Gun Woo to be an intriguing character, especially played by Park Ki Woong.  Park Ki Woong has a tendency to make us feel sympathetic for his character even though he’s the antagonist.  He makes you understand why his character feel like they need to make the choice that they do, whether it’s because of the circumstances they had to endure or the betrayal they’ve experienced.  And yet, I felt that Park Ki Woong had the same problems that Kang Ji Hwan and Sung Yuri had as the drama’s plot severely limited the actors’ abilities to play a multi-layered character.

Another interesting character is Yoo Sung Ae (Soo Hyun), as the NIS agent who infiltrates Dodo Group and ends up becoming Ki Tan’s ally.  She was a strong, female character with sharp instincts with an air of mystery about her that was contrary to naïve and helpless Oh Soo Yeon.  She was a girl-crush worthy character for the drama and also provided good competition in the love rhombus that was Ki Tan, Soo Yeon and Gun Woo.

It felt like that the drama partially replaced her with Do Shin Young (Jo Bo Ah) as Soo Yeon grew more wise and savvy to the corruption schemes of Hwang Jae Man (Lee Duk Hwa) and Dodo Group.  As much as I grew fond of Shin Young’s naiveté and ditziness and I liked the development of Soo Yeon’s character, I didn’t quite get over the girl crush I had on Sung Ae.

The drama had a lot fascinating characters and an even better cast of veteran actors such as Jung Bo Suk, Park Young Kyu, Lee Duk Hwa and Jung Woong In.  And yet, the plot hits the proverbial wall a number of times throughout the series.  In order to stave off the boredom, it throws the viewers some ridiculous plot twists such as amnesia due to a bullet in the brain and a “Pandora’s Box” file with proof of the villain’s deeds.  There are a number of Korean revenge dramas that overlook the importance of details but rather hope that our mere dislike for the antagonists will keep us entertained and that’s quite a lazy notion.  As much as the role reversal at the end of the drama between Kang Ki Tan and Byun Il Jae was Shakespearean in its execution, I still didn’t go over the lack of substance that doesn’t hold up the plot.

I will say that I started this drama expecting that I might not find the revenge plot satisfying.  Fine, I was emotionally ready for that.  However, I didn’t start this drama to be left hanging by the main OTP.  If you’re not going to give me the first thing, the least you can do is deliver the other thing in all its superfluous glory.  Take that away and all I can think is, ‘Why the hell did I waste my time?’  And yet, the truly frustrating thing is that if Kang Ji Hwan and Sung Yuri are paired up again in the future, I’ll probably sit down to watch them again.  In this drama, they just felt like the bad guy who’s a tease and has no intent of making it official.

Rating

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