So much happens in this one episode, jeez! Overall, I thought it was a well-shot, well-written pilot. Lots of establishing motivation for many different characters.
Park Moo Yeol:
Ultimately he and his death sets up the entire series. I really liked the chemistry and warmth between him and his partner and best friend, Lee Jin Pyo. I was much less impressed by his lack of concern for his wife and new baby. Yes, his job, yes, his country, but like Jin Pyo pointed out, there are other people that could go on the mission…actually I think it was more his lack of conflict in making the decision to risk his life. Either Moo Yeol was overconfident and naive (which isn’t out of the question because that’s sort of what his superior, Choi Eung Chan, seemed to be) or less caring than (I feel like) a new father should be…although they showed his and Jin Pyo’s (and lots of other people’s) shock at and after the bombing, I feel like maybe they should have shown his/their anger too because his visit to the hospital to see his wife and baby just seemed so perfunctory when it might have made sense for them to show how distracted the two men were with the tragedy that had just occurred…basically, I feel like Moo Yeol was drawn in rather broad strokes because he’s only meant to be the root catalyst for Jin Pyo, Choi Eung Chan, Kyung Hee, and Yoon Sung. Moo Yeol giving his life for Jin Pyo…it could have seemed cliche but the one thing I thought was established well was their friendship and it was clear (even before he explained it, heh) that he was aware that he wasn’t getting out of this situation alive with his injuries…I like that his final thoughts weren’t about vengeance but on his family and his friend…which makes Ji Pyo’s priorities all the more stark and messed up.
Choi Eung Chan and the Secret Circle of Power (SCP, heh):
These men are written in quite a straightforward manner but I think acting and directing choices may have made a difference in making each of them more than one-dimensional. Choi Eung Chan is clearly conflicted and that makes him the most sympathetic but he’s also the one with the most emotional ties to the men who died, being the man who suggested the retaliation and who had personally made promises to the soldiers. The initial scene introducing this “secret circle of power” is very telling; who rants, who speaks, who’s silent but observes everything. And later when Choi Eung Chan is informed of the decision to massacre their own soliders; who speaks, who rants, who’s calm, who’s defensive. The decision…is rational, practical, logical…I can’t think of an realistic alternative given the international implications…Choi Eung Chan’s points are all valid and in the right but…it’s one of those things where it’s unfair to expect that he would think of a solution when he’s being surprised with this decision but at the same time…the real world can be really grey and fucked up. Choi Eung Chan trying to explain himself to Jin Pyo…there’s no winning for him. Jin Pyo isn’t wrong when he says “at least you shouldn’t be like this.” The decision itself…was hard but may actually be right in a completely wrong way but Choi Eung Chan continuing on in his position after all his promises…there’s something very dishonorable about that…or maybe just cowardly and selfish and human.
Lee Jin Pyo:
I like how it seemed like in the beginning, he was the more charming, gregarious one between Moo Yeol and himself. I thought it was cute how friendly he was with Kyung Hee, Moo Yeol’s wife, and how he kind of nagged Moo Yeol about leaving her so soon after she gave birth. But after Moo Yeol’s death…serious 180. But totally understandable. I really cried a lot when all those soldiers were shot and killed like fish in a barrel. For characters that had so little screen time, the “getting the team together” montage was very effective. It was obvious that those soldiers had had lives that they’d left because Moo Yeol and Jin Pyo called. When you see those loyal men get killed and have your best friend die for you…yeah, it understandable that that would change a person. It might even make someone delusional and not a little obsessed with revenge…sorry, even as much as I hurt for Jin Pyo, stealing Moo Yeol and Kyung Hee’s son…there are no words, no rationale, that I can accept. She should not have to go through that on top of mourning her husband (and the crap that the government is about to put on her husband and his team!)…and Jin Pyo’s bullshit letter about this being the only way she can be happy and move on…what kind of woman forgets her son? What kind of person? Did he really think she could do that? It just seemed clear that he intended Moo Yeol’s son to play a big part in his revenge on Choi Eung Chan and the others and it was definitely not about raising the boy, Yoon Sung, well. It cast a pall on all the events afterwards. Yoon Sung is tool not a person to him. It’s just too cruel to do that to the child and to Kyung Hee. He even allows Yoon Sung to grow up calling him Dad…and I think it’s manipulation, not any real sentiment on his part…the life he builds for himself and Yoon Sung is telling; everything and everyone is a means to an end.
Lee Yoon Sung:
It speaks to Yoon Sung’s innate resilience that he could be so hopeful and naive when he’d grown up under Jin Pyo’s strict tutelage. I like how playful he seemed as a teenager. He still clearly thought the best of people…he looked so betrayed that Jin Pyo might kill his surrogate mother for her husband’s sins. It was entirely believable to me that even aside from it being part and parcel of being a freaking drug lord, Jin Pyo would force the issue to test Yoon Sung’s ability to complete tasks under pressure. And when she does actually die under different violent circumstances and Yoon Sung understandably loses his mind, I felt like Jin Pyo was observing this and thinking “well, good to know.” sigh When Jin Pyo saves Yoon Sung from the blast of the land mine…again, I can’t seem to trust his intentions…and I really like Jin Pyo! He’s so tragic and fascinating. But I honestly can’t tell if Yoon Sung is only important to him because he’s central to his revenge plan or that he wanted to save Yoon Sung because he loves him. I like that uncertainty. When Jin Pyo thought he was going to die and decided to tell Lee Yoon Sung about his revenge plan, I really really liked the teenager’s response. He wanted to be able go away and live in peace with the man he had always thought was his father…that’s so telling of his character…it seriously made me root for him…and it made me sad. He had taken time and thought about it seriously. He could have focused on the fact that Jin Pyo had lied to him his whole life about everything (including his mom’s death) but he just wanted to be happy and for Jin Pyo to be happy. He knew he would have to change and grow up and make compromises to his character, to his self. But he’s viewing this change as a means to an end…ugh. It’s like when you want someone to be happy but you know that what they think they want is impossible but they don’t realize it…and it’s interesting, with that thought in mind, we get the first appearance of Kim Na Na.
I generally like the direction of the episode. It reminded me of an action movie with some interesting camera angles and tight versus panning (and motion) shots. I usually hate slow motion sequences but I thought it was effective in the bombing scene in the beginning. I also like how POV camera was used then (conveying the shock of Moo Yeol, Jin Pyo and everyone else) and in the chase sequence in Thailand later on (subtly showing how Yoon Sung thinks and reacts to his environment). I didn’t like how stylized Yoon Sung’s first fight sequence was; I thought the slow-mo then was just too much. I felt like it was being used to hide deficiencies in the actor’s ability to perform the fight choreography but I feel like some later shots show that Lee Min Ho does move really well so I think it’s just my personal bias against that kind of camerawork.
I thought most of the acting was really good. There were some scenes where I felt like there was overacting (SCP scenes, Yoon Sung at Jin Pyo’s bedside) but…the first episode was fairly intense so it’s understandable maybe. For the amount of screen time, I thought the actress playing Kyung Hee did really well. Her breakdown when her baby was taken was heartbreaking. I really like the actor playing Jin Pyo and I thought Lee Min Ho did a pretty good job with Yoon Sung. We don’t really see how Yoon Sung changed as a result of opting into the revenge plan but the brief sequence at the end was promising in that, Yoon Sung definitely seemed more grown up and serious but still yearning and hopeful somehow…
I thought that the writers did a great job of not only giving everyone understandable motivations but also establishing fairly nuanced characters. Jin Pyo is not evil but he’s not good. He may or may not actually love Yoon Sung. He seems to have residual feeling for Kyung Hee…? Yoon Sung is essentially good but how he’s developed and grown up…that’s up in the air. Choi Eung Chan is idealistic but ultimately a coward. Kyung Hee must come back into the picture again because…she has to. She seemed so destroyed by Yoon Sung’s abduction but since he knows she’s alive…hopefully she can be a counteracting force to Jin Pyo’s influence on his life…basically, the pieces have been laid out and the end of the first episode was very much a “and now it begins” moment…