City Hunter: A Review

OMIGOD. So I watched the first 13 episodes at a relatively slow pace, but the final 7 episodes I watched in one weekend. (Still slow in “marathon standards” but fast for me…)

Is this drama crack or what!? I now understand why people are calling this drama amazing, why it’s a must-see, why it’s just so fucking awesome. (Excuse my French.) It’s also SO fucking MADDENING. (Excuse me again.)

At the root of this drama is revenge. Which path is the best? Shall we follow the Code of Hammurabi and take an eye for an eye? Or should we follow the eyes of justice and exact punishment on those who deserve it, no matter who they are? This conflict for me is so interesting because throughout the series I found myself waffling between the two paths.

Actors:

Lee Min Ho is quite awesome. I never thought I would say that. Here he was far more charming than he was in Personal Taste because Yoon Sung is quite a layered character. You have his innocent, younger hot-headed self who grows into a more controlled, wiser mature guy who pretends he’s such a player and a cad. There’s so many things going on at once that he’s just so interesting. And then he switches into Jason Bourne mode?! What the hell!? When he starts questioning the reasons of his revenge, you can see the conflict that he struggles with. Sometimes I feel like he just wants Prosecutor Kim Young Joo to just figure it out already so that he could have an ally – someone other than Kim Na Na who knows he’s the City Hunter.

I have to say that I think Lee’s previous roles were not as challenging as this one. Here, he really had a broader range to work with, and I’m so proud to say that my first Lee Min Ho drama (to completion) is City Hunter.

Lee Joon Hyuk is also heartbreakingly sweet. I’m glad he got to redeem himself with this after I last saw him in I Am Legend. At first I really didn’t understand his deal with Kim Nana, but after episode 5 I realized he was just acting really protective towards her because it was his father’s fault that she is the way she is. If it was apparent earlier, I didn’t realize it. I loved how he persisted in his fight for justice, and I loved even more that he was a smart prosecutor. (Everyone in this drama was so smart – even Kim Mi Sook as Yoon Sung’s mother – they ALL figure things out like *that.*) His struggle with dealing with his father’s crimes was amazing to watch, and I’m so glad that he didn’t spite the City Hunter for putting his father in a coma. Instead, he begged for forgiveness for his father, and that to me was far more noble and heartbreaking.

 

His relationship with Hwang Sun Hee is quite interesting – they’re very friendly exes, and “cool, professional woman” fits the actress. It’s a far warmer version of her character in Sign. I really enjoyed Hwang Sun Hee here because she just proved that she’s an actress to watch out for. From going cold-blooded killer to a warm, sympathetic veterinarian in the next role – she’s got range. I actually can’t wait to see her in Wild Romance.

I didn’t expect to like Park Min Young either. She’s still OK in my eyes, but I do think she was the perfect Na Na. I don’t think I can imagine anyone else; her chemistry with Lee Min Ho works, and I’m not surprised they ended up dating after the drama ended. She had a good mixture of warmth and strength. While it was easier to doubt her being a boy in Sungkyunkwan Scandal (because seriously, no boy looks like her), I found it a little harder to doubt her as a bodyguard. The fact that she pulled off judo moves and had some action scenes of her own made it more believable. I’m impressed with her, and especially more so in the last episode, when she was begging for Yoon Sung and his father to just stop all this madness! While her romance with Yoon Sung bordered on angsty (“I like you.” “I can’t be with you.” “But you like me too!” “I’ll wait for you.”), there was a moment where she decided to respect Yoon Sung’s wish and ignore him, and I’m really glad that she did. First of all, he deserved and asked for it. Secondly, it showed how strong of a character she was. She knew she wasn’t going to get over it right away, but she wasn’t going to allow herself to long for him needlessly.

Kim Sang Joong as Bad Daddy Lee Jin Pyo. Dude – if you keep your eyebrows knitted for too long, they’re going to get stuck, and you’ll have permanent wrinkles there. This guy… this guy is so awesome and villainous that I want to cry, pounding a fist on the table, insisting that he’s just so GOOD. Where have you been all my life?! He is insanely single-minded and driven by his lust for blood, and yet there is more to him than just all out evil. You see glimpses of compassion and love for his adopted son, and even more so in the final episodes, once it is revealed that President Choi is Yoon Sung’s real father. He doesn’t want Yoon Sung to know as a way to protect him from the truth and possibly to protect him from killing his own father. I love the shades of gray drawn into his character, because he’s not just pure evil. He loves his son too, and when he took the fall for being the one and only City Hunter, I thought, “Wow – Daddy!” To the end, he’s protecting his son.

Yes, he does use Yoon Sung for his own nefarious ends, and withholds a lot of information. He also does dastardly things like hitting Bae Man Deok with his car, or sending Young Joo to his death. And for those actions, I refuse to justify them. But he also saved Yoon Sung from a land mine; he raised his son to become an intelligent, strong man; he tried to prevent Yoon Sung from ever finding out about his biological father, and I view that in a more positive way than negative.

 

And then you have a bunch of veteran actors, namely Kim Mi Sook as the wonderful mother, Choi Jung Woo as the purely evil Chun Jae Man, Chun Ho Jin as the warm president, and Choi Il Hwa once again being a baddie but with a heart for his son. (I have only seen Choi Il Hwa in one positive role, and that was in Coffee Prince. What’s up with being so bad all the time!?) And then Kim Sang Ho as Bae Man Deok? Oh man – when Yoon Sung and Man Deok had their lover’s spat because Yoon Sung cancelled all the credit cards so he couldn’t order anything from the home shopping network, I was about to die from the adorableness.

As for Goo Hara – she is irritating, and annoying, and juvenile. Good job. I also hate her for being the luckiest girl ever – she gets to crush on Young Joo and have Yoon Sung as her half-brother. What the hell?

Plot

The story moves incredibly fast. Good – because I hate being bored when I have to watch an hour long drama. I’m spoiled by 45-minute long dramas.

 

The best part about this drama was the tension between the father and the son. There’s a “Father Vs. Son” dynamic, and a “Father And Son” dynamic going on for most of the series. That push and pull of working together, and then working against each other, is so compelling because both acknowledge that they may dislike each other’s methods, but they need each other too. When Yoon Sung breaks free and starts working mainly against his father, the tension shifts towards who will get to the target first.

The one thing I didn’t like about the plot initially was that everything was way too convenient. Characters close to Yoon Sung were affected in some way by the targets of his revenge plan. For example, when he was exacting revenge against Seo Yong Hak, it just turned out that Go Ki Joon and his brother were victims of Seo’s military boots scandal. Yoon Sung had access to someone who wanted to take revenge on Seo Yong Hak, and because he knew someone directly affected, it made the revenge all the more personal. Same with the children who lost out on the welfare food plan, and for Na Na and Kim Jong Shik.

At first, it was annoying, because it made it easier for Yoon Sung to get dirt on his targets. But I eventually got used to it, in the sense that these conveniences didn’t bother me as much. These “conveniences” actually helped fuel Yoon Sung towards his revenge, and gave him more motivation to take down these corrupt politicians. Because face it – even though he was taking revenge for his father, he barely knew his father.

Speaking of fathers, the twist that President Choi was Yoon Sung’s biological father was pretty good. I hadn’t expected it until the second time Chun Jae Man said, “I know your weakness.” Then I realized that he must have had an affair or something, and then it just so happened to be with Lee Kyung Hee. It might have been predictable – considering it’s a K-drama and the world is so small for all these characters to start off with – but it was pretty surprising for me because I didn’t expect it to go down that route.

I also kept wishing that Young Joo and Yoon Sung would end up working together already. They were pretty much on the same side of the revenge scheme (out to take down the corrupt politicians) but they kept fighting each other. It’s a similar frustration I have with Tree with Deep Roots (although as of episode 16, the different “teams” are finally making alliances with each other). I just wanted them to be friends already!! They both kinda share the same women… BUT THEN – and speaking of the drama taking unexpected paths – just when they were about to work together, Young Joo had to DIE.

 

I am so pissed off about it. And for further evidence of just how pissed off I was, here are the tweets that listed my frustrations in real time:

I think it was the most unfair death ever. He was supposed to live a new life with his ex-wifey! And once he died, his father wakes from a coma!! But it was the most shocking and well done death ever. I was getting all comfortable with the fact that our leads wouldn’t die. But just when I was so secure in that belief, the writers pulled that twist out of nowhere and warned us that casualties WILL happen. And so when Yoon Sung was shot in the final episode, I thought we were done for. I thought I was going to hate this drama to the death. BUT I also wasn’t surprised – if you could kill your second lead, why not kill your main lead?

Thank God there was a happy ending, even though it was implausible because Yoon Sung was shot in the HEART.

And also – kudos to the actors during Young Joo’s death and funeral. I think Hwang Sun Hee’s weak point is crying – she wasn’t good at showing her fear when she got tied up by gangsters, but she redeemed herself at the funeral. And Young Joo’s investigators and chief were great in showing how remorseful and saddened they were by his death. As for Yoon Sung, it was a sign of respect when he fixed Young Joo’s jacket before leaving him in the junkyard, so that he would look presentable in death. These two had been butting heads for so long, it was nice to see them both show a mutual respect for each other.

What I loved was that throughout this drama, the idea that an “eye for an eye” is not necessarily the best path for revenge. The through-line was finding what was the most suitable punishment for criminals: make them live and suffer for their crimes? Or end it with their deaths so they could never harm anyone again? There have been times when Jin Pyo and Yoon Sung have made really good cases for either punishments, and while I would tend to go for Yoon Sung’s method, there were times when I thought Jin Pyo’s method would have been better. After all, some of these guys were just dastardly.

Direction and Cinematography:

This drama was incredibly well done. It was slick without being ostentatious; in Athena the sleekness came in the fighting sequences and the slo-mo action. Here, there was no need for slo-mo. You just had really well-choreographed fight scenes that was fast but precise. For one, the fight scene Yoon Sung had with Chun Jae Man’s baddies in the car junkyard. There were also the more acrobatic stunts, like when Yoon Sung free falls along the side of a building, catching himself by the fingertips on the ledges of the windows, and then crawling into the lab to switch out the blood sample.

 

But my most favorite scene is during the spa, when Yoon Sung tries to break into a locker, and he spots one of the henchmen coming in. There are mirrors and spaces set up between each sink, and as you see the henchmen between two mirror stands, you see Yoon Sung’s reflection, hiding behind a mirror. They keep moving back and forth like this, so you always see one person, and the other’s reflection. It’s so smoothly done but without the use of special effects – and that’s what makes the drama so slick without being ostentatious.

Another thing I liked was how the director started devising split screens without actually splitting the screen. For example, when Na Na finds out about Yoon Sung’s birth secret, she stands outside Lee Kyung Hee’s hospital room. Through the window into the room, you could also see Lee Kyung Hee sitting down from exhaustion. Both of them don’t see each other, but we the viewers can see these two simultaneous actions happening in different places. Kinda cool. It helps emphasize there are two sides to every coin in this story. There are two sides to Operation Clean Sweep – the decisions of the politicians, and what Lee Jin Pyo witnessed. There are two sides to revenge – revenge through death or revenge through law. There are two sides to each character – the face they show to the world, and their hidden alter ego. There are two sides to motivations – people can say they’re doing it to protect someone, and others can say they are doing it to harm someone.

The OST to this drama is A+. I am SO addicted to the songs – especially “Suddenly” by Kim Bo Kyung. I even enjoyed the instrumentals because they pumped up the anticipation without ever getting old, and I feel like there was a bit of a traditional punch added to the mostly modern composition of the piece. Hard to explain, but if you listen to the City Hunter theme, you might get what I mean. There’s something about it that reminds me of Bad Guy, and all I liked out of that drama was the OST.

Conclusion:

All in all – I truly enjoyed this drama. I don’t regret not having joined the bandwagon much earlier; in fact, I like that I watched it after the furor died down, and that I didn’t read a single recap of it on Dramabeans. Therefore I don’t know what opinions they had regarding the series. All I know is why I love it, and that’s all that matters to me.

Verdict: 9/10 – you SO GET A ONE POINT DEDUCTION for killing off KIM YOUNG JOO. I will NEVER forgive you for it. NEVER.

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5 comments

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  1. D 2 December, 2011 at 00:54 Reply

    LMAO!!!!!!! I love how mad you are about Yoon Sung…I’ll admit that I was already very spoiled about all of this before I even went into to it but that didn’t stop me from crying like a baby at the end of that episode…aaaah CH…what a ride that drama was..like you I marathoned after it was over too…definitely one of my top 4 for this year…now that I look back, the drama had quite a few plot holes, and like you said things were a little too convenient in a lot of places…so yea not perfect but the sum of it’s parts was much better than what i had expected it to be….I think this drama owes a lot to its slick direction and good acting..makes up for whatever the script was lacking….not saying that it was terrible….i loved the bigger themes and scheme of things enough to be able to ignore the smaller discrepancies

  2. estel 2 December, 2011 at 12:49 Reply

    Yay! I’m so glad that you finished City Hunter and that you wrote it up. I think your review highlighted CH’s strengths and weaknesses very fairly.

    CH was so cracktastic at the time – I seriously jumped around the house, screaming at the end of the episodes. The end of episode 11, when Nana got shot (and I was truly worried they’d kill her), and the end of episode 19, when they did kill Young-joo, were doozies. I seriously stopped functioning for a whole day after each of those. Ah, crack dramas. How I miss you in my life right now.

  3. diorama 3 December, 2011 at 17:01 Reply

    I seriously got a heart attack when Yoon Sung got shot – once by Nana in episode 8, then in the final episode. The drama worked out, but I admit I bawled over Kim Young Joo.

    The thing I loved was that the drama didn’t just stick to intense – it was light, romantic, funny (yes, I rolled around the floor at the lovers’ spat. So. Perfect). And I downloaded the OST and I can listen to it over and over again. God, this was such good crack. I love it when a drama starts out good and just keeps getting better.

  4. missjb 4 December, 2011 at 05:53 Reply

    Yess this drama is fuckin awsome…. right??? I love it, too!

    I have been spoiled that Young Joo Would die, but I still cry like a baby when I watched his actual death… It’s fuckin heartbreaking!… If u love City hunter, I bet u will love Time between dog and wolf, too ! IMo this drama is more awsome…

  5. wanne 8 December, 2011 at 21:18 Reply

    Wow, this is one of the best review i read about this drama!
    it has everything i feel about City Hunter that i never could express it any better.

    City Hunter is flawed (what not?), but it IS a great piece of work.
    its just a matter if you can see past its flaw and get your heart pumped by its gripping scene, your mind blown by its slickness, and your heart moved by its conflict and dilemma.

    the conflict is indeed very interesting and atypical. at times, i did feel that JP’s method could save all the trouble and ended it in a sweep, but in the end, my heart breaks at the thought of that boy’s dream to live happily with his father. you will never get the peace of mind after killing someone. and such a word to kdrama revenge trope, killing off your enemy will just make the cycle continues on, their son will hunt you back! and i’m still so pleased, that at the end, JP is still the real dad to YS, what a great closure! and how, they keep the conflict of ‘father vs son, father and son ‘ as the main one until the end.

    while i still cant get over YJ’s death, unlike you, i think that death actually gave this drama extra point for me, and kept the momentum high until the end, by upping the possibility that YS MAY die! oh, how glad i was he didnt. and it also made YJ’s character even more memorable and admirable.

    anyway, i enjoyed this review tremendously, thank you!

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