Let me preface this by saying that I am an action/political thriller junkie. (See IRIS and ATHENA.) Let me also add now that I should stay far away from political thrillers unless they include Kim So Yeon. So if anyone ever sees me recapping another political thriller, bop me on the head first before letting me continue.
We begin with a recap on the Korean War in 1950, and how it tore a peninsula apart. Peace talks have been ongoing, and in this drama’s reality, Korea is edging ever closer to unification. If you have the South Korean President played by Lee Soon Jae, any leader is gonna want to be allies with him; he’s the High Kick grandpa! In an effort to mediate the process towards One Korea, both President Kang and Supreme Leader Kim Tae Sung have begun an offshore project to find a new source of energy for all, and joined their soccer teams for the World Cup. (Sports unity is very important.)
This new source of energy is methane hydrate, to be found in the deep depths of the ocean. The offshore base is headed by Suh Myung Joon (Hwang Jung Min), a fair-minded scientist who treats his workers well no matter which Korea they came from. His workers all like to battle out their rivalries at any moment, from morning exercises to break time for a soccer game. But they all love and respect Myung Joon, especially North Korean driller Park Kwang Tae (the wonderful chameleon supporting actor Choi Jae Hwan), who is Myung Joon’s favorite.
Also on this base is Lim Jin Jae (Kim Jung Eun), a scientist from North Korea whose father is in the government. My guess is it’s Lim Chul Woo (Park Chan Hwan), the North Korean diplomat/envoy to South Korea. Jin Jae and Chul Woo both share a similar aspiration for peace along with Supreme Leader Kim Tae Sung. However, they are surrounded by others who would rather keep the two countries apart – notably, Jo Gook Chul (Jung Sung Mo), who is in charge of the military and therefore holds a lot more power than others would like.
So on to the story – Myung Joon is generally the good guy/hero type. Jin Jae is conflicted because she’s ordered to steal the core technology for the methane hydrate from Myung Joon. (They’re in love by the way, but they don’t act like it.) However, she’d rather if Myung Joon just gave it to her, because she doesn’t want to betray him. Either way, she’ll probably tell it to North Korea – to her, the method of getting the information is more important than the result.
Myung Joon won’t share it, saying that when peace and unification occurs, the disclosure will happen automatically. Jin Jae twists his words and makes it personal: it’s not about the political situation they’re in, but it’s because he can’t trust her. Egh…
We end up with war – on both the base and between the Koreas. Chul Gook is ordering a military strike as a way to build distrust between the two governments; I’m guessing he has his own motivations for the energy? As for the base, a North Korean scientists sets up an explosion as a diversion so that Jin Jae can steal the technology from Myung Joon’s office.
This drama is like IRIS in concept and ATHENA in storyline, but with none of the tension. Episode 1 and 2 had plenty of overlap plot-wise, and it was mostly a set-up for bigger things to come. It’s well shot like IRIS, and really looks like it could be a blockbuster movie. It’s also about energy, and trying to make peace with North Korea through the new energy source. That’s great and all, but the biggest issue I had was with the execution of the plot and the acting.
I’ll start with the good points, because there are some. For one, I’m now kind of curious now how Myung Joon ends up being the president of all of Korea (according to the drama’s synopsis), since he’s just the head of a research base right now with little political inclinations. I’m also curious at how Chul Gook’s little military stunt will affect the whole unification issue. He’s pretty much destroyed the fragile trust between the two countries, so something remarkable needs to happen for the two countries to unite. I hope the drama is not about how the two countries will unite, but what happens after the two countries unite. If we’re going to be in this fictional world, then I’d like for it to be as fictional as possible. I’d like to see how reunification would change Korea and the rest of the world; there’s plenty of drama there that would be more creative than your usual “spy-and-steal” fare.
The characters that really grab my attention are the workers – especially the rivalry between the North and South Korean workers. Kwang Tae, along with Jo Gap Suk and Kim Ho Taek are the oddball trio – comedic in their desperation for some chocopies, fervently respect Myung Joon, and love a good fight against the South Koreans. In fact, as they all watch the World Cup game together, both sides scream their own cheers for their players – even though they’re on the same team!
Now on to the bad. I will start with the leads, Hwang Jung Min and Kim Jung Eun. The two of them have little chemistry, and I can’t believe for one second that they’re in love. Though we get flashbacks of the two of them courting (as one would if you’re both highly intelligent scientists stuck on an industrial offshore base), they treat each other quite coldly and indifferently in the present time. Did they break up? Or are they hiding their relationship from their coworkers? Either way, I would expect a little more affection between a couple that’s about to be engaged.
Also – Kim Jung Eun’s acting? I expected more from her. She was more believable as a lawyer’s wife-turned-rock star in I Am Legend than she is a scientist with conflicting loyalties. She always looks like she’s about to smile… even during serious moments. She is just not expressive enough, and I don’t think she manages to capture that feeling of “this-is-a-serious-drama-and-I-must-look-as-intense-as-possible.” Su Ae carried that air the best.
This drama has a great cast – it’s just that I don’t think they’re being given the best material to work with just yet. But we’ll have to see on that.
The pacing of this drama is inconsistent. While I want to feel the tension of the situation, the frenetic jumping between scenes and locations makes me lose my focus. Who is that again? Whose side is he on? What just happened? Why is she in that room? Is this happening at the same time!? There are also overlapping scenes and dialogue from episode 1 to episode 2, so for the first fifteen minutes of episode 1, I kept wondering, “Why am I watching this again?” I don’t feel the tension or the anticipation that I think I should from these scenes. I’d rather you finish one story thread before jumping into another, because otherwise I get really confused on the timeline. I feel like I am getting lines and scenes repeated to me one too many times.
There is simply something lacking in the way that the story is being told. Perhaps the writers want to place us right in the middle of things – a way to “cut to the chase.” But they are also giving both the romance and the political thriller sides equal attention, which is a bit unwieldy. I would have preferred if they really set up the political situation, and made the romance a smaller part of it. Maybe they’re trying to make the romance between Jin Jae and Myung Joon an allegory to the ties between North and South Korea; the research base and the two countries are already allegories of each other. If so, it’s not that believable; I’m already getting annoyed by Jin Jae’s constant, “Do you trust me?” questions.
Verdict: Not recapping. Not watching. Not really, anyways.