It took me a while to get around to this drama, but I finally did. Yay – old drama checked off my list! I’m glad I watched it, because in a way I got to see how action dramas worked in 2007, and compared it to the more recent dramas of late (think IRIS, ATHENA, and City Hunter). I have to admit I went into the drama with pretty low expectations; when I watched the first episode years ago, I couldn’t sit through the first half-hour. I was bored to death. But with nothing to do except some snuggling against my couch and huddled under a blanket, I sat through the entire first episode – and the entire series.
This drama has almost every melodramatic cliche you could squeeze into a 16-episode revenge/action drama, which is both its strong point and its weakest. While the fast pace of the drama helps keep the tensions high, it has more plot holes and crazy plot lines than I could keep track of. It also fluctuated between the story being propelled forward, and then stretches of meandering as characters dance around the truth but never really get there. But perhaps a summary should be told for those who haven’t seen this series.
Lee Soo Hyun (Lee Jun Ki) was raised in Bangkok by his widowed mother, who works tirelessly as a prosecutor, trying to bring the Jung Triad to justice after the untimely death of her husband (a NIS agent). Her investigations and police operations attract too much attention, and the Jung Triad decides to swiftly eliminate her. It also doesn’t help that one of the higher-ups, Mao Liwarat (Choi Jae Sung), just lost his wife and daughter Ari to Seo Young Kil (Jung Sung Mo), one of his underlings. Young Kil made a deal with Soo Hyun’s mother where he would be given safe passage to Korea with Mao’s family (whom he loves dearly) in exchange for information about a scheduled drug sale. So Mao is filled with vengeance when he goes to kill the mother – point blank, and right in front of Soo Hyun’s eyes.
Mao, wearing a Thai costume mask, aims to kill again, but Soo Hyun holds his hands over the nozzle of the gun, holding his mother’s last gift: his father’s broken watch. Moved, and unable to shoot a child in the face, he leaves, but not before Soo Hyun remembers the tattoo on his arm. May I also note that Soo Hyun has met Mao before when he walked Ari home, and shook hands with Mao gangster style. Guess he never saw the tattoo then…
Ari is forced to leave her home and her newfound friend for Seoul; she never had issue with her father, who was the best father he could be, but she wanted her long-suffering mother to be happy as well. Likewise, Soo Hyun’s parents’ friend Kang Joong Ho (Lee Ki Young) adopts Soo Hyun as his own and takes him to Korea. His son Min Ki (Jung Kyung Ho) doesn’t have much of a problem with Soo Hyun, but dislikes that Soo Hyun is so distant and cold. He just wants to be friends!! They get into a schoolyard scuffle, and then get caned by the father at home. Joong Ho’s wife and son think that he would never possibly hit Soo Hyun because he’s not the real son and is favorited, but Joong Ho whips the boy for his insolence. Bonding moment time!! And Soo Hyun inexplicably becomes a real part of their family.
Time passes. They grow up, and Min Ki and Soo Hyun become NIS agents just like their fathers. Min Ki is the troublemaker, being the more lazy agent, and so he ends up in the data mining section. Soo Hyun is quiet but brilliant, and super sharp – and he becomes a field agent. It’s a testament to their bond as brothers that neither side is jealous, and neither is surprised by Min Ki’s playboy ways.
They bump into Seo Ji Woo (Nam Sang Mi) accidentally, with Min Ki pursuing her as a love interest, and Soo Hyun in the middle. When the two old friends recognize each other and reunite, Min Ki cannot stand in the way between the sparkling chemistry between the two. Or more like – Ji Woo’s enthrallment with Soo Hyun, and Soo Hyun’s indifference.
Soo Hyun is assigned a case of reconnaissance against the Jung Triad and Mao, who have arrived in Korea in hopes of expanding their market and establishing a hub there. He’s nervous as he plants a camera bug, but then is in the shock for his life when he recognizes Mao’s tattoo. He goes rogue, attempting to kill Mao himself, and fires his gun against him. It’s caught on tape – and caught by Min Ki as he reviews the case, no less – and is subsequently fired. Soo Hyun goes to Thailand immediately, and is followed by Ji Woo and Min Ki, who know he’s out plotting for revenge.
Soo Hyun tries and fails, and gets hurt, and then goes home. Director Jung, the chief of NIS, recognizes his talent and thirst for revenge, and offers him a position as a narc – he will go deep undercover in Thailand and attempt to infiltrate the Jung Triad. Commence Infernal Affairs plot.
Years later, only Director Jung and Joon Ho know of Soo Hyun’s identity. Everyone else thinks he’s dead, and Min Ki has a hard time convincing Ji Woo to move on with him. Just when she’s ready to move on though, Soo Hyun distinguishes himself in front of Mao by saving his life, and then goes to Korea as part of his entourage. He’s assigned to watch over Ji Woo (because Mao wants to know how his daughter is), when he sees Bae Sang Shik (Lee Tae Sung) from a rival gang attempting to kidnap Ji Woo. Soo Hyun quickly saves Ji Woo’s life, much to her shock, but then gets shot and drives his car into the sea.
Commence amnesia, and when he gets captured by Sang Shik and then returned to Mao, he thinks he’s Kay, his undercover gangster identity. Meanwhile, Min Ki thinks Ji Woo is absolutely cuckoo in thinking Soo Hyun’s alive.
Some more fighting, some more business negotiations, and Sang Shik ends up joining Jung Triad. Then Joong Ho finally realizes that Soo Hyun might have amnesia, and attempts to bring him in. They try to reel him in during an op, and Joong Ho stops Soo Hyun from running by saying that he’s not Kay. Unfortunately, before he can say his real name, he gets stabbed by Sang Shik. Sang Shik bolts, and leaves Soo Hyun/Kay to watch stunned as Joong Ho dies before his very eyes. The NIS team and Min Ki charge in and arrest Soo Hyun right away.
When they hold him for interrogation, they barely give a second thought to the fact that he looks EXACTLY like their fallen colleague Lee Soo Hyun. It doesn’t help that Kay’s manner is so opposite of Soo Hyun, but guys – really!?!?
Some more questioning, some more cries of denial, and finally Soo Hyun is assigned the task of killing Ji Woo’s father, Young Kil – per Jung Triad’s orders. He shoots Young Kil, but then Ji Woo comes rushing in and holds her hands up to the nozzle, and suddenly the memories come flashing back to Soo Hyun. He remembers who he is, and turns to Director Jung, but this time he has his own agenda. He will help Director Jung in leaking out information about the Triad’s new drug called Balloon (which induces hysteria and violence), and helps orchestrate a takedown of the factories so that the other gangs turn their backs against Mao. Unfortunately, Soo Hyun gets caught in the process when he steals a decoy USB from Mao, and it ends up detonating in Director Jung’s office.
He’s close to having a happy ending with Ji Woo, but can’t really because Mao then calls him out to a warehouse for one final showdown. They shoot at each other, and finally it’s them face to face, guns pointed at each other. Then Mao recognizes the watch on Soo Hyun’s wrist, and recognizes Soo Hyun as the boy from years ago. He puts his gun down and attempts to say that he and Soo Hyun’s real father were best friends. But Soo Hyun shoots him down anyways. When Mao’s hand falls out of his pocket, a photo of him and Soo Hyun’s father is revealed, them being best buddies. Soo Hyun is shot down by Mao’s bodyguard, and they fall – hands practically on top of each other.
Years later, Min Ki has moved on from Ji Woo, Ji Woo is going to Paris to work, and Min Ki is Soo Hyun’s new handler. Soo Hyun is still a narc, but he’ll be going to Paris too.
This drama has loads of Lee Jun Ki at his best, or should I say, trying his best? Whether it’s making spinning kicks or besting others at “who can shoot first?” he always looks impressive and cool as he does it. Just how I like my heroes. However, there were moments of him screaming in despair or agony that had me wondering, “Are you screaming because this is all too much? Too over-the-top?” Jung Kyung Ho holds up his end admirably, going from dorky agent to badass when he tries to take Soo Hyun’s place in NIS. The best part is putting them two together; together you have a wonderful bromance that shows how much they love each other, and support each other. Despite all the lies and betrayals, I’m glad that Min Ki quickly gets over it because he realizes that 1) he has his brother back, and 2) he understands his brother’s need for revenge. I think this drama had too many episodes of them not together, which totally sucked.
In regards to the love triangle though, because Jung Kyung Ho played Min Ki so well, I really wished that he ended up with Ji Woo. Though he threw tantrums when she couldn’t let go of Soo Hyun’s memory, he tried so hard to win her hand. He was a good guy, and I felt bad that Ji Woo wouldn’t accept him. As for Soo Hyun, I never felt his love for Ji Woo – I think he lacked any chemistry with Nam Sang Mi, despite the drama claiming otherwise. Nam Sang Mi herself was quite annoying – she was always getting in the way of Soo Hyun and Min Ki’s plans, and I just wanted her to shut up and wait until the fighting was over. Though she saved Soo Hyun a couple of times, she also put him in a lot of danger too. Grr – I guess because I didn’t like her character, I didn’t like how these two guys were fighting over her.
The drama had crazy plot lines and plot holes that raised more questions as I watched it than answered them. I mean – when Soo Hyun comes back from the dead in the movie theater, the first thing the agents do is arrest him. Really? You don’t pause and stare mid-punch, crying: “Is that you, Soo Hyun!? Welcome back, buddy!” Granted, you all asked once, “Is that Soo Hyun?” as you stare at him through the one-way glass, but it falls flat because no one even wants to pursue the possibility with a DNA test. It’s like in Ocean’s Twelve, when Matt Damon makes a passing remark that George Clooney‘s wife looks like Julia Roberts. Umm, duh?! At least in Ocean’s Twelve, they do something about the likeness; in Time, they don’t.
Soo Hyun even gets amnesia because it’s so convenient, and at that point in the drama (around episodes 6-8), I felt the series was dragging on its feet. Things didn’t make sense – I kept asking myself, “Wait, don’t Mao and Soo Hyun recognize each other already? There are so many signs!” or “Shouldn’t he have seen that watch earlier?” And then nearer to the end, I wondered, “How’d the Chief survive that flash bomb in his office?” and “Was Mao’s bodyguard Giraffe a double agent too or something?” and “Why the hell do we find out now that Mao and Soo Hyun’s father were friends?” At that point it was such an unnecessary detail that I wish they didn’t include that connection. The drama would have been fine without it. This drama was ridiculousness built upon ridiculousness, to the point that when I reached the end, I was willing to buy everything despite my questions because there were too many gaps and potential plot wells to keep track of. “Don’t you know that already?” and “Oh, now you know?” were constant refrains in my head.
I felt this drama didn’t pick up again until around episode 13, when every episode after that had a better cliffhanger than the last. It’s like they got a whole new scriptwriter and editor for the final episodes, because suddenly the story was quicker, more exciting, and wrapping up. Once Soo Hyun remembered who he was, allied with his brother, and their plans came to fruition, the wait became worth it. I don’t like the ending because it was so cheesy, and yet, I love how Min Ki and Soo Hyun essentially became their fathers, and Soo Hyun continued being a narc. In the end, I only cared about these two brothers.
I don’t mean to bash this drama, since I do think that because it was so short, and was trying to move quickly as possible, it kind of glazed over a bunch of details. I will give this drama some props for developing solid characters like Min Ki, Soo Hyun, and even Ji Woo (as annoying as she was). It had a great supporting cast in Sung Ji Roo, Lee Tae Sung, and Kim Gab Soo, all of whom made me feel sympathy, made me smack my lips in deliciousness, and made me love to hate, respectively. In fact, this drama makes me appreciate the later action dramas, which had less ambitious plots, but more focused storytelling. I will draw parallels to this drama with IRIS. At its core, it was about revenge, and yet it got sidetracked with the side story of Soo Hyun trying to take down the Triad in forgettable ways (except the time he finally teams up with his brother – see, two heads are better than one!). IRIS got a little diversion with the whole NIS takeover, which was important, but all you really wanted was for Hyun Joon to just get the chief Baek San already! It also makes me appreciate City Hunter more, because it had a well-thought-out plot with enough twists that weren’t dropped at the last five minutes to keep me interested. City Hunter was also about revenge, but its plot of going against five men was actually laid out better than this drama’s plot of going after one man. Time Between Dog and Wolf was a drama that marked the times of 2007 – when dramas were veering away from the cliche and more towards the trendier, better written dramas (from my perspective). I appreciate that, but it also makes me laugh at it.
If I were to ever watch this drama again, it would be because of Lee Jun Ki and Jung Kyung Ho’s bromance. I might just watch the first five episodes over and over again, and then skip to episode 13. Anything with the two of them is worth it; episodes with them apart just makes the drama fall apart.