City Hunter, the manga of my youth, has finally arrived in the incarnation of the K-drama of my adulthood. One episode in, it resembles the original CH in concept, story, and execution about as much as a…..ah heck, screw it with the analogies, it doesn’t resemble it in the slightest. So I shall never ever compare again, and henceforth watch a K-drama that just so happens to share the same name. With that said, episode 1 was not bad, but not enough to convince me the rest of the drama will be a solid revenge thriller.
Since CH trotted out the awesome duo of Park Sang Min and Kim Sang Joong to play the two daddies of Lee Min Ho, I was inspired to recap it for them. Yes, them badass ahjusshis are da bomb, and them (and their bromance) are what anchored the first episode for me. The young cast I shall reserve my opinion until they all show up. I do have niggling worry that Lee Min Ho is miscast, period. But heck, let’s get this baby rolling.
Episode 1 Recap:
A woman (played by Kim Mi Sook) is giving birth in a hospital. Two Korean secret service agents are awaiting the arrival of the President. We flash the date, October 9, 1983. Oh shit, City Hunter gotz balls, because the drama isn’t just making up some political catastrophe, it’s going gonzo. The date tells us that we are at the infamous and tragic Rangoon Assasination – where North Koreans attempted to assassinate the South Korean president during a visit to Burma (now Mynamar) and ended up killing a handful of the South Korean cabinet and other innocent bystanders.
The two agents, Park Moo Yul (played by Park Sang Min in a guest appearance) and Lee Jin Pyo (played by Kim Sang Joong), hear that the President is running late. As the President’s motorcade turns the corner and arrives at the destination, an unknown hand presses the bombs hidden in the building and kaboomb, we’ve got total devastation. The two agents walk through the aftermath of the bomb attack, looking at the destruction of dead bodies and torn limbs. The woman gives birth to a son, and faints when she hears news reports of the Rangoon bombing.
South Korea holds a public funeral for the deceased and a nation mourns. Five politicians sit around a table (in guest appearances by elder statesman actors, other than Chun Ho Jin as Choi Eung Chan). The men are pissed about the North Korean assassination attempt, and Eung Chan speaks up, asking if they want to retaliate. The men agree. I call this the roundtable of angry plotting.
Jin Pyo and Moo Yul are asked to assemble and lead a group of soldiers to infiltrate North Korea and assassinate twenty of their cabinet members – an eye for an eye, one for each dead in the Rangoon bombing. Moo Yul visits his wife in the hospital and holds his son for the first time. Jin Pyo thinks Moo Yul shouldn’t go, but Moo Yul insists on this mission. Choi Eung Chan visits the special team and makes a vow, a promise, that he will make sure they all come home. Yeah, I see a lying liar who lies right there, or at least a dude who is surely not going to keep that promise.
The special forces don North Korean uniforms and infiltrate Pyongyeong, the capital of North Korea. As the men are efficiently carrying out their mission, Eun Chang gets the news that the President has declared there will be no military support. During the mission, Moo Yul gets stabbed, and Jin Pyo kills the opponent and saves his friend.
Eung Chan is furious that his men are left to die, and he has a submarine waiting in the harbor to pick them up. He’s told that any military presence will ignate another war in the Korean peninsula. Eung Chan is told that the men sent on the mission should be considered a sacrifice for the greater good of the country. Eung Chan accuses his colleagues of wanting to bury this mission and save their own skin in case the public ever finds out.
Jin Pyo helps Moo Yul to the beach and they swim out into the ocean. Jin Pyo urges Moo Yul to wake up. All the men swimming towards the submarine are excited to see their rescue vessel, until suddenly the first shot rings out. A sniper on the submarine is systematically shooting every single one of his comrades, silencing this mission forever. It’s devastating to watch. Moo Yul pushes Jin Pyo down into the water, keeping him submerged as he takes the final shot. The sniper is satisfied that all survivors have been eliminated. Jin Pyo surfaces to see the submarine descend on route back to South Korea, leaving the corpses of South Korean soldiers littering North Korean waters.
Moo Yul asks Jin Pyo to take care of his wife and son, telling him that he was never going to survive after that knife wound earlier. Jin Pyo lets out a howl of rage, descending into the water and letting his friend go. Jin Pyo swims back to shore. Eung Chan gets a call that all members have died during the misson. He looks distraught, while the other four guys look shifty. Eung Chan is asked to keep this mission a secret amongst the five politicians. Eung Chan is alone in his office when a knife is held to his throat.
It’s Jin Pyo, who says that Eung Chan appears to have some conscience, since he kept the dog-tags of all the men. Jin Pyo tells him that he sacrificed twenty of his friends for politics. All of the men were willing to die for their country, but they refuse to be pawns for a political play, especially politics that treat men like flies. Eung Chan tells Jin Pyo to kill him, but they are interrupted. Jin Pyo leaves before killing Eung Chan, but leaves him a note pined to the desk by a large knife, telling him that he will pay for his crimes.
Jin Pyo goes to Moo Yul’s house, and sees his wife holding his son in the yard. When the wife goes to hang laundry, she hears the dogs barking. She walks back inside to find her son missing. There is a note from Jin Pyo that he is taking Moo Yul’s son. Jin Pyo looks at a picture of Moo Yul, telling him that he has named the boy Lee Yoon Sung, and is planning the world’s most vicious revege, which is his reason for living.
Jin Pyo takes the boy to Thailand and trains him to daily in fighting and marksmanship. Jin Pyo is a relentless surrogate daddy and drives Yoon Sung hard. Yoon Sung asks to see a picture of his mom, and is told that she is dead. Jin Pyo tears up his picture with Moo Yul and his wife so that Yoon Sung cannot see it. Poor boy Yoon Sung runs in the jungle and cries. A nice Thai woman has become Yoon Sung’s surrogate mommy.
Little boy Yoon Sung plays with an elephant in the water, and we transition to young adult Yoon Sung (Lee Min Ho) riding an elephant bathed in sunlight. Niiiice.
Yoon Sung heads to the city with his friends. He sees a man being beaten up and almost getting his fingers cut off, being accused of cheating. Yoon Sung tosses a couple of fruit aces through the window at the aggressors and luring them towards him instead. He saves the man as they two of them run through the city. Yoon Sung takes his new ahjusshi friend back to his home base. We see adult Yoon Sung is a great fighter and a crack shot.
Daddy straps Yoon Sung’s surrogate mommy on a target, because her husband has taken the drugs and run away. He wants to punish her, but Yoon Sung asks if he can shoot all the targets, then she can be forgiven. Jin Pyo agrees, and Yoon Sung shoots every target, except for the last one hanging in front of her face. He goes back to his room to brood. He looks at the picture of a high school Kim Na Na (Park Min Young), asking if it’s right to shoot at someone you love. He asks the picture if she lives in Seoul and is happy there.
The gang that Yoon Sung beat up in Bangkok has found their way to the hideout and is here to exact payback. They pepper Yoon Sung’s room with bullets, but he manages to dodge them. Jin Pyo is out in the jungle and rushes back. Yoon Sung fights his way out of the room and goes outside. His surrogate mommy walks out and is killed. Yoon Sung is pissed and chases after the bad guys, with Jin Pyo yelling at him not to go. Yoon Sung tracks them down, but in his haste steps on a landmine. He’s about to be shot when Jin Pyo arrvies and offs the bad guys.
Jin Pyo helps steady the pressure on the landmine so that Yoon Sung can lift his feet and escape. The landmine goes off, and Jin Pyo loses his right leg in the blast. Yoon Sung carries his daddy back to the compound to seek medical treatment.
Jin Pyo finally tells Yoon Sung his true family history and what Yoon Sung’s revenge mission in life will be – go back to Korea and make the men in power who killed his daddy and sacrificed an entire mission of soldiers pay for their betrayal. Jin Pyo has survived for this long because he wants to see Moo Yul, who took a bullet for him, avenged. Yoon Sung asks if this is why Jin Pyo trained him so relentlessly, for revenge? Jin Pyo faints and Yoon Sung cries for the doctors to save his father.
Yoon Sung sits and broods, holding the taped back picture of Jin Pyo with his real parents (and Eung Chan). He goes to see Jin Pyo and asks who was to blame for the death of his father. Jin Pyo says that it was five men. Yoon Sung asks if the five men are killed, can he and Jin Pyo move somehere new and start over, finding happiness. Yoon Sung asks if his mother is alive, and is told that she is alive. Yoon Sung makes a vow to transform himself, that is his destiny.
Seven years later, a new and improved Yoon Sung heads back to Korea. The new Yoon Sung sure likes fancy pants. In the car, he gets a call, telling him the name of the first man he is to find. He is reminded never to forget the death of his father. He goes to a public square to soak up being back in his homeland. Standing just off to the side is Na Na, dressed like an Easter lady and handing out tissue packs.
Thoughts of Mine:
My first impression of City Hunter is thus: it’s a larger-budgeted, bigger-scoped, smaller-emotional resonance version of Time Between Dog and Wolf. I personally think TBDAW is damn near perfect, with an emphasis on story, character, and narrative over action sequences. Right now CH feels the other way around, I’m engaged by the action but feel nothing for the characters and the central story.
I think a major dissonance factor will be the fact that Yoon Sung grew up never knowing about his real parents and how his father died. Hence this entire revenge for Yoon Sung becomes a clinical exercise – in the name of my father – but I don’t feel the pain because I can’t see how Yoon Sung would feel the pain. Theoretically he could be pissed, but beyond that it’s like a task he’s been saddled with.
Reuniting with his long-lost mommy is a very viable emotional thread, and I’m looking forward to the poor boy finding his mom again. If I dig a little deeper, the story doesn’t make any logical sense. In order to shoehorn Yoon Sung into the revenge plot, Jin Pyo kidnapped him and trained him to be a killing machine. But why wait, when Jin Pyo was more than capable of offing the men by himself. Look, if Jin Pyo can run off to Thailand and assemble and run a compound full of mercenaries, don’t tell me he can’t get revenge for his fallen comrades.
If the point is to have Yoon Sung pull the trigger for symbolic purposes, I’m not too keen on that angle. It makes more sense for Jin Pyo to seek revenge since he lost his best friend and his entire troop. But I shall watch and see how the story plays out. The drama looks very pretty, though the execution is much too florid for my tastes, with an excessive penchant for slow motion filming that is already grating on my nerves a bit. The music is nice, a solid OST that is used very effectively.
The drama premiered with a 10.2 in ratings, and I think it’ll do pretty well considering it’s counterprogramming against two romance dramas, and it’s really pretty good. I’m not planning to recap this drama unless episode 2 suddenly blows my mind, because recapping two Wed-Thurs dramas this past month almost killed me. I’ll likely keep watching CH though, and if I like it enough, will be happy to bring ongoing updates.