Episode 2 finally shed light on why all the preview stills and trailers made City Hunter seem tri-polar (revenge thriller, action flick, slapstick rom-com). While episode 1 had narrative consistency and thematic focus, episode 2 was all over the place. I’m not kidding, get Yoon Sung back to the jungle, stat. I started scribbling a recap as I was watching episode 2, partially hoping the drama would stay pretty good.
While I liked and appreciated episode 1 for what it was trying to do, I flat out hated episode 2. I’m finishing this recap because I took the time to do it, and I’m sure folks will like some clarification of the plot. If you like CH and can’t handle the fact that I don’t like it, then skip my thoughts section where I explain why. I think this drama will turn out to be a solid hit, and am happy for all the actors involved.
Episode 2 recap:
A brief flashback shows that somehow Yoon Sung gets into MIT, and Jin Pyo provides him the fake ID (an American named Johnny) and sends him off to Boston to study. Jin Pyo warns him not to fall in love. If his identity were revealed, everyone close to him would be bathed in blood. Way to go with the florid symbolism, daddy.
Back to present day Seoul, we see that Kim Na Na works various part time jobs to pay for her father’s medical treatment. He has been in a vegetative state for the past 10 years, his condition something that Na Na blames on herself.
Yoon Sung is at a club with a lady. They leave the club and their driver for the night is Na Na, yet another part time gig. As the car is about to leave, Kim Young Jo (Lee Joon Hyuk) arrives, dressed like an S&M pimp, and asks to speak with the woman.
He doesn’t have his prosecutor badge so he tries to forcibly get the lady to get out of the car. Oh boy, yet another prosecutor-acting-like-an-investigative-cop-premise, which almost drove me insane in Prosecutor Princess. I hope this is a one-time occurence for Young Jo, and he leaves the investigating to, well, the investigators. Na Na steps out and tries to stop him. Before Yoon Sung can intervene, Na Na tosses Young Jo over her shoulder.
Na Na drives and watches the woman pawing at Yoon Sung, muttering to herself why they don’t go get a room instead. Finally she can’t stand it and brakes suddenly, telling them to restrain themselves for two more minutes until they reach the hotel.
She quits on the spot and gets out of the car. She asks for half the payment, and reaches for Yoon Sung’s wallet when he refuses to pay. She takes the amount she earned, kicking the car tire once for good riddence.
Na Na is at a bus stop before she realizes she left her phone in the call. Yoon Sung is at the hotel with the woman, who asks him why he’s so interested in her sponsor. Is he jealous? She confesses to receiving illegal funds from him. Yoon Sung has a bug planted in the room. Suddenly the phone rings, and it’s the front desk calling to say that a woman is looking for her phone in his car. Yoon Sung hangs up rather than deal with her. Na Na looks inside the car, she can see her phone and its ringing.
Yoon Sung keeps asking the woman if she’s ever seen her sponsor receive the illegal money. She says no, but he talks about taking the money. Yoon Sung finds out that the sponsor keeps a book of the funds he received. Suddenly the alarm goes off, and Yoon Sung looks out the window to see Na Na lurking around his car. He comes running out of the hotel in his bathrobe. He takes her phone out of the car, and sees a call from the hospital.
Na Na is begging the doctor to do the surgery. The doctor tells her to give up, the surgery is expensive and her dad is already comatose. Suddenly Yoon Sung speaks up and says to go ahead and do the surgery, it’s been paid for. Buh? He leaves Na Na’s cellphone and leaves. Na Na looks as confused as me.
She chases him outside and asks why he’s helping her? He says that he’s not helping her, he doesn’t want to hear someone died because of him. She agrees to pay him back, and he says the money is pennies to him, and she should consider it a donation to the poor. She vows to return it to him.
The next morning, Na Na gets a call that she has been accepted, as a bodyguard for the Blue House. Na Na arrives at the Blue House for her orientation.
The session has started when Yoon Sung walks in. The instructor assumes he’s a late bodyguard. Yoon Sung confirms that he’s not, he was just told to come here. Another official comes to find Yoon Sung, revealing that he’s an security specialist just hired to work at the Blue House, with a PhD from MIT.
Yoon Sung notices Na Na and tries to say hi, but she claims not to know him. Yoon Sung is welcomed to the security team, and his arrogant attitude is condoned by the boss (doesn’t work overtime, puts his foot on the table).
Na Na is given the security detail for the President’s difficult daughter, who has caused yet more bodyguards to resign. Na Na goes to the security office and calls Yoon Sung out to talk with her. He’s reluctant, and tells her again not to worry about the money. She refuses, and he warns her that she’s not allowed to take on part time jobs now.
The bodyguards and the security office desk guys are are training together. Na Na is beating up Yoon Sung, trying to get him to give her his bank account number. Her father is precious to her and she wants to pay for his medical care. Yoon Sung gives it to her, pretending to be all hurting and beaten up.
Next we get the obligatory shower scene, and they didn’t even wait until Lee Min Ho came back from military service. Yoon Sung has clearly made the connection that Na Na is the girl in the picture. Yoon Sung offers to sign a contract with Na Na, she will pay him back by serving as his personal driver. She agrees.
Yoon Sung and Na Na are brought to meet the President (and his daughter). The President is none other than Eung Chan. His daughter likes what she sees and winks and flirts with Yoon Sung, who ignores her. Eung Chan asks Na Na and her partner to take good care of his daughter.The first daughter is not keen on being so dismissed, and vents to her new bodyguards. God, I already hate this annoying chit.
Yoon Sung video conferences Jin Pyo to brief him on his first day at the Blue House. Yoon Sung’s first target is Lee Kyung Wan, a politician keen on garnering public support for his election. Yoon Sung has found out from Lee Kyung Wan’s mistress that the man takes bribes.
Yoon Sung asks why Jin Pyo has only given him one name, Lee Kyung Wan, when he had said there are five men responsible. Jin Pyo, who only saw Kyung Wan and Eung Chan that night, says that he knows the most about Lee Kyung Wan’s involvement. Once the man is taken care of, the other four will emerge. Yoon Sung asks why he was sent to the Blue House, and Jin Pyo says all will be explained later.
Jin Pyo tells Yoon Sung to eliminate Kyung Wan, but Yoon Sung wants to use his own means to exact revenge. Jin Pyo is surprised, but agrees to watch and see how Yoon Sung handles it.
Young Jo is confronting someone about Lee Kyung Wan taking bribes. Young Jo’s boss is not happy that he’s gotten an arrest warrant for the man, he wants to see more evidence before arresting him. Young Jo goes before the media and vows to hold Kyung Wan responsible. Yoon Sung sees the news program and realizes Young Jo is a prosecutor and his reasons for wanting to talk with the woman that night.
Yoon Sung sneaks into Lee Kyung Wan’s house, where the man is currently meeting with Young Jo. Kyung Wan warns Young Jo not to mess with him. Turns out Young Jo’s the son of another high-ranking politician. Yoon Sung is listening to the conversation when a phone goes off and he’s spotted. He cuts the electricity to the house and gets out.
The First Daughter, Choi Da Hye, is at school with her bodyguards. Na Na strong-arms another student who got close to Da Hye to get his books back. Da Hye is furious at being subjected to such attention, telling her bodyguards that she’s used to not having any friends. Da Hye hands her bodyguards sparkly dresses, telling them to change because she’s headed tp a nightclub.
Yoon Sung is meeting with Kyung Wan’s mistress at the night club, and is told that she broke up with him already. Yoon Sung immediately pretends that he’s lost interest in her and walks out on her. He’s walking out, with the woman chasing him, when he sees Na Na. He walks up to her, asking her why she’s made him wait so long. He leans in and kisses her, much to her shock. Okay, stop it with the slow motion camera, for the love of my sanity.
Yoon Sung gets a slap for being a bad guy. He turns around to see Na Na all frozen in place. He gives her some money, to thank her for the courtesy kiss. Na Na grabs Yoon Sung and tosses him over her shoulder. She hands him back the money to treat his pain, for being such a shameless bastard.
Na Na gets a call that Da Hye has slipped out. She goes to look and runs into Young Jo, who introduces himself as a prosecutor this time with the right ID. They manage to find Da Hye. The next day the two bodyguards get reprimanded for losing their charge. They are warned to stay close to Da Hye, instead of giving her space because they feel sorry for her.
Yoon Sung is reviewing files on Lee Kyung Wan, which he quickly turns off when Na Na arrives. She gives him cold coffee which he complains about, and she hands him a notebook and a stamp. Each time Na Na acts as Yoon Sung’s driver, she’s stamped it once, and the debt will be paid after 200 times. Yoon Sung asks why she didn’t take the money yesterday if she’s that desperate for money. She says he can’t kiss her and pay her off. Yoon Sung says it was just a way of saying hello, figuring out that it was Na Na’s first kiss which is why she’s so upset.
Yoon Sung and Na Na continue to spar, and he allows her to keep beating him up (keeping up his pretense that he’s a weakling with no skills). Yoon Sung accidentally sprains Na Na’s ankle.
Young Jo comes to see Yoon Sung, asking what his relationship with that woman is? Young Jo asks if Yoon Sung seriously doesn’t know that woman is part of his investigation into Lee Kyung Wan. Yoon Sung says he doesn’t know and leaves.
Young Jo sees Na Na limping and offers to drive her in his car. Yoon Sung pulls up and tells Na Na to get in, saying that he was the cause of her limp.
Yoon Sung takes Na Na to the hospital, where they see the nurse ask two kids not to eat any bread products. She explains to Na Na that the kids are allergic. Na Na knows the kids because they live in the basement of her apartment. Yoon Sung and Na Na see the kids on the street and they are eating bread again. They try to run away, and almost get run over by the Lee Kyung Wan’s car. Yoon Sung sees Lee Kyung Wan doting over his own son, with callous disregard for the kids he almost smushed.
Lee Kyung Wan is discussing with another man in the car about embezzling more money. Yoon Sung drops Na Na back at home, but she stumbles on the way into her house. He gets out of the car and carries her inside the house. Yoon Sung checks out Na Na’s place, suggesting that she should at least cook something for him since he did so much for her today. He sees her still hurting and offers to make the food himself. He takes out two packs of ramyun and asks her if she wants some.
Yoon Sung sees that items in the house has been red-tagged. He asks if she has a hobby of tagging things, and takes one off. Na Na realizes Yoon Sung doesn’t know what it means, and explains that her dad is in the hospital for the past ten years, and then her mom died, so the bank tried to repo everything. She’s slowly paying off the debt.
Suddenly the boy from downstairs comes and asks for help, his sister isn’t breathing. They take her to the hospital. Yoon Sung is clearly affected by these two kids’ plight, but acts cool with Na Na, wondering if he can leave. She tells him that she needs his help since she hurt her foot. They take the kids home, and find out that the kids’ father has been gone for 10 days and the gas has been cut off. The sister refuses to go get food from social services, she would rather starve than have people call them beggars.
Yoon Sung tells Na Na to put the kids to bed. Na Na drags Yoon Sung to social services office to sign the kids up for food. The man checks the files and sees that the children supposedly have already received their alloted food money for the month. The money went to the food bank that is run affiliated with Lee Kyung Wan. We see the other man who was talking to Kyung Wan in the car works at the office, and he tries to pretend the kids were lying about not getting the money.
Yoon Sung speaks up on how odd it would be for kids to lie and go hungry. Na Na drags Yoon Sung out rather than cause a scene. Yoon Sung looks around and sees that the office has a surveillance camera. He looks back and sees the man shredding documents.
Thoughts of Mine:
A drama can’t be good simply because the actors are hot, the scenery pretty, the OST evocative, the action fluid. While rom-coms (which I critique with the same criteria – does the story and narrative make sense) aspire to a very low threshold to succeed (it lives and dies by the OTP), meatier dramas like City Hunter have a bigger burden to bear. The story of CH is about a young man trained for revenge, returning to Seoul with a mission, but perhaps discovering that his calling is to help the city, like a Korean Superman without the super powers.
As engaging entertainment goes, CH is all there. It’s fast and fluid, barely a lagging scene or moment. But like a flashy music video with all the glitz and glamour, I fail to see the substance, and that is where I part ways with CH. I’ve seen too many breathtakingly constructed and executed revenge dramas – Mawang may be the single best revenge drama I have ever seen, from any country, and I’m currently watching Resurrection, which I have to pause and take a deep breath because it’s so intense and tightly plotted.
I’ve compared CH to Time Between Dog and Wolf (and an esteemed K-blogger calls CH Time Between Perm and Fringe, heh), and that remains the closest frame of reference. But CH aims bigger, and with it all the flaws become more evident. Episode 2 revealed to me the plot holes for this baby are bigger than a ten-ton mack truck, and the subtlety is akin to a piano falling from the sky. I won’t list the ridiculous plot points one-by-one, but this baby doesn’t stand up to critical scrutiny. And the worse offense is for turning a hard-hitting and tense episode 1 story set-up into a trendy drama.
As utterly gorgeous as Lee Min Ho is as Lee Yoon Sung, I’m convinced he was miscast because I can’t buy him in either incarnation – trained-since-birth-mercenary-fighter or MIT-computer-science-PhD. He looks like an editorial editor at GQ Korea. His delivery is also curiously flat, a stark contrast to his Boys Before Flowers performance, which remains so vividly alive with feeling. Park Min Young is perfectly serviceable. They have a very comfortable chemistry with each other, but like I suspected, it’s really more best friends vibe than sizzling romantic tension.
I feel bad that Lee Joon Hyuk is once again being saddled with a character that is two-dimensional, and there to drive plot exposition and create a non-threatening third leg of the love triangle with the leads. What a waste. Goo Hara as the president’s daughter needs to be immediately killed off the show – she’s an abominable actress.
What I love about CH are all the older actors, especially Kim Sang Joong as Lee Jin Pyo. But it looks like the writer intends to make everyone one-note, the baddies uber-bad, and even Jin Pyo some obsessed freak that will eventually force Yoon Sung to choose between his adoptive daddy and some greater sense of justice. A lot of the revenge dramas I mentioned above never do this – they are so well structured and written that the bad guys are never cackling evildoers who steal money from orphaned children, like we see Lee Kyung Wan turned into by episode 2.
I think CH will be a smooth and fun ride in general, appealing to the majority of viewers who want something different than a rom-com or family melodrama. Revenge thrillers are one of my favorite genres, so with my personal elevated requirements for tight plotting and less flashy execution, I’m probably in the minority on this one in not finding CH my cup of tea. I don’t feel any emotional connection with this drama, so I can’t smooth over what I perceive to be the glaring flaws. Because of all that, I will gracefully bow out and let folks who like it enjoy the drama to the fullest.