25 June, 2012

The Devil: A Review

"I entered the tunnel, and I saw you in the dark."

The story begins with a murder, or what seems like one.  Detective Kang Oh-soo is put on the case; another man, a lawyer named Oh Seung-ha, also becomes involved.

Kang Oh-soo is devoted to his job, and to catching the bad guys.  His father is a powerful and corrupted politician and businessman, but Oh-soo keeps to his work and rarely goes home.  One would never think of him as a rich man’s son.  He’s a humble, good-humored person, but his fiery temper can sometimes get him into trouble.  It’s only as the show goes on that we understand that Kang Oh-soo is a deeply torn individual, trying to atone for a terrible action he committed when he was a teenager.

Oh Seung-ha is tall and handsome; he dresses well, and is a very successful lawyer.  He’s a pleasant, if reserved, individual, and he often takes on cases for free, volunteers for service at his church, and is great with kids.  As with Oh-soo, appearances are not everything, and it is made clear that Oh Seunng-ha is a deeply disturbed person.  But how and why?

Who's the devil?  What makes a devil?  

I started this drama because I loved Rebirth/Resurrection (2005), which shares the same director, writer, and leading man with The DevilThe Devil is decidedly darker, but at the same time, less dramatic.  In Rebirth there was a pretty immediate set up, birth secrets, a love that transcends all etc.  Doesn’t mean that drama isn’t awesome, because it is, but The Devil has a distinctly different feel from its predecessor. 

Also, keep in mind, that there are indirect spoilers ahead.

It starts slowly, in medeas reas, and we must find our footing.  It takes a bit- at least it did for me, since I first gave up in middle of the second episode, having failed to be hooked.  I decided to give it another try, and after a few episodes I knew that I couldn’t stop until I finished.  I knew that I would be full of questions, that I couldn’t be satisfied until I learned the truth.

But what is truth? 

 This drama holds many answers.  Reporter Sung Jun-pyo maintains for several episodes that he is only searching for the truth, when his actions make it clear that he is only looking for the truth he wants.  Every character sees a different truth.  Some characters believe that Kang Oh-soo is a monster.  One character says to him, “You don’t even know what’s right… It cracks me up to see you act all nice and speak for justice.”  These don’t take into consideration that Kang Oh-soo may have changed or that he was trying his best to do what’s right. Other characters trust that Oh-soo has changed: that’s their truth.  Oh-soo’s father says that depending on a situation and how one perceives it, crooked lines may seem straight, and straight lines may seem crooked.  Truer words were never uttered in this drama.

But is Kang Oh-soo’s view of himself and his actions the truth?  I’m pretty sure that we got to hear him say three or four different views on the atrocious act he committed, and I’m still not sure which one was the truth.  I’m not even sure that Oh-so even knows anymore, or whether he has somewhat justified his actions in his mind in order to keep going.

It’s also interesting how the other characters treat Kang Oh-soo.  His friend, Suk-jin, doesn’t like being told what to do by someone like Oh-soo, who’s done a horrible crime.  Suk-jin, on the other hand, is the lover of Oh-soo’s sister-in-law.  Kim Soon-ki, doesn’t trust Oh-soo because of what he has done, but he’s a convicted criminal, was a horrible bully during his school years, and all he does during the show is live off of other people and threaten and blackmail them.  Oh-soo’s father also doesn’t believe in Oh-soo, even though he, himself, has committed crimes, and all with a self-righteous manner.

My point is that Kang Oh-soo may have committed a horrible crime, which he may or may not have intended to do, and he may or may not be feeling sorry for it (though it’s clear that the guy lives in his own guilt constructed hell), but he is trying to live the best way that he can, which is more than a lot of his friends, family, and acquaintances can say.

In particular, one acquaintance, who cannot leave his pain behind and move on, destroying his ability to live well.  

I don't want to talk too much about him, because I don't want to give too much away, since this is a drama that is important to keep away from spoilers.  A note about the ending that doesn't give it away: I was blown away.  I'm pretty sure that the minutes that I watched the ending, I could give the best K-drama criers a run for their money.  It was that good for me.  Oh, the irony.  Fortune, my friend.  The beginning and the ending as one. 

Now to the technicalities.

I feel really bad for the other dramas (especially the currently-airing ones) that I've been watching while watching The Devil.  None of them come close to how beautiful this drama is (God of War is definitely the closest).  The cinematography is amazing.  I took more screenshots than I know what to do with.  I would often pause a scene just to stare at the image in front of me that must have been constructed with a lot of skill and care.

Whoever was in charge of the lighting, I want to kiss.  It was almost a storyteller in itself.  Especially the blues that seem to follow Seung-ha wherever he goes.  I loved that in almost every scene that Seung-ha is in his bedroom, he's in the dark, by himself, the blue light shining on him.  That is, except for one scene, when he gets home from a blissful day with Hae-in.  It was so sweet and said more than any words what she meant to him.

The music was suitably moody, and I now count it one of my favorite K-drama soundtracks.  I especially loved the snare drum playing in one of the themes, as if in expectation of the execution of a judgement. 

Just about everyone is a bad guy, but the writer never paints any of them broadly.  All of them have a reason for being screwed up, whether it’s greed, cowardliness, fear, guilt, anger, hurt, or a want for revenge.  This makes it much more difficult to hate anyone (though honestly, I had a really hard time with Sung Jun-pyo and all his truth crap), and makes it easier for us to understand each character and to sympathize with them.

The supporting players ALL did an amazing job making their characters believable, vulnerable, and while I was frustrated and angry with certain characters, I couldn't hate any of them, because I could understand them.  A special shout out to Kim Gyu-chul (one of my favorites) and Jo Jae-wan, who both played opposite of their characters in Rebirth.  I hardly even recognized Jo Jae-wan.

Uhm Tae-woong is one of my favorites, and he certainly does not fail in this role.  I'm still so in love with this drama, so I can't say with a clear mind if I think he's better in The Devil or Rebirth.  At first, I thought the characters were identical, but I ended up being very wrong.  I definitely felt more for Kang Oh-soo than any other character Uhm Tae-woong has played.

I know people who loved Goong (2006) and loved Joo Ji-hoon in it, and others who found him absolutely horrible.  I haven't given that drama a try, but if he's any less brilliant than he is in The Devil,  I don't know that I would be able to stand it.  He's excellent.

I like Shin Mina, but I haven't been able to finish her other projects.  She gave the role an earnest kindness, and a graceful loveliness.  Even though her character is the least flawed and includes the only supernatural elements (which I didn't mind, though not really necessary), Shin Mina's natural performance definitely helped me like her a lot.

Also, I found the love triangle extremely refreshing.  You have two men who are guilty of horrible things, and have reasons to hate each other, and they are both in love with a good, kind, warm-hearted, innocent woman; one loves her while he does his best to resurrect himself from the things he’s done, and the other loves her while he’s destroying himself and others.

Now, this all sounds dramatic, but it never felt that way until I actually wrote this down.  There’s nothing dramatic about this love triangle.  No hurtful wrist grabs, no manipulation, no craziness as resulted from jealousy.  It’s obvious that both men care an amazing amount for Hae-in, but neither believes he deserves her, and therefore, they both keep their distance, not wanting to cause her harm.  The relationships are not dysfunctional, and both pairings work quite nicely… if there just weren’t those messy backgrounds that Oh-soo and Seung-ha have… *sighs*

 "A man who thinks other people's lives are a game, already lost against himself."

Back to my soapbox: How far is too far?

So many characters do wrong things in an effort to do what they think it right.  Some characters don’t understand the wrong in their actions, and others wonder.  If they’ve gone so far, if they’ve already corrupted themselves, does it matter that they finish what they’ve started since they can’t take back what they already did?

 Also, is the person who’s manipulating everyone and everything really to blame?  The manipulator only puts everyone in the position to blame, betray, and kill each other?  Is it really the manipulator’s fault when everyone else falls for his set ups?

An interesting image that is used over and over again, is many of the characters shown through blinds etc. which seems to represent bars.  All of these people are caught in their prisons that they've constructed themselves.

I like to think that, in the end, everyone was able to remove themselves from their prisons.  I think that's the best ending that I could have asked for.

Too say the least, Rebirth just got knocked down as my favorite K-drama.

So who’s the devil?

I think the only answer to be found here is that there is one in every single one of us.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! Daebak! Now I really, really want to watch this drama!