30 June, 2013
Cruel City: Through a Glass, Darkly
Cruel City is a drama we can't stop talking about. It is most definitely one of the best dramas this year, and it continues to impress and excite us. We've also been discussing the past episodes (and general plot development) via Facebook, and we figured that we should share our thoughts, and also hope to hear some of yours as well. The last time we did a post sort of like this, was probably our post on Queen In Hyun's Man, so it's been a while.
dewaanifordrama: So...I think that the relationship developing between Baksa and Soo Min is really interesting, mostly because she has no idea that he is Baksa. It is going to be sooooo interesting and awesome when she does find out, and come to think of it, it's going to be really interesting when he figures out that she's Kyung Mi's donsaeng as well.
bustered: Yes! They definitely have a really interesting relationship, and episode 10 really brought that out. I love the fact that he seems to be thinking, "Why do I like this girl so much??" I love that he 1) left Jin-sook to go call her 2) saved her and 3) took her hand all sweetly and 4) he told her his real name!! Ah. My heart nearly stopped it was so sweet. And I love that he does all of this and we know that he cares for her, and all without his ever smiling at her or making googly eyes at her etc.
dewaanifordrama: AMEN like a million times to what you said! When he took her hand, and then paused to inter-lace their fingers, I got chills! (and swoony butterflies) It was so an incredibly sweet and intimate moment. And that line: "Shi Hyun, it's Jung Shi Hyun." And then he looked at her. It was so much better, more heartfelt, and wonderful than any James Bond moment ever! I just loved that scene. I also really loved the tenderness of the kiss and the love scene. It wasn't really sexy; it was more sweet and tender. It felt organic and had an air of innocence.
bustered: I don't know about innocent ;) but it was definitely a really tender scene. I love that they highlighted sweeter moments (ex. his kissing her face, her outlining his scars, his touching her hair afterwards), rather than giving us a simply steamy scene. More than anything I am surprised and touched that they have both chosen to trust each other--with her answering his call at the zoo and his giving her his real name. In terms of their relationship, I definitely think that was one of the best things about episode 10. And how about that doozy of an ending with Safari??
dewaanifordrama: So do you think that Safari is really police? Wasn't the drama originally called "Undercover" or something like that, I think, but really, do we need someone else undercover at this point? I think the ID is fake. [I just watched the episode 11 trailer, and it turns out that Safari is a rogue cop, which is still really interesting narratively because it messes with Shi Hyun's potential fear that he will lose himself].
bustered: That's what I was thinking as well. I really do think (well, hope) that this whole dealio is a fake-out. Though if Safari and Baksa and Soo-min joined forces and took revenge on EVERYONE...well, that'd be pretty awesome.
However, I have wondered about a lot of Safari's reactions in the last few episodes. I thought that it was just him not wanting to kill Baksa, but now, well, let's just say that he and Baksa reacted to a lot of things in the same manner of... okay, need to acquiesce these fellows but still work around my own personal agenda... kind of way. So I am not sure.
Also, what undercover agent would keep a freaking ID on him? Answer: the ones that want to die.
But if he really is an undercover agent, some awesome stuff had BETTER happen. If this revealing new undercover shenanigans keeps up right until the end, they'd better do it the right way--or I will be very unhappy. I am not super happy about this turn, but again, if it's awesome, I will be all for it.
dewaanifordrama: That would be way cool if Baksa, Soo Min, and Safari joined revenge forces!
I have also been wondering about Safari's reactions. Baksa and Safari seem like really similar people in many ways - and they do have a rather complex father-son relationship. And yeah, the whole carrying od the ID thing - certain death. Speaking of IDs, I wonder who is going to discover Shi Hyun's secret police badge box. I wonder if it will be Soo, or someone else. Or Safari?
I think one of my favourite things is watching the two of them is how much you can see how Shi Hyun and Safari are each hurting in their facial expressions (not because I am a sadist, but I think that their pain shows their humanity and love for each other). That bookshelf-library fight scene was such a beautiful and intricate ballet of hurt and harm - a perfect representation of their relationship - this beautiful dance of death.
It really was such an excellent fight scene, as all the fight scenes have been in the drama. I like how they are efficient and understated, but oh so incredibly effective.
bustered: Most definitely. None of the action scenes are very showy, but they're cleanly choreographed and shot, and usually short, to the point, and violent, which is my kind of fight scene. They don't try to be super cool (not like some of the stuff found in IRIS etc.) but the understated-ness absolutely helps them become way more cool than they actually are.
dewaanifordrama: Most definitely. I think it generally adds to the understated-ness of the drama in general, and acts as a beautiful contrast to the quieter more melancholic moments like with Shi Hyun pondering what he's doing. And we're seeing more and more of his tender-hearted side. He can't help but try and rescue the people he loves. In episode 8, I think it was, where we saw him have a bit of a break down, you know the part where that gorgeous hand cradles his head as he can barely mumble answers to Hong Ki's questions? And as you said earlier, as he's falling for Soo Min, you can see he is not sure why.
bustered: Oh absolutely. One thing I am loving about Jung Kyung-ho's fantastic performance are his physical reactions (two examples that stick out in my mind was when the sniper was shooting around his legs after Kyung-mi was shot, and his writhing on the ground after Safari landed that blow to his back--masterful I tell you!), and the way that he reacted when Soo-min called him was beautiful. He was with Jin-sook (and he has to have some inkling of her fondness of him that could develop into dangerous jealous territory) but he receives Soo-min's call anyway on what looks like a gut reaction, only to hang up when he suddenly remembers that he's with Jin-sook. And then he promptly removes himself from her presence so that he can call Soo-min. It shows that he's already putting Soo-min above those he's loved for a long time. It makes me worry a little, but it makes me a little giddy how much he does seem to care for her.
dewaanifordrama: His vulnerability with Soo Min is definitely going to cause him some problems - but then again his general love for people already causes him so much stress. I hope that Soo Min can give him some of that support. He really has so much heart. Not that we can really say that for the police. He doesn't seem to have forgotten who he is, but the police seem to lack the zeal and earnestness he has. Well, the police in general except for Hyung Min. And I think we are going to see much more of that conflict and fear that he has of losing himself in light of the episode 11 trailer where we find out that Safari is a cop gone rogue. Shi Hyun I think fears he might become exactly what he's trying to get everyone to escape. And it also explains a little why Hong Ki forgets he's a police officer sometimes. And I can't really tell if Hyung Min forgets that Soo Min is a police officer-ish too, or if he's just struggling with what he's doing to her by enabling her undercover life.
Hyung Min though despite his inability to really let Soo Min in, has a really driven sense of right and wrong. He is not someone who would become easily corrupted - and I hope that he can act as someone more supportive to Soo Min. I am glad we also got to see a lighter, more caring side of him in episodes 9 and 10. And dang, that man is incredibly hotte! Those flashback scenes!
bustered: Yep. My liking for Hyung-min is definitely a bit of a roller coaster, though he's gotten a bit better lately. My only big issue with Hyung-min, and it really is a double-edged sword (or should I say sashimi knife ㅋㅋ...), is that he's so determined to gain his goal... to the point that he doesn't seem to care who gets hurt, or to consider that maybe he's going in the wrong direction. I do like that we got to see a lighter side of him in the flashback scenes, and he really is incredibly hot. Hyung-min is drool worthy while Shi-hyun is swoon worthy. I like that we've been able to see more of Hyung-min taking Soo-min under his wing and actually teaching her skills (though next lesson should probably be about how wearing six inch heeled boots is not helpful when on mission and trying to run away from a knife-wielding killing wench--or you know, they can have a nice discussion on mission appropriate, inconspicuous clothing).
Also, on a sort of associated note, I like that this drama works a little bit like a Tolstoy novel--Anna Karenina, to be exact. I'm not saying that this drama is anywhere close to magnificent quality that Anna Karenina is, but that they share something in common, which is a sort of realistic quality that allows the viewer (or reader) to focus on the story being currently being read or seen and unconsciously forgetting everything else, only to later be reminded of what else has been going on and moving your thoughts to that particular story and so on. Human beings live many lives simultaneously, and forget a lot of things, only to remember certain things later on, and that memory can transmute and influence the current experience. Life is full of so many details that it would be difficult to remember all of them at the same time--it wouldn't be possible!--and I think the drama definitely works this way. And it lends the drama a certain realism, and a natural, organic feel as the drama has developed. I definitely think there's been some missteps in the narrative, and I am still unsure about this whole Safari development, but we'll see how it goes.
I also like that although it's a really dark story, after the initial set up, there's been very little that's melodramatic. You know, versus something like Time Between Dog and Wolf which has a similar story, but is pretty much well done K-drama melodrama to the max.
Oh! Speaking of memory, I love Kyung-mi and how she's an important memory to all our main characters. I really love Kyung-mi. She had it hard but her revenge on the world was to rise above it by being positive and working hard, which is in stark contrast to most of the characters in the drama. She was such a wholesome, and inwardly and outwardly good person, and I love that she still has a hold on the people that she loved and loved her.
I think she's also the reason that I don't like Hyung-min, lol. She was so good, but Hyung-min often does things that I don't think that she would approve of and it angers me. Although I don't find Go Na-eun a phenomenal actress, she gave the character a lot of goodness, and I think it shows that she did a good job, especially since, even I, as a viewer, still feel for her, and completely understand why she still matters to our main trio.
dewaanifordrama: Definitely! I just love the pacing and general tone of a show that feels like it's breathing. I think we see evidence in that of how the show is not afraid to punctuate dialogue with breathing space, contemplation, and silence. It adds to that organic feel you're talking about. And I am glad that it has been light on the melodrama. I do love Time Between Dog and Wolf, and I am thoroughly enjoying it (and not just because of Jung Kyung Ho), but it has a different feel. And I think that's why I felt that the Anna Karenina quote I used at the beginning of the last Cruel City post was so apt; we have this complex dynamic of living, breathing, flawed human beings.
I love what you have to say about Kyung Mi. I definitely agree. It's almost as if Hyung Min forgets his better self without Kyung Mi. I appreciated the flashback scene where Soo Min blackmails him for money, and he gives it to her mostly so that Kyung Mi will not have such a hard time. I wish he would remember her goodness a little more. I guess he is still struggling with the crippling grief of losing her though, and he wants to move on, but he also feels like he has to avenge her death, so he can feel some goodness in his life again. He has also had some really rough things in his life. I think he is one of those people who feels he has to shoulder all the burdens in the world - like with his brother, and his corrupt father. I also though have a bit of a roller-coaster reaction to him. He's so different to Shi Hyun.
Another thought to add about the police and Baksa from what I said earlier. In that scene where he's in the back of the police car with Hong Ki, and Hong Ki's all like, "We're at the police station. It's dangerous!" and Shi Hyun says with this earnestness and intensity, "But I AM a policeman." I think for me it showed how much he feels like he's one of the good guys; he really does have a moral compass. That scene, it wrung my heart. Everyone else seems to forget he's a good guy, and then we have all the policemen who are amoral or seem to have no moral compass.
bustered: For one, I think its by virtue of the genre that we are supposed to be rooting for Shi-hyun, the anti-hero (and one reason why I didn't love his being an undercover cop, but they've done well with that development so far), and that everyone else pales in comparison. It's an awful situation that he's in, because he isn't heartless and he loves people of both sides of the fence that he's straddling, and I think that's why he's so wonderful: because he loves and he is willing to be emotionally vulnerable even though he's in the most vulnerable spot out of everyone in the drama.
dewaanifordrama: Definitely!!! I am so glad that Jung Kyung Ho is so masterfully portraying all of that pain and awfulness that Shi Hyun is struggling with. It's in those small (and big) moments where we see how he's always trying to protect people like when he leaves money for Soo Min after sleeping with her. I know that it seemed hurtful, but I actually think he was trying to protect her.
bustered: Yeah, we see that when Jin-sook comes in and doesn't bat an eyelid because she sees the money. But you also mentioned that he understands how dangerous he is, and I also think that he knows how dangerous it is for him to show his vulnerability. He cares for Soo-min, but he cannot be too brazen about showing that off. I agree that he was trying to protect Soo-min, but I also think he was trying to protect himself and the image that he has created as Doc's Son.
dewaanifordrama: Yes, definitely. It's a little like he feels this subconscious need to be grounded by her, but knows that it is incredibly dangerous to his whole persona as Baksa.
I had a bit of a conversation with Eye Candy in the comments for the last two posts [here and here] about hoping that we get to see much more of the interaction between Soo Min and Shi Hyun. I am pretty sure that we will. Whether or not we get any semblance of a happy ending or not though is very much up in the air. I think for sure things are going to get a whole heck of a lot more complicated before she finds out he's Baksa, and then...well, all hell is going to break loose. Maybe not with them, but definitely in the relationships between them. It might actually be nice if things remain chill between them. It is certainly going to test her loyalty to the police though. We have already seen how every time Soo Min needs saving, it's the "bad guys" who save her, and not the "good guys". The first time with her prison help, and the revenge against the rapist - that was all Jin Sook. And then we see it again in episode 10 where it's Shi Hyun who saves her, not Hyung Min. I love how she doesn't take out the battery and instead answers Kkangpae Ajhussi's call instead. ^^ [If you need a little Jung Kyung Ho & Nam Gyu Ri fix, here's a link to the video of their InStyle photoshoot. Nothing like Jung Kyung Ho being a little goofy and sweet]
bustered: Honestly, they've already put quite a bit of trust in each other when they hardly know the other, and so I think that they'll only develop a stronger connection. At least, I like to think so. They both have relationships with others that I think could chafe their relationship to each other (Jin-sook for him, and Hyung-min for her), but when it comes down to it, they've already shown that their trust in each other vs. their loyalty to their other important relationships.
dewaanifordrama: It makes the conflict oh so much more interesting! I think that we're also going to start understanding more deeply what Shi Hyun's motivations are. I know that Hyung Min has a problem with drugs in general because of his brother, and then of course there is the major issue of wanting to avenge/get revenge for Kyung Mi's death.
Shi Hyun most definitely shares in wanting to unravel and avenge Kyung Mi's death. I think he also wants to get rid of the shadowy world that people he cares about can't escape. He even begs Soo Min to get out when she can. I think that Shi Hyun wants to save Jin Sook and if he can Safari and Soo as well. That conversation with Soo's mother, and the prison flashback scene was really telling. He really cares about these people - his family so to say - and he wants them out of the world of shadows. We also have his general desire to get revenge on the world, his "father" - and Soo Min shares that motivation as well. As with all of this though, I think the drama is really good at being shadowy and not revealing everything all at once. It is very much like the Biblical reference to experiencing life, where "...now we see through a glass, darkly...". I just hope that when everything becomes clear, some light amid the darkness remains.
bustered: Right. This is noir, and someone (well a lot of people) are going to die. At this point, I don't know that I want any of the current relationships to win out in the end. To me, if they do, that would feel a little cheap. I know that this drama takes more from the Hong Kong noir branch, and I am a lot more familiar with old-school 1941-1958 Hollywood branch (or should I say trunk? ^^) of film noir, which tends to have more happy-ish endings with main couples (ex. Bogey and Bacall), but those are often the least memorable vs. hard hitting endings like In a Lonely Place and The Big Heat which have pretty depressing endings on the romantic front. Basically, as much as I adore Soo-min and Shi-hyun, it had better not derail the drama's dedication to the genre, and from what I've watched in the Hong Kong noir branch, there really shouldn't be a happy ending.
Besides, all this talk about never being able to escape once you're in... I am pretty sure they're giving us a hint here. At this point, I think the question is "Who the crap is going to get out of this hellhole alive?" And I don't think the count is going to be very high.