29 July, 2013

Cruel City: Another Step into the Dark

Well folks, our last discussion post generated a nice conversation, so we decided to try another one out. We hope you add your comments and perspectives to this one as well! [And here are links to bustered and dewaanifordrama's other posts if you didn't catch those before]. And yes, there are an extraordinary amount of screencaps. This drama is just so dang beautiful!

dewaanifordrama: Before we get serious: Dart Mouse ㅋㅋㅋ- I am not sure why I find it so funny, but I really can't stop laughing. And I think what made the scene even better was Hyung Min's straight-faced reaction to it.

bustered: I think we all got a good chuckle out of that one.  I love that he was technically reading it correctly, but couldn't say it right and had no idea why Hyung-min was correcting him.

So I am going to go ahead and get on my high horse because film noir has always been a favorite genre/style of mine, and I've read a lot of general speculation on this drama that I really don't agree with.

This is noir.  It is definitely a genre (and the drama fits pretty comfortably) but it is also a style, and has a lot of shared elements such as a conflicted anti-hero, a femme fatale, stark contrast in lighting (but this goes more with traditional B&W film noir of the 40s-60s and goes back to the German Expressionism of the 1920s vs. neo noir which sticks with modern color usage), isolation etc.  But you can find some or all of these elements (and more) in many other genres, but this drama has identified itself more with the crime drama.  However, it is first and foremost a noir.  That's what really matters.  It isn't about realism in the crime world, it is a noir styled drama.  And lastly, the minutiae details, especially the missteps in realism, really aren't all that important in the long run, because as a whole, this is such a solid drama.

Also, there's a lot of wiggle room in noir.  You can go amazingly dark à la Jules Dassin's Night and the City or Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil depicting the anti-hero's inescapable descent into hell, or you can go lighter: the bad guys get their comeuppance and the "good" guys get what they want and who they want to be with.  Or there's the middle ground when no dies (or just a few), but in the end, the anti-hero is really no happier than he was before.  Basically, there is no guarantee that everyone is going to die.  I am going to take a gander from what I've seen from Infernal Affairs and John Woo movies that some of the main characters are most certainly going to die.  I just hope that the writer can pull off that sort of tragedy, because it has to be deserved, otherwise I will feel gipped.  I don't think it will end happy like noirs such as Murder, My Sweet, but if it goes depressing just because it is noir, that will suck, because there are so many options available.

Which brings me to Soo-min.  I adore Soo-min as a character (and Nam Gyu-ri is doing a pretty fantastic job too).  To me, she is the Doris Lowry to John Garfield's Joe Morse, and nothing will ever move my positive feelings for her.  She isn't always written in as well as she could be, but when it comes down to it, she is Shi-hyun's only light in the darkness and that is wonderful.  I am happy that this drama hasn't used the whole femme fatale angle like they teased before the drama started.  Granted, that would have been awesome, but I feel that this route for the Soo-min as a female lead was a more dangerous one, but also a more subtle and ultimately, fulfilling role.

Looking back, I do think that they shoved their relationship down our throats a bit, but I've really enjoyed their short interactions in the last few episodes, which blossomed into two spectacular scenes in episode 15 that really cemented my love for their extremely caring relationship.  And did I mention that Nam Gyu-ri has been nailing the role down the last few episodes?  Even though I have always been fond of her, I had no idea she had it in her to actually be more than serviceable in a role.

dewaanifordrama: I completely agree. I do think that they put the relationship in as early as possible so they could have the fallout of episodes 17 and 18 feel a little stronger, but all in all, I really love Soo Min and Shi Hyun. I really feel like you said that she is his light, or as I was thinking, the Beatrice to his Dante. I really don't mind that she's innocent and sweet in many ways, and tough as nails in others, but she really is that light in the darkness that shines for him, a sort of symbolism of hope. I think that's another reason that he's trying so desperately to save her. If he can save her, it means that all his strugglings might have some meaning; that all is not for naught. I think that the scene in episode 15 (which is my favourite episode so far) highlighted that idea - it was all shot in muted colours, in whites, with lots of light. You know the one, where she's been drugged and Shi Hyun saves her, and then tells her to leave the dark underworld. The night after watching that episode, I wrote this. So please forgive my waxing a little lyrical.

Tonight I fell in love. Not with anyone, but with a scene. The lighting was soft, and white, and pure, and clear. A man sat wiping the sweat from a woman's face. She held out her hand to stop him leaving, and he tenderly put his hand over hers. Then he begged her to leave the dark underworld, so that she could survive. Then Soo Min repeated back his words that Kyung Mi had told her before. The words about the world being a mirror, that if you spit, it spits back, and if you smile, it smiles back. Shi Hyun's face melted into disbelief, shock, horror, and a little despair. Soo Min is him, she is his mirror. She is motivated by what motivated him. She is the younger him, the naïve and trusting light that still believes there is hope in the darkness. For him, the light swirls in pools of shadow, and he has all but lost his way, but she is there to remind him. 

 It was a tragic and absolutely beautiful scene. Later, as Soo Min asked him if her staying in that world would be hard for him, and Shi Hyun answered truthfully and simply that it would be, Soo Min asked him not to get hurt. The dialogue was simple, unstrained, and unrestrained in feeling. Then she proceeded to ask him by name more and more intimately. Ajhussi, Kkangpae Ajhussi, Jung Shi Hyun, Shi Hyun-nah, Shi Hyun oppa. That scene had me breathless, butterflies filled my stomach, and I felt this sense of euphoric falling in love. It was gorgeous and beautiful and made my heart ache with loveliness. 

Okay, so sometimes I just have to get that sentimentality out my system. The Soo Min-Shi Hyun relationship though really does make my heart ache. She is rather like a flame to his moth though and he can't seem to stay away. She might prove his unraveling and demise, which we already see in that scene where he essentially gives up his plan to save her. And I think that's what we're going to see as that episode 18 rooftop cliffhanger unravels. I also really loved that scene where she's sobbing her heart out as she thinks she's betrayed Kyung Mi, and he calls, and you can see it's taking him everything not to let her know that he didn't kill Kyung Mi. I really don't know how Jung Kyung Ho can emote so much with barely moving a facial muscle. Not only can you see his pain, you can feel it too. It stabs me right in the heart. And the to know he was right outside her door! Let's just say I had lots of conversations and outbursts with my computer while watching that episode.

bustered: Yep, I most definitely went back and watched that bit three or four times.  It was very beautiful.  I also really loved the way they cut the whole he's just outside her door phone conversation scene.  They could have done what most K-dramas would do and go the needlessly dramatic route of showing him outside her door while they're having their conversation, but no: it bided its time and showed it after the conversation was over.  That affected me more than any drawn out dramatic scene, and it's in these little details that you can see how the makers of the drama really respect the product that they are making and are not pandering to audiences with typical tropes and cheap tricks.  I guess that means we should be grateful that it has done so badly with rating.... (???!!!!!) 

I must add that because Soo-min is Shi-hyun's light, nothing good is going to happen if Soo-min dies. If Soo-min dies, Shi-hyun finally becomes Baksa Adeul and loses everything.  I think that at one time the catalyst for Shi-hyun's downfall could have been Jin-sook or cute butt Soo (why hasn't he died already???), but now, I think it solely Soo-min.  We'll see what happens, but it looks like Soo-min may die, and if that happens there will be no hope for a happy ending for our dear Doctor's Son.  And if they kill off Soo-min, by ye drama gods, it had better be good.

dewaanifordrama: I really don't want them to kill her off, but I can see them doing it. And you are totally right; if they do, it had better be good. I also really, really loved that phonecall scene. I swear that every time Jung Kyung Ho is on screen, I am just riveted. And no, it's not because he's so ridiculously handsome, but wow, he can act! He has grown so much in his acting, and he brings such a gravitas to his role as Shi Hyun. (And he's been doing it with a herniated disc for the past several episodes - that's insane!) And yes, why haven't they killed Soo yet?

bustered: Moving on. I love that Hyung-min took Moon Duk-bae's bit about undercover agents being human to heart, and that Hyung-min made sure to take care of Soo-min afterwards.  I think it was Moon Duk-bae's vague way of letting him know why he had gone rogue, and what could have kept him going straight.  Hyung-min will not make the same mistake that Hong-ki did, because in the end, Hyung-min is far better human slimy Hong-ki.  

dewaanifordrama: Definitely! That scene where he delivered that line to tell Hyun Min what it means to be a handler. Wow! Choi Moo Sung. No. Words. I love his image-hiding-slouching body language. I love his Satori. I love his insight. I love his guts. And that follow up moment when Hyung Min goes to check up on Soo Min, and he remembers the advice Moon Duk Bae gave him to treat his undercover as a human being. I just hope he keeps it up until the end. He seems to go off and on with how he treats Soo Min a bit, though not as much in the later episodes. And that whole "You were used as a murder tool". Does he even realize what it means to be undercover? There's only so much you can say, "Sorry, I don't want to do that" before the bad guys would be like, "Why did we recruit this sissy?" It's that whole playing with the line of what is good and bad; a sort of ends justifying the means.

bustered: Not gonna lie.  The white shirt kills me.  Don't give me shower scenes.  Just give Hyung-min in that white t-shirt and I will be happy (and my goodness I have been very happy).  Hyung-min has been a very nice surprise.  I never really thought he'd finally loosen up a bit and see the truth, but he has, and he's so wonderfully stubborn about his principles. It makes me worry for him, but besides Shi-hyun, he's really the only one I trust to do the right thing... and things are becoming a bit dubious with dear Shi-hyun, especially if Soo-min dies.

dewaanifordrama: ㅋㅋㅋ LOL. I will gladly insert some more white-shirted Hyung Min screencaps for you to appreciate his beauty before we get serious again ;)

dewaanifordrama: Hyung Min really has been a nice surprise! And you're definitely right. He is a straight arrow among all the crookedness.

bustered: Yes, and happily, I am now back on Ji Hyung-min's side after most of his general jerkiness has worn off.  I am against killing people, but Jo Ha-neul was well... a lot of things I don't usually say out loud and I am pretty sure that Hyung-min would have killed him (or at least beat him up pretty bad) if he was how Jo was treating Soo-min.

dewaanifordrama: Indeed. Hyung Min is definitely back in my good books! I do think it's interesting that it is Safari who helps him realize the truth, that and meeting Baksa Adeul himself. I think meeting Safari was definitely an eye-opener for him about what he's thrown Soo Min into, but I also love that Hyung Min trusts his gut, and trusts Shi Hyun. I loved that scene where Soo Min calls him and tells him she's going to take care of Baksa, and decides to trust Baksa. He definitely suspects that Baksa is more than meets the eye. I also love that Shi Hyun desperately wants Hyung Min to believe in his goodness - that it wasn't him who killed Kyung Mi. It's as if he is trying to find someone who will believe in him, someone outside the world of shadows and doubt. He's hanging by a thread, and needs an anchor. Soo Min in many ways is that anchor, but she also threatens to complete unmoor him. And Hyung Min's conversation with Hong Ki about faith and doubt was really interesting. I am glad that finding out it wasn't Baksa who killed Kyung Mi hasn't completely thrown him off the deep end.  What happens when all you've been reaching for has been a lie? And we see that in Soo Min's world as well. Her world has just fallen apart. I think that very much mirrors what might happen to Shi Hyun. It happened to Safari - when faced with the reality that the "good guys" might not be good, that life is mean, hopeless, heartless, and pointless - when you have no light - where do you turn? Sorry, I have just thrown everyone's storyline into this paragraph. Basically, each of these characters is filled with doubt, and uncertainty. The question is how they will each resolve it, or even if there will be enough to resolve some of their shadowy doubts.

dewaanifordrama: Something that is really interesting to me is how sympathetic I feel towards Moon Duk Bae despite all his twisty-ness and desire to kill Baksa, or whatever he had going on there. In that scene where the comes to Min Hong Ki's house, I actually felt this sort of visceral anger towards Min Hong Ki. I really didn't like what he helped do to make Moon Duk Bae into Safari. It really was such a beautiful, dark, and moody scene. And I think we've seen how that's all unravelled with Hong Ki showing more of nastiness and Safari really stepping up to the plate. I also love that he figured out that Shi Hyun is an undercover agent. I was like: Safari, I luff you so much!!!

bustered: Sure, Moon Duk-bae could have done more to keep himself more in life, but really, he is just one of Hong-ki's victim.  And Choi Mu-sung is really doing a phenomenal job being funny and sweet and vulnerable, but you also can't get past that he's really just one of the "bad" guys as well.  I recently watched The Berlin File with Choi Mu-sung in a minor role and I only recognized him because of his voice. I didn't think I would have a hard time recognizing a face like that, but the guy's a freaking chameleon. 

And I have to hand it to Hong-ki for getting away with his crap for so long, and I also love seeing him begin to unravel, though it has regrettable side effects like shooting other characters that we love...  I also love to see the other characters refusing to take his crap: for me, Jin-sook's eye roll was definitely the highlight of all of that.

dewaanifordrama: ㅋㅋㅋ That eye roll was really great. Hong Ki is an interesting character because he is, for me at least, one of the most shadowy figures in the drama. I really have no idea what his motivation is. It makes me really wonder why he tore that certificate up in the beginning. I am looking forward, well kind of, but also afraid of the body count, for us to see what is going on with him. I did like that flashback with Jin Sook and Hong Ki. It was very revealing. Hong Ki is spineless smugness, yet chilling at the same time in his tenacity, or whatever he has going on. And I am fairly certain he's wrapped up in Kyung Mi's death somehow. Hyung Min is not going to be happy when that all comes out.

dewaanifordrama: Some other random thoughts I've had. The Chairman looks like a frog. I do not like him. He is evil. The end. p.s. He is very clever. It makes me sick, but I prefer clever villains to stupid ones I guess. And that scene where they discover Scale in the fridge. Gross!!! But it was so well done. And I also really loved the flashbacks in episode 13 (and the others as well in the later episodes). The one with Hyung Min and Kyung Mi was particularly sweet and touching. I also really loved the OST that was playing. The music really is fabulous in this drama! Not only the OST songs, but the instrumental soundtrack is wonderful!

bustered: Yep, hopefully the soundtrack will be released because I love it a lot.  I also don't think I've enjoyed the OST songs so much for a drama before.  And oddly enough, I was pretty sad when Scale died... and seriously, Meth Kim really does have nine lives.  But I lost count on how many he has left...

I also really wish I had Soo-min's heel running skills.  It should be an Olympic sport or something.  Nam Gyu-ri would win for sure.  It's insane.  I also wish I had her wardrobe... If I had the money the PPL would definitely be working.  Also, is Safari's fashion part of the advertised brands, because that would be kind of awesome.

dewaanifordrama: That would be awesome! Oh Safari. I actually do quite like his completely over-the-top style. It just works so well for his character. And yes, I want Soo Min's wardrobe. Seriously! So much clothing envy. And my dear, you have pretty sweet five-inch heel skills. Maybe you can't run as fast as Miss Soo Min can, but you can pull them off rather well. (Readers, I jest you not).

I did check out the OST, and it's all available for digital download on about a million Korean sites. Too bad us international folk can't tap into that system. And oddly enough, I was also sad when Scale died. And Meth Kim, yeah...he has the lives of nine cats or something.

dewaanifordrama: So we have Hyung Min, the archetypal hero getting better and better, and someone we definitely want to cheer for, and then the have Shi Hyun. He is most definitely an anti-hero, but we are also most definitely rooting for him too. The scene in episode 14 where Safari lets him know that his mother distributed the drugs that Safari passed along, and that it was with Shi Hyun's hands that those
drugs were couriered, that scene was heartbreaking. And as he beat his hand with the rock, I felt my heart break. He has so much pain and torture inside that soul of his, and you cannot fault him for the decisions he has made to avenge himself on the world. All that emotion from that scene built right into the next one where in the dimly lit church he meets with Hong Ki. I thought it was interesting that Hong Ki played nice and invited him back. His question of: Is it hard for you? made me want to punch him though. Of course he knows it's hard! And then as Shi Hyun throws off his name and declares: I am Baksa Adeul, it was definitely another moment of heartbreak. It was just such a great emotional moment to catapult him into saving Soo Min in episode 15, where she then helps, in part, to restore him to himself with that lovely scene we've already discussed. It is such a beautiful story arc for Shi Hyun's journey as the anti-hero. But it sort of gets turned upside down again at the end of that episode when he has to bear the burden of having Scale's blood on his hands. Yes, it's Chairman Jo who kills Scale, but in part, Baksa has played a role in the dark game of chess he has going with Busan. This swirling mess of shadows is beautifully heartbreaking.

bustered: Jin-sook worries me.  I love her to death, I really do, but I honestly have no idea how she is going to react to Soo-min and Shi-hyun.  Sure, she cares for Soo-min, but Jin-sook has gotten rid of her girls before without seeming to care.  Of course, she knows that she will never be with Shi-hyun, but it's obvious with her quips about him being her lover and all that, that a romantic relationship with him is something that she at least dreams of.  I am just not sure how far her jealousy and anger will take her.  Again, she's another one of our morally dubious characters that plays by an odd set of personal standards, and I really have no idea what she will do when certain sensitive issues are pressed.  Eek.

dewaanifordrama: Yeah, I am rather worried about that. She killed Jo Ha Neul to avenge him being all creepy and nasty to Soo Min (that and it suited drug trading plans as well), but with Shi Hyun...I think it's not going to be pretty. We can already tell she's pretty upset in the episode 19 preview.

dewaanifordrama: Can I mention again just how much I love the outfits and the lighting in this drama. I LOVED Jin Sook's white and cream dress, with the gold earrings, and red lipstick coupled with the red walls. She looked fabulous! I also really loved the lighting with the greys, and blacks, and reds with Safari and Eunsoo. It just fit the mood so well! Eun Soo also looked incredibly beautiful in that scene. Another thing that I have loved with the visual imagery has been how many shots there are of people through windows, or enclosed by space. I think it conveys so much of how they are feeling trapped, and how they are trapped by the world of shadows. Whatever the end will be though, I am sure it will be amazing! This drama certainly hasn't disappointed.

bustered: I can say honestly that this has been the only drama that I didn't want to end, because it hasn't exhausted me, nor has it disappointed me.  I may feel a little differently with the finale, but on the whole, this drama has exceeded my expectations (I thought it little more than enjoyable pulpy noir), and I have found very little to complain about.  And what flaws there have been really don't matter in the larger scale of things, because as whole it really is excellent, and is, by far, one of the best dramas I have had the pleasure to watch.  Even if the finale sucks (which I highly doubt), I can happily say that there were eighteen very worthwhile hours of quality drama.

dewaanifordrama: Most definitely! Here's to hoping it's going to go out in style!

◀ You're the Best Lee Soon Shin: What's in a Name?


  1. Breathtaking just looking at those screen shots... This show is a definite rewatch for me.

  2. I know, right?! Let's just say that I had ten times as many screenshots that made it into the post. What we have is probably already overkill...but the drama is so beautiful and lovely. I got all teary in so many scenes as I was screencapping.

  3. I'm really glad and thankful I have watched this drama. I cant describe it but its absolutely fantastic and the characters are perfect for the role. and JKH is perfectly perfect in this drama. His portrayal is awesome, very nice acting! Thank you for the producers and writer of this drama! The phone call between JKH and NG really moved me. Thanks for posting!!!

  4. Me too! I think I will watch again as soon as it's finished, it is that wonderful! Jung Kyung Ho has been amazing, and Nam Gyu Ri has been getting better and better. That phone call is one of my favourite scenes in the drama. And it gets better each time I watch that scene as well. Thank you for reading!

  5. Love hearing your thoughts to this wonderfully crafted drama. For me, Heartless City truly one of the best dramas ever. I've always loved the noir genre and this drama has captured the essence of noir until the the very end. The finale was great as well, despite it feeling a bit rushed. I still loved it and as a whole this drama is one of a kind, a rare gem in kdramaland where the industry is saturated with fusion genres and crazy makjangs.

    I can't wait to hear your discussions for the finale.

  6. Thank you for your lovely comment! I totally agree with you. I for one have loved watching, talking, and writing about this drama. And we are working on a finale piece (hopefully it will be up in the next couple of days).

  7. When is your finale piece coming? I still can't go over this show. -cries-

  8. Soon, soon. Sorry things have been a little crazy. I am hoping in the next couple of days! Sorry for the wait.