I’ve written before about KDramas ( Korean TV serials) and how much I enjoy them . Right now , I’m in the midst of watching ” City Hunter” , a 20 episode serial which I think is the best yet. It’s available on Netflix streaming and it’s a must watch : five stars all the way.
” City Hunter ” begins with a secret 1983 mission where 21 South Korean commandos infiltrate North Korea to avenge a bombing . They carry out their mission of assassinating several key N. Korean politicians and try to make their way back South. However , in the mean time , they have become a liability since the South Korean government has been warned by the Americans against such retaliation. In order to silence the commandos for ever , they are killed by their own side. Only one escapes and vows retribution. That man , Jin Pyo, makes it back home and kidnaps the new born son of the squad leader . He escapes to Thailand and becomes very rich in the drug trade. He brings up the child , Lee Yoon Sung , under very harsh discipline and has him educated at MIT .
Cut to the present , 28 years later : ” Father” and son head to Seoul to find out the five men who were responsible for the 1983 betrayal. One of the five , who has since become President of South Korea , is the only one whose identity they know ; they have to track down the others are before they can proceed with their revenge . Jin Pyo , the father , is determined to kill all five but the son , Lee Yung Soon , wants to expose them and bring them to justice . He thwarts Jin Pyo’s plans and exposes the first two villains , while concealing his identity behind a mask. He is dubbed the City Hunter by the Korean press ( for reasons which escape me , LOL). This brings the two, Jin Pyo and Lee Yoon Sung, into open conflict. Jin Pyo has been so embittered with his plans of revenge that he will not settle for anything different ; Yoon Sung , in spite of his harsh upbringing and indoctrination , does not want to kill. Who will prevail?
That , in a nutshell, is the plot of ” City Hunter”, but it doesn’t really do it justice. City Hunter is a mixture of action , suspense , romance and comedy and there are all manner of subplots. For instance , why did Jin Pyo kidnap the infant Lee Yoon Sung ? What is the secret of the baby’s parentage ?The heroine , Kim Na Na .. what are ther true circumstances of the accident that killed her mother and put her father in a coma ?
If I had to describe City Hunter to someone who’s never seen a KDrama , I ‘d say that it was a mixture of the Keifer Sutherland hit series ” 24” , a soap opera and a sitcom. There are several things to commend. The production values are excellent and no expense seems to have been spared in the filming. The quality of the picture is excellent and I don’t think I’ve seen any TV series , Korean or otherwise , in which the image is so sharp and crystal clear. After the first two episodes which are purported to take place in the Golden Triangle ( Thailand , Burma , Laos) , the rest of the action takes place in Seoul and the scenery is simply amazing . Even if the camera focused only on the best parts of Seoul , the modernity of the buildings and the opulence of the settings is amazing and makes you want to visit Korea and see it in person.
The plot is very inventive and the action moves along nicely with almost every episode ending in a cliff hanger that leaves you hungry for more. Interspersed with the action sequences is the romance between the City Hunter and Kim Na Na ; both men and women viewers will enjoy it. The actress who plays Kim Na Na is cute as a button and both she and Lee Min Ho ( who plays the City Hunter ) turn in polished performances . Lee Min Ho , in particular , is amazing ( sorry if I seem to be using that term again and again , but he really is ). Tall, lithe and slim , he nevertheless has a coiled intensity which makes the fight sequences extremely believable . Even when he is single-handedly beating up four or five villains armed with iron pipes , he makes it seem perfectly possible. The comedy sequences scattered throughout are sometimes witty , sometimes very broad ,and they offer comic relief without slowing down the story.
City Hunter is not without its flaws . Many of the incidents are wildly implausible. (People can’t get access to the President of the Republic that easily. The City Hunter takes off from his national Security job almost at will and turns up at the right place at the exact time he is needed. Characters miss each other by the narrowest of margins and the ease which City Hunter hacks into the villains most secret data means that there is no such thing as internet security). The City Hunter also spends most of the series trying to make the heroine fall out of love with him . This is understandable later on in the show when he is trying to protect her from becoming a victim due to his invovement with her but why he acts like a jerk ,early on, escapes me . There are also far too many coincidences. Overall, these flaws don’t matter because we identify so strongly with the characters that we willingly suspend our disbelief ; we overlook the incongruities in our eagerness to find out what happens next. I wish though that the ending had been a little stronger .
Why is this series so popular ? Even though City Hunter is very recent , having aired on Korean TV in 2011, over 33,000 Netflix subscribers have already seen it and rated it an average of 4.3 stars ( out of 5) , an exceptionally high rating, and 208 felt strongly enough to write a review. Some have seen it again and again.It’s not just City Hunter ; other Korean TV series also have struck a chord with American viewers. The reason , I think , is that they have a streak of sentimentality missing in American productions . They stress the importance of family relationships and love ( not sex). In 20 episodes of City Hunter , I can recall only two clinches between hero and heroine , one kiss. In Korean TV , it’s very clear who the bad guys are and there are no extenuating circumstances. Perhaps this is less complex , but it appeals to viewers and their streak of morality; at heart , all of us want the good guys to win and the bad guys get punished. We’re tired of moral ambiguity.This is true of Korean TV in general but City Hunter has many other things going for it as I’ve already said . You owe it to yourself to see it .
Warning : City Hunter is addictive . One of my friends and his family were so hooked on it that they zipped through all 20 episodes in the course of a weekend . My wife and I took a bit more time but soon found ourselves watching 4 or 5 (hour long )episodes a day . So… watch at your own peril. You have been warned.