I completely lucked out on my third jaunt in K-dramaland, sparing a brief diversion from lakorn land, my bread and butter. And when this journey turns out to be a gemstone find, I can pat myself on the back for a good choice and time well spent. Thanks to Netflix, for their crisp, clear and handy subtitles- as well as the director who brought Prosecutor Princess, my first foray into K-dramas- I am able to appreciate City Hunter for all its glory.
When it comes to the action genre, I don’t necessarily look for them in lakorns, or expect its endeavor to leave any emotional or minding blowing impact within the lakorn world. It’s just not the nature of the beast per se, and so when they attempt action, it comes off trying too hard to be cool. That’s why I tend to dabble in sappy romcoms or slap-kiss lakorns, because that’s their best work.
But City Hunter, oh my, as one whole package- the slick action, intrigue, romance and drama- hits me in all the right places. It has a compelling and poignant father-son conflict, adorable yet wistful romantic love story, and such ass-kicking action scenes, I am struck (or swept for that matter) with awe. Throw in thematic arcs, ideologies and superhero backdrop within a brooding atmosphere; it is just so cool.
Headlining this drama is Lee Min Ho, an excellent casting for Lee Yoon Sung because he is able to bring so much depth to his conflicted character. And I’m not gonna lie, he’s got me pretty smitten. There are no such things as bad angles when it comes to his lovely face or hair. He is a perfect specimen, all 6’2 of him, so portraying that dual persona of playboy MIT prodigy by day and The City Hunter – epitomizing the Dark Knight- well, by night, and wreaking vengeance on his own terms, is a hot (I mean perfect) fit.
The story centers on a black ops sweep mission in ’83 where 21 men were assassinated on Nampo waters by their own leaders, for what they deem were for the greater good: a sacrifice to remain as allies with the US of A. The murders were then swept under the rug and the identities of the secret agents, erased. But one particular agent, by the name of Lee Jin Pyu, survived the atrocity because his comrade in arm took a bullet for him, hiding him in the depths of the sea. Jin Pyu, with the bullet that went through his friend and remained lodged in his shoulder, vowed to wreak vengeance on those who are responsible: the Big Five. To remind himself of his life mission, Jin Pyu plucks his partner’s newborn baby boy from his mother, and raises him for the destiny that awaits them both.
They sequester in Thailand (aka the drug Triangle) where Jin Pyu rounded up a drug operation, became the general in the blistering heat of the Triangle’s village, as well as raised his son, Yoon Sung (aka Poo-chai, which means male in Thai) with nails for breakfast, guns for lunch and evading landmines for dinner. It’s a day in the life of this kid, yo. Yet despite his ruthless upbringing, Yoon Sung has a soul and the capacity for love and kindness. When shit hits the fan and propels Yoon Sung to change and meet his destiny- that is to officially spearhead the revenge- his struggle would be to maintain his soul (by doing what is right) and accomplish his mission at the same time. Would he have to risk one to achieve the other?
After 28 years, Lee Yoon Sung, a brilliant Professor who earned his PhD from MIT, embarks to Seoul on said mission to catch the Big Five, expose them of their evil undertakings- illegal money laundering from innocent students, endeavoring in unethical business ventures, or covering up an assassination of 21 honest agents- Yoon Sung does this all under the guise of the City Hunter, who seeks justice for the underdogs and serves the baddies on a platter for the Prosecutor for indiction. Yoon Sung’s end goal is to live happily and in peace with his father, Jin Pyu, and of course his beloved Ajussi Shik-Joong, who serves as his mother, brother and sister all rolled into one. But the biggest conflict and complex relationship in this 20 episode drama is between the aforementioned father and son. It may even boil down to a difference in opinion or ideology, which makes for an intriguing and compelling watch as son versus dad battle of will (or balls for that matter) plays out. And at the end of the day, the question remains, will your father still be your father?
Another source of conflict comes in the form of the Prosecutor himself- a righteous man by the name of Kim Young-Ju, who finds himself doing his due diligence to uphold the law and protect its people- yet he encounters the City Hunter who abides by no law or rules, but has his heart in the right place. Their relationship plays out in the Batman-Commissioner Gordon kind of way, but with Young-Ju much more obstinate, because it bruises his ego at receiving help from a vigilante, thus allowing him more determination to unveil the identity of the City Hunter. I am a sucker for superheroes type plot, and I was a goner when both the City Hunter and the Prosecutor are given so much character depth. They both are after the same goals mind you; they just use different means to get there.
There are so many twists and turns in the plots, leaving me on the edge of the precipice, holding my breath for ungodly hour long episodes, and fearing for all of the character’s endangered lives. Each are precious in their own ways- whether they are good or bad, their motives are not black and white, and reason enough for them to pursue their paths, making a compelling argument that life is about choices and focus (as Yoon Sung advises once): what will you forsake for the greater good? (I guess that all depends on what you define as the greater good.) But your choices will have their dire consequences.
Ah, and it wouldn’t be this lakorn girl if she didn’t talk about the romantic aspect of the drama. Sticking to the badass appeal, we have a pretty badass heroine named Kim Nana, or Yoon Sung likes to call, Bear Nana because she can be dense sometimes. But she is fearless and runs head long into a conflict, certainly not a typical leading girl (well not one that I’m accustomed to.) Because she is a bodyguard by profession, or a human shield, as she likes to call it, Nana is a survivor, a fighter due to her tragic background. But her strong will and sturdy personality is exactly what Yoon Sung needs. I love their push and pull relationship. I love how she is able to read him and understand him despite what he says to the contrary. I love how she never asks for her love to be reciprocated: that her feelings are her own, and I love how she is so giving, and never gives up on him. Which makes it very difficult for Yoon Sung, who finds himself so worried about her and so in love with her that he almost wishes that they never met. Wouldn’t things be easier that way? To never meet someone that you would end up hurting? They are adorable together and when they are not (or have conflict keeping them apart) it just makes me feel so wistful. So brooding. And at times, so heartbreaking.
As much as this drama marks Yoon Sung’s redemption for his father (I love his unwavering love for his old man), but it also sets the path for his gallant and righteous destiny as the City Hunter.
Oh City Hunter, you have my heart and you took it to town. You have taken me to the ringer and back. And yet, I don’t regret a minute of it. I may even be Bear Nana enough to get my heart handed to me thrice.
Yoon Sung as Poo-chai in Thailand with his one friend. (Who Nana reminds him of lol)
Even when you’re conflicted, you are hot Yoon Sung!
Their fun moments on the water faucet.
Both, tough as nails. Together they make a fine team.
She always said she wants to be someone he could lean on.
I love how he looks at her, all the time.
The smooch at the bar.
(*picture credit as tagged, fanpop, sonems forum, Thai series 8)