JTBC premiered its noir crime thriller Heartless City last Monday, and boy oh boy was it something special. The K-ent netizen world exploded immediately upon the episode’s official drop (Episode 1 was available earlier on the official website), and Episode 2 just revved up the hype. At this point, it’s totally deserved. And I hope it becomes even more deserving in the weeks to come.
[UPDATE: Video clip of Shi-hyun’s masterpiece of a battle. Courtesy of JTBC.]
We open with a shot of the city, shrouded in darkness and yet lit up with lights – lights from building windows, from streetlamps, from honking cars… It’s a busy world living in darkness. A man hurries along the streets, nervously looking around, obviously rattled. At the same time, Police Chief Min Hong-ki (Sohn Chang-min) is being driven home from an official ceremony. He takes out his Award Certificate and calmly rips it into pieces.
A call comes in, and Chief Min kicks out his driver before taking the call – from our mysterious man who was walking through the streets. The man reports that Scale (as in scales, or balances) is meeting with the Chinese tonight to make a deal. He repeatedly emphasizes that this is the last time he is doing this – he feels Scale (and his men) suspect him. Chief Min accepts the man’s refusal to continue beyond tonight, and asks for the meeting location.
Detectives and police burst out of the station and race down the highway, sirens blaring, as we hear Chief Min’s voice: “We have received intelligence that Scale is meeting with the Chinese.” Leading the pack is Lee Kyung-mi (Go Na-eun), obviously no girly girl, and ready for some action. The cops arrive at a building and raid it but find no traces of Scale or the Chinese. Frustrated by the bad intelligence, Kyung-mi and the team wonder what went wrong, when a body falls from the sky, crashing down on the car behind them.
It’s our man of the opening, he who gave the information to Chief Min, and the cops race back inside. We pan up the building, and standing on the rooftop is Jung Shi-hyun aka Doctor’s Son (Jung Kyung-ho), immaculate in a three-piece suit and completely unfazed. “It has been taken care of,” he says into his phone, before hanging up. Talk about a cool customer. He stands there for a moment, overlooking the city, before walking back into the night.
The undercover cop (who died at the hands of Shi-hyun) is laid to rest, and as the rain continues to pour down at the cemetery, Ji Hyung-min (Lee Jae-yoon) silently joins the ceremony. Chief Min takes Hyung-min aside and tells him a Special Forces Team will be created. The purpose? Take down Scale. The Chief tells Hyung-min to head the team – “You investigate in whatever manner you want. However you want. No one can touch you – I’ll cover for you.” That’s a lot of trust there. Back in the office, Chief Min hands over the photos of members of Scale’s organization. The links between the various members of the organization are nearly impossible to determine, and that’s why Hyun-min has been called in: to put together the puzzle.
Kyung-mi walks into a fancy restaurant, where Hyung-min is waiting for her. Ooh la laaa do I smell romance? (Earlier at the cemetery, Kyung-mi had been visibly surprised to see Hyung-min show up.) The first thing she asks as she sits is what he talked about with the Chief, but Hyung-min just says he’s hungry. Yummylicious food is served, and Hyung-min says, “I’ll confess.” Aaack! Already?! “I’m returning. I’m coming back to the police force.” Boo fake out. Turns out Hyung-min just graduated from law school, passed the bar, and even completed the mandatory 2-year training that all attorneys must complete before they can practice law. But instead of becoming a fancy shmancy judge or prosecutor, he wants to be a cop. Kyung-mi ain’t that happy with his decision, but Hyung-min says he’s keeping his promise that he would come back.
Before their argument can continue, Kyung-mi gets a call about someone named Soo-min and gets up, asking Hyung-min to drive her. She passes by a server bringing in…
*face palm* Hyung-min just picks up the ring and heads out.
The two arrive at a sleazy nightclub, and Kyung-mi barges into the resting/changing room for the (working) girls. She flips out when she finds Yoon Soo-min (Nam Gyu-ri) inside, and Soo-min tries to explain she was there because of her friend. But Kyung-mi cuts her off and angrily demands if Soo-min refused to take the college entrance exam so she could “pour drinks”. (There’s a long history involved that I won’t get into, but basically it ain’t nowhere near a glorified job “pouring drinks” [implied: at a sleazy nightclub]. Quite the opposite in fact.)
Soo-min tries to explain again, but she sees Hyung-min watching the whole scene from the doorway, and her face closes (what un-plastic part that can move, that is). Please don’t tell me you have a crush on him. She angrily rips off her jacket and throws it on the ground, asking Kyung-mi to leave – she needs to change. Before Kyung-mi can cause an even bigger scene, Hyung-min grabs her and takes her out, indulgently smiling all the way. Gaaah, can I have him? Girlfriend, you need to appreciate your man.
The next(?) day, Chief Min introduces Hyung-min as the new Team Leader of the Special Forces Team. Quick question: Why do all Special Forces facilities have to be dark and creepy looking? Can’t they work in a normal building like everyone else, with plenty of light and good cheer? Plus, you’ve got “Special Forces” plastered all over outside – it’s not a top secret building or anything. Anyhoo. Everyone welcomes Hyung-min, but one dude doesn’t look so pleased: Kim Do-hoon, the sunbae who ruined Hyung-min’s proposal by calling Kyung-mi about Soo-min. You’re on my blacklist already, dude.
Hyung-min waves off the formalities and gets right down to work, and we get an introduction to our zebra-clad Scale, the leader of the Scale Mob that started with drugs and has become a maginormous loan shark-ing, entertainment/pleasure-industry-moving monolith of an entity that deals with millions of dollars a year. The way to the head is through his two top henchmen, the actual movers of the organization who dirty their hands for their boss: Kim Bbong and Neob-chi.
Mr. Scale is practicing his putting – gotta work on your short game! – while a uniformed ‘secretary’ holds the phone to his ear so he can chat with his congressman friend. Another identically uniformed secretary announces the arrival of some fund company’s president, and two more identically uniformed secretaries pop up to lay out the plastic. Oh my, is that what I think it is? Sure enough, the president begs Scale for time to repay his debt, and Scale proceeds to beat down the man with his golf driver – in front of the man’s son. Said son vomits all over the place, and Scale sends the guy on his way with a nice reminder that he’s next up for the red carpet – should I say plastic carpet? – treatment.
Hyung-min and his team – have I mentioned that Kyung-mi is on the team? – are staked out waiting for some dude with another weird name I didn’t catch. Donghae Construction is the company suspected of being used as a front for Scale to launder his money, and Hyung-min believes this dude has links to the company. Poopy Do-hoon comes back from a snack run with Kyung-mi’s favorite munchie, but she hands it off to another sunbae team member. It’s hilarious how (1) Hyung-min’s face tightens when he hears through his earpiece (he’s in his own car) Do-hoon obviously making a play for Kyung-mi; and (2) Do-hoon’s face falls when Kyung-mi gives her munchie away without a second thought. Love (1) jealous man; and (2) blacklisted poopy being knocked down a peg.
Their target finally makes his appearance, but then another guy shows up with his little daughter in tow and ‘sells’ her for a package of crack or whatever drug he’s doing. Kyung-mi, despite Hyung-min’s earlier order not to move even if their target showed up, races out of the van to rescue the little girl. She manages to get in the elevator with Bad Dude and Little Girl, but Hyung-min arrives a step too late and is forced to get even buffer by taking the stairs.
Kyung-mi pulls a gun on Bad Dude, and commeeence battle! He manages to knock away the gun and get a slash on Kyung-mi’s arm as well, but she ain’t our Team Leader’s girl for nothin’. Showin’ off some serious moves, she knocks out Bad Dude and gets the little girl to safety.
At the hospital, Kyung-mi gets patched up and seems none the worse for wear, but Hyung-min’s face says it all. Gah, why do I love these (over)protective men so much? He tells her to quit her job as a cop, and she tells him he can quit. “I just want to hear my name, not “Team Leader”. And it’s difficult continuously watching my woman be exposed to danger.” Kyung-mi ain’t havin’ none of it and storms out of the hospital.
The Special Forces Team interrogates Bad Dude, but a prosecutor calls the suspect away for his own questioning. (Cultural Side Note: It’s a common enough occurrence, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed via other dramas. The thugs and loan sharks and all other forms of bad guys have district attorneys and congressmen in their pockets, so it’s easy work getting a suspect out of the interrogation room. Even if you’ve got all kinds of evidence, if you get pressure from above – and trust me, there will be pressure from the top dogs – you ain’t got a chance of putting a ‘powerful’ criminal behind bars.)
Hyung-min is forced to give up their man, but he promises the guy that they will see each other again. Frustrated and disappointed, Hyung-min stands on the rooftop, looking out over the city. Kyung-mi joins him, embracing him in a back hug, and suggests they go out for a drink. But Hyung-min just turns around and hugs her with his buff arms. What, the buff arms aren’t relevant? Says who?!
He asks her why she became a cop, realizing that he had never asked her before. “In order to smile brightly,” she answers. “If I smile, the world will also smile.” Aww. Hyung-min sweetly cradles her face in his hand, and Kyung-mi takes a breath before aegyo-blasting him with, “Hyung-min-ie Oppa!” Oppa’s face breaks out into a maginormous grin, and she pours on the aegyo, reminding him that he said he wanted to hear “Oppa” instead of “Team Leader.” Gaah.
Hyung-min pulls off his earpiece and puts it on Kyung-mi’s ear, and asks if she’s ready to go. She’s confused – as are we – but the answer is quickly made apparent when Hyung-min and the crew show up at a nightclub where Bad Dude and his prosecutor friend are having drinks with pretty ladies. So much for an interrogation. Turns out Hyung-min had put a bug on Bad Dude, and even Bad Dude was just a means to put Prosecutor Ahn on the hot spot. Hyung-min wants info on the CEO of Donghae Construction and Scale. Another revelation: Hyung-min’s father is the top dog among the federal attorneys, but it looks like father and son aren’t on quite the same page.
Despite all his bluster, Prosecutor Ahn caves to the pressure and hands over the requested info the next day. He demands to know what Hyung-min’s playing at, and Hyung-min answers that he wants to make a world where kids can run around outside of the playground. But Prosecutor Ahn tells him not to delude himself: it’s not Hyung-min that makes the decision, but the kids themselves. They decide what kind of world they want to live in. Dang.
As our lovebirds look out over the city they want to save, rich playboys and innocent-looking ajuhmmas help the drug industry’s wheels continue to turn. Shi-hyun arrives in his lair, as immaculate, unflapping, and cool as ever. He gets a call from one of his men confirming that their payment has arrived. When asked what to do with it, Shi-hyun tells him to just leave it. The underling worries that Scale won’t just take this, and sure enough Shi-hyun gets a call from right-hand (or is it left-hand?) man Neob-chi.
The next day, Shi-hyun enters The Mansion, where a livid Scale is waiting for him. Scale throws his glass tumbler at Shi-hyun, who quickly sidesteps it. That only further enrages the boss, who simply grabs another tumbler and smashes it over Shi-hyun’s head. Shi-hyun, of course, doesn’t blink an eye. As calm as can be, he asks for 40% of the cut – his guys need to eat, too.
“You’re using my goods, and you want 40%? Did your father teach you such lousy math? Oh, that’s right – you don’t even have a father to learn from. Have you forgotten? I took you in, you who were more worthless than garbage, and I ‘raised’ you this much. This is how you repay me?” He slaps Shi-hyun around for good measure before grabbing his trusty golf club – but before he can swing it, Mini Scale unwittingly comes to the rescue, reminding father dearest that they were gonna go see a show together. Papa Scale holds off on his golf practice for the day and tells Shi-hyun to deposit his money immediately – or else he’s dead.
Shi-hyun stops by a convenience store for band-aids and an ointment for the gash on his forehead. As per laws of the Kdrama universe, Soo-min works at the store as a part-time employee. He pays for the measly purchase with a hundred-dollar bill, not bothering with the change. Gotta leave a great first impression on your future lover, no?
Kim Bbong reports that Shi-hyun still hasn’t deposited the money, and Scale gives the order to kill Shi-hyun and select his successor. Problem is, Kim Bbong and Neob-chi don’t know where Shi-hyun is. Their organization is structured in ‘scattered’ entities (as if each piece is its own independent entity) so that they can’t be linked together. As not-too-bright Neob-chi hilariously puts it, how are they supposed to find Shi-hyun if the whole point of their mob is to not be able to find anyone? LOL. The only person who might have a remote idea is Soo, and Neob-chi goes in search of him.
Well, Kim Hyun-soo (Yoon Hyun-min), aka Soo for short, is a bit occupied at the moment with his lady friend. But Neob-chi is not to be deterred, and he tells Soo to cough up where Shi-hyun is. Soo asks for some time to put out his feelers and sends the hyung-nim off to ‘relax’. Turns out Soo knows exactly where his buddy is and asks Shi-hyun what he’s gonna do. Shi-hyun: “You know how it is. If you don’t kill, you get killed.” Soo cautions him, reminding him that this is Scale they’re dealing with, but Shi-hyun ain’t backing off. It took him eight years to get where he is now – he’s tired of just giving. Soo throws in his lot with Shi-hyun, and the bromance of the century is officially christened.
Soo’s guys beat down Neob-chi and his henchmen, and Shi-hyun’s guys join in on The March to The Mansion. As fists fly and blood sprays the air, Shi-hyun coolly storms The Mansion with nary a pause or even a glance at the chaos surrounding him.
Unfortunately, Scale ain’t on the premises, so Shi-hyun is forced to content himself with knocking over the throne. (Seriously, Scale’s power chair looks every inch like a throne from some palace in the medieval times. Except it’s got nice velvet upholstery, which I’m pretty sure medieval kings didn’t enjoy…) The next day, they head back to Neob-chi, who is tied up in some shady empty warehouse. He’s released from his bonds, and he confusedly looks at Shi-hyun. “I deposited all of this month’s collections in your account,” Shi-hyun tells him. In a speculative tone, he continues, “You were kidnapped but return unscathed… And your bank account has gotten ‘fatter’…” Even Neob-chi knows how this will look, and he caves. He says he doesn’t know where Scale is, but Kim Bbong is sure to know – a phone call reveals that Kim Bbong is at the furniture factory, where Shi-hyun’s successor will be picked tonight.
Shi-hyun tells Neob-chi to disappear and never return, and the man rushes to his safe to pack his moolah and run. Alas, the Special Forces Team is already on scene undercover, and Hyung-min takes in the big guy. Poor Neob-chi can’t seem to get a break. Using all kinds of force and intimidation tactics, Hyung-min learns that Kim Bbong knows where Scale is, and then he allows his team to burst in on the scene and ‘arrest’ him. Can’t have cops being charged with brutality after all.
Having gotten the word on Neob-chi being taken in by the police, Soo asks if they should give up for today – the police are sure to be waiting at the furniture factory. Shi-hyun agrees and sends the guys home, but at the last moment decides to go himself.
The Special Forces Team is staked out at the factory, and Shi-hyun makes his slow-mo entrance, complete with moody music. He senses that he’s being watched but continues on his way. Not long after, Kim Bbong and his crew arrive. Having confirmed their target, Hyung-min puts his team on alert – but no one is to make a move until he gives the official order.
Kim Bbong and his guys make their way down a dark hallway… when someone suddenly appears and easily knocks out two thugs: Shi-hyun. In a masterpiece of a battle, Shi-hyun deftly makes his way through the entire crew.
Meanwhile, the backed up Special Forces Team is on the verge of raiding the building when a gunshot echoes through the night. A guy stumbles out and falls dead in front of Hyung-min, who frantically gives the “go” for the team. He races through the building and finds the hallway of destruction, where one guy has enough breath left to point out where Kim Bbong went. Hyung-min runs out and just misses the car presumably holding Kim Bbong, and his suspicions are confirmed when the number of downed guys is two less than that of those who entered the building. One of the beat up thugs reveals that the man who took Kim Bbong is “Doctor’s Son”, a name the team has never heard before.
Kyung-mi can’t believe that one guy did all that damage, but Hyung-min explains it’s possible if you’re working in a narrow and long hallway. What amazes him, though, is that the mysterious Doctor’s Son did it all in 20 minutes. *whistles* Brain whirring and bouncing off of Kyung-mi’s thoughts, Hyung-min figures out that Doctor’s Son is also after Scale – and he’s not of a different organization. “It’s a coup d’état.”
Papa and Mini Scale enjoy their own private performance by girl groups, but the lovely bonding moment is interrupted by one well-dressed man named Soo… an apologetic Kim Bbong… and Shi-hyun. Dun dun duuuuun!
So pinkblossom urged me to watch this show explaining it was “dark but oh so good!” Of course it took me 3 days to find some English subbed episodes, but I’m so glad I didn’t give up. This show is dark but I like it dark.
I’m pretty speechless right now. I cannot find words to remotely describe my excitement and elation at finally being introduced to a Kdrama so amazingly awesome. Yes, my vocabulary has digressed to the stupidest words. Awesome. The first episode was so action-packed and laid out so many clues/plot points that I’m having a really difficult time trying to organize my thoughts.
Let’s start with some of the actors. Jung Kyung-ho kills it as Jung Shi-hyun aka Doctors’s Son (pinkblossom calls it his druglorddie name). The first episode shows him staging a crazy coup to take over the current druglord’s (Scale) empire. I loved Jung Kyung-ho in Smile and I’m Sorry, I Love You. However, I never saw him play any darker characters, since I didn’t watch Time of the Dog and Wolf. I don’t know how he could possibly get any thinner but he does in Heartless City. EAT MORE JUN KYUNG-HO. YOU ARE TOO SKINNY! But the guyliner does wonders for him and he looks creepy and weirdly hot. Plus his kick-butt action scenes are way cool. Pinkblossom told me just to watch this drama so we could both revel in his schmexiness.
The dynamics are really interesting when we juxatopose this slick, cold, silent, stick-thin “bad guy” against our hot-headed, fiery, super-buff ex-cop who returns to being special unit leader Ji Hyung-min played by Lee Jae-yoon. Ok, I have to admit the first half of the episode, I kept getting distracted by how buff he looked. He’s hot but pinkblossom and I agree sometimes this guy looks like an oaf, like he looks really dumb sometimes. So I’m still on the fence on this one. Hot but not? Regardless, he’s got a side-plot love story going on with a girl cop. I don’t care much for this part of the story. I can totally see this story line end with the girl dying and Hyung-min not being able to propose to her or Hyung-min dying and yah. That might add a little bit of spice to the story.
The guy who plays Scale is like the gangster in EVERY movie/TV show I have seen him in. Talk about typecast! He’s pretty darn good at what he does though cause he manages to look diabolically evil every time. This drama really shows him as a big drug lord. Some of his acts of violence are really over-the-top. He’s got hot chicks laying out plastic for him on the ground before he beats a man to a bloody pulp. I guess these “touches” are what makes this show. Scale is not your average violent gang boss. He’s sophisticated.
My favorite scene is when Shi-hyun walks toward Scale’s house to confront Scale. He walks straightforward, his eyes completely unwavering, while his lackeys engage in an all-out-battle with Scale’s underlings. This scene is ridiculous because you can see his non-human composure in the chaotic and violent setting. I think this really is a foreboding of how dangerous and cold hearted he can become. It really foreshadows the kind of drug lord he can be.
One point I truly do not understand is why Korean dramas must censor blur out knives. Knives are everywhere! Your mama uses a knife to cut vegetables. If it’s so offensive shouldn’t you be censoring out guns too? And while you’re at it do the pencils too because they are sharp. I believe if you want to be violent show the violence realistically. The blur is really distracting to me. I just want to see Shi-hyun kick butt.
Great start to a great show. Episode 1 really sets the stage. I’m ready for more!
Lemme get this out of the way first. *swoon*
My golly gee whiz, ay caramba! We have got us some mighty fine men doing all kinds of meanie things, but it just fans the flames. I love me my puppy eyes and goody two shoes boys, but bad boys are on a whole ’nother level.
Once again, we’ve got a title with a difficult English translation. The Korean title is: Moo Jung Do-shi (무정도시) = No Jeong City. So a city without that impossible-to-describe thing called “jeong”. There is a very famous novel – considered by many to be the first novel ever written in Korean – by legend Yi Kwang-su, titled 무정 (Moo Jeong), and the official English translation is Mujong. In other words, no way to translate. 😉 The first character “moo” is the Chinese character for “no” or “absence”. And “jeong” is that indefinable thing that is part love, affection, attachment… and so much more. So we’re talking about an absence of that jeong thing.
Normally, you don’t just use “moo-jung” by itself. It is used with the “to be” verb, so you would say that someone “is moo-jung”. The term “moo-jung-ha-da” (무정하다_to be moo-jung) is usually used to describe someone who leaves without a backward glance – it’s not as strong as “naeng-jeong-ha-da” (냉정하다), which would describe someone who is cold or cold-hearted (“naeng” = cold). Anyhoo, long grammar lesson aside, the title is weird even in Korean, thus it ain’t a surprise the English translation sounds a bit forced.
Continuing on the topic of names, those who are watching – with or without subs – may have noticed that all the thugs have strange names – and multiple names. What’s going on? Well. Everyone has a ‘normal’, sensible, good boy Korean name. And then they have bad boy nicknames they earned in the underworld. It’s a bit difficult for me (as a recapper) as well because it appears the subbers (according to whitecarrot) are translating the nicknames instead of giving the Romanized versions. For example, our zebra- and golf-lover’s nickname is pronounced “Jeo-wool”, but subbers have named him “Scale.” (Once again, we’re talking about a scale that weighs things, not the stuff on fish.) “Neob-chi” is the Korean name for “halibut”. I haven’t watched the episode with subs thus don’t know what the subbers are calling him, so I have just called him “Neob-chi”. As for our lovely Shi-hyun, his nickname is “Park-sa Ah-deul” (박사아들) which literally means “son of a person with a Ph.D”. Occasionally, Soo calls him “Park-sa” which is just a shorter version of his nickname – just as “Soo” is a shorter version of “Hyun-soo”.
The bottom line is that everything is sorta kinda right. For my own sanity, I have chosen to use everyone’s ‘real’ names when possible. So don’t get confused if Shi-hyun seems to be doing what the subbers claim Doctor’s Son is doing. They are one and the same. 😉
One last culture-related thing. Knives and tattoos are not allowed to be broadcasted, and it appears it holds true on cable TV as well. As whitecarrot complained, knives and blades are whipped out, but then immediately censored. Kinda kills the whole ‘scary’ vibe, but what can you do? The tattoo censoring thing has been more of an annoyance in the past – actors with tats usually wear a huge patch if they’re going shirtless, or they wear sleeves if they’re Jay Park, or the broadcasters blur it out. We haven’t gotten there yet, but Shi-hyun gives us a treat in Episode 3. The pre-released pictures featured the amazing artwork, but what I just saw a few hours ago was an ugly black back. We’ll rant more when we get there.
Okay, fiiinally. The good stuff. We’ll talk about the actors for today. First up: Lee Jae-yoon. I believe I first saw him (or clearly remember noticing him) back in 2010 when he was the lead in drastically cut-short daily drama Stormy Lovers (폭풍의 연인). Fell in love, and then reaaally fell in love when he romanced Lee So-yeon in weekend drama My Love By My Side (내 사랑 내 곁에). Anyhow, he has been working his way up and has finally landed here in this dark, gritty world. I am an unashamed fan of buff guys, and I have a soft spot for Lee Jae-yoon, but he hasn’t quite done it for me yet in Heartless City. I wish they’d get rid of all the frizz-permed hair, and I want him to get into character.
Go Na-eun was stiff as Jade (Bi-chwi) in Assorted Gems (보석 비빔밥) but hilariously hate-able (in a good way) in An Angel’s Choice. Here, she’s more natural but sadly lacking in chemistry with Lee Jae-yoon. It ain’t her fault, and the situation isn’t really helped by the characters they play. At this point, she just feels kinda annoying with her impulsiveness and doesn’t seem all that invested in her relationship with Hyung-min. Normally, I’m all for a girl getting respect for being a tough cookie, but it sounds more like whining than a real passion for her job.
I’ll save Nam Gyu-ri for another episode when she actually gives me more to work with. So far, I’m not won over – not by a long shot.
Best for last: Jung Kyung-ho. Oh my golly goodness gracious, THIS is how you make a comeback from a 2-plus-year hiatus. Jung Kyung-ho is totally rocking the guyliner and gorgeously sculpted hair and beautifully tailored three-piece suits. And it’s not just the accessories but who he is that allows him to pull it off. He is ice and confidence personified. “Confidence” is such a weak word for what we have here. It’s just… gah, I have no words. All I can say is that this role was made for him. He has embodied everything from hell bent on revenge (Time of the Dog and Wolf) to frustratingly poopy (Princess Ja Myung-go) to adorably sweet (Smile). And now, he is ruthlessly goal-oriented, ambitious, and unflappably cool. I love it. And I can’t wait for more.