[KDrama review] 마왕 The Devil

Genre: Crime, thriller, melo, supernatural

Synopsis: Kang Oh Soo (played by Uhm Tae Woong) is a police detective with a dark past — he used to be a school bully and lives with the pain of having killed his fellow school mate, Tae Hoon, in a confrontation back in high school. Seo Hae In (Shin Min Ah) is a girl gifted with psychometric abilities (she can see the past/future of objects she touch) and assists Detective Kang in a case when he starts receiving mysterious tarot cards and letters from an unknown killer.  Oh Seung Ha (Joo Ji Hoon) is a lawyer who defends the suspects involved in the case for free but harbours some dark secrets.

Comments: 

This show was aired in 2007, but I decided to watch it now after reading some good reviews about the writers, who are starting on a new project “Shark”. Also, I thought that the premise of tarot cards + mystery = win. True enough, this drama did win me over.

I was initially quite disappointed and bored by the first 2 episodes, perhaps because I am more used to watching the fast-paced Korean action dramas of today. But I guess this is a common flaw in many kdramas (especially for those weekend family dramas) because of the need to build up the back story in the beginning. Once the killer started to take action, the pacing picked up and I found myself getting increasingly drawn to the story.

There were many references to famous literary works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy. I must admit that I have very little knowledge of these works, but one need not be a literature major in order to understand the show. I did have have fun reading up on all these works though, and I found myself impressed with the writers’ depth of research.

Although there were no heart-stopping car chases or gun fights, the use of the shaky camera technique and close-up shots effectively conveyed the confusion and frustration experienced by Kang Oh Soo as he tried to piece together the physical evidences from the crime scenes and the clues from Hae In’s visions. One gripe I have is the occasional overzealous use of the shaky camera technique which ends up creating a virtual earthquake on your screen. On the other hand, there was very good use of lighting effects and symbolism in Oh Seung Ha’s scenes. His dimly-lit apartment, half of Seung Ha standing in the light while his other half stood in the shadows, Seung Ha shrouded in red evil lighting, Seung Ha glaring through a red-coloured window…all these reflected the dark secrets he carried and angry thoughts that ran through his mind, and also the two different sides of him.

The OST was also awesome, and I must give credit to the composers for writing such great instrumentals that gave the show its mysterious and supernatural vibe. Check out these two songs:

The acting was superb, and you can do no wrong with Uhm Tae Woong (Equator Man, Queen Seon Duk), who did a good job portraying the reckless Kang Oh Soo who started to crumble when his past came back to torment him. I would also like to give special mention to Lee Sung Min (The King 2 Hearts, Golden Time) and the actor who played Na Suk Jin. All the main and side characters in the show haboured their own dark secrets, and it was these secrets that brought out the evil in these good people. Shin Min Ah (My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox, Arang and the Magistrate) has starred in several shows about the supernatural so I have nothing much to say about her. I think she runs the risk of being type-casted.

(WARNING: Spoilers ahead)

However, Joo Ji Hoon (Princess Hours, Five Fingers) really shone in this show. I admit that I never liked him because of his unimpressive acting in Princess Hours, but he really made an impression on me here. Although Oh Seung Ha was cold and expressionless for the most part of the show, Joo Ji Hoon managed to bring depth to this character through subtle changes in the expression of his eyes. He effectively showed the warm, caring side of Oh Seung Ha beneath the cold exterior, and also revealed the cracks in his confidence as more people unravelled his secret. Towards the end, you could clearly see his wavering determination to finish his revenge plan, and also his horror and regret when he realised how he had corrupted his once innocent friend turned accomplice, Yeong Chul.

Rather than revealing the real killer at the end of the series, the writers chose to make this clear early in the show. However, there were still enough mysteries and tension to keep the story interesting. I liked how the writers kept us guessing in the first half of the series as to who the real killer was. Although the setup and the way Oh Seung Ha’s scenes were filmed (i.e. Seung Ha always brooding in his dimly lit apartment, Seung Ha shrouded in red evil lighting etc.) made it quite obvious who the culprit was, there were several distractions that made me question myself whether I was mistaken. All of these doubts were cleared after the halfway mark of the series.

(MAJOR spoiler ahead!)

The ending was both satisfying and unexpected. Although Kang Oh Soo was a murderer-turned-good, I never expected him to die in the end because he was, after all, the protagonist, and most protagonists (no matter how much of a jerk they were) in kdramas have a happy ending right? But then again, I guess death was the “right” way to end the show because dramas have to adhere to and propagate proper moral values. The ending was bittersweet for me as Kang Oh Soo and Oh Seung Ha, who were arch enemies and yet understood each other so well like brothers, sought forgiveness from each other and died side by side. Also in accordance to the final tarot card revealed in the show — the Wheel of Destiny, the ending was an almost exact replay of the killing that took place 12 years ago that triggered all these events. Everything came full circle, which was what made the ending satisfying.

Verdict: 8.5/10

A thought-provoking crime thriller mixed with elements of supernatural that makes this show stand out from your usual police drama. You might like this if you enjoyed watching Ghost (the 2012 cybercrime drama starring So Ji Sub), or shows that placed greater emphasis on plot development than the romance. If you are expecting any saccharine romantic scenes, you will be disappointed.

A dark show about revenge and the failings of human nature.

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2 thoughts on “[KDrama review] 마왕 The Devil

  1. Joo Ji Hoon is doing an outstanding job in a present k-drama The Secret Door”. He was also very good in “Five Fingers”.

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