“Pied Piper” is a decent crime drama that aims high, but misses the bullseye. Still a nice shot though.
Genre: Crime, thriller, action, politics
Synopsis: Using the classic German folk tale as a metaphor, the Pied Piper is a mysterious man who manipulates those with grievances to commit acts of terror in South Korea. Joo Seong Chan (played by Shin Ha Kyun) is a shrewd business negotiator who joins Yoo Myeong Ha (Jo Yoon Hee) in the police crisis negotiation team after being targeted by the Pied Piper. Yoon Hee Seong (Yoo Joon Sang) is an ambitious news reporter who is determined to report the truth even in the face of danger, and has several run-ins with the team. What is the Pied Piper’s motive? Will the police be able to stop him?
“Pied Piper” is a criminally underrated drama (pun intended?) that fell off the radar for most Kdrama watchers, such that it was even in danger of not being subbed at all. The lack of interest is understandable, since the drama does not have any hot young actor/idol among the cast, and it lacks a core element that is crucial for success in the Kdrama world — romance. It didn’t help that initial reactions from netizens in Korea were generally unfavourable towards the show too. But this drama caught my eye because I love detective dramas, and I also have a soft spot for Yoo Joon Sang. I liked him in “My Husband Got a Family“, the highly successful family drama that cemented his status as the “nation’s husband”, at least in South Korea, that is.
“Pied Piper” was overall a great watch with many exciting moments, but it also has some flaws that make this pale in comparison to other successful crime dramas such as “Signal”.
Let’s start with the good stuff first.
It is rare that you have two high-calibre actors the likes of Shin Ha Kyun and Yoo Jun Sang starring in the same show. Though they are not your typical flower boys, they do have their own manly charisma, and they pulled off their roles with aplomb. Having the two of them on screen is a visual feast of a different kind. Yoo Jun Sang especially, was the star of the show to me, proving that he is not to be tied down by his dream-husband, nice-guy image. Not that he needed to prove it in the first place.
Song Dong Il’s cameo was short but memorable, and you can always count on Jeon Kuk Hwan (aka El Temur in “Empress Ki”) to be a menacing old man. Surrounded by so many veterans, it is inevitable that actress Jo Yoon Hee is singled out as the weak link in the cast. Her acting has always been serviceable — she does the job, but doesn’t impress. I’m not saying that her acting is atrocious (I’ve seen much worse), but she has much room for improvement.
Story-wise, this is the first time I’m seeing a drama that focuses on crisis negotiation, and I think this is probably a first for a Korean drama too. It sheds some light on the difficulty of weighing your options and making the “right” decision in a crisis. Should you sacrifice a few to save the majority? Should the lives of the rich be prioritised over those of the poor? In a crisis, does sacrificing yourself even count as one of your possible options? The show also implies that the authorities are sometimes driven to make questionable decisions in light of these considerations. Also, is the Pied Piper a hero or a terrorist? Even in our real world, a suicide bomber is labelled as a terrorist by the media and governments, but from the eyes of another, he may be a martyr with noble intentions. Having one of the main characters as a news anchor allows the drama to explore the power of media framing on public opinion, and how people can manipulate the media to achieve their own goals. These are all hard-hitting real life issues that the drama tries to cover, and I applaud them for doing so. But maybe they went a little overboard too, as the story suddenly deviates to a court case that deals with an entirely unrelated social issue in episode 6.
I think the show’s most brilliant moments were the crisis situations. The director did a good job at building and maintaining the tension of the various crisis situations with great choice of soundtrack and swift camera movements. I especially liked the way they rotated the camera around a central figure in an enclosed area. I even found myself holding my breath at some of these tense moments.
But I’m not sure if I can extend the same praise to the writer. Though it is commendable of the writer to pepper the entire series with various kinds of crises, it seemed a bit of a stretch for so many acts of terror to be committed on such a regular basis in a country like South Korea. Some of these crisis situations also seemed to drag on a tad too long. While it is true that many hostage situations can drag on for hours in reality, it becomes a bit taxing for the viewer to be kept at suspense for more than half of an episode’s running time. Although it is impressive for a drama to induce so much adrenaline in the viewer, the scenes without any action going on then appear very boring in contrast. I do recall myself feeling very bored at some intervals (especially in the first half of the series). Therefore, I think the show had some issues in striking a right balance between action and non-action scenes, just like a roller coaster ride where the thrills are not evenly spaced out.
Regarding the OST, my favourite song is this haunting German song that uses lyrics from Franz Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger”. I actually think the piano version of this song has a more haunting effect, but unfortunately, I could only find the original version on YouTube.
The song is very poetic, as the lyrics seem to be in reference to our three main leads being tormented by the past, and being hypocrites with two faces; each of them have a good and bad side depending on your perspective (view lyrics). Given that the drama is makes references to a German folk tale, I think it is befitting that a German song is also used as a soundtrack. This is also a refreshing choice, as I would expect to hear such a song in a Japanese anime rather than in a Korean drama. Speaking of which, I wish they would release the entire OST of the drama, but I doubt that would happen given the show’s low popularity.
[SPOILER] I have a gripe about the story that I would like to add: I thought the revelation of the Pied Piper’s relation to the New Town incident was unexpected, but not convincing enough as a reason to commit all those terror acts. I wish he was depicted as a purely evil genius with a vengeance rather than a genius with a psychological problem with violent tendencies. Also, I thought the scale of the New Town incident in the first place was not big enough to trigger such hatred. I think an incident with a higher death toll would be more convincing? [END OF SPOILER]
Despite the uneven pacing, the show was overall worth my time because of the impressive acting and adrenaline-filled crisis situations. This show will appeal to those looking for a crime drama with depth and quality acting. Those who cannot watch dramas without romance or comedy should stay away.