[Korean drama review] Vampire Detective 뱀파이어탐정

Vampire drama lacks fangs and blood for you to sink your teeth into.

Genre: Crime, fantasy, romance

Synopsis: Yoon San (played by Lee Joon) runs a private detective agency with his buddy Yong Goo Hyung (Oh Jung Se), but gets turned into a vampire one day. With his newfound abilities, he solves cases for his clients while continuing his search for his two best friends who have gone missing.

Comments:

Vampires mixed with my favourite crime genre sounds like a winning combination, so I had high hopes for this series, considering that it’s a spin-off from the successful Vampire Prosecutor series, which I enjoyed a lot. But gosh, was I so wrong.

Vampire Detective started off on a strong note with an exciting and well directed first episode. We have action, an intriguing mystery, leads with unique personalities, plus a surprising cameo from Jae Hee of Sassy Girl Chun-hyang fame. But the quality of the show went down a notch from the second episode onwards, then improves again in certain episodes, but never quite hitting the mark.

Show, why couldn't you get it right?

Show, why couldn’t you get it right?

The drama focuses on a standalone case for each episode with the overarching mystery coming in at the end to link the episodes together. This format is largely similar to that of Vampire Prosecutor, but unlike its predecessor that had clever twists and turns, Vampire Detective chooses to wrap up each case in whichever way is more convenient. Instead of dropping clues for the viewer to guess who the culprit is, the drama leaves the audience out of the loop by revealing important stuff right at the end. Part of the fun of watching detective dramas is being able to unravel the mystery along with the characters in the show, but this fun aspect is largely absent for most of the cases. It also didn’t help that there were gaping loopholes in the way some cases were resolved. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the writer’s logic.

Another problem was the obvious lack of the vampire fantasy element. You would think that you would be able to see Lee Joon rocking those vampire fangs and sipping blood in a drama titled Vampire Detective, but we are not shown any of these AT ALL. Such a waste casting a hottie like Lee Joon for this role and not letting him prove what a smexy vampire he can be. I may sound shallow, but it is a fact that vampires have been stereotyped as sexy beings, and there’s no denying that females love seeing their handsome oppas in a vampire role, so how could this drama fail to capitalise on this to draw in their audience? Besides, it is the vampire element that will set this series apart from the usual crime dramas, but many of the cases featured in this drama could be solved without any use of vampiric abilities. I found the drama most interesting when it focused on the overarching vampire mystery instead of the weekly cases.

Why aren’t you drinking any blood?

Unlike Vampire Prosecutor where the series pretty much started with the lead already living as a vampire for a period of time, Vampire Detective took the approach of kicking off the story with Yoon San still as a human. This presents Vampire Detective with the opportunity to bring in an interesting and fresh perspective to the series by focusing on how Yoon San and his friends have to adjust to his transformation, given that this wasn’t covered in Vampire Prosecutor. Instead, Yoon San showed no sign of being shocked or traumatised about becoming a vampire, while Goo Hyung did not seem afraid or curious enough to question his undead friend (probably to avoid hurting his feelings). You’d think becoming a vampire was as natural as entering menopause. In fact, I even wondered if Yoon San actually knew he had become a vampire. I’ve no idea what the writer was thinking.

But this doesn’t mean that Vampire Detective only sucked and had no bite. One thing that this drama did better than Vampire Prosecutor was painting a rich backstory for each of the characters. I thought the writer was really generous to devote entire episodes to tell us the history of each character in the second half of the series. This breathed more life into the characters rather than just having them as mere sidekicks or villains.

More bromance, more!

More bromance, more!

The drama also had a strong cast. I initially started watching this series for Oh Jung Se, an experienced movie actor with great comedic timing, and his casting as Yoon San’s bumbling sidekick and senior was indeed spot-on. This drama has also made me a fan of Lee Joon, whom I never took notice of when he was still an idol singer; will definitely be checking out his other shows. This is my first time seeing Lee Se Young, and I thought she did a good job as the tough and sassy Gyeo Wool. (Trivia: Lee Joon, Oh Jung Se, and Lee Se Young are all under the same agency, how convenient for the casting director.) Lee Chung Ah was especially impressive as the femme fatale Yo Na; I only saw her as the annoyingly cutesy Eun Bi in Flower Boy Ramen Shop, so it was surprising to see that she could easily transition between sweet and menacing.

Lee Chung Ah

Lee Chung Ah

On the other hand, I totally disliked Yoo Jin (played by Kim Yoon Hye), Yoon San’s girlfriend who wasn’t capable of doing anything else other than being a damsel in distress. I saw no chemistry between her and Yoon San; although romance was totally unnecessary here, I would rather see Yoon San paired up with Yo Na instead.

If we disregard the script, I thought the directing was decent; there were some scenes that were quite nicely filmed in terms of aesthetics, and the action scenes were also convincing.

(Clockwise from left) Use of flying sparks; silhouettes in action scene; zooming out from the house to the surrounding scenery; use of night vision in action scene.

Nice aesthetics (clockwise from left): Use of flying sparks; silhouettes in action scene; zooming out from the house to the surrounding scenery; use of night vision in action scene.

The drama also has some nice choice of background music (I thought the use of rap and rock music was quite cool), and even uses instrumental tracks from the original Vampire Prosecutor series. I could tell that at least one of the songs (specifically, the instrumental music used in the opening title sequence of Vampire Prosecutor) was remixed for a more modern sound, which was probably a good move considering that the original series is already several years old.

But nonetheless, all these merits couldn’t save the poorly written script that bogged down the whole show. It is hence a pity that the drama failed to deliver, considering it had an interesting premise, a capable cast, and an existing pool of potential fans and audience it could tap on by borrowing the name and popularity of the original Vampire Prosecutor series.

On a side note, the ending makes me wonder if a third season of Vampire Prosecutor is not too far off in the horizon, and if there’s a possibility of Yoon San and his gang making an appearance in it. And dear OCN, if you ever decide to do a Vampire Detective 2, please make sure to engage a better scriptwriter.

Verdict:

Overall: 6/10
Enjoyment: 6/10

This drama had all the right ingredients for a fantasy-crime drama, but strangely could not decide what it wanted to be, and wasted whatever potential it had thanks to an incoherent script that fails to give what audiences want most — bad ass vampire action, WITH fangs included.

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