Episode one of City Hunter, the Korean TV drama based on a Japanese manga, is one of the most intriguing and exciting setups I’ve ever seen for a show. It sets the stage for political drama, a Monte Cristo-styled revenge, heroes who are loveably flawed, and a sweet romance. The basic plot of the show is this: After a botched mission into North Korea, an army general named Lee Jin Pyo (Kim Sang-Joong) is out for revenge and kidnaps his best friend’s baby to be his instrument. Jin Pyo is a patient man, he builds an empire and raises the boy, Lee Yoon-Sung (Lee Min-Ho), as his own for twenty-seven years, teaching him to be a ruthless killer. Despite his upbringing, Yoon-Sung is a good person and heart and loves his adopted father. He moves to Seoul, South Korea, and begins to execute Jin Pyo’s plan, taking five corrupt government officials down one by one in style.
The action in City Hunter is outstanding, many of the moves unexpected, and this is where both Lee Min-Ho and his character really carry the show. Kim Sang-Joong is no slouch either as “the General” and throughout the show is the perfect antagonist to Lee’s protagonist. As much as the show is about bringing dishonest politicians (but I repeat myself) to justice, the heart of the story is the relationship between adopted father and son.
City Hunter has several supporting characters, one of them being an eager government prosecutor played by Lee Joon-Hyuk, who goes from being an enemy of Yoon-Sung to a collaborator in his plan to reveal the crimes to the public. Joon-Hyuk gives an outstanding performance as does Hwang Sun-Hee who plays his character’s love interest, a gentle veterinarian. City Hunter is a bit of a Robin Hood character and Bae Man-Duk (Kim Sang-Ho) is the perfect Little John. He’s a sweet-hearted gambler with a motherly side and a dangerous addiction to the Home Shopping channel. Bae is my favorite character in the series and I don’t think he’s used enough.
As with any superhero or masked man, City Hunter is not allowed to fall in love for fear that it would compromise him. Of course he begins falling in love years before his plan will even be executed. Kim Na-Na is a good foil for Lee Yoon-Sung. She never quite buys his cover story maybe because she herself has had a tough life and has had to take care of herself, sometimes lying to do so. Park Min-Young as Kim Na-Na won me over by the end of the show, but many times I thought she appeared too young and childish next to Lee Min-Ho, who, although also young carries many of his scenes in a much more mature fashion. Kim Na-Na is also the worst body guard on the planet and it strains credulity that she would have even been considered to work at the Blue House, she’s that inept. Perhaps it was a writing problem. In any case, Park Min-Young did the best she could, and again, did win me over by the end.
Aside from the politicians under siege, most of the minor characters could really have been done without, including the hero’s mother, who is kept around mainly to reveal a twist at the end. The twist wasn’t really necessary from the hero’s perspective––Lee Yoon-Sung would have been conflicted either way––but it does reveal just how single-minded and tortured the General Jin Pyo is.
The show uses the fact that Jin Pyo made zillions of dollars being a drug dealer in the Golden Triangle to full advantage, from elaborate house locations, to the sometimes silly fashions that Yoon-Sung sports. The high-class lifestyle enhances the rather fluffy romantic comedy humor running throughout, the best of that being the scenes where the female body guards teach judo to the IT members of the Blue House (S. Korea’s White House) security team. (Yoon-Sung’s cover is that of an MIT grad from America who has returned to his home country to settle down.)
All in all, City Hunter is a great watch, but slow in parts and could have done with more action, as that is definitely its strength. The ending is fantastic, with standout performances all around, and the resolution is left fittingly vague. The storyline raises questions about bringing officials to justice and whether their faults are totally their own or more of a symptom of a government system in which no one’s hands are clean. All of the characters, whether working in government or not are all wonderfully, humanly flawed. The hero, although mostly pure of heart, is a drug dealer’s son. He dreams of living a normal life, not of saving the world. For the General, his revenge justifies all the means he uses to meet it out. The big question is this: Is the revenge worse than the initial crime? It’s never really answered and left open to the viewer. The City Hunter does both good and harm by the end of the series.
On a side note, as an American, I found it amusing that privatizing health care was posed as being such a bad thing when they clearly showed over and over again just how corrupt government was. In my experience, the more involvement government has in something, the more it costs all around. People often think of any government money as “free” and take liberties with that money that would never take if a private enterprise was running the show. This cavalier attitude is what drives prices up and up. College tuition is a prime example. Without the large cushion of government loans, colleges and universities would be forced to set tuition at a more competitive price or risk going out of business. That’s my opinion, anyway. The main point of City Hunter for me was that government needs to be held to account in every area it runs or influences. No one should be above the law, no matter how honorable their intentions may be. This is why a free press and reporters who are skeptics and not groupies of government officials are so important. The first step in stopping corruption is exposing it.