SYNOPSIS: When he is just one month old, Lee Yung Soon's (Lee Min Ho) father is killed and his father's best friend (Lee Jin Pyo played by Kim Sang Joong) abducts him. Lee Jin Pyo raises Yung Soon with the sole purpose of training him to get revenge against the people who killed his "real" father. At the age of 28, Yung Soon arrives in Seoul to begin his revenge. The only complications are that he has different ideas from his foster father on how to exact that revenge and in his cover life, despite his efforts to remain aloof, he starts to make friends and pretty quickly falls in love with a girl (Kim Na Na played by Park Min Young) who has mysteriously been a part of his dreams for 10 years.
First of all, I have to say that SO MUCH HAPPENS in this series. It is 25 hours of action-filled, emotionally charged, complex plot so I found writing a good comprehensive review of it quite challenging. I don't even mention any of the awesome secondary characters or really do justice to the crazy emotional roller coaster of Yung Soon and Jin Pyo's relationship. So,please excuse my inadequacies and trust me that this is an exciting and gripping drama with all the plot twists and complicated and emotional relationships you could ever hope for!
City Hunter is a pretty typical need-for-revenge-made-me-a-vigilante type of thriller. Complete with the conceit that all it takes is a little strip of cloth over his mouth to make Yung Soon completely unrecognizable. If you've seen Arrow or Batman, this plot will mostly be nothing new to you. It's even based on a manga and has an awesome black and white manga style opening. (Random Question: Why are vigilantes always so wealthy?)
The twist in the story is an interesting one from a character stand point. While Lee Yung Soon wants to avenge his father, he is driven to it mostly by honor and the relentless pressure from his foster father rather than from any sense of real emotional betrayal by the perpetrators. The emotional drive behind the quest is Lee Jin Pyo and Yung Soon's desire to please him and earn his love. Jin Pyo is also still holding a lot of cards close to his chest and is blatantly manipulating Yung Soon. It is impossible to tell what his feelings for the boy are. He is an enigmatic figure and he and Yung Soon's relationship is deliciously complex. Their relationship takes what is a pretty generic revenge-vigilante plot line and bumps it up a notch. The pacing for the plot is really excellent for most of the show's run and even when that fails it still manages to have exciting cliffhangers in key places. The action/fight scenes are creative, well choreographed, well-shot and well- performed and are always exciting. In short, this drama overall is a ton of fun.
It makes sense that a complicated character and relationship are what make this drama stand out. What I've found in my limited experience with K Dramas is that developing characters and complicated relationships - and making the viewer 100% invested in them - is their major strength. They are certainly not above doing a little emotional manipulating but I'm down with that. I love characters that are conflicted in themselves and a vigilante plotline lends itself to that so well. Yung Soon's big conflict is that he just desperately wants a normal life and everything that comes with that. However, his upbringing has insured that he doesn't even know exactly what that looks and feels like.
My first impression upon being introduced to Lee Min Ho in his role as Lee Yung Soon, was that this kid was far too pretty to play a character that is meant to be a super duper bad ass vigilante. I mean look at him. He's really really ridiculously good looking (Zoolander reference intentional) not to mention slim and kind of willowy.
So it didn't take many episodes for me to realize that he is actually perfect for this role which has a serious bad ass side but also a sad and lonely little boy side (as so many vigilantes do) and he carries off the dichotomy really well. His look really works for this. He can pull off being an arrogant player prick one minute and a damaged little boy the next. Plus I don't know many dudes who could pull off looking and being bad-ass while wearing a pair of salmon colored skinny jeans.
She is also bad ass in her own right! She really annoyed me at first - there was a lot of over-the-top crying in the first few episodes and she is a little blatantly unfair to Yung Soon, though she of course does not know his secret. However, she eventually turned into one of my favorite female leads - she's strong, fearless, and compassionate. And way more emotionally intelligent than Yung Soon. Unfortunately, the drama seriously drops the ball on her character at a particular point but more on that below because it is tied up with my criticisms of the drama.
And what about the romance? It's development is fantastic. Slow burn, in best K drama fashion. Kim Na Na truly loathes Yung Soon, despite his good looks, until she starts to catch on to his secret and realize he is not quite the selfish a-hole she has thought him to be. And once she falls, she is so forthright and brave about her feelings - it is so sweet and confident and awesome. Unfortunately, once again, the Drama - despite putting a TON of screen time and effort into developing the romance - drops the ball.
Here's the reason why this Drama does not get full marks from me. It does a decent job of wrapping up the revenge plot line and resolving Yung Soon and Jin Pyo's relationship. Mostly. However, somewhere around episode 15ish it just completely goes off the rails regarding its characters and relationships which it has been meticulously developing. The romance and Lee Yung Soon's wanting to be part of a loving family are a huge theme of the drama but it mostly put those aside for the last 5 episodes or so and never really adequately picks theme back up and brings them to a closure. Kim Na Na, practically disappears from the show and her character is boiled down to two minutes of reaction shots per episode. The independence of her character completely disappears. The pacing in the last 5 or so episodes is also out of whack, spending lots of time on unimportant details so then at the ultimate end, everything feels rushed. It's a shame because up until that point the Drama was really hitting everything out of the park, so it was a shame to see it stumble in the end.
I'll end with some technical comments. The production values of the show are seriously top-notch. They are indistinguishable from a big-budget Hollywood action blockbuster and they sustain that for 25 hours of television. It's beautiful and stylish from the opening credits to the last shot.
I've also learned that it is impossible to properly review a K Drama without reviewing the Original Soundtrack. City Hunter's is AWESOME! The music was addictive and used really well to enhance the action. My favorite is the main "Heisty things are going down" theme music. Thence forth this shall be the music to accompany all my heroic ass-kicking. It has this driving jazzy drum beat, lush strings and then some bombastic and ominous horns come in mid way - Yum! The name of the song is Sad Run though as one Youtube commenter appropriately pointed out: " 'Sad Run'? More like Epic Strutting of Lee Freakin' Min Ho":0)
Finally, I watched the show on Viki.com which uses amateur teams of translators that are either volunteers or likely only paid a little to produce the subtitles. This is a cool system and it definitely allows the site to offer lots of dramas translated into many languages. However, my experience has been that you have to be prepared for a lot of meaning to be lost in translation. The translations are usually literal rather than meaningful and it can lead to confusion. (For example one translation I copied down: "You're sitting on top of your father's head now, aren't you?" Um, what?) Also because it is usually a team doing the translating, sometimes terms that are frequently used throughout the series can switch mid stream. For example there are two characters that are initially in early episodes referred to as ex-boyfriend and girlfriend but later in the show (and more accurately) they are ex-husband and wife. It doesn't effect my overall enjoyment and understanding of the show but I do feel like I maybe miss nuances. Something to be aware of if you plan on watching the show in translation on Viki.
FINAL VERDICT: If you like comic book revenge-vigilante plot lines you will love City Hunter which is well done and so much fun though it loses a little steam towards the conclusion and has a very frustrating ending. 7.5 out of 10
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