Saturday, March 15, 2014

Phantom (K-Drama 2012)

What we have here is the closest thing to a really good Korean drama that I've personally seen. Phantom (유령), is a suspense-thriller that does a lot of things right, but of course, it also does a handful of things wrong. What were you expecting? Perfection?

The Seoul cyber-investigation team is on the hunt for a mysterious hacker that goes by the handle of Hades (Daniel Choi). Leading the team is Woo-hyun (So Ji-sub), and he's an emotionless, stone-faced figure who loves what he does and does it well. Hades seems to be one-step ahead of Woo-hyun and his team and when popular actress Shin Hyo-jung (Esom), turns up dead, the stakes certainly seem to be raised. What appears to be a suicide that no one could have imagined, ends up being much more complex as the team discover her laptop was hacked by Hades. Woo-hyun and Detective Yoo Gang-mi (Lee Yeon-hee), are sure there is more to her death then meets the eye. Also on the case is Detective Kwon Hyuk-joo (Kwak Do-won), a larger-than-life type who gets what he wants by intimidation. Woo-hyun eventually catches up to Hades after some slick surveillance and when he finally meets Hades face to face, he's shocked to discover the person in front of him is someone from his past. Hades explains to Woo-hyun that, of course, not everything is as it appears to be and that he isn't responsible for Shin Hyo-jung's death. Due to their history, Woo-hyun is inclined to give Hades the benefit of the doubt and in turn imparts some shocking truths about himself. Naturally, after he confesses his sins to Hades, an accident occurs, taking Woo-hyun's life and leaving Hades severely burned beyond recognition. Hades, filling in Gang-mi to the words Woo-hyun left him with, asks for her help in having doctor's surgically rebuild him with Woo-hyun's appearance so that he can go undercover. Whoa...let that sink in. Someone is responsible for Shin Hyo-jung's and Woo-hyun's death and to top things off, there are some shady cats working within the cyber-investigation team. All for what though? When the mysterious Jo Hyun-min (Uhm Ki-joon), finally shows his face, you just know this guy is up to no good, but who is the real villain here?

Phantom is a real whodunnit in every sense of the word. It's just one of those series that has you pointing the finger at pretty much anyone that pops up on screen. Aside from having a plot device straight out of 1997, (Face/Off), there is enough here to keep things fresh. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested in the proceedings, although there is a sub-plot involving a girl's school and Yoo Gang-mi starting around episode 7 that is so terribly out of place, it's baffling. It breaks up the flow of everything you saw in the first 6 episodes, has nothing to do with the overall story and just spoils what could have been a great series. Watching So Ji-sub is like watching a statue come to life. The man is expressionless throughout, yet somehow it feels appropriate for his character. Daniel Choi is definitely the more lively of the dynamic duo, but he doesn't have as much screen time after the face switch. I have to point out Lee Yeon-hee and her abysmal acting ability. It's beyond clear that she was cast in this role because they needed a pretty face, otherwise we'd be left with a total sausage fest. Jokes aside, her delivery is flat to the point where you feel like you're watching some amateur auditions. She really stinks up every scene she's in. Couple that with her schoolgirl sub-plot and you'll feel that even the writers struggled to think of how to use her. Okay, now that we've sunk a bit, Kwak Do-won is there to bring us right back up. His performance is what you're looking for in a great character. He's incredibly charismatic and lights up the screen whenever he pops up. A true scene-stealer. Sure, he's a bit over-the-top at times, but you still love to watch him act and that's what counts. Uhm Ki-joon's performance is another stand-out. This guy just oozes sleaze and you really just want to punch him in the face every time you see him. Don't get me wrong, with the type of character he's playing, that's a good thing. It's a strong performance. There's a whole host of supporting actors in Phantom, from the cyber-investgation team (with only Kwon Hae-hyo being of note), to the spunky little reporter friend of Hades/Park Gi-young, Choi Seung-yeon (Song Ha-yoon), who manages to avoid being completely annoying...but only just.

Phantom gets things right by have mostly capable actors in a story that at times is overly-complicated but still intriguing. Also, they don't force a love story in where it's clearly not needed. Just because you have a male and female lead doesn't mean they have to be a couple. So kudos to those responsible for not following that tired cliche. Those interested in watching something a little different in the stale, all-too-similar K-drama landscape should give this one a shot. (Lee)


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