‘Bad Guys’ review: the best kdrama in 2014

Bad Guys got an all-around thumbs-up at the end of the year review blitzkrieg which made me poke my head out of the primarily romcom pools I’ve been recently (quite happily) submerged in. My foray into K-dramas has been through romcoms and it’s still the romcoms that get me all giddy and giggly about a show (or a couple to be specific), and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Still, I decided to be adventurous and check out just what was it about this bunch of bad guys that made everyone love them.

Preliminary self-cred ho-hum: I am not really much of a wuss and can stand dark tales, but I prefer my thrillers to be psychological rather than gory. I heart mysteries in general, and murder mystery with a forensic bent is a genre I love reading about. Chalk it up to being fascinated by the dregs of humanity. But often, these stories do not translate well on-screen. There’s that thin line a show walks between being gritty and plain old fetishistic and torture-porny.

Bad Guys manages to toe the right side of that divide for the most part. The show has an interesting premise: A rogue suspended cop gets rehired to form a ragtag team of ex-murderers to hunt down serial killers. It takes a monster to catch a monster, or so the show says. The primary charm and the strength of the show’s the principal 4 characters and their dynamic.

The ragtag team of monsters call themselves “mad dogs”. And that’s an apt comparison, because the 4 guys are doggish in their unique ways. I have taken the liberty to compare them to actual dog breeds.

First off, there’s Team Leader Oh Gu-tak played by Kim Sang Joon. Last I saw him in a drama, he was the badass ajusshi dad-villain torturing/loving City Hunter. Here, he’s as badass but in a more gravelly, gritty, emo-hairy, guy-linery way. And his voice! Think of a cement mixer churning the drawn out syllables. Gu-tak is a Scottish terrier with the heart of a German Shepherd.

Scottish terrier because? Come on! That emo hair?! But also because Gu-tak’s a formidable force in a wiry small package. He’s fearless, dour, crusty, and snap-growl is his baseline way of communication. This breed has earned itself the nickname of “Diehard’ and that word suits Gu-tak to a tee. He’d die to avenge the death of his daughter and lord save the bastard that killed her.

German Shepherd’s heart because? Gu-tak’s intelligent. He masterminds the entire show. He’s also the pack leader. And he has this tendency to go rogue and bend rules just like a German Shepherd is not above biting other little dogs.

Then there’s Lee Jung Moon who is the resident psychopathic serial killer with an IQ of 160. Last I saw Park Hae Jin he was being annoying as the well-meaning 2nd lead in YFAS, but this role made me see him in a different light! He does pretty well as the blank-faced, dead-eyed robot whose primary mode of operation is to think. He’s the big question mark at the heart of the show: Did he or did he not kill? Convenient bout of amnesia in killers is the strangest thing. Remember Ju-wal in Arang? Something similar happens with Jung Moon. This guy is a husky.

I don’t specify whether he’s a Siberian or a Malamute, because then the profile doesn’t fit. He’s a cross-bred husky because? Look at him! Huskies have an exotic wolf-like appeal. They have a soft expression and look sweet and make you want to hug them. But then those eyes could suddenly harden and you want to sqelch all those huggy instincts stat because this guy could be a Killer. Huskies are laid back and work when it suits them and don’t really like other dogs. They’re not overly possessive or aggressive but are difficult to train and are very independent. Lastly, their expressive eyes can be used to manipulate gullible softies like me.

Aww, Ma Dong-seok! The resident teddy bear. Er… right, back to doggy metaphors. He plays Park Wong-chul, the brawny ex-gangster aka the human bull-dozer who is slightly dim but always the first one to rush headlong where smarties fear to tread. This is the first time I’m seeing this actor in action but he has this gentle giant vibe to him that makes one immediately like him. This guy is a cross between a Saint Bernard and a bulldog. (I’ll let you imagine the parental mating logistics!)

A Saint Bernard because? The guy’s huge but despite his size, his bark is snappier than his bite. He’s the kind to be the one who comes to your side to snuggle and stubbornly refuses to get up. But also a bulldog because? He’s protective, faithful, and, yes, stubborn. He might growl and raise a fuss but something about him is wonderfully clowny.

Lastly, our resident fighting machine, Jung Tae Soo. This guy is ripped and lean and mean. He’s a contract killer with a heart that he keeps well hidden. His arc deals with his immense guilt as he falls for the wife of the man he killed. Yes, you know it’s a Korean drama when sentiment rears its head elegantly even amid serial killers. This is the first I’m seeing Jo Dong-hyuk and he packs a mean punch and lands a nifty kick. He’s a Doberman pinscher.

A Doberman because? He’s intelligent, alert, and loyal. He’s built compactly and is athletic and agile. He’s proud, watchful, and looks noble. He’s stereotyped to be ferocious but can be a great guard dog just the way Tae Soo guards and wants to protect his love.

The mad dogs’ madness is tempered and policed by the show’s voice of reason: officer Mi Young. She is the sole woman in the team and is the only one who plays by the book. She’s righteous and straight among men who have blurred lines between right and wrong. That’s a tough and tricky position to be in. I always find it fascinating how these anti-hero shows have this thing where the audience finds themselves rooting for the twisted protagonist(s) and the moral code of the ‘right’-leaning ones starts to sound annoying. It happens in every damn show.

Just like my long tangent on the show’s mad dogs and how and in which ways they were doggish, the show also has this tendency to talk in metaphors. Often, the show gets philosophical and wonders what separates the animals from humans. And good from bad. It blurs lines between right and wrong and by the end you start being suspicious of the good guys and side with the supposed bad ones. Which is exactly what the show wants you to do.

At the start, I was expecting the mad dog team to form and reform through episodic arcs throughout as they solve a larger overarching mystery. This was not how the show got structured. Instead, after the first 4 episodes, it created an intricate web of character connections that somehow involved all the mad dogs and assigned a sort of personal agenda to all the guys. And it’s here that the show gets too intricate.

I missed the camaraderie and the teamwork when the mad dogs were too busy being mad over personal issues. I’d have preferred the version where their demons were already laid to rest and they’re free to go about sniffing out mad crimes. Maybe they saved that for season two. And bring back that ceepy villainess! I’d have liked to see more of her.

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