Review – Lucifer
Recently re-watched Lucifer, one of my top 20 Korean dramas of all time, and it still holds firm in its position. This isn’t a typical story of a cop tracking down a serial killer. This is a morality play, in which the reasons behind the killings are the plot line. Much like one of my other favorite shows, I Remember You, the murderer isn’t necessarily the bad guy. Or rather, they are not the only bad guys. The people who made them, who drove them to such extremes, are equally culpable. In a fantastic twist, the cop hunting the killing has also committed a terrible crime in his youth – and now his dark past is coming to light as he races against time to save those who may not deserve saving. It’s a story of revenge, a story of guilt, and a story of the personal choices that define us. It’s a drama that asks you to ponder the hard questions, to twist around your normal definitions of right and wrong, to see multiple angles to dubious actions.
And I loved it. I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first time I watched it. It’s beautifully filmed and the story is expertly crafted. It is the second installment in a “Revenge” trilogy by director Park Chan-Hong and writer Kim Ji-Woo. The first was Resurrection, a haunting mystery, and the third was Shark, a gorgeous slow simmer show. All three films are remarkable, unique and highly recommended.
Overall Rating – 10/10. Where the Good Guy is Bad and the Bad Guy is Bad too.
More musings on the morality lessons, the plot, herpes, and spoilers follow:
Might as well talk about one of the unintentional elements of the show first.
Let’s just talk about herpes for a moment. Our leading male, Uhm Tae-Woong, suffers from an outbreak for over half the show. Oddly, it worked with his character… whose life was falling apart, his attempts at having dignity and his disguise were being ripped apart. Everything was laid bare. Including…
Think of all the shows featuring a male or female lead with a serious herpes outbreak. Drawing a blank? Me too. Maybe meds have gotten better – or maybe makeup has gotten better – but in 2007 they’d settled on their male lead and by God there would be no recasting. Nor any efforts to hide the virus. They let Uhm Tae-Woong run with it – and he really did, too. He owned this character. He made it seem like it was a deliberate. From the way he walked around in loose jeans and rocker tees (I loved his casual shuffle walk in this show) to his intense, energetic personality, Uhm Tae-Woong created a memorable, lovable – yet despicable! – and yet still lovable character for us to watch unravel. Not too smart academically, but incredibly quick witted as a detective, this guy just ran forward in life, never stopping to slow down, never resting long enough to grow roots. He fell asleep in chairs, in cars, in saunas. He went days without showering or eating. He was always moving, keeping himself a healthy distance from his family and his past (and unfortunately, also from anyone who might love him).
As the show progresses, we find out why. Our leading male is a man trying to outrun his former sins. For once upon a time, he was a vicious bully, tormenting the weaker students at school with the cruel focus of a savage youth. When another student finally stands up to him and calls him a coward, our leading male kills the kid! – just stabs him in the gut and leaves him for dead. The bully boys (for there were several of them) get together and change their story – saying the other student came at them first, it was self defense! So suddenly this hero child who died horribly is rebranded, turned into the very thing he stood up to. The entire crime is covered up, reframed, and swept under the rug. Life goes on for the bullies… but for the victim’s family, everything has changed.
Our 2nd male lead is a part of the victim’s family. The only surviving family member, in fact. After his old brother is murdered, his mother dies in a car accident. Our newly orphaned boy is a well of misery – for he knows his brother was framed for murder. He clearly sees the ridiculous and horrible injustice of the situation. But what can he do? He’s just a kid…
But then he grows up (into the remarkably handsome and tall Ju Ji-Hoon) and the anger and pain of his ruined life multiplies over time. He’s a brilliant young man. He passes the bar exam without ever setting foot in a college. He builds his life wrapped up in a stolen identity. He hangs out in a dark apartment listening to classical music and fantasizing about destroying the lives of the people who destroyed his. And the man knows a thing or two about plotting revenge, too. It’s like he was born for it.
Let me just say as far as revenge plots go, this one was GREAT. We have our cool, collected lawyer with his tailored suits just strolling around leisurely orchestrating pure havoc on the lives of the men who wronged his family. Like a puppetmaster, he uses other people with resentments and grudges against the former bullies – and smoothly maneuvers everyone towards breaking points. Basically, he has other people kill for him. It’s sadistic. It’s cruel. It’s heartless. And it’s also brilliant and methodical and you can’t help but admire his complicated scheme.
His perfect plan for revenge has only two problems… 1. He’s falling in love – and it’s difficult to maintain his spiral into hell when he really, really wants to run off with this lady and live in heaven. 2. His enemy is human – and as he begins to get to know this man he’s hated his entire life, he comes to understand the shades of gray that create evil. How can he condemn someone who is so similar to himself? Is he not equally guilty of the same crimes – ruining lives in the pursuit of his own desires? Who is the monster in this twisted game?
Inbetween these two men, there is a librarian. She’s also a psychometric – having the strange power to read the past of objects. It was this supernatural power that brought her to the scene of the original crime, and, in full circle, it is this power that brings her back into the fold when “round two” begins. Shin-Min-A is beautiful in this show – young, innocent, an optimist. A loving daughter. She has her books and her artwork and her close friend, a fortune teller. Our first male lead enlists her help to track down their serial killer. And our serial killer, ironically, has been hanging out in the library slowly building a relationship with our librarian the entire time.
It’s a unique love triangle. The librarian genuinely cares for the well-being of both men, but she’s only crushing on one of them – our revenge-obsessed lawyer. Neither of them believe they deserve her, but both can’t keep away. As the dark past of our cop comes to light, and as the current corruption of our lawyer is revealed, she surprises us all by not backing away. Instead, she clings tighter to both – offering to be their flashlight in the dark, begging them to change their course and let go of their guilt and anger.
These three are the heart of the show – but there are many other characters who are fully developed – their hopes and dreams, loves and fears, flaws and humanity made all too clear as their lives are shaken apart. I don’t really feel the need to get into that much, though – as there’s no need to over-reveal a mystery show. How it all comes together, how it all falls apart, how it all slowly unravels to one of the greatest drama endings of all time… these should be left a mystery. GO WATCH IT. And find out for yourself how this twisted tale tells itself.