Review – Live
Live is a true gem and definitely worth your time. Like Misaeng, it’s a character study on individuals within a certain profession. Misaeng (which is slightly better, in my opinion) covered the insanity of the South Korean corporate business world, and this show deals with police officers. Following three rookie cops from the three-year cram schools for the Civic Exam, to training, and into their probationary first year, you will experience the full spectrum of what it takes to be a street cop. And it ain’t pretty. But trust me, this show is.
This drama will have you enthralled with the lives of its characters. All of them. They couldn’t have chosen a better title for this drama. It will tempt you to do some deep thinking about society, our structured laws, the media, the conundrum of law enforcement, humanity, and crime. To be fair, there is a slow build up as it takes a while for all the characters to be introduced and come together. But like Misaeng, if you stick around a while, you won’t want to leave. Because you’ll be transported into their world, into their struggles and lives and families and ambitions and fears. I watched the entire show in two days. I threw it on because it looked vaguely interesting – but by episode five I had a hard time forcing myself to go to sleep so I could watch the rest the next day.
Overall Rating – 9/10. Code Zero. Code Zero. All Units Respond. Quality K-Drama Alert. Last Call.
More details, spoilers, characters and more….
Live is a character study of police officers, so there’s less emphasis on action and romance. It’s less about the overarching plotlines (though there are some – corruption, killers, drugs, and more weave through the episodes nicely) and even less about romance. This is not to say there isn’t romance in the show, because it is a show about people and people tend to find each other and pair off.
The main couple in this show portray a beautiful relationship. No, it’s not the two leads (though their romance is sweet). It’s the two secondary leads, in my opinion, that stole the show. The demoted police officer and his estranged wife who wants a divorce. Their story starts out during a particularly low point in their lives. He’s dedicated years to the police force and all but abandoned his family, as his life was swept away in crime solving. He feels perfectly justified in this, as he provides for his family and has stayed faithful to his wife. She, however, sees it differently. She’s also been working as a police officer… and yet has made the time to raise two children to young adulthood, to care for her ailing parents and to manage the household. All alone. When her parents pass away, she realizes the marriage is over. Though she still has feelings for her husband, she doesn’t want him in her life any longer. He’s been on the edge too long, and her heart pushed him off. He’s angry and confused, she’s quietly set in her decision.
They divorce. And then, slowly, beautifully, they come back together. He realizes he hasn’t participated in his families’ lives. He realizes he hasn’t given his wife consideration or support. He realizes he was wrong. And puts a great deal of effort into mending his ways. She, on the other hand, subtly and cautiously, allows him back into her life, and the lives of their children. The portrayal of this couples struggle was deeply moving. When he sings to her while she quietly suggests they take his mother off life support…? That scene will stick in my mind forever as one of the most glorious examples of two people caring for each other.
I also enjoyed the developing relationship between this cop and his elderly father. After he’s kicked to the curb by his wife at the beginning of the show, our tough cop moves in with his father in the countryside. His father is a recovering alcoholic who abused his family for years. Now sober, he spends his days making kites and walking miles to visit his comatose wife in the hospital. The realistic way in which this father and son were able to forgive and find redemption left me breathless. I ruminated for a long time over the nature of forgiveness after watching this show.
There is a scene, towards the end, in which the son is caught up in a particularly dangerous case. His father, worried, stays out all night waiting for him. He continues to wait, even after the sun has risen. When his son finally comes home in the early light and realizes his father has been waiting, it’s like the final barrier between them falls away. The son jokes with his father, but takes his hand. The father allows his son, whom he’d spent so many years hurting, to care for him, walking him home.
As it can be with men, this scene is more about what is unspoken and understood than what is actually said. Though when the sons says it’s the first time they’ve held hands and the father corrects him… it added another layer to their sad past. All people remember the traumas of their life, often more clearly than anything else. And though his father was guilty of abuse, this scene hints there may have been times there was a different relationship between the two. Maybe those times are what the father has been clinging to as he’s gone through recovery and had to face himself and the harm he’d done. The father didn’t smile in this show. He carried the weight of his sins with him and attempted to atone, though you could tell he’d never forgiven himself.
I think there are many families who have lived through difficulties and pain, but Korean dramas are the best at tackling strained familial relationships. Whether it is trauma or abuse, alcoholism or abandonment, I never get tired of how K-Dramas explore forgiveness and recovery.
The second couple whose relationship I found deeply moving was that between the young rookie cop and her elderly mentor. It wasn’t a romantic relationship, but a slow development of respect and genuine affection. They started off hating each other. She was eager to get out into the field, working bigger cases – such as murders – while he had been around long enough to know there were no big cases, everything they did had value. The welfare of the people was their responsibility. He was annoyed by her attitude, by her carelessness – while she was annoyed by his adherence to procedure, his age and what she perceived as incompetence. But over the course of the show, as they shared a car and swept up drunks off the street together, after parking lessons and some surprising cases, they came to see each other’s merits.
Let me just confess, when this dude retired… that was one of my favorite episodes. The retirement party, surrounded by friends young and old. And afterwards… when he cries on the front steps of his house, overwhelmed by the emotions of closing such a huge chapter of his life… I bawled.
These interconnected stories, giving us such profound emotional grounding to our characters, really made this show stand out. Let me give you one last example.
One of our senior officers learns his has cancer. He’s been struggling with this alone, not telling his family due to his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Not telling his coworkers, because they rely on him for so much strength. He knows the clock is ticking. He’ll need treatment. He’ll need to take time off work. He might not survive. The weight of all this has been eating him alive, as painful as the cancer in his gut.
And then he gets an emergency call. He runs to the hospital. He finds everyone got the same call, and together with his friends and fellow officers, they race to the source of the distress call – only to find an ecstatic new father, eager to show off his first born child. The officers, so accustomed to emergencies and deaths, find themselves instead celebrating the wonderful gift of life.
Our burdened cancer patient stares down at the new life and suddenly everything shifts inside him. He’s ready to face what’s next, to reveal his secret, to do whatever he has to do to cling to life a little longer. Can you blame him? It was, quiet possibly, the most beautiful infant I have ever seen on television.
The proud father and his best friend share this milestone in life. They welcome the joy in their hearts, knowing it is fleeting, knowing tomorrow they’ll be back on the streets faced with whatever the city may bring them. But these inbetween times, these connections and friendships and families… that’s what life is about.
And so it was that Live, which originally drew me in with its detailed and interesting portrayal of how people got into the South Korean police force, held me tight for the rest of the show by developing so many unique characters.
I recommend it.