L.U.C.A.: The Beginning.
This drama started strong, but then it stumbled under its own weight. The first episode, in particular, was thrilling! That opening scene? The mystery of it all? Super powers, action, intrigue, kooky cults and mad science? What’s not to love? I was hooked and sure the show was going to be one of my all time favorites. And for a while… it was.
The first few episodes were amazing. The action sequences were long but interesting, following characters as they chased people through apartment complexes and busy streets, up and down stairs, into train tunnels, hospitals, elevators, and more. You really felt the scope of the city and got to know the characters by how they responded in these intense situations. The camera work was also incredible and insanely cinematic.
Within the first few episodes, I had been given an epic Korean drama that was surely bound to build up on its rock solid foundation. The cornerstones were set:
Mild spoilers for first few episodes.
Corner 1: The Cops and Our Female Heroine: Juan Police Station.
Truly an unusual female lead, who was given the personality generally reserved for male characters. She was distrustful, antisocial, self-centered, and obsessive about her own private agenda. People seemed to like her despite this, but she remained distant – only slowly drawing closer to the male lead who basically had to stalk her, woo her, and fight her to keep her attention. She was not instantly falling for this hot suspect cause she had shit to do, ya hear me? Her personal life was booked up at the moment and she wasn’t too keen on penciling in some new guy. See what I mean… sounds the like the traits of a lot of male leads in dramas, not the female leads. Naturally, this confused a bunch of people and I noticed a lot of hate mail flying her way via the interwebs. But I thought she was great. At first (like everyone else, she suffered under the writing and direction of plot archs). The other cops are great – all the cliches we love, like the cranky head of the department, the funny guy, the super loyal guy, just… all the guys you like to see in a cop ensemble.
Corner 2: The Male Hero: The Mystery Man.
What’s not to like? A handsome guy who has crazy powers, who seems more confused by them than we are. People are after him and he’s just running away on a survival instinct, because they’re chasing him and so running away seems like the appropriate response. He has no idea who he is or what he’s done. He knows he’s not normal, but other than that… he’s got a blank slate where his memory book should be. He’s drawn to the female lead because she seems familiar, or rather, he seems familiar to her… and that’s a lead he’s willing to follow. Like an adorable puppy with alarming super powers.
Corner 3: The Mad Scientists: Human Tech.
I sincerely appreciate that this show was willing to go Full Tilt Boogie Old School Mad Science. We’ve got secret laboratories hidden in basements. We’ve got mysterious jars filled with mysterious items, back lit with neon lights for effect. We’ve got huge syringes of glowing green liquids and subjects restrained on the operating tables with bulky leather straps. We’ve got a lead scientist with a white lab coat and wild hair. The laboratories are all dark with unrealistic colored lights everywhere and I adore it. Embrace the science-fiction glamor! Mad science is a statement and there’s a certain dress code we expect – it’s visual short hand that tells us whatever they’re up to it’s surely not legal… and probably not ethical… and definitely exciting.
Corner 4: The Cult, The Killers, and The Politicians: Project L.U.C.A.
There’s nothing like a nefarious religious leader to add a little extra drama to your show. We know little about this cult other than it’s got an awful lot of young ladies in it and a fabulous dress code. We also know it helps fund the mad science. The politician is the “outside” man, or the dude who represents the outside involvement on this mysterious side project. This is played by the ever-so-funny and talented Park Hyuk-Kwon (my favorite character in Six Flying Dragons). Does anyone play a shady, loveable villain better? The answer is no. No one. Just cast Park Hyuk-Kwon every single time, please. And of course, you can’t have a secret organization without enforcement, and our villains have super powers too. What is their end game? We are dying to know…
A quick side note about the villain enforcers. They kick ass.
The casting was exceptional all around, but in particular the choice of Kim Sung-Oh as the lead henchman in the black gloves. He plays the complicated, stubborn, tragic super-villain to perfection. Unlike our leading male, who walks around with the blank face of someone who can’t remember what they ate for breakfast and it’s slightly irritating him, the lead henchman seems to be carrying the weight every single mistake and tragedy of his life on his shoulders. He looks absolutely tortured, and resigned to being tortured.
With those rock solid elements as the foundation to a show, you’d think it would be a sure shot to be the most epic, talked-about, fan-favorite show of 2020. It had no where to go but up. It could have built us a mysterious pyramid, a spectacularly futuristic skyscraper, a creepy castle of gothic romance and intrigue, or a secure fortress in the super hero pantheon. But… it just kinda made a box and then asked us to imagine what was inside. I’m sorry, but if J.J. Abrams has taught us anything its that the Mystery Box approach to film making only works as a good hook, not a good plot vehicle. You use it lure bait into the boat… you’re not supposed to use it as the boat itself.
Though the title hints this is only the first chapter in what could be a continued series, I’m not sure it has enough strength in its legs to walk. I mean… I’ll definitely watch it, don’t get me wrong. But if it does get made, I’ll resent that it was it was broken into two parts instead of offering me a more complicated, if not longer, unified story.
Have you seen Gu Family Book – also called Kangchi, The Beginning? In a lot of ways, these two dramas have a similar feeling to them. Gu Family Book has its origin story, leading to the main protagonist, and then loops back around to pick up the dropped threads of the origin story again before reaching its dramatic ending. I think L.U.C.A. would have been better served to follow this format, expanding into a longer series but also weaving its plot lines together to improve viewer satisfaction.
So… where does that leave us with L.U.C.A.?
If you like science fiction or camp, you’re going to enjoy this show. You may not love it, but you’ll have fun with it.
If you like action and adventure, then this show is also a safe bet. The fight sequences are great and the choreography, stunt work, and direction – as well as the camera work – are top game.
If you like mystery… you might like. There’s a bunch of mysteries, don’t get me wrong… but it’s a bit wishy-washy on whether or not those questions marks paid off with answers worth the effort.
If you like romance… you might like it. The romance is a side plot, in my opinion. It didn’t have to be, but that’s how it turned out. It’s arguably the weakest link in the show, feeling oddly paced and somewhat confusing most of the time. We will discuss this more in the deep spoiler section below.
Do I recommend this show? Yup. It was a mess, but I had fun with it (clearly I am a science fiction fan).
Overall Rating – 8/10. The Korean Peninsula of Doctor Moreau.
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