Before I even attempt to review this magnificent multi-layered murder mystery of conspiracy, crime, and corruption… let us first take a moment to step back and admire the bold choices of the casting and the writing. In particular, in regards to the two main protagonists.
We have the tall, steely cop – who uses few words, has a secret streak of kindness, and dedicates all to the job. This cop leads a team of dedicated followers, kicks ass in physical altercations, and lives alone without close family or friends.
We have a passionate teacher – who gets caught up emotionally in the lives of students, who is quick to express themselves, who worries over and looks after those around them. They live with their extended family, care for their niece who adores them, and works easily as a group amongst his peers.
Now… tradition tells us which gender to assign these roles. But Nobody Knows is not about following your standards, thank you but no thank you. Nobody Knows had the audacity to give us a female protagonist who is not only significantly taller than the male lead, but also the cold, confident, and calculating character usually assigned to the dudes.
If you think this is not a big deal, then help me out: Name me one show where the central female is the single, solitary figure in a leadership role and the central male is the outgoing, extroverted emotional character in a general worker role. Even if we do have occasional broody female characters, they are not the head of the department or the main character. And if they are, they are certainly not paired with emotional male leads with less “powerful” roles. We are so boring with our gender roles in media – and characteristics we assign to those roles – so I believe dramas like this deserve a round of applause for breaking the mold.
I mean… can you name one show that even has a female lead who is taller than the male lead? Name for me a romance that has a man looking up into the eyes of his beloved. Even in ensemble media, there is still hierarchy of height according to gender. The only exceptions are characters that are significantly short (like Danny Devito). I mean… off the top of my head I can think of… Brienne and Jamie in Game of Thrones, though her tall stature was a big part of the storyline. Usually when it happens the industry will bend over backwards attempting to trick the eye – having the men stand on boxes, always having the women in flats, and so forth. Now… there are a few outliers, like this show, who just have tall women and there is no plot point to made of it, no tricky camera work to hide it… the movie Tenet featured an exceptionally tall woman who slinked around in heels, looming over all the males in the film. Our lead female in Nobody Knows also wears stocky heels – but the kind you can run after criminals in. There are other men in the show that are as tall as her or taller – but the leading man is a shorter. And it’s cool. It’s just… so nice. I noticed it every time they were standing side by side in the show (which is often) and I only noticed it because it’s so uncommon. In the media. Not in the real world.
The music was also… unbelievably good. I’m used to a sorta “standard” with Korean dramas. There is a consistency to their musical choices – but not so with this drama. Every single moment was taken into consideration. I was blown away at how seamless the music blended with the story, building tension, drawing out a character, creating a mood, moving fluidly from scene to scene, always perfectly blended, never a distraction. The instrumental music was perfect – the soundtrack songs were perfect. I was stunned.
The song “The Secret Not Revealed” which is the theme song, really… sums up the series perfectly. The slowly building composition, the haunting lyrics, the beautiful voice… I mean… just listen to it. It’s so stunning.
Above all else, of course, were the awesome characters. I thought this show did a particularly good job of capturing the nuances of young adults – especially young men – and how secretive, withdrawn, and emotionally vulnerable they can be.
This drama was a hit for me. I enjoyed every single episode. There were no wasted moments. Although there were slow meditative scenes, they weren’t “filler” – they were character moments. The flashbacks were minimal and almost always new content (instead of just rehashing a scene from the last episode). The dialogue was natural, as was the setting, the costuming, and the overall feel of the show. There was a foggy, cool tone to this series, like a mood that lingered… setting the tone. It had sweater-weather vibe.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the actual plot because this is a mystery – and the less you know the more you will enjoy it. But I will point out a few things that I thought made this show superior (other than what I have already mentioned).
Every character in this show has a secret – and whatever that secret is, it is their driving motivation and their character arc to be resolved. Whether it’s a secret from their past, a secret connection to another person, a secret job, a secret relationship, a secret part of an organization, a secret business deal, a secret shame or a secret crime, they all have secrets. Maybe secrets are human nature. There are the rules of society, and there are also rules behind how we break them. Society has many layers, and shows like this are all about exposing just how complicated each human is – by themselves as well as in relationship to others. This is a show that reveals in character nuance.
Every character in this show also does bad things. It may be justified to the character (and even the audience) but it’s still a bad thing. No one is perfect. The students, the teachers, the cops, the parents, the adults in the community – they each have instances of doing something bad, of crossing a line. It may be small – like being a poor care-taker, mistakenly misjudging someone, covering up something to help someone else, or keeping their mouths shut when they should have spoken up. Sometimes it’s larger – like committing a white collar crime or engaging in physical or verbal abuse. This show never points out these differences, but it subtly alludes to them and hopes you make the connection.
These various levels of misdeeds create a vivid tapestry of human connections, irony, and complicated justice. For example… a child is abandoned and then taken in by a respected community member, only to be abused again. When the child grows up, they too abuse others. These manipulations and methods were learned, endured, and now being used by the victim. Are they still victims? Does it depend? On what kind of abuse are we dealing with? Abandonment? Physical abuse? Psychological abuse? Verbal abuse? How often does it occur and from how many different sources? Does it depend on whether the victim of the abuse is perceived as innocent or guilty? On how well matched they are? Do we have less sympathy for a teenage boy beaten by another teenage boy if we estimate it to be a “fair fight”? If they “had it coming”? Does it depend on their perceived value to society? All these questions just sort of float around in the air of this show… causing you low key anxiety as you attempt to catalog the characters into good/bad boxes that they refuse to fit into.
Justice is complicated. Crime and punishment are complicated. This show does not pretend otherwise. There are no “good” people and “bad” people in this show. There are just people, who have done varying degrees of bad things for various reasons – whether its insanity, defensive, profit, revenge, or some other motivation.
The characters of this show ruled. They were so well-rounded and memorable. In particular, the man who owned the big hotel near the water.
This guy was just… mesmerizingly odd. Snaps to Park Hoon for delivering such an exceptionally bizarre and charismatic character. It reminded me, in an odd way, of Jang Hyuk’s performance in Fated to Love You. A completely original vibe – everything about them stands out, their mannerisms, their voice, their expressions and interactions with others. Someone give this dude an award.
So, I think you should watch it. If you haven’t already. Sit down and enjoy a drama that doesn’t rely on tropes or familiar story lines. It’s unique. And it will keep you guessing, episode to episode. And it will make you ruminate on a lot of things as you bask in the moody ambiance of this amazing noir mystery.
Overall Rating – 10/10. A Modern Noir Masterpiece.