The K2

Spy shenanigans meets.. well just about every genre under the sun in this excellent Korean drama

What’s The Show? The K2

What’s It All About, JG? It’s a one-season long Korean drama which posits the question “What if 24, but Dynasty?” Which is not, frankly, a question that gets asked often enough. Our hero is Kim Je-ja – played with slightly boyish enthusiasm by Choi Seung-hun – who is framed for the murder of a civilian in Iraq. Returning to Korea as a fugitive he accidentally catches Jang Se-joon, a predistential candidate, in flagrante with a mistress which through a series of what can only be called shenanigans, leads to him to work for Choi Yoo-jin, his wife. She’s hiding his illegitimate daughter, Go An-na, from the public eye as a means to control Jang- Se-joon and ensure her own elevation to First Lady. Kim agrees to work with her (under the codename K2) to take revenge on another presidential candidate, Park Kwan-soo, the real perpetrator of the Iraq murder for which he has been framed, while he slowly – sometimes very slowly – falls for An-na. Meanwhile Choi Yoo-jin’s younger brother, Choi Sung-won, is manoeuvring to take over the family business and treats the life and death situations as little more than a game for his own amusement. It’s a strange mix of espionage, family drama (the whole Dallas-esque sub-plot involving the protracted fight for the family business), conspiracy theories, techno-thriller, adventure serial, high-kicking action and romance all wrapped up in one show. Whatever else you can say about The K2 it certainly doesn’t lack for content.

Why Did You Give It A Go? Because I’ve been watching a bunch of generally very good Korean TV  shows (the spy-thriller Iris, the noticably-superior-to-the-original Korean remake of Designated Survivor) and movies (Train To Busan, The Good The Bad The WeirdExtreme Job, The Outlaws) and wanted to continue the trend. Seems like a good reason!

Is It Any Good? You know what, it absolutely is! It’s sixteen episodes long and though the focus often shifts – loner on the run to presidential campaign to family drama to love affair – it’s the characters that anchor it all together even as the ground is constantly shifting. Every character we meet remains compelling, and plenty of them have their own agendas away from the worlds of presidential races or assignations revenge plots which helps build a properly believable world. Particular credit must go to Song Yoon-ha who plays Choi Yoo-jin with a steely, unapologetic ruthlessness but also allows just enough shading for her to retain at least a degree of sympathy – it stops her from becoming an cliché even as she tries, not always successfully, to manipulate everyone around her.  Her assistant  Kim Dong-mi played by Shin Dong-mi is also a fantastically funny and powerfully unflinching character, devoted to her mistress beyond all sense of reason and loyalty and she undercuts almost every scene she’s in with a brutal weariness or eye-roll. She’s bad but she’s impossible not to love. And so it goes on, everyone remains distinctive and even when the show occasionally wanders into slightly  ill-advised territory – the late-in-the-day ta-da! inclusion of a cabal of Evil Cabal People apparently all modelled on The X-Files Cancer Man – the show never loses its own sense of giddy thrills and it barrels towards a wholly earned climax that just about manages to pull all the disparate threads together.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All of them, which is to say sixteen. The time passes very quickly and the show is never less than watchable.

Would You Recommend It? Wholeheartedly. It’s terrifically fun, especially the opening three episodes which fully commit to the idea of Kim’s loner past being slowly stripped away from him via action series tropes – up to and including a car chase done by remote control – before slowing things down and allowing us to catch our breath a bit. Some parts of it are slightly odd to Western sensibilities – especially the tendency to include exceedingly sappy piano ballads every time two people even glance at each other, usually at exceedingly high volume – but none of it detracts from the overall sense of fun and momentum the show builds up. As the two nominal bad guys, Park Kwan-soo and Jang Se-joon are eminently hiss-able villains as they battle for political dominance, and when An-na’s twenty-year imprisonment in a Spanish nunnery because as a child she thought she caused her mother to overdose doesn’t even remotely register as implausible – or even unusual – you know you have a series which has complete control of the genre. It’s true that the slow-motion romance between An-na and our titular hero could have done with one or two more sparks and one or two fewer scenes of them sitting on a roof, but because Ji Chang-wook and Im Yoon-ah are strong enough actors they can easily compensate. Even the nominal “comedy” character, Master Song, ends up having more to him than it initially appears and there’s just such a confidence about the show that it’s impossible not to just get swept up in it all. Genuinely fantastic.

Availability – Netflix have it in the UK and the US.

Scores On The Doors? 8/10

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