Detective Gook-seo (played by Kang Shin-il) finds himself reunited with convicted criminal Tae-ho (played by Park Joo-hyung), who has just been released from prison after seven years. There's this sense of fearful tension in the air for the most of the drama- it's not that Tae-ho is dangerous, exactly. In fact, we see relatively little of the man throughout the drama's runtime. What we're left with, for the most part, is Gook-seo's general sense of fear.
Now, given that Gook-seo doesn't seem to believe Tae-ho will actually hurt him physically, this begs the question of why exactly he's frightened at all. This is the central mystery that for a time makes up this drama's conflict- until the question is abruptly solved midway through the story, and just begs more questions. It seems obvious that Tae-ho must know about what Gook-seo did somehow, or else he wouldn't be hounding the man like this. But what does Tae-ho even want?
Really, what does anyone want here? Gook-seo doesn't seem to want or expect any kind of forgiveness or absolution for what happened. He just seems, well, not content exactly, or satisfied, or even resigned. His sense of wallowing despair just is- a bleak portrait of existential dread that doesn't ebb or abate, really can't ebb or abate. Because the one thing he could to make amends is something Gook-seo can't do. And it's not clear that the gesture would even mean anything to Tae-ho either.
"Drama Special - The Unwelcome Guest" takes the discomforting, and often emotionally crushing view of what happens to people who can't repent. Gook-Seo is in the unenviable position of realizing he's a despicable person while also knowing there's nothing he can really do about it. The depth of his mistake not only haunts him but even the person who he supposedly saved- his gesture of love has been horribly sullied by the fact that it required him to damage a innocent person.
The drama offers no good answers as to how the ultimate moral and emotional dilemma should be resolved. In reality none probably exist. And so it goes with the conclusion, where Tae-ho, having apparently accomplished his goals, realizes that it doesn't even make any difference anymore. Some traumas cannot, and will not, ever heal. But it's a bittersweet taste realizing that your apparent tormentor was already suffering the whole time, always locked in their own prison. Maybe it was as bad as a real one, maybe not- but there's no satisfaction to be gained from striking down a villain while he kneels in failed absolution before the cross. This is heady, complicated stuff, and I strongly recommend it.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Drama Special - The Unwelcome Guest""
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