There is a definite lack of variety in the topics Korean drama explores. There is also the issue of conforming, when some series attempt to break the mold only to be smacked back into it. While 'Gabdong - The Serial Killer' is not a perfect drama or one of the most exciting ones out there, it is to the creators' credit that they maintain its focus and tone throughout, resulting in a not brilliant, but good and most welcome attempt to be different and do it right.
'Gabdong - The Serial Killer' tells the story of a serial murder case the statute of limitations for which has expired. Ha Moo-yeom's (Yoon Sang-hyun) father was a suspect for the murders and after his death, Moo-yeom became obsessed with clearing his father's name. Along with his team and their new chief, Yang Cheol-gon (Sung Dong-il), who was convinced Moo-yeom's father was the murderer, they are trying to stop a new series of murders and find the killer, but also possibly the original Gap Dong.
Perhaps the most important part where 'Gabdong - The Serial Killer' succeeds is that it never goes beyond where its level can handle. This is both in terms of its writing, but also the ideas and concepts it tackles. Korean drama is not yet at a point where it can handle too complicated topics. The series could have easily gone too deep into its themes and failed in its ambition, since making big statements about the human psyche and mental world without the appropriate knowledge and ability to develop the reasoning behind them would bring it all crashing down. Instead, it simply explores the possibilities and complexity of people's good and evil sides without taking a stand or offering easy solutions.
While originally more focused on the copycat killer aspect and darkness within its heroes, 'Gabdong - The Serial Killer' does take a shift later on, towards the discovery of the original killer. This is not too abrupt a change, since it is something which would have been addressed some way or other. Along with this shift came a few character ones as well, but rather than feeling like the usual personality transplants, they were actually conveyed well. This makes all the difference in a plot, since it is written as character development, not character lobotomy, the reasons behind the emotional and moral changes in the characters making sense within the context they exist in.
When it comes to flaws, the drama does stumble after the midpoint, with its character relationships and the mystery behind the real Gap Dong getting convoluted and too confusing to follow at times. While the characters and their moral ambiguity keep things interesting, the mystery itself gives too many maybes and takes twists and turns too many times, sacrificing the surprise element and excitement to a degree. While more of a creative decision than a flaw, it would have been nice if the series explored its interesting and very grey characters a bit more, but given they chose to go with the mystery solving, this would have taken time away from the crime side of things. Still, the series could have delivered better on its characterization, which still left one too many things open, but not enough to be too unsatisfying.
Despite the existence of plenty of logical flaws and unresolved issues, the series managing to stay focused to a bigger degree than such stories usually do is commendable. It is also worth noting that the female characters here get good development and a position in the plot that goes beyond their romantic interests, the romance part also not overshadowing the main plot and appeal. In a series which could have easily turned them into damsels in distress, without agency or part in the crime side of things, this was a pleasant surprise.
This work could have been a lot more had it been shorter or perhaps spent more time with its characters than its complicated crime solving part, but as it stands, it is still much better a series and much truer to its genre and plot than average. Given how difficult it seems to be for a show trying something different to succeed in it, 'Gabdong - The Serial Killer' remaining a solid series throughout and leaving the viewer with some food for thought make it a good addition to the evolution of Korean drama and hopefully an encouraging attempt to other creators who have different things to say.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Gabdong - The Serial Killer""
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