Revenge dramas might be a common type, but they are also a very tricky genre to pull off well. While it is easy to pile misfortune onto the leads who will carry the aforementioned revenge out until audiences feel for them, going for more grey characters is harder. The villains are also an important element, since a lot of the dramatic tension and viewers' emotional investment relies on them keeping that feeling of injustice going. 'Golden Cross' succeeds in some aspects and fails in others, ultimately missing the mark for what could have been a great revenge story.
Kang Do-yoon (Kim Kang-woo) has a loving family of parents and a sister. He aspires to be a prosecutor and make a good living. When his sister is tricked into providing sexual favors for an important figure of the finance world named Seo Dong-ha (Jung Bo-suk) and is murdered by him, Do-yoon's father is framed for it. As he begins to look into the case and plan his revenge for what was done to his family, Do-yoon meets the prosecutor in charge, Seo I-re (Lee Si-young), who also happens to be the daughter of the murderer.
The trope of having the female lead to a wronged male lead be related to the ones who wronged him and his own is nothing new. Tragic love sells and for a part of it, this series is no different. However, 'Golden Cross' manages to not make that romance the main point and that is to its credit. It also has a female lead who faces moral and emotional conflicts that go beyond the male lead and her feelings for him and have to do with her work, values and principles, but also her love for her father.
Do-yoon is a shaky character, in the sense that he goes through his changes without them having been explored better. So while a good person and good main character for the genre, the fact that the attempt to make him nuanced and balancing between good and bad failed was an issue. Nonetheless, the story of this family, their pain, the bond that is portrayed between them are all solid enough to really touch a viewer's heart, making it easy to still feel for Do-yoon and his cause, even if not always for him personally.
The writing has a mixture of action and investigative work, but also finance world games and some light politics involved, making for a nice balance between people in suits having long talks and people having some good old physical confrontations. The investigative parts of this and cat and mouse games are fun, but they do tend to get repetitive and dry, having all the usual problems of plot holes and need for quite big suspension of disbelief at times.
As already mentioned, the villains are important in revenge stories and perhaps this is where 'Golden Cross' failed, despite having the right idea. Jung Bo-suk, Uhm Ki-joon and Kim Kyu-chul playing the main antagonists is nothing short of good casting. The fact that these characters are so cold and keep creating excuses for themselves, even to the point of feeling proud about their actions, is in fact quite bone chilling.
However, the villains are also too useless and cartoonish for their own good, eventually turning into a comedy act in the last few and incredibly messy episodes. They are hard to take seriously sometimes and that harms their otherwise scary ideology and behavior. As far as the last few episodes go, the villains are not the only ones which are a mess, but the whole thing rather spirals out of control. It is a very ugly final act to a work which needed some good closure to really go anywhere.
'Golden Cross' is by no means a bad series. It has many elements done well and the emotional investment is there with a lot of the characters, some of the grey ones and even villains included. But there are certain major elements not handled well that drag a lot of its potential down. 'Golden Cross' might not be great, but it is still a good attempt and a work worth giving one's time too, even if it failed to become more than just an entertaining standard revenge story.
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] "Golden Cross""
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