The Korean drama industry is going through a period of change in the content, format and genres of its productions. KBS2 now seems determined to use its newly created Friday drama timeslot for experimenting with these elements. 'Spy - Drama' was promoted as a blend of a family and a spy show, two different and challenging to connect types. The series ultimately fails in this, but it does not fail as a whole.
Park Hye-rim (Bae Jong-ok) has a loving husband and a beautiful family. Her son, Kim Seon-woo (Kim Jae-joong) works for the National Intelligence Service, something he has not shared with his family. But Hye-rim has her own secret. She is a former North Korean spy. When an enemy she thought dead finds her, she tries to do anything she can to protect her son, whom the man called Hwang Gi-cheol (Yoo Oh-sung) wants to recruit. With Seon-woo's work leading him towards the same case involving Gi-cheol, the family's secrets and lives are threatened.
Problems with the plot, lack of consistency and a messy final stretch are issues very common in Korean dramas. It is therefore surprising that a show which leaves the comfort zone of familiar stories avoids many of those issues. There is a regrettable shift in the focus of two characters at some point, but other than that, the series is quite nicely made and its progress very smooth.
As a spy show, a suspense series with good guys and bad guys, there is much to praise. The show delivers on the action and power games and it has some interesting characters. It also breaks some stereotypes by giving a few of these characters qualities that are not usually associated with their types in other works. Moreover, it manages to avoid becoming overly melodramatic and while some lapses in logic and some hard to swallow character actions are there, they are nothing out of the ordinary for works of its kind.
As a spy show, the series is enjoyable and good. As a family show, however, it fails to deliver. For one, 'Spy - Drama' does not develop its main characters in any considerable way. Seon-woo feels like a generic good guy type. Hye-rim is very hard to understand and sympathize with at times, as her thoughts are kept hidden. Sadly, the show also takes turns at focusing on the two, with Seon-woo taking long to enter the real action and Hye-rim leaving it for the romantic pairing to become the focus. When a main character leaves the leading role to become a plot device, there is a problem.
The biggest failure of the series as a family spy drama, however, is that it does not focus on its two leads as a unit and a duo. There are some lovely moments between Hye-rim and her husband, portrayed by Jung Won-joong, and a few others between other family members, but mother and son never truly bond and rarely even meet. This really destroys investment in the plot, which escalates because of the two characters wanting to protect each other.
'Spy - Drama' is a difficult drama to evaluate. It does not do anything too badly and it is a very enjoyable suspense series. The presentation is good, the villain interesting and the conflicts simple and easy to follow. It is just a work with paper thin to no main character development and one which fails at its original goal and therefore half of its premise. It is nonetheless a solid effort as the first of its kind and well worth one's time as a cool spy drama.
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] "Spy - Drama""
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