Tax evasion might not sound exciting, but any concept can be turned into a wild and entertaining ride with the right people involved. "Squad 38" chooses to tell such a story in a more dramatic form and its talented cast and crew manage it mostly well. Nevertheless, the drama sadly crumbles under the weight of some major problems at times, which makes it hard to love.
Baek Seong-il (Ma Dong-seok) is a good-natured and honorable tax collector who does his best to keep his team going and collect taxes fairly. Yang Jeong-do (Seo In-guk) is a con artist with a painful past and big plans for the future. After Jeong-do is caught during a con aimed at Seong-il, he agrees to help his captor and benefactor gather a team to con major tax evaders out of their owed money.
"Squad 38" seems like a stock "caper" story at first. There is an unlikely buddy pair, the voice of reason, a seductress, the muscle, the nerd and the list of these seemingly simple characters goes on. Yet the drama's strength is in making them more than that. The creators do a good job, but they owe a lot to the stellar cast's performances. The ensemble of actors truly flesh their roles out to the best of their strong abilities and the chemistry is beautiful.
This is not a single success, but an indication of very good production quality. The creators are comfortable with comedy and drama, action and suspense. They use the talented cast well and give them good material to work with. Very few concepts and people feel wasted here, which is a rarity in Korean drama. The plot itself has nice twists, fake-outs and keeps one invested during its best bits.
Despite the good writing for most of the important parts, things do unfortunately go south at some point. The series feels like a story which should have been shorter. It feels like the design for a drama with fewer episodes. This means that conflicts become repetitive and that the writing becomes clumsy as it keeps trying to create new intrigue. Especially near the end, the plot becomes convoluted and it is hard mustering up the will to keep up.
The other, more expected issue is that the comedy does die out and makes no considerable and consistent return. Korean drama is generally very bad at staying invested in a light atmosphere, but the shift here happens too soon and abruptly for a series which advertised itself as an action comedy. Humor does make a small return near the end, but this is not the same series you sign up for in the first few episodes.
"Squad 38" is definitely a very original series and one with some dedication and great work put into it. It has some genuinely entertaining parts, it trumps audience expectations and its great characters and cast carry it well. It almost feels like a movie, but it is regrettable that its story seems to fit that format better as well.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
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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] "Squad 38""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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