Pandemic Diary April 2021: Rabies, Vendettas, Murders


I celebrated reaching “immunity” by taking the subway for the first time in 395 days.  I also ate a muffin outside unmasked.  It is a slow road for me back to public interaction.

I started listening to SHINee and I am enjoying that band quite a lot. I’m struggling to get back into exercise.  I walked for 45 minutes on a sunny day and felt nauseous. My body is still adjusting to life outside the apartment I guess.

As for dramas, I ended up falling down a rabbit hole on Jang Dong-yoon which yielded a lot of unexpected treasures. 


The Tale of Nok-du

To be up front about this, I started watching The Tale of Nok-du as a binge on my vaccine fever day. So, everything about my memory of this show is filtered through a haze of Gatorade and confusion.  But I think I can blame the show for 50% of that.

In it, Nok-du (Jang Dong-yoon) is just a "regular guy" living on a remote island who assassins try to kill.  He decides to get to the bottom of his identity which has been shrouded in mystery by his adoptive father. To do so, he tracks an assassin to what turns out to be a Widow’s Village that men cannot enter. He disguises himself as a woman and finds these widows are hiding a lot of their own secrets. There is a cabal of widow assassins who are doing the bidding for an unknown source.

He ends up sharing living quarters with Dong Dong-joo (Kim So-hyun) who is a kisaeng in training but she too has some secrets. She is wooed by the King’s cousin Cha Yool-moo (Kang Tae-oh) but she has no interest in him. Thankfully she learns pretty quickly of Nok-du’s real identity and he confesses feelings for her early on.  But she has other things on her mind and resists any romance for long time.

Jang Dong-yoon is quite adept in the role as he shifts from comedy to action-drama. He and Kim So-hyun have good chemistry and there’s a huge dose of longing. 

But there’s a whole royal plot involving a crazy King who won’t give up the throne. Nok-du and Dong-joo end up personally wrapped up in the situation.  My main complaint was the inconsistencies in the writing about some of the characters.  The King is a warm chum in some moments and then blood-thirsty Macbeth in others. Cha Yool-moo spends a ridiculous amount of time on the show cooking for the kiseangs and then he too gets bit by the cruelty bug too.

I get it.  Royal succession brings out the worst in everyone. But all these characters turn on a dime and without really good dramaturgy for what they are doing.  As the plot is meant to tighten and all these characters come into conflict the show has not been built well enough for that to really add up. It's herky-jerky.  Events happen and then everyone pretends they didn’t. 

Not the most romantic sentence ever spoken in a drama. 

Nevertheless, I did like the killer widow assassins doing things for themselves.  Nok-du is quite emotional, romantic, and sentimental and he’s a fun foil to Dong-joo’s straight-forward and driven personality. Nok-du’s character journey is quite a painful one and Jang Dong-yoon also delivers on the suffering.

He was so good I went in search of more of his performances and I was impressed with the range of projects he’s done.



When I say I highly recommend this show about nuclear rabies in the DMZ, you might think I have lost it. It sounds so dumb, but I found Search a gripping thriller mystery from the get-go.  

So often these stories just aren’t crafted for the long haul. But this show managed to bring together a bunch of narrative strands in a meaningful way. The characters personalities and personal stakes also intersected with the mystery upping the ante further. Plus it offers a couple of smart, competent female characters.

A historic incident that was covered up ends up coincides with a contemporary search for someone or something murdering soldiers in the DMZ. Jang Dong-yoon is a soldier, Yong Dong-jin whose tour is almost up. He is in charge of a military search dog and ends up getting dragged into one final big assignment with Son Ye-rim (Krystal Jung) his ex-girlfriend.  Nothing goes as planned and they learn their mission is a lot more complicated and dangerous than they thought.

There is local village color with a nosy noona (Moon Jeong-hee—who I love) who is former special forces officer. She lives in the DMZ village as a civilian now but she knows that this military unit is up to something bigger than what they are admitting to.

It’s another situation where Jang Dong-yoon plays a soft-hearted character in tough circumstances. There’s plenty of unnecessary shirtlessness early on and a sweaty basketball game that is shot in a truly thirstful fashion.  Also throwing together some exes makes for solid emotional engagement while they chase this mystery and gives stakes to the peril. The ensemble of young soldiers and supporting characters are crafted well enough in short order that you want everyone to return safely. 

I didn’t love the musical score which was just a dead moose yelping over and over. But that said, the violence was not too gruesome for delicate me and they keep a lot as unseen menace which kept the tension taut.

At 10 episodes, my only complaint was that it was over so quickly.  It’s a short nail-biter of a show but uses its time well and is not one of those bloated shows that cannot sustain it’s intentions.


Solomon’s Perjury

This high school drama had a bit of River’s Edge quality to it mixed with a courtroom drama.

A student’s dead body is found on campus and a rumor starts that the school bully, a rich kid, killed him, when the school is pushing a suicide theory and just wants to move on.  A group of students take it upon themselves to form a “school club” to conduct an investigation and trial to determine what actually happened.

The show operates from the perspective of teens who are not being listened to by adults. They are underestimated, ignored, condescended to so they take matters into their own hands.

Go Seo-yeon (Kim Hyun-so) has everything going for her if she keeps studying and gets good grades but when she gets pulled into the mystery of who killed her classmate Lee So-woo she cannot stop until she sees this through even if it ruins her future. She takes the role of prosecutor and Han Ji-hoon (Jang Dong-yoon) who goes to another school and tells her he wants to help, becomes the defense attorney for the school bully. But Ji-hoon does not reveal that he was close to Lee So-woo. Bae Joon-young (Seo Ji-hoon) discovered Lee So-woo’s body and has been struggling with a difficult home situation. Go Seon-yeon and Bae Joon-young become friends in the midst of this tragedy and he joins her club to help out.

None of these kids have had it easy. They are searching for some sense of justice or truth in a world full of adult lies and where they cannot trust anyone.  Their lives have been full of domestic violence, bullying, mental illness, and all the while they are meant to just keep pushing to get good grades and not complain.

On some level a student run mock trial of a murder sounds silly, but it’s the act of the students taking this power and yielding it against the institutions around them that becomes quite meaningful.  

A few moments are overwrought and for a super smart character Go Seo-yeon is quite naïve, but there was an eerie, unsettling quality to the show. Grounded in a plausible reality, the frustrations of these teens with society, their parents, the police, and their school were not far-fetched. It depicts a teen world of secrets, anonymous message boards, gossip, and real consequences.  I found the performances supported this.  They looked like fumbling teenagers, furtive, sad, lost, and pained.

Sometimes dramas go too far to justify certain character’s bad behavior. But here they try to get behind some of the “villains” to show that everyone is flawed and we can see them as fallible humans, and not monsters. Which is even scarier.


Flower of Evil

I hopped off the Jang Dong-yoon train for a Baeksang Arts Awards-nominated show and it was a mistake.

Do Hyun-soo (Lee Joon-gi) hides his true identity for 15 years because his father was a notorious serial killer and when he was a teen he too was suspected of murder and maybe being his dad’s accomplice. He has been diagnosed with a personality disorder and so he does not feel emotions that other people feel. But he takes a new identity, Baek Hee-sung, with the help of a couple whose son is in a coma and agree to pretend he’s their son. He then marries a police officer Cha Ji-won (Moon Chae-won) and manages to keep this all a secret from her. That is, until his past catches up with him and he tries to stay ahead of the investigation into that unsolved murder and investigation his wife gets involved in.

I was truly fascinated by the psychological questions raised in this show and for this character who himself cannot always tell what has been motivating his deceptions.  But the show was less interested in this than I was. Rather than being a smart and clever thriller, this was just a lot of bald-face manipulation.

Also, I cannot stand when smart female characters used to traumatic situations suddenly cannot handle a high stress situation--like say for instance a police officer being confronted with an emergency.

Cha Ji-won’s growing distrust of her husband is meted out in unfortunate, irrational pendulum swings where in one scene she thinks he’s a murderer but then she sleeps with him because why not? I mean…okay but it’s hard for me to believe you think he’s a murderer then. My trust issues are now more with you than with him.

Her anger over this deception also gets expressed in uninteresting ways—less psychological and more outbursts of shouting or bad internal monologues. The situation is more subtle than the writing is here and it’s disappointing.  

While the point of the show is to keep you guessing around Do Hyun-soo’s past and his behavior, the writer and director don’t seem to know how to execute this effectively. I think they thought that “building tension” was to frame him sometimes in a negative light to make us wonder “murdery?” but it’s also totally clear he’s not being “murdery” in those moments, so maybe lay off the heavy-handed music goosing the scene for all its worth. It is not filling in the holes in your writing in the way you think it is. Sorry to say, badly drawn atmosphere and fake-out manipulation is not the same thing as narrative tension.

Lee Joon-gi acts his face off but the material does not rise to meet him.

Literally not related to any of these shows. Just Choi Minho on The Return of Superman being adorable and blonde.