시티헌터 (City Hunter) – Series Review
“In 1983, South Korea sent an undercover military unit to North Korea on a top-secret mission. On their way home, they were mercilessly killed as part of a cover up. Years later, the missions sole survivor Jun Pyo and adopted son Yoon Sung return to South Korea to exact revenge on the five men behind the betrayal.One by one, City Hunter exposes his targets’ crimes and delivers them to dogged prosecutor Young Joo. Jun Pyo, however, is out for blood, putting father and son at dangerous odds as the stakes rise and the targets hit closer to home.”
The Amazon review leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s definitely giving you a decent idea of what the story is about, though it’s lacking in crucial details. Let’s see if I can fill in the blanks for you.
- Jun Pyo’s “adopted son” Yoon-Sung is the son of Jun-Pyo’s best friend who is gunned down with the military unit sent to North Korea. He kidnaps the child and raises him to believe his mother abandoned him and left him to die, and that Jun-Pyo saved him.
- Yoon-Sung and Jun-Pyo differ in a key respect: Jun-Pyo wants to slaughter the men who betrayed his military unit, while Yoon-Sung doesn’t want to kill them, only to destroy them in the eyes of the people, since all of them are prominent figures (one is even the President). Yoon-Sung was raised in the Golden Triangle, and he abhors killing because all he believes it will do is create more copies of himself- children deprived of the love and affection they need and who are instead consumed by bloody revenge for those who were taken from them.
- As Yoon-Sung and Jun-Pyo fight over how they think the situation should be handled, they end up dangerous enemies. Jun-Pyo attempts to manipulate and twist Yoon-Sung’s mind to match his own by lying about the boy being kidnapped (he claims his mother abandoned him) and many other crucial details.
There is also a side-story that flavors the whole show: Kim Na-Na is a young woman who has worked her ass off since she was 17/18, when her mother was killed in a horrific car accident and her father wound up in a vegetative state. Not willing to give up on him, Na-Na has done everything she can to keep their small apartment and pay the massive medical bills. Including taking out several jobs at once.
Back in the Golden Triangle, before coming to Korea, Yoon-Sung saved and befriended the kind-hearted Bae Man-Duk, a compulsive gambler (in like 1 scene only) who was on the wrong side of the Thai mafia. Man-Duk loves Yoon-Sung as if he were his own son, and is willing to do anything for him, but when they return to Korea he has just one wish- protect Na-Na and help her in any way he can (it isn’t revealed until late in the show, but Man-Duk has a past with Na-Na, and is in some part responsible for what happened to her parents).
Yoon-Sung puts on the act of being haughty, arrogant, and uninterested in the world around him, but despite the act, he will do anything to keep Na-Na safe and happy. When he first arrives, her father is suffering from a terrible illness in the hospital, and they are refusing to perform a life-saving surgery because of his vegetative state and Na-Na’s mounting medical debts. Yoon-Sung cannot stand to see this happen, so he pays off the medical bill in cash and allows Na-Na to pay him back by performing little favors like driving him when he’s drunk or bringing him coffee.
Na-Na is also in the sights of Prosecutor Young-Joo (they say “Prosecutor”, but I think the American equivalent is Detective), who may initially admire the City Hunter for helping to bring down overwhelmingly corrupt officials, but who quickly grows to hate him for his illegal methods and strongly suspects Yoon-Sung of being involved.
Oh, and Na-Na is a bodyguard for the President of Korea, the former security officer who had sent Jun-Pyo and Mu-Yeol’s team to North Korea in the first place.
There is a lot of really great tension in the story, and plotlines overlap in interesting new ways. It very much is like a modern day “Count of Monte Cristo”, and it is expertly pulled off. Every time you think you know what’s coming, things change abruptly and naturally, it never feels like something came out of left field.
I really love this drama for the incredible action and dialogue scenes, as well as the ever growing gap between who Jun-Pyo demands his stolen son be and who Yoon-Sung wishes to be- namely, free of the revenge business. Yoon-Sung spent so long building a face for the world so he could appear anything but who he was, that as the mask cracks, he learns how to handle himself and protect those he truly loves..
Lee Min Ho. I know you saw that name with the strike through it. As I said in my “Boys Over Flowers” review, he’s my favorite Korean actor, and this role takes him to a whole new level. No more is he the bratty teen learning his place in the world (though it’s fun to note that Yoon-Sung’s uncle and his “Boys Over Flowers” character share the Jun-Pyo name), this is his first foray into a more masculine role, one he meets perfectly.
What I love about Lee Min Ho’s acting is that he can go from cold to warm in half a second without a seam. His performance is well nuanced and you can tell exactly what his character is thinking, when he wants you to. He makes the show brilliant, and I think this will go down, so far, as his best role.
Park Min Young nearly steals the show as Kim Na-Na, and she does a phenomenal job as well! Na-Na is fun-loving and kind, but also deeply scarred by her parents tragic death and the ten years of suffering she has endured since then, trying to hold together a family she knows will never exist again (she constantly says she has to keep the house neat and ready for her father to return, and talks to her mother’s picture whenever she has troubles). Min-Young can play tragedy and comedy with equal deftness (is that a word?) and really brings a brilliant performance.
King Sang-Joong (Jun-Pyo), Kim Sang-Ho (Yoon-Sung’s best friend and father-figure Bae Man-Duk), and Lee Joon-Hyuk (Prosecutor/Detective Kimg Young-Joo) all deserve kudos for their work. Jun-Pyo is mostly just ruthless and angry, but he does show a surprising tender side for Kyung-Hee as she unwittingly re-enters her sons life upon his arrival in Seoul. Bae Man-Duk is mostly just carefree and loveable (with a potentially catastrophic addiction to the Home Shopping Network), but he harbors a dark secret when it comes to Kim Na-Na and his almost paternal desire to protect her and help her. Finally, Prosecutor Young-Joo begins to lose his honorable nature as he becomes more and more desperate to catch Lee Min Ho’s “City Hunter”, and the case drives him beyond obsession and, arguably, to the brink of complete mental breakdown.
Again, every performance is brilliant, and the show never feels rehearsed or over-acted. It’s believable in every way, and a definite must-watch.
Age Rating: 15+
That’s the official Korean rating for it, and I think it works out. There is a lot of violence, a surprising amount of blood for a Korean show, and quite a bit of cursing during the more intense scenes, though I’d even say you could probably drop that rating to 13.
The most graphic violence you see is someone digging a bullet out of their own shoulder, and that’s not up to par with the worst I’ve seen on American TV, so it shouldn’t be too traumatic. Someone’s leg gets blown off, but you just see the explosion and it never focuses exclusively on the wound, so it’s pretty mild, I think the worst you see is the stump wrapped in bloody cloth, not like any gooey bits.
For his role in “City Hunter”, Lee Min Ho (Main character Yoon-Seung) was awarded the Special Drama Top Prize at the 2011 SBS Drama Awards, an endorsement deal for the Hyundai Veloster in China (he drives the car in the show), and even recognition in 2012 by the Seoul Prosecutor’s office when he was named “Honorary Prosecutor”.
“City Hunter” was also used to promote the donation of bone marrow, due to several scenes in the show where (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO NEXT TRIVIA IF YOU WANT) Yoon-Sung goes through the bone-marrow donation process (genetic testing, the extraction, and recovery) to save his mother (so she can live and he won’t feel guilty for hating her because he still thinks she abandoned him), who is dying of Lukemia.
FUNNIEST TRIVIA THAT SHOULD BE KNOWN WHENEVER WATCHING THE SHOW:
The Korean name for the drama- 시티헌터 is the Konglish form of “City Hunter”. The characters literally translate to “Shiti Heonteo”, pronounced EXACTLY like “Shitty Hunter”.
It’s especially fun to remember whenever Yoon-Seung makes a mistake in his fight against corrupt officials- that he is, indeed, the “Shitty Hunter”.