Even as a hardcore K-drama fan, you’ve probably watched a show that made you go, “That makes no sense, though.” Well, you’re welcome.
With some of the deftest writing seen in contemporary K-Dramas, Stranger is a fast-paced mystery thriller that unfolds in the backdrop of the Korean Prosecution’s culture of corruption, conspiracy and crime.
Hwang Si-mok (Cho Seung-woo) is a shrewd and morally-upstanding prosecutor, unable to feel any emotions due to a partial lobotomy in his childhood. The series begins with Hwang Si-mok on his way to meet a man who wishes to see him privately, only to find him murdered in his own home. As he begins investigating his death with the help of police lieutenant Han Yeo-jin (Bae Doona), he discovers the alarming connections between higher-ups at the Prosecution Office and this seemingly ordinary murder.
Featuring a stellar cast, led by Cho Seung-woo (who debuted in Im Kwon-taek’s Chunhyang) and Bae Doona (known for her prolific roles in Bong Joon-ho’s The Host and Netflix’s Sense 8), The New York Times named it one of its Best Shows of 2017. Stranger Season 2 is also available on Netflix.
My Name (2021)
The fact that Han So-hee plays a confused, enamoured-by-a-fuckboy college girl in Nevertheless (released earlier in the same year), only enhances the experience of watching her beat up hordes of men with formidable finesse in My Name.
The refreshingly short, 8-episode thriller follows Yoon Ji-woo’s (Han So-hee) visceral journey into the underworld to learn the truth about her father’s murder and exact revenge.
My Name packs impressively choreographed action sequences, moving training montages and convincing character arcs, despite being a tad predictable. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense revenge drama that does not meander, this one is for you.
My Mister (2018)
Starring the legendary IU, along with Parasite actor Lee Sun-kyun, My Mister received tremendous critical acclaim for its sensitive portrayal of a platonic bond between a young girl struggling in the face of poverty and a middle-aged man wearied by his personal disappointments.
Caught up in inter-company politics, Park Dong-hoon (Lee Sun-kyun) mistakenly receives a bribe intended for a higher-up and hides it in his drawer out of the fear of being caught. This is seen by Lee Ji-an (IU), a hardened temp employee in the office, who later steals the bribe money to pay off her own debt. Tangled in a web of lies and politics, the two strangers are forced into each other’s paths. Over the course of the 16-episode drama, the two find reluctant solace in each other, as they discover the specific ways in which life has tested them.
With nuanced acting and a screenplay that delves into the intricacies of the human condition, the slow-burn drama makes for an abiding watch.
The Silent Sea (2021)
The Silent Sea was highly anticipated for three reasons, and rightly so: the cast, featuring Bae Doona and Gong Yoo (hello, fans of Train to Busan and Goblin), the screenplay, written by Park Eun-kyo (who also wrote Mother for Bong Joon-ho) and the source of its adaptation: the well-received 2014 short film, Sea of Tranquility, by the same director, Choi Hang-yong.
The 8-episode sci-fi series is set in the future: Earth is dying and water is scarce enough to be handed out based on one’s social status. To find a solution, an elite crew is sent on a high-stakes 24-hour mission to retrieve a mysterious substance left behind on the government’s research base on the moon – a place where 117 personnel were killed in an incident. The mission takes a steep turn when the team realises the truth about this mysterious substance and its purpose.
The show’s breathtaking vistas of the lunar valleys and its terrifying depiction of the team’s dark discovery make up for what it lacks in characterization and pacing – something the show was highly criticised for.
Is it clear that I’m a Bae Doona fan yet? Based on the webtoon The Kingdom of Gods, this 6-episode show is a brilliant blend of zombie horror, political commentary and suspense.
Set in the 1600s, in Korea’s Joseon era, the show begins with the apparent death of the kingdom’s monarch. However, it soon becomes clear that the king has contracted a grisly disease which not only caused him to ‘die’ but also rise up at night as a flesh-devouring monster. Things get out of hand when a small town in the south of the kingdom mistakenly contracts the disease as well, leading to hordes of ravaged corpses rising up.
The show has some delightfully detailed flesh-eating visuals, gripping fight sequences, sleek cinematography and the coolest costumes. Apart from Bae Doona, the show houses excellent performances by Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Sung-kyu and Ryu Seung-ryong. The second season of the show and a special episode, Kingdom: Ashin of the North, are also available to stream on Netflix.