Before discussing this 16-episode TV series, I offer a few hallmarks of Korean drama. Be prepared for confusing triple-barrelled names and speedy subtitles that demand alertness, as do complex plots that pit the police against the prosecution. Expect an idiosyncratic male character, paired chastely with a female one, to serve as the moral compass in a corrupt, South Korean city. Anticipate scenes of refreshing humour but excuse any off-putting parodic or slapstick ones. With time and adaptation, you may acquire a taste for K-drama.*
THE GOOD DETECTIVE (Korean, Netflix) ♦♦♦♦½
Five years ago Kang Do-chang, a senior detective of 18 years, headed an investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of Lee Dae-cheol for double murders. On the cusp of Dae-cheol’s execution, mysterious calls to the police station about the burial sites, plus a report of a missing girl, cast doubt on his guilt. Do-chang reopens the case with Oh Ji-hyuk, a homicide detective new to the Violent Crimes Division 2. Up for promotion, Do-chang must choose between what’s right for his career or for the case: expediency vs justice. As the buddy-cop bromance evolves, Ji-hyuk accompanies Do-chang on a moral awakening.
Theirs isn’t the only compelling relationship. The encounters between (idiosyncratic) Oh Ji-hyuk and reporter Jin Seo-kyung add on-screen (chaste) chemistry — and humour. When Jin goads Oh into drinking alcohol, for example, he passes out and is rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital. The diagnosis: a drink allowed him to overcome his insomnia and fall into a long, deep sleep! We also watch collegiality develop among the ragtag team of detectives. Although thwarted at every turn by the perpetrators, the team bumbles through the investigation.
At one point Do-chang asserts the case is too big for Division 2 and wishes he could simplify it. He could be speaking on behalf of viewers. But alongside the detectives we are trying to solve the murder mysteries. And will not know the culprits or comprehend their motives until the resolution. We’re meant to sit back and relish the ride. •
* My viewing partner has not really acquired the taste — though he gives The Good Detective an acceptable rating of ♦♦♦½.