Watching a Korean drama exercises our minds as we try to speed read the long subtitles flashing across the screen and struggle to become acquainted with characters whose triple names can confuse. We learned the family name precedes the first name; almost half of South Koreans bear a family name of Kim, Lee or Park whether or not they’re related. No spoiler alerts are necessary. This investigative thriller is too complex for me to summarize the myriad threads of its plot or identify the various culprits. Glen and I faltered early on in our efforts to figure it out, but persistence pays off.
STRANGER (Korean, Netflix) ♦♦♦♦½
Titles often guide us into a series. In this one “Stranger” refers to the main character Hwang Si-mok who, as a young boy, underwent brain surgery that inhibits his emotions. A taciturn prosecutor, Hwang is our touchstone of objectivity and integrity, of incorruptibility in a world rife with corruption. We understand to trust whoever he trusts — and that helps us differentiate among the culprits.
Hwang’s colleagues and superiors often show their frustration and impatience with his impassivity. But not police inspector Han Yeo-jin, herself rather quirky. She and Si-Mok develop a charming relationship that provides sweet humour as she coaches him on social graces. When she discovers his hypersensitivity to high-pitched noise, caused by repressed stress, her tender treatment of him is heartwarming. The duo escorts us through the process of solving mysteries, by their musings and re-enactments at the crime scenes.
Characters are unfailingly civil: bowing, apologizing, smiling, showing respect. Their civility’s admirable except in certain women and men it masks their chicanery. Big business is corrupt, so too are some members of the judiciary and law enforcement in Seoul.
This crime drama differs from American ones. There’s minimal violence. No sex, no foul language, no precocious children.
After watching 32 episodes, Glen and I were sorry to say goodbye to Si-mok and Yeo-jin, as well as to other engaging characters in the series. •
P.S. In 2017 Netflix paid $200,000 for each episode (16) of the first season.
P.P.S. My viewing companion gives “Stranger” ♦♦♦♦. He likes the scenes of mouthwatering Korean food!