Bad Guys Review: Is Bad Guys the Equivalent of Breaking Bad in Korea?
A frustrated police officer, disappointed with the rising heinous crime rate in Seoul decided to get the help of the most skilled mobster, genius serial killer and brilliant hired killer to catch the criminals. He offered a prize the three criminals couldn't refuse, one that they will all eventually regret coveting.
There is nothing new at the heart of the concept. This is a story of bad guys being put in a situation where they spontaneously show that beneath the crimes is an incredible sense of humanity. It's a story that has been milked to its fullest and it sells because it mirrors our desire to have our goodness acknowledged just as much as our bad sides. It helps us convince ourselves, and others, that almost all our mistakes are an act of sacrifice to save other people.
"Cop: Are you still convinced you are innocent?
Serial Killer: I am hopeful."
I got that from Bad Guys and the series showed it to me without being overly dramatic. It still felt believable because there was no attempt to redeem the characters from their sins. They were bad on the beginning and were so till the end. The series only showed that not everything is bad about them. The good that they showed were never meant to help the audience forgive them for the lives that took away and made miserable, only that they were also miserable.
It was the most brilliant part of the writing. Character growth didn't equate to the characters changing to become heroes. It was just to help he audience understand the characters more and the world they lived in.
Serial Killer: I want to know who I am. I want to know if I can save people. I want to know what else I can become.
Mobster: Don't. You might not like it.
The one major element used by the director to communicate messages is symbolism and Director Kim Jung Min went for ironies. These ironies, to the Director's credit, are not obvious. In fact, you almost have to know the characters in a personal level and understand them beyond what they communicate through their lines for you to realize just how almost every element in every scene contradicts what is obvious.
There is their usual meeting place, a chapel, a supposed sanctuary of souls. After their temporary release from prison, they are asked to gather in a chapel, where they will regularly meet while they are in their temporary freedom. However, a closer examination will reveal that the place of their freedom is actually a worse prison than where they came from because their past hunts them and no walls, no authority, no barrier can protect them.
Worse, their sanctuary puts them closer to places, people and memories they didn't know can harm them.
You can find the irony in the littlest of things. The clothes they wear always blends with the background. None of the color of their clothes stand out just. They are made to appear ordinary and that is verbalized by their team leader when he convinced Yoo Mi-Young, a team member, that the three notorious killers are just as human as everyone around them.
The whole process of these three people gain the "prize" of what they do is probably the biggest irony.
They are offered a new life in exchange of their service but their service forces them to give up their life and whatever is left of their humanity. They way the conditions are laid out is genius. Unless you know and understand the morality that is left in each of them and the humanity that's hiding behind the beasts in them, you won't notice the claw of evil pulling them further down.
One of the most common errors committed by writers is making the characters talk in a way that is not consistent with their personality. The uneducated one sounds so academically smart, the thug sounds elegant and the aristocrat sounds illiterate.
Writer Han Jung-Hoon managed to keep the consistency without sacrificing poetry. The genius serial killer seldom talked but the one-liners show the depth of his intellect and it's contradiction with his emotions. The mobster had an expected abandon with his lines but each time he talks, he carelessly reveals his emotions. The team leader was always definite with his words and measured in his actions and this way of talking served to highlight the big revelation about his character in the end.
Serial Killer: Kill me if all you need is someone to hate. Let me live if you want the truth.
I have to admit that the most interesting character for me was the serial killer at the beginning of the series. He was the youngest MENSA member. His intellect allowed him to create the perfect crimes. Such intelligence begs for, well, intelligent writing and deserved some courage.
He didn't get that.
When everyone was tracking down the "mastermind" of the greatest crime they were to solve, I was expecting the genius serial killer to play a big part. After all, he is the intelligent one. I won't be giving anything away but it is safe to say he was not as an active part of it as his characterization promised.
I didn't see the point is giving him all he bullets in a gun and not make him fire it. Yeah, people could always argue that it was the "twist" and if it was, it was a bad one.
Serial Killer: Give me a reason not to kill you.
The choice of the villain is another sign is the series' cowardice. The villain was so much of a set up. Instead of utilizing existing characters, the writer opted to introduce another one. It is as if the creators were scared that their main characters to be hated.
The same treatment was given to the villain. It was as if they were so scared of the audience developing some sympathy to the character that they just decided to turn him into a complete lunatic. They established the motivation in the beginning but his actions progressed, all reasons were lost. There was no logic, not even poetry.
At the beginning of the series, I had serious hopes it would follow the same intelligent writing as Breaking Bad. Well, that may be unfair for Bad Guys or for any other show for that matter. Breaking Bad may remain insurmountable for decades to come but many can be learned at how Breaking Bad developed their character, how the good and the bad were blurred so bad it became irrelevant. I was expecting the same irony in this series. After all, ironies seem to have been the dogma by which the series built its story.
Each character had enough to justify an ironic progression. The ultimate payoff would have been to allow the characters to make their most ironic of choices.
However, as the series progressed, I felt like the writer was struggling in whether to write the characters in a scarily and shockingly intelligent way as they are or succumb to the expectations and desires of the audience immersed in the culture of pristine goodness and clear cut evil.
The latter won.