Q3 Pitstop: The Kdramas of 2016

38 Task Force39tf01

The gist:

A timid city hall officer teams up with professional crooks to go after tax evaders. Their mission: collect tax arrears by swindling money out of these offenders.

The good:

– It’s “expectedly unexpected”. Now this show knows how to keep me interested. As a fan of con/heist movies, I know there ought to have some form of betrayal/reversal/plot twist around the corner. And though that’s already at the back of my head, it’s up to the show to surprise me on exactly what it will be or how it will happen. I was a bit concerned that the extended format of a TV drama would lose the snappy, tense, blink-and-you’ll-miss pace that I originally love in films. But just when I feel that the show lulls in lengthy dialogue, it would pull multilayer cons with plot twists one after another that left my brain tied in knots.

– The incredible writing and direction. This production did a fantastic job in balancing its elements and making a thrilling yet grounded story. Pulling cons on camera relies on audience perception and seamless storytelling, which is only effective with flawless writing and editing. Cinematic shots and punchy scoring helped in this aspect. There’s a fine line between complicated and confusing, between slick and absurd – and the drama was successful in treading these boundaries. It wasn’t all just wow-factor though, as the overall treatment of the show gave a sense of realism and heart. Week on week it gave surprises for the audience, but did not forget to build a poignant viewpoint about human nature and society.

– The cast and their chemistry. One key antihero must-have is the charisma to engage audiences and have them root for you despite your flaws – something that the 38 gang obviously have. It’s good to see the cast comfortable enough with their own skills and with each other that they can naturally improvise to make the scene more fun. And while the male-dominated drama had cool female characters, the show’s best couple had to be Seo In-guk and Ma Dong-seok. Their characters’ relationship just worked on so many levels. The rest of In-guk’s squad, Sooyoung, and even the show’s numerous villains also created interesting dynamics on the show. I’d love to elaborate but I’m holding back on the spoilers.

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The bad:

– The unexplained motivations. Criminals coming together solely for profit makes sense (future double-crossing can be expected). Uniting for a Robin Hood kind of cause like this, however, begged some questions – on their motivations, backstories, and what drives them to follow Pied Piper Jung-do. The show was rather laser-focused on the main partners, the villains they are after, and setting the stage for awesome cons, that we weren’t able to dig deep into the other characters.

– The absence of Season 2. That last episode left me both satisfied and wanting for more (the special episode was appreciated, though)! This is actually one of the dramas that I think would be awesome for a spin-off (an all-girl con squad, anyone?) or a second season. That possibility is kind of blurry, though. But who knows; maybe the PDs are stalking and are silently cooking up one epic twist. *wink*


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The verdict:

Kudos to the show for having the highest viewership in OCN history! 38 Task Force was this season’s dark horse indeed, as it generated a good following and pulled off strong ratings for a cable drama with relatively low key promotions. It’s fresh, clever, and highly entertaining, without falling into the usual drama traps. I loved how it wasn’t trying hard to be flashy with choreographed fight scenes, flower cast, or clichéd romance. Who needs them when you got the show going inception-like with its twist within a twist within a twist, and Seo In-guk’s acting within acting? It had a magnetic cast (I wish the females got more screen time though!) that we can root for until the very end, and a compelling storyline that went beyond being just about money. It’s a tale about deeply-rooted social injustices, and how sometimes what’s perceived as wrong can be the only solution to make things right. Now please turn it into a movie.

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