Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why I'm Dropping Heartless City: Post-episode 14 Thoughts


Two weeks ago I was equally enthralled by both Heartless City and I Hear Your Voice. Since then, my love for HC has faded dramatically while IHYV has revived and is managing to hook me in as thoroughly as ever. The only reason I was so invested in HC was because of the expectation of forbidden romance and the intriguing lead man. But rather than putting more focus on that, the show's become a literal swamp pit of talking heads and hammy, overdramatic "love" scenes. By contrast, IHYV knows exactly what it's audience loves, and its relationships and characters feel more real by the minute. I really wish HC had taken the latter's approach, but that's clearly not going to be the case.

It feels like I need to sit through 1 hour of dullness for potentially 5 minutes of spark. On paper the show's still interesting, with a unique setting and a wide range of characters, but it bores me out of my mind anytime the leads aren't together onscreen. Maybe that's due to all the boardroom discussions and slow-moving dialog. Or the fact that I'm still not a fan of the criminal noir genre. For the past four episodes, I've caught myself continually checking the time as I watch, hoping that I'm close to the end. That's not how a drama should make you feel.


My personal sense is that the drama peaked in episode 10, with the climactic bed scene and subsequent misunderstanding. Then it's as if they decided to drop the balls on that and move to plot points I find exponentially less interesting - more Safari, more undercover shit (seriously, it's like 90% of characters on this show are cops), more blabbering dialog with ugly men and little action. Not my style, and frankly I'm getting a little pissed off by it. The writer is clearly inept at writing a compelling romance, because as much as I love the lead pair, you can't deny that all of their interactions to date have been embarrassingly cliche and wading-pool levels of shallow.



What really killed it for me over the past couple of episodes was the inexplicable jump from lust to supposed love. I can only suspend disbelief so far. First, his practically hysterical attempts to dissuage Chairman Jo from calling her. It might have felt more genuine if, ya know, she hadn't been a total bitch to him in their last couple of encounters. And if they'd done something more than say all of three words to each other since sleeping together.

Additionally, much like all of their interactions together, his behavior felt completely at odds with what we know about his character. He's Paksa, he knows how to put on a mask and quietly plot his escape rather than squeal about hopelessly. He should also have been smart enough to realize that the more emotion he showed, the more incentivized Chairman Jo would be to kill her.



As for Soo Min, I didn't much care for all the wallowing and pathetic "I must love him" cries this past episode. Just stop, you're embarassing yourself. As much as I want to, I no longer buy their relationship, because the writer has taken the easy way out and decided to have them suddenly reach the in-love zone without having to go through any of the real steps to get there (I don't count bed time as a true step).

What upsets me even more is that the show is literally on a negative trajectory in terms of the screentime these two get together every episode. I wrote in my previous review that I was excited to see them get more scenes once the set-up was complete. Nope, didn't happen. We're down to about two minutes per episode at this point, and unfortunately the crap that's taking over in its stead is so not worth it.

Let's move to Ji Hyung Min, who now embodies my second biggest qualm with the show. The dreaded second-lead romance. Not sure if I've mentioned it before, but that's probably my biggest pet peeve with dramas and stories in general. I don't care a whit about seeing second-leads find their own love and happiness separate from the main leads. It's just never appealed to me, because generally they're far less interesting characters and it feels like a pity bone thrown over by the writer. This whole reporter-Hyung Min thing is the absolute epitome of this.

I wrote previously that my interest in Hyung Min only spiked because of his incredible hotel-physical chemistry with Soo Min. With that bit of juiciness, my imagination ran wild. I envisioned her "fake" seducing him under Jin Sook's orders, only for him to really fall for her just as she fell for Paksa. I expected to see some dilemna on her part as she was torn between the guy she used to love and the guy she's starting to feel for now.

In case you're not caught up, this is definitely not the way it's going. Much like how the expected groundwork scenes for Soo Min-Paksa were swept into a black hole, so was the Soo Min-Hyung Min connection and all the juiciness that could have entailed. What do we get instead? An ex-alcoholic, sickeningly chirpy reporter for him to rebound off of. I'd intially hoped their scenes would be played off as humor rather than as the second grandiose, conflicted romance, but by episode 14 it's clear the writer has chosen the latter. We get the exact same scene repeated between them and then Soo Min and Paksa (talk about romantically unimaginative) - the woman waits depressedly at a near-empty cafe/bar while the man wallows behind a pillar right behind them.

If you like these two together, good for you. I personally dislike both the characters and can't roll my eyes fast enough during their overdone, badly acted scenes together. She strikes me as fake (both in acting and in script) while he's back to being a dull buffoon. And the fact that they've also had more screentime together each episode than our actual lead pair confounds me.



Finally, the drug world backdrop. For something that should be so exciting and layered, why is it feeling so stale and repetitive? Each episode runs through a predictable round-robin of character face-offs. Something along the lines of: Paksa - Safari, Paksa - Jin Sook, Paksa- Old Police Man, Jin Sook - Safari, Jin Sook - Old Police Man, Jin Sook - Soo Min, Soo Min - Paksa, Hyung Min - police officer 1, Hyung Min - Jail officer 1, Hyung Min - Villain of the episode, Hyung Min - Reporter...it's like a cycle of neverending shit, and I only care about the one bolded piece. So you can see why the time investment wasn't paying off.


I'm not opposed to any of the characters, and objectively I find them capably crafted. But once you stick them on the screen, something seems to fail. For instance, Jin Sook. Pretty, classy lady. But by this point, we've seen all the expressions her botoxed face is capable of and she gets way more lines than I feel is fairly warranted for her acting talent or size in the story. I find her outfits in the scenes are often more interesting than the actual scene itself. We get she had a fling with both Safari and old police chief (both rather repulsive men that I think she could do way better than). No need to keep going with this awkward innuendo and forced regret from all sides. About the same could be said for Safari, who I'm just not feeling for despite his outer interesting persona.

The loopholes are also starting to show their seams by this point. Let's just say that if Korea had the same lack of gun control as the US, there'd be no story here. The only reason Paksa is able to pull off his miracle escapes is because he's surrounded by incompetent knife wielders. It's reminiscent of how old dramas were able to craft romantic misunderstandings because people didn't have cell phones. Very quaint, but also overly convenient.


It's evident to me that the writer was overambitious. Whoever it is reached for the stars, and while it looked like they would make it a few episodes back, it's now clear they've barely hit the atmosphere and are on a descending path. Instead of playing on its strengths, the show has opted to muddle through the multiple boring plot points it forced on itself. I'm guessing there's a story outline and the writer suddenly realized the show was more than halfway through and some things needed to get cut or crammed in.

I'm sufficiently disheartened at this point, and must say it's time to bid off this show before I lose all that's left of my goodwill. Thank goodness IHYV is there to keep me up for now.

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