The journey of the heartless and cruel has finally come to an end! Lots were lost along the way (tears in particular), but none of them were unexpected, out of the blue or random. I see some people voicing their displeasure and disappointment, not that I agree, but I can see why and where they are coming from. Where’s my OTP moment? Where is the punishment the baddies deserve? What happened to Reporter Cha’s dad who’s the ultimate ULTIMATE baddie in here? Min died, just like that?!! All these questions, they are legit and reasonable, and if given a chance, of course I’d love them to be dealt with or closed. But I digress because all these do not really matter after much thought. I realised in hindsight, that all I wanted, was for Shi-hyun to finally get the rest he deserves. To be free and to finally let go. It’s not wrong to want more or to hope for something more conclusive (to OTP or to story) in the finale, but this is noir at its best (when I’m talking about K-drama), nothing could have been more fit that we what was given (at least to me).
Heartless City aka Cruel City was an exploration of human reality and weakness, a drama that carried doom and gloom in its title from the get go. I did not expect things to end a happy note, and I even had a bet in the beginning that every main player would meet their demise in the end. While it’s not that far off, I’m so glad it stayed true, through and through to the genre and to its premise. Of course along the ways there were obvious hiccups, loops that rendered suspension of belief, beating around the bush repetition, this drama wasn’t perfect or as amazing as I’d expected it to be. But it was no doubt a solid construct, with characters that threaded lines of grey and made us care (in one way or another, like or hate). Although I’ve been pretty vocal about writer nim’s liberties with some of her choices in recent episodes, they weren’t major issues that made me feel for drama and the characters less. Flaws and whatnot, this drama tried to tackle a genre which has never quite made a mark in Youiedo, and managed to deliver something out of it. It never aimed to please audiences (look at its ratings) and never banked on favoritism (over the supposed main leads JKH and NGR, I think most of the main players had equal screen time). It tried to give us a much hoped for gritty and intense portrayal of what would be of an ideal gangster noir. And it succeeded, though maybe not as powerful or effective.
I’ve been in constant and ongoing discussions with a drama buddy about this drama, and though we’ve got our differences in opinions, I think we’re pretty much on the same page about the message(s) this drama had intended to convey. They were many, including the blurring of lines, the search for light amidst the dark and heartless, the forming of relationships and friendship regardless of sides, trust and betrayal…etc. But amongst others, I was the most moved by Shi-hyun’s thought and concern for the people he cared for, the struggles and dilemma he had to face in a position so vague and insecure. The writer manage to construct a relatable anti-hero, made us care for him in spite of his ever icy cool front. Along with Safari, Soo, Jin Sook and to a lesser extent, Hyung Min and Soo Min, these characters made Shi-hyun so much richer and wholesome a character. Through his journey of becoming someone he thought he could be (a cop) and the breaking down of that ideal/aim. Though I was the least impressed with Soo Min’s arc (IMO the least developed and emhasised, failed to pack much emotional punches), the effort in trying by writer to blend that aspect is very much appreciated. Shi-hyun needed something someone who could take him away from the “world” for second. Just for a while. The man needed a breather.
The fact that writer made him an undercover worried me, I thought it was oh-so-cliche and predictable, but I’m so glad that was the initial plan and it stuck through. It allowed us to at least understand someone in a similar position. Though it had some logical misfits plot execution wise, the general portrayal of someone in Shi-hyun’s position, one who has to play double duty and to gauge between 2 different worlds, I was very much satisfied. They managed to blend Shi-hyun’s persona (the ever so caring) together with the Doctor’s, not forcefully in an acted out way, but in a somewhat inherent natural way. Both Shi-hyun and the Doctor, they felt so real, both identities. The things he had to experience playing 2 different personas, the balancing act. The struggle felt real, the frustration, compelling. Though it’s still far from IA, the grit, the heart, it’s so much more relatable and understandable compared to let’s say, what was portrayed in Time Between Dog and Wolf (which also coincidentally starred uri Paksa <333).
Yes, there could have been more. I could list a few things that I’d hoped for drama to deal with. Amongst others, Safari and Hyung Min’s relationship with Shi-hyun. Safari had a better edge because he had more scenes with Shi-hyun, that at least managed to bring out what they had together in the past. No matter how greedy or monstruous he had become, the memories and what they’d shared were never gone, they were always there. I admit I cried like a baby watching them part (I got my reconciliation piece). I just wish Shi-hyun knew earlier. Hyung Min and Shi-hyun, I really hoped they were able to work together early on but it came a bit too late in the drama, I couldn’t feel the connection I’d wanted to feel from them. But at least what they did together, in their defeat of the ever so elusive from capture Busan and Min, it was bittersweet and beautiful a closure. Not the way things should have ended, but nothing else was more fit.
The finale was not perfect, there wasn’t full closure. It was open-ended. That left me empty for about 10 seconds, then I realised I was hung up over stupid things. No drama ending could ever please or satisfy everyone because we all look for different things. I looked at the last 2 episodes as a whole, my heart poured out to the characters, tears fell like shit, for what the characters went through, for the relationships and friendship forged, for the teen weeny bittersweet moments that managed to shine above the dirt grit and brutal reality. I didn’t get full gratification over development of some characters (esp Safari whom I thought could have gone a bit further and Soo Min who could have been lot less vulnerable and annoying), but ultimately they still made my heart sink for them, I cried 2 damn rivers! T___T And it’s all because of Shi-hyun, the person he was. Not Paksa/Doctor, but Shi-hyun, the person they all knew, from within.
Alas, Jung Kyung Ho can take the rest he deserves, take a break away from the darkness and pain he’s been through for months of filming. His portrayal of Shi-hyun was nothing short of his best, a performance that will only come once in a while I believe (unless he chooses to venture on to film). It was one that combined character and charisma, with dashes of breaking down frailty, and one could often come across trying too hard. He never once overacted or underacted, and though I had certain picks on some awkward moments of his and though he wasn’t nearly as fantastic as the great Tony Leung, I can safely say he’s nailed one of the best performances by a young actor this year. Well done baby JKH, please take the rest you deserve and come back soon!
I also commend the rest of the actors for their dedication and effort, special shout out in particular to Choi Mu Seong and Kim Yoo Mi, who nailed their performances to a tee. Yoon Hyun Min who played Soo, I will forever have a softie spot for him because of what his character did for Shi-hyun. And of course Lee Jae Yoon, Nam Gyu Ri, Go Na Eun and also the ever force to be reckoned with Son Chang Min and the guy who played Busan (he’s truly scary!), together with director and writer nim, 10 thumbs up!!! What they did together, along with the music PD – the meshing together of a solid construct and portrayal of the world we know so little about, a admirable and significant feat. I will always remember the stylish and quiet shots of Shi-hyun thinking and pondering on his next move, the pensive scenes of our characters, the lines that made me chill.
I don’t know if we will ever get a gangster noir ever in K-drama land anytime soon, but I don’t expect to see any come close to this quality in the near future. It’s a genre that has to be dealt with carefully and delicately if you want to convince and sell with conviction. Though the grit and coldness of it all obviously waned in later episodes, even towards the end, you cannot deny that this drama had tried and had actually achieved something in K-dramaland. Fck the dismal ratings and all, Paksa, Soo an Jin Sook noona ain’t gonna bother! hmmpppffff!
My Rating: 8 /10
Last but not least, some wrap-up pics to end… ^^ you’d have to bear with normal casual JKH for now! hehehe..
GOODBYE HEARTLESS! GOODBYE PAKSA!
credits: DC/ kdrama.com / owners of pictures and GIFs / tumblr / as tagged