F&B Korean Drama Review: City Hunter

City Hunter, Korean Drama based on Manga is the hit K-Drama 2011By Josephine Nolan

Okay, I’ll admit to a secret thrill, and a little bias. I love Lee Min Ho. There, I’m on record. Big fan, all that. Putting aside my bias, City Hunter should be renamed City Slick — it’s simply the slickest Korean drama of 2011 (sorry I’m late reviewing, just saw it!). Slick is saying a lot, since where I’d give a nod to Bollywood for “most entertaining” films, and to Hollywood for “most spectacular” and to Canada for “most moody” (sorry, land that I love), Korea is the undisputed king of prime time drama. If you can enjoy a drama with subtitles, you’ll be hooked forever after watching any good K-Drama. And where, I might controversially add that Hollywood TV dramas hit a ratio of 1 good for every 10 made (at best), I’d give Korea the flip side of that coin: 9 good for every bad.

City Hunter synopsis

City Hunter, based on a Japanese manga of the same name by Tsukasa Hojo, is on the top of the K-Drama charts for 2011. Part spy-drama, action thriller, political melodrama, it is also equally a love story, complex story of familial bonds and a moral fable. And sexy too. (Biased, remember?)

Lee Min Ho in City Hunter

Lee Min Ho is a big ratings draw for any drama, since Boys over Flowers, but in City Hunter he takes his acting to the next level, hauling in a number of industry awards along the way.

Lee Min Ho plays a savvy, sexy and very mysterious young man, Lee Yoon Sung, who infiltrates the Blue House (equivalent of the White House in Washington). His mission, to reveal the government officials who were responsible for abandoning his father (and dozens of others) who were on a secret mission to the North Korea. Lee Yoon Sung begins his quest with a ruthless coldness that makes use shiver with anticipation. Later, as we get to know him, he grows as a human, particularly in his love of Kim Na Na (played by Park Min Young). But throughout, he remains the cool, sophisticated spy, out to root out deep government corruption. Yet, true to K-Drama tradition, the character is fully developed, not one-dimensional.

Korean drama: where characterization rules

In most Korean drams, character trumps plot and one reason they are so addictive is this ability to reveal motivation for characters, show growth and create three dimensional characters you love or hate. Spy melodrama notwithstanding, City Hunter peals away the veneer of super spy and reveals Lee Yoon Sung’s motivation, and the pain of his childhood. All the characters, including the bad guys, are likewise laid bare. This is the ultimate charm of Korean Drama.

Not just about revenge and corruption
This isn’t a revenge-kill drama. At no point is our hero content with simply killing the corrupt official. He meticulously plans out their public humiliation, makes sure the police make the arrest, and does it all with stylish flair—each arrest more innovative than the last.

Competing with our hero, his adoptive father seeks his own bloody revenge. Lee Jin Pyo is the only survivor of the aborted mission that killed our hero’s father. He doesn’t agree with our hero’s subtlety, and it becomes a three way battle for survival: the government officials, struggling to survive; Lee Yoon Sung who uses the law and cleverness as his weapon of choice; and adoptive father Lee Jin Pyo (played by Kim Sang Joong) who is out for spectacular violence.

At no point, despite slick James Bond-style action, does the drama exceed “suspended disbelief” credibility. It remains entertaining, exciting and emotional all the way through, no mean feat across 20 episodes. In-depth characterizations are the magic that transforms an action-adventure into a real thrill watch.

Lee Min Ho’s performance is spectacular. Unlike his previous two dramas, both comedies, he’s the personable super assassin-spy here, and he plays it with a pizazz I haven’t seen since Sean Connery’s James Bond. He’s extremely tall, almost too elegant to be the “macho super spy” but he carries his own style into the role that almost becomes signature. Park Min Young is good as his love-interest, but comes off less memorable, aside from her enduring loyalty.

Kim Sang Joong is gripping as Lee Jin Pyo, the survivor of the secret mission bent on a more violent revenge. Also notable was the rather humorous Kim Sang Ho as sidekick Bae Shik Joong.

Cinematography and direction are artistry, costumes and locations just right. If I am to be picky, perhaps the targets—the corrupt politicians—are a little one dimensional.

There are a lot of reasons to watch this drama—you won’t find one wasted minute here—not least of which, this is the exemplar of Korean Drama, which I’d argue is the exemplar of television drama worldwide. If you haven’t seen a Korean drama, start here. You can purchase the DVD, stream it legally on DramaFever, or download, but by all means, this is the one K-Drama to watch.

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Comments

  1. Intellect says:

    Yes, I agree! This was the first Kdrama I watched, and Lee Min Ho completely rocked my role. He was so sexy smooth and BAD in this show. I have been hooked on Kdramas ever since and I must say I have not see a sexier male character since.

  2. Make the second stage drama city hunter with the same players park min young.

  3. totally agree!! this K-drama is awesome..
    usually i easy to bored when watching K-drama, but City Hunter is the 1st K-drama that i never get to watching.. this is a really MUST watching K-drama! 🙂

  4. totally agree!! this K-drama is awesome..
    usually i easy to bored when watching K-drama, but City Hunter is the 1st K-drama that i never get bored to watching.. this is a really MUST watching K-drama!

  5. iam addicted to k- dramas after watching this CITY HUNTER….amazing, excellent drama where every citizen can learn the true meaning of how the country is rule and spoiled by the leaders. super actors Lee min ho and Park min young.

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