April 3, 2012

Vampire Prosecutor Season 1 – Episodes 1-3 Korean drama review

Episode 1 and 2 of Vampire Prosecutor (뱀파이어 검사), Season 1 were so reminiscent of Hon|Soul|혼 that I scurried to the 인터넷 (speaking of loanwords) to see whether they shared a writer, producer, or director. They don’t, as far as I can tell, so maybe I’ve just stumbled across a sub-genre of Korean drama. Or perhaps it’s an homage?
SPOILER ALERT! – if you haven’t watched this yet, stop here.
As with 혼, our main man’s motivational backstory originates in a heinous crime against a young sister, who was killed by a vampire. As in Hon, her innocence is underscored with soft-focus flashbacks and a childlike musical theme. The first 2 episodes are devoted to a similar crime 7 years later, which raises the Hon-like conflict between justice and revenge for 오빠 Yeon Jung Hoon. A twist near the end of Episode 2 defies rational chronology and blurs the line between reality and imagination in an entirely Hon-like way.

The details of How He Became a Vampire are murky, literally. It happened during a night-time high speed car chase, which he flashes back on frequently. It’s long and confusing, with a lot of cutting back and forth and underlit faces. However, after multiple viewings (thank goodness for video!), I deduced that Prosecutor Min Tae Yeon is chasing a suspect in his sister’s death when an annoyingly obstructive semi driven by a hooded figure crashes both cars. The semi driver (who seems to have fangs) then stabs the suspect and starts a fire, which is quickly quenched by a timely downpour. The sodden, injured prosecutor crawls over to the dying suspect, livid that someone else beat him to killing the possible culprit in his sister’s death. Surprise! The suspect also has fangs, and he isn’t quite dead yet. Why the suspect was on the run in the first place, why the truck driver killed him, and what happened after Prosecutor Min got bitten is presumably to be further illuminated in future episodes. And another mystery is tucked in at the end of Episode 2. The suspect left his house to the (now) Vampire Prosecutor, which has a hidden room papered with newspaper clippings about murders – including his sister’s.

Episode 3 starts a new murder story, and steps back from the Hon-like ambiance. Although Prosecutor Min is sharp, poised, and very fashionably dressed, I take back what I said about him having a conscience. More like an obsessive mission. He isn’t a nice person, roughing up witnesses when no one is looking, and brutally patronizing his new female underling, Yoo Jung In (Lee Young Ah). To be fair, she passes along the abuse to her cute geek idol boy intern, Choi Dong Man (Kim Ju Yeong), working him like a slave and taking credit for his results. Remind me never to take a job in Korea.

Despite Min Tae Yeon’s relentless efforts to undermine her confidence, Prosecutor Yoo soon shows that she is really quite competent. We see that she is growing on him, but he’s in no hurry to let her in on that. So naturally, she goes without backup to confront a serial rapist and murderer (seriously?!), gets tied to a bed, and is rescued on the very brink of rape by none other than said prosecutor. And now she has reason to be grateful to a man who has systematically verbally abused her. Argh. The days when strong female characters had to be brought down, tied up, humiliatingly man-handled, and rescued by stronger male characters before they can be admitted to the club are thankfully long gone in American TV. I sure hope Korea catches up soon – I had forgotten how much that crap pisses me off.

Lee Young Ah’s hairstyle is not helpful in establishing her professional credibility. I don’t know whether her puffy short bob is a wig or the body perm to end all body perms, but it dwarfs her face, making it look childlike and pinched. Every time she appeared on screen, I longed for a scissors.

Lee Won Jong as cop sidekick Hwang Soon Bum plays his usual likable clown comic relief character. He is full of sound and fury, but not good for all that much, except that he is in on Prosecutor Min’s vampirism. He never fails to clear the murder scene so the prosecutor can sniff the blood trail in privacy (while his teeth sharpen and his eyes turn blue). That’s only one of the Vampire Prosecutor’s super-powers, however. He also drinks a vial of the victim’s blood to recapture dying memories. We gather this is a pretty unpleasant experience, even beyond the obvious ickiness of it, but he takes one for the cause. The sultry medical examiner, Soo Hee (Kim Ye Jin) is smitten with him, so she makes excuses for the fact that the samples she gives him somehow never arrive at the lab (I was wondering when someone would notice this). Prosecutor Yoo is somewhat clearer-eyed, however, so I sense that she will soon be in on the secret. And he saved her from rape, so guess whose side she’s going to be on.

As you can probably tell, the near-rape of Lee Young Ah really soured me on this series. That’s a pity, because there’s a lot to like. The sheer creativity of combining a police procedural with a vampire story is just the sort of thing I love about Korean drama. I haven’t given up on it yet, however. I’ll keep watching, and hope that she gets a chance to rescue him, which is how gender equity is usually restored in the US these days. Maybe then I can forgive.

Also with Yeon Jeong Hun:

More Vampire Prosecutor (Season 1) reviews
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