Binocular View: Gap Dong (2014)
It’s been some time since i last did a humble drama marathon in a welcome amount of five days’ time. The reasons why i started Gap Dong are two, the first one being Lee Joon’s acting, the second one has to be the fact that i was too bored waiting for the subtitles of the eighth episode of Heard It Through the Grapevine; and i am really glad for that. Boredom’s outcome can surprise you pleasantly sometimes and Gap Dong was one of these pleasant surprises i was missing for too long but eventually turned to reality. I rarely finish watching dramas on Sundays, don’t ask me why, i don’t know the answer either, but when i do there’s a sense of completion, the end of a week and the end of a great drama. Consider this a romantic dramaholic’s confession at the court of feels.
Gap Dong is based on a real story, the Hwaseong serial murder case and goes beyond that on a multifaceted scenario filled with a wide variety of emotions and plot-twists composed by screenwriter Kwon Eun Mi. Director Jo Soo Won (Cheongdamdong Alice, I Can Hear Your Voice, Pinocchio) was responsible for a great darkening visual presentation throughout Gap Dong’s 20-episode ride, doing justice to the cast’s powerful attempts in depicting the characters’ psyche.
Many years ago, after a few murders with common characteristics occurred an ahjussi was accused of murder and was forced to commit suicide by the old school detective Yang Chul Gon (Sung Dong Il), also known as Crazy Tiger, in front of his own son, Ha Moo Yeom (Yoon Sang Hyun). Moo Yeom, also known as Mad Monk, years later decides to become a detective in order to clear his father’s name and find the figure behind Gap Dong who committed 9 murders in a row with only one victim surviving the serial killer’s menace. The stature of limitations has ended, but steadily, as soon as a Gap Dong copycat serial killer appears the town of Iltan succumbs to fear once again. The copycat is Ryu Tae Oh (Lee Joon), a mental case under doctor Maria Oh’s (Kim Min Jung) treatment surveillance. By the side of our main characters stand many important and distinctive figures for the flow of the story, Ma Ji Wool (Kim Ji Won) that appears in the world of Gap Dong under Mad Monk’s protective wings, detective Cha Do Hyeok (Jung In Gi), Maria Oh’s adoptive father and police profiler Han Sang Hoon (Kang Nam Gil), Mad Monk’s police force “wife” Lee Hyeong Nyeon (Jo Ji Hwan) and many other figures whose role is essential and vibrant through the whole duration of the drama.
Scenario-wise, it wasn’t flawless, but it was a well-structured and well-presented strong attempt. Ambitious as it was in its own way through various plot twists and shady aspects, even if it did drag a little bit it never lost its consistency and everything was flowing according to plan through storyline crossroads and pathways. Such stories don’t rely upon a psychopath’s actions only, a strong part of their dynamics dwell in the varied world of emotions and the way such actions affect other people’s lives. It’s about the society’s opinion, the victims’ families, the surviving victims, the police’s efforts, the vicious world of media and all these people who directly or indirectly find themselves in this sickening maelstrom. Gap Dong as a story had a beginning, a middle ground to step upon and another beginning until it reached its end. It’s a complete journey with the ultimate destination being redemption, not only in terms of justice, but also in soul rehab aspects as a reward for the ghosts of the past that were still lingering.
Even if some lines and/or scenes didn’t live up to my personal expectations and eventually made me laugh because they didn’t possess the dynamics they deserved, or simply because it’s the world of South Korean dramas and we have to deal with that up to an extent, i never lost my interest on the story. Generally i am satisfied with writer Kwon Eun Mi’s approach even though some examples using authoritative argument tropes didn’t have the desired effect, they were more of a pomposity attempt rather than an in depth take on the value behind words, henceforth losing the actual meaning to the echo of words. In the end, it’s not only the details that make the difference, it’s the overall view through the prism that forges the main impression and Gap Dong rewarded me. I didn’t expect it to be perfect and it wasn’t, but i expected it to be good and it was way better.
Director Jo Soo Won honored his lenses through which the story was visually presented before our very eyes. Stories with a sense of mystery, suspense, complicated past and flashbacks that make sense at the present while in search of answers in the near or far future seem to be his strong card and he can easily relate to such storyline backgrounds in order to summon their very soul and essence visually. Having to deal with the absence of light and the sense of darkness in limited or more open spaces isn’t an excursion, it requires skills in order to depict the characters’ place on the terrain, but also their internal world that is being painted on the canvas of their faces. Many of the drama’s key scenes were presented through various perspectives, henceforth reaching completion, but also the closeups and angles were representative of the figures’ agony, fear, arrogance, paranoia, remorse, despair and all things dark, that’s the part of the characters that succumbs to the dark side, willingly or under circumstances. There’s also the warm sides on an uphill road towards humanitarian values and humane emotions. Everything was captured on camera exceptionally well on a nearly perfect presentation, except for a few effects that weren’t eye-friendly and eventually my optic retina rejected them. There will be spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk, it’s not that much of a review anyway, it’s my own binocular view as some sort of a review relying more on sparse thoughts that i glue them together.
Psychopaths value only one life, their own, so they can keep going on with their abhorrent art. Once the bestial mechanism within has been activated and the choices lead to the first act of violent interpretation there’s no turning back, the thirst can only be quenched through more violence. The real question could be whether such people can change or not, but it’s more about whether one can forgive and eventually find internal peace for all the haunting past that found shelter at the present. That’s why Gap Dong was neither a person nor an idea, it was a mask depicting the inner void. Circumstances can potentially turn you into a monster, but it’s your own decisions that eventually awaken and feed the beast within or keep it in slumber forever. That’s why many of the figures even if they never wore the mask, for a few moments they knew the tones of Gap Dong and they could have become Gap Dong themselves had their humane side surrendered to the thirst for revenge or some short of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth redemption. All of the actors/actresses that wore the mask or held it in their hands and eventually threw it away were highly representative of the could-be dilemmas, but also the progress in motion of the beast within, depending on the camp they belonged to.
We had the chance to witness the hunters become the hunted, the hunted becoming hunters through plot twists and law windows and there’s the fragile world of victims as they stand on the thin red line that could turn them into perpetrators under the eye of justice. There was an overall system in progress, from murders to investigation and arrest, from captivity to freedom and vice versa and from trials to judgement. There was the silence of secrets that came to the surface as the echo of past actions and there was love blooming under circumstances without overshadowing and romanticizing the main cause of the drama’s existence. There are so many broken figures in this drama, everything began way before the Gap Dong alias was formed, but eventually led to that and many people’s lives were ruined, not only of those we witness on screen, but tens of them taking into consideration the murdered women/girls’ families and friends. Gap Dong as a drama walks on shattered glass through which we watch its figures’ splintered souls maneuver violently upon the audience’s braincells.
Sometimes i wonder whether such roles are good for the mental world of actors and actresses! Lee Joon as Ryu Tae Oh was exceptional. I am almost at loss for words due to his multifaceted and demented interpretation. This young fella, whom i met in Mr. Back and i’m currently following on Heard It Through the Grapevine, never ceases to amaze me with his ever-expanding talent. Through various shades of blackening colors Lee Joon managed to depict the turbulent world of Ryu Tae Oh in a highly representative manner and if it sounds frightening enough, he wasn’t playing his role, he was becoming the role itself and that’s the reason why he captured Ryo Tae Oh’s real essence, the emotionless grey. Tae Oh is methodical and demented at the same time, his dancing choreography and relaxed attitude cherishing his wine, tea or coffee at home enthrone him as a modern Nero enjoying the echo of his actions from his crystal castle as the world outside trembles in fear. Feigning ignorance and trying to act emotionally every time he was being considered guilty of crimes he actually committed was highly representative of both Tae Oh and the original Gap Dong.
Lee Joon presents two characteristic smiles on Gap Dong. The smile of utter excitement that starts from his lips and reaches his ears as the smile of utter completion, it only emerges whenever a visceral idea takes shape in his mind or when he interacts with the real Gap Dong, his god, his hero, the prototype. Then comes the human-shaped smile, the one that paces well with his interactions with common people, the smile of manipulation. Last but not least, the smile of disheartenment that emerges whenever he finds himself in a dire for his own good situation is a mixture of both smiles with the presence of tears. Even though he’s a copycat, he’s got his own restrains when it comes to specific people, like Maria Oh and Ji Wool. With Maria Oh it’s something like personal arch hints of platonic love embedded with killer instincts infused by the real Gap Dong’s essence whereas with Ji Wool it’s like some short of a mother-son relationship, the one he never had with his real mother. From a moment and on, he doesn’t follow the prototype’s footsteps blindly, he starts questioning his violent journey, without this meaning that he intends to stop. Even his relationship with Mad Monk was special and with every figure he interacted throughout the drama, even his victims. The demented ahjussi from the mental clinic who impersonated Gap Dong tore apart Tae Oh to pieces once he found out that Loser was nothing more but a fake Gap Dong figure that couldn’t even accomplish a single murder.
1st smile category.
2nd smile category.
3rd smile category.
His major difference with the real Gap Dong, detective Cha, was that detective Cha was afraid of the end, even if he had the chance to kill thousands of women, he would never regret it, but still, he would be afraid of the end. Tae Oh was afraid of the end too, it was apparent on the chicken race and it was strong enough through all of his attempts to prevent himself from receiving the death penalty through medical and law tricks, but also cooperating with the law in his own way. Tae Oh’s end possessed so many feels, i can’t even understand why i felt shattered watching a psychopath killer lying on the ground while bleeding to death. Call it some short of sympathy, call it an intuition that he would try to change, call it whatever you like, it broke me to pieces, it could possibly be the poetic approach on screen. Tae Oh embraced his end with tears in the eyes, but with a slight kind of warm smile, the one of relief. It was Maria Oh’s presence beside him that fulfilled his one and only wish in case he passed away. While the original Gap Dong was having nightmares about his future end, Tae Oh eventually embraced his end on his funeral bed that was no other than Maria Oh’s hands, he had found “freedom” as he states and it didn’t feel like a nightmare; “it’s like a dream”.
Mad Monk and Scary Tiger are so much alike, they are both insane and they carry their own cross, a cross so different yet the same and it has its birth pangs on the Gap Dong case. It’s a weird case of bromance through which from enemies with a common cause they eventually become friends, strengthening the sense of duty to put an end to the Gap Dong case once and for all. Sung Dong Il ahjussi is a wonderful actor, he hadn’t let me down in the past (Reply 1994/1997, It’s OK, that’s Love) and he didn’t let me down now either, on the contrary, with each role he looks even greater to my eyes. Yoon Sang Hyun was exceptional too, he depicted all possible feelings from complete insanity to utter clarity in a representative way. In Gap Dong is the second time i meet him on a drama, the first one was with I Hear Your Voice, a drama i had highly enjoyed.
I had never come across Kim Min Jung in the past, but she was captivating as Maria Oh from the secret identity of the victim to the acceptance of her status as the only surviving victim from Gap Dong’s hands and from the hunted becoming the hunter on a journey of revenge but also trying to understand the reasons why. The traumas within were too vast and she probably had the most internal struggles in the story between forgiveness and revenge, using Tae Oh and understanding the reasons why, falling in love with Mad Monk and opening up her heart or remaining her victimized self in her safe yet full of shadows heaven. Kim Min Jung is beautiful in her own way, i loved her duality as natural daily beauty and her more wild edge with more rock-driven dress code and wigs. Ji Wool was an adorable character, not only for her young charms, but also for her humane side, even though it was reaching the boundaries of noble idiocy many times, but i can see where it was coming from, it was her one-sided love towards Mad Monk’s face and her young age. I loved her maternal approach on Tae Oh. Jung In Gi as detective Cha was beyond any suspicion and his low profile role turned into a surprise as the psychopath Gap Dong he really was. I was feeling so disgusted watching him playing with his child! His outbursts, his demented smile and his attempts to prove his innocence were all presented just like they should, through a lunatic’s sharp as a knife and colder than death prism. Monk Jinjo (Jang Gwang) as Mad Monk’s paternal figure and anchor, detective Lee as Mad Monk’s “wife”, the ever-changing sides but eventually righteous detective Nam (Min Sung Wook), the attractive and charming detective Oh (Choo Soo Hyun) and profiler Han (Kang Nam Gil) as Maria Oh’s adoptive father, Mad Monk’s and many other’s forensic mentor, among others, were distinctive as figures and played their own part in the flow of the story.
Through Gap Dong we watch the parallel lives of many people moving in concentric circles with the eye of the storm being Gap Dong. I never thought i would love this drama so much, there are so many ethical dilemmas, so many questions, but also many answers, not to each and every question since some answers are debatable and even rhetoric at times, it’s these “what if” factors that make the difference under such circumstances and the way each one of us perceives them in his/her own sphere of imagination and/or reality. Gap Dong to me was a sickening journey with humane rays of light trespassing the emotionless grey. Its captivating dreary ambiance and disarming psychotic aspects, the sense of sacrifice, the coldness and the void within and the often thin constraints between right or wrong held me captive willingly. So as to conclude, “some people are like that, like a drop of pitch black ink on a snow white sheet of paper, there must be a case to stimulate the potential monster in you”.