Cruel City ~ Review
“The world is like a mirror.
If you curse and spit at it, the world will curse and spit back at you.
If you smile, i am sure the world will follow and smile back at you too.
So don’t be serious and just smile,
You’re pretty when you smile.”
It was an unorthodox watching process since i first watched My Beautiful Bride and then marched backwards to witness the gloomy grandeur of Cruel City from the same screenwriter, Yoo Sung Yeol. I was already a fan of his work, but now i can wholeheartedly say that i will blindly follow him in his next attempt whether it’s going to be another noir drama or not, but i will be more than pleased if it’s going to be an OCN or jTBC production.
While going through Yoo Sung Yeol‘s dramas, except for the film noir aesthetic, he definitely loves 4th episodes, aquariums, Shim Min, combative female characters and pain, tremendous amounts of pain adorned with a fragile pounding core no matter how raw the contours may appear. He was accompanied by Lee Jung Hyo, the director of Witch’s Romance and I Need Romance 2, and their collaboration in Cruel City definitely shone in thick darkness through shards of eloquent light.
Jung Shi Hyun (Jung Kyung Ho) is one of the most promising rising forces in South Korea’s mobster universe and he’s known as Doctor’s Son. After running away from the orphanage he was raised by Moon Deok Bae or Safari (Choi Moo Sung) and Lee Jin Sook (Kim Yu Mi). He started learning the underworld’s drug “business” from an young age and having Kim Hyun Soo (Yoon Hyun Min) as a partner in crime he intends to reach the top of the hierarchy at the present.
The police force intends to dwell deeper into the underworld’s lair and a special unit is being forged under the command of director Min Hong Ki (Son Chang Min). The unit’s leader will be Ji Hyung Min (Lee Jae Yoon) who’s got his girlfriend and fellow police officer by his side, Lee Kyung Mi (Go Na Eun) who supports Han Soo Min (Nam Gyu Ri) who’s like a little sister to her. The violent journey that will lead them to Doctor’s Son begins and an unstable world full of uncertainty and bleakness starts unveiling itself.
Cruel City masterfully visualizes the art of wearing masks, not only to hide one’s identity but also as an attempt to enchain one’s feelings underneath the surface. It’s not only because one’s internal world may appear as a weakness that could be fatal in the near or far future, it’s also about keeping your loved ones safe from harm even though you may end up being devoured by all this sentimental burden and the dangers awaiting in the corner.
Cruel City reflects a world of intertwined relationships through an ever-growing irony of fate. The more the episodes pass by the more these perplexed interactions keep developing through a wide variety of levels which implement intense and conflicting emotions. That’s when the bonds that have already been forged under turbulent circumstances are being tested in times when trust and sincerity could get shattered overnight by the lurking background.
One of the most renowned drama tropes is always related to the past and the way it brings together or pushes away many of our figures at the present while the future drowns in uncertainty. It’s one of the main cores of the drama and it is being masterfully infused in hearts pounding with revenge, regret, distress, caring and/or ambition under a shape-shifting darkening horizon.
Loyalty is an excuse and the fact that it’s selective is the epitome of corruption, it’s a stench which overruns Cruel City’s veins. Wealth and power, but most and above all survival instinct, often appear grandiose over loyalty and trust, but there’s also friendship and bonds thicker than blood. No matter how ill-fated they may appear they are sincere and selfless to a sacrificial extent proving that life can still blossom even in this ravenous mire.
There’s an intriguing police force presentation, but if corruption is the middle name of the underworld then it’s the shadow on the wall when it comes to people who were supposed to preserve the law. The real burden falls upon those who chose to work under the radar while diving more and more in these murky waters. It isn’t easy maintaining your integrity, but what’s even more difficult is to differentiate between duty which automates what’s right or wrong and your humane side in the way it’s being affected by the flow of events.
The cinematography is literally glimmering in the darkness as the vivid colors recede in the thick gloom through the dim lighting or faded shades of gold while altogether evoke a warm yet raw ambiance which is utterly representative of the figures’ characteristics and everything going on. The use of closeups reflects the characters’ void or feelings and the body positioning and the distance between a wide variety of figures is always representative of the circumstances in this devoid of rules and regulations chessboard. The fight choreography is violent poetry in motion, especially when the suit jacket does the talking except for old school beating up, jackknifes, crowbars and acrobatics!
Everything the characters preserve, both internally and on the surface, gets intensified by the exceptional soundtrack. The trip hop injections, the rocking maneuvers and the symphonic passages paint Cruel City’s sound pallet with various shades of menacing or eloquent timbres. And then comes “The Man,” this instru-mental composition and its flamenco-oriented acoustic chords have scarred me for life, it’s the sound equivalent of something fragile shattering to pieces just like the drama itself.
Despite its slight plot holes and a few odd yet kind of hilarious presentations, the storyline was intriguing to say the least and most and above all captivating. It was in fact a massive plot twist device where anything could happen anytime and you couldn’t be certain about anything until the curtains would start falling one after the other. It’s also adorned with reminiscence, ongoing action, a myriad of feelings, a bromance beyond the realms of life and death and an insatiable passion blooming amid cracks. Just like the storyline indicates, the characters are being filtered through a chameleon prism of deceiving layers and the acting flows accordingly through exceptional performances and distinctive presentations.
Jung Kyung Ho was simply astonishing while pouring heart and soul into Jung Shi Hyun’s multifaceted character. Delivering pain in an aristocratic way and hurting with style, Jung Kyung Ho was truly a king in his domain. Caring and selfless, passionate or menacing, restrained or explosive, concerned or straight forward, he was all over the place in his very own elegant way dominating the screen by all means necessary.
Nam Gyu Ri was ravishing and the more her character was developing the more her acting was revealing its real nature as it was reaching higher peaks with every passing episode. Stunning and captivating with her presence, but also heartfelt and determined through her interpretation she was a humble miracle before my very eyes and her chemistry with Jung Kyung Ho was mesmerizing.
Lee Jae Yoon fervently performed Ji Hyung Min’s thick yet cracked, but also strong-willed yet stubborn character. Hyung Min is one of these figures that definitely don’t know how to treat a woman, but he was focused on duty and the reasons which were fueling his relentless spirit. Kim Yu Mi was a sharp diamond of a character as Lee Jin Sook, untouchable, classy and beauteous at the same despite her own turbulent lakes within.
Yoon Hyun Min was simply great in Discovery of Romance and Witch’s Romance and as Hyun Soo in Cruel City he earned my trust effortlessly for one more time. I don’t think he will ever disappoint me and he was vibrant through Hyun Soo’s upbeat, stylish and emotional in his own way character. Song Chan Min whom i highly enjoyed in Road No. 1 recently was imposing as director Min Hong Ki while Go Na Eun was Cruel City’s rotating cogwheel and she did a good work in presenting Lee Kyung Mi. Choi Moo Sung was also exceptional as a character bound to shake your nerves but occasionally warm your heart, Safari!
Among others, when it comes to supportive roles and especially the villainous figures i shouldn’t forget to mention Scale (Kim Byung Ok), one of fashion police’s most wanted figures as he was a walking multicolored fabric crime, Meth Kim (Kim Min Sang) for being vicious, Eun Soo (Kim Hyo Sun) for her unforgiving character and last but not least the like father like son delirious and sickening duo of President Jo (Kim Jong Goo) and Jo Ha Neul (Jung Ji Soon).
Cruel City is like a midnight summer dream in the heart of winter;
fragile, but not frail, yet raw and omnivore.