Each Friday in The Televangelists, one of our writers examines the met and missed potential of television.
City Hunter has become especially popular as it crosses demographic lines and attracts male and female audiences from a range of age groups. The show is well-written and only features a few cultural distinctives to confuse more rigid American viewers. While City Hunter is exciting enough to entertain audiences only interested in the most surface readings of its story, I was surprised by the depth of consideration the series devotes to the concept of revenge in particular—it never gets philosophical, but it does give time to a number of perspectives on the issue.
City Hunter‘s most basic plot outline describes the grown child of a dead man carrying out revenge for his fathers’ wrongful death. Due a botched political maneuver against North Korea, Yoon-sung (played by Lee Min-ho) lost his father in infancy. His father’s best friend Jin-pyo flees the country with the infant Yoon-sung and raises the child to be a skilled fighting machine—all to the end that Yoon-sung would return to Seoul one day and mete out a just revenge upon the five politicians responsible for his father’s death. The first episode lays the groundwork for the rest of the series and concludes with a twenty-eight-year-old Yoon-sung arriving in Seoul for the first time since his birth, ready to begin his righteous journey.
What begins as the template for any knock-off revenge thriller playing to a tired old formula soon establishes itself as having very different goals. While Yoon-sung does begin hunting down the offending politicians, it quickly becomes apparent that his concept of vengeance differs radically from that of his adoptive father’s. Yoon-sung’s is more circumspect and he shows he has a much more nuanced understanding of the nature of revenge itself. Additionally, the other two principal characters who form the show’s backbone have their own motives of revenge and means of expressing and dealing with their needs for justice.
Yoon-sung’s semi-reluctant, uber-capable, and always good-hearted love interest throughout the series, Na-na (played by Park Min-young), has been investigating the accident that caused the death of her mother and critical injury to her father. She’s obtained enough information to know where to direct her revenge but is quite possibly powerless to enact any such plan—and then there’s the question of whether she might forgive the offender before retaliation. On the other hand, Yoon-sung’s chief obstacle throughout the series is Young-joo (played by Jiro Kim),the prosecutor who has been following the City Hunter’s case, seeking an opportunity for an arrest. He has within his power the means and opportunity to enact his revenge, but he deliberates, wondering whether revenge is what justice truly requires.
Watching these four characters’ personal ideologies dance in and out of prominence throughout City Hunter‘s story was a wonderful surprise. The series (being an even mix of thrilling and charming and cute and funny) would have been worth my time even without its moral complexity, but for those who are looking for it, this particular K-drama offers a bit of meat to chew over along with its sweets.
1. And Hulu from what I understand—but since I only have Netflix, that’s my point of contact. As well, the CrunchyRoll and Viki apps have made a wider selection of K-drama available to American audiences, but these are more targeted venues and less likely to draw in those who aren’t already seeking out foreign television options.