For me, there is something so riveting about a good revenge story. The pain. The hatred. The fear of being swept up in it all. The satisfaction, or otherwise, of getting revenge. So when a friend recommended the 20-episode Korean drama The Innocent Man to me (aka Nice Guy; The Nice Guy Never Seen Anywhere in the World), I couldn’t resist. Oh wait, Joong Ki plays the main character? Now you’re just spoiling me.
What’s it about?
Kang Maru (Song Joong Ki) and his lover Han Jae Hee (Park Si Yeon) have lived in poverty since they were young, but both are determined to make a future for themselves; Maru by becoming a doctor, largely for the sake of his sickly younger sister Kang “Choco” (Lee Yu Bi), and Jae Hee by becoming a journalist. However, when Jae Hee accidentally kills a man Maru takes the fall for her and goes to jail. Years later when he gets out, Jae Hee has betrayed him and, now a mother, is living with a business tycoon; the head of the Tae San company. Maru seeks revenge, vowing to take Jae Hee from her luxurious life and back to poverty where he still is. Through a chance encounter with the businessman’s daughter, Seo Eun Gi (Moon Chae Won), he sees a way to get it. However, Maru finds himself drawn deeper into the growing complexity of interweaving interests, feelings, and motives.
The three lead actors; Joong Ki, Si Yeon, and Chae Won, do a fantastic job in bringing their characters to life. It was really cool to see Joong Ki in a completely different role to the cheeky playboy in Sungkyunkwan Scandal to the nice-guy-slash-bad-boy Maru in The Innocent Man. Admittedly, Maru’s character is particularly frustrating, but Joong Ki handles the different aspects of the characters very well and portrays them convincingly. I really liked how complicated Maru was throughout the drama, and how you were never quite sure what was going on in his head. I thought that Chae Won was BRILLIANT in portraying Eun Gi. She manages to pull off not only the sweet, naive side of Eun Gi, but also the extremely paranoid, almost insane side as well. Jae Hee is such a good villain throughout the series, and she’s such an interesting mixture of sadism and suffering. Si Yeon is fantastic in this role; I think my dislike of her character is a testimony to her acting skills. A number of other actors that I thought did a fantastic job in this series include Yang Ik June as Han Jae Sik (Jae Hee’s brother), Lee Kwang Soo as Park Jae Gil (Maru’s bestfriend), Lee Sang Yeob as Lawyer Park Joon Ha (I felt for this character), and Kim Tae Hoon as Lawyer Ahn Min Young.
Another thing I really liked about this drama is the way that different characters’ interests are pitted against each other. From early on in the drama, you have Eun Gi and Jae Hee butting heads over the fortune and future control of the Tae San group. You obviously have Maru and Jae Hee pitted against each other throughout the series, but as the events unfold and more people get involved, more competing wants and needs come into play; Joon Ha trying to protect Eun Gi, Min Young trying to protect Jae Hee, and Maru trying to protect everyone. It never seems to be completely “them” versus “us”.
This was my first melodrama, and it was… dramatic. I wasn’t quite prepared for it in the first few episodes, but got used to it quickly. The drama is maintained at an intense level throughout the series, but it never feels over the top. The story is quite gripping, slowing down in the last episode or two, but it always left me wanting more. Furthermore, you have Maru’s best friend (Jae Gil) and little sister (Choco) to lighten the mood throughout the series, and the duo are great for comic relief. They’re a good contrast to the main storyline between Maru, Eun Gi, and Jae Hee, and never jarr with the overall tone, nor feel out of place.
I really loved the soundtrack in this series, with everything from the sweet and delicate, to the racing, dramatic songs (although there were a couple of bizarre song choices here and there). It did have a slightly European feel to it as well, which was something a bit different. And of course, there are more than enough shots of Joong Ki (Maru) gazing into the camera and looking sad and pityful to last me a life time.
The main negatives in this drama are really stereotypical of Asian dramas in general. So, although it’s not surprising to find them here, it’s still disappointing. The believability and plot devices were stretched quite thinly in several places; if that’s how long you spend in jail for murder, I know which country I need to take my enemies to! Furthermore, education seems to be quite good in jail, given that Maru went in as a medical student and came out seemingly an expert in all things business. I get that he’s a genius and all, but come on! You also had the typical case of the mysterious disappearing-and-reappearing-when-convenient-for-plot illness… times two (Choco and Eun Gi), both of which seem to finally disappear for no apparent reason and with little mention. And finally. Ninety percent of the drama in this show could be resolved with Maru just F*CKING EXPLAINING WHAT IS GOING ON. I get that he is going for the all-time masochist award, but a few words here and there would save everyone a lot of freaking time and effort.
Finally, the middle of the episodes tend to drag a little bit, and, as I’ve already mentioned, the last few episodes are a little bit slowly paced where it feels like the same things repeat a couple of times ([SPOILERS/] how many times does Maru have to threaten/beg Jae Hee to go to the police?! [\SPOILERS]). And then you get to the end. I feel like the writers could have done a lot more with the ending. The final few scenes were sweet, but also confusing and left a lot of questions unanswered, as well as raising a few new ones. Personally, I would have like a more tragic ending- it would have fit better with the overall feeling of the drama, and left a better impression if they hadn’t tacked on the epilogue. You’re allowed to write dramas where there isn’t a happy ending; it’s much better than trying to force it in the space of a few minutes.
Story: 7/10: The drama is riveting throughout the whole season, but there are a few frustrating plot decisions, and the ending is a letdown (one could argue the ending is the most important part in a revenge story).
Characters: 8/10: Eun Gi and Jae Hee are both very solid characters, and although Maru is wonderfully complicated, he’s also incredibly frustrating. A lot of the other side characters are also really well done.
This series is a very dramatic revenge story; it’s intense, has some solid characters and some awesome acting in it. However, it does stretch believability a bit too far at times, and it is let down by the ending. If you like a solid revenge story, I strongly recommend it. Overall, I give it a 7.5/10.