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02 August 2020

K Drama Review: Vagabond (2019)

Oppa is always on the lookout for pretty actresses. He asked me once who the pretty Korean actresses are, specifically those who can be considered as equals of the young and pretty Filipina actresses. I mentioned that I often see/hear Bae Suzy's name. I don't really recall looking her up. But Oppa must have been curious because the next drama he suggested was Vagabond, which stars Bae Suzy. I was still on a Reply 1988 high and I just agreed absent mindedly. I guess I was fine with watching just any drama to help me move on quickly from the separation anxiety I felt from Reply 88. Oppa said the show had good reviews. 

Story


Vagabond starts with a plane crash of a flight from Korea heading to Morocco. Among the passengers were kids who were part of a taekwondo group. The kids were invited by the Korean embassy in Morocco for a demo. One of the kids was the nephew of Cha Dal Geon (Lee Seung Gi), a former stuntman. Dal Geon wanted to take revenge and in doing so, he unearths a web of corruption in the Korean government. Initially, he had an unwilling helper in Go Hae Ri (Bae Suzy), a National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent. However, when Hae Ri realized how serious the problem was, she agreed to help Dal Geon.

The Quite Good

The show started out really interesting. We loved the fast-paced action scenes. Oppa had qualms at the beginning probably because he's been so used to watching Western action shows. On the other hand, I was impressed with how an Asian show managed to pull of doing an action show with a Western look and feel. It felt Bourne-ish to me. But then again, I am not that exposed to this genre so I might not be a good judge.


Lee Seung Gi was convincing as Cha Dal Geon. He looked fit and bad ass in his fight scenes. Initially, I felt that he looked more of a comedian than an action star. But he proved me wrong throughout the show. I saw some of his MS photos and I'd have to say that he looked better in his MS uniform than in his civilian clothes.


Bae Suzy as Go Hae Ri was not bad either. To be honest, I didn't find her that stunning. I guess Oppa did not too because he's not on a find-all-Bae-Suzy-shows frenzy unlike what he did with Son Ye Jin and Song Hye Kyo. But acting-wise, I was fine with her. She may have looked a bit frail but she was sharp in her fight scenes. She was also a bit cute when she was acting all giddy around her crush, Gi Tae Ung (Shin Sung Rok), head of the NIS' information team. However, she was terrible in the drama parts, especially that scene where she was crying because she thought Dal Geon was dead. But over-all, she was okay.


I felt a bit of chemistry between Dal Geon and Hae Ri but I was mostly indifferent towards them as a couple. In a way, I was glad that the show did not really force this love story on us. You'd see it here and there but they never really pursued it.

Initially, I admit that I found Gi annoying. I'm not sure if it had something to do with how he looked. But he just felt off. I was ready to really dislike him when I thought he was against Dal Geon and Hae Ri. But he won me over when it was finally revealed that he was with them and he was a really good agent. He was totally bad ass when he performed that surgery with the doctor giving him instructions through video call. Coolness.


Gang Joo Chul (Lee Ki Young), a director at the NIS, was one of my favorites in the show. He appeared weak but his sharpness in strategizing probably saved a lot of lives. That coming back from the dead storyline was reminiscent of the Avengers.

The other characters were okay. The villains were annoying, especially the NIS and Blue House traitors. It just got a bit confusing when the lines were blurred - like when the villains such as the North Korean defector (Choi Dae Chul as Kim Do Soo) and Lily (Park An In) began helping Dal Geon.

I already felt that one of the main villains was either Jessica Lee (Moon Jeong Hee) or Edward Park (Lee Geung Young). Perhaps for those with trained eyes, it would have been easy to predict that it was Edward Park because picking Jessica would have been too obvious. She was tagged as the plane crash's mastermind early on. But the fact that she was not the culprit did not make her any less guilty. She took the bait and paid off government officials to get the deal. People died along the way and the blood of those people were definitely on her hands.

Although Edward was one of my suspects, I did not expect him to be the super villain. I expected Samael to be someone bigger than all of them.

I liked that although NIS agents were involved, the characters would still call the police or an ambulance when they need help. That made the show sound realistic. I really get annoyed with stories where intelligence agents are involved and the people would just completely ignore asking for help from the police because they feel they can do it all.

It must be really scary to work for a country's intelligence service. The NIS had a memorial tower in its office where they honor their fallen comrades. And Gang said their toughest job after every mission is to come back alive.

The show was compelling most of the time. We did finish watching all 16 episodes. And I even managed to watch an episode even if I already felt super sleepy prior to watching it.

The Bad

The story was quite okay although at some point it was actually bordering on the absurd already. I don't think a democratic country would brazenly legitimize and/or enable illegal activities such as stopping Dal Geon from taking Kim Woo Gi (Jang Hyuk Jin), the pilot of the plane that crashed, to court. The police and the NIS were involved. Thank God for that judge who chose to disregard the Chief Justice's order to wrap up the case. I also found that chase scene going to the court overextended.

Another thing I found quite absurd was how the leads would still win despite the obvious advantage the villains had. An example would be that entire stretch of getting Kim Woo Gi out of Morocco - from the attack going to the airport, the embassy attack, and the fight scene at the Incheon port. The leads were obviously outnumbered yet they managed to survive. I understand the need for some artistic license but I wish the show didn't overdo it and I hope they still tried to make things more realistic.


I also found it odd that the villains who were initially tasked with killing Dal Geon were now helping him. Maybe it's all about the money but I'm not really sure if criminal minds operate that way.

Jessica got off the hook easily. I get it that Edward must still be in love with her that's why he let her go. But it just felt off.

The politicians on the show were such wimps. I've held Korean politicians in high regard based on actual news and the dramas I watched in the past. Some commit blunders but there's remorse, almost always. I did not find any of such politicians in this drama. The President did help Dal Geon but he only did so after he was forced to the wall. So, no, that does not count.

I absolutely hated how the government officials were all brandishing this twisted sense of patriotism. They were all talking about making sacrifices for Korea while actually doing a disservice to its citizens.

The show also had the tendency to be overly dramatic, especially the scenes of the bereaved. I understand that they were sad about what happened. But it was just a bit too much for an action show.

And while I did say that the show was mostly compelling, there were slow moments as well. Watching it was like a roller coaster ride - you'd feel really energized then it will leave you bored afterwards. Classic example was the transition from episode 1 to episode 2. The pilot episode was so fast paced. A lot of things were happening. Then you get quite a slow one for episode 2. So the show had a problem sustaining that high level energy you'd usually expect from action shows.

But the biggest problem for me was the show's ending.

The show ended the way it started. We see Dal Geon in what appears like a desert, ready to shoot a target. A limousine arrives and Hae Ri emerges from it.

Let me just say that although the drama used this technique in starting and ending the show with the same scene, at least it did not totally give away the ending the way The Snow Queen did.

During the finale, we already know that Dal Geon joined Black Sun, a mercenary group. He was using this as a stepping stone to get his revenge. He accomplished part of his mission by killing Jerome (Yoo Tae O), the terrorist who crashed the plane.

We also know that Hae Ri has now joined forces with Jessica as a lobbyist. She was assigned to get that oil drilling deal in Kiria.

Dal Geon, the mercenary, was working for Edward, the other lobbyist who also wanted to bag that Kiria deal. So Dal Geon's job was to kill that competitor, who unbeknownst to him is Hae Ri. He only finds out when she comes out of the limo to check on the busted tire.

At this point, Oppa and I were already getting agitated because the hour was almost up but the show did not seem to resolve anything yet.

And to our surprise, the show just really ended that way. Dal Geon shot his fellow mercenary who was about to shoot Hae Ri. Hae Ri sped off on another vehicle.

We were so perplexed with what happened. Oppa was already saying that the show would probably have a second season that's why it ended that way. True enough, our research revealed that the show was created with a second season in mind. Buttttt, things are still up in the air right now. I think they've not really confirmed yet that there will actually be a second season.

I'm fine with hanging endings - if we're super sure that we're going to get a second season. But if nothing's certain yet, I believe it would have been more prudent for the show to have some semblance of closure. What if they don't get signed up for another season? Will we really just have that lousy ending where Edward's still free to commit more crimes and all those politicians have not been brought to justice?

That was really, really disappointing.  So while the show had its moments, that ending just ruined everything for me.

Oppa feels that any show that we watched would have paled in comparison to Reply 1988 and that could be true. But I was willing to give this show a chance. I might have even ended up liking it had it not been for that ending. 

Judgment

Oppa says...it's a 2.8.

Noona says...it's a 3. You can ditch watching this, that is until the second season is confirmed.