Sunday, January 15, 2012

first impression: Special Affairs Team TEN (Korean)

This series will be finishing up its broadcast with ten episodes soon (according to sources), but very little of it has been subtitled for us non-Korean speaking viewers. So I hadn't been planning on watching it yet until more episodes became available with English subtitles for my own understanding. But when I came across it one more time at Viki, I couldn't help but to give the first episode a go.

First of all... well, I don't even think I'm experienced enough in any type of media story telling (K-drama or not) to give a proper critique of the beauty that totally wow-ed me with just the opening credits. The series opens up with a random musical montage of a random woman (whom all viewers probably suspect will be a murder victim soon), and then immediately dives into two murder cases and a missing persons case. All three cases are tied together and we aren't even given any inkling that this is the reason except that the three investigations are taking place at the same time. A gut feeling (as well as the way the story unfolds) pretty much tells us that we're just waiting for all three investigations and all three of our investigators to fall together by the end of this first episode.

There is no dilly-dallying around with filler detail or random trivial moments. We get right into the main point; there's nothing flashy or distracting to deter our attention either. This is important in mystery crime thrillers because if we start getting complicated side plots and relationships that are unnecessary, then that takes away from the power of following the criminal mystery. This is what I totally loved about the first episode alone (or rather, the first half of the first episode) -- because I walked into it expecting a crime mystery and that is all that I want to see.

Sure, we've got a few side thoughts and some random scenes that aren't related to the criminal cases, but they are incorporated so naturally that you don't really mind. It's a very realistic way of conveying the investigations; once again, none of that CSI flashy and commercialized fun stuff that people have become addicted to in recent years. The facts roll out slowly, we get a lot of interesting problem-solving methods and reasoning, and no one simply looks at a piece of evidence and says "Okay, I know who did it!" It gives us, as viewers, the chance to really think about the mystery along with the story characters. And so I love how the story is unfolding bit-by-bit without some random clairvoyant detective who seems to know exactly what to do and what to look for.

Okay, maybe one guy, Yeo Ji Heon (played by Joo Sang Wook) seems to be moving along with his instincts. But he's investigating a case similar to one that he'd already worked on years ago which was unresolved. There are certain things he knows to look for (which totally shows in experience rather than just luck and intelligence). So I buy it, because it's not like he's pointing fingers at things and retelling the crime scene with a few blood stains and some magical evidence.

It's been a while since I last took my Forensics classes, but I can clearly say that the way that TEN is going about the murder cases is a lot more realistic than I've seen in a lot of other television series. And also, it's kind of refreshing not to see police officers jumping over cars and blowing things up. Despite the series being shot in a very western-ish, movie-like quality, at least the sequences aren't trying to sell nonsensical action. What we've got here is a lot of detective work based on problem solving and reasoning.

I especially liked the little time-line tree that Nam Yeri (played by Jo An) had set up during her investigation of her missing person. A lot of time and effort goes into something like that and it shows that she's not just looking at random papers and making hypothetical yet also magical guesses that work in her favor. She's constantly documenting, taking pictures, shooting videos, highlighting statistics, going through listings... It's just refreshing to see something so much more meticulous than pretty.

And speaking of The Pretty, I wanted to make mention of the resident maknae of the impending team, Park Min Ho (played by Choi Woo Sik). His first impression on me was kind of amusing because he was the young newbie who would follow with the more seasoned now-professor "detective" Yeo Ji Heon who was tasked to take on the Tape Murder Case. Trying to get all chummy with the professor wasn't really working for him, but it was cute nonetheless. The kid's REAL calling came when he was actually doing more reasoning work and questioning a known witness about murder events -- THEN he just seemed even cuter and pretty slick and cool and not simply The Pretty maknae. I'm looking forward to seeing what else he'll impress with in following episodes.

Kim Sang Ho is the only name I'm familiar with in this series so far, as the detective with about 24 years of experience under his belt (as summaries supply), named Baek Do Sik. We are, of course, familiar with his Shik Joong ahjusshi role from the crack-tastic City Hunter earlier in 2011, so there's no refuting his skill as an actor. As a detective, he fine-tunes things really well and I'm glad that we're incorporating a top-notch detective into this team who shows his years of experience rather than just letting the story narrate it.

All-in-all, I think that when I can finally watch the entirety of this series, I'm really going to enjoy it. Unfortunately, I wish there was a way I could understand Korean just a little bit better, because while the subtitles are decent, it still feels like there are a lot of things I'm missing out on just by not knowing the language (the same feeling I had when I was watching the first episode of Joseon X-Files). Already, while I had an inkling of what was going on, there were a few things that I think got lost on me by the end of the first episode (which may require a re-watch if I REALLY want to analyze this series by detail, which I don't, thankfully).

This series has given me a big "Awesome!" factor already. The camera angles are done excellently, the lighting is amazing and natural, and even the background music isn't distracting or trendy, but sets the right mood. It's a very simplistic form of filming for a series and I'm totally digging it.

I guess this might be the beauty of cable channels in Korean television. I know I'm totally buying the murder cases since we are seemingly sparing no forms of conservative shooting: realistic blood pools and corpse deformation and the like really help set the suspension of disbelief.

Finally, the mid-episode "crossing paths" slow-mo (I guess, symbolic) scene wherein our three investigators are in the same place at the same time for the first time in the series was actually done really well. As the police van passes by the other two investigators, I just held my breath. You would think that something as tactless as setting up a "fated encounter" sequence would turn out kind of tacky, but in this case, it really worked. When the scene came to an end, I really just let out a breath and said, "Nice!" And that was as simple as that.

So if the rest of the series follows the same form, direction and telling as the first episode, then I'm totally riding this one until the end. And I'm going to have to update my Favorite K-dramas list too.

As a final note, during the writing of this particular article, I hadn't realized that this series was actually broadcast as two-hour episodes in originality. And so the first episode I ended up watching was actually just the first half of the first episode. Even so, it was still excellently done and had me wanting to continue (I guess since the episode isn't quite finished, but whatever) onto the next. And so that I don't spoil my own thought process, we'll leave this first impression article as is and throw in random thought articles where necessary (especially if I have something to say after actually completely watching the entire Episode One).


Related articles:
thoughts: Special Affairs Team TEN -- first impression follow up


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