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TV reviews: K-drama Whisper's moral outrage at topsy-turvy world where good people make bad decisions

Outrage fuels the legal corruption drama Whisper and My Unfair Lady, a romcom that pits Hong Kong women against their mainland Chinese counterparts

K-drama writer Park Kyung Soo must be a master of making matters worse.

Following two thrillers about far-reaching legal corruption in South Korea, The Chaser (2012) and Punch (2014), he has created a world that seems even more treacherous, with bumpier roads, tighter spots and more elusive victories, for a new drama, Whisper.

Significantly, The Chaser and Punch featured vigilante fathers with few things left to lose, whereas in Whisper, you have two amateurs who are only just learning to play dirty and work a dysfunctional system. They would be Shin Young Ju (Lee Bo Young), a policewoman whose life is thrown into disarray when her journalist father is framed for the murder of a former colleague, and Lee Dong Jun (Lee Sang Yun), a judge who is co-opted into a cover-up of a military corruption case when he jails the journalist.

Soon, they both jump in at the deep, shark-infested end. Dong Jun marries into the law firm that forced his hand in the journalist's case, having failed to be reappointed for a second term as judge. Young Ju follows him there as his new secretary, by blackmailing him with a sex tape she made with him on the night before his wedding.

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A darkly funny office farce ensues, as the two slightly corrupted innocents discover that their new colleagues, including his wife and the wife's secret boyfriend, are far worse sinners. It's an extreme orientation session involving sex, drugs and a homicide investigation.

New to the game, Dong Jun and Young Ju are always misjudging their opponents and having to come up with a plan B at the last minute, which gives the show a jagged thrill.

Lee Bo Young and Lee Sang Yun are a policewoman and a judge who have to play dirty to beat a corrupt legal system in Whisper.
Lee Bo Young and Lee Sang Yun are a policewoman and a judge who have to play dirty to beat a corrupt legal system in Whisper. PHOTO: ONE

Unlike, say, the prison drama Innocent Defendant, Whisper is not just a well-oiled thriller, though.

What fuels Park's shows, from The Chaser to Whisper, is moral outrage at a topsy-turvy world where good people are forced to make bad decisions, and where an honest man is put to moral death for a crime he didn't commit.

Young Ju's mother sums it up best, perhaps, after she turns to talismans to ensure her journalist husband's safety, but he dismisses them as superstition.

"What do you believe then?" she asks the husband, who is a convicted murderer after working all his life to change the world and bring the corrupt to justice. "You said, a good day will come. What you have trusted in is the real superstition."

Real-world anxieties fuel My Unfair Lady, TVB's hot new romcom that has all the subtlety of an enormous hot-air balloon bearing a slogan.

Barely minutes into the drama, a Hong Kong mall employee (Natalie Tong) and her besties are searching the social media account of her fiance for signs of his fling with a well-endowed mainland Chinese woman, whom they have code-named Big Ben.

Jessica Hsuan and Frankie Lam are a will-they-won’t-they former couple in My Unfair Lady.
Jessica Hsuan and Frankie Lam are a will-they-won’t-they former couple in My Unfair Lady. PHOTO: STARHUB

Meanwhile, her tough-as-nails cousin and general manager (Jessica Hsuan) goes behind enemy lines to Shanghai, where she runs into an old boyfriend (Frankie Lam), a silky high-flyer who has since gone on to date a string of mainland lovelies. The two then cross swords at a mall event, where Hsuan objects to a contest in which aspiring models from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have to propose to Lam.

  • WHISPER

  • ONE (StarHub TV Channel 820 or Singtel TV Channel 513), Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8.10pm

    3.5/5 stars

    MY UNFAIR LADY

    Hub Drama First (StarHub TV Channel 860), Any time On Demand

    3/5 stars

The drama is practically screaming its hot-button topic: Are Hong Kong women losing their men to mainland Chinese and Taiwanese women, who are better versed in the art of seduction?

It can sound like a women's magazine article, albeit with more attempts at jokes.

As a comedy, it lacks the naughtiness of Women Who Flirt, the 2014 Pang Ho Cheung film with a similar subject.

Still, TVB hasn't tried to have this much fun in a while.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Dirty games'. Print Edition | Subscribe