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TV reviews: Forget Descendants Of The Sun, here comes another Korean action star in The K2

Ji Chang Wook (above left) and Song Yoon A (above right) have an uneasy alliance in The K2 while friends will not allow Ha Seok Jin and Park Ha Sun to chill out alone in Drinking Solo.
Ji Chang Wook (above left) and Song Yoon A (above right) have an uneasy alliance in The K2 while friends will not allow Ha Seok Jin and Park Ha Sun to chill out alone in Drinking Solo.PHOTO: STARHUB

The K2 starts ordinarily, as South Korean action dramas go. It seems at first blush to be another stylish thriller, when an angel-faced former special forces soldier (Ji Chang Wook) reluctantly saves a barefooted damsel in distress (Yoona of K-pop group Girls' Generation) from a huntsman in a metro station in Spain.

But it gets audacious soon, and I don't just mean the already famous fight scene in a shower where Ji, armed with shampoo and a towel, takes on a dozen other bathing men.

The ensuing sequence is clever yet filled with enough digitally enhanced, nudity-obscuring steam to still be safer for work than a similar scene in the 2007 David Cronenberg thriller Eastern Promises.

Er, where was I…? Audacious. Right. The drama also boldly fuses action, romance and political soap opera into a nerve-racking fairy tale, going where the likes of Descendants Of The Sun fear to tread.

In three episodes, the story shapes up, and it is promisingly dark. Ji is a man with a murky past - a top fighter in the special forces who was dishonourably discharged and became a mercenary in Iraq - but also the knight of this tale, joining a private security service after it fails to kill him.

Given the code name K2, he is now a bodyguard of a highly dysfunctional family.

Dad is a philandering presidential hopeful (Cho Seong Ha) who plays the role of a good husband every time he is near a camera.

Mum, if she can be called that, is his equally two-faced wife (Song Yoon A), a chaebol heiress who despises him, but calls the shots in his campaign and wants him to win at all costs.

Yoona is the secret daughter, a love child Cho fathered with an actress whose death is shown in the first few frames of the first episode. Song and her henchmen have since confined Yoona, first in a nunnery in Spain and, by the third episode, in a hideaway in South Korea.

Plainly, she is an imprisoned princess, her father a compromised would-be king, and his wife a wicked queen.

Song actually has a deluxe dungeon, where she keeps a supercomputer she has named Mirror (as in "Mirror, mirror on the wall"), which collects secrets she uses against her enemies.

The K2 is by writer Jang Hyeok Rin, whose 2015 action drama The Gang Doctor had a strong start but lost its way. Hopefully, it is a fate this show will avoid.

  • VIEW IT /THE K2

  • VVDrama(StarHub TV Channel 855), Sundays, 10pm

    3.5/5 stars

    DRINKING SOLO

    Viu the website and app, any time on demand

    3/5 stars

Eight episodes in, what is intriguing and entertaining is how the drama develops two competing relationships: the bodyguard's bubblegum romance with the stepdaughter and his warm, sometimes uneasy alliance with the stepmother.

In two of the most swoony sequences, Ji saves Song from a burning car and from a hostile family business meeting, which he breaks up by activating a fire alarm.

As he escorts her out, she muses: "This man didn't need my command or permission. Yeah. He's not a hunting dog. He's a wolf. How dangerous."

Song is the story's most fascinating, complicated character, the adult who wears the apron and the trousers in her house.

Her marriage is pretty much dead and yet it is a wound that still hurts. When Cho says something heartless to his daughter, Song laughs bitterly and it is a surprise: She can still be disappointed in him, perhaps because she still cares.

She may be the devious stepmother, but the show also lets her be a human being.


Ji Chang Wook and Song Yoon A have an uneasy alliance in The K2 while friends will not allow Ha Seok Jin (left) and Park Ha Sun (right) to chill out alone in Drinking Solo. PHOTO: VIU

In Drinking Solo, the other K-drama of the week, people just won't let other people be alone.

Specifically, two teachers (actor Ha Seok Jin and actress Park Ha Sun) want to drink alone, but their peers, acting in a communal spirit or following their herd instinct, won't quite let them chill out on their own.

The frothy comedy is crafted like a song, returning to the loners' refrain at the beginning and end of every episode.

In between, though, there are jokes and gags inspired by recent K-dramas, and fans of South Korean pop culture will feel just at home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Naked, audacious Korean thriller'. Print Edition | Subscribe