I’ve been dropping k-dramas left and right since Flower Boy Next Door ended; everything’s either a sageuk or a melo and I’m just not in the mood for that right now. I was starting to think this was just going to be another meh year for k-dramas until Heartless City (or Cruel City, whatever it’s called) came out. Dark, gritty, and intense, this may be the drama I’ve been looking for.
I was doubtful about Jung Kyung-ho being able to pull off playing a drug lord since the last time I saw him he was the geeky, but adorable engineer in Smile, You, but he’s pretty badass as Shi-hyun, a.k.a, Doctor’s son, or just Doctor. Stealing cop cars, fire sealing his wounds, hanging people from buildings, kidnapping people from hospitals, taking out ten guys with just a knife; Doctor is not someone you should cross.
Doctor is an underling of the drug boss, Scale (and yes, the criminal names only get more ridiculous) who’s been slowly climbing the ladder in the drug underworld and decides to take over Scale’s drug ring. Except that pisses off the higher-ups, who decide to get rid of Shi-hyun. The guy in charge of Shi-hyun’s execution is Safari (see, the names just get worse), played by Choi Moo-sung, a guy who sort of helped raise Shi-hyun.
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding Doctor in the first couple of episodes since we’re not really sure what’s driving him to try to take over Scale’s drug ring. We’re led to assume that he might just be power hungry; he grew up in a harsh environment living with his “aunt” Lee Jin-sook (Kim Yoo-mi), who raised him, so it’s natural to think he might just want to be on top for once in his life. But then episode four happened and it’s revealed that Doctor is really an undercover agent who’s helping the police catch Pusan (the real drug boss) and Safari. On top of that, Shi-hyun has a vendetta against Safari, who supplied the drugs that killed his mother.
To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on this twist because I liked watching Doctor be a badass while outsmarting the police and the drug dealers. It also felt like the show as trying to make him a ‘good guy’ by making him a cop, which I didn’t like (and still doesn’t excuse even half of the people he’s killed or tortured). I was already rooting for him, he didn’t need to be a good guy. But, it does add an interesting dynamic to his relationship with his right-hand man Soo (Yoon Hyun-min) and Jin-sook. Besides the fact that they’re essential to his cover, he cares for them a lot and undoubtedly they feel the same, so what will happen when they find out he’s a cop? After all the risks they’ve taken to support him and keep him alive, it sure won’t be pretty.
Lee Jae-yoon plays Hyung-min, the cop in charge of the investigation unit trying to take down Scale. Previously a prosecutor, he goes back to the police force because he resents the drug world for turning his brother into an addict. This also creates problems with his father, who’s mad that Hyung-min gave up being a prosecutor. He goes after Shi-hyun because he thinks that he’s responsible for the death of Kyung-mi (Go Na-eun), his fiancee and subordinate. He decides to send in Soo-min (Nam Gyu-ri), a close friend of Kyung-mi’s and a new officer, as an undercover agent to help take down Shi-hyun.
Amidst the fight between Shi-hyun and Safari, the police are more of pawns than actual players, making it hard to get invested in them. You’ve got Safari pulling the strings so the cops will go after Shi-hyun, but he’s managed to outsmart them at every turn, Kyung-mi’s death being his only major slip up so far. I sort of like Hyung-min because he’s not being jerked around so easily by Safari or Shi-hyun, though for a someone who usually sees beyond the obvious, he sure did buy into Shi-hyun being the one that killed Kyung-mi very quickly.
Even before losing Kyung-mi, Hyung-min showed that he’d do anything to get results and I’ve already lost count of how many times this guy has beaten or shot someone just to get information. He’s definitely done some eyebrow-raising things, but it wasn’t until he manipulated Soo-min’s situation and her feelings so that she would go undercover that I actually felt he was going too far. Even if Hyung-min isn’t close to her, Soo-min was someone Kyung-mi valued as a sister; he should be protecting her, not throwing her into a lion’s den. Soo-min hasn’t really done too much so far which is kind of disappointing since she’s the female lead and we’re on episode six, but I’ll give the show some leeway since the first four episodes were laying the framework, so Soo-min still has a lot of time to prove herself.
On the other hand, I do like that the cops aren’t automatically the good guys; from the highest to the lowest ranks, we see that there isn’t anyone above the influence of money or power. There’s so many question marks with so many people that you’re not quite sure who can or can’t be trusted. It sure does make watching way more fun, since you’re always trying to figure out who knows what or who’s aligned with who.
In a show with shoot outs, knife fights, gang brawls, backstabbing, and golf club bludgeoning, romance is the last thing on my mind. But this is a k-drama; a love line is inevitable, so I’m praying, hoping, and chanting to the drama gods that the eventual romance between Shi-hyun and Soo-min doesn’t screw up this show. Heartless City has been amazing so far, but I have been burned by many dramas when they get to the second half, especially this year, and I’d like for this drama to not go that route. C’mon show, don’t let me down!