Last month, as I was looking over the list of things I’ve reviewed and watched in the past year, I realized that I hadn’t watched as much Korean dramas as I wanted to, despite the fact that Netflix has been distributing a lot of them as of late. So, to cap off 2017 and to start 2018 I ended up watching “Stranger” or “Forest of Secrets”, which was a refreshingly surprising one, full of mystery and intrigue, and without the usual trappings of what you would expect in a typical Korean drama.
“Stranger” or “Forest of Secrets” ran from June to July 2017, and was shown on tvN, and was distributed worldwide by Netflix. Starring musical actor Jo Seung Woo and “Sense 8’s” Bae Doona, the sixteen episode show is a legal thriller with amazing performances from everyone involved.
The story revolves around an unbiased prosecutor named Hwang Si Mok (Jo Seung Woo), who doesn’t show emotions due to a childhood surgery; and a fearless cop named Han Yeo Jin (Bae Doona), who end up teaming up together after a murder connected to an investigation that Si Mok was conducting happens. Together, they try to go against all odds while still staying above board in order to undercover rampant corruption happening in various levels of the government and elite.
This drama has been praised for its surprisingly tight story, tension filled sequences, and for the fact that it is refreshingly realistic for a Korean drama. Sure there are villains here that you will love to hate, but they are not as over the top or cartoonish as what you usually see in a typical Korean drama.
Also, there was less emphasis on the romance this time around, and the plotting, for a Korean drama, wasn’t as slow or draggy at all, but still allowed for some time to properly flesh out the characters that we are supposed to care about.
It truly was something else, as this was a story full of morally ambiguous and grey areas, which allowed the audience to see different layers and shades to our villains, and even with our protagonists. No wonder the New York Times listed it in their list of “Best TV Shows of 2017”!
I did notice there has been a resurgence in dramas that deal with corruption as of late, due to the current political climate in Korea, but despite that, “Stranger” is one of the stand out ones. I did try watching dramas like “Defendant”, but after a while, I just couldn’t anymore as it was taking too long for things to happen. However, this is one of the more realistic ones that does showcase the rampant corruption going on not only in Korea, but in many other countries as well, and how hard it is to truly uproot it in an effort to try and change the system for the better.
Aside from this, it is a good mystery thriller, as it keeps you guessing and double guessing things, clues, and even the characters themselves all the way until the end.
If you like good legal mysteries, and if you like Korean dramas, or even if you are just getting into it just now, I highly recommend “Stranger”. It is a slow burn, but it is all worth it in the end. Also, in terms of Korean dramas, this one is a near perfect masterpiece.
As I mentioned earlier, I loved that the show was able to subvert a lot of the usual stereotypes found in Korean dramas, and that it wasn’t afraid to show the grey areas of our villains and our protagonists, which, in turn made them more realistic. And I also like the fact that they showed that not everyone changes even if they promise to be better people in the future.
Take the character of Seo Dong Jae ((Lee Joon Hyuk), for example. He isn’t completely bad, as he wouldn’t go as far as to outright murder someone in cold blood, but he isn’t a saint. In fact, in the end, even if Si Mok did give him a second chance, he didn’t change a bit. He’s still the opportunistic prosecutor that he always will be, and you just know that no matter what, he will survive.
Lee Chang Jun’s (Yoo Jae Myung) character is another example. For most of the first half of the show, even though you feel sorry for him being completely under his father-in-law’s thumb, you would think that he is beyond redemption. And then suddenly, in the latter half, you discover that he had been a more righteous prosecutor, and then you discover that he played along and did all that while meticulously documenting every single shady deal and business transaction so that the prosecution would have enough evidence to put away and ruin the reputations of many corrupt leaders. However, in the end, even though he did try to do good, as Si Mok says, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that he did have people murdered in the name of justice. However, Si Mok also says that Chang Jun is very much a product of their time.
Si Mok was another interesting character, and I’m amazed at how steadfast and how strong he was. I also love the fact that even though his character did not show a lot of emotions, he managed to put everything into his acting, and not once did it seem phoned in. He actually said a lot with just his eyes, and I found it interesting that we were able to look into his thought processes as it was narrated at times as compared to Yeo Jin who verbalized it during the series.
His chemistry with Yeo Jin was wonderful, and I’m so glad that they didn’t focus on the romance, even though it was implied that Yeo Jin was extremely fond of him and that poor Eun Soo (Shin Hye Sun), had a massive crush on her mentor.
Doona was great as Yeo Jin, and I loved seeing a female character in a Korean drama that didn’t have to be overly quirky or had to have a romantic connection with her male co-lead, to be an awesome character. It also must have been hard for Yeo Jin to witness all this happening, what with the fact that she’s already the only female detective on her team.
Regarding the main mystery itself, I loved paying attention to every detail so that I could try to connect the dots and solve things on my own. And I am so glad that there were interesting twists and turns that weren’t too complicated to follow or too over the top, but complicated enough that it still all made sense in the end.
Also, the cinematography and the production value of “Stranger” was some of the best I have seen to date!
In the end, “Stranger” or “Forest of Secrets” is definitely a Korean drama that I do recommend, especially if you love well written complex mysteries with great performances and cinematography to boot.
What did you think of “Stranger/Forest of Secrets”? Let me know what you think in the comments below!