Okay, this show gets slightly better in these two episodes, as long as we keep things in the present. What happens in episode four is enough to keep me watching out of curiosity. But I hope this show can just tighten up its storytelling and get rid of Choi Yoon So‘s character. No, seriously. Write her out of this show.
We spend much of episode three going over the romance between Seo Ahn and Shi Yoon. She really didn’t expect to see Shi Yoon at that bar and suggests to her coworkers to go somewhere else. But afterwards, she returns to talk to him. Why didn’t he want to see her when she visited the prison? Didn’t he promise to protect her for life? Didn’t he say that he loved her? Did he forget all this?
Shi Yoon dramatically says that all of his feelings for her died with Jin Woo, which makes me feel like he loved Jin Woo more than Seo Ahn. No offense girl, but so do I. We get flashbacks of when they first get together and ohmygod it is probably the most poorly written, cringe-worthy scenes for me. Why? Because their romance feels so insincere. I get that Shi Yoon probably isn’t your typical James Bond; he’s clumsy, over eager to show his feelings, and more like your romantic spy than a cool one. And she looks like she just likes him because he’s cute.
Seriously!? This is not how I expected a spy romance to go. Maybe that’s what the writer intends to do, to upend our expectations. But it is just so poorly executed. It’s also possible that Park Shi Hoo and Choi Yoon So have no chemistry, and are just really trying hard here.
The only person with real emotions during these flashbacks is Jin Woo. When he overhears Shi Yoon’s confession and cheers his boss on, you see a sadness cloud over his eyes. You know that he liked Seo Ahn, that there was a story there. So much depth! Good job Ji Il Woo, good job.
One highlight in this flashback is when you see them on a mission and Seo Ahn must seduce a businessman for information. And by seduce, I mean suggestively undress. Shi Yoon gets too antsy and regrets the danger he’s put her in, so he bursts into the hotel room pretending to be room service while helping her get out. While Seo Ahn fights the businessman’s bodyguards, Shi Yoon pretends to be pushed around by the guards while purposely fielding one guard away so that Seo Ahn only has to fight one at a time. It’s an impressively choreographed fight scene, and it’s funny when Shi Yoon manages to maintain his act as a disgruntled employee who got thrown into a fight. (His Chinese though is quite rough.)
Shi Yoon reiterates his love for Seo Ahn after the mission, but in the present he’s ready to let go of her. That promise of being with her forever? Broken. That necklace he bought her, which she still wears? Meh. Doesn’t care. At least, that’s what Shi Yoon acts like, as he doesn’t want to see her anymore. Not while he’s planning revenge for Jin Woo’s death. So he goes to his secret stash of his gun and passports behind a mini fridge and starts pulling the trigger on his empty gun.
Meanwhile Jung Yeon and So Mi are quite sure that their savior, nicknamed ‘Shadow’, is Chan Gyu. In fact, the ‘Shadow’ is becoming quite the legend among the baddies because they’re scared of confronting a guy with a mask now. But Chan Gyu has no idea what they’re talking about. They try to get him to don his hat and mask and “save” them another time, but things go bad when the gangsters really do come to threaten So Mi. Chan Gyu effectively chases them away just by wearing the hat of ‘Shadow’, which makes Jung Yeon and So Mi even more impressed by him.
Jung Yeon also suspects Shi Yoon of hiding something when she goes to clean the kitchen but can’t figure out what it is. She even says to herself that she and Shi Yoon are a terrible match. Who ever said they were a good match?!
Tae Ho investigates the arsonists who keep stealing people’s clothes and then setting it on fire in the neighborhood. They’re under Jo Bong Chul (Lee Chul Min)’s orders, who is under Yoon Sang Min‘s orders. (Sang Min is the Korean American who is trying to change the neighborhood for the Hallyu Core Mall and trying to scare everyone out of the place.) Tae Ho picks up real quick on who the arsonists would be reporting to, but suddenly Team Leader Song (Lee Han Wie) comes in with reporters to publicize their wrongdoing. He then takes Tae Ho to help him investigate Seo Joon Suk’s murder, even though Park Sun Hoo explicitly told Tae Ho not to investigate too much into it.
Tae Ho tries to be as unhelpful as possible, knowing that the intelligence agency has something to do with Seo Joon Suk’s death. Things get more complicated for him though when he receives his new mark to tail from Sun Hoo: It’s President Hwang. Of course, this gets assigned to Chan Gyu, who now has more reason to visit the Neighborhood Bar and encounter Jung Yeon more often.
Shi Yoon tries to get information from Hwang regarding Seo Joon Suk, and discovers that the man has been murdered. He suspects it has something to do with Bay Star Hong Kong, since Joon Suk was also involved in that case, but Hwang doesn’t really want to help him because he knows Shi Yoon is trying to get revenge. He would rather Shi Yoon take up his mantle of being a ‘Shadow’ and help people in the neighborhood, but all Shi Yoon wants is information on the agents who come into the bar and would have the most information on the agency. That way he knows who his true enemy is. Hwang refuses to help, so Shi Yoon ends up talking to and questioning all the patrons in the bar. Even Jung Yeon finds his behavior strange. But he doesn’t talk to the one lady patron who comes in and gets drunk; he had dismissed her from the start as an agent and has no interest in her.
So Hwang forces Shi Yoon to talk to her: he will help Shi Yoon if he goes and talks to the lady patron, Kim Ri Soo. Having no choice and desperate for intel, Shi Yoon approaches Ri Soo. And she has the oddest request of him: to pretend to be her young son’s father for his Daddy-Son day at school. Of course her son knows that Shi Yoon isn’t his father and is really grumpy about it, pretending that his dad is a toy from the show ‘Robot Train’. Shi Yoon laughs it off and pretends that he’s just a very distant father, but it’s hard to keep the boy engaged. Finally he asks who the toy’s enemy on the show is, and then pretends that he’s going to fight against all the enemies. He shows off a few kicks and punches, and the boy is easily impressed.
Finally the boy has a very good day at school, probably after months of being sad that his father could never attend, and Ri Soo thanks Shi Yoon for everything. She reveals that she’s a divorced woman, because her husband left when he found out she was an intelligence agent. Yep – she’s the real spy! Even Shi Yoon is shocked that he didn’t read her correctly. And of all things, she’s an infamous hacker.
Dude, Shi Yoon is a terrible spy in some ways.
In any case, Shi Yoon excitedly goes back to the bar to report to Hwang that he held up his end of the deal. But Hwang deflects and strongly suggests Shi Yoon go to a local restaurant nearby for breakfast. Shi Yoon goes, knowing that Hwang wouldn’t say anything until he does, and discovers that the restaurant is owned by Jin Woo’s mother. Oh man…
Meanwhile Tae Ho has decided that he’s going to try and investigate Seo Joon Suk’s murder on his own, especially after learning that Joon Suk’s lawyer (whom he saw right before he died) is now missing. Tae Ho’s been guilted into a sense of justice despite being ordered not to get involved, and he visits the Neighborhood Bar to possibly get information from Shi Yoon.
He’s not the only visitor though – Jung Soo Hyuk has also arrived at the bar to check in on Shi Yoon.
Shi Yoon bypasses both Tae Ho and Soo Hyuk first and angrily confronts Hwang: Didn’t Hwang purposely send him there because it was operated by Jin Woo’s mom? His poor mom who was told her son died during an operation and was given money and the store to support herself? Hwang had hoped that seeing the mom would dissuade him from his revenge path, but Shi Yoon says it’s only made him even more resolute. We get flashbacks of when Shi Yoon was working with Jin Woo abroad, and one highlight is when an informant (who does not appear Asian) speaks perfect Chinese to them. Talk about multiculturalism. It’s so cool.
Back in the present, Shi Yoon then talks to Tae Ho, who quietly outs him as an agent already and demands full cooperation. Shi Yoon doesn’t offer any new information about Seo Joon Suk though, especially about how he knew him from the past. Instead he rudely suggests to Tae Ho to do his job by himself, especially if he’s supposed to be an officer of the law.
Finally Shi Yoon catches up with Soo Hyuk, who is surprised that Shi Yoon chose to be a bar owner. Shi Yoon wonders if Soo Hyuk knows why he had to call off that mission in Macau years ago, but Soo Hyuk has given up on asking why. He’s trying to be more of a family man now, and has stopped asking questions. He does have one for Shi Yoon though: the agency couldn’t find his firearms when he was imprisoned, so where are they? Shi Yoon claims that he thought his mom returned it for him, so he doesn’t know, and Soo Hyuk accepts that. Although I think everyone knows that Shi Yoon has it.
Soo Hyuk leaves and then calls up Sun Hoo: Didn’t Sun Hoo tell Tae Ho to stop investigating the Seo Joon Suk murders?! That’s when we realize that Sun Hoo’s boss is Soo Hyuk, and Soo Hyuk is getting suspicious of Hwang! Otherwise why else would he have someone tail Hwang?
Unfortunately Chan Gyu is terrible at this “tailing” business, because Hwang catches him right away and leaves a bottle of tea for him in the middle of the street.
Tae Ho’s wife remains a busy housewife, nagging after the children and cleaning the house. That’s when she discovers an envelope from Sun Hoo’s company that would normally hold money in it. It was hidden under their bed, along with a pack of cigarettes, so Sun Young confronts him about the smoking habit and waits for Tae Ho to confess about the money. Boy is she excited to hear that he makes 3 million won a week with his side job; her husband is finally taking care of the family! She also wisely suggests they start a savings plan because they don’t know how long this side job will last.
Tae Ho is so lucky to have such a smart wife because almost immediately after their celebration, he is dragged in to Sun Hoo’s office for a meeting. Sun Hoo’s lackeys prepare a huge tub of water, and Sun Hoo forces Tae Ho to strip. What did Sun Hoo say about investigating Seo Joon Suk!? The water torture – or at least the threat of it – is enough to scare Tae Ho into submission.
Hwang still hopes that Shi Yoon could follow in his footsteps and be a protector of the neighborhood, like he had been in his youth. I don’t know how I feel about this revelation; it makes me wonder, “Is it even necessary to have Hwang be a former ‘Shadow’? Would it really affect the story that much?” Shi Yoon doesn’t want to have any business with others, though Chan Gyu is warming up to the idea of being a hero to the public with the mask and hat disguise because of Jung Yeon’s belief in him.
Sang Min has Bong Chul work more quickly in expelling the storeowners in the neighborhood, which means Bong Chul would perform sit-ins at restaurants to exasperate the owners and make them lose business. One of those restaurant owners is Jin Woo’s mother, and she calls the police on them at one point. However Tae Ho arrives and he’s completely disenchanted with helping people because of his water torture experience. On top of that Sang Min is wining and dining Team Leader Song and his boss, so it’s quite clear there’s no one to help the neighborhood businesses if Shi Yoon doesn’t step in.
That evening, Chan Gyu continues spending more time at the bar tracking Hwang, making up all sorts of excuses on why he’s there. Hwang and Shi Yoon can see right through him and have already started to play around with his suspicions, but they haven’t approached him directly about it. Chan Gyu does get to talk to Jung Yeon more often though and is slowly developing a crush on her. He even offers to be her ‘Shadow’ if she never finds out who the original one is.
He leaves for the night, and then encounters some goons beating up another kid (who was earlier accused of theft in episode 1 and seemed like a good, honest kid). Chan Gyu boldly decides to don a mask and his hat to try to be like ‘Shadow’ and distracts the goons, daring them to chase after him instead.
Meanwhile Bong Chul and his men stage another sit in at Jin Woo’s mom’s restaurant, and she calls up Shi Yoon for help. He’s actually in the middle of womanizing but his sense of justice kicks in and he decides to go help the mom instead of going home with the gal. And the gal turns out to be another agent, planted at the bar by Soo Hyuk! What is it that Soo Hyuk is trying to do with Shi Yoon?
Masked up, Shi Yoon leads Bong Chul’s men away by kidnapping one of the men and calling them out to a deserted restaurant to fight. One by one he picks them all off, even when they start attacking him with knives.
At the same time, Tae Ho takes his family out (except for his rebellious teenage daughter) for dinner. A sense of guilt washes over him and he decides to take them to Jin Woo’s mom’s restaurant – right after the men leave too. If he couldn’t help her arrest those men, he could at least give her some business. He dons a hat (which happens to be the same as Chan Gyu’s and Shi Yoon’s!) and tries to hide his identity from her. But the mom knows better and is secretly gleeful that he came by.
Also at the bar, Jung Yeon expresses her suspicions of Shi Yoon to Hwang and thinks he’s hiding something. But when they go check Shi Yoon’s hiding spot, it’s just a lot of rare and expensive wine. Hwang then tells Jung Yeon that people are allowed to lie, especially if for the betterment of others.
The fight between Shi Yoon and Bong Chul’s men escalates and turns bloody, especially as Shi Yoon has no qualms slicing and stabbing Bong Chul’s men. Chan Gyu happens to be in that area (after having lost the goons on his tail) and watches from the street, stunned at the fighting skills of the real ‘Shadow’.
Imagine his shock when ‘Shadow’ slowly unmasks himself at the very end, having incapacitated everyone, and is revealed to be Shi Yoon.
I’ve still got problems with the directing, the awkward acting from Choi Yoon So and partly from Kwon Yuri, and the writing. It’s still not up to par for what I expect in an OCN thriller, even if it is meant to be a comedy. And if a comedy, it needs to be written better. Who would believe Shi Yoon’s sappy confessions of love? Or that Team Leader Song doesn’t know how easy it is to delete CCTV footage? He’s a police officer for goodness sake! He shouldn’t be an idiot, because we are not idiots.
But Lee Soo Hyuk is a bit like a beacon of light in this drama. He’s just adorable as an amateur police officer, and the way that he interacts with Yuri is kind of cute, even though I don’t buy into their love-line. He’s so bad at his job that I can’t wait for him to get better and learn from Shi Yoon, but at the same time I want him to stay adorable and inexperienced for the duration of the series. It’s really nice seeing Lee Soo Hyuk play this kind of character rather than an aloof or evil one.
One of the things I also take issue with is the editing. It jumps around in the story a bit too much, giving us half of a conversation and then returning to it after we see two or three other characters’ scenes. It’s like the writer wants to tell us something but forgot to set it up. I also think we spend too much time on flashbacks. Sometimes twenty minutes go by and we haven’t really progressed very much in the main story in the present day, and only learned one new nugget of information about the characters. Time is not being used efficiently in this drama, and it’s frustrating me a lot.
But I am hoping that we are done with the set up. I hope we have most of the information we need for now that we can continue on the present-day timeline, because that is more interesting. I like the idea that there might be three ‘Shadows’ now, as that hat is quite common and being worn by people who strive for justice but sometimes can’t because of their situation. I am pretty sure Soo Hyuk is in leagues with Sang Min, which means Shi Yoon, Chan Gyu, and Tae Ho are going to find themselves fighting against the institutions they once believed in. I think Tae Ho is going to have the hardest time though, being betrayed by Team Leader Song and also being used by Sun Hoo to further a different agenda. These two things are probably the only things that keep me engaged enough for the next episodes.
Please tighten up the story, Writer-nim.
Just as a programming note, there are no new episodes of Neighborhood’s Hero this weekend due to Lunar New Year celebrations.