After the crawling pace of Vampire Detective, I felt like I was on a roller coaster with just the first episode of Wanted. This show does not lose a beat, from its gripping first two minutes to progressing very quickly with the kidnapping and premise of the show. I LOVE IT!
We start really quickly with Korea’s top actress Jung Hye In (Kim Ah Joong) tied up in the middle of a warehouse to a wooden chair. She sees her son across from her, tied up as well but dying before her very eyes. Desperation takes over and she slams the chair against a broken refrigerator hard enough for it to splinter. Unraveling herself from the ropes, she rushes to her son but it’s too late. He’s died.
Before you think that this is where the rewind button hits and we skip to like, 10 weeks earlier, a director yells, “Cut!” It was all an act for a movie she’s starring in called “Mother.” To celebrate the last day of shooting, Hye In’s real son Hyun Woo (Park Min Soo) surprises her with a cake and she lovingly embraces him. But she doesn’t really want him on set (probably to shield him from all this) and sends him off to her car with her friendly manager Kyung Hoon (Bae Yoo Ram).
Hye In and the film’s director then attend a press junket on set where the director expresses his desire to work with Hye In again because she’s just so good. Hye In isn’t paying attention to all the questions though, and when finally asked if she’d work with the director again, she apologizes that she can’t. That’s when she decides to read a certain speech she’s prepared: after 20 years in the industry, she’s retiring from acting.
That just sucks balls because her husband, President Song Jung Ho (Park Hae Joon) of the fictional broadcasting station UCN, was celebrating with his investors and Chief Choi Joon Goo (Lee Moon Sik) over Hye In’s next planned project – a reality show on UCN. This retirement announcement came out of left field and it jeopardizes this new project. Jung Ho is a spiteful man though, ready to backstab others before he gets affected. He has already planned for Joon Goo to bear the brunt of the financial loss if he can’t convince his wife to star in that show.
That evening on set, Hye In and her son bond in her car when a staff member asks Hyun Woo if he wants to see how fake blood is made. Hye In lets Hyun Woo go with the staff member, as long as Kyung Hoon joins along. She takes a nap in the car, and suffers from a nightmare where she can’t reach Hyun Woo. Foreshadowing much, right?
When she awakes, she realizes it’s really late and tries to contact Hyun Woo. He’s nowhere to be found, as Kyung Hoon couldn’t accompany Hyun Woo the entire time and turned away for just a few minutes. Everyone at the set starts looking for Hyun Woo, and Hye In has a momentary scare when she mistakes a mannequin under a bloodied sheet for her son. She then finds Hyun Woo’s cellphone nearby, and sees that he was in the middle of texting his mom about where he was going next when he dropped the phone.
Something really bad is happening.
She gets a text and a video, telling her to watch the video alone if she wants her son to stay unharmed. So Hye In lies to Kyung Hoon that Jung Ho had picked up his son, and sends everyone home. Alone in her car, the video shows Hyun Woo tied up with rope and frantically kicking around. Another text warns her to not go to the police. They are watching her every move, and she really can’t go anywhere.
She goes home instead, as the kidnapper suggests, and nearly catches a rain-soaked girl stuffing a big envelope through her mail slot. The girl gets picked up by a motorcyclist, so Hye In never finds out who could possibly be torturing her like this. She opens the envelope, and inside is a script to “Wanted” – a new reality TV show starring herself. The prologue script details her every movement leading up to her retirement announcement and Hyun Woo’s kidnapping. Someone is definitely watching her and ready to hurt her. Her last instructions are to create a reality show 10 episodes long. Every week at 10pm she will be given a mission, of which she must act out on live TV. Her show must garner 20% ratings in viewership, and if she carries out the mission successfully the kidnapper will send her a video of Hyun Woo alive. Complete all ten episodes successfully, and she’ll get Hyun Woo back. If the ratings dip, Hyun Woo will be hurt. And if she fails, he will die.
You can see where the problem lies already, right? The kidnapper is relying on her star power to bring in the ratings, but due to her retirement announcement and the cynicism of the modern age there will no doubt be detractors who say she’s just doing it for attention. And public sentiment can easily turn against her, leading to viewership decline.
And, if you’re wondering why she hasn’t told Jung Ho about the kidnapping yet, it’s because he’s a heartless bastard. She tries to say it but he cuts her off, telling her to stop using Hyun Woo as an excuse for why she doesn’t want to act anymore. If she doesn’t do as he says, he’ll destroy her and tell her in-laws that Hyun Woo isn’t even his son. Dun dun dun!
The following morning, after Hye In realizes this is not a dream, she checks her car for any recording devices. There’s one in the sun roof; that’s how the kidnapper knew what she was planning to do and was able to write it into the script. She calls a cab instead and heads over to meet Joon Goo. Telling him what happened to her son, she wants Joon Goo to film the reality show. He refuses, more on ethical reasons than because he’s a heartless person. He just thinks that despite the kidnapper’s threats, they should go to the police. But since Hye In won’t let up, he suggests someone else for the job.
Enter Shin Dong Wook (Uhm Tae Woong), a real asshole of a producer. He’s really good at his job, but just so hard to work with that eventually he gets fired from SBC before the competition show he was developing is about to air. The reins go to his junior, and Dong Wook is quite bitter about it.
Dong Wook also seems to have a past with Hye In, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is either her first love or Hyun Woo’s real father who doesn’t know he’s Hyun Woo’s father. When he sees Hye In waiting outside his apartment, he’s nonplussed but hears out her story. He too is a bit disturbed by the script of the “Wanted” prologue, but doesn’t think he can help her. She begs on her knees, promising to do whatever he asks onscreen in order to get the ratings needed so she can get her son back. Eventually he agrees.
Next stop is Jung Ho’s office. That man is such an asshole. He says, “Tell me why I should greenlight this show, aside from the fact that I’m Hyun Woo’s dad.” So Dong Wook has to play the numbers game with him to justify the ratings and revenue they can bring in for the failing UCN station. Jung Ho finally agrees, and loops Joon Goo into the project. Dong Wook is allowed a very small crew of freelancers, and they’ll get the special 10pm time slot on his channel.
Again, as UCN is a play on OCN, the cable channel, the fact that it’s not public television makes it really hard as well for them to get the needed 20% ratings.
Now to get the team together: Dong Wook enlists a former writer of his (who was on the competition show he initially developed), Yeon Woo Shin (Park Hyo Joo) to get on board. He promises to pay her enough to cover all her current four projects plus severance fees if she focuses only on “Wanted.” She’s sold. Then he gets a recent college grad Park Bo Yeon (Jun Hyo Seong) as his camera person and Jill-of-all-trades for the crew. With Joon Goo as the producer and Hye In as the star, they’re all set.
But let’s also meet another character first: Detective Cha Seung In (Ji Hyun Woo) is a sharp cop who’s currently on the case for the kidnapping of a mokbang star. She was abducted in the middle of broadcast, and her kidnapper did an eerie “V” sign to the camera after dragging her away. Some sleuthing with his hapless partner and he determines that the kidnapper might be the star’s boyfriend, who puts up the “V” sign in all his pictures and has a distinctive burn mark on his wrist.
Oh yeah, and that staff worker who led Hyun Woo away on set? He’s got a burn mark on his wrist too. Saaaaaame dude. Oh and that mokbang girl who was kidnapped? Yeah, she was the same girl who dropped off the script at Hye In’s place. It’s allllll coming together now. But I think the mokbang girl and her boyfriend/fake blood-staff member are all pawns in a larger game. In any case, you can see how Seung In will get roped into this mess pretty quickly.
Planning begins for the prologue teaser to the show. They need to make a big splash with it, using some of the footage of Hyun Woo that the kidnapper sent over. Despite what she said earlier, Hye In isn’t quite ready to use images of her son being tortured throughout social media. Dong Wook banishes her from the meeting if she’s not going to be helpful, knowing that if she can’t handle something small like this she won’t be able to help out in the planning for future episodes, ever.
Out on the lobby, Hye In overhears some young adults talking about the talk show “Kiss and Tell” where the host asks the most private of questions and gets a lot of viewers because of it. She gets an idea, and guests on the show.
Hye In finds strength in her son’s Iron Man necklace, which she had gifted him before to give him some courage. Iron Man was his favorite superhero and one he deemed the strongest. Now it’s all she has left of him. Momentarily lost in her own thoughts about her son and what she’s about to do, she refocuses on the camera aimed at her on the talk show. With tears welling in her eyes, Hye In simply says, “The day I announced my retirement, my son Hyun Woo was kidnapped.”
I love it – I love how Hye In takes matters into her own hands and decides to cause a ruckus and make a “teaser” her own way. She’s not going to use her son, who is her life, but would rather expose herself to the public’s opinion. Hyun Woo is everything to her, especially since she was already considering leaving Jung Ho and immigrating to France with him. And to lose him and then use his moments of pain to garner attention is just too much for her to bear.
Still, there’s a part of me that also hopes Dong Wook uses the clips he got from the kidnapper. To keep the public’s attention on her and their sentiment on her side, they’ll need to release proof of Hyun Woo’s predicament.
This show is also too meta, which tickles my bones. Not only does it air at 10pm every night (like when “Wanted” would air), it also pokes fun at how a show with this genre would usually be on OCN (aka UCN) rather than SBS (aka SBC). And yet look – it’s on SBS. I also like that despite the thriller aspect to the show, we get to see a bit behind-the-scenes of developing a show. The title of the film she’s on, “Mother,” evokes the memory of the 2009 film with Kim Hye Ja and Won Bin, where a mother would go to any lengths to prove her son’s innocence. Not really the same story here, but same theme: the lengths a mother would go to save her son.
There are also elements of God’s Gift – 14 Days here, which is a drama I really liked, but without the time travel. (That’s good.) There’s also a bit of the Hunger Games in here, and any other show or movie that depicts the corruption of media on society, and enjoyment at the expense of other people’s pain. (The Romans really got it right with the gladiator fights.) And then there’s also elements of this video game called Heavy Rain – where a father must save his only surviving son from a serial killer and must complete five trials before he can get him back. Honestly, everything that I love in a crime thriller is in here, and I’m really thirsting for something good after Vampire Detective.
On that note, kudos to the actors for keeping my rapt attention. Uhm Tae Woong is so fine, and I can’t believe he hasn’t acted opposite Park Hyo Joo until now; just one scene with the both of them and I felt like they were going to be quite the dynamic duo. Kim Ah Joong is really good at playing a mother in pain, while Park Hae Joon is positively untrustworthy. It’ll be interesting to see Kim Byung Ok in a more benevolent role here; usually he’s playing some kind of gangster or baddie but here he is Cha Seung In’s superior in the police station. That is – if he remains benevolent and doesn’t actually end up knowing or being the kidnapper himself. (We can’t trust anyone!) As for Ji Hyun Woo – can you believe this is my first drama with him? He looks a tad like Lee Joon too! Can’t say much on him right now, but boy is he baby-faced!
Anyways – I can’t wait for episode 2! Woo!