TYPE OF REVIEW : HINDSIGHT REVIEW
Huge finale spoilers!
For the non-spoilery First Impression Review, click here.
Ending exactly the way it started, the final episodes of KBS’ Shark (Don’t Look Back: The Legend of Orpheus) showed off the talents of its strong cast and glided through a script filled with “quiet tension, emotion, mystery and thrills.”
Visually beautiful and emotionally gripping, Shark‘s finale mostly wrapped up what was a fully engrossing and ultimately tragic journey of a man hellbent on revenge.
It was a painful journey for everyone involved, but most especially for our tragic hero, Yi Soo. It wasn’t necessarily an action-packed, shoot em’ up, fistfight-type of finale. There were no last minute stabbings on roofs (That Winter!) or last minute cars ramming into phone booths (Nine Time Travels!).
But Shark‘s finale was able to carry just as much dramatic and emotional weight and heft with a simmering, though never boiling over, string of events that would culminate in what would be a heartfelt, but tragic ending.
The mystery unfolded at a brisk pace while relationships were built and destroyed and rebuilt all over again. Blending Korea’s dramatic and painful history with a familial melodrama, crime procedural and suspense thriller, Shark presented 20 compelling and riveting hours.
As much as we saw conclusion with the evil Chun Young Bo imprisoned (though getting what appeared to be the last laugh… pure evil!) and Hae Woo setting her shark free and now able to breathe, there were definitely a few things I was missing in the finale. Though maybe it was meant to be that way, it wasn’t any less heartbreaking to see three of the most likeable and empathetic characters of the series with only fleeting goodbyes to Yi Soo.
First, Mrs. Park (Jung Kyung Soon) finally letting out what she’s known in her heart all along. That this dashing young man was indeed the same Yi Soo whom she treated as her own son years ago. During the entire series, she’d do what she could to help Yi Soo as well as Hae Woo knowing all too well what goes on around her. The moments both she and Yi Soo wanted to catch up and share a reunion that seemed impossible were always well done and gut wrenching.
Dong Soo (Lee Shi Un), the loveable sidekick. That he served as the main and sometimes only source of smiles throughout the series made that final scene of him absolutely distraught and beside himself as Yi Soo was being rolled into the operating room that much harder to watch. Heartbreaking seeing the guy who never forgot his best bud and the memories he wished he had with him and their best friends.
And Secretary Jang. Young Hee (Lee Ha Nui) is that “poor second lead” who never gets the girl, or in this case, the guy. The second lead you root for even though you know he or she will never get the happy ending they hope for. Of these three, I think we were cheated out of a much stronger scene between her and Yi Soo, even if over the phone where he thanks her and lets her know just how much she’s meant to him all this time. Maybe not on a romantic level as she might have wished, but on a deeper level than just boss and assistant. At the same time, Young Hee mentions to Dong Soo that things were “as usual.” No matter how much she shows care and concern for him, Yi Soo is his polite, though distant self. It is more than possible, and I’ll resign to believe this, that there is a mutual understanding between them. That instead of words, the “usual” is all they both need.
Relationships played a big part in making Yi Soo’s motivations, thus the story as a whole, believable and sincere. Yi Soo and Yi Hyun’s relationship was definitely a highlight of the series. Starting with the heartbreaking scene of Yi Soo and Yi Hyun comforting each other after their father’s murder, beautifully portrayed by Yun Joon Suk and Ahn Seo Hyun to the scenes of Yi Soo and an unwitting Yi Hyun reconnecting now as adults, their sibling bond was the constant thread that reminded us of what Yi Soo was fighting for.
I tweeted several times during the course of the series to applaud Nam Bo Ra who is definitely a revelation here. She was able to deliver incredibly powerful and emotionally gripping performances and stood out from an all-around strong cast.
It was great seeing Lee Soo Hyuk again after White Christmas and it was definitely a pleasant surprise to see his role being so significant. He’s definitely come a long way since his debut as an actor. And he’s definitely proven he’s more than just a model-turned-actor. Park Won Sang was a strong constant that balanced the procedural aspects of the series while also being part of the heart as Yi Hyun’s adoptive father.
Kim Gyu Chul had an easy time making Ui Sun as unlikeable as possible when we first meet him, but he managed to allow us to root for him even if just a little towards the end. And Ki Gook Seo as Mr. Ballpen, Choi Byung Ki was absolutely terrifying.
You can only describe Lee Jung Gil’s performance as Jo Sang Deuk aka Chun Young Bo as masterful. His years of experience definitely show, flawlessly portraying this horrible, unrepentant man as just frighteningly evil with so little as a stern look and as much as the biting cold orders to off whoever dares to go against him.
I’m very happy for Ha Suk Jin. Though I wish he had been given a couple more meaty scenes, this definitely has to be his strongest dramatic role to date and surely proved he’s deserving of a lead role very soon.
And as much as this cast is strong and powerful, the series certainly lay on the shoulders of both Son Ye Jin and Kim Nam Gil. I liked Son Ye Jin in the fluffy Personal Taste, but Shark is a much better showcase of what she is capable of as an actor. She made us feel exactly how conflicted and hurt Hae Woo was through all of this. She took us on Hae Woo’s own journey for the truth and was our guide on the journey Yi Soo set us all on.
It is easy for a lead actor to be one-note, always taking us down the straight road instead of letting us stop and take a peek at other sights and sounds of their characters personality along the way. Kim Nam Gil didn’t do that. Instead, he took us into both the darkest and brightest corners of Yi Soo’s life. He made us see his motivation while also exposing us to what could be a vengefully-veiled view of the world. He let us see Yi Soo being truly happy like the times he spends with Yi Hyun. He shows us Yi Soo struggling to restrain himself from wanting to grab his friends like Dong Soo or his 2nd mother in Mrs. Park into warm embraces. And he shows us an Yi Soo who cannot let go of his first and only love, yet knowing they couldn’t possibly be.
Buoyed by the excellent writing, Kim Nam Gil delivered a nuanced and multifaceted performance, mutually complemented by Son Ye Jin’s similarly excellent portrayal of Hae Woo.
Shark is a great example of just how ripe Korean history is for creative fiction. A contemporary melodrama or blockbuster thriller or a fusion-historical action series, Korea’s tumultuous, colorful and painful past has been able to serve as both the backdrop and the launching pads for many a series. For Shark it was a major puzzle piece that supplied both backstory and present-day repercussions that drove the narrative from beginning to end.
At its heart, Shark was and is the story of one man’s well-intentioned, but ultimately tragic quest to right “the balance” of things. Bring justice to those who have been wrong and bring those who have wronged to justice while at the same time, working to restore or at least pave the way for a better and more peaceful life for himself and his family and friends.
With an excellent cast, powerful writing, stunning cinematography and an evocative soundtrack Shark beautifully presented what was an incredibly emotional, yet riveting story of family and friendships and how both are affected by the wrongs of the past and the lies of the present.