The 2019 OCN drama Watcher (왓쳐) is an excellent character-driven crime thriller. The series takes what would otherwise be a tried and true premise toward a fascinating and refreshing new direction powered by tight writing and an excellent cast.
Watcher sees detective Do Chi-Gwang (Han Suk Kyu), police officer Kim Young Koon (Seo Kang Joon) and attorney Han Tae Joo (Kim Hyun Joo) coming together to uncover an intricate web of corruption in the force. But each of them comes with their own reasons and agendas that many times clash with each other.
The three of them engage in a fascinating cat and mouse game where you’re never really sure who is actually the cat and who is the mouse. Secrets and a shared past muddy the waters as they attempt to work together for both their common goal and their own personal interests.
Never sure of who their true enemies are, a recurring question that is posed throughout the series is “Do you know where humanity comes from?”
It is a question that has been posed in a few different ways in other Korean dramas. And it is at the heart of the story here on Watcher. Not only does that question provide direct clues for them, it also guides their thinking as they reevaluate their personal beliefs and philosophies.
There is definitely no lack of twists and action. And the brisk pace of the story keeps you wanting more.
Being a crime thriller, what makes Watcher unique is that it really is more of a character-driven story. As interesting as the overall plot may be, the emotional journey these characters embark on may be the series’ most successful aspect.
As both Do Chi Gwang and Han Tae Joo often drop moments of mysterious ambiguity, Yong Goon serves as the sort of steady moral compass.
Seo Kang Joon shines as Kim Young Goon. In what is perhaps his heaviest and most dramatic role to date, Seo Kang Joon gets a chance to stretch his acting chops and effortlessly proves his dramatic caliber. After a diverse group of previous roles in comedies, romantic dramas and action-fantasies, he takes a step forward here. And it is exciting to see him possibly in more mature roles like this one.
Han Suk Kyu is magnetic as Do Chi Gwang. The effortless way he is able to have you doubting him one moment and trusting him the next is a testament to the writing, but especially his talent and charisma.
Kim Hyun Joo is similarly enigmatic as Han Tae Joo. But she also has the extra challenge of presenting two seemingly different characters between flashbacks and the present day. Even then, Kim Hyun Joo must effectively portray the vulnerability behind the cold, all-business lawyer. And she absolutely does.
That ambiguity and mystery with both their characters makes them that much more interesting. And both Han Suk Kyu and Kim Hyun Joo relish and thrive with that challenge.
After watching his scene stealing antics on Psychopath Diary, Heo Sung Tae returns to effectively portraying the suspiciously calculating character he similarly did so well on Your Honor. Always lurking in the shadows, his Jang Hae Ryong presents a persistent threat that feels dormant. And that is perhaps the most suspenseful way to go about a character.
Park Joo Hee does a great job as Jo Soo Yeon to round out the team with several important moments that allow her to step forward into the spotlight.
And finally, Jung Do Won may be the most endearing, loveable bodyguard you’ll see in a crime thriller ever. As Hong Jae Sik, Jung Do Won is as close to a scene stealer as you can get here on Watcher. And when he’s not kicking some ass, he’s getting coffee and studying up for the law school entrance exam. That duality is a tough challenge for any actor, but Jung Do Won handles it perfectly.
Overall, Watcher is a unique series. Crime thrillers have become more common all over the Korean television dial these last few years. But Watcher takes the genre in a refreshing and welcome direction. With legitimately exciting twists and turns, edge of your seat action and emotionally affecting and engaging characters, Watcher is definitely a must-watch.
Also, please enjoy the epic title cards and theme song: