OCN, long the home of genre-bending and bold storytelling, premiered crime thriller Voice (보이스 ) in 2017. But my review is for the second and third seasons of the series. (I”ll have to go back and watch that original season in the future.)
Together, both the second and third seasons of OCN’s drama series Voice are some of the most explosive and thrilling episodes of television I have ever seen. With a sort of cinematic noir feel, Voice 2 and 3 immediately grabs you and takes you on a twisted, psychological roller coaster ride of emotional connections, evil crimes and political and human corruption. And its excellent cast never miss a beat in the heart-pounding succession of smart, suspenseful stories.
The heart and soul of the series (for all three seasons) is Lee Ha Na as Kang Kwon Joo. “Kang Center,” as she is called by her colleagues, leads the Golden Time unit of 112 emergency dispatch. Golden Time referring to the precious minutes after an emergency call is made to the call center. Her uncanny ability to hear and analyze even the faintest of sounds aids her in her mission to save people who need help.
The 12-episode second and 16-episode third season focuses on detective Do Kang Woo (Lee Jin Wook) who battles and chases demons from his past while serving as a team leader for the Golden Time team.
The two come together when their goals intersect before they become embroiled in a chase after the mysterious psychopath Bang Je Soo (Kwon Yool). And that eventually leads to an international cartel of some of the most depraved people and acts imaginable.
Voice is very much a character driven story. Season two especially is excellent in introducing and Kang Kwon Joo, Do Kang Woo and the rest of the Golden Time team in a way that solidifies your empathy and investment in the characters. That then leads to season three completely blasting the door wide open when the cases and emergencies begin to hit closer to home and become more personal for each character.
Including drawing upon stories and events from season one, the overarching plot of both season two and three runs ominously in the background as the procedural cases of the week are in the forefront. Voice manages to take those crime procedural cases and elements and find ways to instantly and sometimes surprisingly connect to the ongoing threads that run throughout the series.
Everything is connected, thus there is never a second wasted on the series. Nor is there ever any time to catch a breath with the series’ fast, frenetic pace. And that’s in the best way possible. The brisk pace of the series is never a hindrance. Instead, it successfully builds the tension and raises the stakes to make every move and decision consequential. But the viewer is never left behind.
Each case of the week is exciting and impactful in its own right. It’s almost like a fully realized cinematic event every two episodes. Indeed, the two seasons of Voice feel like a collection of serialized films with its intense performances, narratively satisfying stories and top caliber production.
Voice touches upon some heavy real-world topics including racism, mental health, abuse, exploitation and child grooming. And it does so in a bold and unflinching way.
It’s definitely not lightweight stuff. And the series appropriately deals with each topic with care while still maintaining the suspenseful action and developing our main characters along the way.
Voice not only matches up well with the most acclaimed western dramas, it easily surpasses them. Voice effortlessly juggles being a character-driven psychological thriller while balancing its crime procedural foundation. Enough concepts that would likely be split across two or more series on an English-language major network or broadcasting service.
Complimenting the slick, skillful production is one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve seen.
Son Eun Seo, Kim Woo Seok, Kim Ki Nam, Kim Joong Ki and Song Boo Gun each get a chance to shine as part of the Golden Time team. Whether it’s their fully-developed characters fulfilling their duties and responsibilities as law enforcement or their personal lives, the lines between the two blur. And the cast is able to bring those complicated emotions to life.
Yoo Seung Mok as Detective Na Hong Soo is one of the many standouts and perhaps sees some of the biggest character development across the two seasons.
Another standout is Kwon Yool as the mysterious Bang Je Soo. When someone like Kwon Yool can be the cute romantic hero in one series and then a deranged psychopath here, you don’t have to question his talent and versatility. It isn’t a secret as to who Je Soo is, but the way that Kwon Yool is able to slowly unravel the character’s twisted emotions is an incredible feat.
The third season sees more excellent performances from new additions, including an absolutely chilling performance from Park Byung Eun.
But it’s Lee Ha Na and Lee Jin Wook who are so magnetic and powerful as our leads. Their chemistry is undeniable and is a big reason some of the series’ most impactful moments work.
Lee Jin Wook, one of my favorites and one of Korean drama’s strongest leading men, delivers an absolute tour de force performances as Do Kang Woo. The character is broken and battered. Years of emotional suffering coupled with the unforgiving responsibility of being in law enforcement, chasing after some of the most rotten, barely human criminals have torn Kang Woo apart.
The role has Lee Jin Wook portraying a vivid, multi-faceted character that requires both subtle nuance and a forceful, dominant energy. He effortlessly accomplishes that challenge. And it’s that gritty performance that easily matches the unflinching story.
And for Lee Ha Na, again, she is the heart and soul of the entire Voice series. Kang Kwon Joo is a strong person. Never afraid to fight for what she believes in and for the people she has vowed to protect. But that does not mean she does not waver. And the fact that she does makes “Kang Center” all the more relatable and grounded.
She is not some perfect hero. Nor should she be. But what Lee Ha Na is able to do with “Kang Center” is provide the axis, whether as the leader of Golden Time team or for the series. Being that emotional and tangible center, Lee Ha Na commands the screen in scenes as opposite as fighting her own personal struggles alone or leading a team to save lives.
The cast truly powers this series to great heights. But Voice 2 and 3 as a whole is a breathless, edge-of-your-seat emotional thriller. The breathless pace compliments the high stakes story and character-driven suspense. You would be hard-pressed to find another series, Korean or otherwise, that has the same level of fearless, gritty storytelling.
Needless to say, Voice 2 and 3 is a must-see television event.
And if they are any indication, then I should definitely check out the first season very soon for an experience I know won’t be disappointing, at all.