Baeksang Best Drama winner Beyond Evil (괴물/Monster) is a fascinating television experience. The 2021 JTBC drama series is a unique blend of psychological thriller, crime procedural and slice of life character study. Unique indeed. But it is that combination, along with an excellent ensemble cast and meticulous direction that prove just how much Beyond Evil deserves the accolades.
Set in a small, rural town outside of Seoul, Beyond Evil centers around two detectives who are working to solve the 20 year old mystery of the disappearance of Lee Yu Yeon, each for their own reasons. Police sergeant and former detective Lee Dong Sik (Shin Ha Kyun) is Yu Yeon’s twin brother and was once considered a suspect himself. Elite detective Han Joo Won (Yeo Jin Goo) is transferred from Seoul to this small town after his work in the international crime division intersects with Yu Yeon’s case.
Aside from their different reasons, the two officers initially clash on method and philosophy as fate brings them together as beat partners. When both their intentions and connections to the case become clear, there is a sort of out-in-the-open cat and mouse game between them. An almost “friendly rivalry” type of dynamic that is at the same time awkward and captivating.
But an apparent serial murder case, mirroring the circumstances of Yu Yeon’s disappearance, becomes the catalyst for a series-long town-wide unraveling that leads the characters and the viewer through a whirlwind of twists and turns.
What makes Beyond Evil so unique is that it is actually quite a simple story. There is no shortage of dark, psychological crime thrillers on Korean television. But for Beyond Evil, the fact that the characters provide the twists and turns is actually uncommon. The characters take center stage more than any one mystery, of which there are a few.
But Beyond Evil is at its very best as a character-driven piece that looks at the different reactions and motivations people may have to singular events. Seeing how those events may affect the characters in almost wildly different ways contributes to the fascinating and perplexing mystery.
One emphasis of the series is the idea of community. There is a tight-knit, almost family-like connection amongst the people of this small rural town. And as Seoul-based Joo Won comes to discover, it is that sense of community and family that is most suspicious, mirroring what us the viewer feels as the series unfolds. This community is most certainly hiding some secrets and potentially even more sinister things.
Everyone is mysterious. Everyone is even considered a suspect at one point or another. And the unraveling of each character is what drives the series forward. That helps contribute to what is an interesting slice of life dynamic as well. Beyond Evil has a large ensemble cast. But each character is integral to the story. And in order to accomplish that, each character must have an accompanying depth to make each of them actually be fully defined and distinct.
Nuance is the keyword when it comes to the cast. And it is that nuance that helps to provide that bit of depth to the characters. It is not often that you can say “so much can be said with so little” with respect to the performances of an entire cast. But that is very much the case here. The performances of the cast, led of course by the stunning performances from Shin Ha Kyun and Yeo Jin Goo, are the glue that holds everything together.
The series does not rely on big action sequences. Rather, the series’ forward motion rests on the shoulders of this talented cast that keep the relatively slow burn of a story exciting and surprising.
It is an especially emotional roller coaster for our two leads. Dong Sik and Jin Woo’s relationship is complicated at best. And that’s in addition to their own personal struggles and demons, both from their pasts and their present. But the growth and development their characters go through together and on their own is a true highlight. You don’t get to see such a dynamic often, but you do so here.
Shin Ha Kyun and Yeo Jin Goo are just simply amazing. Perfectly cast here, both deliver exceptional performances. A well-deserved Best Actor win for Shin Ha Kyun and an equally stunning performance from Yeo Jin Goo as well. The nuance and the power both have in their delivery truly elevate the already strong foundation the series has in its story and production. The wide range of emotions both actors have to convey help to not only make each story beat land, but also help to shock and awe at every right moment.
From the cast to the writing to the production; they are all pieces of the puzzle and if one is missing, the entire thing could have fallen apart. But it doesn’t. That’s because everything comes together so perfectly, resulting in a unique and fulfilling experience. Beyond Evil is a truly captivating series and it’s easy to see why it is considered one of best of the year.