Netflix’s Black Knight (택배기사) has an interesting premise and a strong cast. Breathtaking dystopian visuals pair with familiar present-day themes. But even if it comes to a satisfying conclusion, it at times feels as if the six episode series struggles between wanting to be a feature length film or a longer, more in-depth character drama.
Black Knight is set in the year 2071, years after all but 1% of the world’s population survives a comet striking Earth and causing uninhabitable air quality. The Korean peninsula has been reduced to a barren wasteland with the remaining population being divided into social classes. Those at the top enjoy life in domed atmospheres simulating pre-comet Earth. The lower classes live in camp-like buildings out in the waste, depending on deliverymen known as Knights to bring them the oxygen and food they need to survive.
A legendary knight called “5-8” (Kim Woo Bin) meets a young refugee named Sa Wol (Kang Yoo Seok) who wishes to be a Knight. And together with Sa Wol’s adoptive sister and military intelligence officer Jeong Seol Ah (Esom) and others, they work to expose the corruption, deadly oppression that runs rampant in the new dystopian society.
Black Knight initially feels like a slice of life set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. We are plopped right into the middle of this world and are immediately introduced to our main characters before jumping right into the heart of the situational story.
The series tackles familiar, modern-day themes such as the aforementioned corruption and oppression along with fighting against injustice and revenge. The people at the top of the food chain have of course taken advantage of the dire situation. Even in post-apocalyptic times, the greedy don’t stop their thirst for money and power.
That injustice emphasizes the desperation those in the lower classes feel. Survival instincts kick in to bring together otherwise contrasting personalities. And the good and the bad of the human condition reveal themselves in unfortunately expected ways, again, even in the midst of seemingly hopeless and dire times.
5-8, Sa Wol and Seol Ah are our three main heroes as they go up against Ryu Seok (Song Seung Heon), the wealthy heir of Cheonmyong Group, a conglomerate that controls the world’s oxygen and simulated utopias. And thus, they hold the world’s lives in their hands.
Our three heroes exemplify the hopeful fighting spirit and the bits of compassion that can be the light in times of darkness. And in Black Knight‘s case, literal darkness caused by poor air and lack of resources.
The series touches upon (but sadly does not explore) 5-8’s tragic past that moves him to devote his life to bringing about justice for the lower classes and those thrown aside like garbage by the ruling class. The series also goes a bit deeper in some welcome moments depicting the sibling relationship between Sa Wol and Seol Ah, another light of hope in the midst of darkness during these dystopian times.
Where Black Knight stumbles is where it seems to hold itself back from either being a tighter story or deeper, more thoughtful story.
For the former, Black Knight may have been better served as a feature-length film. Tightening up the story would have allowed for a faster-paced narrative that would produce the same result as these six episodes ended with. There are times in these six episodes that unfortunately drag and weigh the series’ stronger moments down. A big chunk of the episodes could easily have been consolidated to make for a more exciting time.
On the other hand, there’s definitely a case and enough material to have expanded the story further. One that goes beyond six episodes in order to offer more of a focus on its main characters. Have the series go deeper into each character’s own individual stories. Then explore the dynamics of the various relationships that already exist when we first meet the characters as well as the relationships that develop as the story progresses.
In that case, the series could have been a very engaging and thought-provoking character piece. The strong cast certainly offers the opportunity for excellent performances of stronger material.
So it basically comes down to whether Black Knight wants to be a fast-paced dystopian action thriller or an introspective character-driven slowburn. While I can understand wanting to be both, I don’t know that Black Knight was able to accomplish that.
Even so, again, the cast is top-notch. It is wonderful seeing Kim Woo Bin as charismatic as ever as 5-8. A leading man in stature and emotion, he proves once again how deserving he is of these title roles.
Esom also delivers an excellent performance, commanding as a military officer and heartfelt as a big sister in the quieter moments. The White Christmas reunion with Kim Woo Bin is also an extra treat for someone like me who still loves that KBS Drama Special.
Song Seung Heon is deliciously evil as Ryu Seok. He delivers a performance that allows him to quietly bubble toward an explosive boiling point in the final episode. And his performance definitely helps make the finale all the more satisfying.
But Kang Yoo Seok is very much the heart of the story. As Sa Wol, he has this great youthful energy and sincere vibe that makes the character immediately endearing. Sa Wol emerges as an important piece in the series’ central conflict. And Kang Yoo Seok’s charm and charisma help to really move the story forward while forging such strong chemistry with Kim Woo Bin and Esom. That chemistry provides the series’ strongest character moments, that again are so welcome.
The series’ striking visuals do their part to set the mood. The barren, desert wastelands contrast with the futuristic oases that really help to make this dystopia a vivid reality. The setting even evokes some of the fears the world has felt during the pandemic, adding a touch of relatable uncertainty while watching the series.
And it will be those visuals and the strong cast that ultimately help Black Knight be an enjoyable watch. The six, 45 minute episodes can be a quick watch. They do still require an emotional investment. But that investment pays off in what is probably one of the more fully satisfying climaxes you’ll see on a Korean drama. Especially a Netflix-produced drama.
So despite some missed opportunities, Black Knight is nonetheless a solid viewing experience.