tvN’s Stealer: The Treasure Keeper (스틸러: 일곱 개의 조선통보) is a refreshingly creative series. Though the series misses some strong potential to be something much more, the solid cast and fun action make for a brisk and ultimately worthwhile watch.
Joo Won is Hwang Dae Myung, a civil servant in the Cultural Heritage Administration. Though seemingly easy going and passive in his job, he lives a double life as “Skunk,” an infamous thief who steals Korea’s cultural assets from the rich and powerful who themselves have obtained the artifacts through nefarious ways.
With the help of wealthy tech-wiz Lee Chun Ja (Choi Hwa Jung), Dae Myung as Skunk is outfitted with a technologically advanced suit and mask. The suit protects him from danger and helps him stealthily take back the cultural artifacts that have been transacted through the black market for profit and instead return them to the proper ownership of the people of Korea by having them on display for all to appreciate.
His work soon gets him involved with the Cultural Heritage department of the Seoul Metropolitan Police which includes newly-transferred elite officer Choi Min Woo (Lee Joo Woo), team leader Jang Tae In (Jo Han Chul) and the skilled detective Shin Chang Hoon (Kim Jae Won).
Together, they form Team Karma, though the police officers are initially unaware that Dae Myung and Skunk are one in the same.
The team are a ragtag group of endearing and charming characters who come together as a team you can easily root for. It’s not hard to form a connection with the characters as the series features many lighthearted moments from them. And those moments are woven together with the more dramatic and darker aspects of the story.
Especially when the series gets deep into the story of its main antagonist, the uber-wealthy and powerful (and greedy) Kim Young Soo (the perfectly menacing Lee Deok Hwa) and his right-hand man and hired assassin Jo Huin Dal (Kim Dae Chul). Young Soo is seemingly in search of a legendary set of ancient coins which could lead to hidden treasures, including a potentially mystical power. And Team Karma is on his tail in order to keep him from getting his hands on such power.
Stealer initially plays out in a bit of a Robin Hood-style nature where Skunk’s stealing is for a noble purpose. That is to return important cultural artifacts to the public rather than be hidden away for personal gain. It is a refreshing angle to feature cultural assets and Korean history in what would otherwise be a familiar and typical action/crime series. The idea of treasure hunting also presents a different theme from the usual K-drama plot. And the series even features a few thrilling missions where Dae Myung and the team work together in Indiana Jones-type adventures.
Perhaps that is where the series might fall short. Though Stealer features great action with the entire main cast delivering in some well-choregraphed and legitimately exciting sequences, it could have definitely used more of the adventure-leaning action. And that would do even more to set the series apart from the rest of the pack.
Still, the series does well in blending together crime fighting, cultural heritage and even some found family stories. Those character-driven stories really go a long way in helping to forge the necessary connections between the characters and audience. But also end up driving the overall story in unexpected, though welcome ways.
Joo Won leads a good cast. It is great to see him in a role that allows him to be both funny and badass at the same time. Lee Joo Woo is the same as well, playing Min Woo as the straight man sidekick to Dae Myung’s most lighthearted personality. There’s some romantic tension, but the series doesn’t push it. Which is another refreshing approach considering many Korean dramas enjoy forcing romantic angles where they have absolutely no place for them.
Jo Han Chul, Kim Jae Won and Choi Hwa Jung complete Team Karma with some other friends joining along the way. Together, they share a good chemistry that furthers the ragtag feel of the group while also welcoming the found family aspect. Together, that powers the team’s endearing quality. And ultimately supports the overall adventure of the series.
Ultimately, despite some missed potential, Stealer: The Treasure Keeper is a fun adventure of a series. The great cast, uniquely refreshing approach to familiar themes and likable and endearing characters make the series a worthwhile watch.