Tuesday, December 2, 2014

KDrama Review: Liar Game

Liar Game 2014 TV series-poster.jpg
The Gist: A new reality show has hit Korea. Liar Game pits real people against one another in the hopes of winning absurd amounts of money. When painfully honest and kind Nam Da Jung (Kim So Eun) is selected to participate, she sees it as a way to get out of her father’s debt and reunite with him. Yet, in a game where lying and backstabbing are rewarded, Da Jung is quickly on the losing end. Desperate to not fall further into debt, she seeks out genius conman Cha Woo Jin (Lee Sang Yoon), recently released from prison, to help her out. Woo Jin takes pity on Da Jung, who reminds him of his mother. As Woo Jin and Da Jung combine his wits and her ingenuity to climb the Liar Game ranks, it becomes apparent that their participation in this game is no accident and that game maker and host, Kang Do Young (Shin Sung Rok) may have more up his sleeves than first appears.

I feel mixed about a lot of aspects of this show, but still feel strongly about many pieces. Therefore, I’m abandoning my Love/Meh/Hate format because I just don’t know how to break it up. So, I’m just going to dissect it and go from there. Let’s go!

Character Development

I think one of the places where the Korean version shines is the time it takes to flesh out its characters. From the Japanese version, I remember the conman, the girl, and mushroom head. By the end of this show, I felt I had a good grasp not only of our main people, but also of many of our secondary contestants. Characters I thought would be write-off one notes, like Bulldog, actually got fleshed out. I loved the twist of making Jaime a girl (not that watchers of the Japanese version wouldn’t spot her a mile away) and I really appreciate the growth that character is afforded. Yes, she’s out for number 1, but she has some morals.

That said, I don’t know why the romance of this was so overhyped, when you literally don’t get any of it. I think that Woo Jin has a very solid protective role and he feels sorry for Da Jung, but they never really cross any lines. There’s not even a hint. If you’re watching this for the romance, it will leave you a bit starved. I think a lot of people will be OK with that, since it’s not so much in the source material, but it leaves me feeling a little disappointed all the same.

Let’s talk about Kang Do Young for a moment. Oh man is he delightfully evil! Sung Rok plays evil so well (just watched My Love from Another Star), but this is an even more nuanced evil. The tension this  character is able to bring is a real driving force in the show. The Japanese villains were always so faceless, that it was nice to get a character to be the face of the problem. Also, him getting totally unhinged at the end was my favorite. Love it.

The Game!

I think making the Liar Game into a show was a smart move. It made more sense to me than underground battles (though spoilers for a possible season two may be moving in that direction?). I was a tad disappointed that they didn’t invent more of their own games but lifted most of them straight out of the Japanese version. That said, first time watchers will be delighted, and second time watchers will still love seeing the characters triumph - “I have a winning strategy!”

The show does grow into its own as time goes on. I didn’t remember the presidential candidate game, which either makes it an original or something I didn’t see. That’s also the game where SPOILERS our winning duo finally takes a hit, so it’s surprising all around. The final roulette was also original, I believe, and had so much suspense!

The pacing of this show was dead one. The games typically took two episodes to complete a round: one episode to dig our main crew into a hole and one to twist the tables back into their favor. It’s not totally unpredictable, but certainly keeps the show moving at a pretty good clip.

I praised the sets of the Japanese version and I think the sets on the Korean version blew the JV out of the water. I especially liked the building they used for the smuggling game. The architecture was very cool.

The Ending

Spoilers. Obviously.

I think I have the most mixed feelings about the giant reveal at the end. So, Woo Jin, Da Jung, and Do Young were all at Woo Jin’s mom’s orphanage and she essentially sold some kids including Do Young for money. Yikes.

While it makes Do Young sympathetic on one level - I mean child experiments? It’s like robot children - it also is sort of nonsensical. I get that he wants to show that not everyone is as nice as they seem, but it’s sort of cruel to pull Da Jung and Woo Jin into it since 1. Da Jung could have been sold and 2. Woo Jin has pretty much suffered a whole bunch already.

That brings us to a really big plot hole. There is no way that Do Young could have known that Da Jung would bring Woo Jin in. In fact, it would have been more likely for her not to reach out to him and for him not to accept.

I am not sure how I feel about Woo Jin’s mom effectively selling children as a plot line. While it is shocking and pulls things together, it also just reinforces what we’ve been working a whole season to get Woo Jin to believe - that it is OK to trust people. If he can’t trust in his mom, why should he trust Da Jung? They’re so similar.

I also felt that as much electricity as that last episode had (oh man, we need a season 2!), the characters had too quick a wrap up. Da Jung and her dad get an off screen reunion, the guy who fell down the elevator is somehow not dead (yay!), Da Jung and Woo Jin don’t really sort out their relationship, and a new big bad is set up. Too much, too quick. I wanted some time spent giving our characters a second to breathe!

OK. Speaking of that last guy being alive. Does anyone else find Do Young essentially disappearing and maybe killing contestants after they leave the game totally unbelievable? That part just didn’t sit quite right for me. Those people should have been all over interviews and such. The media would have noticed. It’s ridiculous.


So… I am not sure if this version is more or less successful than the Japanese version. They’re both delightfully suspenseful, but this one has a more cohesive back story and a more solid villain. It made some smart choices and I love the chemistry between Woo Jin and Da Jung and Woo Jin and Do Young.

Final Grade: A-