K-Drama Review: “Stranger” Stuns With Brilliant Cast & Nifty Screenplay
Stranger Binds Deft Writing and Shrewd Characters In Conceiving A Classy Legal Drama.
TITLE: STRANGER/SECRET FOREST
THEME: CRIME, THRILLER, LEGAL
LENGTH: 16 EPISODES
BROADCAST PERIOD: 10 JUNE – 30 JULY 2017
PLUS FACTORS: Superb Cast, Deft Screenplay and Directing
OH NO MOMENTS: Lengthy dialogues
RELATED DRAMAS: Punch, Defendant, Whisper
The moment you decide to watch Stranger, you subconsciously wear an invisible prosecutor robe and a police-thinking cap in trying to decipher the motivations that makes a person become less human.
The lackluster performance of cable network TVN is a reversal from the glorious run it had last year. Even with a strong line up, the channel continuously struggles, except for the amazing mystery thriller – Stranger.
Stranger deserves more from the above average ratings it has received, to be honest. Skipping pointless subplot conflicts, it maneuvers through the treacherous world of conniving detectives and prosecutors with finesse and a rational method. I have been forced to watch legal dramas indiscriminately as it is the prevailing genre actively produced lately. So out of all the law-oriented dramas this year, Stranger is that one drama which I will think fondly of in the future.
Stranger has a treatment of a drama presented in film scale. The cast delivers top-notch acting calibre, which is one of the best from what I’ve seen this year. Having less than 10 people navigating the story helped a lot in a balanced screen time, which makes even the minor characters indispensable to the series. It secures the highest rated viewership so far for TVN, hitting 4%+ in average rating. I credit that to the seasoned role immersion and character ownership of Cho Seung Woo and Bae Doo Na. We sure do have memorable prosecutor and detective performances for K-Dramaland this year, but this duo just claim their fictional characters down to the smallest detail.
Prosecutor Hwang who has lived an apathetic life due to a surgery he had when he was young is an interesting prosecutor-hero who easily charms the audience with his intellect and grit. Cho Seung Woo’s stoic performance is a feat hard to accomplish, but he pulled it off with flying colors. His moments with perky Detective Han who became his only adult friend he is not aware of is refreshing to watch. It owes to how their connection is cemented through the police woman’s spirited demeanor.
Stranger utilized a controlling business tycoon and a hero-villain to spice up the opposition of the antagonists who are keen to outsmart the heroes. The many faces of villains come in from different motivations and levels of greed. But they are all connected to the murder case that will expose the sins they are hiding in the closet. The villains showcase interesting prototypes: the textbook, almost invincible, hopeless and disguised villain. The sleek showdowns where intellect and power function as chess pieces prove how excessive tears and evil doings need not to be elaborately shown on-screen as long as it is neatly narrated.
Polished and Minimalist Narrative
Out of all the legal dramas this year, this series is cut for adults who want less drama and more story depth in the plot. It bravely dissects the cover ups happening in the police organization along with the corruption in the Prosecution Office without tiring the audience with pointless stop-overs. The series gives no more than what is required to story building, yet it makes sure how every detail conspires to present a comprehensible picture.
It is the focus on the conflict and clear role functions of the characters that makes Stranger a work of art that you should not miss. Despite the relaxed tempo, the intelligent writing probes efficiently on one major conflict and a clear delineation of the protagonists and villains. Stranger never swerves to pointless curves. It goes straight to the problem while building up the tension to make the culmination gratifying.
Mind Stimulating Conflict
Straightforward in presenting the focal contention to which the heroes and villains will revolve, Stranger keeps the intensity flowing even with its calm spirit. I reached a point where I suspected everyone as the villain incognito, since the story continuously gives clues while hiding the big picture of the mystery.
Story Pace Requiring Patience
The unhurried drama movement will not appeal to impatient viewers due to its conversation powered narrative that covered corruption in government offices and business conglomerate’s greedy quest of monopolizing money and power. Stranger will not bring you to the edge of your seat because of excitement for the most part, save of course when the culmination of the story erupts. But it will keep you addicted in trying to figure out the guess-who-the-villain-is game that runs from start to almost finish.
Stumbling on a murder of a former sponsor of money, ladies and pleasure to the Prosecutor’s office, Prosecutor Hwang Shi Mok (Cho Seung Woo) procures decisive evidences to sentence prison time to a cable TV repairman indicted as the culprit. His junior, Young Eun Soo (Shin Hye Sun), takes the helm of the case for her debut. By presenting late a key proof of video evidence as coached by Prosecutor Seo Dong Jae (Lee Joon Hyuk), it nails the defendant to the crime he did not commit. But Detective Han Yeo Jin, (Bae Doo Na) who initially worked with Prosecutor Hwang, scoops evidence that affirms the defendant’s claim who left a hate letter on how he was framed by the police and prosecution office before committing suicide.
Prosecutor Hwang is challenged by Deputy Chief Prosecutor Lee Chang Joon who knows his awareness that he used to enjoy the dead sponsor’s money. He offers him a proposal to work together and escape a possible career downfall with the upcoming internal audit. Prosecutor Seo who has long been Prosecutor Lee’s lackey eavesdrops on the conversation. Enraged about how his loyalty was disregarded, he schemes a trap to reveal Prosecutor Lee’s connection to the escort service. Prosecutor Hwang is also on the same goal of finding the underage girl who is caught in a hotel CCTV lobbying pleasure service to prosecutors and high ranking police officials. Soon enough, the girl is found almost dead at the same house where the sponsor was murdered.
On the announcement of Prosecutor Lee’s promotion as Chief Prosecutor, he swivels his loyalty back again and tries to tidy up the case by blaming the crime on the murdered sponsor’s son. A general is summoned about manipulating the alibi of the victim’s son serving in the military, but has been accompanying military officials on their golf escapades. The derailing case is put in place by Prosecutor Hwang who tips in his hometown friend about the sponsor activities that were engaged by the prosecutors. The media feasts on it so a special investigation group is tasked by the Chief Prosecutor to probe on the reported issue of Prosecutors’ bribery engagement. Prosecutor Hwang is tasked to lead the group.
Detective Han unravels the truth about the Chief of Police involvement in the sponsorship just as Chief Prosecutor leaves his newly appointed post to become the country’s Chief Secretary. The Chief of Police is held in custody at the Prosecutor’s Office after a trap staged by the Special Investigation Team. Meanwhile Prosecutor Seo who offered Prosecutor Hwang intel to help with the investigation learns about Chief Secretary Lee’s meeting with Minister of Defense and business tycoons which includes Lee Yeon Bum – Chief Secretary Lee’s father-in-law and chairman of Hanjo Group.
Prosecutor Hwang meets a newspaper owner who used to be engaged with Chairman Lee’s daughter to exchange information about the informant who revealed information about the bribery case. The firearms deal is called off after a government review pushing Chief Secretary to pressure the prosecutor general in ceasing the Special Investigation unit. The team is disbanded as Prosecutor Hwang is offered a promotion. He delays the answer to his promotion citing he wants to end the ongoing investigation which he has 10 days to finish. Detective Han alerts him that Ga Young is missing in the hospital just as a report of someone being killed at Ga Young’s villa is reported to the police. They head to the crime scene and find Prosecutor Young’s lifeless body.
Prosecutor Hwang is not aware how Prosecutor Young suspects Prosecutor Yoon, a member of the special investigation team. She notices a tattoo resembling 0 7 which is what Ga Young has mentioned as detail when she was abducted. When she hears it from the team, she has apprehensions about how Prosecutor Yoon might be the culprit behind the murder of the sponsor and attempted murder of Ga Young.
Prosecutor Hwang connects the dots of who the real culprit is. They head to the airport to capture Prosecutor Yoon who claims his right to be silent to protect his accomplice. But Prosecutor Hwang figures out the entire picture and calls Chief Secretary Lee to confirm it. They meet in a building that is under construction where Chief Secretary Lee admits to orchestrating the killings which Prosecutor Yoon executed to expose the cancer stricken government. He leaves a bag full of evidence that he acquired and sets forth to ending his life for good.
Through Prosecutor Lee’s sacrifice, Prosecutor Hwang and the rest of the prosecutors begin a thorough investigation that affected government officials and Hanjo Group.
Stranger bravely tackles the world of corruption where politics, law enforcers and business conglomerates thrive. It takes time to let the viewers sink in to the world it is projecting along with the lessons it is trying to impart. With the serious societal problems it discusses, I think only mature audience would understand its value.
Stranger chose to be straightforward in presenting the story, rather than mixing sub stories to prolong and force the mystery. The tidy writing enables the intelligent narrative which depends a lot on the smart character portrayals.
Stranger is my best legal-crime drama for 2017 due to its flawless plot progression. You cannot watch this casually because you have to savor the implied life lessons. Calm and composed, it won’t give you any moment of frustration over the characters and the story. It will leave you satisfied and wanting for more adventure with Prosecutor Hwang and the team.
Stranger can be watched on Netflix.