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What I Liked About Padam Padam

12 Dec

Korean cable dramas have been delivering such beautiful, well-crafted material that it’s hard not to liken them to cable shows here in the US. Here, primetime channels ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX produce shows that are far less avant garde, easily digestible, and almost always

What a fantastic introduction to a show that has potential to be one of the greatest I’ve seen so far. Not only does it contain a great premise but on a shot-to-shot basis, this is one tightly directed, intelligently crafted, and beautifully filmed show. Not all aspects of the show are impressive but nevertheless, “Padam Padam” is worthy of the intense hype that preceded its debut.

The story revolves around Kang Chil (Jung Woo Sung), a prison inmate who spent most of his life locked up behind bars for a murder he was wrongly accused and convicted of committing when he was 19. His mother has abandoned him, and from one of his flashbacks, we see that his mother seemed afraid of him. He is respected and feared in equal measures in the prison by the warden who treats him like a son and by inmates who loathe his power, respectively. With him is his friend Gooksu (a welcome return by Kim Bum), an innocent, almost childish, inmate who believes he is a guardian angel.

While on a temporary leave from prison, Kang Chil runs into Jina (Han Ji Min) through an inconvenient and uncomfortable encounter on the metro. During this trip, Kang Chil also learns that he has a son, gets trailed by a suspicious man, and unfortunately gets into an accident.

When he returned to prison, another inmate taunts Kang Chil by bullying a weaker inmate forcing Kang Chil to confront him regardless of the fact he was about to leave prison. The result of the confrontation is the accidental death of the warden and Kang Chil’s death sentence. Poof. The end. Well not quite.

Kang Chil mysteriously returns to life and the rest of the second episode shows Kang Chil living in the outside world.

The premise is alluring: there’s a supernatural element to the drama that makes it stand out among the crop of weepy dramas this year. Characters are neatly sketched and leaves room for growth and exploration in future episodes. Kang Chil, especially, seems likely to be etched out more profoundly over the course of the series and that is something to look forward to.

The writing is especially good here, not giving us some obnoxious lines that dreadfully state the obvious. Mostly, the writers let the readers gaze at the characters with few to no trivial distractions in the way. The direction is tight with every aspect of the episodes important to sketching out the character details. In fact, it’s the emphasis on the characters, regardless of how mundane their actions are, that makes this drama compelling. In addition, the director captures the gritty realism of life, choosing to highlight the beauty of Seoul against the harsh backdrop of the prison. Every shot in this drama is filled with lighting that seem to reflect the character’s characters or emotions or angles that imply the mood and tone of the scene. The colors are muted, though several scene compositions added a splash of color to inject some irony into the scene. This is especially true in prison scenes and during the fight.

Now on to my favorite part of any show, the actors. While I found the below the line aspects of the show, the cinematography, the editing, etc, are all exceptional, the actors were not uniformly wonderful.

Starting from the top, Jung Woo Sung is uncomfortably hammy, often endowing a literal wide-eyed gaze, reduced to flaring his nose to show anger, and twitching incessantly to his Kang Chil. It’s a strange performance that does not work for me as oftentimes as his quieter, more effervescent, and even his grittier scenes gave me goosebumps. That quiet contemplation at the end of the episode, as memories flashback and tears he abjectly denies, are undone by the theatrical, almost comical, swerves and reactions that follows right after. But I must admit that the awkwardness he imbues in Kang Chil works as a character detail: Kang Chil has lived most his life in prison, so his mannerisms seem to come from being locked up on the inside. On the other hand, some of those mannerisms seem like overacting than characterization.

The lead girl in the story, Han Ji Min is perfectly fine and slightly outshines Woo Sung. At this early stage, we still don’t completely know who she is. But as we find out more about her, Ji Min’s performance starts to make sense; she’s careful, a little uptight, and certainly has a penchant for animals (she is a vet after all). But at the same time, her Jina is intelligent and no weak brain.

Kim Bum is glorious in this show, a scene stealer, whose very presence seems to quell some of Kang Chil’s worse excesses by virtue of his sheer awesomeness. While he looks scarily frail (seriously, the dude is skinny), his bright and sunny personality is infectious without being puerile; his friendship with Kang Chil is endearing without looking needy; his innocence is charming without being mawkish. He’s funny when he needs be and his physicality, the brotherly affection towards Kang Chil, adds a charismatic layer to this performance. The best part about this is his enigmatic presence. There are a handful of moments in the show where we cut to just Kim Bum’s face and he gives this haunting, knowing, and a little menacing look that suggests he knows more than he is letting on.

Padam Padam is an exceptional drama that entices the audience with its story and will melt your heart with the beautiful cinematography. It’s definitely a keeper.

–Clarence

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