Review | K-drama review: Beyond Evil – masterful serial killer drama keeps the screws tight until the very end
- This murder mystery series has kept viewers interested with sustained level of tension and plot twists
- The characters all come under suspicion at some point, which gives the cast a chance to shine
Like the best Agatha Christie whodunits, rural murder mystery K-drama Beyond Evil has given us a circus of colourful characters and fed us a steady stream of juicy red herrings during its endlessly taut and surprising 16-episode run.
Beyond Evil takes place in the Manyang village and the nearby town of Munju, both fictional towns in Gyeonggi Province that encircles Seoul. Twenty years ago, several women died or disappeared in a suspected but unsolved serial murder case. Lee Dong-sik (Shin Ha-kyun), the brother of a teenage girl who vanished, was briefly suspected.
In the present, Dong-sik is a disgraced former detective and now a gruff and unpredictable police officer in the same village. A new string of killings hits the area and Dong-sik immediately connects these with the earlier crimes.
Around the same time, Dong-sik gets a new partner, when hotshot young police officer Han Ju-won (Yeo Jin-goo) arrives in Manyang. He is the son of Han Ki-hwan (Choi Jin-ho), who was the captain at the local Munju Police Station 20 years ago, and is expected to be the next national police commissioner.
Though made for TV and by veteran small-screen creatives, Beyond Evil takes its influences from Korean cinema, which is renowned for its dark and twisty thrillers. Stylistically and thematically the show shares a lot of ground with Bong Joon-ho’s serial killer drama Memories of Murder and Kim Jee-woon’s brutal revenge tale I Saw the Devil.
These elements are well put together as they create something familiar and engaging, but occasionally the similarities can be a little too uncanny. This is especially evident in Ha Geun-young’s effortlessly cool and evocative score. It is one of the highlights of the show, but occasionally comes a little too close to repeating themes from I Saw the Devil and A Bittersweet Life.
Then there’s the casting of Shin, known for his deranged roles in modern film classics such as Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. The years have only made Shin more unnerving and magnetic as a performer and Dong-sik seems tailor-made for him.
In Beyond Evil, every character comes under the loop of suspicion and Dong-sik’s turn comes early on. Whether the evidence or situation indicates that he may be guilty of a crime, the playful intensity in Shin’s eyes always keeps us guessing as to his character’s motivations and intentions.
Yeo, as the handsome and aloof city police officer with a chip on his shoulder, arguably has a harder role to play, partly because he has to be so dry and serious all the time. He sticks out like a sore thumb among all the provincial characters of Manyang, which is exactly the point.
Yeo plays his intensity to a different key and when it falls in sync with Shin’s in the show’s key moments – when their joint investigations start to bear fruit – they make for a thrilling harmony.
Beyond Evil features a lot of characters and all of them conceal something at some point or other, giving the terrific ensemble cast many opportunities to shine. Highlights include veterans Cheon Ho-jin as Manyang Precinct chief Nam Sang-bae, Choi Sung-eun as Manyang butcher Yoo Yae-ji, and Kim Shin-rok as detective Oh Ji-hwa.
As with many K-dramas, Beyond Evil adds shady real estate speculators to its pile of antagonists. It’s an effective trope, but as it’s been done to death on TV it also tends to put a drag on narratives when the writers lean too heavily on it. Thankfully, though the pieces are set in motion early on, the land redevelopment angle never becomes too important here; instead, the characters become more richly layered as the story progresses.
K-dramas are typically filled with highs and lows but Beyond Evil’s greatest trick may be that it manages to sustain its tension and mystery, with surprises and catharsis folded in throughout, for its whole run. It’s an unusually consistent show and succeeded in bringing us exactly where we wanted to go, which was someplace we didn’t expect.
Yet amid all the tension and murder, there’s a relatable core at the heart of Beyond Evil and some of its best moments were the many started meals at Yea-ji’s butcher shop. As the haggard officers and detectives of Manyang and Munju would commiserate and recharge over grilled meat and bowls of makgeolli (rice wine), we could share in their sense of community.
After all, the shocking unmasking of a deranged killer is bound to hit home a lot harder if you feel you’ve come to know them.
Beyond Evil is streaming on Viu.