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Song Seung-heon in a still from Voice 4 as the series’ new co-lead character, LAPD police officer Derek Joo, who takes most of the spotlight from Kang Kwon-joo (Lee Ha-na).

K-drama midseason recap: Voice 4 – crime series beginning to flag

  • After a promising start, Voice 4 barges forward with a hodgepodge of lacklustre investigations and a main story that is an incoherent mess of half-baked ideas
  • New co-lead LAPD police officer Derek Joo (Song Seung-heon) takes most of the spotlight from Kang Kwon-joo (Lee Ha-na) – and it’s a pretty poor trade-off

This article contains spoilers.

Returning for its fourth season last month, Voice began in compelling fashion, introducing us to a gruesome new group of killers, adding the suave Song Seung-heon as a co-star, and shifting the action to South Korea’s idyllic Jeju Island.

Combined, these elements were more than enough reason for us to dive back into the unique auditory investigations of Kang Kwon-joo ( Lee Ha-na) and her “Golden Time” emergency call centre team.

Sadly, after a breathless and intriguing opening, the show has barrelled forward with a hodgepodge of lacklustre investigations and a principal villain who has grown more confused and less threatening with each episode.

The best part of Voice 4’s midseason run came pretty early on in episode five, and concerned the disappearance of a local young haenyeo ( the famed female divers in Jeju who scour the seabed for seafood).

When her belongings and a note are discovered by a lighthouse, she is believed to have taken her own life, but against the protestations of the local police, Kwon-joo doesn’t buy that. Through her tenacity and the investigative skills of Derek Joo (Song), the girl’s trail is finally found.

It turns out she has been abducted by a dangerous gang of drug pushers.

So far, so pedestrian, but things kick into high gear when the girl succeeds in evading her captors, who give chase over the land while she swims to the port through underground tunnels.

The exciting chase continues along the piers, until she finds herself locked within a boat’s hull with the water level steadily creeping up towards the ceiling.

Voice 4: call centre thriller K-drama decamps to island setting

Joo and his team arrive in the nick of time to arrest the dealers and, with Kwon-joo’s help over the walkie-talkie, the girl is located and everyone joins forces to hoist the locked lid open – a terrifically tense moment marred by the girl giving up and sinking to the bottom, only for her eyes to pop open and legs to kick into action, shooting her to the surface at the moment the lid opens.

This side investigation is mostly a fun one but, as is usually the case with Korean media, the representation of drugs is a very negative one. There are no friendly neighbourhood drug dealers here – these Jeju Island pushers are pure evil; the drug users fare no better, among them a drug-addled local who is depicted as having lost all his sense and morals.

While a measured view of drug use is probably a long way off in a society that still has very strict views about substance abuse that isn’t related to alcohol or cigarettes, hysterical depictions like this don’t do the show many favours, particularly when juxtaposed with more serious crimes that are more likely to draw an emotional response from viewers.

Lee Ha-na (left) and Lee Kyu-hyung in a still from Voice 4.

Following this drug-fuelled interlude, Voice 4 returns to its main villain, the so-called Circus Man, who we discover is embodying separate male and female personalities.

Split personality disorders are a-dime-a-dozen in serial killer narratives, but they can still be fun if the character is built carefully and the reveal well handled. That is far from the case here.

The disorder manifests itself as an incessant stream of maniacal cackles and split-personality arguments, and is a disappointing mechanism for revealing the Circus Man’s identity.

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With most of what was set up at the beginning of the season forgotten, Voice 4 continues to barge forward with crimes that lack tension and originality and a main thread that gives Mouse a run for its money as an incoherent mess of half-baked ideas.

What’s more, we’ve seen precious little of Kwon-joo’s auditory skills in this middle run of episodes. In the absence of her unusual and pleasingly fantastical investigative technique, we’ve instead seen LAPD officer Joo hog most of the spotlight thanks to his expertise in just about every subject known to man.

That’s a pretty poor trade-off and, unless some balance is achieved between the leads over the next few weeks, Kwon and her Golden Time team may well drift off into the sunset for good. Hopefully they’ll take the dreary Circus Man along with them.

Lee Ha-na in a still from Voice 4.

Voice 4 is streaming on Viu.