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Veteran K-drama star Lee Young-ae stars in the comedy-tinged procedural Inspector Koo as the titular former police officer facing off against an unhinged serial killer.

Netflix K-drama Inspector Koo: Lee Young-ae returns in kooky serial killer comedy-drama

  • K-drama legend Lee Young-ae and Kim Hye-jun, of Kingdom, star in Netflix’s Inspector Koo as a former police officer and a young, unhinged serial killer
  • Both are eccentric characters that don’t make sense on paper, but their aggressive performances are somewhat tempered by a stellar supporting cast

This article contains minor spoilers.

Following a brief voice-over cameo in Taxi Driver earlier this year, Lee Young-ae is back on screens in her first leading role since 2017’s Saimdang, Memoir of Colors.

The veteran star isn’t afraid to muss up her image in the comedy-tinged serial killer procedural Inspector Koo, in which she plays the titular former police officer putting her deduction skills to use as an insurance investigator – when she isn’t playing video games, that is.

Joining her on screen is the young star Kim Hye-jun, best known to viewers as the queen in the Netflix series Kingdom, as an unhinged serial killer who takes a page out of Dexter’s book as she targets people who’ve done bad things.

Filled with verve and colour but somewhat scattered in its plotting, the show has already drawn some comparisons to the acclaimed BBC series Killing Eve. Meanwhile, its perplexing psychology places it squarely in the realm of loopy Korean serial killer shows such as Mouse.

Kicking off as it means to continue, Inspector Koo opens with a stylish sequence in which a teenage Song Yi-kyung (Kim) experiments with blood and test tubes in a darkened science classroom before beckoning a passel of kittens that venture through the door.

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In another dark room, surrounded by crushed beer cans, crumpled snack packs and a smoking PC tower, Koo Kyung-yi (Lee) manically taps on her mouse and keyboard and breathlessly converses with fellow players as they do battle in an online game until her system overheats.

At NT Life Insurance, Investigation Team B members Na Je-hee (Kwak Sun-young) and Oh Gyeong-su (Cho Hyun-chul) bid farewell to a smarmy colleague as he joins the prized Team A. Needing to make a mark before they get the axe, Je-hee opts for a tricky insurance case and knows there’s only one person who could help them with it.

Je-hee and Gyeong-su barge in on Kyung-yi mid-game and do the unthinkable – they cut the power. After recharging her – power up bar graphics pop up frequently – with some lushly filmed comfort food and draught beer and enticing her with a new gaming set-up, Kyung-yi grudgingly takes the case, that of a family man who went missing during a hike.

Kim Hye-jun in a still from Inspector Koo.

Accident, suicide or insurance fraud? To find out, Kyung-yi enlists the services of the quasi-mute gamer Santa (Baek Sung-chul) as her driver/assistant and they head to the southern seaside town of Tongyeong.

In one of many instances of the show attempting to wrong-foot us, Yi-kyung’s sinister experiment turns out to be an elaborate ploy. A gaggle of teenage girls enters a classroom practising Shakespeare lines and, as they search for the kittens, they find a mysterious box. Nervously opening it, Yi-kyung’s head and four felines dressed in bows pop up to surprise them.

Lee Young-ae in a still from Inspector Koo.

Cat lovers will be relieved to see the animals unharmed, but the show cruelly plays with our expectations when most of the kittens do come to harm before the end of the episode anyway.

An entertaining opening episode is mostly given over to the Tongyeong case, which introduces us to Inspector Koo’s unique brand of investigation, involving lots of role-playing and zany outbursts.

By the time episode two rolls around, Yi-kyung has become a university student as well as a serial killer whose crimes necessitate the forming of a special unit, comprised of Kyung-yi and Santa, and NT’s Team B, which is run by a mysterious foundation group headed by Yong Sook (Kim Hae-sook).

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Both Kyung-yi and Yi-kyung are aggressively eccentric characters that seem designed to look interesting on the screen but surely don’t make a lick of sense on the page. Yi-kyung orchestrates elaborate and terribly unconvincing schemes and generally behaves like a caricatured lunatic.

As for Inspector Koo-ky, she ambles around like a charged dynamo finding clues and figuring out mysteries as if by magic – she’s certainly no Sherlock Holmes. Her method of solving problems merely involves behaving strangely.

Cho Hyun-chul (left) and Kwak Sun-young in a still from Inspector Koo.

For example, one evening playing games, she divines that one of her anonymous online teammates is planning to commit suicide, figures out who they are and appears at their doorstep almost instantaneously. Rather than talk the person off of the ledge, she blabbers on about her own problems and jumps off the roof herself, landing in a rubbish truck that drives off.

Inspector Koo is filled with these manic vignettes, some of which are amusing, but few, if any, give us any insight into the characters, nor do they help to push the story forward.

That said, the supporting cast, particularly Kwak Sun-young and the ace character actor Cho Hyun-chul from the flustered Team B, are often on hand to temper the more aggressive performances of the leads.

Lee Young-ae in a still from Inspector Koo.

With only 12 episodes, the show is unlikely to slow down its pace, but let’s just hope it’s going somewhere interesting.

Inspector Koo is streaming on Netflix.