Review | Netflix K-drama review: Somebody – sex and violence favoured over logic in intriguing yet perplexing serial killer romance
- App programmer on the autism spectrum meets sociopathic architect and cruelty ensues as their unusual relationship ventures into Bonnie and Clyde territory
- That’s the essence of Somebody, a story that’s hard to decipher but whose themes are alienation and marginalisation. There’s not much logic, but a lot of sex
When its first three episodes premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in October, Somebody looked a tantalising but frustrating show.
Packed with a surfeit of intriguing ideas, it coasted along with a killer ambience, yet the narrative was at best opaque. What was the story and where was it going?
Now the whole series is available to stream on Netflix; while the remaining episodes are just as intriguing, the story is as inscrutable as ever.
As evidenced by tightly woven films like Happy End and Heart Blackened, director Jung Ji-woo has never had trouble conveying a story clearly. The lack of narrative clarity in his latest creation makes it feel like he is pushing us to draw our own conclusions.
Given the story’s many risqué elements, it’s a bold gambit.
Boiled down to its essentials, Somebody is a love story between Kim Sum (Kang Hae-lim, in her debut leading role), an app programmer on the autism spectrum, and Seong Yun-o (Hello, Me!’s Kim Young-kwang), a serial killer working as an architect.
Sum has difficulty relating to people around her, but what she does understand is machines.
This technical ability, combined with her confusion about social behaviour, drives her to create ‘Someone’, an AI chatbot that levels out the social playing field by allowing the desires of shy personalities to be heard.
Sum is headhunted by the start-up Spectrum, where, as its CTO (chief technical officer), she builds out the chatbot into the Tinder-esque app Somebody.
Yun-o is a tall and intense young man who begins using Somebody. He is a sociopath who lures lonely people through the app, many of whom he kills, but not all. This causes Spectrum to attract negative attention from the police. The company won’t share private information, but an internal investigation begins.
Sum soon begins conversing with Yun-o and, despite the apparent danger of doing so, she meets him in person. Sum is drawn to him and the more time they spend together, the more she feels that she’s finally found someone who understands her.
Yun-o recognises something in Sum as well, and he carefully coaxes out her latent appetite for violence. This begins with an excruciating scene involving a dying cat being put out of its misery that may serve as a litmus test for many viewers.
It’s certainly not the last time our tolerance for cruelty will be put to the test.
Also in the picture are Sum’s friend Yeong Gi-eun (Kim Soo-yeon), a police officer who uses a wheelchair after being paralysed in an accident, and Gi-eun’s friend Im Mok-won (Kim Yong-ji), a lesbian shaman.
Gi-eun becomes one of Yun-o’s victims when he lures her to an abandoned swimming pool, sleeps with her and then leaves her there with no wheelchair, forcing to crawl her way back to civilisation in the middle of the night.
Following this traumatic incident Gi-eun is determined to get her revenge, but her embarrassment compels her to do it alone. Rather than tell her colleagues what happened, she enlists the help of Mok-won and, to a lesser degree, Sum, who is torn between love and loyalty.
The rest of the show is largely made up of sex and characters putting themselves in harm’s way, two acts which in the world of Somebody are often synonymous.
The themes of alienation and marginalisation ring out loud and clear, but the package in which they’re delivered will be distasteful for many viewers.
The collection of neuro-divergent, disabled and homosexual characters feels tokenistic and the show’s prurient viewpoint only makes things worse. There’s a lot of sex in Somebody, far more than is necessary to put its point across.
The women in the story all exist in a chasm of loneliness, and Somebody’s use of risky sex represents the desperate lengths to which they’ll go to fill it. But sex is the only way the show has to describe that longing for connection; after a while it all starts to feel a bit pervy.
All the characters are driven by deep-seated desires and impulses, but this often leads to confusing and at times difficult-to-accept behaviour.
Sum puts herself in great danger with Yun-o, which we can accept since on some deep level these two characters are able to understand and trust one another. Not so with Gi-eun, who repeatedly engages in reckless behaviour.
At one point she goes to meet Yun-o again in a maze of thin alleyways, as they are being demolished, not letting anyone know where she is and with no way of defending herself.
If this perplexing behaviour was limited to the main characters, it might have led to some contemplation on our part – what drives these characters to behave this way?
But sadly, even minor characters don’t act within the bounds of reason. Among them are workers who don’t force a women in a wheelchair out of a demolition area and cops oblivious to the outrageously suspicious Yun-o.
Whatever the director may or may have not have been trying to say, much of it is lost in the haphazardness of what is otherwise a slickly produced and intermittently effective show.
Somebody is streaming on Netflix.