Bad Guys: Vile City -- Law, Order, Justice -- A Double Edged Concept (Drama Review)

Bad Guys: Vile City was released in South Korea in 2017 and was written by Han Jung Hoon and directed by Han Dong Hwa; the series is a spin-off of the 2014 award-winning police procedural Bad Guys. The original show followed Detective Oh Gu-Tak (Kim Sang Joong), a man who will use any means necessary to catch criminals; he plans to form a team of "bad guys" to work on cases hunt down criminals, and the plan is approved as crimes in the city continues to rise. Compared to Bad Guys, the scope of Vile City is far denser.

If the intent with Bad Guys: Vile City’s opener was to be impactful, I have to say it was successful. Not only was it impactful it had me wondering why I had kept off watching it for such a long time. I enjoyed the Bad Guys, not that I see Bad Guys: Vile City as a sequel but more an extension and a pivotal one at that. To the extent to which law, order, and justice are marginalized, making gangsters out of those who swore to protect the sanctity of the law is horrifying. I can only imagine how bad it must’ve been for anyone, let alone a team of prosecutors, detectives, and public service persons, to take the extreme measures they did to hire and work with criminals to catch criminals.


I couldn’t for a life of me understand why this group of law officials turned gangsters would need Noh Jin Pyung (Kim Mu Yeol), a rookie prosecutor on their team. Not only that, throw him in the chaos and expect him to follow suit blindly. I was baffled until I realized Noh wasn’t just a witness that could bring Jo Young Gook’s (Kim Hong Pa) criminal organization down but was a pivotal member of Oh Goo Tak’s Bad Guys. It all starts to make sense.


Aside from the impressive opener, I hadn’t realized Joo Jin Mo was part of Bad Guys: Vile City’s cast. I genuinely enjoy his method acting style. The way he immerses himself in his roles, and particularly here as Heo Il Hoo, a widely feared, former violent mobster who turns to the right side of the law after an assassination attempt, was fantastic to watch. Kim Mu Yeol, on the other hand, I was not familiar with until this drama, and he has my respect. The way he delivers the role, the conflict between good and evil, always on edge, constantly torn between law and lawlessness, was beyond impressive.


Woo Je-mun (Park Joong Hoon) is another actor. I am embarrassed to say I wasn't familiar with him as an actor before this role as an experienced prosecutor on a crusade. After losing two colleagues while following the letter of the law, he decides the only way take down evil is to employ the same dirty tricks they use. However, in my opinion, the most remarkable element of Bad Guys: Vile City is bad guy Jo Young Gook, and he isn’t just any drug or arms dealer. He’s a corrupt chairman responsible for providing most of the jobs in Seowon, which puts him in a position of power—giving him free rein to eliminate not just the competition but for anyone who stands in his way, including the prosecutor’s office.


But what makes Jo Young GooK even more dangerous is that he employs so many people in Seowon that if he were to get arrested or convicted, thousands of already underprivileged people would lose their jobs and homes. But at the same time, if he’s allowed to continue to do as he pleases, more people, especially those addicted to the drugs he supplies, will die. It's like a catch 22 that ropes in those who measure the lives of the poor with the value of the economy.


Many actors make Bad Guys: Vile City a more intense watch than its predecessor Bad Guys, and that includes Kim Ji Soo as Han Gang-Joo, a young man, a killer who lived his entire life as an underdog, making every sacrifice to support and protect his younger sister. After an assassination attempt on his sister (meanwhile, the mayor’s secretary), Gang-Joo joins the investigative team, both for revenge and atonement.


There is also no forgetting Jang Sung Cheol (Yang Ik Jun), psychopathic gambling, drug addict detective, broken to no repair but ironically determined, without compromise, to fight corruption to his last breath. Of course, there’s no forgetting Ji Seung Hyun as hitman Joo Jae Pil for the short time he was in the drama. A truly versatile actor who seems to excel in any role he takes is a sensitive veterinary in You Are My Spring to a morally ambiguous newspaper report in The Good Detective or a straight and narrow conglomerate in Hello, Me!.


The show’s action sequences are almost entirely dependent on hand-to-hand combat — a detail that’s weirdly relieving after watching so much American entertainment — but these scenes possess a grittiness that few shows have embraced. But what is more, the show operates with the premise that there are terrible people to catch. Since the more traditional ways seem to have failed, they needed to figure it a more foolproof way and conclude that the only way to catch bad criminals is for those enforcing and protecting the law need to be a bit bad themselves —evil must be taken back by evil. But sometimes, the evil we fight is a lot closer than we ever imagined.


In that sense, when one takes a closer look at the totality of what makes a group of prosecutors and police detectives unafraid to deal out random violence and torture, but not only that band with an ex-mobster and an assassin, one can understand why they become determined to cross the line to battle organized crime, get revenge, and end institutional corruption in their city. More than the method Bad Guys: Vile City uses to reach its goal, it’s the journey it takes where a group of people who have nothing in common bond and come together beyond their common purpose sets it apart from other like dramas, including Bad Guys.

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