Heartless City (2013) Review Cont’d

Space of Innocence

The space of innocence is clearly rendered as part of the landscape of the past. Foregrounded in sepia-toned flashbacks of how the main character gets his moniker, Baksa Aduel, and his makeshift foster family made out of small-time drug pusher, Safari Moon, and the neighbourhood’s most popular prostitute, Jin-sook, engaging in fairly normal family-oriented activities like playing in the rain and eating ice-cream together, we see these characters as family first, and criminals second. The only hint we have of their criminal connections comes from the intrusion of present troubles on these memories of the past.

As part of the plot, the shades of innocence here are two-fold. On one level, it is the wholeness of this makeshift family unit that has since disintegrated, and on another level it is about the innocence of being lower down the rungs in a crime-ridden world where one doesn’t need to deal with its politics or questions of how deep and how far reaching its corruption goes.

Thus as Baksa Aduel makes his way up the crime ladder uncovering just how deep the corruption goes, he is both moving further and closer to the restoration of a space of innocence. Closer because of his dual nature as rising crime boss but also as undercover police officer on a mission to find the root of the corruption so he can choke it off before it gives succor to another generation of crime bosses; and further because we watch him grow more and more disillusioned as he realizes just how deep the corruption goes.

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It seems almost apt that by the end of the series, we see the narrative come full circle with Soo-min graduating from the police academy in Kyung-mi’s place and Baksa Aduel disappearing into the crowd yet again. But this time instead of starting on his undercover mission, it is to cement the success of his mission as the surviving piece of the criminal organization he spent the whole series dismantling so that even if he cannot return to a space of innocence, the characters who survive him can.

This sort of semi-tragic, and decidedly bittersweet ending in place of a full on happy ending where Soo-min and Shi-hyun (Baksa Aduel’s real name) get to live happily ever after, is the realist concession that Williams calls the 3rd tenet of melodrama.

One thing that I’m not too sure of, because I don’t know S.Korean politics, is that Williams says that “a melodramatic mode [struggles] to ‘solve’ the overwhelming moral burden of having been the “bad guys”… [wherein] The greater the historical burden of guilt, the more pathetically and the more actively the melodrama works to recognize and regain lost innocence” (emphasis mine, 61). So, as an AWOL/”KIA” ex-cop with no hope of a happy ending for himself, Baksa Aduel seems to have successfully stemmed the tide of corruption within the police force by bringing down the corrupt Commissioner Min. But even at the series’ end, there’s an atmosphere of this success being only temporary given the survival of the corrupt senator and Hyeong-min’s (the other male lead who heads a Special Branch looking into corruption within the police force) father, the Head of Prosecutors. And this is where the unreality of melodrama kicks in. The Head of Prosecution has a sudden change of heart after a heart-to-heart talk with Baksa Aduel about fathers and sons and decides to confess his corrupt ways becoming the lynchpin in Hyeong-min’s case.

So it sounds like the melodramatic mode seems to have gone into overdrive by the series’ end and according to Williams this only happens when there’s a great burden of guilt that needs to be resolved or explained away which she calls melodrama’s “compulsion to reconcile the irreconcilable” (75). But again, I don’t know S. Korean politics, and this is just a drama and Williams is just a film critic.

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