This past month, I’ve sort of been on a K-drama kick. Not only did I manage to find one I enjoyed on Netflix, I managed to find two! And this drama, Black, was definitely something else! It’s actually so unique from what I’ve seen thus far! Which, admittedly, isn’t much, but at least is something!
Basically, Black is about a girl named Ha-Ram Kang (played by Go A-Ra) who can see when people will die and a grim reaper named 444. According to the mythology of the show, when people die, their souls are collected by grim reapers. However, these grim reapers don’t just show up once the person dies — they actually shadow the person before their death (can be a few minutes or few hours). Although the reapers appear to have some sort of human form, normal humans can’t see them, or the souls of the people who died. However, Ha-Ram can. Ha-Ram has the ability to see these grim reapers — but she doesn’t see their human forms. Instead, Ha-Ram sees the grim reapers as black shadows. Hence, whenever a person is about to die and the grim reapers come to shadow that person, Ha-Ram is able to see a black shadow behind the person — which signifies to her that death is imminent for the person. On top of that, if she touches the shadow/ grim reaper, she can actually see the exact moment and way the person destined to die will die.
As Ha-Ram has had this ability since childhood, she’s always been very afraid of the shadows (no one else can see them except for her). Hence, whenever she saw them and pointed them out, others would laugh at her and think of her as crazy. In fact, some even called her misfortunate – saying that death followed her. As a result, to protect herself (as she fears the shadows), she tends to wear sunglasses everywhere. The dark lens of the sunglasses prevent her from being able to see the shadows. However, even this remedy is not enough as she isn’t always able to wear the glasses — i.e. at her job they tell her to take it off or she falls and they fall off. She thinks of her ability as bad luck, until a chance meeting with Detective Han Moo-Gang (played by Song Seung-Heon). Moo-Gang makes Ha-Ram realize that she could use her gift for good — she could prevent deaths before they occurred (i.e. touching the shadow, seeing how the person died, and then preventing that version of events from happening).
However, it turns out that Moo-Gang has some mysteries of his own. A former successful accountant in the States, Moo-Gang abruptly quit his job a few years ago, took the Korean police exam and passed to become a detective. However, the strange part is that Moo-Gang cannot even stand to look at dead bodies! In fact, he’s known for his weak stomach — as he ends up vomiting over the corpses whenever his team is called! Hence, he’s also looked down upon by his teammates and other police officers. Yet, despite this, he remains incredibly polite to them. However, we’re also given hints as to how everything is not alright with him. He has a secret basement room on his property that is locked shut and only opens with a scan of his eyeballs. He also mentions some work he must complete. In fact, his girlfriend, Soo- Wan (played by Lee El), is also low-key suspicious and worried because it doesn’t make sense how someone who is unable to look at dead bodies would try to become a detective.
While all of this is happening in the upperworld, we also go down to the underworld. I mentioned earlier that grim reapers shadowed people who were about to die. When the person died, the grim reaper would grab the soul of the dead person and lead them to the underworld — whether it be to heaven, hell, or to become a grim reaper. There are two types of grim reapers: those who are elite and born as reapers (aka their bodies have never been found) and those who committed suicide and are grim reapers due to punishment (who are also looked down upon). Each reaper is often given a partner with whom they go to collect souls. Once a partner learns enough of collecting souls, or when the partner’s body is finally found (if they are an elite reaper), or when a soul is finally able to pass, the partner’s change. Here, we’re introduced to one of the most cold hearted grim reapers, 444 (played by Kim Tae-Woo). 444 is known for his ruthlessness in collecting souls and his efficiency. He begins the series with one partner and changes to another one early on — as his previous partner’s soul moves on. The second partner (played by Park Doo-Sik) referred to as ‘loser,’ is an extremely inept grim reaper who feels sympathy for the recently deceased. Annoyed by him, 444 attempts to get rid of his partner by sabotaging him — that’s another thing: grim reapers can be sentenced to become dogs if they break rules, like run away or let souls run away. Knowing that his partner is not trained enough, 444 sends him on a soul retrieving mission on his own — banking on his partner losing the soul and thus becoming a dog, allowing 444 to get a new parter. However, the new partner takes advantage of his newfound freedom to enter into the dead body of another person — aka running away from his duties. It turns out that the older grim reapers are also responsible for mistakes rookies make, so when the loser runs away, 444 realizes its his head on the chopping table. Hence, he also escapes to the upperworld (he actually also has a valid reason as he’s been assigned a soul to collect) to catch the loser and bring him back for his punishment.
Through a series of events, Moo-Gang ends up getting shot and dying, with 444 taking over his body. 444 (now played by Song Seung-Heon) plans to use the human body to track down the body the loser is hiding in to bring him back. However, the problem is that 444 is unable to see if a human body is possessed by a grim reaper or not. Similarly, 444’s friends, grim reapers 007 (played by Jo Jae-Yoon) and 416 (played by Lee Kyu-Bok and Jung Jun-Won), tell him that for taking over a human’s body, the grim reaper leaders (Death Note) are also after him now. Finally, 444 also has to deal with Moo-Gang’s life. Although he is helped out a bit by the latter problem by claiming memory loss. Through a meeting with Ha-Ram, who he realizes can see shadows inside people too (i.e. grim reapers inside human bodies), he decides to utilize her eyes to find the loser and bring him back to the underworld to clear his name. However, to prevent Ha-Ram from seeing the shadow inside Moo-Gang’s body, 444 dresses in all black. Just like how the black sunglasses lens prevented Ha-Ram from seeing shadows, the black clothing did the same. Hence, the two join forces. However, Ha-Ram is still under the illusion that she’s working with Moo-Gang to save peoples lives, while 444 uses her for his own reasons.
Among this, we’re also introduced to Oh Man-Soo (played by Kim Dong-Jun). Man-Soo is the second son of a rich businessman. However, he is treated horribly by the family, especially his older half-brother Oh Man-Ho (played by Choi Min-Chul) who verbally and physically abuses him. Oh Chun-So, Man-Soo and Man-Ho’s father is bedridden and owns a number of companies under the name of “Royeol Group.” Among them, is an insurance company, Royeol Insurance, that is about to go bankrupt. In order to save himself and his family name, Man-Ho makes Man-Soo the chairman of the insurance company. Man-Ho intends to have Man-Soo run the failing company while he attempts to sell it to some Chinese investors. However, Man-Soo is unaware of this — at first. When he finds out, he tries his hardest to ensure that the company does not go down. To do so, he hired Ha-Ram. He too had witnessed Ha-Ram’s shadow seeing ability and unlike others, believed her completely. So he hires her to spy on his top clients to ensure that they will not die and get money from the insurance company — i.e. she stalks them to ensure that they have no black shadow. Ha-Ram isn’t happy to do this, but does so because she needs the money and because Man-Soo’s company holds some information pertinent to her father’s murder.
Are you still with me? Because the plot actually gets even more complicated and has more elements. There are various mysteries embedded in each episode and the show actually deals with a lot of dark themes. It touches upon issues like child sexual abuse, rape, abuse, prostitution, etc. On that note, it’s also quite a violent drama — with heavy focus given to murderers and quite a few scenes of people getting murdered. However, personally, I still quite enjoyed it. At its core, the show is a thriller. And as for the thrill, there is tons of suspense in each episode. Like I said earlier, new mysteries are always popping up and revealing themselves. In fact, there’s also a lot of red herrings to throw viewers off track, even though they seem connected. Speaking of that, I think the best thing about this show, aside from the acting, was the writing. Aside from the last episode, which I’ll talk about more later, the writing for this show was fantastic. Every scene and dialogue had a purpose. The writers did a fantastic job keeping the suspense and creating an interesting mystery, but also keeping a close reign on the mystery (at least until the end). Everything was seemingly connected and pleasantly enough, we were shown that too. What I mean by that, is that we got to see the two sides of scenes happening: those from the view of the past/ who actually experienced the scene and those from the view of the present/ Ha-Ram seeing the death or the brief flashbacks we’d get when the characters would be trying to solve a mystery. It was honestly fantastic and amazing.
However, it wasn’t just the story that was good, I’d have to give props to the acting and characters too. Major props go to Song Seung-Heon who played 444/Black/adult Moo-Gang. Seung-Heon was FANTASTIC and just so believable. If anything, I think he, at times, overshadowed Go A-Ra’s performance, who also put in a decent performance, but not to Seung-Heon’s level. I think props also need to be given to Lee El and Kim Dong-Jun, who played Yoon Soo-Wan and Oh Man-Soo respectively. In fact, the latter kind of felt like the dark house — the hero who wouldn’t get the girl or be the most respected person, but you would still root for him. I actually think his character and role was done the most dirty as we got no mentions of what he did after. It was disappointing.
Which brings me to my next points: the finale episode and the last 10 minutes. I heard somewhere that this show was only supposed to air for 16 episodes but ended up getting extended to 18 due to its popularity. I don’t know how true it is, but I’m inclined to think that it might be true, just because of the last minutes of the 18th episode which basically ruined the entire buildup of the show. Not only did it go contrary to the entire story we had been shown, but it also contradicted the mythology of the show and just didn’t make sense. To spoil you, basically 444 decides to get the ultimate punishment and remove himself from ever existing. Which okay fine — a sad ending would be sad but okay. But then Ha-Ram also decides to commit suicide because she finds out the truth of her shooting Joon. Which again, okay fine — a sad ending. But strangely enough, she asks to be reborn and commits suicide, but doesn’t end up as a grim reaper?!? The show took pains to establish that those who committed suicide become grim reapers — so why didn’t she? On top of that, 444 narrates that because he removed his existence, he was able to prevent her dad from dying and being the other 444, thereby resulting in Ha-Ram being born a normal girl with normal eyes that couldn’t see the grim reapers. Which — what?!? How?! Erasing his existence meant that 444 could go back in time? And what about Kim Sun-young? What happened to the entire tape dilemma? Did the criminals get their comeuppance? Does this mean that Crazy Dog never died? What about all those moments where Joon played an important role? On top of that, we see Ha-Ram live a normal life, becoming a paramedic and saving people and receiving awards from the President. And then we see her as an old woman, friends with Leo (played by Kim Jae-Young — sidenote, his acting was decent too). However, this scene is also marred by the fact that the makeup used to make the actors look older is ATROCIOUS. Seriously, it’s pretty bad. But anyways, in their old age, Leo tells the story of 444 falling in love with a human woman (aka to Ha-Ram) who ends up forgetting about him as he erases his existence. But then when Ha-Ram dies, it’s 444 who comes to pick up her soul and the two walk together into the afterlife or whatever. Like what?!?! The last 10 minutes literally go against everything we’re told?
I honestly think that had those last 10 minutes never been shown, this show would firmly be cemented as being one of the best K-drama’s I’ve ever seen. In fact, my whole family get low-key interested in the drama because it was that amazing. That said, it’s also worth pointing out that there were definitely a few continuity issues present as well. One that comes to mind is the Leo reveal. We’re shown that Leo died much earlier and that the current Leo in the show is actually the loser 444’s been looking for. Which is fine and makes sense. However, as this means that Leo is effectively a grim reaper within a human body, Ha-Ram should’ve seen a shadow inside his body whenever he was near. And there’s actually quite a few instances where the two interact and Leo’s even wearing non-black clothing; yet Ha-Ram never notices. Similarly, I didn’t like the characters of 007 and 416. They were supposed to be the comic relief I guess, but I just found them so annoying. And of course, there’s no point in mentioning the horrible ending.
My rating: Go watch this show for a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end and be prepared to have every one of your guesses fail (well maybe not all, but at least some)!