Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In the Spotlight

Spotlight is a Korean drama that I watched over my last exam period, featuring my favourite Korean actress, Son Yeh Jin (Alone in Love). It follows the exploits of Seo Woo Jin, a gutsy television journalist with nerves of steel and a penchant for trouble. At the beginning of the series, Woo Jin is an undervalued and disrespected member of the news team. However, an early incident leads to the ouster of her team captain, and veteran reporter Oh Tae Suk (Ji Jin Hee) is brought in to fill the void. Tae Suk quickly recognizes Woo Jin's talent and spirit, and takes her under his wing, setting her on the road to becoming a great reporter.

The series was highly watchable, with little of Alone in Love's "shovelling" (endless plot filler that leads nowhere). It plods steadily from one story arc to the next within its sixteen episode course, all the while developing the characters and their relationships with one another. The plot also follows a solid progression, thrusting Woo Jin and Tae Suk into increasingly dramatic situations. These include a tense interview with a serial killer, corporate scandals, and government corruption. Investigating such high level individuals leads to its share of dangerous moments, including threats, betrayal, and violence. The situations are genuinely dramatic and feel believable (despite their extremeness).

"I understand – The problems that plague this field, the evil that plagues people, and more than anything, the doubt of being a reporter. This and that, you must be feeling it all. But, you have to surpass all of that to win. That’s growth."

Spotlight isn't all sunshine and rainbows however. It has its fair share of deficits. Most of these lie with the characters themselves. Tae Suk, while a responsible and caring captain, has quite a temper and finds himself screaming at bosses and underlings alike far more than I care to hear. I found myself hard pressed to think of a Western television show in which a protagonist felt that they could yell at those around them so casually.

Woo Jin is hardheaded and unyielding. While her desire to snag the "big scoop" is admirable, she seldom stops to consider to the danger to herself, her family, her colleagues, or her company (television station GBS News). As a result, many of the dangerous situations feel contrived - a result of Woo Jin disregarding Tae Suk's advice and taking the least wise course of action.

“If it turns out that the news was not true, and if I uncover the truth about Seo Woo Jin unknowingly accepting that gift, please help me just that once.”

“Cap. Who accepts a bribe, knowing it’s a bribe?”

In keeping with what I previously described as a "twisted sense" of nobility, the characters sacrifice when sacrificing only makes the situation worse. It's foolishness. They try to use their heads when they need to use their hearts. They follow their hearts when it is imperative that they think with their heads. They don't listen when they should. They do when they shouldn't. They lie when they ought to tell the truth, and tell the truth when a small lie could prevent immeasurable pain and suffering. Thus, it's often no surprise when they get stung badly.

There were episodes of this show when I honestly was afraid every time that Seo Woo Jin started a car. In Western television, her car would have exploded for sure. She was playing with fire.

“I think… I must have done something really wrong.”

“It’s not your fault. It’s because the world is dark and twisted. You’re doing fine Seo Woo Jin. It’s the world that’s wrong.”

In the end, though, the situations were big enough to feel dangerous even without the characters' foolishness. The characters themselves developed well, forming relationships and personalities that I, as the viewer, genuinely cared about. Plus, the story moved along at a good pace.

I was disappointed that there wasn't any compelling romance story, but that's likely more attributable to my own sappiness and affinity for girly drama rather than a shortfall of the show.

Spotlight provided me with 16 hours of solid procrastination entertainment. It was relatively well filmed, and it provided a compelling experience from start to finish. Thumbs up.