Disney+ K-drama review: Vigilante – thrilling crime series starring Nam Joo-hyuk that explores the different sides of justice doesn’t lose steam

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The addition of several larger-than-life characters, including Lee Joon-hyuk’s wild-eyed corporate tycoon Jo Gang-ok, however, didn’t detract from the show’s pulpy allure and musings on the role of justice in a society governed by inadequate laws, but rather added to them.

Nam Joo-hyuk as Kim Ji-yong in a still from “Vigilante”.

At the end of the month, all these elements came together in a largely satisfying climax as Nam Joo-hyuk’s Vigilante (also known as Kim Ji-yong) faced off with each side of the justice system in a bare-fisted dust-up in the murky sewers underneath the city.

At first, the show was all about the angry young police academy student Ji-yong taking his first steps into the night as the black-hoodie-uniformed Vigilante. Ji-yong lost his mother to a senseless act of violence as a child, and his rage was fuelled by a judicial system that was scandalously lenient on her killer.

After finally avenging his mother as an adult by beating her freed attacker to death, Ji-yong enters the police academy, where he is able to surreptitiously gain access to investigation files. He then begins his crusade, meting out the bloody justice which he feels the system has failed to.

Kim So-jin as dogged reporter Choi Mi-ryeo in a still from “Vigilante”.

Kim So-jin’s dogged reporter Choi Mi-ryeo, with her eye-popping neon red hair and fearlessness, dubs this crusader of the night the “Vigilante”, causing a media storm and triggering a major manhunt.

Soon put in charge of this investigation is the hulking detective Jo Heon (Yoo Ji-tae), who sees himself as an iron-fisted enforcer of the rule of law. His desire for justice is equal to Ji-yong’s, but his belief in the system is unwavering, and he cannot abide the Vigilante’s flouting of the law.

On the other hand is Gang-ok, heir to a chaebol (Korean family-run corporation), who wants to become the Vigilante’s benefactor. Surrounded by comic-book action figures in his swanky pad, Gang-ok spends more time in the gym than the boardroom and has an excitable personality more befitting a young boy.

Yoo Ji-tae as detective Jo Heon in a still from “Vigilante”.

Ji-yong’s interactions with Heon and Gang-ok form the intriguing kernel of the show’s story as Vigilante builds on its tantalising premise, rather than run out of steam like so many series.

The grieving and vengeful Ji-yong, the square-jawed and moralistic Heon and the debonair billionaire Gang-ok are essentially three sides of the tortured Batman persona. Instead of being internalised as they are within the caped crusader, here they are blown apart and pitted against one another.

This allows the show to dig into the moral conundrums of justice and how to administer it. This philosophising runs parallel to its more typical story of action to take down corrupt bigwigs who try to cover their tracks and take out the Vigilante before he takes them out.

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Heon, brought vividly to life by Yoo, who has added mass to his already considerable height for the part, stands out among the three justice-seeking personas.

Underscoring his respect for the system and his disdain for those who disrespect it, he speaks very formally to everyone until they ignore his warnings. He then announces that he will speak casually to them, and usually starts doing so with his fists.

Heon beats suspects until he gets what he wants out of them, in a fashion reminiscent of the deplorable interrogation techniques used by South Korean police on political dissidents in the 1980s, and illegally confines potential informants until they grovel at his feet.

Nam Joo-hyuk (left) as Kim Ji-yong, police recruit by day and the Vigilante by night, and Lee Joon-hyuk as excitable chaebol heir Jo Gang-ok in a still from “Vigilante”.

The philosophising adds a nourishing layer to the show, but at the end of the day Vigilante is still very much pulp fiction. It comes alive in its set pieces and characters lean in to caricature for effect.

Like many recent streaming series, this one leaves the door open for a season 2 and, for once, this actually makes sense. Hopefully we’ll be given a chance to step through alongside the Vigilante.

Vigilante is streaming on Disney+.

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