For the gore lovers (like moi), sorry, the gore level here is pretty low. I’d place Gap-dong as a psychological thriller rather than the more straight forward slash-and-rip types of show (think Ten 1/2, God’s Quiz). To have a really good psychological thriller, a series would need to replace visual scares with extremely good character buildups (meaning: NO 2D standees pls!) and chilling atmospheric shots (yunno those scenes where nothing happens ON screen, but your imagination juz goes wild thinking about what has happened OFF screen?) And cos it’s a slightly longer series (20, instead of the 16eps), Gap-dong has to ensure that it strongly maintains these two elements throughout the 10 weeks, in order to keep viewers glued to their screens.
In case you don’t know, Gap-dong is loosely based on a real unsolved serial rape/strangulation case which happened in Hwaseong between 1986 and 1991. Like the victims in Gap-dong, the Hwaseong victims were female (ranging from 13-71), who were raped and then strangled with either their pantyhoses or clothings. However, the 10th victim was 69 years old, and not a young little girl like in Gap-dong. (well, the show has license to sensationalise)
The (versatile and some very experienced) Cast:
- Yoon Sang-hyun (in I Hear Your Voice) as Ha Moo-yeom. His mentally retarded dad was accused to be Gap-dong by the police (namely, Chul-gon) and tortured to admit guilt. Moo-yeom is insistent his dad is innocent (even though his dad came home one night with an incriminating blood stained jacket), but I think he does have nagging doubts. Moo-yeom’s dad eventually committed suicide due to the pressure, and Moo-yeom grows up in a monastery. He becomes a dogged police officer when he grows up.
- Sung Dong-il (in Reply 1997/4) as Yang Chul-gon. Previously the detective on Gap-dong’s case, he truly believes (to the point of bigotry) that Moo-yeom’s father was and is Gap-dong — even though the scant evidence then were mainly circumstantial in nature. When Moo-yeom’s father committed suicide, he somehow pinned the blame and transferred the guilt on Moo-yeom. Years later, Chul-gon returns to Iltan as a high ranking police officer and crosses path with Moo-yeom again.
- Kim Min-jung as Maria Oh. Psychiatrist by day, but transforms into a wild chick once off-duty. She is (almost) one of Gap-dong’s victim and sole, living witness, and has an (unhealthy) obsession with him. She chooses to practise in the psychiatric ward for convicts, in the bid to identify Gap-dong — whom she believes has “disappeared” into the mental hospital.
- Lee-joon as Ryu Tae-oh. Previously a patient (and ex-convict) of the mental hospital where Maria currently practises in. He manages to identify Gap-dong amongst the patients and idolises him. When released, he immediately goes about continuing his idol’s “great works” (i.e. he starts murdering women). But he is smarter than his predecessors, as he chooses not to leave incriminating evidence like DNA and sperm traces, which can nail him with current day’s forensic capabilities.
- Kim Ji-won (in Heirs) as Ma Ji-wool. Moo-yeom’s friend and a high school student. She publishes webtoons under the pen name of “Matilda”. Tae-oh idens her as one of his victims-to-be as early as ep1, but chooses to “humour” her and allows Ji-wool to starr him in her new online thriller comic The Beast’s Path. Unfortunately, Ji-wool unknowingly gives Tae-oh new ideas for murder, as the latter decided to enact the murders depicted in The Beast’s Path.
Just to let you folks know, Dramabeans is recapping Gap-dong on a weekly basis — great for those who don’t want/don’t have time to watch the show, but don’t mind reading it.
In a super-duper short summary, Gap-dong is about a criminal with the same nickname (cos the police hasn’t iden/ caught him) that kinda disappeared into thin air after commiting a series of rape-murders. His latest murder, before his disappearance, is of a little girl. However, there were 2 girls present at the crime scene. One of them (the young Maria) had witnessed the whole episode. She later becomes a psychiatrist and volunteers to work in the mental hospital for convicts, because she believes that Gap-dong has hidden himself there.
Also related to Gap-dong’s crimes many years ago are Detective Chul-gon, Moo-yeom and his dad. Chul-gon staunchly believes Moo-yeom’s dad IS Gap-dong, and Chul-gon feels he is very close to nailing him. Afterall, Moo-yeom’s dad had sorta “confessed” — after the usual beatings — to be Gap-dong. Unable to take the pressure, Moo-yeom’s dad committed suicide. Moo-yeom believes his dad is NOT Gap-dong, since Gap-dong’s last crime was committed after his dad’s death. (Not that Chul-gon cares) However, Moo-yeom does suspect his dad knew something about the crimes, or had been a witness to one of them. When a copycat (or the real) Gap-dong resurfaces years again later, he vows to capture him this time. Partly to show how Chul-gon has wronged his dad and maybe also as a closure to his years of obsession with Gap-dong.
There are bits I like about Gap-dong and also portions that I wish can be changed. Gap-dong has a crew of pretty solid actors (and actresses), who have the abilities to flesh out their characters. Yoon Sang-hyun and Sung Dong-il are really versatile, we have recently seen them in comedic roles in I Hear Your Voice and Reply 1994. They have since morphed from dorky lawyer/ father figure to brooding, angry policemen. And they do both extremes very well. I loved Sung Dong-il‘s fatherly figure in Reply 1994, but I really wish to bite his head off as the bigoted police officer in Gap-dong.
Then again, that much teeth gnashing means that Chul-gon as a character comes across as a little flat. He is set up to be Moo-yeom’s antithesis, choosing to believe his skewed “instincts” as opposed to facts when it comes to detective work. And with totally zero empathy towards criminals — even if they may not have been convicted of a crime yet. He sometimes feel to me like the caricature of a bad policeman, the one who doesn’t cover his base completely and extracts confessions through abuse.
Moo-yeom obviously plays the maverick/underdog we all want to root for in the show. He is the one who everyone tries to shoo away and has the least resources, but I’d bet would he’d solve the cases eventually. He is a little like Joo Sang-wook‘s mad detective in Ten1/2; he visualises the crime from the perv’s point of view and identifies with the criminal in order to capture him. To round up his classic noir detective role — again, another over-used trope — he has to have “issues”. And that would be Father Issues. (so Freudian) Since his dad was a little soft in the head, Moo-yeom has taken it upon himself since young to play the parental figure in the family. That may explain his obsession with Gap-dong — he probably needs to alleviate the guilt he feels for failing in his protector role (a role which he reprises in adulthood, playing surrogate hyung to the young monks and even to the petty criminals he releases).
But by far, the most interesting character in Gap-dong (to me) is Maria Oh. She is the (almost) victim cum witness to Gap-dong’s last crime, but chooses to pursue him when she becomes an adult. You can read her need to capture Gap-dong as an act to reclaim some form of control over him and mostly, herself. After all, as a child victim/witness, she was probably too petrified to resist or stop him. However, there are scenes which I feel point to a rather uncomfortable direction. First off, we are introduced to her washing the feet of her leering male patients. She explains it off as “therapy”, although she knows they are trying to peek down her top. Secondly, she plays this blindfold game with the male patients, where she tries to figure out their identities by touch. (in case you don’t watch chinese dramas, such games are usually played in brothels) And lastly, her after-office whorish attire is a 180 degree change from the professional doctorish look. All of these make me wonder whether Maria as a character had been so disturbed in the past by witnessing the rape of another girl her age that she now kind of harbours an unfulfilled rape fantasy? Does she think the victim should have been her? I am not too sure whether the rock-scissors-paper game was played between Gap-dong and his last vic or whether Gap-dong made Maria play it with that girl — and the loser gets punished…
With so much speculation into the psyche of the characters, Gap-dong should make a good watch. However, the show cripples itself by giving us the omniscient view. We know from ep1 who the real deal is and who the copycat is. Tae-oh is the copycat and the real Gap-dong is another patient which the show keeps focusing on (a loser who always get bullied by the others in the mental hospital). I do hope there will be a twist (like there is a gang of Gap-dongs? and/or Moo-yeom dad was one of the Gap-dongs?), cos I am already quite annoyed with that perpetual twisted evil sneer on Tae-oh’s face. (i get it, you are a BAD guy)
Also, the pace needs to pick up juz a wee little bit. There are times I get so bored watching Chul-gon snidely needling Moo-yeom. There’s only so much police stupidity I can bear to watch. A meandering pace will work well in a novel, where the reader can fill in the gaps with his varied imgination. But on screen, the attention span turns much shorter. If nothing much happens, the viewer will juz mentally disengage.