Yeahyeah, the Underdogs’ narrative literally has been beaten to death. But that doesn’t mean it becomes any less pleasurable to see Little Guys winning the Big Guys. Recently there’s been a deluge of such narratives in Kdramaland, and they are literally back to back. And cos I am a sucker for law and order + crime procedural, the string of shows like Signal, Neighbourhood Lawyer, and Pied Piper are right up my alley. Their common denominator: the Triumphant Underdog. All 3 shows also have a similarity — at the center is an ahjusshi actor, who not only has fantastic acting chops, but who is also an Underdog in the entertainment circle. They are clearly no Lee Min-ho or Song Joong-ki material, with looks to die for, a huge international fan base and the requisite ads’ participation.
Besides the thumbs up acting skills of the veteran actors, the Underdog in each of the above show shares similar traits, which not only make us root for them, but at the same time, perform some soul searching as well.
1. The tenacious Underdog
In all 3 shows, the protagonist is like the stray dog who has gotten a bite on the Big Bad Wolf’s hind leg — and refuses to let go. He ends up winning the battle, but is scratched and wounded from being dragged through the underbrush. Deul-ho falls from grace, and ends up a homeless vagabond for a period of time after losing his first court case against Chairman Jung, Sung-chan and Hee-sung are both disheartened for being unable to beat K Group’s mechanism, and Jae-han gets relegated to a country police outpost (and later is murdered) for trying to uncover corruption within the ranks.
But being at rock bottom has an advantage, there’s no way to go but up. So while the Baddie thinks he has thrown the annoying Underdog off the cliff, or stomped him enough into the earth, the Underdog takes the time off to lick its wound and operate out of sight. Deul-ho uses his experience of living on the roads to augment his street smartness and returns instead as a lawyer, out of reach of Chairman Jung and the corrupted Prosecution Office. Hee-sung goes undercover as a bootlicker in order to gain enough power to cause damage, and Jae-han gets a second chance — through divine intervention — to work with Hae-young (who provides him important clues to save his own ass).
2. The Underdog who acts out of the box
Never mind if it is silly, dangerous or juz plain stupid. Nothing will faze someone who has nothing to lose. Deul-ho doesn’t mind looking silly and acting like a clown, if it helps him get the info he wants. Jae-han doesn’t care about being ostracized by his team mates, if he manages to nail evidence of Team Leader Kim’s wrongdoings. And Hee-sung will work with obviously mad men if they can help him achieve his goal to bring K Group’s corrupted practices to light.
And it takes the Baddie some time to realize what is happening, cos from their pov, what the Underdog is doing or has done is illogically self-destructive. Chairman Jung is shocked that Deul-ho manages to actually ferret out a witness for his son’s hit-and-run accident. Team Leader Kim thinks he has the upper hand all along only to be fooled by Jae-han in the end, and Hee-sung basically manages to hoodwink everyone cos no one expects a famous newscaster to risk his wealth and position to become a terrorist.
3. Underdogs’ tag team
If the Baddie is an Alpha Wolf with several underlings in his pack obeying his orders, the Underdogs also have their ragtag band members. They may not be as well organized as the elite wolf pack, but they serve their purpose.
Deul-ho has his mish mashed team of “employees” (?) in his law firm. They range from experienced Ae-ra, who used to do and still does the investigative work for him, to a band of ruffians whose only experience of “corporate” life is wearing a nice suit to harass customers who have defaulted on loan payments. Jae-han’s team is even weirder. He has his hoobae, both current and future incarnates, and a profiler who he only knows as a boy today, to rely on. Basically, he never sees his team mates when he works with them.
And as for Hee-sung? Without giving too much away (before I conclude Piper‘s weecaps next week), his team comprises of the entire Seoul city’s inhabitants.