I’ve never watched the original version of Criminal so my take on the Korean version is entirely based on its debut series.

Main Cast:

  • Lee Joon-ki (from Arang and the Magistrate) as Kim Hyun-joo. He is now a detective, who transferred himself from the Special Ops after the death of his best friend and junior. But prior to that, Hyun-joo is a graduate from the Profiling Department in Police School.
  • Son Hyun-joo (from 3 Days) as Kang Ki-hyung. Hyun-joo’s new boss in NCI, but he was previously mistaken by Hyun-joo as the cause for his friend’s death (cos he assume Ki-hyung did not do a correct profiling).
  • Moon Chae-won (from Good Doctor) as Ha Sun-woo. She transferred to NCI after being sidelined as a detective by her male colleagues. Probably cos of the discrimination she had faced, she pushes herself as hard as the guys on her team.


Criminal starts off with a bit of history that links our 3 main characters. Year(s)? ago, Ki-hyung was in charge of profiling a bomb terrorist while Hyun-joo and his Special Ops team are on the scene trying to dismantle the bomb the terrorist built. Ki-hyung profiled the terrorist correctly but second guessed himself and allowed his boss to make the (wrong) decision. Bomb goes off, and every member on Hyun-joo’s team was injured.

In the current timeline, Ki-hyung (who blames himself for the deaths) gives up on the police job and goes back to teaching criminal profiling at an university. Sun-woo approaches him one day with a series of cases where young women have been kidnapped and brutally murdered. The cases are similar to the modus operandi of a serial killer a decade ago and who has suspiciously “stopped killing”.

After deliberation and encouragement by his family, Ki-hyung re-assumes his police position. He touches base with Hyun-joo, whose unit was in charge of handling the cases. Although Hyun-joo is initially reluctant to work with Ki-hyung and Sun-woo, he relents when his dead friend’s younger sis (Na-young) becomes a new victim.

The trio manage to trace Na-young’s kidnapper to a young man, Park Jae-min, who had previously served time in juvenile detention. However, they think Jae-min is only transporting the victims for another criminal. They discover Jae-min had a prison counselor (An Sang-chul) who happened to fit the profile of an OCD and misogynistic serial killer. Thankfully, Hyun-joo and Ki-hyung manage to save Na-young before she becomes Sang-chul’s next victim.


On one hand, Criminal is an easy watch. And surprisingly, for a pretty mainstream cable TV (it’s tvN, not OCN), the theme is fairly gory. Besides the blood splattered gory pictures (no masking??), there is also an unsanitised mention of male-rape in Criminal. While these may be fairly common place in American drama series, Kdramas usually take a more conservative (aka hush-hush) approach to such crimes. I guess tvN is trying its best to stay true to the original but at the same time, not make it unpalatable for its Asian audience.

And maybe the dichotomy of trying to “stay true” yet “sanitise some” comes across in the pacing of Criminal. In many ways, I don’t see Criminal as a profiler-heavy type of police procedural. It is still run-of-the-mill, Kdrama-ish police procedural. If I can guess at the final villain way before the show tells me, it really means the clues are pretty much in your face. So much so I find myself wondering what took the trio so long to find out about Sang-chul.

Another grouch — I find Hyun-joo and Ki-kyung conversations during the search for Na-young totally unnecessary. It’s like…there’s someone waiting for you to save, and both of you are discussing about HOW to go about police work and your personal histories? Not really the right time isn’t it guys?

But to be fair, Criminal stylistic shoot and the overall feel of the show are still worth the watch. Plus, there’s Lee Joon-ki.