TL;DR: While there are some eye-roll-worthy moments, the premier for Vampire Detective is a mostly solid introduction to our main characters and the overall story arc.
There isn’t anything groundbreaking in this episode on either the vampire or the crime-solving fronts. That isn’t to say it isn’t entertaining—it is, as evidenced by the fact that I just stopped livetweeting at one point so I could focus on what was going on—but there wasn’t anything particularly surprising, either.
Okay, I’ll amend that slightly: I was really surprised that Yoo-jin has not, apparently, been fridged, despite the exploding car. I mean, the very first shot of her—where she looked anxious and was worrying her pendant—just screamed future sacrifice for manpain. That’s all I could think, which meant I actually gasped when she shot San, only to be disappointed a minute later when the car she was in exploded for no good reason. I expected that discovering what happened with Yoo-jin was going to be the start of a mystery that would drive the show ala Heartless City. But despite San reacting exactly as if Yoo-jin had been truly fridged (apparently he and Tae-woo weren’t all that close despite the opening sequence since he has yet to think of him once even though Tae-woo also went up in a ball of fire), the show is being entirely unsubtle with its hints that Yoo-jin is still around and a high-ranking, though not top-ranking, baddie in the vampire world. The question remains if she will actually get a fully fleshed out character or will be a plot device; for now, hope springs eternal.
Our main trio fits neatly into their expected private investigative agency roles so far (and they aren’t even officially a trio yet): San and Goo-hyung provide most of the frontlines work while Gyeo-wool gets the supportive, but ass-saving, work. The guys would’ve been in a shitload of trouble if she hadn’t bluffed their way out of the club and pre-emptively gotten rid of the bulk of their pursuers by slashing tires before heading inside. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have been more annoyed by her getting taken hostage at the end; as it is, I’m willing to call it even. I’m hoping the skills she info-dumped on us will actually get used instead of getting sidelined in future episodes. Surely you’ll make use of her lock-picking, pocket-picking, hacking, and smuggling skills, yes? Every disreputable private investigative agency needs those things, right?
San and Goo-hyung work well as a duo. I even find Goo-hyung’s comedy mostly entertaining instead of insufferable, and that’s a big deal for me. (For the record, I’m not exactly thrilled with his interactions with Detective Park, who thus far exists to be the fat comedy guy, complete with overindulgence in food and binge/purge reference introduction.) Their investigative style is a mix of the Holmesean-genius-speed-deduction and actual boots-on-the-ground-investigative-slog, which I appreciate. The comedy was actually funny and integrated nicely with the detective work instead of making me want to headdesk myself into oblivion.
Likewise, the cinematography ranged from dark and brooding night to standard daylight affairs without many hiccoughs. (I must say, my favorite transition was from our police trio saying they could handle their dangerous undercover assignment to sirens blaring and San sprinting through the hallways. It actually made me laugh, because you knew that they fucked it up without any further explanation necessary.) I wouldn’t say it’s pretty, but nothing seems cheap or a manufactured sort of glossy right now, and that gives it a lot of points in my books. The action sequences have been pretty standard fare for now; I’m hoping that with San’s vampiric skills, that’ll go up several notches.
The best news is that thus far this OCN offering seems to hate its ladies less than the last OCN show I watched (Bad Guys, which was powered via the blood of fridged women and seemed to hate its only female main cast member), though that doesn’t mean it’s free from characterization tropes I dislike. Self-sacrifice seems to be mandatory from female characters, no matter if they are part of the main cast or are secondary characters. This first episode introduced us to two different flavors of it in Gyeo-wool and Hyun-joo.
Gyeo-wool’s self-sacrifice is masked at first, though it doesn’t take long for it to manifest itself. She flat-out admits that she doesn’t associate with her good, successful brother for fear that her criminal past and general self will somehow bring him down. It leaves a rather sour aftertaste, considering she seems to be an actually good little sister—she was worried enough about her older brother and his girlfriend that she sought out private investigators to find out what was going on. Couple that with the fact that, when she is taken hostage with a gun to her head in the final sequence, she shouts to Gyu-min that she’s just fine and she “can’t live anyway.”
I might have been appeased a little if Gyu-min showed her the same kind of concern back, but he doesn’t. No matter that Gyeo-wool has been knocked out (and could be suffering from, oh, I don’t know, potentially lethal bleeding in the brain or a cracked skull or something)—Gyu-min doesn’t even look at her, much less check her vitals or something, when he steps around her to give his life-saving blood concoction to San (a total stranger who he beat up twice) instead. All he can offer her in way of affection is an “I’m sorry” while she is passed out as he decides he would rather die than live on with her.
Hyun-joo, Gyu-min’s girlfriend, is not granted a character, personality, or history beyond 1) having been a doctor and being bitten by a vampire, 2) biting Gyu-min, and 3) telling Gyu-min in practically every scene that she wants to die because she can’t bring herself to live off of blood. Oh, and she tells Gyu-min twice that she has “received enough love” and therefore it is totally okay for her to die instead of him while going out to rescue Gyeo-wool. (With a bonus undercurrent that her life wasn’t worth saving at the cost of his discomfort/work/help.) And her sacrifice doesn’t even really work, from her perspective! Sure, she killed the bad guy and saved Gyeo-wool, but Gyu-min commits suicide anyway. There was no point to the existence of her character than to die in such a wasteful way. Gyu-min could have been the one to get bitten originally and hidden himself so he wouldn’t bite Gyeo-wool (but that would have required him to actually care for his sister, ooops). Hyun-joo doesn’t even get the courtesy of her last words living on to inspire someone to be heroic. *sighs*
Contrast this with San, who never once seems to doubt his own worth, but who nonetheless leaps into action to protect other people (Yoo-jin and Tae-woo when they’re trying to escape in the opening, and an unconscious Gyeo-wool in the final sequence). His potential self-sacrifice isn’t ever prefaced with how his life/desires are worth less than others’.
Ultimately, this first episode of Vampire Detective had some missteps, but the show is entertaining enough that I’m willing to cut it some slack. Here’s hoping that episode two will be just as good as, if not better than, this first one. There’s enough potential lurking about that it would be a shame for them to squander it.
By the Numbers
- Genius-speed-deductions: 1
- Times our hero gets shot: 2
- Times our hero gets beaten up by the same guy: 2
- Bad guys who think they will get set on fire: 7
- Bad guys actually set on fire: 1
- Bechdel Test: 0 episodes passed