K-Drama Report: My Name (2021) Follow-Up

This is a sequel to the original My Name report, which in turn is not a prequel to this

Funny story with this one; I’d checked to see, “Hey, when’s that new Korean cool girl show out?” and it was that day, Oct. 15. Two thoughts seized me, then: “Yay!” and “I should write about this.” See, I’ve been on kind of an SEO tear lately, which is partly why the last several posts have skewed entirely Korean. That seems to be the country of the week, and I’m just glad there’s a country of the week at all. I just happened to see the SNL Squid Game parody, and that’s how you know you’ve made it, aside from the massive revenue. The recent post I did about Squid Game, in fact, was a cynical product, and even a bit rushed as a result — a hastily-thought-out premise effecting a strange contrarian opinion. But once I read that review of Parasite, I couldn’t let it go. And then comes My Name, yet another Netflix K-drama, and this one — unlike Squid Game — actually appealed directly to my sensibilities (which probably makes for a less compelling post, because I tend to say the same, uncomfortable thing). But because I’d checked, I had the opportunity to post something that very premiere day.

I watched two episodes and felt I had enough to write about, so long as I opened with “I’m two episodes into My Name…” as a subtle qualifier. The “K-Drama Report” feature is pretty good cover for laziness. So I had the post pretty much set late that night. The next day I watched one more episode, which is why I mention having seen three episodes but made no real reference to the third, because that would’ve required structural shifting. I posted it, then proceeded to watch the next five episodes until 1:00 a.m.

Was it worth it? Did I really have to get a post out there the same day the show premiered? And having failed that, I couldn’t have waited just one more day?

I don’t know how the tides of the Internet work. I promoted that post on Twitter — with a hashtag and everything — and got one like, from a friend, probably out of pity. Granted, after seeing the show in total, I’m not sure why I expected it to be a viral hit, or garner much of an audience. Unlike Squid Game, sort of the Dark Souls of Korean television, there are no “hooks.” And, ultimately, it’s not super great.

Those first two episodes were really good, though, and I think every episode contains at least a solid set piece. It’s totally worth checking out, especially for a compelling lead performance. I just wish the director pushed on it a bit more. I’d seen a behind-the-scenes where he noted that revenge was primarily the man’s domain (in Korean cinema, surely, with that one notable exception), and the twist this time was a girl! A gurl? Why hello thar!

Of course, in Squid Souls, the twist on the formula was a narrative beat with thematic consequences, but, hey, I’m Mr. Gender Bend Everything. People are like, “Instead of a female James Bond, just write a new character!” but, ahem, you can do both! If not Idris, give me Jane. I likely won’t see it either way, but there’s one example. Female revenger? Perfect. And one of the best things about My Name is its commitment to that character. The choreography takes her seriously, and she fights like Erin in You’re Next, not Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger — both good, but sometimes you want to see the more grounded, brutal approach.

Ji-woo apparently tore that guy’s balls off — I’d previously reported she stabbed him in the leg — so she’s definitely brutal, but I didn’t see anything I’ve never seen before. Even The Villainess felt more inventive, though more for its wild camera-work. In fact, My Name feels like one of those movie-turned-shows, like Dark Souls and America’s Stranger Things. The way the plot unfolds, you can feel that original structure now spread out. But those two, and Cinemax’s Warrior, felt full. My Name takes the usual plot points and spreads them out over eight hours, but fills in the blank spaces with kinda nonsense.

The subplot with the crazy guy also felt like the hallmark of an amateurish script. He’s the third character we meet, and he becomes this midpoint device that sets up the show’s most confusing aspect. Ji-woo shoots him point-blank because he [wants to die?] is about to reveal her titular true identity. Suddenly, everything Choi Mu-jin was talking about earlier makes sense. His whole thing is “You must be prepared to kill,” and that’s the thematic core of the show, turns out. It’s a very Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (2013) situation, crying over the deer and proceeding to ferry an island of people to the great beyond.

I was like, “You haven’t killed anyone yet?” when Ji-woo was like, “Oh, my God, I killed someone, damn it!” because she gets angry. And specifically, “You haven’t been in a situation where killing in self-defense wouldn’t be justified to you?” Remember that time those two guys tried to rape you? Oh, right — the guy you just killed was one of them. What??

Unfortunately, it’s one of those scenarios where, at once, things don’t hold up to scrutiny, and things are too pat. Did the police chief really have to survive? Wasn’t there a better way to make that plot point happen? Because let me tell you, I honestly didn’t see the big headshot coming. But you can’t have baggage when you walk into the boss room, and of course she was always headed there.

It all seems so obvious in retrospect — no fault of the show’s — but by that token, all so safe. I already preempted this criticism, but there is no criticism of the police here. They’re the good guys, full stop. There isn’t even a comparison made between the police and the gang, like John Woo, or even that blasted Departed. My Name uses this genre tradition like they do every Korean genre element — without genre. These things are simply useful for the story.

And for the fights, and the fights are good. The show doesn’t back down like The Villainess did. Ji-woo punishes the people she kills, and it’s so gratifying. That snotty douchebag assistant to Mu-jin? She gives him the business, and I give my respect and heart. But suddenly, this raises another issue: character.

The other problem with the crazy gangster is that he had, like, 110% more character development than anyone else. Was there supposed to be some conflict between Ji-woo and the assistant guy before they fought to the death? Clearly the assistant didn’t like her, because he was jealous, but that was it. They only had one conversation, and she flashes back to it before killing him, I think. Similarly, the big revelations and twists could’ve hit harder if any of these characters had more time to develop relationships. Even the main couple switches on after a while.

However, the revelations still land, and I especially want to highlight the dying police chief realizing Detective Oh’s identity. This is the wonderful Kim Sang-ho, and his reaction in that scene is remarkable. It’s a heart-wrenching depiction of devastation, because he doesn’t shout, “No!” or something, he wails. It hits you: this guy is broken by this, and I was moved to tears. Powerful stuff.

I’ve gone back and watched that hallway fight on YouTube a number of times, partly because it’s the only scene available apart from Netflix. Thanks, “The Swoon,” and indeed I was. The story issues may have tempered my enjoyment throughout, but the overall story is one worth telling. I’ll take almost any plot, so long as it propels a badass lady through halls of people. Ji-woo arrives in a hall of heroes, but My Name doesn’t quite make it there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s