In this season when we think of ghosts, goblins, and things that go ‘bump’ in the night, KBS presents a 20-episode drama about a man who becomes a monster after his worst nightmare comes true, and the woman who restores him to humanity.
Screenwriter Kim Gyoo Wan brings us this latest interpretation of the ‘Beauty & the Beast’ theme, mildly reminiscent of a cross between Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the feature film ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ Lee Dong Wook stars as the title character, Joo Hong Bin, a man who grows unbreakable razor-sharp blades out of his skin whenever he becomes enraged. While the visual effect is tame and unconvincing (Korean TV is subject to far more government censorship than U.S. television), the concept itself is smart and artistic, a physical expression of the pain Hong Bin is going through. The main source of his rage–his own father, who broke apart Hong Bin’s relationship with his first love, a woman who later died due to neglect of a treatable medical condition, leaving behind their love child.
Shin Se Kyeong of ‘Fashion King’ infamy (good news, she’s learned how to act since then) stars opposite Dong Wook as Son Se Dong, a graphic artist and computer game designer whose sole project was sold out from underneath her and her team by the unscrupulous president of their fledgling company. If you guessed that the company it was sold to is owned by Hong Bin, treat yourself to a piece of Halloween candy for guessing right.
While the setup to Se Dong and Hong Bin meeting is plausible enough, the root of their romantic relationship gets a little silly. As his rage grows, Hong Bin becomes more and more animalistic, including having a sense of smell as keen as most dogs. What attracts Hong Bin to Se Dong isn’t her appearance, though Ms. Shin is as lovely as ever, but rather, her scent – a scent nearly identical to that of the now-deceased mother of his child.
Through coincidence that only occurs in dramas, Se Dong ends up bonding with and caring for the child, and agrees to continue to do so if Hong Bin hires her team to finish the game they were working on. As a result, the three become thrown together quite frequently, learning more and more about each other, including Se Dong learning about the monstrous aspect of her employer and accepting it as something that has happened to him, rather than a reflection of who he wants to be.
While the concept shows huge potential, the writing seems a bit disjointed in places, with Se Dong’s all-male, they-could-pass-for-a-boy-band team existing only as a plot device and comic relief. By not using the supporting roles to further focus on the main conflict of the drama, the show loses impact, and audience attention wanes. The directing is fairly clever, getting around Korea’s anti-terror censorship by using old-school horror film techniques to show the blades and their danger indirectly, letting the viewer’s imagination fill in the gaps. Lastly, the acting, while not horrible, is lacking in nuance, making the show somewhat flat.
In summary, ‘Blade Man’ is very typical, run-of-the-mill fare. Though filled with pretty faces and powerful themes, it fails to utilize either to their greatest potential. While not the worst way to while away a weekend, it won’t inspire repeated screenings.