To be brief?
Based on Episode 1, I found When Night Comes (also Every Night or Every Time It’s Night) to be part fun, and part corny. Its attempts to be slick and cool keep the action moving, but aren’t entirely successful — and while they’re not complete failures either, it falls short of its goal, landing it in Rivals territory: good acting by its leads, a few interesting scenes, peppered with a few ridiculous ones. Still, there’s hope.
SONG OF THE DAY
An uptight historical preservationist and a womanizing scholar butt heads in their search to recover lost or stolen cultural treasures, both eager to exert their claim on the items. Friction and hilarity ensue.
Kim Sun-ah is HEO CHO-HEE, employee of the Cultural Treasures Squad (for lack of a better translation), a team of people working to preserve Korean national treasures and to recover those that have been lost or stolen over the years. She’s vehement about the priceless items belonging to the country and its people, so attached to her cause that it sometimes causes problems — she’s too single-minded for everyone else’s liking. While that makes her an idealistic sort of patriot, it also means she lacks savvy in her insistence on the bottom line (the preservation of the treasures).
Lee Dong-gun is KIM BEOM-SANG, a hotshot scholar and playboy extraordinaire. He enjoys the small bit of fame he’s amassed through a television show, “Rediscovering Cultural Treasure,” similar to Antiques Roadshow, in which he examines old artifacts to determine their value. He’s smooth and charming and always knows how to maneuver a situation — rarely showing his real emotions for all the slick veneer on top. For instance, he’s recently lost out on professorship tenure, and plays it off with humility, although he’s miffed in reality to have been passed over by a colleague whom he deems less worthy (who merely has good connections). (Then again, in Beom-sang’s book, everyone is less worthy than his almighty self.) He flirts with anything female and assumes all things female like him back. To be fair, most of the time, they do.
As for minor characters, we don’t see much of them in Episode 1, but let’s introduce them anyway:
Above are Cho-hee’s co-workers. The men are somewhat bumbling (it’s supposed to be funny, I think, but they’re rather hammy) while Kim Jung-hwa plays WANG JOO-HYUN, a coy, preening type. She pouts that Cho-hee gets the assignment she wants, but she’s not really a threat to Cho-hee because she’s a silly, flighty thing. To the right is their direct boss, KANG SHI-WAN (Lee Joo-hyun). Joo-hyun seems to have a crush on him, which is much more obvious than the one Cho-hee is hinted to harbor. Apparently he has a young daughter (to be played by Kim Hyang-gi, the little girl from Bad Couple).
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We start out with a team of black-clad operatives sneaking into a darkened museum. They use some fancy tricks to gain access to the inner sanctum, where the leader (whom we’ll later see is Cho-hee) comes upon a laser grid.
She snakes her way over, under, and in between laser beams to work her way to her target. She’s going for Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, but combined with the cheesy ambiance and bad laser special-effects, it comes out more Steve Carell in Get Smart. She grabs the small statue, which sets off an alarm — her team scatters in escape while a security team storms into the building to capture the intruders.
Cho-hee and her fellow men find themselves fighting security guards, some less gracefully than others. The scenes tend to be shot with a surplus of cuts and overhead angles to hide the fact that none of them knows how to fight. In the end, the thieves are all rounded up and the director of the museum enters to applaud his security team, explaining to his guests that this drill proves that they are ready for any possible attempts to breach their security. (The “thieves” are all part of their team.) As in Rivals, the reveal that this is a training run does mitigate the extreme corniness of the sequence, although not entirely.
While they are patting themselves on the back for a job well done, someone points out that Cho-hee is nowhere to be found. So it looks like their unbreachable security wasn’t quite as perfect as they thought. The next day, Cho-hee is berated for humiliating her boss in front of Important People, because apparently it’s more important to look like you’re secure than to actually be secure. Cho-hee isn’t much cowed by the lecture, though, and impassively tells her boss that her job is to protect cultural treasures; she was told to do her best, and that’s what she did. And then she’s called away on a tip, leading to the arrest of an illegal purveyor of cultural artifacts.
Meanwhile, Beom-sang is approached with an assignment to find out whether a particular vase, potentially priceless, is authentic. It’ll be up to Beom-sang to first determine if it’s the real thing.
At the same time, Cho-hee’s team finds information that a stolen vase is in the possession of a yakuza boss in Japan, TANAKA ICHIRO. They can’t merely charge in and reclaim the vase due to legal restraints, but the team has another goal: to arrest a man named KIM SANG, who’s involved in trafficking stolen goods between Korea and Japan. They don’t know what he looks like, but they have information that he will attempt to buy the vase from Tanaka. One of their own will be sent: Cho-hee.
Beom-sang arrives in Japan to meet his contact, antiques dealer Suzuki Hanako, who will lead him to the vase. Unbeknownst to him, Cho-hee awaits her bad guy by impersonating Hanako (the real Hanako has been arrested). Beom-sang is brought to the room where Cho-hee is waiting, where the mission begins for them both.
Cho-hee does her best to get Beom-sang to believe her explanation, while Beom-sang mentally calculates Cho-hee’s bust size. They switch back and forth between Japanese and Korean, giving Kim Sun-ah an opportunity to show off her Korean, her Japanese, and her Korean-with-a-Japanese-accent.
Beom-sang wants to see the item; Cho-hee stalls by saying her collector contact is away on business. With nothing to do, he figures he’ll sightsee, and Cho-hee, eager to keep tabs on her suspect, sticks close to him. He interprets that as sexual interest. (He interprets everything as sexual interest.)
A trip to a local collector’s shop yields a bit of drama when Beom-sang identifies several of the proprietor’s “artifacts” as fakes. The man who was about to buy one of them is so grateful for Beom-sang’s help that he invites him over to take a look at some of his priceless treasures in his private collection. This wouldn’t be a kdrama first episode without an overly convenient coincidence, so along the way Cho-hee discovers that this guy is Tanaka. But since Tanaka is acquainted with the real Hanako, she finds herself prevaricating wildly to explain how she knows the real Hanako and that they both happen to have the same name and the same job.
Cho-hee sneaks in a call to her boss Shi-wan, who tells her to get out of there before her cover is blown. Cho-hee assures him that she’ll leave in the morning at the first opportunity to slip away.
Tanaka offers to show them his most prized treasure, but for some reason Cho-hee thinks that would be a horrible idea, and fakes a fainting spell to postpone the viewing session. I’m not sure why, since she later tries to sneak into the highly guarded room to get a look at the same vase — only this time, the alarm goes off and she panics, running off while one of the yakuza underlings chases her. (Again, I’m not sure why this makes sense logically, since running only makes her look suspicious, but this plot point is responsible for giving our two heroes some nekkid time together, so I suppose that’s reason enough.)
Cho-hee finally gets rid of her pursuer by jumping into the hot spring and pretending that she was there all along. She turns around to find Beom-sang taking a soak in the same spring, and gasps in shock. Never one to give up an opportunity when a nude woman delivers herself to him, Beom-sang (already believing her to be interested in him) makes a pass at her. Cho-hee shrieks, pushes him away, and runs off thinking he’s a pervert.
Unfortunately, she drops her bra in her haste to escape, and Beom-sang takes a curious look at the size tag. And notices that the label is in Korean, not Japanese.
The next morning, Cho-hee attempts to hustle Beom-sang away quickly without running into Tanaka, but Beom-sang has already guessed the truth, that she’s a Korean woman impersonating Hanako. He demands to know her motive, and prevents her from fleeing; he drags her along as he takes a look at Tanaka’s special vase.
Once again, Beom-sang identifies the item as a fake, to Tanaka’s chagrin. Tanaka dispatches his yakuza boys to mete out his retaliation on the scam dealer who sold him the item, then thanks Beom-sang. In appreciation, he must repay him somehow, with whatever Beom-sang wishes. Is there anyone he would like killed?
Beom-sang answers that if Tanaka must repay him, he would like to take his cat, Sumire. It’s a surprising request but he’s a gangster of his word, so Tanaka hands over the cat — with its toothbrush, hairbrush, and OH YEAH the coincidentally fancy-looking antique bowl that Tanaka has been using as Sumire’s food bowl. I WONDER WHAT THAT IS.
Just as Beom-sang and Cho-hee leave, Tanaka receives another visitor, who is introduced as Kim Sang, here to look at a vase. Tanaka belatedly connects the dots when Kim Sang shows him the picture of the item he wants to buy, the cat bowl, and Tanaka realizes the bowl must have been more valuable than Beom-sang indicated.
Just outside, Beom-sang looks over the precious bowl, while the ball drops for Cho-hee: she got the wrong guy, mistaking Kim Beom-sang for Kim Sang. Oops. She turns back to return to the house to confront her REAL quarry, but immediately comes back running, chased by yakuza henchmen. She yells at Beom-sang to run.
The two of them flee with the cat, with Cho-hee periodically removing various articles of clothing to hurl at their pursuers. (Since when are projectile flip-flops a reasonable defense against a group of violent criminals? Although, I will admit those are a surprisingly inept bunch of yakuza boys. What a bunch of wusses.)
Beom-sang and Cho-hee run (he uncharacteristically misses the opportunity to leer, despite the fact that she’s rapidly losing items of clothing), and the two find themselves at a dead end.
They are hauled before Tanaka, who is most offended at Beom-sang’s disingenuousness in not telling him the bowl was valuable. It’s an interesting moral stance for him to take, but while Tanaka is a criminal by profession, he seems to require integrity in his collecting hobby. He sees Beom-sang’s action as dishonest and akin to ripping him off, although Beom-sang argues that the item was a gift given freely.
Cho-hee interjects, standing up to the man, saying that he hadn’t seen the value in the item until he was told it had any. Shouldn’t the treasures be given to those who can appreciate it? Beom-sang tells Tanaka that items only have as much value as you give them. With that, he returns the bowl and the cat.
Tanaka stops Beom-sang from leaving, telling him that he values his cat — and hands back the bowl, saying this is how much he values Sumire, shocking both Beom-sang and Cho-hee with the gesture.
Meanwhile, despite the case of mistaken identity, Kim Sang is apprehended at Tanaka’s house. First he’s unable to buy his fancy cat bowl; now he’s arrested. He’s not having a good day.
With his mission successfully accomplished, Beom-sang packs his new acquisition happily, and Cho-hee asks if he would consider donating the item for posterity — it’s a national asset. He laughs at her, saying he doesn’t care much for patriotism and all that. It’s not like beauty is a tangible, shareable asset anyway.
Cho-hee glares accusingly at his selfish, dismissive attitude, and mutters that this isn’t over.
And indeed it isn’t.
When Beom-sang arrives back in Korea with his precious new find safely in hand, he has no idea what awaits him. He’s greeted by a mob of adoring fans all holding his picture and signs that proclaim their love for him — and his generosity in restoring such a precious asset to the nation’s people.
Cho-hee has totally caught him off-guard — and worked one over on him — in staging the scene specifically to corner Beom-sang and force his hand. Her preservation squad colleagues thank him for his benevolence, and naturally, in such a public venue, he can’t back down.
I don’t usually judge a drama until I’ve at least seen the first two episodes (opening episodes are horribly inconsistent as predictors of quality), so I won’t make up my mind on anything just yet.
What I will say about Episode 1 is that it has potential to be fun, but it wasn’t an immediate home run for me. Maybe just a single hit. It’s really good to see Kim Sun-ah back onscreen, and Lee Dong-gun is kind of adorable as the sleazy charmer who thinks he’s much more charming than he is. Granted, most women DO think he’s incredibly dashing, but we’re allowed to see him for what he is, and that involves a lot of cheesy lines and overthought romantic passes. And while the writing didn’t seem particularly funny to me, Kim Sun-ah tends to make the most out of nothing, and she manages to wrangle humor out of otherwise silly moments.
The actual plot, however, had me utterly bored. I didn’t follow some of the leaps the story made, and Cho-hee’s undercover plot went on too long and employed some pretty flimsy logic. I think we were supposed to find the drama cool and action-packed, but for a drama to actually BE cool and action-packed, you’ve gotta go all-out. That means better special-effects and less hammy moments in the middle of action scenes (like the corny opening sting sequence).
Furthermore, the premise of the show doesn’t scream exciting drama to me, so I hope they come up with more interesting developments that go beyond Cho-hee and Beom-sang repeatedly fighting over old cutlery. While occupation-specific dramas are on the rise in Korea (police series HIT, bodyguard-centric Rivals, medical dramas New Heart, White Tower, Surgeon Bong Dal Hee and more), the ones that really work are the shows that don’t forget that their characters’ emotional development is what drives the drama, not silly wild-goose-chase plots. When Night Comes could go either way, and I hope it finds its way outside the weak points it’s flirting with — silly and over-exaggerated humor mixed with rather banal conflict.