And cable does it again. Vampire Prosecutor premiered today, and it is one stylish beast. I’d wondered if it would be able to be as slick and edgy as its promos were making it seem, because it’s a lot harder to be cool than, say, campy, which is what you get when you try a little too hard to be cool. It is that, and more.
What we get is a little bit of a Law & Order style whodunnit, and a little bit Dexter. It’s dark, well-acted, extremely well-edited, gorgeous to look at, with a great soundtrack that enhances without overpowering. There’s blood, of course — it’s a crime procedural AND a vampire drama — but it’s well-placed. It’s not as gory, say, Girl K, where blood and violence was part of the Kill Bill-esque style, and the blood is (odd as it sounds) prettily used. With 12 episodes total, airing one every Sunday night, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna enjoy this ride.
SONG OF THE DAY
Vampire Prosecutor OST – “사랑에 미쳐본다” (Crazy for love) by Lee Jung. [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP: “The Room With the French Dolls”
Images of Seoul at night. Right off the bat, this thing looks gorgeous.
Then, glimpses of a girl by the sea in the sunlight, with our smiling hero.
Back to night: Cars race along a highway, swerving, headlights glaring. In front is a truck driven by a hooded, mysterious looking man. Behind him drives a stern, calm-looking man, who’s chased by our hero, grimacing now as the chase speeds up along darkened night roads. The men in front drive coldly and methodically, while the hot-tempered hero’s face twists in pain when he flashes back to memories of that young girl by the sea.
Suddenly, the truck in front swerves across all lanes, blocking the road. The suspect brakes but slams head-on into the side of the big rig. Behind him, the hero swerves, crashes, and flips his car.
The hooded truck driver gets out of his car gripping a knife, grabs the suspect out of his car, and stabs him in the chest.
The hero, injured and stuck in his wrecked car, watches dazedly as the hooded man — fangs growing longer now — stabs again and again. He grits out, “I’m going to kill that bastard!” He’s just been robbed of his own justice, and he drags himself from the car toward them.
The stabbed man falls to the ground, and we see in a flashback that he had recently been interrogated by our hero, a prosecutor. The suspect had asked him, “Do you want to know who the culprit is? Sorry, but it’s not me.” A flash of blood, a glimpse of fangs — he means someone else, a vampire.
Hooded Mr. Fangs tosses a lighter to the rain- and gasoline-soaked ground, and flames spring up around the fallen man. The bloody hero makes his way to the dying suspect and asks, “He’s the real criminal, isn’t he?”
But the man flies at him with a roar and a flash of pointy teeth.
A chic, modern home. Our sharply dressed hero — MIN TAE-YEON (Yeon Jung-hoon) — drinks wine (or is it?) as he listens to his phone messages. The call is a request for help from a friend, a bumbling detective named HWANG SOON-BUM (Lee Won-jong).
At the crime scene — an apartment — Soon-bum moans about the stress of all these cases popping up as he briefs Tae-yeon on the situation: A woman lies dead with a knife sticking out of her chest and neighbors reported seeing her boyfriend come by several times a week, culminating in a huge fight the night before.
Tae-yeon looks around for clues with cool professionalism and humors the excitable Soon-bum, teasing him without Soon-bum even realizing he’s being teased. They’re adorable together, with Tae-yeon’s droll sense of humor and Soon-bum pouring on the aegyo to ask for his help. The woman’s boyfriend is the first suspect, but Soon-bum thinks it’s a little too obvious.
Then Tae-yeon gets serious and concentrates on the victim’s body, his eyes gleaming blue, his fangs growing. The scene spins into reverse, showing us what he sees, with blood droplets flying off the walls, the stains un-staining, the victim coming back to life and clutching the knife…
Ah, clue found. The blue in Tae-yeon’s eyes fades and his fangs recede. Back to his playful self, Tae-yeon points out the height of the blood pattern and the small gouge in the wall. The woman stabbed herself, but found her strength insufficient and ran into the wall to speed things along. Soon-bum solves the rest of the case: The boyfriend betrayed the girl and she’d engineered her death to cast suspicion onto him.
Soon-bum mentions the newly formed department that’s a joint effort between the police station and the prosecutor’s office, scoffing at how dumb it is…until Tae-yeon tells him he’d better be ready to report at the prosecutor’s office for his first day. That is now his new job.
Tae-yeon is called on a new case with Soon-bum, now his partner. They arrive at the crime scene to see a small child lying prone in the grass, blood dotting her neck. Maybe Soon-bum knows that victimized girls get Tae-yeon particularly upset — an insight into that flashback that keeps haunting him — and advises him to keep calm. Tae-yeon’s expression is especially grim as he looks upon the 8-year-old girl who went missing last night.
His expression grows sad as he hears a girl’s voice in his memory, cheerfully asking: “Oppa, you know I’m going to the hospital today, right? You have to pick me up after your test.”
Tae-yeon has a hunch: “Orphanage.” Soon-bum wonders if it’s “him” again — the man in the hood from the opening scene. Then, a bright voice chimes in, “Wow, a vampire!” A woman wearing a badge joins the two men and guesses this is the same guy as “the vampire from 7 years ago.” She means it in a non-literal sense; the twin neck holes in the victims’ necks earned the serial killer the vampire nickname.
She introduces herself as YOO JUNG-IN (Lee Young-ah), newly appointed to the joint police-prosecutor unit, and sounds so oddly enthusiastic about the case that Tae-yeon levels a hard look at her. He’s thinking of the victim; she’s thinking of the fun of solving an interesting mystery. The gaffe is pointed out to her, because the word she uses means “fun” and “entertaining” as well as “interesting.” She cringes, but then perks right up when Tae-yeon directs them to the autopsy room, excited again.
Even the coroner is fascinated with the case — blood drained via neck, resulting in heart failure — and half-jokes that it might be a real vampire. No sign of struggle, no other injuries, no spilled blood.
One detail grabs Tae-yeon attention: The neck holes are 3 cm deep. There are no records of that measurement from 7 years ago, but he knows, “It wasn’t that deep then.” Tae-yeon guesses correctly that there was some blood remaining in the body — different from last time, when it had been drained entirely.
The two women are oblivious to Tae-yeon’s intense reaction to this case, while Soon-bum is and sends him worried little glances whenever either of them says something tactless. Tae-yeon finds their professional curiosity — natural, if morbid — off-putting and tells Jung-in pointedly to do a good job investigating the murder weapon if she wants her work to keep being so interesting.
As they leave, Tae-yeon tells Soon-bum that this is a copycat crime: “Vampire teeth aren’t that long, nor would they leave blood behind.” The men split up, Soon-bum to the orphanage and Tae-yeon with the vial of the victim’s blood. He takes it into the elevator, smoothly crushes the security camera with one hand, and dumps the vial’s contents into his mouth.
Images flood his brain: The dead young girl, now alive, looking sickly; a small room; a collection of children’s dolls.
Coming out of the vision, Tae-yeon clutches his chest, sweating and breathing painfully. Something in that blood — or is it the vision? — has got some real bad juju.
He meets with his boss, who must know of Tae-yeon’s connection to the old vampire case because he brings up the similarities. Tae-yeon tells him that this is a copycat. His boss is taken aback: “Do you have proof?” He answers confidently, “No. I’ll have to find it.”
There’s definitely an undercurrent of…something…between the two men, though it’s not clear what. The boss seems sympathetic enough, but also uncertain about where Tae-yeon stands. Wary. It’s interesting.
Jung-in takes a look at the mold of the murder weapon, wondering what it could be. She’s equally puzzled about Tae-yeon’s assignment as she is about the case, and asks the new intern, “Why did he assign me to find the weapon? Do I look like someone who would know these things?…Is it obvious?” Ha. Well, your bloodthirsty interest this morning might’ve been a clue.
Tae-yeon calls her to give her two curt tips: It’s a copycat murder, and she should call if she finds anything relating to French dolls. She’s left totally bewildered, not seeing how they’re connected.
Tae-yeon arrives at the orphanage, where Soon-bum awaits, and fills him in: The girl, Hye-min, died in a room full of French dolls. Soon-bum shares his theory that copycats are often the first victim of the criminal being copycatted. But Tae-yeon can’t figure out the blood part; why take it, and from a child, no less? (Soon-bum wonders idly, “Do kids taste different?” Ha.)
Soon-bum greets the children playing on the playground to ask if they’re Hye-min’s friends. Precocious kids reply that Hye-min’s dead, so if he’s here to adopt her, he’d best pick out another kid. One wonders why “everyone” was always only interested in Hye-min, complaining that she wishes she were sick like Hye-min, if that would get her adopted.
The stern Director Kim interrupts the proceedings, reminding his charges not to talk to strangers. The kids scatter, cutting short their clue-gathering questioning.
Tae-yeon asks the director about Hye-min having French dolls, and Director Kim replies (stutters?) no. Then he gets a call from the coroner with an interesting discovery about Hye-min’s corpse — multiple marks from a doctor’s needle, left arm — and the mention of needles gets Director Kim to immediately stand up and say that Hye-min suffered a congenital heart defect requiring weekly injections.
Soon-bum finds no traces of dolls on the premises, but Tae-yeon clocked the director’s nervous reaction to his comment. He’s hiding something, that much is certain.
Tae-yeon goes to the girl’s doctor next, who confirms her heart defect (tetralogy of fallot). He describes it as a disease made harder to treat because it was difficult to find her veins. Dr. Yoon sighs at the cruelty of this serial killer, but his reaction gets a suspicious smirk out of Tae-yeon, who asks, “Does this seem like a serial crime to you?” Maybe he’s on to something, or maybe he’s just hyper-suspicious, because the doctor explains how the news has described the criminal as a serial killer.
On the way out, Tae-yeon’s keen senses pick up on something down the hall. Eyes flare blue and he thinks, “I smell blood.” He barrels down the hall into an exam room and finds a chest full of blood packets and asks the doctor, “What’s all this?”
Into the lab they go. But testing reveals that none of them came from Hye-min. Dammit.
Tae-yeon sits down with the doctor in the interrogation room, who explains that he’d been storing the blood for emergency transfusions. As it becomes clear that Tae-yeon is all but accusing him of being the killer, Dr. Yoon gets contentious, saying that he’ll pay the fine for stocking up on extra blood illegally, but the prosecutor didn’t find Hye-min’s blood amongst them, did he? He smiles smugly, knowing he’s safe.
Jung-in reports on the doctor’s alibi: No dolls were found at home, and he was spotted going home on CCTV cameras at four o’clock…in the morning. Perfect timing for disposing of a corpse, perhaps. Dr. Yoon has lawyered up, but Tae-yeon lets him know he’s not about to let up on his suspicions, particularly in light of his odd nighttime activities.
Tae-yeon heads out of the prosecutor’s building intent on his work, ignoring Jung-in who follows him out, trying to get his attention. He drives off without acknowledging her, and she gives him the ol’ fist gesture — universal for “Up yours” — and then cringes when his car suddenly kicks into reverse and heads back for her. But he hasn’t seen her insult, thankfully; he just checks on her investigation into the murder weapon, which she’s still working on.
Back in the lab, Jung-in dumps out a bag full of assorted household weaponry and displays some finesse with a switchblade, handling it expertly. Interesting. Were you a badass gangster in your old life, current bowl haircut notwithstanding? New Intern Boy prepares the bust she requested for research, and she gets to work stabbing it with the various implements.
Soon-bum’s mission is to get more info out of the orphanage girls, and he comes back armed with ice cream. But then he hears the ego-crushing comment from one girl, who says, “I want to be adopted, but not if it’s by that ajusshi from before.” Meaning, of course, him.
He’s offended, and then jealous when the girls sigh that they sure wouldn’t mind being adopted by that other guy, “the handsome ajusshi.” Sorry man, you just can’t compete against Mr. Sleek Prosecutor, even if you’re the only human between the two of you.
To get information in a roundabout way, Soon-bum plays hand puppets with the girls and pretends to be Hye-min (“Yes, director, I’ll go to the hospital now!”), and an innocuous exchange proves revealing. One girl tells him he’s playing all wrong, because Hye-min never agreed to go to the hospital willingly. The director always had to drag her, and she’d cried, “I’m not sick! I feel sick when I come back from there!” But Director Kim had insisted that she get her treatment.
Soon-bum resumes the doll-play, and the girls introduce a new character: “Princess Ajumma,” who took Hye-min to the hospital yesterday. She’d said she would adopt the girl after she’d recovered from her illness, and when Hye-min didn’t come back yesterday the girls just assumed she’d been adopted at last.
Furious, Soon-bum storms into the director’s office, having put together enough of the pieces to know the director’s complicit in this. Nervously, Director Kim stammers that he knows nothing, that the lady and the doctor just insisted they had to treat the girl, so he let them. Ugh. Does anybody else feel sickened?
Soon-bum finds out the name of the lady with chaebol ties — Oh Young-joo, which rhymes with gong-joo (princess) — who also happens to be a financial supporter of the orphanage. Hence the director’s silence on the matter. Not to mention: Perfect opportunities to fish for new victims? Never mind about before, now I feel sick.
Tae-yeon has done some checking up as well, and finds no record of Hye-min’s heart condition at the hospital. Suspiciouser and suspiciouser.
Soon-bum heads to Oh Young-joo’s home to ask her about Hye-min, and she carelessly primps and preens and shows no interest or surprise in his questions. She says she just bought the girl some ice cream, and that the doctor said she was sick. Tellingly, though, her phone charm happens to be a miniature doll.
It’s a lead, but it’s not enough proof to justify a search warrant. They have no dirt on Oh Young-joo, either. Jung-in rushes in with a breakthrough, though: The murder weapon was a barbecue fork. Tae-yeon cheers up: He might be able to get his warrant after all.
That night, he makes his way inside Oh Young-joo’s house. He’s not too stealthy about it, so it’s unsurprising that he’s attacked by a half-dressed man. Knocking him down and out is a pretty easy task, and he turns his attention to a particular door. Just as he cracks it open, the man smashes a glass vase over his head. It cuts Tae-yeon’s face but barely even makes him move.
He turns slowly to face the man, then grabs him by the throat and lifts him into the air. Eyes flash blue, and he opens his mouth to take a bite…but gets a grip on himself, returning to normal and heading back to the room.
Little-girl furniture decorates the room, with a table lined with dolls. There are traces of blood in the room, allowing Tae-yeon to visualize Hye-min lying there in the bed, being drained of blood…which was then pumped into Oh Young-joo.
Jung-in presents the prosecution’s case in court, explaining about the so-called blood injections that have become trendy within ritzy Kangnam circles. There are safe ways to do this, but Dr. Yoon lied to his socialite client about children’s blood being more effective as a youth-preserving beauty treatment, and she’d used the adoption excuse to gain easy access to Hye-min.
The defense argues that Oh Young-joo was innocent of any crime thanks to the doctor’s lies, but Jung-in counters that she did plenty of law-breaking herself. When the child had died accidentally, they’d decided to fake the vampire crime to deflect suspicion, and their prints have been found on the weapon used to poke the holes in her neck.
Tae-yeon takes over and wraps up their case, leveling all the charges against the doctor, Oh Young-joo, and the orphanage director. The prosecutorial team trudges back to the office after their victory, and Jung-in now starts to wonder at a few loose ends. Like, how did Tae-yeon know this was a copycat crime? And how did he know about those French dolls? Soon-bum stammers and deflects, telling her to ask him herself.
Declaring that she can’t sleep when she’s curious about something, Jung-in heads up to the roof to find Tae-yeon, who’s fiddling in his telltale way with his lighter. Before she has a chance to ask anything, he asks, “What desire drives you? For Dr. Yoon and Director Kim, it was money. Oh Young-joo’s was youth. What is yours?”
She says she’s never really thought about it in those terms, but works in her question anyway: “If I had to say, then maybe it was desire to know how you knew it was a copycat crime?” Ha, I like her cheek.
Tae-yeon smiles and pats her shoulder, but leaves without answering. On a delayed reaction, it takes Jung-in a few moments to realize, “Wait — I’ve just been blown off again, haven’t it?” Hee.
Nightclub. Tae-yeon heads inside, passing by the dance floor, nodding to a man at the bar, moving to the back room, guarded by a bouncer.
He sits with the bar owner, who pours him a double shot…from a medical blood bag. So not wine. Tae-yeon confirms — asking a little weakly, like he’s low on energy — that this was procured legally, and takes the glass.
He asks, voice shaking, “Do you suppose that man…ever drank blood from a person directly?” Tae-yeon drinks.
Flashback to the accident. The bite that turned him. The explosion he walked away from, a changed man.
Very cool. One of the advantages of cable shows is the shorter running time, because often I think an hourlong show could be improved by cutting down to cable’s 45 minutes, as that gets rid of needless filler. Here, we have no time for random padding, and we move swiftly from plot point to plot point. And thanks to a great editor/director, even the interstitials are interestingly done, with quick, energetic cuts and a sharp editorial eye. I’m a big fan of the way this drama looks and feels, and hope that the quality remains this high throughout. Its opening sequence reminds me a lot of Dexter — not in content exactly (there are no food motifs in this one) — but it’s got a similar style and feel.
But cosmetics aside, no drama would work without a decent story, and I think Vampire Prosecutor hits upon a solid balance between procedural and paranormal. I’d actually been worried that it would be too vampirey, which I know sounds odd given the title. But despite my love of Buffy and Joss Whedon projects, I’m not really a fan of vampires as a genre of fiction; it doesn’t help that the market’s been oversaturated in recent years. How can you do vampire stories in a fresh way at this point?
The mixing of the crime procedural grounds it narratively in a format that works. There’s a reason there are a gazillion and a half crime procedurals out there, and that’s because the story structure of a whodunnit just works really well in the TV drama format. I love that they don’t try to reinvent the vampire bent, and they don’t overdo it. There’s clearly an overarching Big Bad with our hooded vamp, but I suspect we’re only going to get glimpses of that while Tae-yeon & co solve crimes week to week.
The characters are great; I love the dash of wry humor that pops up from time to time; it’s a refreshing touch amid the darker crime stuff. Tae-yeon has a great odd-couple relationship with Soon-bum, and I’m enjoying his deadpan comments and his teasing, which works with Jung-in’s personality as well. It’s nice to have a female lead character who’s a bit quirky without being bumbling or incompetent, as well — she’s good at her job, but perky and curious as well. You can be cute without being dumb, which I wish more K-dramas would acknowledge.
All in all, I’m really digging Vampire Prosecutor, and plan to keep watching. If cable continues to be this solid, heck, who even cares if the broadcast stations keep putting out middling recycled stuff? At least now we have options.