24

[Revisiting Dramas] Scandal: shockingly and wrongfully underrated

I was eager to watch this drama again, because although four years have passed since it aired, I still remember so much about this story, and how it made me feel. That’s something special considering how many dramas I’ve seen since then, and the mixed feelings I’m often left with on later reflection of even the most enjoyable shows.

Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident (yes, that’s really the official title) begins with a crime that sets off a complex web of tragedies that, when they finally come to a head many years later, send shock waves through the lives of everyone involved. Right before the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a little boy dies due to the deception and greed of a corrupt chaebol, and the father of that boy kidnaps that chairman’s son in revenge. Twenty-five years later, the lives of all of the principal players in this tragedy begin to intersect once again, and the inevitable fallout begins as one after another, they find out the truth.

It’s a makjang plot, no question. One could be forgiven for giving this show a wide berth due to its premise (and that title). I only started watching it because Kim Jae-won completely won me over in Can You Hear My Heart. For me, Scandal defies categorization—it’s revenge melo, family drama, romance, and crime thriller all at once. It sounds over-the-top, but there’s nothing over-the-top about the way this drama is executed: Events unfold logically and naturally, exactly as they might if such a terrible situation happened to real people. Everything that happens is set up far in advance, often paying off many episodes later, with poignancy and to great narrative effect.

The writing consistently blew me away with its complex plot construction, well-developed characters, and dialogue that was often so on point that it took my breath away. This was one aspect that was even more apparent the second time around, when I wasn’t just trying to catch my breath at every new development but could appreciate how every moment led to the next. Each action by a character, no matter how insignificant, contributes to moving the story along, yet the show is never predictable, constantly surprising—even on a rewatch, it retains nearly as much suspense as on the first viewing.

The acting in this show is equally impressive; it’s brilliantly cast, and nearly every single actor blew me away with their performances, including those in minor roles. I came for Kim Jae-won, but the real star of this drama is Shin Eun-kyung as his tragic, conflicted, long-lost mother. Shin was virtuosic as this heartbroken woman with a core of steel, and she was the center around which all of the other characters orbited. She was able to convey multiple complex emotions with a single look, and although at times she made morally suspect decisions in pursuit of revenge against her monstrous husband, she remained unceasingly sympathetic throughout the drama.

Jo Jae-hyun gives an epic performance as well, as a desperate father at the end of his rope, who makes an extreme decision in his grief-blinded state that he has to live with for the rest of his life. His journey from an honest detective, to a grieving father, to a kidnapper on the run, and finally to a man who just wants to be a father to his children, is brilliantly realized and moving. I was so invested in his redemption because I understood why he took the path he did, even when it was clearly wrong.

That’s why it’s so heartbreaking when Kim Jae-won inevitably finds out that his father is actually his kidnapper—the two men share a deep love that’s rare to see between father and son in dramaland, and the ripping apart of that relationship is devastating to watch. And Kim Jae-won nails every emotion in this demanding role: He’s perfect as a stubborn cop with an unerring commitment to justice, and also displays grief, betrayal, anger, sadness, and love with a powerful but restrained pathos that completely suits his character.

My only complaint was with Jo Yoon-hee as the female lead, whose acting was very green in early episodes, and although she settled into her character over time and was serviceable by the end, her awkwardness was very obvious when every other cast member was killing it. Kim Gyu-ri was wonderful as Kim Jae-won’s tough yet vulnerable half-sister, but she was so much better than Jo Yoon-hee that I couldn’t help wishing at certain points that she’d played the female lead instead—especially since she had great chemistry with him. (And also, why isn’t Kim Gyu-ri getting any lead roles?)

Ki Tae-young broke my heart as the adopted orphan who couldn’t live up to the ghost of the boy he replaced, and his was another moving journey as he lost his way and found it once again, provoked toward both good and evil by his desperate desire for parental love. Kim Hye-ri was a riot as the villain’s mistress and mother of his illegitimate daughter, always hatching evil plots and often failing in spectacular and hilarious fashion because she was so dim. I loved to hate her for much of the drama, and yet even she became one of my favorite characters by the end.

And of course, Park Sang-min was mesmerizing as the amoral and ruthless man whose actions drew all of these people into this snarled web of tragedy in the first place. His sincere belief that his wealth and power give him the right to use and dispose of others’ lives in service of his own desires make him a terrifying and all-too-realistic antagonist. His character is larger than life but the actor has the charisma to pull it off, and his genuine and unconditional love for his lost son gives humanity to what might otherwise be too mustache-twirly a performance.

Ultimately, this is a story about how you can’t escape the past, but you can heal from it. The characters in Scandal are dealing with the consequences of decisions they made in the past; the truth will inevitably come out and justice must be served, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of forgiveness and eventual healing. Often, revenge melodramas are so focused on illustrating the evils of vengeance that they overcompensate by redeeming their villains far too quickly and easily. Here, though, every redemption was well-earned, and forgiveness was dependent entirely on the victims’ emotional journeys and needs, which was incredibly satisfying. We often see the narrative of the cold hero who is healed by a heroine’s love, but in Scandal, it was the hero’s ability to love others that saved him, and gave him the space and the heart to move on.

RELATED POSTS

Tags:

24

Required fields are marked *

Ooooo this sounds interesting!! Glad I came across ur post. Ive been wanting to binge watch on sthg, so this will prbly do :)))

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks for this post @laica.

This is one of drama that I really want to pick up it again.. I remember I dropped it but I can't remember the actual reason. This post reminds me that I should find time to watch this. These veteran actors are simply the reason I must find time to watch it, besides the plot sounds just my cup of tea.

I never warm up with Jo Yeon Hee's acting even after years and for some reasons, she always got either interesting character or solid co-stars but her performance was always mediocre. On the other hand, Kim Gyu-ri deserves better opportunity.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you for writing and sharing. This drama was so engrossing, both the story, acting and directing. Scandal will remain one of my favorites.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I dropped it in the middle of ep 2, because it was so offensive.
Gratuitously stretching out the death of a child. This one still makes me mad!

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I wasn't aware of this drama... but reading I realised I shouldn't have read because obviously there were spoilers. :-/

0
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Sorry! I included the basic setup of the drama, but you learn most of this in the first couple of episodes - and in fact the drama itself reveals the kidnapping in the first couple of minutes. But I can understand not wanting to be spoiled about anything. Its hard to avoid spoilers in a post like this, unfortunately. :/

5
reply

Required fields are marked *

Sorry! I should have put a spoiler alert!

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

OMG Kim Jae Won!!! I actually watched several eps of Scandal but I haven't been able to finish it. Your review is wonderful and I hope I could give this drama another try. Thank you for your review, Laica!

2
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I loved this drama! Sometimes when I'm in a really melo mood I go and watch my 6 favorite episodes. (It wouldn't be a revisit for me because I partially revisit it a couple times a year). Like you said so eloquently, the way the characters react isn't always the way you would expect; but it still feels true to their characters.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Mostly what I remember about this show is that they used the English word for "scandal" in the title.

I always get a kick out of English words/phrases in kdrama titles, like "Sseurideizeu" for "Three Days", and "Hooayoo" for "who are you".

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I totally agree with everything you wrote. One of the great dramas for sure. And it's only weak spot was definitely Jo Yoon-hee. Glaringly so. Totally disliked her and still think she is a terrible actress. I hope she becomes a stay at home mom now! ;) I have never forgotten this drama. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. This one was definitely a hallmark in my drama watching history

2
4
reply

Required fields are marked *

Really? I was amaze how many people know this drama.
And here I am thinking I am veteran player for 9 years in kdrama land. Lmao.

I never ever see this drama in streaming site before. The villain has cool hair haha

0
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

You think the hair is fun in the picture, wait until it changes color between episodes. It was a running joke in the Viki timed comments.

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Hesitated for the longest time to rewatch this drama and couldn't understand why. A couple of months ago I decided to give it another go and appreciated the strong story and cast.

The major weakness was the female lead. Could not decide whether it was her acting or the writers who gave her such weak material.

A small blot on an otherwise good drama. Still worth watching.

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Just finished marathoning this yesterday. Came for Cho Jae Hyun and got Kim Jae-Won and Shin Eun-Kyung as a bonus. Riveting performances. As quickly as I watched it, I look forward to watching it again in the future and savoring it, particularly the close father-son relationship. What was particularly satisfying is that the show does a good job of tying up all the lose ends, mostly in a credible fashion.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you, Laica, for choosing this drama. I have very fond memories of this drama. This is one of my favorite weekend drama. I had to stop halfway at first because it was so hard to find the English subtitle. But I picked it up again quite a while after it was finished. I was watching Ki Tae Young in The Return of Superman, and I remembered that I haven't finished this.

It was very different with all makjang drama I've watched (and stopped midway cause I couldn't stand it). I agree with all of your assessment. The thing about makjang drama is that they usually doesn't make sense and so out-of-the-world. This one felt so realistic that you could imagine it truly happened. The plot flowed smoothly, and it's not dragged at all. Though it's more than 20 episodes, it was relatively shorter than other weekend dramas.

I also agree about Jo Yoon Hee. I didn't dislike her, but I also never felt anything special about her since I first saw her acting in Nine.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I had always wanted to see this drama but had the chance to see it. But now I think I will see it.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Uuu this is one of my favorite makjang dramas! I binge-watched this drama for 4 days straight once it's completed airing all episodes. I was in my first year of college back then (2013) and it's a great experience, I'd tell ya. I never thought that I'd tolerate makjang, but I guess this is one of those nicely executed makjang which will make you stick until the end because you just wanna know the ending.

Anyway, I love Han Groo in this drama. She's the adorable lil sister here. ?

1
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I think I will try this show out. Trying to avoid total spoilers though. Thanks @Laica for writing this article. And @Hannaehh, for your comments...'nicely executed makjang'.

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I've got nothing but love for this wonderful show.
Excellent acting, story and music (the CD still ends up in my player till today) made it one of my top 3 of the year back then alas it was totally underrated in the fandom.
I was happy not to have marathoned it, because it is so emotionally gripping.
I cried buckets in the end. Highly recommended!

0
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yes! Totally agree about the soundtrack! Love this OST! I also cried buckets in the end. To me, this show was ultimately a love story between fathers and sons.

0
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Oh that one OST - that is one of the most heart breaking music that is still on my playlist.

I cry every time i hear it!

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Nice write-up and I've now have this one added to by watch list. This is the type of drama I'm looking for right now - characters that go wrong but find there way back to good-graces with good screenplay and fast paced episodes.

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank u Laica for the write-up on this kdrama which made me CRY from start to finish. I followed this drama from start to finish - all 36 episodes. Had no tears left when it finished! That last scene when the father and son went camping had me bawling my eyes out!

I came into this drama not knowing any of the cast except for Jo Yoon-hee who was in the weekended "My husband got a family/You who rolled in unexpectedly".
The characters were all well played, especially the seniors - Jo Jae-hyun, Park Sang-min (how come I don't see him appearing in recent dramas?), Shin Eun-Kyung and Kim Hye-ri.

Oh - the ripping of the kidnapper father and son relationship was soooo saaaddddd!! The soompi thread for this drama at that time was a good therapy for dealing with all that sadness.

I am glad someone else appreciated this kdrama!

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *