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Leverage: Episodes 1-2 (Review)

I wasn’t planning on watching TV Chosun’s remake of the hit US drama, but the concept reminded me of one of my favorite shows, Police Unit 38 so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and while I have no particular interest in watching the source material, I do think I’m along for the ride for this. Fast-paced and action-filled, the show packs a lot into two hours. It could almost function like a standalone movie with how much character and plot development we’ve already seen.

The show opens with an attempted heist on an art gallery, introducing us to yellow-haired techie JUNG EUI-SUNG (Yeo Hwae-hyun) and money-loving action girl GO NA-BYUL (Kim Sae-ron). The two bicker as Eui-sung guides her through the theft of an artefact, but their mission is ill-fated as Na-byul ends up tripping the alarm and Eui-sung runs away.

Lee Dong-gun plays highly successful insurance fraud investigator LEE TAE-JOON, who the crims know better as “The Grim Reaper”. He seems to be pretty familiar with the heist pair, and even helps Eui-sung get away from Na-byul when she runs him down… or so Eui-sung thinks, until they pick up Na-byul, too. Rather than catch them, Tae-joon is there to recruit them for a heist of his own.

That’s because his kid is terminally sick and given barely three months to live. Tae-joon resigns from his job and quickly derails his life to acquire a cancer drug that seems to be his best hope. The problem is that the drug is still in development, and he has to go through some shady turns to acquire it.

On intel provided by his kid’s attending physician (I’m not even going to start on the questionable ethics, lol), he makes contact with an underground doctor called So Ma who seems to be a Chinese defector. He provides Tae-joon with one dose of the drug, Asana, which he is using for his own son, but says that the only way they can get more is if Tae-joon recovers his stolen research from a company called Mirae Pharamaceutical.

That’s why Tae-joon recruits the two young scammers and the newly-formed team carry out a carefully co-ordinated plan. But a series of irregularities as they progress give way to some Big Problems, from a severed zipline to an anonymous tip-off to Mirae’s Head of Security. And that’s not to mention the uneasy suspicion you get at this point as you begin to wonder if the team are actually stealing the data from its rightful owners and handing it off to the bad guys.

Eui-sung and Na-byul get out by the skin of their teeth, only for a bomb to explode the elevator they were in. The first episode leaves off there, and I have to admit, it left me a bit of a gasping wreck because a) what a horrible way to die, and b) I’d gotten attached to the pair and their cartoonish bumbling and bickering personalities.

Frankly, it’s a relief that TV Chosun is airing Leverage’s two episodes back-to-back, because the space between the first episode and the second still felt like a slice of drama purgatory—which I would’ve been saved from if I’d paid attention to the opening credits or literally any promo for the show. They’re the main cast! Therefore not dead in episode 1! Okay!

But Tae-joon doesn’t know that, and he’s wretched. Too late, he realizes he’s been had by So Ma. He convinces the arresting officer hyung to give him one week to fix things and save his son, and then promises to turn himself in.

On the run, he seeks the help of an old connection, HWANG SOO-KYUNG (Jeon Hye-bin)—a Z-list actress who couldn’t get a director to cast her, so she bought her own theater. She’s cocky and immediately likeable, with an aura of elegance that masks a gutsy spirit. Aw, I really like Jeon Hye-bin from her Joseon Gunman days and this role seems like it’ll be great fun for her.

We’re not told exactly how they’re connected, but given Tae-joon’s track record, he probably booked her for something, and she’s definitely not over it, lol. She grudgingly agrees, and so the second episode sees the tables turn as the hunted now becomes the hunter.

He’s overjoyed to find out that Na-byul and Eui-sung made it out alive. They’re furious about what happened and ready to pay it back with interest. Their investigations reveal that the So Ma dude is in fact the head of an fake pharma company, and everything that Tae-joon was shown from the hidden clinic to the restaurant that fronted it was an elaborate deep-fake, all for the sake of manipulating him into doing their dirty work for them.

Since Mirae lost Asana, their stock value has plunged, and that’s where So Ma steps in to buy them out, looking to legitimize his company by merging with them. Of course, there’s a shadowy boardroom full of smug, powerful old men hemming and hawing about a mysterious Chairman they all answer to but nobody has ever seen.

Mirae also sacks their Chief of Security, ex-US Marine ROY RYU (Kim Kwon), over the burglary, and he’s left with an impossible sum of damages to pay, since it was written into his contract that he’s liable for any losses that occur on his watch.

The team set about stealing the data back and Tae-joon narrowly avoids being caught, thanks to Roy, who’s been tracking them. He wants his job back, which he says temporarily makes them allies as they both want to retrieve what So Ma has—Tae-joon wants the ampoule of the drug, Roy wants the data about it. Thus, he becomes the final addition to the team. Unlike the others, he’s reserved to the point of being aloof, but extremely capable.

So Ma has put the word out that his company is selling the Asana data, and the team now pull a more complicated scam as they get between So Ma and his potential buyers. To So Ma, Soo-kyung poses as a rep from a Japanese company, while to the Japanese company, she poses as a rep from So Ma. It takes all of her mental agility and finest acting to keep So Ma from suspecting their play.

But it very nearly comes undone when Tae-joon’s kid’s condition rapidly deteriorates, and Tae-joon is ready to forget everything and just grab the medicine. Soo-kyung smuggles it out to him, but by the time he makes it to the hospital…it’s too late.

It’s refreshing to see Lee Dong-gun not play a villain for a change. He’s had a prolonged run of playing bad guys and really bad guys that I’d forgotten how sympathetic he can be when he’s not being… sketchy and murdery. Though I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at the preview, I’m not quite sure what to expect going forward. Given that the source material ran to five seasons, does it follow an episodal procedural model, or is there a season-/series-long arc? I’ve learnt that procedurals really don’t work for me, so I’m hoping in the case of the Korean version, it will be the latter.

I’m also very wary of US-to-Korea crime show remakes (à la Criminal Minds—forgotten but never forgiven), and the opening musical notes of this show immediately put me in mind of Suits, another insipid remake saved only by an instrumental track on the OST that I loved at first hearing. There’s something about that format that just seems not to translate well, though I would welcome being proven wrong in this case. On the positive side, Leverage doesn’t feel like it’s copying anything, and its plot points and character archetypes really are K-drama trope staples. If I didn’t know it was an adaptation, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it.

That is all to say that I’m fairly optimistic for this show, and the opener has convinced to keep watching. If you guys enjoy it, I might come back for mid-series and final reviews, so let me know in the comments if I should be keeping up. I’m ready for this to be cheeky fun despite the heavy beginning, and I can see the team hijinks turning to sincere emotion, and you know, that’s half of what I’m here for in the end: fellowship and feelings! The other half is a solid, gripping plot—so come on Leverage, make it good!

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I liked it. I think kdramas are hitting their stride a little bit better with US remakes, because putting a multi-season show into a single season is difficult. We shall see where it goes from here though.

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I liked it. And it's not Netflix so we can hope for cuss-free subs and an actual ending when it ends :)

If you don't decide on your own to keep covering it we may have to scam you into it somehow.

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OMG, yes about Netflix it drives me BANANAS, it's incredibly annoying.

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Will it be coming to Netflix or Viki anytime?

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A great start that introduced all the characters although i wish for more story into how they each know one another. Lee dong gun is finally playing a likeable character and jeon hye bin is gorgeous. the rest of the team is coming together well. cant wait to see the types of scams they pull in the upcoming episodes

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After all this time I feel like I've never told you how much I like your writing and your reviewing @saya. It sings. I'm so glad you wrote something about Leverage.

I really enjoyed reading this even though I wasn't completely thrilled with this adaptation. Considering how brave dramas have become in recent years, I wasn't expecting it to essentially cop out on the original's themes. If anything, Leverage was one I thought was uniquely aligned to a kdrama sensibility in terms of its structure and its themes. And so I was quite disappointed it went down the route it did.

It seems Korea is comfortable blaming chaebols for the world's problems but not the brutal structural capitalism that embeds their power in corporations in the first place. If privatisation and the profit imperative didn't cause his son's death then what is the point of the rest of the show?

Corruption, back room scheming and EVIL CHAEBOLS are symptoms of larger systemic issues - as are all social problems - and yet the show absolutely refused to provide the motivation that made sense going forward.

Maybe it'll become clear later but I fail to see why this version of the show is even called "leverage".

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Thank you so much for your words, and I will treasure them <3

awkward penguin going back to my drama cave now

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Thanks for your recap of LEVERAGE, @saya. I'm not watching it, but did enjoy the American version back in the day, although I didn't watch all five seasons. Christian Kane (slimy lawyer from Wolfram & Hart in ANGEL) was the big draw for me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Yeo Hwae-hyun and Kim Kwon are having a MARRY ME NOW? reunion. Glad to know that Lee Dong-gun finally gets to play a good guy for a change. His ex-angel ballet master in ANGEL'S LAST MISSION: LOVE was pretty screwy. He was magnificent as Yeonsangun in SEVEN DAY QUEEN.

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I am not quite sold on this the bungled burglary at the start just put me off... Still giving this a four episode try... Come on
show.. Don't let me down... I love Leverage OG.... Starts a prayer circle 🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏

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Thanks for your review @Saya. I didn't know anything about this drama, but as I read along your review, it got nicer. It's like hitching a ride, at first I got LDG (good thing that he's not casted as a villain again), drive along then LSR & YHY, then JHB (I'm glad she got casted as a feisty character in this drama) and KK at the end. It seems like It was yesterday when I watched KSR in Hi School Love On and I'm curious about KSR's acting growth. I hope the show will be recapped/reviewed a few eps more along the showtime.

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This is like way darker and moodier than the US original. I sort of dig it but at the same time I miss a lot of elements that the US version had. It was a lot of fun and hi-jinks-y.

I think it's too early to decide but so far I'm not a fan Yeo Hoi-Hyeon's character. In the original, the hacker is much more likable. He and the hitter (Kim Kwon's character) are the best and funniest duo. Speaking of Kim Kwon's character, he's also very different from the original. I can say that so far I like both iterations though.

The rest of the crew is pretty much the same as their US counterpart.

The original had an over arching plot because of one big bad guy and the rest of the show was a "new bad guy per episode" type of format. But honestly I didn't mind because each episode was so much fun. I agree that Korean dramas are better with one and done though. I hope it doesn't get too episodic.

So far I like the original better, but this show is off to a good start. I'm excited for the next episode.

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I haven't watched it but plan to, as I watch Marry Me Now and the petty bickering relationship between Kim Kwon's and Yeo Hoi-Hyeon's characters was so funny. Hopefully it will be as good here. I really like the original Leverage, because it was light heart and fun.

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I hated it. Player was a far more worthy Korean Leverage than this. they bought the rights and are using the title, but it bears no resemblance to the original, there's no levity, and it's written rather poorly — and insensitively.

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I love the US version of this when it was airing so I wanted to give this one a try but I kept thinking (in the first few minutes), 'That ponytail is sooooo impractical. What if it snags onto one of the artifacts or a door??' Lol, it drove me nuts so much so that I paused the drama and didn't go back. Let it never be said though, that I am a quitter. So during reading week I'll give it another go and maybe I'll see beyond the ponytail and come to like the drama.

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LOOL I had the same thoughts but I managed to power through! It's also ridiculously long and high too. tbh it looks like an extension.

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Right?! I thought maybe they were going for "visually appealing" or something but you can't get an A for "looks cool" and get a 0 for practicality when your thief goes to jail because the door straight up snatched their ponytail. I'll give it another go and put on my oversized suspension of disbelief glasses.

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actually in the US version parker (the thief) barely covers her hair during heists except for the first episode, which made me wonder if she left any strands of blonde hair lying around. don't even get me started on getting through the lasers with all that hair flying around, haha. still love her tho. will gladly suspend my disbelief for her XD

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I haven't seen the kdrama yet, but I loved the US version. I don't to compare the two though, and am going to attempt to go into the show open-minded.
As for if the show is episodic or serial... it's kind of both actually. Each episode dealt with it's on bad guy to take down, but ever season had one major Big Bad that showed up early and was taken down by the end of the season. And each of the characters had a slow but steady growth through out all five seasons. The original network had a habit of occasionally airing eps of out order, and so the writers made a point of trying to keep the story making sense even when it the network messed with the intended order.

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thank you for recapping the show~~~ keep it coming :)

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I don't know... The premise and ML's background seems closely familiar to that of Mad Dog. Conflicts might differ but in general it deals with the same issue in insurance sector, no? This is may be a pass for me.

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It's funny but I never viewed any of the characters Lee Dong Gun plays as villains (even though they were) because I've always rooted/sympathized with his character in whatever role he was in. Thus it didn't even occur to me that he had been playing a long streak of villain roles until now. That's how good he is. I do admit he is exceptionally good here (maybe because he is legit the good guy now). I've never seen the US original but I love the Korean version here and after 4 episodes, I can't wait to watch more. Appreciate if you could keep recapping.

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