My Name: Episode 1 (Review)
Netflix is back with their next original drama, My Name, a noir crime drama that packs quite a punch (pun intended). It’s rough and violent, and builds the dark world in which our teenage heroine is pushed to the edge. The story that unfolds is what happens when she has nothing left to lose.
Note: This is only a first episode review.
EPISODE 1 REVIEW
My Name wastes no time setting up its tone and mood, which is dark, lonely, and desperate. The heroine of our story is YOON JI-WOO (Han So-hee), a teenage girl who’s living in poor conditions apart from her father. We can feel the anger she has towards him right away — his reputation as a gangster and drug dealer follows her wherever she goes and haunts her. But that anger is just a defense mechanism, and the drama doesn’t hide the fact that she actually adores him.
The truth about Ji-woo’s father is known at her all girls high school, and she’s tormented by her classmates in the worst ways possible. At first Ji-woo seems checked out, used to keeping her head down and shouldering the bullying. But something in her snaps one day, and rather than take the latest attack (a bag of fake drugs on her desk) she confronts the lead bully and gets into a huge fight in the middle of the classroom. Ji-woo might be small and seem vulnerable, but this is our first glimmer into the fight that she has within her.
Ji-woo’s been waiting for her dad to contact her, and when he does it’s on her birthday. He’s left a cake, flowers, and an expensive present at her door, but is still in hiding. Her father’s love offering is not enough this time, and when they talk on the phone, Ji-woo tells him that she’s not waiting for him anymore. She can’t take the abuse a day longer, and she says if he doesn’t turn up, she’ll renounce him as her father.
The seriousness with which her father takes this situation makes it clear not only how much they love each other, but how Ji-woo truly has reached the point where she can’t go on. Her father heads back to her apartment despite the danger, but before they can even see each other, an unknown assailant comes after him. He keeps Ji-woo from opening her front door in order to protect her, and it’s an emotional as well as physical battle. Ji-woo can only imagine what’s happening on the other side of the door, and when the fight clears, her father is shot dead. And with that, Ji-woo’s world collapses.
This moment is the turning point for Ji-woo and our story — the moment where she has nothing left to lose. Her father was the only thing holding her together, and now that he’s gone, she decides that getting revenge against his killer is the only thing that matters to her. And so it comes to define her entire life.
It’s here that our backstory ends, and the new chapter in Ji-woo’s life begins. She seeks out the boss of the underground drug ring with whom her father worked, and begs him to help her find out who murdered her father. The mob boss is CHOI MOO-JIN (Park Hee-soon). Though we get a sense of his closeness to Ji-woo’s father, he’s harsh with her, and even physical. Ji-woo leaves a little more broken, but a little more determined to get her revenge.
She starts out alone, but it’s clear that while she’s fierce and full of fight, she doesn’t really know what she’s doing. Eventually, Moo-jin has seen enough, and brings her into his gang. Ji-woo leaves everything behind, and becomes the maknae of this group of fighters. She’s a tiny twig of a woman living in a compound full of brutal men who only see her as a plaything.
Because Moo-jin brought her in himself, though, there seems to be an unwritten rule that they can only go so far with her. They’re emotionally and physically abusive to her — with strict limits. There is a line they won’t cross, and in the meantime, Ji-woo uses this time to get harder and stronger as she trains.
Despite being stone-faced and distant, it is clear that Moo-jin has a soft spot for Ji-woo. During her time there he monitors her, sees how mentally tough she really is, and eventually helps her train. This whole thing sounds like it could be the early setup of a superhero movie or something, but the dark, gritty and absolutely unforgiving world of My Name makes this anything but. There is no lightness here at all, and Ji-woo’s world is absolutely brutal.
She’s also brutal towards herself. She slaves around the compound all day (taking on the duties of the gang’s maknae), and then when the training room is clear of all the goons, she trains all night. There’s something broken inside Ji-woo, that we can tell, but rather than make her weak, it gives her strength. There seems to be no insult or punch or kick that she won’t take and use to feed her inner strength. She seems about to break, but she never backs down.
Admittedly, I was not looking forward to another Han So-hee performance so soon after the off-putting JTBC drama Nevertheless, but the Han So-hee we get in My Name is entirely different. It’s also an entirely different performance from her breakout role in A Couple’s World — in fact, you sometimes forget you’re looking at the same actress.
Even though the first episode is actually all set-up for Ji-woo’s story, it draws us into the world of My Name so much that it’s hard to unplug from it. The world it portrays is brutal, but you can’t pull away. And for some reason, watching Ji-woo’s inner strength and fierceness is somehow the most inspiring thing ever. Granted, I have a soft spot for characters like this — ones that leave their world behind and become fierce warriors for their cause — and even more so when they’re women. (Can we call this the Sarah Connor archetype?)
With seven more episodes in the series, we know that Ji-woo has many more challenges to face besides the ones within the gang. She’ll be placed within the police department as a double agent, and once there, loyalties will get complicated. Although the first episode doesn’t give us that much relationship building, one can assume that Moo-jin’s fondness for Ji-woo, and their shared affection for her father, will continue to build a trust between them.
How strong will that bond be when Ji-woo is back in the outside world and trying to get to the bottom of her father’s death? How will Ahn Bo-hyun’s policeman character factor into Ji-woo’s cover? How many permutations will the story take before Ji-woo is able to uncover the truth? If the first episode is any indication, it will be a dark, deep, and twisty road.