[Friday Flashback] City Hunter
Genre: Thriller, Revenge, Romance
Synopsis: After his father is murdered by a group of government officials to cover up their unsanctioned operation in North Korea, Lee Yoon-sung (Lee Min-ho) is raised by his father’s best friend and trained to be a killer. Now an adult with an impressive (illegally obtained) pedigree, he returns to Seoul to systematically bring down the five men responsible for his father’s death. Along the way he encounters Kim Nana (Park Min-young), a newly appointed secret service agent at the Blue House. Will Yoon-sung be able to follow through with his plans, or will Nana — and their flirtatious banter — distract him from his mission?
Why You Should (Or Shouldn’t) Watch City Hunter:
I’m just going to get this out of the way right now: this is — hands down — my favorite Lee Min-ho drama. I think it is largely due to the fact that this role is so vastly different from his others. Yeah, he’s still a little too perfect to be true (with a face like that, it’s hard not to be, am I right?) but his character in City Hunter is less polished and more dynamic than his other roles. Instead of playing the careless rich playboy, his character uses that persona as a cover for his real identity: a kickass warrior — with a soft spot for the weak and helpless — bent on avenging his father’s murder. It adds a whole new element to his character’s personality that’s immensely appealing.
The heroine of City Hunter is just as interesting. At first, she appears to be another Candy type, working an endless list of part-time jobs to save for her comatose father’s medical bills, but not long after we meet her, she gets a job as a secret service agent at the Blue House. How badass is that? I’m a sucker for a leading lady who can kick butt, and the scenes where she spars against Yoon-sung as part of their inter-departmental feud are a fun extension of their bickering and a flex of her skills — even if Yoon-sung lets her win to maintain his non-threatening playboy cover story.
Although there is a romantic side-plot between Yoon-sung and Nana, the core story focuses on Yoon-sung’s revenge against the five men who ordered his father (and his fellow soldiers) to be executed after completing an unsanctioned assassination mission in North Korea. The lone surviving soldier, Lee Jin-pyo (Kim Sang-joong), kidnapped baby Yoon-sung and raised him to possess all the skills necessary to hunt and kill the men responsible.
Despite the harsh conditions of upbringing, though, Yoon-sung never developed the heart of a killer to go along with his martial arts and shooting skills. So instead of murdering the five men — and quickly putting them out of their misery — Yoon-sung goes against his adoptive father’s wishes and plans to systematically expose their corruption and ruin their public images one-by-one. Buuuut… well, let’s just say his attempts to take the moral high ground with his vengeance don’t go according to plan.
And that’s part of this drama’s appeal. Our protagonists and antagonists are more gray than your typical “good guys” and “bad guys,” and the complexity of these characters leads to some unpredictable — and often emotional — situations.
Our hero is a vigilante out for revenge, but his heart is pure and his motives are misguided. And the man whose betrayal hit Jin-pyo the hardest, is not the evil and corrupt politician that you want to see crash and burn. As far as revenge plots go, this one is tightly-written, multi-faceted, and presented in a way that is interesting to the audience.
So, does City Hunter stand the test of time? Well, I’m biased — I love a thriller with a side of romance — but I think it holds up extremely well. To be fair, it’s also the most recent Friday Flashback I’ve covered so far. So I feel obliged to acknowledge that it’s still relatively new enough to have benefited from more modern cinematography styles and avoided the clichés of the early 2000s that are both a bit distracting and cringeworthy many years later. Even so, I would say City Hunter has aged better than some of its more recent genre counterparts (and if this sounds like I’m throwing a little shade at the recently concluded revenge drama Again My Life, it’s because I am.)
It’s also worth mentioning the great fighting and action choreography, which is not only fun to watch, but will stick with you years later. I’m looking at you spoon scene. (If you know, you know.)