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A Killer Paradox: Episode 1 (First Impressions)

Sardonic, stylish, and a tad strange, A Killer Paradox sets up a dark comedy about a dispassionate college student who accidentally stumbles into murdering someone that arguably deserves it. The plot may be relatively straightforward for now, but it’s delivered through dynamic storytelling that keeps the premiere engaging.

Editor’s note: This is an Episode 1 review only. For a place to chat about the entire drama, visit the Drama Hangout.
 
EPISODE 1

A Killer Paradox: Episode 1 (First Impressions)

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this show, given the offbeat tone of its teaser that contrasts sharply with its subject material — would the show manage to toe the fine line of macabre absurdity, or would it suffer from a flagrant tonal clash? Thankfully, the show manages to pull off the former, presenting a deliberately curated disjointedness with an unusual protagonist.

That’s the impassive and unmotivated LEE TANG (Choi Woo-shik), who drifts through classes and conversations with his family in favor of his lofty dreams about seeking escapism through a working holiday in Canada. The problem is, Tang can barely commit to cleaning his apartment or maintaining a gym routine, much less an entirely new life path. In fact, he’s so noncommittal that he barely ever displays any emotion, seemingly numb to everything and everyone around him.

A Killer Paradox: Episode 1 (First Impressions)

The night Tang’s life changes irrevocably starts out with a familiar scene — a belligerent man ordering Tang around at the convenience store where he works. Tang complies without complaint, though his displeasure is clearly written in his body language. After his shift, Tang is heading home when he spots the crude customer passed out on the street, but catching up to his companion and informing him about his buddy’s state only earns Tang a curt dismissal.

Then their conversation escalates drastically. Tang flips the man off, the man sees it in a mirror, and then the switch is flipped and Tang’s being subjected to a brutal beating. Spurred by a flashback to his high school days, when he’d been violently bullied, Tang strikes back with the hammer in his backpack.

It’s set up as an act of self-preserving retaliation from being pushed to the brink, but it plays out in such a slow and measured manner that it makes one question whether Tang simply snapped, or if he’s had the latent capacity for violence lying dormant in him all along. In his mind’s eye, he’s nailing his painting frame to the wall. In reality, he’s murdered a man, then fled the scene and left the hammer behind in his wide-eyed panic. The painting of the Canadian Rockies sits on his apartment floor, a silent reminder of his crime.

This sequence is perhaps the epitome of this show’s approach to storytelling, highlighting its creative transitions and skillful cinematography. A Killer Paradox tells its tale through deliberately abrupt editing, some done through impossibly smooth match cuts, that heighten the disquietingly surreal tone. It plays with parallels, such as the hammering of the nail for the painting that represents Tang’s dream of starting a new life, and the hammering of the man whose murder sets Tang onto an entirely different life path.

It’s almost eerie that the first explicit emotion we see from Tang is fear, since it runs directly counter to his bone-deep apathy. In the aftermath of the murder, Tang is haunted by hallucinations of the dead man, bloody and resentful. Interestingly, though, it’s not a manifestation of Tang’s guilt — instead, it’s a projection of his fear that he’ll be caught for his crime. Tang is a character that ought to be unlikable by all counts, but is just relatable enough in his dispirited lack of direction and listless endurance of the mundane toil to keep viewers invested.

Through the murder investigation, we’re introduced to detective JANG NAN-GAM (Sohn Seok-gu), whose distinctive idiosyncrasy is his habit of blowing bubbles with his chewing gum. He’s gruff, scruffy, and peers at people with an unfaltering gaze that seems to see right through them. Nan-gam thoroughly unsettles Tang with his sharp observations and incisive comments, but just as Tang fears he’s been found out, he’s inexplicably saved by a series of inconceivable coincidences.

In line with this show’s ludicrous humor, a convenient fly on the CCTV camera covers up the exact moment Tang asked to borrow the hammer from his boss. Next, the police’s forensic analysis paints a picture of the two customers tussling and bludgeoning each other to death, which lines up with their infidelity love triangle. Last of all, the clincher — it turns out the victim was a serial murder suspect who’s been living under a false identity. Looks like Tang’s dealt a stroke of karma, albeit inadvertently.

A Killer Paradox: Episode 1 (First Impressions)

Most stories about murdering criminals often feature vigilante heroes, which Tang is anything but. His lack of a moralistic motivation — and apparent lack of scruples, given his petty theft and pre-military infidelity — keeps his moral alignment intriguingly vague. Will he harness his uncanny ability to mete out justice, so that he can finally find a purpose in life? Will he revel in this newfound power and eventually wind up as someone of his victim’s ilk? Or will he simply continue to stumble into accidental murders, not taking the reins of his life? Tang is so detached that it’s difficult to get a read into his mind, and it’s precisely that which shapes the show’s curiosity-fuelled suspense.

Darkly humorous in its eccentricity and deadpan delivery, A Killer Paradox delivers gripping storytelling through its juxtaposition of the surreal and the mundane. That isn’t to say I don’t have my gripes, because I’m not a fan of the gratuitous sex scene to demonstrate a point that had already been proven through better ways, and there were a few scenes that I felt were overly drawn-out. All that aside, though, the premiere displays quite a fair bit of potential in its deft techniques and intriguing characters. There’s certainly a lot of style, but as of yet it’s hard to tell whether it matches up in substance. If the show plays its cards right with Tang’s character and Nan-gam’s chase, we may be in for an interesting tale.

A Killer Paradox: Episode 1 (First Impressions)

 
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@solstices I love your writing, it's really a feast for the mind.

I just started this drama because it's short and murders stories are relaxing.
So far (ep2) so good, with just a very netflixesque un-kdrama nude scene.

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That scene was unnecessary. They just put it in for the sake of it.

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So unnecessary which doesn’t add anything narratively speaking.

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literally.

Sadly, I saw people bashing others for expressing their discomfort with that scene. Its unfortunate how netizens have reached this point of being unable to express how they feel :/

Aside from that, displaying Tang's disconnect from his emotions have been clearly shown through other scenes throughout the drama. That scene was just jarring.

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It doesn’t take half an episode for us to know Tang is aimlessly depressed with no joy in life other than a vague fancy for a working holiday in Canada.

There is not much need to convince us further on that through a sex scene. And I’d very honest here with a personal view that male Korean directors have a tendency to insert such scenes as they see fit - and I have seen quite a lot already.

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I’m talking about Korean movies that are very liberal as far as sex scenes are concerned.

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I just started this show (on ep 3) but so far, i really liked it. Not suprised that the Director of this also directed Strangers from Hell. The director seems to like to adapt webtoons with unreliable narrators. I know this has technically a supernatural genre, but personally, i think the protagonists is just extremly unreliable, i wouldn't put it past him that he doesn't have an ability at all and is just patheticly justifying his actions. I would go even as far as there is a chance that the people he killed are innocents after all, he is just going bonkers because he can't cope.

He likes doing crimes of opportunity, if he can get away with it, he does it. Be it stealing (tablet & hammer) or even cheating (not a crime, but unmoral). Like an adrenaline junkie, he gets bored of it though, which is why the mentioned 10-second flashback of cheating doesn't excite him AT ALL anymore. Did we need scene of him imagining/masturbating to his cheating? Nah. But it does tell you about the character, so i don't mind it. It's not like it's out of nowhere either, netflix does tell you the kind of content a show has lol.

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Even with all the murder and mayhem it is a fun interesting watch! The making and the music is cool and I love the two main characters already! And off course as everyone else is saying that nude scene was completely unnecessary as it was in the Glory and Squid Game.

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It is interesting to see a morally ambiguous character who should be disliked, but what a nice change to the revenge driven fighters for justice that are everywhere in kdrama just now. I can't think of anybody better than Choi Woo-sik to play this part.

Sohn Seok-gu is a more standard detective, relying on his instinct, who likes to blow bubbles from gum (funny PPL there). Am I the only one to wait for the bubble to burst and the gum to get stuck in his beard? Are there BTS scenes showing this?

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I enjoyed this show so much. Just finished the last episode and thought I'd come here to see if anyone's talking about it.

I was invested throughout and never once found myself itching to fast forward scenes. If any, I rewinded quite a bit. Especially during parts with transitions.

Honestly, plot aside, I agree with @solstices that the cinematography is great, and, my goodness, those transitions and cut scenes are so smooth.

This is a drama I'll certainly be recommending to anyone with a love for this sort of story. And it's refreshing how Tang isn't some vigilante hero to root for, but a guy who's morally gray at best.

I'm hoping people I know IRL watch it so I can talk about it with them in person.

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What nude scene? Can people explain why did it bother them? I thought everything in that area was fine.

What did seem over the top were the corpses. There was too much gore there and it was always in a dark comedy moment so it was very weird. I don't want to be the one who calls anyone a prude but sometimes people forget violence is way worse than a bit of nakedness.

I'm only talking about the first 2 eps btw, still don't know what happens later. The genre flipped a bit too fast. It began as drama and it's becoming more and more a sort of absurd dark comedy. It has too many style moments too. The rest has been very entertaining, both actors are great and are excellent in their roles. The cinematography, the other cast and the plot twists are also great. I really did not expect him to start killing other people or that the smart detective would not suspect anything. It's was a very good start and I don't usually like kdrama thrillers.

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Yes, the sex scene was there to show the extend of his depression, that even sex did not excite him at all any more.

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More than that. He was bored but even the woman was bored so what does THAT tells us? That he thinks so low of himself that she would be bored even in his dreams or, more interestingly, that he secretly would LIKE her to be bored. Not every sex scene is there for no reason.

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Just finished this 30 min ago and I’m still in my finale high….

@solstices - thanks for your recap and totally agreed with @darwi that it’s a joy to read. Absurdity, disjointedness, mundaneness are all the ingredients to make this a standout serial killer drama. When the dark humour strikes, you can’t help but laugh out loud (and very loud).

And what can I say about SSK?! This might be his best performance to date. His character may look like the typical tough but frustrated cop but there’s more to that as the story progresses. The emotional depth he brings to this character is jaw dropping and I can’t picture who can do it better than him.

This is very my cup of tea and I love it. Highly, highly recommended to those looking for a smart piece and you’d be forgiven to think you are watching a European movie (and Lobster comes to my mind at this minute). 9/10 and could be higher if without the unnecessary sex scenes.

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Netflix and nude scenes can NEVER be separated. Other than that, I think i will start watching it this week.

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After reading @solstices great writeup I decided to try this out and I (despite the gore) quite like it. Its really well put together and I look forward to see just how they will tie it all up in the end.

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I'm currently on episode 6 and much prefer the first four episodes of the show. The tone seems to change from dark comedy to straight out revenge murder and the focus shifts too much from Tang.
I enjoyed it much more following Tang as he stumbled into these situations that just snowballed out of his control and were darkly comedic. The whole avenging heroes just doesn't have the same feel, it's basically premeditated murder.
Woo shik is really great in this role.
Also when the detective (SS) purposely seeked out the nerdy computer guy to help him profile his case, it didn't make sense that he would then beat him up. I do enjoy watching SS act though as he is very charismatic.

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Your observation is spot on about the tonal shift. It gave me the impression that they might have planned for two-part release but didn’t in the end because the last few episodes would fit that format well.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed it all the same with a small gripe that one more episode would tie the end better. The back story of the old detective (played so well by Lee Hee-joon) is central to almost the whole story. More time should be given to tell that story instead of rushing out in the last couple of episodes.

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I have zero problems with the sex scene. Just like I have zero problems showing characters using the toilet. It was so damn tame it might well have just been a nude scene anyway.

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