No glitz, no glam! Just a Cruel City!

cruel city heartless city

Which is the true nightmare, the horrific dream that you have in your sleep or the dissatisfied reality that awaits you when you awake?

Justin Alcala

Cruel City   (2013)
Also known as
Heartless City
Action,    Crime,    Film-Noir,    Thriller,    Romance
Written by
Yoo Seong-yeol
Directed by
Lee Jung-hyo
 Jung Kyung-ho,    Lee Jae-yoon,    Nam Gyu-ri 
Country of Origin
South Korea

oh! brief

This crime kdrama captures the dark struggles of undercover agents and members of a narcotics ring. The action starts with the death of an undercover agent and informant, involved with Jeoul otherwise known as ‘Scale’ who is the head of a narcotics ring that includes organised crime, gang members, drug dealers, drugs, loan sharks, money laundering, and the adult entertainment industry e.g. hookers. A special unit is set up and led by Detective Ji Hyung-min to investigate and bring down Scale and his narcotics ring, targeting ‘Meth Kim’ and ‘Halibut’ – two leaders that run the operation. The main male character is Jung Shi-Hyun aka ‘Doctor’s Son’ aka ‘Baksa Adel’. He is the head of a channel of distribution for Scale’s drug cartel and starts a coup to bring down his boss at about the same time that the special unit starts investigating him. He gets caught up in multiple twists and the scheming plots of various characters from within the police, the narcotic ring and the Busan gang.

oh! talks drama

Being a fan of film noir and crime thrillers, I absolutely loved this kdrama. Without giving away too much information and spoiling this drama for you, I’ll try my best to keep intimate details of what goes on in the show to a bare minimum.

Firstly, the structure of the first half a dozen or so episodes for the kdrama were astounding – distinctively sombre and the characters develop so well. There is a dedicated and determined Detective Ji Hyung-min supported by a team of officers; a hardened, ruthless, callous Doctor’s Son and the criminals he works with and for; and, a strong-willed and principled Lee Kyung-mi who’s younger ‘sister’ frustrates her to no end. The fight scenes are spectacular and dramatic. Everything appears as it should – good versus evil or light versus dark.

And then it all unravels astonishingly and nothing is as it appears.

I appreciated this drama, right from the get-go, especially the main characters:

Detective Ji Hyung-min (brilliantly portrayed by Lee Jae-yoon) who I personally feel gets overlooked for how fantastic he was in his role when compared to Jung Kyung-ho;

Undercover civilian (informant) Yoon Soo Min who was raised in the same orphanage as one of the detectives killed (don’t worry it all makes sense when you watch the drama unfold). Played by Nam Gyu-ri who did a great job considering who else was acting in lead roles, and of course,

Everyone’s favourite for this drama, Doctor’s Son (played by the very talented Jung Kyung-ho).

These three all delivered remarkable performances, pulling in the audience, so that even when the plot appeared to have huge gaping holes, they still delivered, repeatedly!

And there was so much drama!

The violence was choreographed to be brutal, yet, completely believable, even as it appears to be extreme. If like me you enjoy graphic and brutal, bordering on maniacal and insane, then this is absolutely the drama for you. I loved it!

Crazy as it sounds, this kdrama will walk you through a kaleidoscope of emotions. In general, we in society have this idea of good and evil and the very strict lines between the two. This drama will make you question those ideas. Nothing about this story was black or white, rather multiple shades of grey. Be ready for it. It will remind you of incidences and major crimes that made the headlines in your city or country and wonder about the reality of the back story.

For characters and the relationships between them, here’s a little of what you can look forward to.

cruel city heartless city film noir

Kim Hyun so played by Yoon Hyun-min

There is a ‘bromance’ of sorts between Doctor’s Son and his friend made in prison, Kim Hyun-soo (played by the charming Yoon Hyun-min). While Doctor’s Son is brooding, dark, cold-as-ice and comes across as quietly dangerous, unruffled, cool, calm, collected, Kim Hyun-soo is hot-headed, easy to anger, and always looking for a fight. But the two have this brotherly affection for each other and defend each’s honour, with one of them eventually paying the ultimate sacrifice, even in the face of a mind-blowing twist to the storyline. This bromance played out well and was written in the screenplay finely.




Another relationship, not ‘bromance’, that requires a mention, is the relationship between Doctor’s Son and his nemesis (in spirit) Detective Ji Hung-min. The detective becomes almost irrationally obsessed with capturing Doctor’s Son, which is completely understandable given the storyline. But, he manages to maintain his wits and keeps an open mind for the most part. I loved Detective Ji Hung-min because he was portrayed as a deep thinker, great at looking at the broader picture and picking up on minutiae. This kind of personality doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it does to me.

Yoon Soo-min, the naive young woman who is a civilian, somehow manipulates her way into being forced to become an undercover agent. I know, crazy right? It’s laughable as she has no training whatsoever and one hopes, no understanding of the seedy world she is about to enter. But enter it she does! Placing herself as a prostitute and in a very dangerous situation, she spies on the baddies on behalf of the good guys. In the process, she is physically and emotionally attracted to Doctor’s Son. But, romantic love between the good girl and the bad boy isn’t a leading theme in the overarching plot of this drama series (thankfully). The attraction may be reciprocated under the surface of everything else that is going on, but, simmers in the background.

Commissioner Min, who I won’t talk too much about is another character that comes across fairly early on in the drama as being ‘shady’, well he did at least to me. I have good instinct apparently. That’s why I trust them. The fact that this man abuses and exploits his power and pits cop-against-cop, father against son, and friends against each other and feels justified is scary! The reality is they are feeble and futile attempts to cover over his own flaws and wrongs.

Moon DukBae aka Safari Moon played by Choi MooSung

Moon Deok-bae aka ‘Safari’ aka ‘Safari Moon’ is this character that I loved to hate. He was a blundering fool, but, a lethal blundering fool. He knew Doctor’s Son when he was a child through his relationship with Jin Sook. And while they have the past, there is no love lost between the two. I think I initially cast him as the black sheep, but then my opinion changed somewhat. I didn’t like him but I understood him a tad better.



Lee JinSook aka YiSeul played by Kim YooMi




Appearances suggest that Jin Sook is the surrogate mother to Doctor’s Son and actually harbours more than maternal towards him. She is a chic madam, running an ‘escort’ service and has established connections to the Busan gang and the narcotics ring. While her reality is what it is, she appears to be another individual that has been sucked into the criminal world. Where she differs from Doctor’s Son is that she has failed to fully weigh the consequences of her involvement. Instead, she tends to cling to nostalgic moments in time and the money and power she believes she has attained.




doctor son jung kyung ho cruel city heartless city

Doctor’s Son has a dysfunctional family indeed!

The members of Doctor’s Son ‘family’ are the types of criminals you can empathise with. They watch out for each other, betray each other, plot against each other and then get together to share a meal or a drink. It’s unbalanced but perfect harmony at the same time.






The secrets behind Doctor’s Son are just so powerful and mind-blowing and this cold façade he uses as a front may only be the way he manages to keep everything together. He’s the perfect anti-hero character – he’s been led to believe that his entire life is dysfunctional and it appears to be that way. On the surface, he has corrupted beliefs and misguided trust in the people who he has become close to over time. He constantly walks this very fine line between doing what is right and steering clear of everything that is wrong. His reality is extremely ambiguous. He has been artfully exploited and tormented by the very people he protects – it’s altruistic.

Jung ShiHyun aka Doctor’s Son played by Jung KyungHo.

I was torn by the performance of Jung Kyung-ho. There was no division between actor and character, he just was Doctor’s Son! An astounding performance from the very second the camera first falls on him to the bitter, cruel end. Every ounce of him was invested in this role. The tone of his voice, the urgency of his demeanour, the nuanced facial expressions, the desperation portrayed by his eyes and face, the haunting movement of his body. Unbelievable and evocative.






In comparison, Lee Jae-yoon’s character Detective Hyung-min was understated, but his acting was not. Lee Jae-yoon’s quietly confident delivery was compelling. Where Jung Kyung-ho’s Doctor’s Son was intense, Lee Jay-yoon’s Detective Hyung-min was temperate. He painted the picture of a man plagued by his loss but determined to find justice. His face portrayed that determination. The understated wisdom was well-written for this character too. He doesn’t run around wild-eyed, but determines a plan of action and quietly works his way through it. Beautifully interpreted and delivered.

cruel city

Jung Kyung Ho and Nam Gyu Ri

I wasn’t a huge fan of Nam Gyu-ri, until this drama. She exceeded all my expectations and surprised me with a poignant performance as Yoon So-min. But, who couldn’t fall for Doctor’s son? I look forward to seeing her in other productions, she is underestimated at best I think.

oh! sidekick

I had mixed emotions when it came to Safari, played by Choi Moo-sung. His character was one that I despised one minute and pitied the next. Choi Moo-sung was perfect for this role. He embodied the crazy wild-eyed and threatening Safari. His physique was also apt for the role, as, Safari is a mean-spirited individual but very lazy to follow-through. I think he did a great job, just based on my reaction means he succeeded in not only being believable but in invoking sentiment towards his character.

That’s all I’m going to say about the characters and their roles. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot because I really want you to watch this drama!

The cinematography was above par – the way the lighting was used added to the desolate and hopeless fight of the antihero, Doctor’s Son. The basic storyline was great, the writing not so great. But it succeeded only because the directing and cast delivered flawless performances, at least on the part of the main characters and those in main supporting roles.

The kdrama went a little overboard with plot twists. How many undercover agents can one place in one ring or gang before you have more agents playing criminals than you have actual criminals? The plots that were constantly shifting and changing up kept the audience on their toes. There was no missing an episode in this drama because the entire story or direction could and would change. The flipping between the points of view of the criminals and detectives meant you had to be constantly paying attention or you would miss an important detail.

There was lots of blood, some gore, extreme violence, sex and even vomit, so if you can’t handle those things, you won’t like this drama.

I think by the final scenes, I came away with the strong idea that reality is never as it appears to be. It’s easy to assume we know what is going on when in reality we only know what we allow ourselves to see and understand.

I think this production did a very good job of showing how the other world (the world of crime) might live, what motivates them, what they are willing to do and the sacrifices that they are willing to make. But more importantly, it made me question myself and ask, “What kind of reality are you willing to ‘settle’ for?”

There was a soundtrack released of the musical score produced for the drama. The music was dark and beautiful, perfectly reflecting the production itself.

oh! that’s a wrap

I am an enthusiastic fan of crime, thrillers and horrors. Fanatical in fact, so I thoroughly enjoyed this drama. I think the personalities and dynamics of the characters were conveyed competently to the cast by both the script and the director, which made their job easy. I will definitely be watching this drama again and recommend it to anyone who is looking for an alternative to countless romance dramas out there. Well worth your time.

oh! soundtrack

Heartless City

oh! gallery

Once again there are many publicity shots, stills, and photos to choose from that you’ll enjoy looking through, so, I included the best from and some of my own favourites.

oh! trailer

oh! nooz

“Cruel City gets a glitzy start”

“Lee’s new role not quite so Heartless”. Korea Joong Ang Daily.

“Nam finds catharsis, even if she’s a weirdo”

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