The muses are ghosts and sometimes they come uninvited!

Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.

Jim Carroll

 Cheo Yong   (2015)
Also known as
 Ghost-Seeing Detective,   Cheo Yong: The Paranormal Detective  
 Action, Crime, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Written by
 Hong Seung-hyun  
Directed by
 Kang Chul-woo  
Country of Origin
 South Korea  

oh! … brief

Following an accident during an investigation which costs Detective Yoon Cheo-yong his partner’s life and causes him to be demoted to a lowly district cop, Detective Yoon becomes disengaged from life and imposes a seven-year isolation period avoiding anything to do with his life pre-accident. But he can’t escape easily due to his unique ability to be able to see, hear and interact with ghosts but he spends his seven-year hiatus ignoring the souls trying to get his attention.

His inevitable return to being a detective (something he’s naturally born to be) starts when he is asked to locate the mother of a little boy who appears to have been abandoned in a hospital. He crosses paths at the Violent Crimes Unit with Detective Ha Sun-woo who is investigating a case involving a taxi driving kidnapper and Ha Na-young, the ghost of a teenage school girl, who is trapped at the Police Station.

What follows are many cases where Detective Yoon Cheo-yong and Ha Sun-woo investigate and subsequently solve with the help of Yoon’s unique abilities and Ha Na-young – the ghost resident in the Violent Crimes Unit.

oh! … talks drama

Following a spate of romantic drama and film I’ve watched recently, I needed a change of scenery and Cheo Yong was exactly what I was looking for.

Frankly speaking, this kind of kdrama, while including paranormal elements, falls well within my preferred genres – crime, mystery, thriller, suspense or even horror. I love those genres much more than romance! Well normally, although it appears that I had become ‘stuck’ with romantic choices – perhaps I was just going through a phase again.

It’s no surprise that I enjoyed the storytelling of the script, written by Hong Seung-hyun who previously worked on the Joseon X-files script – not as the lead writer, but experience comes with hands-on involvement. Also,  the cinematography, production values, CGI etc., that I appreciated for Cheo Yong were carried out under the direction of Kang Chul-woo who also worked on one of my favourite kdrama’s, Cruel City. The two combined here to create an entertaining production which had two seasons. Also, the added bonus of having an actor, Oh Ji-ho, who has sound knowledge of martial arts was involved in many fight scenes, chase scenes, and is just a natural athlete. Don’t forget the dimples J I don’t care what anyone says; I enjoyed this body of work!

Truth and reality is that this ghost-seeing detective aspect has already been used by many television series across the globe, so the paranormal element was not surprising, but script-writer Hong Seung-hyun managed to give each specific case being worked on its own additional paranormal element so it wasn’t boring or more of the same-old-same.

Could the writing have been tighter? Sure. Could the plots have been pushed to the limit? Sure. Any way you look at this production, you could pull it apart or just accept it at face value and enjoy the quiet humour or the simple storytelling that brings each investigation to a satisfactory conclusion.

Season 1 begins with Cheo Yong trying to locate the mother of a little boy that appears to have been abandoned by his mother at the local hospital in the first episode. During the course of his investigation,  he meets with Detective Ha Sun-woo. As time progresses it’s apparent that their individual cases are in fact connected. Cheo Yong becomes a team member of the Violent Crimes Unit by the end of the second episode. Subsequent episodes in Season 1 include Message of the Soul – investigation into the framing for murder, of a man accused of killing his wife; Memories – investigation into the death of a student at an all-girl high school; City of Silence – investigation into the murder of several factory workers. Also the detectives of the Violent Crimes Unit try to solve the murder of a young man fished out of a lake; Evil Lethargy – investigation into several murders in a well-known family while insurance is being collected; Some Justice – investigation into the murders of three rapists that escaped justice after killing a young girls years earlier; and Man Abandoned by God 1 & 2 – investigation into a mysterious killer that Cheo Yong believes is an enemy (evil spirit) from his past.

As you can see the storylines for the episodes are very interesting and make for interesting cases. Each one, of course, has humour included in the form of the relationship developing between Cheo Yong and Ha Na-young.

I’d say of the episodes, my preferred ones would have been Some Justice and Man Abandoned by God that ended off Season 1. The first, Some Justice was extremely thrilling and involved a few twists and turns like jealousy between teenage girls, spoilt chaebol’s and their fathers who were even worse, and a desolate father who won’t give up seeking justice for his daughter. It’s a very intense episode. Following straight after, Man Abandoned by God, is a sordid tale of self-help cult group gone wrong with a leader who rapes girls and young women and then passes them on to other members.

Kang Chul-woo as director meant that this production, with a slightly weaker than usual script, was able to maintain fair ratings and in fact had really astounding production values, CGI work and amazing special effects in regards to make-up and wardrobe. These little elements that often go unappreciated were not lost on me. The camerawork was also exceptionally good for the production which included many chases and fight scenes, lots of running around and high-speed car chases too. I think the cameramen did a really good job of capturing everything. Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t, but it was more than suitable for a kdrama.

The acting leads for Season 1and the supporting cast was strong in their own right and in the individual episodes.

Oh Ji-ho, who is among my favoured South Korean actors, right up there at the top of my list with Jang Hyuk, played Yoon Cheo-yong and I think the casting director made the right decision. Not only does Oh Ji-ho look like a mortally wounded soul, he acted to perfection. I really enjoyed watching his performance in his role as Cheo Yong. I was enamoured with all his facial expressions, from loneliness to exasperated, frustrated, angry, pensive, aloof to anything and everything in between. He emotes really well and he inhabited his character with all the minor idiosyncrasies just beautifully. And he’s handsome to boot and has a fine physique – what’s not to like, right? But to be honest, I felt that Oh Ji-ho, good looks and dimples aside, gave an honest performance and I was happy to spend hours watching him play detective.

Oh Ji-eun who played Ha Sun-woo had fairly tough boots to fill as the partner to Cheo Yong, but for the most part, she completely pulled it off. She was nimble, fast with her feet and fists, smart, fearless and quick on the uptake. She sports a short androgynous hairstyle which grows out as the season progresses. I found Ha Sun-woo hard to understand sometimes, I’m not sure if that is the fault of the writer who underdeveloped the character or took the ghost possession too far, or just the fact that the acting wasn’t up to par. I tend to lean to the writing and interpretation of the script. I think the character lost some oomph, for want of a better word, and I wasn’t surprised to see Oh Ji-eun not return for Season 2.

The young teenage ghosts Han Na-young was played by Jun Hyo-seong and I loved the casting for this character. Jun Hyo-seong gave a stellar performance in this role. She delivers a snappy young woman trapped by circumstances. I loved the facial expressions, the curling lip, the angry snide remarks, the waspy retorts and then the inevitable softening of her demeanour. Jun Hyo-seong was brilliant in this role. I’m glad the writer didn’t turn this role into some sappy love story or some such – what a relief!

Season 2 starts out with a two-episode investigation (Venus) into the missing bodies of women and then a mad rush to track down the killer before he completes his collection of body parts. It’s another intense period in Season 2. Following this is Kiss of Death – investigation into a strange drug that causes people to see hallucinations of ghosts and then commit suicide; Rebirth – investigation into a string of suicides committed by people after they hear a song titled, ‘Reborn’ produced by Yun Se-A, an actress turned singer; Pinwheel – investigation into the mysterious death of Cheo Yong’s friend Baek Seung-chan, an investigative reporter who was looking into the deaths of several children in a fire at an orphanage; 2 Memories – investigation into paranormal activity and possible possession of a high school student, which leads to further investigation into the strange death of another student at the school many years prior; Signal Truth – investigation into the death of a GBC news reporter whose body is found in the mountains outside of Seoul. The news reporter had uncovered a scoop on one of two politicians but had promised not to use it; Memories of Murder – investigation of a mysterious murder where the perpetrator leaves no evidence but has exact similarities to serial killings some 17 years prior; and season finale episodes 1 and 2 of The Definition of the Devil – investigation to uncover a secret vigilante group meting out justice on criminals who managed to escape punishment in the court and the inevitable involvement of corrupt individuals on the police force and in the justice system, lawyers Han Gyu-hyeok and Nam Min-su.

Of Season 2, I preferred Venus and The Definition of the Devil episodes. Venus is perhaps the most macabre of the episodes in Cheo Yong and that may be why I enjoyed it so much. I happen to like macabre and I’m not afraid to admit it. The Definition of the Devil was an extremely good two episodes and I enjoyed them because, like anyone, I loathe the fact that the justice system has its hands tied when it comes to meting out punishments and having the burden of proof fall onto the state. Lawyers are smart and can often get guilty criminals out of punishment or off completely. The appeal of vigilante justice always simmers beneath the surface, even in the most civilized societies. I enjoyed this exploration of the concept of vigilante justice when the legal and/or justice system fails. I think the writer did an exceptional job for the finale episodes.

Overall I believe the writer did a good job of highlighting or featuring some typical investigations with a paranormal twist and then one or two episodes where the paranormal gave truth or reality a good run for its money.

Besides a change to the leading actresses, the production values and all other aspects of cinematography, wardrobe and music remained stable. There are a lot more action scenes in Season 2, sometimes with entire teams equivalent to those of US SWAT teams.

In Season 2, Oh Ji-ho returned to play Yoon Cheo-yong and Han Na-young was played again by Jun Hyo-seong. A new partner for Cheo-yong was found in new character Jung Ha-yoon.

Ha Yeon-joo played Jung Ha-yoon the new partner for Cheo Yong. She is savvy and a lot smarter than his partner, Ha Sun-woo from Season 1. I far preferred Jung Ha-yoon in the second season. Ha Yeon-joo aptly interprets her character and delivered a strong performance, that was more subdued but spoke volumes.

oh! … sidekicks

 Supporting characters that deserve a shout-out for their performances in either Season 1 or Season 2 are:

  • Yoo Seung-Mok as Byun Gook-jin,
  • Yeon Je-wook as Lee Jong-hyun,
  • Yoo Min-kyu as Park Min-jae,
  • Joo Jin-mo as Kang Ki-young, and
  • Kim Kwon as Han Tae-kyung.

Also, there were many guest appearances given the various episodes, and here are some of my favourite from the guest appearances:

oh! … that’s a wrap

 The complexity of the human and ghost relationships makes this production interesting to watch and there are many adrenaline-pumping action scenes that will satisfy people like me, who enjoy a good fist fight or chasing fight scene. In particular, season 2 is packed with kali arnis (a Filipino martial arts form) and silat combat skills – fortunately, our protagonist, ghost-seeing detective Cheo Yong, performs all with flair J Oh Ji-ho has stated that with Cheo Yong it’s the first time he’s practised and been exposed to Kali Arnis, but it’s is a growing martial art form being explored for film and drama.

I enjoyed this production. I would watch it again given a rainy weekend or a snowstorm that is going to keep me housebound. I’m not sure its collection worthy, however, it just isn’t that strong when you start to compare it to other similar genres of drama coming out of Asia.

oh! … tidbits

The name “Cheo Yong” is inspired by a character in a folktale from the Silla dynasty –  in the folktale, Cheo-yong discovers that his wife has had sexual relations with the god of smallpox, Cheo-yong sings and dances until the god kneels before him to offer an apology. Since then, people have attached an image of Cheo-yong to their gates to dispel evil spirits and invite auspicious energies.

oh! … soundtrack

Season 1 and Season 2

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

Season 1

Season 2

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