Let a little more truth loose in the world!

Reality is an aspect of property.

It must be seized.

And investigative journalism is the noble art of seizing reality back from the powerful.

Julian Assange

Argon (2017)
Also known as
Written by
Joon Young-shin &  Joo Won-gyu & Shin Ha-eun 
Directed by
Country of Origin
South Korea 

oh! … background

This production plays homage to journalists involved in reporting serious criminal activity (e.g. serious crimes, political corruption, corporate wrongdoing etc.) that is of interest to the general public and involves investigative journalism. This type of journalism is perhaps the hardest for journalists and reporters because it doesn’t involve picking up and running with a news story that’s already out in the mainstream media. Instead, they have to be skilled in methods of research, analysis, investigative methods, and in-depth interview methods and must have an extensive understanding of government processes, databases, licensing etc.

Investigative journalism is moral and ethical in its purpose and obligation and slightly more serious than ordinary news reporting. Investigative journalists work with mainstream news outlets, both print and broadcast, but also as freelance or independent reporters. There are large groups of journalists around the world, like the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, Canadian Center for Investigative Journalism, or, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, dedicated to collaborating on in-depth investigative stories.

oh! … brief

 The drama follows Lee Yeon-hwa, a contract reporter who works for the HBC broadcast station. She is transferred to work with Kim Baek-jin, an investigative journalist and the anchor of the Argon program.  Kim Baek-jin is not an easy man to work for due to his demand for quality work supported by evidence. In other words, he is principled and staunch that everything produced is backed by fact and not conjecture. Because of this serious approach to his work, he inspires his junior reporters and staff to approach their work with seriousness and only convey the truth to their audience. But, this stance doesn’t sit well with the executives of HBC, in particular, Bureau Chief Yoo Myng-ho. Working with Kim Baek-jin, Lee Yeon-hwa grows professionally and personally.

oh! … talks drama

 This was a short kdrama, but I indulged in every single minute!

I was hooked on the idea of investigative journalism as the premise for developing a kdrama and so was pleasantly surprised to find that there were three writers who penned the script. Often when there is more than one writer behind a script there can be glaring differences which develop as flaws from the multiple pens in action. This was not the case, thankfully. At its conclusion, I wished that there had been more episodes because I enjoyed the characters and the idea. It’s too bad that there won’t be more seasons to follow!!

And this kdrama provided relief from the many romances I’ve been watching lately. I almost expected it to develop a romantic side story, but it never did, even though there were ample opportunity and at least two relationships that could have been developed into romantic interludes.

As a writer professionally, I’ve always longed to be involved in a project that uses my writing and analytical skills. I never imagined myself as a journalist, and so I never pursued that kind of career, but I could see myself being very satisfied with that kind of career had I chosen to go that route. Unfortunately, I never trained to be a journalist … perhaps something I would contemplate in a second life? Funny how we are inspired by small things like watching a great television series! I’d like to write my own script someday, but I can never seem to find the time or the right topic to develop.

Argon scriptwriters, Joon Young-shin, Joo Won-gyu and Shim Ha-eon, used the overarching case of a collapsed section of a shopping mall that resulted in multiple deaths to weave a tale of corruption and deadly affairs that inevitably comes full circle and has dire consequences for Argon’s lead anchor.

I would have liked the writers to focus more on the actual details of what is involved in investigative journalism, I think that would have added weight to the narrative. Instead, they alluded to some of the activities, but I wanted to know more of the nitty-gritty details:

  • How to dig up records and data for your story, identifying documents and verifying their authenticity and the facts.
  • How to structure an investigative review, conduct interviews and then package the story.
  • The story-telling techniques that can give a feature structure and focus.
  • How to analyze financial information or make sense of company financial reports.
  • And most importantly, how to compose the story so that it hits hard, fast and builds to a powerful end.

To some extent, the writers managed to achieve enough detail to give a general idea, but I believe they could have done a more in-depth portrayal with their lead anchor, character Kim Baek-jin and the training he does with his team members and giving them better directions.

All in all, the characters the writers devised were well-thought out and while the supporting cast didn’t grow professionally (it was very short drama!), they did embody the traits of great determination and pretty much all had exceptional curiosity and obsessive interests. Both Kim Baek-jin and newcomer to the team, Lee Yeon-hwa, are depicted as being strongly driven by a sense of justice and truth-telling. Both characters appeared willing, ready and able to overcome the constraints of maintaining the status quo put upon them by the HBC management. This is a rare quality to be found in everyday mainstream reporters and journalists, so it was refreshing to witness this moral and ethical standard in fictitious drama characters.

On the surface, Argon is very entertaining, but without realizing it, I believe the writers wrote a love letter to what journalism should look like. Given that the cursory and lackadaisical manner with which mainstream reporters handle the news these days, where everything is regurgitated ad nauseum and nobody seems to care to check facts, this characters in this series remind us that true journalism is a profession and not just a paycheque. Dedicated journalists have the public interest and their concerns at heart.

The dynamics between the established team members and the temporary newcomer were interestingly written. I didn’t initially understand the reason that the team members treated Lee Yeon-hwa like a pariah and I’m still not entirely convinced of the conclusion I drew from their interactions. The tension however added to the bustle of the busy newsroom.

If I take a step back and look at the two leads I think, without writing it directly into the script, the writers allowed us to glimpse Kim Baek-jin’s start to his career through Lee Yeon-hwa. At times during the series, Kim Baek-jin glances at Lee Yeon-hwa with a combination of frustration but also admiration. It’s almost as if he sees himself in this woman who has a fierce determination to uncover the truth. It was mesmerizing to watch their interactions, both the praise and cringe-worthy.

And Kim Baek-jin is not an easy-going guy. The younger members of his team find him tyrannical and have a healthy dose of fear for his tongue-lashing but that doesn’t keep them from making the odd mistake here or there. But at the same time, these younger men and women have a certain amount of respect for their boss. He is dogged in his determination to deliver interesting, factual truths in every story he reports, an admirable quality is given that sometimes the truth comes at a cost. The respect between the team plays out well as the group are close-knitted and trust each other impeccably and when they disagree on issues, they can still collaborate on work projects because of the closeness and trust, even while airing their difference of opinion.

The writing is solid, the storyline is solid, the discovery of the truth inevitable and the narration or dialogue of every single scene was right on the money. I never felt like I was watching from the outside, I felt like I was living the story alongside the characters. The writing for this series was that good!

Chun Woo-hee, who played the female lead, Lee Yeon-hwa, has a reputation for being unusually fastidious when it comes to accepting roles so when I heard she has signed on, I made a good note to be sure to watch. I was surprised though that she had agreed to do this series as she ordinarily sticks to film productions. The fact that she did, to me, means that there was something about the role itself, or the idea of the story, or perhaps the lead actor that caught her attention. I’m not sure it was the director, although Lee Yoon-jeong has at least two very popular kdramas under her belt.

In fact, for this kdrama, Lee Yoon-jeong did a stellar job. I thought the production values were superior and the quality one would find in big screen film.  The cameras told the story and captured the essence of the activity going on and gave this production a distinctive style. There were times I found myself contemplating Lee Yoon-Jeong’s intentions behind certain scenes and the implications she had when she presented certain characters in a certain light, for instance, Bureau Chief Yoo Myung-ho. Under Lee Yoon-Jeong’s direction, the cameras combined essential elements of framing, colouring, lighting alongside perspective and movement of the camera to deliver an aesthetically pleasing visual telling of the script.

The wardrobe for the cast was interesting. Professional dress for the anchor when ‘On Air’ but a more casual attire for the remainder of the time. It all made sense given that reporters and journalists are almost always on the run.

The accompanying music for this series was an interesting mix of lyrical and instrumental pieces. I did manage to track down two songs, Consolation for Youth by Tearliner and The Stop of The Moon which I really enjoyed. They’re included in my playlist on Spotify. Enjoy!

Without a doubt, the cast for this production is mostly completed by established actors and actresses with more than a few big names. I was thrilled to see a few favourites in the lineup. Perhaps this is also the place to talk about the male lead Kim Ju-hyeok. Unfortunately, it’s not good news, but you’ll know that if you are already an avid kdrama fan and follow the news.

Just a week after he won Best Supporting Actor at the inaugural Seoul Awards, Kim Joo-hyuk was travelling home on October 30, 2017, when he was involved in what can only be described as a freak motor vehicle accident. He did not survive. Argon was released on Netflix following his passing and two other productions that I know he acted in are scheduled for release next year – a period drama Heung-buand and Drug War.

In the role of Kim Baek-jin, lead anchor for the HBC late-night news program Argon, Kim Ju-hyeok was captivating. He inhabited his role, as is his acting style and made Kim Baek-jin his own. I was held captive by his screen presence, but I’ve been a long-time fan. There was no doubt in my mind that Kim Ju-hyeok was an anchor and an investigative journalist, but also a father struggling to raise a teenaged daughter single-handedly all the while trying to navigate his way through a career path fraught with competition. I found Kim Ju-hyeok’s interpretation of a man who rarely showed his emotions astute and right on the money. The most personality we got to see was when he was in front of the cameras and delivering the latest news. It was an impressive performance and I am saddened by the fact that there are only two more new performances to appreciate in the future. RIP.

Chun Woo-hee played the demure Lee Yeon-hwa and this is the first time I am watching her perform in a leading role for television. I adore her style of acting – quietly subdued and remarkably understated. In this role, she was perfect. The underdog that rises to the top because of absolute sheer will and dogged determination. I enjoyed watching her perform when she was interacting with her colleagues and boss, but I was held captive by scenes without them because she has a natural commanding presence. This was a strong and assertive performance.

Park Won-sang was perhaps my favourite supporting (second lead?) in this production. He has mad acting skills and I do mean that with due respect and reverence. I particularly relished in Park Won-sang’s interpretation of his character’s animated and lively banter with everyone, but also his ability to perfectly depict his character’s sensitivity, the way he hid behind a masked wall when his emotions became too strong. What an exceptional performance, you can’t miss it!

Park Hee-von played Yook Hye-ri the veteran news writer and the glue that held the team together. Park Hee-von is such a talented actress I just wish I could find her landing herself a leading role. I don’t think she is given enough credit for her performances and this was for Argon was awesome. Of all the female supporting actresses, she was by far my favourite. She delivered her character authentically, there were no hoopla or bell’s or whistles, she just became Yook Hye-ri, this passionate writer with a dream. I think I identified a lot with this character because I am also a writer, and while I have success professionally, my dream is bigger than what I’m currently doing. It’s like settling for less than you deserve, but circumstances force you to do that. Anyway, she gave an outstanding performance.

oh! … sidekicks

As is customary with kdramas, there was a large cast of fantastic actors and actresses but there is always limited time to write and read, so I’ll stick to giving you reviews of my favourite supporting acts.

Lee Kyoung-young played Choi Geun-hwa, Kim Baek-jin’s fellow anchor on the daytime news show and perhaps his most loyal supporter. Lee Kyoung-young always impresses me with his ease in front of a camera. The man is suave and relaxed in just about every role of his I’ve watched. This was another great performance, if short!

Lee Seung-joon got to play the creep of the production, Yoo Myung-ho. I’m beginning to think he might be typecast for this series because everything I’ve yet watched him in he takes on the same type of role as adversarial and confrontational. Or maybe it’s just me. He gives another solid performance and I can’t even tell you how many times I wanted to knock his lights out!

oh! … that’s a wrap

I cannot find fault with this production, although I’m almost certain, someone, somewhere will find something to gripe about. The plot is fantastic, the script is strong, the dialogue between the characters is more than just an exchange of words, there are thought and emotion and a strong message. Combined with all the other elements already described above, this series was unique and refreshing.

You’ll appreciate this kdrama if you’re into investigative journalism and in the fight to uncover wrongdoings, so maybe a social justice warrior type personality. That’s not to say this is the only audience this kdrama would appeal to, it’s just one that might appreciate this series the most.

Because the series is short it will be an easy one to re-watch and I’ll add it to my list and will likely take it out again soon.

oh! … tidbits

 Argon premiered on August 30, 2017, at a socially relevant time with producers and journalists from KBS and MBC in Korea going on strike in protest of politically motivated news censorship.

oh! … soundtrack


oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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