Trusting idiot Nam Da Jung (Kim So Eun) is suckered into joining a game show called “Liar Game” by slimy host Kang Do Young (Shin Sung Rok). She enlists the help of genius convict Ha Woo Jin (Lee Sang Yoon) to win the game, but all is not as it seems, with secrets and danger popping up at every turn.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: ★★★★
Only 만: ★★★★
Side dish: Ha Woo Jin was clearly not getting enough zinc in prison, hence his inability to remember the past. Oysters are a great source of zinc, and a great source of oysters is this recipe for Oyster Rice (Kaki Meshi) from No Recipes.
Only 만: Before we talk about anything else, I feel like we need to address Lee Sang Yoon’s inexplicable last-minute makeover disaster, and then we can go back to speaking rationally about the series.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: My eyes almost popped out of my head. Everything from the middle part of his hair, to the white turtle neck to the purple peacoat was inexplicable in the context of the character.
Only: I can only hope it’s some reference to either the Japanese series or the manga, because there’s no other explanation for the Partridge Family cosplay.
Okay, now that we got that off our chests, let’s talk about the series.
Junggugeo Kaenada: I really enjoyed the majority of “Liar Game”. It had riveting plot twists, and good pacing. It was not the type of show that touched me emotionally, because I hardly cared about the characters, but I was having too much fun to care.
Only: Characterization wasn’t what this show was about at all, since we could easily describe each of our main characters in a couple of words. It was a deliberate choice on the part of the writers to concentrate on moving the story forward, and on the tension generated by the games. Deeper characters with complex emotional relationships would have gotten in the way of all that.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Yes, kudos to the writers for creating far fetched scenarios that never felt like they were pandering. In my limited experience of K-drama intrigue, I frequently found myself slapping my head in frustration at the dumb logic. So, this was a pleasant surprise.
Only: Surprise is the word. I loved how they kept us guessing for much of the series. Framing “Liar Game” as a reality series was also a great way of ramping up the tension, since they could use all the reality series’ tricks in the context of a drama.
Junggugeo Kaenada: We can thank Shin Sung Rok for helping to create a consistently creepy vibe. No matter how over the top he was, he still managed to remain menacing.
Only: Shin Sung Rok should get some kind of award for excellent villainy. The scene where he tried out various expressions in front of the mirror, then settled into a blank mask was beyond creepy. I can’t believe this is the second psychopath he’s played this year, considering he’s better known for musical theatre.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Yet, you can easily differentiate between Do Young and his “My Love From the Stars” psychopathic killer.
Only: Yes, two separate, but equally creepy psychopaths.
Junggugeo Kaenada: As you know, I developed a crush on Lee Sang Yoon thanks to “Liar Game”, and this has been solidified by “Angel Eyes”. Having said that, I think a better actor could have brought more than two notes to the character of Woo Jin.
Only: I don’t think any of the characters were meant to have more than two notes. I think they deliberately left them as stereotypes.
Junggugeo Kaenada: True, but then I saw how Shin Sung Rok made the most of a character who was constantly wearing a mask. You could sense something rotten just under the surface. I feel like Lee Sang Yoon could have done the same thing, because his character wore his scowl like a shield, but I did not sense any depth beyond that.
Only: I sensed even less from Kim So Eun. That said, they weren’t given much to work with, whereas Shin Sung Rok’s Do Young had a well-fleshed backstory. I don’t think we ever learned a single additional detail about Nam Da Jung from beginning to end.
Junggugeo Kaenada: I don’t trust myself to comment on Kim So Eun’s acting, because I found her character so unappealing that I am not sure I can figure out where the fault lies.
Only: I’m not sure where the writing ended or the acting began either, but Nam Da Jung has to be one of the least interesting characters in a drama ever. And so frustrating. I understand she’s supposed to be the embodiment of blind trust, but she was stupid and passive to boot, and it was hard to watch.
Junggugeo Kaenada: I was impressed with Joe Jae Yun as Dal Goo, the loan shark with the polyester shirts. For such a ridiculous caricature, he managed to convey genuine emotion and dignity during the dramatic moments.
Only: I’d add Lee El as Jamie to the list. She was not only entertaining as the evil betrayer, but gave the character some depth, and in a fantastic wardrobe.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Yes, I liked Jamie by the end. Sadly, she was one of the few things that I enjoyed about the final two episodes. It felt like the strengths of the show were forgotten in the extension.
Only: Honestly, I wasn’t in love with the revelation of the back story, which I thought they could have played better. But for me, the last episode lost the plot, especially from the big reveal onwards.
Junggugeo Kaenada: They really belaboured the orphanage backstory, yet it did not feel sufficient for conveying the feelings of abandonment that Do Young felt. Perhaps the wooden child actors are to blame.
I will say that I am impressed at how ambiguous they kept the moral compass of Woo Jin’s mother, though I don’t know if that was just sloppiness on their part.
Only: The main problem was that it made a mockery of the whole revenge tale to find out that neither Da Jung nor Woo Jin had ever done anything to Do Young. I mean, sure, he’s crazy and resentful that they were saved from his terrible fate, but narratively, it was deflating. I was expecting child Woo Jin to have at least dropped him in the well.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Yes, I had noted how anticlimactic the well scene involving the three children was. Here was a moment that was immortalized in a painting, and it ended like a mundane exit from the playground, right down to being called away by a parent.
Only: Except that Do Young was sold to be tortured by crazed American psychiatrists. But, yes, I didn’t feel that from what I saw of the scenes with the kids, that sense of horror. It’s only from adult Do Young that you understood that something terrible had followed. The flashbacks to the game at the well hardly seemed like the basis to go as far as creating “Liar Game” for the sole purpose of ruining Woo Jin and Da Jung.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Yes, I do wonder why they chose not to even hint visually at what Do Young underwent. The mere photo of those creepy masked children of Walden Two sent shivers through me. So, viewers’ imaginations could have easily taken over from any vague scenario.
Only: Agreed, and it’s a shame because it was a weak ending to an otherwise great series. That said, we may have another season in the cards.
Junggugeo Kaenada: I will watch if only for the possibility of a return to form. Also, I want to know what evil brought about that makeover of Woo Jin. Maybe it was a Walden Two experiment by way of Ryohei in “Soulmate”?
Only: Ryohei spreading his bad fashion is somehow more sinister than anything Kang Do Young can throw at us.
Junggugeo Kaenada: What conclusions can we draw about “Liar Game”?
Only: “Liar Game” is a fast-paced, tightly plotted series with minimal characterization, that keeps the tension on high until the last episode. Unfortunately, the last episode drops the ball in spectacular fashion, but leaves us with the promise of redemption in a second season.