First Impressions:

Following fellow American dramas “The Good Wife” and “Entourage,” “Criminal Minds” has now also been remade into a Korean series, starring Lee Joon Gi, Moon Chae Won, and Son Hyun Joo. The US version, a procedural drama that airs on the CBS channel, will enter into its 13th(!) season this coming September. The upcoming season will also bring Daniel Henney over to join the main cast from the now canceled spin-off (yaaaay!). The drama, created by Jeff Davis, revolves around a team of FBI profilers who catch criminals by studying their behaviors and profiling them.

Cast of Season 12, “Criminal Minds” US version

Now, when I heard that this show was going to be remade, I had so many thoughts running through my mind. “Criminal Minds” is a rather “dark” show, with a lot of gruesome and mature content, showing us just how appalling some humans can be. I remember marathon-ing a season once; I had to switch to a comedy just to bring myself out of the depressive slump. The decision to air the remake on tvN, a cable channel, was already a promising move, as a cable channel allows for a more mature tone than its broadcast network counterparts. But will it be able to capture the essence of the original series? And will the actors be up to task? And will the Korean public, who are generally more conservative, be able to handle such material?

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Cast and characters

Lee Joon Gi

I’m sure there will be a large portion of viewers who will start watching this drama just for Lee Joon Gi. Although it’s only been a few months since he was last on our TV screens, capturing our hearts as Wang So in “Scarlet Heart: Goryeo,” it has been four years since he’s acted in a modern-day drama. Even more exciting is the fact that it is an action drama, a genre that we’ve seen him excel in.

Lee Joon Gi plays Kim Hyun Joon, a detective with the police department. When we first see him, he is part of a unit that unsuccessfully tries to disarm a bomb from a terrorist attack. This failure affects him greatly, especially since he lost a friend and colleague, Sang Hyun, to the explosion, which causes him to be highly skeptical of NCI’s capabilities. He is loyal, fearless, and dedicated, although he has a temper.

Son Hyun Joo

Son Hyun Joo is a veteran actor with many successful and critical hits under his belts, including “The Chaser” and the movie “Hide and Seek.” This is a genre that we often see him in, and even before we watch the episodes, we can be sure he will bring a sense of gravitas to his character. While he cameo-ed in “Signal” last year, the last drama where he played the lead role was in 2014. And of note, despite his very expansive career, this is his first drama with tvN (may there be many more to come!)

Son Hyun Joo plays Kang Ki Hyung, the team leader of NCI’s behavioral analysis team. Leader Kang was also at the scene of the bomb explosion that took the life of Kim Hyun Joon’s friend. While Kang Ki Hyung correctly deduced that the terrorist was lying about which button could disarm the bomb, he allowed himself to be overruled by a supervising officer, a decision that continues to haunt him even a year later, prompting PTSD-like symptoms. He is experienced and highly analytical, garnering respect from his peers.

Moon Chae Won

Moon Chae Won is also an actress who has earned many awards over her 10-year career, and she has shown her versatility in various genres. She is largely active in the film scene, where she has won awards at both the prestigious Grand Bell Awards and Blue Dragon Film Awards. Her most recent TV role was in last year’s “Goodbye Mr. Black.”

Moon Chae Won plays Ha Seon Woo, a fierce and independent female agent who can hold her own. In fact, she is such a tough cookie that even after getting impaled in the shoulder, she opts to continue chasing a suspect down rather than going to the hospital. I would, however, like to see her shed some of her stoic persona and reveal a glimpse of the human behind the mask.


Post-bomb explosion

The story starts off with the aforementioned bombing at a hospital. The NCI (National Criminal Investigation) team is interrogating the terrorist on how to disarm the bomb, while Hyun Joon is with the bomb disposal unit. They are unsuccessful in disarming the bomb, and it goes off, killing Hyun Joon’s friend Sang Hyun, who was tasked with disabling it. The scene then cuts to one year later, where we learn that Leader Kang has not gone back to work since the explosion. He has instead been giving lectures, and at one of these lectures, we learn of the Northwestern Seoul Serial Murder cases. The serial killer had killed 21 men and women in 11 separate incidents over a span of 10 years. However, he suddenly disappeared seven years ago, in 2010 (future case alert!).

Moving along, we see a young female buying an antique car off the internet (this is the exact same case as was in the pilot episode of the US version). When the female meets up with the seller, he is constantly off-camera, and viewers are able to immediately deduce that he’s the “unsub” (unknown subject). The female is kidnapped and the case lands on the desk of the NCI team. Leader Kang then decides to rejoin the team after some urging from his wife when they find out they are expecting a second child. They team up with the police to solve the case, although Hyun Joon is less than thrilled, as he still blames the NCI for the bomb incident.

Na Young, unsuspectingly becoming the next victim when buying sneakers for her Hyun Joon oppa

Hyun Joon becomes more cooperative with the NCI when he realizes he is going to need their help, after he finds out the unsub’s next victim is Na Young, the younger sister of Sang Hyun. Seon Woo becomes injured while giving chase to the suspect, but Hyun Joon is there to lend her a helping hand, and in the process thaws some of the ice between them. Without giving too much away, the unsub is eventually caught, and Seon Woo gives Hyun Joo an application to join the NCI team when she finds out that he is also a trained profiler.

“Let me just un-impale you in a completely platonic manner” (Cue the shipping!)

Final thoughts

This is a tough one. And I think it really boils down to whether you have watched the original series. I, for one, have watched all 12 seasons of the original, so as difficult it is to admit, I find the first episode of this version lacking. This is an issue that often plagues remakes, reboots, and adaptions — do you just take the original concept and spin it your own way, transforming it into something new and different, or do you stay loyal to the original work, and not fix what is not broken? There are arguments for both sides, and there are certainly success stories for both as well (think of all the comic book adaptions in both Hollywood and K-drama).

And because I (and many other international viewers) have watched the original version, I cannot help but compare the two. If this were not a remake, I would probably enjoy it more, but alas, that is not the case here. The production team has clearly chosen to go down said “loyal” route, where they are lifting the same storyline from the pilot episode. But they make tiny, seemingly insignificant changes to things, which doesn’t do the show any favors. For example, when Morgan walks into the unsub’s room in the US version, he says something along the lines of, “This doesn’t look like the room of a man. It looks more like a boys room,” but in the K-version, Lee Han says, “This doesn’t look like the room of a murderer,” and you can’t help but think — is a murderer supposed to decorate his room with guns and gore?!

Yoo Min Young (Lee Sun Bin) and Lee Han (Go Yoon)

Speaking of Lee Han (Go Yoon), he is supposed to be the Reid-equivalent. Na Na Hwang (Yoo Sun) is Garcia’s counterpart, and Yoo Min Young (Lee Sun Bin) is JJ. The US version is a true ensemble, and each actor is seasoned enough to hold their own, grounding their characters and making them relatable. Disappointingly, these Korean actors are (yet) unable to grasp the essence of the characters, and are unable to deliver the charm that has made them fan-favorites. It feels as if they each listed down five personality traits of the characters (Na Na Hwang has loud fashion and is bubbly; Lee Han is smart and socially awkward) and acted that out, instead of really delving into the core of the characters.

Na Na Hwang, with her Garcia-type glasses and loud earrings.

That being said, there are still many redeemable qualities to the show. There are some cool shots, including when the bomb exploded in the first episode and the viewers were “placed” in the line of the explosion itself, and we could see the flames coming towards us, engulfing everything in its path. Also, the editing that superimposes the profiler into the scene of the crime when they are deducing, or when they transition between past and present, are pretty slick. And maybe it was because the case was kicking into high gear, but the second episode felt better paced than the first one. The scene where the suspect, Jae Min, revisits his boiler room trauma had me all tense with suspense!

The three main actors are also seasoned enough to bring the gravitas needed for their respective characters, and are entertaining enough to watch by themselves. And while we’ve seen interactions between those three, I’m hoping to see the team really come together and feed off of each others’ chemistry; hopefully this will add layers to some of the more one-dimensional characters. Another tick in the “yes” column is having the next case begin at the end of the second episode. This is definitely a framework I could get behind, as it is an instant cliffhanger and preview for the next episode. I’m also quite digging the ending theme song!

So really, there’s the good and there’s the bad. And if you are completely new to the series, there might be more good than bad for you. It really is still too early to determine how this drama will end up being. There have been many instances where a pilot episode or the beginning of the first season of a US drama is not that great, but things spin into creative high gear once it finds its footing. And with the second episode delivering better than the first, there’s definite hope that “Criminal Minds” will do the same and deliver on its hype!

Other tidbits:

  1. Is anyone bothered by the fact that the Korean title is actually “Criminal Mind,” without the “s”?
  2. There is the prerequisite scene of the team giving the profiles in perfect coordination, talking one after another, while the police take notes on their little notepads. (Only those who watch the US version will get this)
  3. Promising!
  4. Uh-Oh?

What did you think of “Criminal Minds” so far? Is it living up to the hype? Also, is anyone else bothered by the fact the Korean title is actually “Criminal Mind,” without the “s”? Take the polls below and remember to leave your comments!

Belinda_C loves watching U.S. procedural shows for reasons too silly to say out loud. She also loves Shinhwa.

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