K-drama Hometown: Minari actress Han Ye-ri stars in unique police-procedural series hampered by muddled narrative and MeToo controversy

Asia's Tech News Daily

Beyond Evil, Mouse, Itaewon Class, Vincenzo, Night in Paradise, Academy Award-winning Korean immigrant tale Minari

This article contains mild spoilers.

2021 has given us a lot of big police-procedural thrillers – many of which, like Beyond Evil and Mouse, have found new ways to expand on the popular genre. Korea’s latest addition, gritty tvN period drama series Hometown, goes a step further, with supernatural overtones and terrorists strengthening a grim tale of serial slayings.

Hometown has a tricky narrative structure, which begins in 1999 with detective Choi Hyung-in (played by Yoo Jae-myung of Itaewon Class and Vincenzo) being interviewed about a bizarre investigation that took place some months earlier. The bulk of the narrative concerns that investigation, with significant flashbacks to 1989.

Taking place in a small town, the main story of Hometown begins with a paranoid middle school student living with her mother in a dank flat. She fears a presence lurking in the bathroom and, in a scene that gives a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror The Shining, she takes a peek behind the bathroom curtain. The girl’s screams attract the attention of her mother, who approaches the door and reaches for the handle.

The next morning we see Detective Choi again, who works violent crime cases with his partner Lee Si-jung (Jo Bok-rae). They have a particularly nasty scene to investigate as they enter the pair’s flat – the mother has been brutally murdered and her daughter is nowhere to be found.

So begins a bizarre series of murders that begin to throw up connections with a harrowing event that shook the same town in 1989, when a group of masked terrorists entered a railway station and placed bags around it spewing out sarin gas. Jo Kyung-ho, a collected and intense young man, was the only one apprehended for the crime and has been in jail ever since.

Playing the young criminal is Uhm Tae-goo, of Netflix crime film Night in Paradise, who lends his uniquely deep, lilting voice to the character. In the first four episodes, we meet Kyung-ho as a prisoner as he gives a deposition on past events. He toys with the investigators and offers Hannibal Lecter-esque philosophical musings and half-truths.

Han Ye-ri, hot from her role in the Academy Award-winning Korean immigrant tale Minari, plays Jo Jung-hyun, a woman who runs a Chinese restaurant. She is Kyung-ho’s sister and has recently moved back to town with her mother and niece. They were able to do so anonymously at first but, bit by bit people are figuring out who they are.

Jae-young (Lee Re), who is Kyung-ho’s daughter, goes to the same school as the missing girl, and she and her radio club friends find themselves drawn into the investigation when they find a mysterious tape. Then Jae-young also disappears.

Beyond Evil, Mouse, Itaewon Class, Vincenzo, Night in Paradise, Academy Award-winning Korean immigrant tale Minari

Yoo Jae-myung in a still from Hometown.

Back in 1989, a student-age Jung-hyun and her friends run the school newspaper and come across a strange video, images of which continue to haunt some of the students in the present.

Detective Choi, too, has an unfortunate link to the past – his wife was one of the victims of the 1989 sarin gas attack. By the time he learns of the connection between Jung-hyun and her terrorist brother, he’s already investigating Jae-young’s disappearance, which makes a hard case that much more difficult to deal with.

Hometown features some strong performances and several compelling elements, but its early episodes are complicated and dark. Though there’s a mystery in there somewhere, the awkward pacing and lack of intriguing cliffhangers don’t exactly screamed appointment television.

Beyond Evil, Mouse, Itaewon Class, Vincenzo, Night in Paradise, Academy Award-winning Korean immigrant tale Minari

Uhm Tae-goo in a still from Hometown.

With two-thirds of this 12-episode series to go, there’s plenty of time for the story to come into focus and perhaps the narrative’s density just needs time to lay itself out – the problem is that many viewers may lack the patience to do so. Even for those willing to give it a chance, a recent real-world controversy has turned many off the show.

Hometown is written by Joo Jin, a name revealed to be a pen name of Cho Hyun-hoon. Cho is a director famous for the acclaimed indie Jane and infamous for being implicated in a #MeToo scandal in 2018, at which time he was made to apologise for sexually harassing a female director at a festival party five years earlier.

Studio Dragon, the K-drama production house behind the show, says it only learned Cho’s true identity as production got under way. Cho’s credit was removed from the show from the third episode onwards. The series immediately saw its ratings slip.

Beyond Evil, Mouse, Itaewon Class, Vincenzo, Night in Paradise, Academy Award-winning Korean immigrant tale Minari

Han Ye-ri in a still from Hometown.

Between this controversy and its muddled narrative, the show’s prospects aren’t terribly bright. Still, for anyone looking for a unique and moody procedural, Hometown does offer something a little different.

Hometown is streaming on Viu.

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