Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
If you like Agatha Christie-style mystery stories, Chip In is a tempting drama from the start. People gather on the 58th birthday of a well-known painter with tens of millions of dollars in assets and seek after his legacy, causing a fierce mental battle amongst them. How will the story stimulate the desire for mystery arises curiosity. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a mystery genre rarely attempted in Korea is all the more meaningful.
Chip In opens up a riddle in a form similar to the movie Knives Out. The painter’s family and acquaintances, who have never met in the same place, gather to celebrate his birthday, and a sense of awkward incompatibility prevails. Then on the morning of his birthday, when he is supposed to share his last will, the painter is found dead. The drama follows the questions left by the painter’s death, portraying an absurdity in a group of humans full of greed and hypocrisy.
The drama explores what caused the painter’s death by following people who are full of doubts and distrust in each other. In the process, the greed of those seeking the heritage and the inhuman and ugly nature of the acclaimed painter are revealed one by one, surfacing the anger and resentment hidden within the long-lasted relationships.
Chip In begins with a murder mystery in a mansion common in classic mysteries, but creates a cheerful rhythm by introducing black comedy and trendy elements that attract viewers. It properly mixes the interview of people who participated in a TV program to create a mockumentary-like atmosphere, and doubles the interest by using social media as a device to track down the truth behind the incident. An unexpected situation that comes out when tension cannot be relaxed creates a laugh as if watching a ridiculous absurdity, but sometimes brings about a shocking twist.
An attempt to solely concentrate on a mystery without an old-fashioned romance is undoubtedly impressive. Except for Oh Na Ra and Kim Hye Joon, who starred as a mother and daughter, there were many unfamiliar faces, but the drama constantly introduces unexpected twists, drawing attention in a refreshing way. However, despite some advantages, some weaknesses are more noticeable.
The biggest regret is the fact that it’s an 8-part drama. Chip In drew attention by presenting 8-part mini-series (when 16-part mini-series is the norm), but given its concentration, the four-part series might have been much more suitable. Trying to fill up all 8 hours with the mystery behind the painter’s death, more “unnecessary” emotional scenes are added to the story that should only focus on the case, reducing the suspense and making the overall plot a bit draggy.
Also, the flat and typical character building is regrettable. The story itself is interesting, but the people surrounding the painter’s death are quite predictable. The greed of those seeking a vast legacy is all vulgar (though intended to be a black comedy but often drawn childish), and those who have some sort of emotion toward the painter are all suspicious as if they have planned in advance (the real culprit is suspected as a prime suspect from the start). Though the beginning may have been inviting, all characters stay within the radius of what viewers expected, lessening the fun of the mystery genre.
In addition, Yoo Bit Na (a daughter born between the painter and his former mistress), who is suspected by her family while she is digging up the questions herself, seems frustratingly murky and unclear. At first, she remains aloof and appears different from the rest of the family who are only after the legacy, but as the story progresses, she becomes more and more ambiguous. Rather, I think it would have been more appealing if Dok Go Seon, who was not involved in the battle over the inheritance and only questioned the truth, led the drama as unwavering third party.
It is difficult to make a drama that satisfies everyone. Viewers who have experienced the mystery genre through various overseas dramas might have been disappointed, but there will also be viewers who are satisfied with the unconventional material and story. I just hope that more and more works like Chip In will continue, expanding the base of the genre.
Verdict: Fresh attempt, draggy plot (5/10)