Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Search draws attention with its unique theme that is not often found in Korea, a rare military thriller. The story starts when an unidentified menace appears in the DMZ (demilitarized zone), a special area that can only be seen in Korean Peninsula, and soldiers go on a search for secrets behind the mystery. Even if one does not particularly prefer topics related to the military, the storytelling of “monstrous creatures in DMZ” evokes tempting curiosity. However, even the most exciting subject will see its charm halved if the story fails to support it. Unfortunately, Search seems to remain a drama that did not make good use of its novel topic.
The story begins with a tragedy that happened in the DMZ back in 1997. Captain Cho Min Guk and his troop, who went on a mission in the DMZ, were killed in an unexpected gun battle when North Korean soldiers tried to stop them from taking in a soldier who wanted to defect to the South with her baby. And this tragedy surfaces again 23 years later when a mysterious creature appears in the DMZ. The special search party made up of elite soldiers step into the demilitarized zone, where soldiers started to go missing, and raise the curtain to the full-fledged mystery.
The early beginning that makes us look forward to what might happen next is not bad. But the problem is next. Search easily overlooked the spatial background of the military, a fundamental precondition that leads the mystery within the DMZ. It’s not like I want the drama to solely base its story on “facts.” The problem is that the characters’ behaviors and situations they face raise doubts. For example, I understand the drama’s intention to show Sergeant Yong Dong Jin’s ebullient character, but he is often portrayed as a person who breaks away from the military’s chain of command. On top of that, access to the DMZ and military facilities, which should be strictly controlled, is conveniently lax. Though they may not hinder the overall plot, such loose settings act as a factor that interferes with viewers’ immersion.
Of course, there is no need to drag the tension throughout the show. But the fact that there are situations that are not suitable to the central storyline is quite disappointing. A case in point is the constant flashback of Yong Dong Jin and Son Ye Rim’s past love. The repeated flashback scenes that don’t match the current story is only counterproductive as it lags the tension. In addition, the method of portraying soldiers, except for the search party members, and villagers as simple/shallow people was seen so many times before that it’s full of trite, so it only gives the impression that a story that should push forward more dynamically is backing up for no particular reason.
The main characters boast an amazing series of “coincidences.” Even after considering that the 1997 incident was the source of the mystery, each person is linked so closely that the military feels “cramped”; three out of 6 search party members are connected with the people involved in the 1997 incident. On top of that, Lee Hyuk, the chairman of the National Defense Committee, and commanding officer Han Dae Shik, who are pressuring the team from the outside, are those who are personally involved in the past incident.
The problem, however, lies in the fact that the intertwined relationship is not only an intentional setting to lead the story more conveniently but also halves the fun of the genre. As the story progresses, the mystery behind the monster that we all expected to be at the center of the story disappears, and the plot devotes itself to solving the complicated relationship between Lee Hyun, the main culprit behind the 1997 tragedy, and Captain Cho’s son Yong Dong Jin. Of course, the original curiosity about the cause of the mutation is still present, but the tension caused by the threatening presence is gone, and the drama becomes another typical schematic thriller.
And when the narrative of Sergeant Yong, who has finally learned the whole truth, is highlighted, the “military thriller” that the drama initially put forward becomes “an emotional story about a father and a son.” Because of that, despite its solid ending, there are more regrets in failing to satisfy the genre-specific fun that we all expected rather than the relief that came from solving a mystery. And that’s aside from the fact that it was solved without any significant twist. In the end, Search will remain as a drama that attempted to start a new genre using the DMZ as a stage of mystery.
Verdict: A drama that failed to fully bring out the materials’ charm (4/10)