Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Right off the bat, Ji Chang Wook assured us at The Worst of Evil‘s press conference that this wouldn’t be your run-of-the-mill undercover story—and he wasn’t lying. The Disney Plus series, premiered on September 27th, ingeniously melds familiar noir elements with a complex love triangle, adding layers of intrigue. The tension amplifies when covert identities must be protected, even as conflicting romantic feelings entangle the key players.
Set in the 1990s, the drama follows Detective Park Joon Mo (Ji Chang Wook) as he goes undercover to dismantle a drug cartel. On paper, the plot feels stale. Organized crime is a well-trodden subject in Korean media, and with masterfully crafted undercover dramas like Infernal Affairs and New World already on the scene, the genre doesn’t seem like it has much room left for surprise. The fear is that the drama will end up as just another swagger-filled but substance-lacking crime drama.
Episode one alone, which sees Joon Mo infiltrating the criminal empire helmed by Jung Ki Cheol (Wi Ha Jun), teeters on the edge of predictability. From the get-go, the episode is imbued with clichéd swagger endemic to gangster dramas. But just when you’re about to write the show off, it pulls out its secret weapon towards the end of episode two. Amid the chatoric attack on Ki Cheol’s gang, Joon Mo sees his wife, Yoo Eui Jung (Lim Se Mi), walking in with none other than Ki Cheol. The shock is tripled when he finds out that she is his first love.
In traditional undercover stories, the infiltrator grapples with identity crises and risks becoming emotionally entangled with the criminals he is surveilling. As their investigation progresses, the lines between duty and friendship blur, leading to internal conflicts and moral quandaries. However, Joon Mo’s situation in The Worst of Evil is unique—Ki Cheol is both his target and a romantic rival. While the love between Joon Mo and Eui Jung remains steadfast up to episode five, and Eui Jung—also a cop—dives into the case to extricate her husband from his nightmarish circumstances. Hence, the future of this trio’s relationship is far from predictable.
From the viewer’s standpoint, the stakes rise as Joon Mo’s complicated predicament unfolds. Without knowing Joon Mo’s real identity and his relationship with Eui Jung, Ki Cheol asks Joon Mo to help in wooing Eui Jung as he comforts her after her mother’s passing. Not only must he hide his true intention, all while pretending to be oblivious to Ki Cheol’s feelings.
Ji Chang Wook’s seasoned performance brings Joon Mo’s conflicted emotions vividly to life. The more emotive Ji Chang Wook’s gaze becomes, the more palpable Joon Mo’s inner turmoil feels. Hindered in his career due to a drug-addicted father and scorned by his wife’s police family, Joon Mo accepts a risky proposition to go undercover. And it’s the actor’s nuanced performance that breathes empathy into the character, keeping the unwaveringly engaging narrative.
Conversely, Wi Ha Jun’s portrayal of the gang’s leader lacks a certain gravitas. Is it because he’s toned down the typical ruggedness seen in this genre? His ascent through the criminal ranks and his leadership abilities seem less convincing as a result. That’s why, the brutality of Ki Cheol’s gangster saga feels somewhat lackluster. Instead, his more tender side, which has harbored feelings for his first love over the years, stands out more. What will happen when Ki Cheol learns the truth? Which betrayal will cut deeper—love or loyalty?
The Worst of Evil is a winning gamble so far. Even if its undercover escapades feel clichéd, the unfolding chain of new incidents and plots keeps the tension alive. The intertwined emotions of three individuals who can’t fully express their true feelings add another layer of nuance. What fate awaits this tangled trio? We’re eagerly awaiting the next chapter. (7/10)
Edited Hong Hyun Jung: I am a K-content guide who publishes various articles for people to enjoy Korean movies and dramas deeper and richer. I’ll introduce you to the works that you can laugh, cry and sympathize with.