Thursday, December 13, 2012

Drama Review: Equator Man (2012)

Grade: B

Revenge melodrama

What it’s about
A young man’s quest for answers in the wake of his father’s murder results in fourteen years of melodramatic secrets, lies, and double-crosses for him and three of his high school friends.

First impression
Poky and pretentious, this kimchi opera suffers from an intrusive soundtrack and lacks narrative flow—it’s just one heavy-handed, bombastic conversation after another, with no real connective tissue or character development deeper than close-ups of the actors making maudlin faces. Also, it beggars belief again and again, even judging on a Kdrama-scale of improbability. (I’ll accept Joseon scholars time-traveling to modern Seoul; I won’t accept a scrawny teenager single-handedly beating up a gang of thugs as if he’s Batman.) I’ll keep with it for a while, though—it’s hard to judge a show based on the first episode, especially when that episode focuses exclusively on backstory and child actors. Also, Lee Hyun Woo is definitely my new jailbait love; I won’t be leaving until his character grows up.

Final verdict
I was prepared from the beginning to dislike Equator Man. Like most dramas that replace youthful actors with adults early on in their runs, its first few episodes felt overstuffed and confusing. Its likeable cast and promisingly soapy premise weren’t enough to overcome this problem, not to mention the show’s cheesy direction and distracting soundtrack.

But in spite of this shaky start, Equator Man settled into a reasonably satisfying potboiler about the perils of greed and revenge and the power of friendship. In a lot of ways, it feels like an old-fashioned counterpart to this fall’s younger-skewing Nice Guy: its conflicted, flawed characters confront the worst in themselves as they suffer through a litany of melodrama tropes—birth secrets, hidden identities, long lost first loves, terminal illnesses, corporate shenanigans, and the evil machinations of mustache-twirling bad guys. 

Thanks to a compelling cast and serviceable (if holy) plot filled with books, art, and a moving bromance gone terribly, terribly wrong, this drama is a juicy, uncomplicated soap opera that’s just right for rainy day viewing. (If not for deep thought or lasting reflection.)

Random thoughts
Episode 1. It’s always bizarre to come across Western oldies used in Korean dramas, and I’ve had a run of it lately. First, Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” was used as the male lead’s leitmotif in I’m Sorry, I Love You, and now Equator Man is all about Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” At least the former fit the drama conceptually—on the other hand, “Layla” is a classic love-triangle song, but not a single woman has appeared on screen at this point. [Just you wait, Amanda.—Amanda.]

Episode 2. Handy that these cops are total idiots, because anyone who’s ever read or seen an older detective story knows that typewriters are often traceable. As are the fingerprints he just got all over the note. ::sigh::

Episode 6. So in addition to being physically tone deaf, this show’s music director is also metaphorically tone deaf. To him or her, it probably seemed like a clever idea to take a bunch of blind people into the woods to listen to Stevie Wonder songs. To the rest of us, not so much.

Episode 7. Once you get past some initial bumps, this show isn’t all that bad. What is bad is its overblown soundtrack. A character flushes the toilet? Better set it to a soaring orchestral piece suitable for the sinking of the Titanic. Someone takes a drink of soju? That calls for a solo piano rendition of “Moon River.” The lead stubs his toe? A melodramatic riff on the “Layla” baseline is just what the moment needs. Or not.

Episode 7. For someone who’s spent ages in a coma, this dude’s recovery is amazingly painless: on day one he’s running around gnashing his teeth and punching walls. Wouldn’t some physical therapy be in order? After all, while he was unconscious he grew like ten inches and turned from a boy to a man. Funny how selective melodramas can be about what to be melodramatic about.

Episode 9. I’m always waking up in the middle of the night with big ideas I want to write down, but the results of my lightless scribblings usually look more like abstract art projects than words. So how is it that this blind character is able to write a perfectly legible letter? He’s fighting even bigger odds than I do: writing English using cursive, I barely have to take my pen off the paper. Korean, in contrast, is all about lines and circles and their relationships to each other. How could you manage that without being able to see? (Random note: it turns out that Korean actually does have a cursive form. Not that it would make that much of a difference when trying to write in the dark.) 

Episode 14. Uhm Tae Wong, you are a delicious hunk of masculinity in a world of dainty flower boys. High definition isn’t your friend, though—is that your face or the surface of the moon? (If it’s any consolation, I’m reading a smutty American novel called Bared to You right now, and you’re number two on my casting list for its male lead, Gideon Cross. [Sorry, but Lee Joon Ki seems unlikely to give up first place. You may have the magnetism, but he’s got the cheekbones.].)

Episode 20. And the worst finale of the year award goes to...Equator Man! (And that’s saying something, in a year that saw the exercise in futility that was Big.) Everything after the 15-minute mark feels useless and drawn out to fill time. Let’s just pretend that the show ended with the two boys outside to hospital, shall we?

Watch it

You might also like
Nice Guy’s melodramatic story of damaged characters seeking revenge


  1. Now here's the best question I have for you, because the only reason I was even remotely considering this was for Lee Jook Hyuk.. so: Is there enough eye candy here, and would it be worth it? ;)

    1. Everything about this show is sort of middle of the road for me, including the eye candy. Both versions of the male leads are easy on the eyes, but they haven't driven me into fits of obsession the way someone like Gong Yoo can. It's interesting to see City Hunter's prosecutor use his stiff bearing to play evil(ish) instead of noble, though—it works equally well for both sides of the coin.

      The incredibly twisted bromance is probably the most rewarding thing about Equator Man, really.

    2. Omo! You've started Jewel in the Palace!!! :D:D It's a roller-coaster alright. Sometimes zippy, sometimes slow, but guaranteed to make you hungry every damn episode.

    3. So far, I'm totally obsessed. My only wish? That the boys were as mouth-watering as the food.

      (I'm a terrible human being, aren't I?)

    4. There were boys in the drama? *laughs* Really, you are just too shallow. ;) Though personally, after 40 hours of staring at the man, Ji Jin Hee becomes strangely addicting.. Got such a cute boy-ish grin, whenever he dares display it.

  2. Wait? You didnt comment about how terrible is Uhm Taewoong acting as a blind man? My sister and I were soooo disturbed since he is moving his eyes so much. We all went; 'Didn't anybody from the production team has a courtesy to tell him that he's acting all wrong as a blind man?' Dropped the drama since I couldnt stand the acting.. DX

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