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City Hunter (2011) Episode 1 Recap
Here we go – after weeks of confusing trailers, promos, and stills, we have the first episode of City Hunter. I don’t think anyone would say it’s a faithful adaptation of the grungy, gritty, adult 90’s manga City Hunter, but taken out of that context it looks like a gripping, action-packed series nonetheless.
It is October 9, 1983, as a woman, Lee Kyung Hee (Kim Mi Sook), struggles to give birth. Meanwhile, another arrival – that of a South Korean diplomatic party – is taking place outside a building set in a remote Burma location. Reporters, Secret Service agents, and military men surround the area, creating a secure fence for the cavalcade of black cars that come sweeping up the drive. Cabinet members stand ready to receive the officials (including the President). In charge of security are agents and best friends Lee Jin Pyo (Kim Sang Joong) and Park Mu Yul (Park Sang Min).
Unknown to them, however, an unseen hand prepares to press a button that will detonate a bomb under the roof timbers of the house. As soon as the first car pulls up in front of the porch, the bomb erupts, destroying the entire front of the house and killing most of the crowd of people standing in front.
As the nation goes into mourning, a group of politicians hold an emergency meeting. The most influential voice is Choi Eung Chan (Chun Ho Jin), who incites the others to retaliate.
Kyung Hee finally does succeed in giving birth to a boy, our protagonist. As she cradles the baby, Jin Pyo and Mu Yul enter the room to give congratulations, and we see that Mu Yul is the doting father of the boy.
This is a short visit, however, as both men have been recruited by Eung Chan to carry out a retaliation on the North Koreans, with the aim of assassinating one North Korean general for every South Korean killed earlier. Eung Chan assures them that they will all return home.
If you ask me, this is never a good sign…
Jin Pyo and Mu Yul (who has refused Jin Pyo’s entreaty to stay behind) assemble a team of crack soldiers. The agents (in North Korean uniforms) raid Pyongyang, efficiently infiltrating buildings in teams and killing their targets. Mu Yul is stabbed; Jin Pyo kills the target and drags Mu Yul with him.
Back in Seoul, however, is another type of danger. The same group of officials (the Korean ambassador to the US, the National Security Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Finance minister) summons Eung Chan to deliver news – the President has forbidden any military aggression against North Korea (for political reasons involving their allies), and they support him. Even though Eung Chan entreats them to think about the men that are risking their lives at the moment, the others are in favor of abandoning them.
Mission completed, the team escapes to the ocean, swimming strongly for an emerging submarine. Jin Pyo lags behind, supporting an injured Mu Yul over the water as he struggles to keep up. The first of the soldiers finally climbs aboard the submarine – only to be shot by a sniper hidden behind the structure. One by one, the shots continue to pick off the soldiers in the water, even as they swim frantically away.
As the sniper aims at the two, Mu Yul pushes Jin Pyo down in the water and takes the shot himself. As it calms, Mu Yul entreats Jin Pyo to take care of his wife and son, and sinks. Jin Pyo, stricken, swims to shore and emerges from the water with revenge in his eyes.
Eung Chan receives the news that all of the men have died; the other officials assure him that all evidence of the raid has been destroyed. Alone in his office Eung Chan looks at an envelope of the men’s dog tags – but suddenly there is a knife at his throat, held by a coldly angry Jin Pyo.
Eung Chan entreats him with the same arguments his colleagues offered, even though his face shows his sorrow. Jin Pyo is not forgetting the betrayal: “Do you know? We can die for our country, but not for political power.” Eung Chan is saved when an aide knocks to give him news; when he turns back, Jin Pyo is gone through the window, leaving a note pinned to the desk with his knife: “The price of those 20 lives – I will come to collect it.”
At home, Kyung Hee is hanging up laundry when she is startled by the sudden barking of dogs. Coming back into the house, she finds that baby Yoon Sung is gone – with a note on his empty blanket. Heartbroken, she runs from the house, screaming for her baby. Hidden in an alley is Jin Pyo, holding the baby. Hearing Kyung Hee, he thinks : “Mu Yul is dead. I will take the child and raise it well. Start a new life. You must be happy.”
Revenge or not, taking a woman’s baby is not the best way to make her happy, Jin Pyo. Just so you realize.
On the boat to Thailand, the crying baby is soothed by a women passenger (we learn later her name is Muangsuri). Jin Pyo thinks to Mu Yul that he is planning the cruelest revenge, which is his reason for living.
Time jumps forward 10 years, and adolescent Yoon Sung is now a guerilla-in-training in a Thai drug farm/military training compound, led by Jin Pyo. In addition to being a darn good shot for his age, Yoon Sung also appears to believe that Jin Pyo is his father. Jin Pyo, however, takes a harsh approach to parenting/training, gruffly deriding his adopted son’s shooting skills and drilling him in martial arts over and over again in the rain.
He is hardly more caring when he catches Yoon Sung with an old photo of Kyung Hee, Mu Yul, and Jin Pyo. When the boy asks if Kyung Hee is his mother, Jin Pyo tells him his mother is dead and rips up the photo.
In tears, Yoon Sung runs to Muangsuri’s hut in the forest, where she lives with her son. She holds him just like she does for her boy. Alone, Jin Pyo thinks back to Kyung Hee’s stricken face when she lost her child, and clutches the remnants of the photo tightly.
Another time jump, ushering in Lee Min Ho as Yoon Sung. This Yoon Sung is confident and happy as he swaggers through the Thai markets, waving to girls and filching apples from a nearby stall. His training kicks in, however, when he notices, among the hubbub, a Thai gang beating up a Korean man in a nearby building.
Modus operandi: fling apples with deadly force to knock out thugs through the window. Evade more thugs coming at you through the streets, and break into the building. Grab victim and zip off through market streets. (Grin, exhilarated, even as gang members are pounding close behind you). Leap into top floor of another building, using the tree outside the window as a handy escape route. Take over a boat and motor off down the river. Finally, arrive with countryman at hideout and explain presence of both to irate father.
Jin Pyo is not happy that Yoon Sung has brought an outsider into their militarized hideout. The man, who says he is Bae Shik Joon (Kim Sang Ho), manages to change this opinion after offering his services as cook. Turns out, he’s a top-notch Korean cook, and he gets to stay. Yoon Sung remains at the table stuffing his face after Jin Pyo leaves, but notices a photo that Shik Joon is holding. Not just any photo, but a very pretty girl, which definitely piques Yoon Sung’s interest. It’s Shik Joon’s daughter, Kim Na Na (Park Min Young).
The happy mood doesn’t last long, however. At shooting practice, a human target is brought in – Muangsuri. Turns out her husband was caught sneaking drugs out of the compound, and Jin Pyo’s rules do not tolerate traiters and their families. Shocked, Yoon Sung pleads with his father to have mercy. Jin Pyo remains firm – he is the leader and any breach of rules will be punished. As Muangsuri pleads for her life, Yoon Sung offers a deal: if he hits all of the hanging targets surrounding the stake she’s tied to, she will be freed. Jin Pyo agrees.
Yoon Sung loads the semiautomatic and takes aim – one, two, three, each of the gourds hanging close to Muangsuri’s head explode. Yoon Sung lets out a breath of relief and tosses down the handgun, and stalks off. He lies on his bed in the room he shares with Shik Joon, and notices Na Na’s picture on the bedside table. Addressing her, he says: “Does it make sense to shoot such an important person?”, then, wistfully, “You must be living well in this place called Seoul”.
Outside, though, the same gang members he encountered earlier today are surrounding the house, climbing over the porch where Muangsuri is folding laundry. Inside, Yoon Sung’s ears catch the characteristic click of a gun being loaded, and instantly he springs into action: he grabs Shik Joon and raises the bed as a shield as the attackers blast bullets through the walls.
Some distance outside, Jin Pyo and his team hear the gunfire and race for the house.
Their leader signals for them to infiltrate the house. In a tight sequence, Yoon Sung fights off the immediate gang in the room and escapes to the porch.Hemmed in by a line of guns, he takes cover behind a pillar. The gang leader slowly aims his gun, unseen by Yoon Sung, but noticed by Muangsuri. She springs out to warn him, only to take a shot herself. Stunned, Yoon Sung leaves his cover and moves toward her body; only Jin Pyo’s arrival saves him as the gang is shot from behind. He doesn’t notice anything but Muangsuri, pleading for her to wake up. As Jin Pyo watches, he lays her body down and picks up the nearby gun, swearing: “I’ll kill all those guys.”
Yoon Sung gives chase to the fleeing remnants of the gang, dodging fire. Hell-bent on revenge, he chases them even after one of them gets blown up by a mine – until he steps on one himself.
It looks like the mines are part of the hideout’s defense mechanisms
With an unloaded gun and the remaining two attackers aiming at him, Yoon Sung is in trouble. Suddenly, both the attackers are shot – by Jin Pyo. He walks up to Yoon Sung and tells him: “When you lose your temper, you can even end up stepping on your own booby traps. If you wanted to destroy that man, you should have taken him out by the roots. If you leave roots behind, you will be the one to die.”
Jin Pyo kneels with his machete, sliding it under Yoon Sung’s foot to place pressure on the mine. It dislodges his foot, and the mine senses the release in pressure. In the second before the blast, Jin Pyo holds Yoon Sung against him, shielding him. It costs him a foot, as we see when Yoon Sung piggybacks him back to the house, crying and pleading for him to live. Yoon Sung is still distraught after Jin Pyo is lying down indoors, but Jin Pyo tells him: “If I saved you, it was worth it.”
As the doctor and Shik Joon hover, Yoon Sung moves to start bandaging the stump to stop blood loss, but Jin Pyo tells him to extract a bullet embedded in his shoulder instead. Yoon Sung does so, as Jin Pyo groans in pain.
This looked SO incredibly painful, I could hardly watch.
Jin Pyo says: “Listen to what I’m saying carefully. This is related to your real father.”
Yoon Sung: “Dad…what do you mean, my real father?”
Jin Pyo: “17 years ago, we were attacked on a mission and lost 20 lives. That day, in order to save my life, took a bullet for me. That bullet went through his heart and hit only my shoulder. The only reason I’m still living is to avenge your father. Yoon Sung-ah…you must live, to avenge your father’s and my deaths.”
Yoon Sung, through tears: “Is that why you’ve trained me so hard? To take revenge?”
Jin Pyo has no reply, as he quickly drops unconscious. Yoon Sung pleads with the doctor to save his life.
Alone in his room, Yoon Sung thinks about Muangsuri and Jin Pyo, his mother and father figures. Likewise, Jin Pyo dreams of Mu Yul and Kyung Hee and his promise to them, holding the taped-together photo of them.
Yoon Sung now confronts Jin Pyo, asking about his father’s killers. Interestingly, he still addresses Jin Pyo as "Father". Jin Pyo replies that there were five of them.
Yoon Sung: “So if I kill all five of them, can you and I live in a place nobody knows?” Although Jin Pyo makes no reply, he continues, “My mother…is she alive?” This time Jin Pyo replies in the affirmative.
He walks out of the room into the corridor, still strewn with broken glass, where Shik Joon is tentatively waiting for him. He says, “I will change. That’s my fate.”
Another time jump informs us that it is now 7 years later. Yoon Sung, dressed sharply, arrives in Seoul airport from America. He gazes at the city through taxi windows, finally getting a glimpse of his homeland. He answers a phone call from a man, who tells him that his first target is Lee Kyung Hwan; and to never forget his father’s death.
Yoon Sung, spying families playing in a public fountain, gets out here and wistfully takes in the scene. A few feet away stands a girl in a bright yellow dress, handing out flyers – Kim Na Na. Both of them gaze at the scene, not noticing the other.
This episode mainly has the job of setting up our hero’s backstory, and the early years that shape him (hence the multiple time jumps). Despite that, I liked it. It was cohesive, gripping in all the right places, and the pacing was fast but not choppy. We have a good idea of Yoon Sung’s character and the people he’s dealing with. Lee Min Ho is magnetic and the supporting cast, especially Kim Sang Joong, gives a good performance. And a mention for the music, which is nice and very effective at enhancing the action scenes. The only thing I’m worried about is the introduction of Na Na – how will the writer reconcile the revenge theme with the romance angle? Coming soon in Episode 2 recap.
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