Let this be known: television has officially entered its phase of COVID-19 storylines. It was inevitable, that the art that surrounds us eventually fully embrace all the facets of the pandemic, and Netflix’s latest Korean show Bloodhounds delivers it in a snappy, action-packed show.
Set during the height of the pandemic, Bloodhounds, explores the dynamics of the private loan business in South Korea that ballooned in light of global financial difficulties. As more people lost their jobs, the loan sharks swooped in to take advantage, promising quick collateral-free loans. The shows title is borrowed from the term used for the henchmen of these loan sharks whose only job is to ensure repayment, by violent means if necessary.
Kim Gun-woo (Woo Do-hwan), a professional boxer on the rise, finds his mother to be one of the several people who took out a hefty loan and was tricked into paying hefty fees. When the loan shark’s henchmen destroy her café in lieu of non-repayment, Gun-woo sets out to close this chapter once and for all. Joined by Hong Woo-jin (Lee Sang-yi), another professional boxer, he is hired to become a bodyguard-cum-bloodhound of sort for President Choi (Huh Joon-ho), one of the more benevolent money lenders of the district. A job Gun-woo took to make money to repay his mother’s debt soon becomes a means to track down those who hurt her. President Choi’s adopted granddaughter (Kim Sae-ron) is running a covert operation to catch perpetual borrowers to borrow money from multiple lenders using identity cards stolen from homeless people. As the duo of former Marines-turned-boxers join her to tail these frauds, they discover that they have hooked on to a bigger fish — Kim Myeong-gil (Park Sung-woong) the same loan shark who duped Gun-woo’s mother.
What ensues across eight episodes is a thrilling cat-and-mouse game as Gun-woo quickly learns the intricacies of the private money-lending business.
The show starts off slow, taking three entire episodes to build to its momentum. It spends this time laying the groundwork for the characters and the complex commerce they are about to break through. Once it settles down, it fully immerses itself into the entertaining action genre that was promised to the audience. Marked by several high-speed car chases across South Korean highways, long and well-choreographed fight sequences, and multiple heists (including one from a bookshop), the show is not in short supply of active and exciting narrative progressions. And while predictable in its big moments of losses, it does not fail to pack an emotional punch.
Where the show falls short is its characterisation and the overall thematic construction. The chemistry between Gun-woo and Woo-jin, who instantly click with each other due to their experience as Marines and then boxers, carries a bulk of the light-hearted, melodramatic moments in the show. While comedy punctuates what is otherwise supposed to be a serious crime thriller, the show’s moral simplification of its grittier aspects leaves it wanting of a more nuanced script. It becomes very clear early on that out of the many loan sharks churning in the Korean economy, most are bad, while only a handful are good, giving out zero-interest loans. Avoiding any overarching narrative on informal money lending, Bloodhounds opts for a black-and-white approach which also bleeds into its characterisations, where the leads and antagonists operate on a one-note identity. The script is also brought down by its excessive reliance on exposition, in addition to the glaringly odd writing choice to switch out more than half the leading characters.
However, the show remains engaging till the very end by never moving its focus from the partnership between Gun-woo and Woo-jin. Aptly conveying the dreadful tiredness of fighting something larger than you, a post-COVID show, Bloodhounds is hilariously enjoyable in its small dose.
Bloodhounds is currently streaming on Netflix