Gap Dong

tvN (2014) 20 Episodes
Thriller, Crime, Mystery
Grade: B+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

A gritty crime mystery Korean drama from 2014, that I put off watching until 2019, Gap Dong (a fictitious title given a serial killer in the story, which translated into English means carapace, the hard outer shells of turtles and crustaceans) has a mostly excellent cast who give impressive performances, solid writing with exciting cliffhangers, a brooding OST featuring a hauntingly pretty main title song called Time (by the group Every Single Day who contribute to quite a few K-drama OSTs), and an intriguing climax; however I just have to be in the mood to watch a K-drama that explores the dark sides of human beings to this extent, especially the psyches of serial killers. There always seemed to be other K-dramas I wanted to watch more than this one, but I finally bit the bullet and plunged in, five years later! Be warned though: you need a strong stomach to venture into the bleak side of humankind that this drama explores. It's not an easy trip, but it is challenging and will keep you on your toes mentally, trying to figure out who Gap Dong really is, and who his next victims might be.

Fine Actor & Singer Yoon Sang Hyun

The cast is led by the wonderful Yoon Sang Hyun (Secret Garden, I Hear Your Voice) playing a detective out to track down a serial killer whom he blames for indirectly causing his father's death by suicide, Sung Dong Il (It's Okay, That's Love) playing a senior detective on the same case, popular Lee Joon (Woman With A Suitcase) playing a psychologically disturbed young man who admires the serial killer, Kim Ji Won (Descendants Of The Sun) playing a talented web toon artist who often incorporates Gap Dong's story into her work, and Kim Min Jung (Man To Man) - honestly my least favorite cast member - playing a psychiatrist in a prison setting trying to stabilize the inmates with compassionate therapy (perhaps TOO compassionate, it never seems to help any of them, even when she puts on a secret persona to explore their twisted worlds!).

Other familiar faces pop up and give fine performances - including my favorite, veteran actor Jung In Gi (Cheongdam-dong Alice, Doctor Stranger, and many more) who ends up giving the most raw and mysterious performance of all. I swear this actor can play ANY role, he is always fascinating to watch.

The Story:

Loosely based on famous real serial killings known as the Hwaseong serial murders (which were also the basis for the time travel K-drama Tunnel), that took place between 1986 and 1991, the drama Gap Dong begins in the year 1996, with early flashbacks showing a young girl getting brutally murdered by an unknown person while walking alone at night. The city soon is gripped by fear as more serial murders take place, and police, without too many clues because the killer is excellent at covering his tracks (there's an early clue there of who he might be!), nickname the killer Gap Dong, whom they assume is male because of his physical strength in killing so many people.

We then jump into the future and the statute of limitations on the early killings is approaching. This motivates police to take a second look at the case of this lunatic killer, who is assumed to still be alive and potentially could begin killing all over again.

Veteran detective Yang Cheol Gon (Sung Dong Il) requests that he be put back on the old case that was his originally, since he is approaching retirement age and wants to finally catch this notorious killer. At the time of the original murders he had been convinced that the actual killer was Ha Il Sik, a resident of the town who was intellectually challenged and emotionally disturbed. His attempt to arrest the suspect failed as the old man commited suicide, in a sad attempt to prove his innocence. His death inspires his son Moo Yeom Ha (Yoon Sang Hyun) to become a police officer and a detective, to clear his father's name. He has an axe to grind toward Cheol Gon, blaming him for falsely accusing his father, which led to his death.

Seventeen years later, Moo Yeom as a police detective becomes rather resigned to the belief that the real Gap Dong is dead, but then a series of incidents occur in the town that bear an eerie resemblance to Gap Dong's first crimes. Cheol Gon, and to his dismay, Moo Yeom, are forced to work together in a new investigation team, to try and catch the elusive Gap Dong once and for all. Will they ever bury the hatchet between themselves, to effectively work together to uncover the truth? For a long time it doesn't seem possible, and the audience sometimes gets fed up with their animosity, which delays them from their joint goal of catching Gap Dong.

Meanwhile, people on the sidelines are passionately interested in Gap Dong's identity as well, including a jail psychiatrist named Maria Oh (Kim Min Jung) who has to deal mostly with a case of a young disturbed inmate named Ryu Tae Oh (Lee Joon) who has a morbid fascination with Gap Dong and yearns to copy cat his crimes when he's released from prison, and a quirky web toon artist named Ma Ji Wool (Kim Ji Won), who writes under the pen name Matilda, and who has a rather obvious crush on the older detective Yeom Ha. The only time humor came into the story at all was through Kim Ji Won. Thank God for her sweet character. She had a difficult time of it, I'm sure, trying to inject some humor into a story so focused on the dark side.

Will some of these people become Gap Dong's next victims? When Tae Oh is released from prison he becomes a barista to support himself, and he runs into Ji Wool and takes a liking to her, in his own twisted way. She, in turn, preoccupied with her crush, takes awhile to warm to him, but eventually some sparks start to fly between them, but will it be enough to inspire the complicated Tae Oh to turn his life around from criminality and stay on the straight and narrow path?

When new killings emerge in the city, with some of the same modus operandi attached to them, and these are blamed on Gap Dong too, the police force becomes even more determined to finally find him and arrest him. One policeman in particular always seems to be about at critical moments, chief section officer Cha Do Hyuk (Jung In Gi). Could he have some nefarious personal reasons for sticking so closely to this case over the years?

If you love crime mysteries and capers then certainly give Gap Dong a try. Once you take the plunge you'll probably be just as addicted to the story as I ended up being. Enjoy.

Watch Gap Dong (if you dare) HERE. Download MP3 of a softer version of the main song Time that was featured in the drama but not released online.