|[Please be advised, this review may contain spoilers.]|
I am not much of an action fan, as I tend to enjoy slice of life dramas more, but I, from time to time, dip my toes in the genre if it catches my eye. I'd heard of Vagabond and, although I'd noticed it while browsing Netflix on many occasions, it had never drawn my attention. It was an action, after all, and I avoid those if I can. It was late one night, however, when I was strangely in the mood for some action, that I opted to try Vagabond. Admittedly, it wasn't my first choice, as I'd chosen Sisyphus: the Myth to watch that night, oddly enough, because I believed it starred Bae Suzy. It wasn't until I was several minutes into Sisyphus: the Myth when I realized that it wasn't Bae Suzy at all; it was the girl from Heirs. Having Bae Suzy on my mind that night, I decided, instead, to search for dramas starring her, and lo and behold, there it was: Vagabond.
Since I rarely watch action dramas - the last was The K2 a while ago - I find it challenging to write reviews for them. I feel as if I am somehow not qualified to review them, being that I am not an action aficionado. I will give it a try, however.
One of the first things I look for in a drama is character development, for I think it is crucial, regardless of the genre, to feature complex and multi-layered characters. Even in an action drama, a character's motives must be visible. In this regard, I felt Cha Dal-gun, portrayed by Lee Seung-gi with as much sex appeal as a Korean actor can muster (goodness!), was the more transparent of the two protagonists. His was a mission of vengeance and justice, and no obstacle was too great to overcome. On the flip side, Go Hae-ri's (Bae Suzy) motives were much more difficult to discern, since unlike Dal-gun, hers was an abstract enemy. Her wanting justice, I suppose, was one but was it her true motivation. I can't say that it was, for it seemed status was more important to her. I don't mean to dismiss her motives as purely self-interest, since her career status seemed linked to her family's ability to put a roof over their heads, and that is as good a reason as any to want to move up.
The story is fairly heartbreaking, since the victims are children, mostly, who perish in a terrorist attack while on a plane to Morocco to compete in a martial arts tournament. The nephew of Dal-gun is one of the deceased, so right away one feels sympathy for Dal-gun. Such a harrowing loss, it was. But Dal-gun is subsequently immersed in a deep-rooted conspiracy involving the Korean government, quickly turning any sympathy for him into encouragement, for Dal-gun was determined to expose the truth. I don't remember a time when I cheered on a character as much as I did Dal-gun. Literally, I mean. I wanted him to triumph with every fiber of my being. Lee Seung-gi, for his part, is very easy to root for. His is a humility that rarely does one find in an action hero, though I do admit, I did scoff at his propensity to climb walls and jump off tall buildings. Jason Bourne would, certainly, approve.
As someone who attests to the superiority of slice of life dramas, this is the biggest compliment I can give Vagabond: the episodes flew by. I never felt a lull - that dreaded interval of nothingness - as there was nary a moment to breathe. It came at me fast and furious, so much that I would, at times, have to pause the thing to regain my composure. By the end of each episode I was, mentally and physically, exhausted, but I couldn't get enough of Dal-gun and Hae-ri's crusade against evil. So onto the next episode I went, with my heart pounding and palms sweating. So exhilarating, it was.
And then...that final episode. It was as if someone let the air out of my balloon. Until that point, Vagabond had been so picture perfect, it was executed with precision. The final episode, however, seemed to exist in a parallel universe, one in which Dal-gun and Hae-ri go their separate ways. The two, who had a natural affinity for each other, hadn't even shared a kiss. Is this to suggest that a second season is on its way...or is this truly the end? I surely hope not, since it would mean that Edward Park and his cronies have avoided the consequences of their actions.
In the end, Vagabond is a whirlwind of activity, with an endearing action hero in Lee Seung-gi, that will stir up emotions and galvanize you into action. It, certainly, did me. The ending, though a bit of a letdown, isn't enough to detract from what is, essentially, a top-notch action with rip-roaring sequences of combat fighting, car chases, and stunts.
Cast: Lee Seung-gi, Bae Suzy, Shin Sung-rok
[Click here to watch on Netflix.]