Bargain (2023) Season 1 Review – This Korean drama is a grim and fascinating exploration of human darkness

Season 1

 

 

Episode Guide

Episode 1 |-  Rating – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – |  Rating – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Rating – 3.5/5
Episode 4 |-  Rating – 2.5/5
Episode 5 – |  Rating – 3/5
Episode 6 – | Rating – 3.5/5

 

Bargain is yet another exceptional offering from South Korea that makes a hard-hitting social statement. The six-part series is not a drama and is uniquely edited to give the perception of a single-take shot. Despite its heady themes, Bargain keeps you on the edge of your seat. As a viewer expecting diversity in the storytelling, Woo-sung Jeon, the director and creator of the show, does not disappoint. The story is set entirely in one building and experiences an apocalyptic-like setting to further intensify the central conceit.

Our focus is on the main characters who can neither be called protagonists nor antagonists. That is one aspect of their characterization that keeps things very interesting even at junctures where you feel the show cannot surprise you. Detective Hyung-su visits a motel in the countryside on the promise of availing prostitution services from an apparently 18-year-old Ju-young. However, she is not the age she claims and neither is she a prostitute.

Ju-young is part of a crime syndicate that deals in organ trafficking, among other things. The group has a plethora of girls available with Ju-young who do their best to lure in young, healthy men to the motel. Hyung-su is taken captive and displayed in front of potential bidders. Each of his organs, including kidneys and eyes, is up for grabs. One among them stands out. Geuk-ryeol, or “the good son,” is desperate for Hyung-su’s kidneys as his father urgently needs them.

Despite being high on the donor’s list, they cannot procure one. And Geuk-ryeol has to resort to this method. However, before any of it can proceed further, a tectonic earthquake strikes the area, rendering the building on the verge of collapse. All our main characters survive the event but struggle to find a way out. Their challenge now is to reach the top floor as Hee-Sook’s goons hunt them across the different floors.

Bargain instantly reminds viewers of recent Netflix projects like Squid Games and The Platform. But the show definitely has an identity of its own. The writers take inspiration from the best parts of films and TV shows like the above. The lack of consistency in behaviour gives Bargain a lot of dynamism. Its graph of intensity and persuasion keeps hitting highs and lows throughout the episode. If reduced to a phrase, “controlled and poetic chaos” is how I would define the experience of watching Bargain.

The show is not likeable in many places, primarily because it transmits the darkest part of humanity authentically. That underscores the entire narrative, giving it purpose, shape, and a vision to fulfil. Heroic portrayals substantiate the recreation of Wu-sung’s part.

With so many moving parts, the challenge for Jeon Jong-seo (Ju-young), Jin Seon-kyu (Hying-su), and Chang Ryul (Geok-ryeol) is immense. They had to be extra vigilant whenever the tide turned and they had to pivot how their characters would react.

Most of the teleplay in Bargain is a conversation between the characters, especially the detective and the fake prostitute. To still keep us glued to the screen takes a special effort. But Bargain is aided by how crisply it is edited and structured in its half-hour-long episodes. There is hardly any drag in the middle parts, perhaps with the exception of episode three, which is the weakest instalment.

We are delighted with unexpected and strange turns that lead to oddly compelling and grimly humorous scenarios. The allegorical subtext of Bargain is evident and in the same breath as films like Mayhem, The Platform, and The Raid. Such practical metaphors are effective embodiments of a hierarchy in which the rich are perched precariously at the top, doing anything in their ample power to ignore and then repress the strivers at the bottom.

One of the most interesting aspects of this representation I found was in the characters of Hyung-su and the Good Son. The latter consistently reminded Hyung-su of his “promise” to help the Good Son’s father, even if he was not alive to ensure he delivers. Given that Hyung-su is a detective, I feel he represents the establishment or State institution that struggles to provide equity in medical infrastructure and other services.

Other technical aspects of the production like set design and the intricate choreography of shots are similarly set up to aid this underlying social commentary. But there is a flip side to it as well. All these creative choices make Bargain a show that cannot be relished squarely as a thriller.

Contemplating too much about granular details like dialogue and the natural course of events will not allow you to truly arrive at where Woo-sung wants to take you. If you don’t think too much about it but still try to read between the lines, you will live with that contradiction and survive this crazy ride!


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  • Verdict - 7/10
    7/10
7/10

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