South Korean police drama Live is a well written, emotionally charged series following a handful of police officers as they struggle to balance their personal lives with the stresses that come with being a civil servant. With a blend of impressively shot drama, a sprinkling of well written comedy and some believable character development, this 18 hour+ series is worth investing the time to watch as the characters evolve and grow as the season wears on.
The story predominantly revolves around a handful of hopeful police cadets as they start their new lives as officers under the watchful eye of their Captain, Oh Yang-chon (Bae Sung-woo). As the series progresses, each of the key characters is given a decent amount of screen time with an individual sub plot showcasing the clash between their personal and professional lives, helping to flesh out their personas. The intimate way Live dives into each character, presenting each with a good balance of flaws and strengths, is some of the reason the show works as well as it does.
While each episode tackles an individual case or issue affecting the police officers, three main characters form the core structure of the series. Feisty Han Jung-oh (Jung Yu-mi) plays the empowering female officer and her story line sees her tackle male chauvinism while juggling responsibilities at home and at work. Yeom Sang-soo (Lee Kwang-soo) plays a man bereft of luck, struggling to make an impact in the police force after being discharged from the military. Throughout his story, he winds up butting heads, and eventually joining forces with Captain Oh Yang-chon (Bae Sung-woo). The Captain finds himself on the cusp of both personal and professional misfortune as his marriage begins to break down and issues and work see him demoted and spiralling out of control. As the series progresses a fourth character, Ahn Jang-mi (Bae Jong-ok), adds an extra dimension to the series but most of the drama gravitates around the three core characters we meet early on in the series.
At 70 minutes an episode and 18 action-packed parts to get through, it’s fair to say Live is quite the time sink. Thankfully, most of the episodes are engrossing enough to keep you watching throughout with numerous sub plots intricately split between the various characters. From violent crimes to riots right through to domestic disputes and mental stress from long hours, Live dives deep into the issues affecting police officers and in a way, uses the basis of this series to really showcase what an impressive job these officers do in real life. The balance between the professional and personal is perfectly executed too with the former acting as the action-driven drama to prevent the pace dragging on unnecessarily.
Of course, as a Korean show it is worth bearing in mind that the humour, style and tone is very much geared toward the Eastern market which may well alienate those used to a more conventional Western humour. With over 18 hours of subtitles, this certainly isn’t a show designed to be binged either and although we did get through a substantial portion of this in the space of a weekend, the best way to enjoy this one is in small, manageable chunks to really appreciate the great craftsmanship that’s gone into making this police drama.
Throughout the series, the use of music is nothing short of perfection. After a burst of intense action and drama fuelled mishaps, each episode encapsulates the mood and tone at that given time with an artistically edited montage of each character and their frame of mind. It’s a small touch but one that really goes a long way; a deep breath before plunging back into the drama.
While Live may not be as prolific or memorable as other crime dramas, the compelling story, charming characters and interesting plot developments make this a series worth investing some time into. The humour and drama work harmoniously together too and with a distinctly Korean tone to it, Live is a fascinating reflection on just how hard our police force work and the trials and tribulations each have to undergo while tackling unimaginable mental stress. For that alone Live is worth watching and there’s an intimately written, touching drama at its core that’s sure to make the journey worth taking if you decide to watch this epic 18 hour+ series.
Verdict - 8.5/10