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[K-drama] Dark heroes punish villains to bring about justice

[K-drama] Dark heroes punish villains to bring about justice

Posted February. 27, 2024 07:33,   

Updated February. 27, 2024 07:33


‘Dark hero' content, where villains embark on heroic quests at the boundary between good and evil to bring about social justice, has become popular these days. While conventional hero stories typically focus on virtuous heroes, villain heroes illuminate the darker dimensions of human psychology.

One such example is 'A Killer Paradox,' which was released on Netflix on Feb. 9 and has since recorded the No. 1 views in 10 countries, including Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore. It tells the story of the protagonist Lee Tang (Choi Woo-shik), who begins with an accidental murder and then proceeds to kill those he deems deserving of death. The scenes where Lee Tang crosses the line between good and evil, executing individuals he perceives as evil, have sparked controversy on social media. The question arises: Is it right for individuals to execute criminals who have incited social outrage, rather than leaving it to law enforcement?

Vigilante, which was released on Disney+ last November and became the No. 1 Korean TV show, is another dark hero show. The protagonist, Kim Ji-yong (Nam Joo-hyuk), is an exemplary police academy student during the day, but at night, he seeks out criminals and brings them to justice. When Kim was younger, his mother was beaten to death in front of him, but her killer was released from prison with a short sentence due to being mentally and physically challenged. The show has also sparked controversy on social media regarding how to define who deserves to die among the wicked and what punishment is appropriate.

The rise of dark heroes reflects public sentiment regarding the perception that vicious criminals receive relatively light punishments. Revenge-themed K-dramas that bring justice for innocent victims, such as SBS's 'Taxi Driver 2,' which aired in February last year and garnered a peak viewership of 21 percent, provide vicarious satisfaction to viewers who are frustrated with the current reality.

In this regard, 'A Killer Paradox' and 'Vigilante,' as well as the SBS drama 'The Killing Vote,' which aired in August last year and sparked the death penalty debate, are all based on webtoons. There is a view that webtoons, sensitive to readers' real-time reactions, have tapped into the public's sentiment that legal punishment is weak compared to crime. “In some ways, the dark hero craze has been driven by public anger over the inappropriate public punishment by law enforcement agencies,” said Kim Sung-soo, a pop culture critic.

Dark hero content can also expose the absurdity of violence as a quick and satisfying solution to dealing with evil. This is exemplified by a scene in 'A Killer Paradox,' where Detective Jang Nan-Gam (Son Suk-ku) asks Lee Tang, “Are you a god or something? Who do you think you are to punish them?”

이호재 기자 hoho@donga.com