Aaahh, finally there’s a K-drama i like from beginning to end this year. It’s quite an expected drama too. Because, who knew it would be something with ‘ghost’ in its title? Well, that was what made me hesitant to start this drama to begin with, but fortunately, there’s nothing supernatural about it. It’s just (yet) another case with an elusive serial killer nicknamed Subway Ghost.
So, Catch the Ghost is a procedural crime drama under the Subway Police Department. Due to its jurisdiction, they mostly handle petty criminal cases, like the elusive serial pickpockets nicknamed Grasshoppers. But a small team of officers in Wangsoori Station headed by Go Ji-seok (Kim Seon-ho) is obliged to take on more serious cases by the team’s newest recruit, Yoo Ryung (Moon Geun-young).
The latter has a strong sense of justice and burning fervor and enthusiasm to put the cuffs on every criminal out there, regardless of the nature of the crime. Typical traits of a newbie officer, i’d say. ‘Cuz the higher one’s rank is, the more of a stickler they become, the more concerned they are about public opinion, and the less inclined they are to go all out to close a case. Those are some of the traits Ji-seok certainly displays too: maintaining the status quo, playing it safe, transferring cases to more relevant departments ASAP. He’s also rather timid and gawky for a police’s chief — the subway division notwithstanding.
That doesn’t mean he lacks the wit or drive, though. He was the top graduate of the academy and was a promising detective, yet decided to be in the low-rank, low-paying, looked-down-upon but also low-risk post following the onset of his mom’s dementia. Like, how can we blame him upon knowing that? But he isn’t the only one with family baggage and certain motive to join the subway police. Newbie has one too: to catch Subway Ghost and find her missing twin sister, Yoo Jin.
Subway Ghost and Grasshoppers are the two main mysteries to crack, and it’s not until the midway point do both cases’ investigations start to bear fruit and yield a positive lead. But i actually don’t mind the slow progress or the fact that the Wangsoori Team keeps getting sidetracked by seemingly less important cases. The crimes of the day are gripping and most of them revolve around family ties and issues at the core, which appeals to me. It’s also sort of expected since Ryung is scouring the tunnel covertly and by herself, as no one believes her that Jin’s disappearance is related to Subway Ghost’s doing or that the elusive serial killer could be using the tunnel to transport the victims… except Kim Woo-hyuk (Ki Do-hoon), a Metro Police detective.
There may not be justifications for the Grasshoppers’, though. The investigation lacks a sense of urgency when some positions are on the line; any progress seems fed into them instead of due to their deduction skills, that by the time the team figures out the perps, they’re already revealed to us. But i can’t really judge Ji-seok for that; his ex-partner Ha Mari (Jung Yoo-jin) is no difference. Supposedly the ace in Metro who’s risen through the ranks by merit, in spite of her age and relation to the commissioner, she leaves the serial killing open for two years.
Once the opening is found, however, they take no time to break down the door — as well as open the floodgates. Show’s second half kept making me cry, it’s crazy! It also leads to the two teams working together, since the two criminals are connected and could be one and the same. Like any other crime thriller, there are twists and red herrings. Some are predictable (the new caretaker’s identity), some are neat (the killer’s reveal, Jin’s fate). There are plot devices and inorganic developments, but i find the script carefully plotted and thought out.
I particularly appreciate that the culprit isn’t a complete stranger (to viewers) and sans a motive. There’s actually a proper backstory for him that not only makes sense but also gives us rooms to sympathize with him. I didn’t expect him to be old enough to have a 10-year-old daughter and yes, the accident was rather random, but it lies a solid ground for his pickpocketing spree and targets. That still doesn’t justify his crimes, but at least i can see where he’s coming from. It explains why Ryung is targeted too, why he didn’t kill her when he had the chance, or why Jin’s body was never found when she’s indeed the first victim.
I also like the characterizations. There are no annoying caricature sidekicks, meddling second leads, or corrupt higher-ups. A rarity in (k)dramaland. The ‘father-son’ Wangsoori combi has their bumbling moments yet never to a frustrating level. Woo-hyuk half-asses his second-lead role, vacillating between being open about his interest in Ryung, supportive of her secret operation, and acting as the cupid for the leads. Mari, on the other hand, is borderline grating. Blunt and lacking empathy, she already has a prejudice against Ryung, and jealousy only aggravates her attitude towards her. But that’s because her pride is hurt on both professional and personal level. Furthermore, she isn’t manipulative and is willing to listen to others’ input — sometimes — so i won’t hold those minor flaws against her.
The leads are also quite wholesome. Ryung may be emotional and impulsive, but she takes on every case simply because she can’t look away at injustice, because she knows how it feels to be ignored by the police when you have no one else to turn to, having experienced it firsthand herself. She also faces every victim with utmost sincerity that’s bound to move hearts and get through to the recipients. Yes, she can be selfish too, like that time she said mean things to her autistic twin and then abandoned her, but that what humanizes her. Plus, that heat of the moment haunts her for years to come, please give poor girl a break! Ji-seok, on the other hand, seems perfect on paper. He’s a family man, a respectable cop, and a good superior. The only speck in his portfolio is probably breaking up with Mari without explanation, either not willing to show his vulnerabilities to her or not trusting/underestimating her capability to handle the truth.
But that’s probably what makes him compatible with Ryung more. Both are incredibly considerate and thoughtful people with similar family background with mental health conditions. They share the same wavelength on the visceral level. They get to learn about each other’s character and true nature through the side cases they’re working on, and i could see and feel the attraction, which is important in non-romance dramas where love lines are oftentimes born out of demand instead of necessity. Bonus: Ji-seok being an absolutely winsome male lead, saying the most touching line i’ve heard in a while (“I don’t pity her. I just…understand her.”) and giving the sweetest gift to Ryung, which turns out isn’t for her, but totally wins her heart all the same. Or maybe more.
One thing i noticed about this show is that they hardly tell us the kind of punishment given to the perps. Which oddly enough doesn’t bother me. Maybe because it’s sort of in line with Ryung’s conviction: that closure is necessary for victims to move on with their lives. The same goes for other aspects of this drama; some details were off and some plot turns could benefit from more polishing, but i barely have any to complain about — except maybe how the former Wangsoori chief could fall for the killer’s obvious trap and failed to fight back. The twists regarding Mom’s coming to her senses and Jin’s survival might be too good to be true, but the emotional payoff is tremendous i actually expected a deus ex machina ending for him. I didn’t even mind the comedy takes, which i usually hate in serious crime shows like this. It must be due to effective writing and solid storyline, so kudos to the screenwriters.
Acting is pretty good across the board. Moon Geun-young hammed up her Newbie role a bit yet excelled in other scenes. Kim Seon-ho has always won my heart in second-lead roles, and i think he proved his worth as a male lead with his performance here. He has good comic timing and expressions, and his scenes with his mom never failed to warm my heart or tear me up.
In the end, it doesn’t take a lot to please me, huh? All i need is a good plot, an engaging stories, and non-aggravating characters. It would be great if it has a lot of heart, which Catch the Ghost has in abundance.
Director: Shin Yoon-seob
Screenwriter: So Won, Lee Young-joo
Production: tvN, 2019
Cast: Moon Geun-young, Kim Seon-ho, Jo Jae-yoon, Ahn Seung-kyoon, Jung Yoo-jin, Ki Do-hoon, Song Ok-sook, Nam Gi-ae, Kim Jung-young, Kim Gun-woo
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Comedy, K-drama (16 Episodes)