When I originally wrote this post, I had at least 14k in words and what I felt was a very thorough review. But as sometimes happens, Chrome got browser hacked and I had to shut it all down and lost the whole thing.
This review is not as good, not even remotely close. Sadly, I won’t be able to recreate my long lost review, which is a shame. Anyway, here goes. Upon completing this review, I’m inclined to disagree with myself, this review might actually more coherent than the original!
Note: Spoilers for all 12 episodes of Liar Game The Liar Game
I’m reviewing is a live action Korea remake/adaptation of a Japanese manga, anime and live action Japanese show. I have not watched or read the source material, nor am I interested in the source material. Why? Because I really, really love the Korean version.
The drama itself is about a game show called Liar Game, MC’d by Kang Do Young (played by Shin Sung Rok). Throughout the course of the show, we learn that he is the money behind the show, in addition to the whole thing being his idea (it’s interesting, he seems to believe, which comes to be his tagline).
The series begins with our main character/heroine, Nam Da Jung (played by Kim So Eun), getting entwined in the show. Her father has lots of debts and Da Jung wants to see him again and is trying to pay those debts off. Though she is reluctant, she agrees to join the show. But because she’s a very trusting and naive, in many ways, young woman, she obviously cannot win the show. One of the men hired by the loan sharks who her father owes money, Jo Dal Goo (played by Jo Jae Yoon), has become rather fond of her (in a big brother sort of way) and convinces her that he knows someone who can help her win.
Enter the third player of our three (Do Young and Da Jung being the other two). Dal Goo’s old prison buddy is finally leaving prison and is the perfect person to help Da Jung win. Professor Ha Woo Jin (played by Lee Sang Yoon) was in prison for a giant con that caused a lot of people to lose their money (including, we find out later, Da Jung’s father). He’s also a former psychology professor and, more importantly, a human lie detector. He’s trained to be able to read people’s microexpressions and therefore knows when they’re lying. Though Woo Jin is initially extremely reluctant to help Da Jung, he sees something in her that makes him reconsider. We find out later that he sees his mother in her (she, too, was far too trusting and it ultimately led to her death), though Da Jung is not like his mother.
The game show Liar Game is made up of different contestants from all walks of life. Most, if not all, have financial problems which led them to accept the temptation of winning lots of money by trying to win Liar Game. What none of them know, including our hero (Woo Jin) and our heroine (Da Jung) is that the game is merely a means to an end for our MC, Do Young. There are plenty of side characters aside from Dal Goo. We have Jaime (or Jamie, depending on what subtitles you use) who masquerades as someone else at the beginning of the show. We also have a hacker (and, predictably, my favorite character) Sung Joon (who has a very troublesome brush with death).
Along with the PD of the show, as well as the producer, there are plenty of minor characters who have small, but significant roles in the show. Each episode gives us at least part of a game on the game show itself and the episodes lead into each other in such a way that watching all 12 episodes in a marathon would not be a bad idea (though I watched them as they aired, which wasn’t bad either). Toward the end of the show, the focus of the game show itself changes. It shifts from who will win to how will Da Jung win. Although some of the other characters want to win, there comes a point in the last couple of episodes where it is clear to everyone (not just the audience) that Da Jung must win.
If the first turning point of the show was Woo Jin becoming a full contestant, the real turning point was MC Do Young becoming a contestant himself. While the producer and PD are not pleased, this gives the show the push they need to turn it into something more than just a show about a TV show where people lie. We learn, little by little, that Do Young has other ideas.
Of course, he’s not in it for the money, but nor is he (as he insists) in it just because it’s interesting. Instead, he seems to be in the game to win — but in reality it’s to best Woo Jin. We find out that Woo Jin’s mother ran and orphanage and that both Do Young and Da Jung lived there for a time. Da Jung’s father came back to take her home with him, but Do Young was “adopted” by a family in the United States. Unfortunately for Do Young, there was no family waiting for him. Instead, he grew up in a experimental community practicing behavioral therapy on children. The place is seemingly based on Walden Two, the utopia from BF Skinner’s novel of the same name (which I have read, because of the show — it’s a very interesting and good book).
This sets up Do Young as Woo Jin’s foil. Where Woo Jin can read people’s microexpressions, Do Young can control his. They become pitted against each other, which chances the face of the game show, as well as the drama itself. Do Young stops being an impartial observer (though was he ever?) and becomes a shit-stirrer and works very hard to get Woo Jin to react the way he wants. It works, to a point. Of course, not everything is as it seems and the glue that holds the characters together (though not the show) is Da Jung. It is her honesty and trustworthiness that brings people together. While it also hampered her on the game show, even after Woo Jin agreed to help her, it turns into an asset.
While Jamie is the character with the most character development, Da Jung also grows as a person. She is no longer the naive young woman we met in the first episode, but she’s also not as jaded as one would expect. And thus she turns out to be key in the progress of the game and everyone’s attempts to thwart Do Young. And it is Da Jung that the two men, Woo Jin and Do Young, seem to be invested in, though for different reasons. Da Jung is a part of both men’s pasts; she had what Do Young wanted (a parent who wanted him) and she is, in a way, the vehicle for Woo Jin to forgive himself for his mom’s death.There are other things at play, of course, but much of that is far too complicated for me to go into (but makes sense on the show).
The final episode brings everything to a close, while leaving open the need for a second season (please, tvN, PLEASE). The final game brings Woo Jin, Da Jung and Do Young together. They, in a way, relive a scene we’ve seen flashes of throughout the show, the three of them, together. Unlike the flashback, it is only the final game that gives some resolution. I will not spoil the end, except to say that is extremely rewarding to watch. And while some people were unhappy with the very end of the show, I was not. It was open ended, but should tvN decide to grace us with a second season, I will be happy. Should they not? Well, isn’t that what fanfic is for?