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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Time Between Dog & Wolf (Korean TV Drama Series)

 

(Kim Jin Min, 2007)

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: MBC Television, Korea

DVD: YA-Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: 1

Runtime: 980 min

Episodes: 16

Case: 2 x gatefold cases in sturdy slipcover

Release date: May 31, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 480p

Video codec:

 

Audio:

Korean Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

English

 

Extras:

• Behind the Scenes (63 min.)

• Press Conference (17 min.)

 

 

The Film: 8
Instead of a show built around food, twins separated at birth, or the Joseon Dynasty, Time Between Dog and Wolf is a contemporary crime drama about an police undercover operation that goes deadly awry. It still has some familiar Korean-style elements: a love triangle, amnesia, and childhood friends who reconnect as adults, but the substance of the story and the action shared between Korea and Thailand have a newish feel. Moreover, the performance of its lead actor, Lee Jung Ki, is riveting, and the main reason for checking this out.

We meet Lee Soo Hyun as a boy in Thailand where he befriends Ji Woo. Ji Woo's mother feels increasingly estranged by her husband’s career: gangster in the notorious Jung Triad organization. They live well, but Mao isn't home much. She finally decides to leave her husband with the help of Seo Yung Gil, a tentative associate of the triads, who wants to relocate in Korea and go straight.

Soo Hyun’s mother is a D.A. attempting to nail the local triad. But before she can make good on her efforts she is gunned down in front of her son. The tattoo on the assassin’s wrist is seared into the boy’s mind. Gang Jung Ho, a Korean intelligence officer in the wings, adopts Soo Hyun into his family. Gang's son, Min Gi, is about the same age as Soo Hyun and they become fast friends. The newcomer excels in all things, leaving poor Min Gi feeling more than a little left out, even by his own father.

 

 


The boys decide to follow in their parents’ footsteps and join the Korean NIS (National Intelligence Service), through which Soo Hyun hopes to wreak his vengeance on the man who murdered his mother. Before long, several things come together almost at once: Ji Woo and Soo Hyun reconnect; Min Gi falls in love with her causing an uncomfortable triangle for all concerned; and Soo Hyun comes upon the man with the tattoo and goes beserk in a failed attempt to kill him. The NIS invites Soo Hyun to go into deep cover with the triads, first faking his own death and burning the bridges to his past identity.

When he suffers a serious accident that causes total amnesia, Soo Hyun loses touch with his contact at NIS and naturally and believably assumes the identity of his NIS cover. He soon becomes the number two man in the triad, second only to tattoo man, while back home, friends and associates continue to believe him dead. It is from this point forward that Lee Jung Ki really finds his groove, searching for his identity as a wolf might search for food. As Soo Hyung's past catches up with him, his psyche practically disintegrates before our eyes.

Oh, did I mention that tattoo man and Mao are one and the same person!

Not to diminish the efforts of the other fine actors in this series, but Time Between Dog & Wolf is really Lee Jun Ki’s circus. Jun Ki is a most unusual looking man - reminds me of Richard Chamberlain about the time of The Thorn Birds. The title fits his look perfectly, both literally and metaphorically. He was the gender-bending Gong Gil in The King and the Clown and his feminine beauty is eye-catching here as well. Once he gets his laugh under control, Lee Jung Ki will be a force to be reckoned with.

Except for how the writers devolve Ji-Woo (Nam Sang Mi) into obligatory nonsense in the final episodes, the characters are well considered and fleshed out. The goofy sidesick angle, so prevalent in Korean TV dramas, is downplayed here: Park Hyo Jun as Kay's buddy Ah Hwa is a sympathetic character, seeing how Kay (that's Soo Hyun's cover identity) uses and protects him by turns.

I always feel a little sorry for the "other guy" in these shows. They have to emote like crazy and get practically nowhere doing it. Few do this with such credible and creditable passion as Jung Kyung Ho as Gang Min Gi. My personal prejudices are engaged whenever the woman is expected to indulge the suit of a man in love only because he is so intensely passionate about it, and the business between Min Gi and Ji Woo is no exception. (In my country, we call these guys "stalkers".) For a change, Ji Woo's response to Min Gi, moderated by her belief that Soo Hyun is alive – a belief that the filmmakers manage to torment her with good and proper – is a little less unflattering to women at large. What does make their relationship interesting is that Min Gi finds himself in the position of having to investigate the triad, and Kay in particular, without realizing that it is his own brother. It's a bit of a stretch – but handled semi-believably. In any case, the duality of his problem sweeps us along.

There are a number of important and well-acted supporting characters, but I shall single out only two others for now: Kim Gab Soo as NIS Director Jung Hak Soo has the perfect degree of detached concern for his agents, their fates and the operations that are expected to protect his country from evildoers. Finally, a special merit badge for Choi Ji Ho as Mao. Mao is a smart and ruthless adversary. In his early career he murdered both of Soo Hyun's parents and caused the breakup of his own family. Part of his affection for Kay derives from the loss of his daughter, Ji Woo. It is his own history, even more than any manipulations on Kay's part, that causes him to see Kay as a son. Choi Ji Ho elicits our sympathy because he plays his character as a tragic figure. Instead of becoming crazier, as does Jack Nicholson's Costello in The Departed, Mao becomes wearier. He chose his career, not so much out of greed or ambition, but because it seemed to him a more viable option than living on the streets. Mao is as tragic in his way as Soo Hyun is in his; and it is their relationship, more so than the love triangle, that makes this drama so fascinating.

Speaking from a Western perspective, which I am loosely confident in feeling representative, this series would have been absolutely awesome if not for a few pesky nods to the targeted Korean television audience – an audience, if you were to read to blogs, seem to care only about how cute this or that actor or actress is and how their characters match up with each other. There is a tendency in Time Between Dog & Wolf – less so here than in many Korean TV dramas - to manufacture situations merely so that characters can emote to their fullest: the most egregious instance being the murder of a top NIS agent where blame falls on Soo Hyun only because it never occurs to anyone to follow the blood trail. Later, Ji Woo insults the intelligence of women everywhere by insinuating herself into dangerous NIS operations because “he needs me” - and variations on that tune. And the ending - OMG - completely shatters the effect of the kharmic John Woo-like climax minutes before. I wouldn’t say these “defects” entirely spoil our enjoyment of the show, but it does try our patience in the final few episodes and ruin what chance it may have had for classic status.

 


 

Image: 9/7
The score of 9 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other standard definition DVDs on a 10-point scale. The second score represents a value for the image on a 10-point scale that accommodates both standard and high-definition video discs – where, since the large majority of high definition video discs are 8-10m any score above 7 for an DVD is outstanding.

Time Between Dog and Wolf is YAE's best-looking offering to date. It is their most artifact-free image, beating out all previous entries largely due to its having no edge enhancement to speak of (rare on DVDs of any origin), bit rates of about 20% higher (i.e.
closer to 6 Mbps than 5), and its being progressive and without evidence of combing. Up until now, all YAE DVDs that I’ve seen have been non-progressive. Color is saturated with natural flesh tones in the right light. Sharpness and resolution is very good, and contrast is in better control. There are fewer instances of totally blown out highs. Apparently more care has been taken to properly fill in backlit scenes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music:

7/8
I remember noting in my review of Inside the White Tower of a clear-as-can-be audio track marred by an arrhythmic appearance of low frequency rumble. There was a difference but equally puzzling low frequency sound at various points in the series. It seemed that the intent was to underscore an extended moment of suspense, but I’m guessing that the engineers did not have a sufficiently good resolution audio system to hear that the effect they created was counter-productive.

Except for the low-frequency anomaly (which may only have subverted some 15 minutes from a total of about 980 minutes), the dialogue, effects, and music is all front-directed stereo. I found the Western and Korean music smartly used, and far less cued than is the case on typical Korean TV series. I felt the background music played by unseen pianists and chamber ensembles at various restaurants and cafes to be subtly affected.

 

Operations: 8/8
The names of the stars appear in English over the episode's credits, as they have been doing more regularly in recent YAE series. The menu is uncomplicated, in English, with animated thumbnails for each of the four chapters per episode. YAE offers a fairly straightforward box design this time out: a sturdy, compact outer sleeve with an open end for two equally sturdy gatefold cases
holding 3 discs each. Each case holds three discs (Episodes 1-9 & Episodes 10-16 + the Bonus Features.)

 

 


Translation & Subtitles : 9/9
YAE’s translations have gotten more idiomatic with time. I don’t think there were more than a couple of spelling mistakes, and only one repeated misuse of the colloquial “guys” (as in “that NIS guy”) that burst the magic bubble. And I don't think it was meant to be funny – in this most humorless of dramas that the name of the front organization for the Jung Triad in Korea is "BS Enterprises." The white font is outlined in white and is not so large as to get in the way of the action.

 

Extras: 7
The final disc offers two bonus features: the longer and far more interesting is the “Behind the Scenes” documentary, divided into six segments: [a] Filming in Thailand (27 min.); Filming at the resort (8 min.); Garra Rafa (about the little doctor fish that Soo Hyun plays with (4 min.); staging the fight scenes (15 min.) and the car chase (3 min.). These are considerably more revealing than the mid-season press conference that concludes the bonus features (17min.) In the documentary the director, Kim Jin Min, talks about how he came to the series and the special challenges he felt he faced. Ditto this with the main stars, who are, like other Korean
actors, so self-effacing you wonder how they manage to get into another character – but its just a cultural thing, and the discrepancy is entertaining.

 

 

 

Bottom line: 8
When I give the series as high a rating and recommendation, as I do, you should take it that the good parts are really, really good: Insightful and, at times, sublime. As an action series, there is never a dull moment. Lee Jun Ki’s performance as a man torn beyond the breaking point as the truth of who he is comes crashing in on him is intense to the point that it’s hard to watch, yet we can’t take our eyes off him.

Leonard Norwitz
July 4th, 2009

 

 

 

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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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