While watching John Wick 4 recently, I found myself getting restless very quickly. Yes, I admired the stunts and their choreography. However, I also admit that the movie is quite tedious, and there were many moments where I simply succumbed to ennui despite all the impressively shot action scenes. The problem with John Wick 4 is that after a while, you can feel the filmmakers merely trying to top their own showmanship. They might as just well be screaming, "Look at us! Can you create sequences like these!" What's worse is that many directors get "inspired" by stuff like John Wick and replicate the stunts in their own action movies. Well, they only end up shooting a highlight reel for their leading hero/lady. I don't remember the plot of any Fast and Furious or John Wick films. Only some fight scenes remain in my mind. Some people would say I should enjoy these movies for only their action scenes. Well, at least give me a little more substance than showmanship!
What all this really means is that I initially didn't expect much from Bloodhounds, the new Netflix series written and directed by Kim Joo-hwan. I thought this was going to be yet another mindless, action-packed entertainment. Thankfully, I was proved wrong within the first few minutes of the series. Don't get me wrong, Bloodhounds is packed with blood and violence. Bones break, and bodies are sliced with knives. But the series doesn't just hit us with gore after gore. It makes these sequences thrilling by making us root for the good guys and letting us hate all the bad ones. So when we do arrive at a fight scene, we excitedly lean forward and scream with joy whenever a goon receives a kick. Every punch that lands on the villains' faces leaves you elated. Unlike the John Wick movies, Bloodhounds isn't interested in "blowing our minds" through insane set pieces. It exudes exhilaration by doing something as basic as drawing a boundary and making us take sides. After that, we basically become cheerleaders, dancing for and supporting our favorite team.
Generally, in a production like this, the main characters punch their way through obstacles until they reach the main evil bosses. The minions, the small thugs, are just dispatched to be beaten up by the heroes. They are treated as nameless creatures who never ever come up again. This is why I was surprised when I saw those nameless creatures in a hospital with IV bags. Bloodhounds seems to be saying, "Even these small criminals tend to their wounds after getting their asses kicked. They don't simply disappear from the screen." And it's not just these hoodlums; even other characters - both big and small and good and bad - are displayed as people with vulnerabilities. They are mortals who tell their bosses they need to treat their injury before they can (again) fight. Kim Gun-woo (Woo Do-hwan), a boxer, freaks out a bit after noticing scars on his chest. This sense of danger, the feeling that anyone can die at any moment, imbues the action with tension and gravity. You are not always sure that the good guys would indeed come out of a brawl alive because even the small-time gangsters manage to inflict serious injuries.
Another noteworthy thing about Bloodhounds is the development of camaraderie. The scene where Gun-woo and Hong Woo-jin (Lee Sang-yi) eat together at a restaurant for the first time is delightful because their conversation feels real and refreshing. You instantly believe these two boys can be BFFs for life. Their chemistry is infectious, which is why it's understandable why a new member like Kim Hyeon-ju (Kim Sae-ron) would grow fond of them so quickly. The frames discharge feelings of warmth when the good characters interact with each other, like when they drink at President Choi's (Heo Jun-ho) residence. On the other hand, when the camera focuses on Kim Myeong-gil (Park Sung-woong) and his team, you feel a little uneasy. Sung-woong's smile is more than enough to fill the atmosphere with menace. All the actors are in excellent form, and they inject their characters with distinct personalities. As a result, everyone looks different and is only united by the fact that they are fighters. One other aspect that remains common is their appetite. It's unusual to see characters talk about food so passionately in a show like this. They cook, they eat, and they praise one another for their cooking skills.
Bloodhounds also skillfully inserts COVID into its story. Since the faces are covered with masks, it becomes difficult to recognize people instantly. You can go around showing someone's photo and asking the shopkeepers if they have seen a particular man in their area. But not all workers are able to provide help because of the covered faces. I liked that scene where a man recognizes someone through his cap.
Bloodhounds is so good and gets so many things right that it made me more greedy, as I wanted it to be a little bit more smashing. For starters, I would have loved it if the series had wholly embraced the mortality aspect. I wish one or two characters had died after being stabbed or sliced. It would have further elevated the stakes and made the characters more vulnerable and the audience more apprehensive. But my gripes didn't significantly prevent me from having fun while watching this series. Bloodhounds knows how to amplify emotions and give the audience an adrenaline rush. The scene where Gun-woo runs towards his mother's restaurant and then beats up the thugs harassing her is rip-roaring. Put simply, if "edge-of-the-seat" wasn't a word, it would have to be coined for this series.
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