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Stranger (Season 1)–Let the sleuthing begin

Stranger is a Korean crime thriller in two seasons (2017-2020) and  was included  on the New York Times 2017 list of Best TV Shows. 

Prosecutor Hwang Si-mok (Cho Seung-woo) underwent surgery as a child removing part of his cerebral cortex so that he would not suffer from the excruciating pain of hearing high-frequency sounds.  However, the postoperative result was an extreme absence of empathy, a lack of social skills similar to autism spectrum disorder and its associated lack of communication, difficulty in expressing emotion through facial expressions, and lack of attention to others’ feelings and behavior.  

While investigating a murder, he meets Police Lieutenant Han Yeo-jin (Bae Doona), who gradually learns of his condition as they plumb the depths of corruption in government in collusion with one of the most powerful corporate conglomerates,  Hanjo Corporation. 

In the opening scene an underworld power-broker is murdered and the corporate and government officials who benefited from his bribery and introduction to underage girls hired for sex are on high alert.  But the cool  and aloof Prosecutor Hwang  and his equal, police Lieutenant Han, soon remind us  of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, or Special Investigator  Neimans and Lieutenant Delauney from “Crimson Rivers”.  (see my May 14, 2023 review).  Lieutenant  Han, in a clever plot device, has a penchant for sketching: simple portraits of suspects and  a touching means of communicating with the stoic  Prosecutor Hwang.  

Expertly crafted and multi-layered, Stranger requires heightened attention to detail for every character who may be duplicitous and unreliable, and for every piece of evidence which may be planted to frame an innocent suspect.  Much like an artichoke, each petal is part of the process to reveal and consume the heart or core of the mystery.  This forces the viewer  to wonder what is going on, not only with the persons of interest, but in the minds of Investigator Hwang and Lieutenant Han.

Tightly written, convoluted plot, gripping sequences and strong performances makes Stranger a difficult puzzle to follow with a coiled unpredictability.    Nothing is overwrought or half-baked.  The story has so many plot twists and turns that even the most experienced connoisseur of this genre  will have difficulty following all the leads.  I had to pause, rewind, and figure out who seems trustworthy and who is lying.   It centers around what seems to be, not what is.  The Korean cultural setting often leaves some of the captions lacking information assumed by a Korean audience.  Nonetheless, there is a richness to the structure of the multiple serial killings, the abundance of red herrings  and the desperation of the murderers to make Stranger completely addicting!

Availability:  Netflix.  There is also season two available and season three in production.

Note: The subtitles run at a fast pace requiring frequent stops and rewinds.  A small price to pay for this intricate and entertaining import. 

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