It’s a common plot device for k-drama lovers to be conflicted between filial duty and romantic love, especially when one of the lovers is somehow complicit in crimes against the other lover’s family. Being complicit does not necessarily mean committing a crime or even knowing about it. Just being related to the criminal can result in an overwhelming burden of guilt and shame that it makes a relationship impossible. In South Korea’s past, being related to a criminal might have meant a death sentence.
In “Come and Hug Me,” detective Chae Do Jin played by Jang Ki Yong, is the son of a serial killer, who murdered the parents of Han Jae Yi, played by Jin Ki Joo. The young lovers were separated by the brutal murder, only to reconnect a decade later when Han Jae Yi’s life is again threatened.
In one scene, when Chae Do Jin is at the police academy, the other cadets whisper about his father. How could the son of a serial killer want to be a policeman? Has he no shame? Chae rightly points out that Korea no longer has collective punishment. This form of punishment judges and sentences people for their association with or relation to a person accused of a crime. During the Choson Dynasty, if one person received a death sentence, so might generations of his family members. It was a very effective punishment as it eliminated those who supported the criminal, often a dissident or a political enemy, and removed those likely to avenge him. It’s also the most heartbreaking of punishments, knowing that none of your family will survive you. The punishment still exists in North Korea, numbering among the nation’s many human rights abuses. Centuries have passed since it was practiced in South Korea.
Still, the story of Chae Do Jin proves that, while the law now punishes only the criminal, it’s possible to be condemned by the sins of your father.
In “Come and Hug Me,” no matter how hard Chae Do Jin tries to serve and protect people, there are some who would judge him by the actions of his insane father and want him punished for his father’s crimes. If anything, Chae is trying, by his choice of profession and acts of self sacrifice, to atone for his father’s sins. Chae is as much a victim of the killer, played by Heo Jun Ho, as any of his other victims. While he survived one of his father’s murderous rages, his life is scarred by his father’s reputation. His chance at a new start ends when his imprisoned father publishes a book detailing the crimes.
While there are some puzzling leaps of logic in this drama’s story, the action moves along nicely because of the compelling performance of lead actor Jang Ki Yong, definitely one of k-drama’s rising male stars. Jang played an alternate suitor to time-traveling Jang Na Ra in “Go Back Couple” and then aced the rather difficult role of brutal loan shark Lee Gwang Il in “My Mister,” a character whose life forced him to sublimate all sense of decency. He portrays Chae Do Jin as a similarly complex character. Chae has learned to be tough and competent, in a comic book way, but underneath, he often cries and feels guilty for what his father has done.
Can Chae Do Jin ever break free of the life sentence his father condemned him to? Here’s hoping for a k-drama ending where he’s judged on his own merit and no longer feels guilty by association.
Photo courtesy MBC