Hyena: Final Thoughts

I just finished Hyena. Man – it’s hard to write on this and this draft has been sitting and changed around so much. It’s hard to describe this warm feeling.

Episodes 1 – 4 were an exhilarating ride – storyline zipped as fast as lightning and everyone’s jaw dropped at the outrageous cheekiness in display – how dare a Korean drama do this, how dare…! It’s pure infatuation. I admit that my initial excitement died afterwards, as the story morphed into something more subdued, heartfelt, a little slower – the hilarious naughtiness toned down a little, although it definitely is still there. But how satisfying is the story – after the infatuation waned, it’s slowly being replaced by this warm feeling and the fondness for all the characters. Isn’t that more important?

I moved around a bit when I was in school. Although I do have a few circle of friends I feel at home with – they’re mapped as childhood friends, high school friends, uni friends. There’s no single group of friends I’ve been sticking with since childhood – so I can only imagine the closeness of these Hyenas, who most probably have seen each other buck naked in kindies, stayed buddies in uni and in the army, practically grew up together, observed each other through different stages of life, knowing the good and bad through and through. And even two of them work together (later three), these three lived together – and the other lived in the same apartment block, just a few doors away. A deep bond that a mere three – four years of friendship cannot beat. I can only look through the honest portrayal in the show, and its unique man point-of-view, how these individually flawed people support, protect, scold, back each other up, fool around and have a chat – mundane things that close friends do.

Flaws. I usually love my dramas when the characters are real people with flaws – and it’s great and daring how these flaws were presented to us crystal clear since day one (except perhaps for Seok-jin) – if not for the immense likability of each member of the cast and the clever writing this might be pretty dangerous – I remember how I was really annoyed with Chul-soo, and if Jin-beom is played by a non Oh Man-seok he’d most probably will annoy me too – even though dude is hilarious.

Where should I begin with Chul-soo? It sucks being incompetent, it sucks to screw things up constantly until one finally resigns and accepts the fact that he’s never gonna be any good at anything. And then all he’s left to do is sit down and whine – It’s concerning and hard to see the good in him if that’s what he ever did (in earlier episodes anyway). It’s like this loser attitude has been ingrained in him, just like a bad habit. From his pursuit for that one last night of mindless carnal pleasure the night before his wedding (which of course ended up in disaster. Heh. Serves you right) – he’s fully remorseful.

And he has changed for the better since, although he did continue to whine. With tough love from new friend Jung-eun and his friends – firstly he realised that he’s taken So-mi for granted in their ten-year relationship. Although he failed to win her back, he finally goes forward in life with a rare career chance and starts a genuine and warm friendship with Jung-eun. He learns how to believe in himself, and finally I can see the nice, kind-hearted bloke who actually can be thoughtful and is very loyal to his friends – not the pathetic loser.

Now on to Seok-jin. With his great and friendly personality – the only reason I didn’t like him is because he sent mixed messages to Jung-eun. For the love of God please stop doing that! Until I understand his case, that he too is a mess inside. And of course there’s the filial piety thing, being the good son who needs to marry soon, and being jilted by a lover who chose to avoid scandal to boot. I believe he really does love Jung-eun deeply, and no one is more pained than himself, not even Jung-eun, when he realises that no matter how hard he tries to believe in a lie, doesn’t mean that it will become truth. It didn’t really help that from the rest, Seok-jin is perhaps the most introverted, the cool and calm one – plus he lived and worked separate from the other three, although he has another supportive group of friends of the gay community. I get a little sad when I think of him, he has the most emotional baggage and sure keeps most of it to himself.

I’ve thought about Jin-sang and around the halfpoint, I concluded that what he needs is a romance that doesn’t involve his libido. I’m skeptical that it is even possible – this is Jin-sang we’re talking about. So imagine my delight when the writers agree with me and he’s getting involved with a… highschooler! Hahaha. It started as the usual Jin-sang’s held a fan-meeting with his internet readers. Upon seeing the pretty young thing (university student she said) who’s all gushing and looks up to him, what’s the guy to do but to plot his next conquest. Luckily, upon finding out that she’s a high schooler instead of a university student, he retreated hastily. Jin-sang still has his moral code and wouldn’t touch a minor. Their storyline is surprisingly sweet and I wish they would develop into something longer.

That in the end he meets the female version of himself and embarks on a new adventure, I wish him the best of luck. From the beginning, though, I like Jin-sang a lot – even though he often comes across as a selfish douche who just wants to get laid, he’s also a loyal friend who doesn’t hold grudges and is unexpectedly wise at rare times – and a great support to his friends, with his own quirky ways.

Jin-beom, the case of head versus heart. In contrast to my initial thought he would end up a grumpy old bachelor with unwanted attention from unworthy women who’d never leave him alone, the career-oriented uptight PD actually has the fastest storyline, kick started by Jin-sang’s spiking his juice with Viagra (lol… Still blushing from his antics in Episode 4). His romance with Jo Han-na, a pretty and smart medicinal herb doctor, is whirlwind and physical. What could go wrong, she met all his requirements. She’s got it all: brains and beauty, they have awesome witty conversations, she cares a lot about him, she gets along well with his friends – only one small glitch: his heart is still in doubt while she’s, quoting the words of a Soompier, “always ready to pounce at him”.

Things complicate further as his first love, university sunbae Soo-hyeon, came back as a divorcee and a bar owner. From then on, his doubt grew larger. Even though his head believed Han-na is the suitable one, his heart – and confirmed by, uh… Little Jin-beom, says otherwise. And with Soo-hyeon, look at how much a better person he can be. We know that beneath the prickly exterior he’s a nice guy, but she is really the catalyst for change in him, the one who helps him realise that there are things more important than sophistication, success, and perfection.

Honourable mention to the girls around the Hyenas – although they’re not as strongly written. Clueless Jung-eun, I like. Her devotion and loyalty to Seok-jin is foolishly stubborn but also heartbreaking. Her innocent and ditzy ways might be frustrating at times, but she has a lot of goodness to offset that and I like her the best when she shows an unexpectedly strong side – whenever it’s with Seok-jin, or when she’s giving some tough love to Chul-soo. And I admire her stance when she realises the unwanted love triangle between her, Seok-jin, and Chul-soo. Soo-hyeon’s character I’m actually unsatisfied with. I hope that she has a stronger personality, other than her kindness and gentleness, it’s kind of hard to explain why Jin-beom’s love for her remain so strong for ten years, and my favourite moment is when she is being assertive when Jin-beom started to waver towards her when it’s unfair to Han-na. (I have a perchant towards liking strong women don’t I?)

Female characters with strong personalities in Hyena, I think, are Han-na and (probably) So-mi. Eventhough Han-na came across too strong at times (she is a female Jin-beom after all), she is relatable – who wouldn’t feel threatened by a boyfriend’s wavering towards his first love? – and she never really becomes the classic, hatable evil second lead girl character. I also feel pretty bad for So-mi, and yes, she went a little loony after her wedding incident, when she fully snapped. If I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t go back to Chul-soo too. Mostly I feel sorry for her and even though we don’t have the chance to know her that well, she’s been a supportive girlfriend and staying on Chul-soo in loser-mode for ten years is a really commendable feat. It really is a pity that Chul-soo was so foolish not to treasure her.

It’s quite hard to describe what animal this Hyena is (um, I mean the show), it started so playful and cheeky, but there’s an overall feeling of wonderful melancholy that starts to colour the second half – a tinge of sad undertones that really put lumps on my throat. Hyena, rather unexpectedly, touches on issues that resonate deeply, issues like insecurities, fears, guilt and regret – but also the warm and comfort of love, forgiveness and loyalty. Even so, I still think Hyena is a feel-good series overall. I guess it comes down to the witty, mature, thoughtful, and detailed writing that seamlessly combines naughty comedy and heartfelt drama. But most of all, I find it very frank and I often LOL’d at so many tongue-in-cheek revelations about the two sexes, especially men. Even minor characters whom I thought just came and go eventually came back later to bite the Hyenas in the arse.

Acting-wise, it is simply a delight to watch these charming and likeable ahjussis embodying their characters fully while having loads of fun. From what little I see outside Hyena, Kim Min-jong seems like a really cool guy in real life – the type who attracts giggles and crushes. His whiny everyman Chul-soo is pretty much the uncool-est thing in Hyena. So in the rare times when he allows glimpses of this coolness to show, I’m really taken aback and I can understand a little (maybe) why So-mi is attracted to him. But other than those moments, I am made to believe Chul-soo the everyman, with his slight lack of confidence, his (in-turn) annoying, pitiable, and sympathetic ways, and finally his virtues and his good heart.

Oh Man-seok is friggen hot, let me tell you (again). I’m glad he finally gets to play something that does justice to his hotness, because come on, man is scorching hot – Not that he wasn’t before. And there are already four hots in this one paragraph. His elitist, sometimes pretentious douche, ever-so-prickly and cultured gentleman Jin-beom is played with such humour, with little details like the way he adjusts his glasses or cocks his head a little and the slight grimace before he blurts out something knowledgeable (oh btw this grimace is an Oh Man-seok thing). The stiff and control-freak character doesn’t deter him to really have fun with facial expressions. How hilarious is he when he’s losing control?  OK, enough gushing.

Shin Sung-rok – I think he’s doing a great job. Tall, dapper, yummy, oozing with effortless charm and cool, Seok-jin is such a restrained character -I  like how he’s portrayed with a dash of vulnerability which gets more and more pronounced. And Seok-jin’s relationship with Jung-eun is just unique, he clearly loves her and he madly wishes it could be romantic. But alas. I think Shin Sung-rok does a great job here. Uh. In the end everytime I think of Seok-jin I get this melancholic feeling. Such a sweet guy.

I’ve never heard of So Yi-hyun before, and she plays a cutesy and innocent character – I say she appeals more to me than Lee Da-hae in My Girl no, scratch that. Although her brand of cute is fresh it does get a liitle bit much at times – but nothing really cringeworthy. I think she has a warm and down-to-earth vibe, and beyond the cutesy she puts a lot of heart in Jung-eun. Yoon Da-hoon is such a hoot – naturally funny and clearly having a ball with such a riotous and nutty character, but never cartoonish. Come to think of it Jin-sang has too many vices; he’s shallow, sleazy, childish and annoying at times – but deep down (when no manhood is involved haha) you can see a good guy and Yoon Da-hoon certainly makes Jin-sang very likeable – since no one is going to take his character seriously anyway, why not do it all the way.

Hyena has ended. Quite a bit of understanding is uncovered on men and their desires. The fact that we are not that different from each other in wanting happiness. That their friendship – while lacking heart-to-heart sleepovers, is strong and heartfelt. That classic kdrama problems (such as parental disapproval on a certain divorcee as a prospective daughter-in-law) can be solved pretty easily with creative, quirky solutions. Hehe. And that the human spirit is resilient and has a great capacity to love, forgive, and heal. Sixteen episodes, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to these characters. I’m so glad I’ve found this drama – asking for a rewatch soon?- 9/10


About toopai
part time couch potato, full time movie and drama enthusiast.

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