Fisticuffs and Fraud Make for an Entertaining Watch
Bloodhounds review by Matt Owen
Based on the web comic by Jeong Kim, Bloodhounds is a South Korean crime thriller with a boxing twist. This Netflix-distributed adaptation was written and directed by Jason Kim, and mixes martial arts action with the seedy world of loan scams. Set in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it cleverly balances topical themes with hard-hitting action, but is it enough to hold audience interest across an entire season of television? In short, Bloodhounds absolutely brings the excitement when required, and despite some bumpy pacing and middling sub-plots, is an entertaining watch featuring high-octane fights.
Bloodhounds takes place in South Korea circa 2020, with the global pandemic leading to business closure and a crumbling economy. As citizens struggle to pay the bills, a group of criminal money-lenders looks to capitalize on the weak and poor. Enter Kim Gun-woo (played by Woo Do-hwan), a humble boxing rookie and former Marine with a mean left hook. When Gun-woo's mother is swindled by the corrupt loan shark Kim Myeong-gil (played by Park Sung-woong) and racks up an exorbitant debt to save her failing business, Gun-woo must find a way to pay off the massive sum.
Luckily, Gun-woo gets some much-needed help from a former boxing opponent, the confident and energetic Hong Woo-jin (played by Lee Sang-yi). Thanks to Woo-jin's connections, the duo begin working as bodyguards for Cha Hyun-joo (played by Kim Sae-ron), the daughter of an altruistic and extremely wealthy retiree. As fate would have it, their new job provides a perfect avenue for justice, as Cha Hyun-joo spends her days attempting to expose the rising rate of loan scams. Together with Hyun-joo, Gun-woo and Woo-jin aim to dismantle Myeong-gil's operation and settle the score once and for all.
Although Bloodhounds feels like an underdog story at heart, the driving plot is entrenched in complex schemes of debt collection and financial fraud, which can be tough to parse at first. It's easy to get invested in the story, thanks to the blossoming friendship of Gun-woo, Woo-jin, and Hyun-joo, but the plot often suffers from exposition dumps and drawn-out dialogue scenes. Whether by design of the story or due to limitations caused by the pandemic during filming, Bloodhounds often defaults to four or five people talking in a room about an important story beat, rather than simply showing us. Speaking of the pandemic, Bloodhounds makes a point of including COVID-19 as a narrative device, but it doesn't stop there. There are some occasional attempts at social commentary, mostly aimed at how the poor get poorer while the rich fatten their pockets, but it feels ancillary to the main plot. To that point, Bloodhounds never feels too preachy, but its commentary on the pandemic feels half-baked.
Luckily, when it's time to get the adrenaline pumping, Bloodhounds always delivers with high-quality fight scenes. Whether showcasing a one-on-one boxing match or an all-out gang brawl, Bloodhounds has some stellar fights that are shot well and choreographed even better. You won't find any cheap jump cuts here; Bloodhounds properly conveys the weight and intensity of martial arts, with fighters throwing several combinations before the camera shifts focus. There are a few extended fights in particular that are truly thrilling to watch, offering more realistic and entertaining combat than most other mainstream shows. Additionally, Bloodhounds isn't afraid to get gritty with its violence, with several squirm-worthy moments that do a great job of increasing tension.
Truth be told, Bloodhounds is mostly carried by the fantastic performances of Woo Do-Hwan and Lee Sang-yi, excelling in both dialogue and fight scenes with equal measure. Do-Hwan's quiet and reserved demeanour is perfectly counterbalanced by Sang-yi's eccentricity, creating an endearing pair that audiences will assuredly root for. Kim Sae-ron also adds some feisty flair to the group, while Park Sung-woong successfully portrays a truly slimy villain as Kim Myeong-gil. While the supporting cast has a tendency for melodrama and is mostly forgettable, Huh Joon-ho stands out as Choi Tae-ho, serving as a sort of guardian angel for our protagonists. Episode after episode, Huh Joon-ho steals most of the scenes he appears in, with emotional line delivery and some impressive physicality to boot.
Overall, Bloodhounds stumbles from time to time, mostly due to a meandering script, but it offers enough excitement and charm to warrant a viewing. Plus, the noteworthy performances from the cast add a surprising amount of emotional weight to the story, picking up the slack of the script. Despite its flaws, Bloodhounds tells a satisfying contemporary tale of crime with relatable and interesting characters, punctuated by thrilling fight scenes with remarkable choreography. If you're in the mood for a show with substantial action and intrigue, Bloodhounds will hold your attention and keep your heart pumping, sometimes to a higher degree than most modern crime dramas.
Published on November 6th, 2023. Written by Matt Owen for Television Heaven.