Based on the webcomic Sanyanggaedeul by Jung Chan, Netflix’s Bloodhounds takes us back to the dark days of 2020, during the height of COVID lockdowns. Set in Seoul, this K-drama follows two young amateur boxers, Gun-woo (Woo Do-hwan) and Woo-jin (Lee Sang-yi), who first meet in the ring when they square off in the finals of a national tournament. Their fighting styles instantly tell us all we need to know about them. Gun-Woo is disciplined and fundamentally-sound, an extension of his sincere and principled nature. Meanwhile, Woo-Jin is flashy and unorthodox, an expression of his brash and outgoing personality.
After pummeling one another, the mismatched pair form a fast friendship, based on their mutual respect for each other’s skills and their shared history in the Marines during military service. As heartwarming as this developing bromance is, things take a turn when predatory moneylenders scam Gun-woo’s poor mom into crippling debt. As part of their feast on struggling individuals and small businesses during the pandemic, these nasty loan sharks, called Smile Capital, thrash Gun-woo’s mom’s cafe and assault her when they try to collect. Although her pugilist son does well to defend her, he is overwhelmed by the gang’s numbers and is badly beaten.
Woo-jin, an ex-runner in the private loan industry, attempts to help his friend by introducing him to President Choi (Huh Joon-ho) – a philanthropic, paraplegic billionaire who assuages the guilt of being a former shylock tycoon by giving out interest-free loans to the less fortunate. Not only does Choi pay off Gun-woo’s debt, he hires the prize-fighter pals to bodyguard his adopted granddaughter Hyeon-ju (Kim Sae-ron) – who comes across as the Korean version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – a motorcycle-riding, taser-wielding, vigilante investigator.
Coincidentally, Hyeon-ju has been busy digging up dirt on Smile Capital’s nefarious activities, which puts her in considerable danger. Unbeknownst to our heroes, Smile Capital is led by Choi’s former protege, Kim Myeong-gil (Park Sung-woong), a shrewd con artist who has built up an illegal empire financed not just by targeting innocent citizens, but through blackmailing and intimidating chaebols, and ripping off other loan sharks. Backed by a monstrous bruiser, a former policeman turned legal strategist, and a seemingly unlimited number of henchmen – Smile Capital proves to be a formidable entity that can’t easily be knocked out.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that Bloodhounds’ greatest strength is the series’ expertly staged action. From thrilling fisticuffs, to bloody knife fights, to massive brawls, to tense car chases – director Jason Kim and stunt choreographer Park Young-sik have punctuated the show with an abundance of memorable set-pieces. Like a mix between Oldboy and Netflix’s own Daredevil, the action is grounded, gritty and careful not to portray our protagonists as superhuman. Yes, they are better trained and more skilled than the average gangster, but when outnumbered, they absorb as much damage as they’re able to inflict. Every fight feels like a visceral and realistic struggle, where our heroes are forced to use actual boxing techniques like footwork, slipping, bobbing and weaving to barely scrape by a larger force.
Unfortunately, in terms of story, there’s barely enough meat on the bones for Bloodhounds to chew through in this eight-hour series. In fact, this K-drama might have been better served as a more compact two-hour film. The plot is as straightforward as they come, with “twists” that viewers will sniff out well ahead of the eventual reveals. The ensemble cast does a fairly good job with what they’re given, though admittedly, not much is required of them dramatically. Nevertheless, Bloodhounds isn’t the kind of show one goes into for emotional resonance or social commentary – it’s simply an exciting action-thriller with more than enough well-crafted sequences to keep audiences sitting through its predictable plot.
Bloodhounds is available to stream exclusively on Netflix on June 9