Shadow Detective, the latest K-drama to come to Disney+, opens in surprisingly comedic form for a dark thriller. Veteran detective Kim Taek-rok (played by Juvenile Justice’s Lee Sung-min) is chasing a criminal he’s been going up against for years, through a port area of the town Geumo. With both hitting middle age, it’s far from the high-speed adrenaline rush you’d find in a typical battle between cop and culprit, though. Instead, it’s marked by comical huffing and puffing, and pacts to let each other pause and catch their breath.
The laughs don’t last long, however, and this wheezing pace is quickly forgotten. The series, directed by Han Dong-hwa (Navillera, Squad 38), almost instantly launches into an intriguing web of blackmail, murder and corruption, inviting viewers to put their own detective skills to the test as the story unfolds.
After years on the force, Taek-rok is getting ready for retirement, vowing to himself that, once he’s hung up his badge, he’ll never make himself run again. He can see the light at the end of the tunnel of work when we first meet him, but that quickly gets extinguished when he reconnects with his old partner Woo Hyung-seok (Navillera’s Kim Tae-hoon). Convinced he knows the whereabouts and activities of a drug dealer called Mr Cheon, Taek-rok tries to get his friend to let him in on the criminal’s deeds.
As he gets closer to the truth, though, he begins to receive phone calls from a mysterious person who identifies himself only as “Friend”. After meeting Hyung-seok, this unknown caller lures Taek-rok out to Geumo Mountain in the middle of the night, threatening to kill Hyung-seok if he doesn’t go. But when the detective goes to save his colleague, he ends up being framed for his murder. The only way to clear his name – and get tough new Superintendent Kuk Jin-han (The Witch Pt. 2’s Jin Goo) on his side – is to reinvestigate the old cases that “Friend” demands he reopen.
Throughout the first two episodes, Lee puts in a fantastic performance, whether portraying a man going through the motions in the show’s early moments or, as it progresses, driven and determined to defeat whoever is framing him. His character is doused in bitterness and compassion in equal measure, and he brings both sides of Taek-rok to life vividly. Jin, meanwhile, is also brilliant as doubts and mistrust begin to creep into his character’s faith in the evidence before him.
Shadow Detective is a gripping and addictive watch that, even just two episodes in, has you constantly on your toes. As layers get peeled away to reveal fresh clues – and potential red herrings – it reels you in until Taek-rok’s predicament feels like something you, too, need to solve.
Shadow Detective is streaming now on Disney+