On the surface, Black Knight ticks all the boxes of a surefire Netflix K-drama hit – phenomenal CGI, A-list casting and intricate worldbuilding – but where it falls flat is uniqueness in an oversaturated market of post-apocalyptic narratives. From HBO’s The Last of Us to the long-running The Walking Dead, there has been no shortage of dystopian dramas over the past years, so much so that some of these stories find themselves blending into one another – and Black Knight is no exception.
Forty years prior to the events of Black Knight, humanity was nearly exterminated by a comet that crashed into Earth. What little of mankind that survived have been forced to live with poisoned air and desolate desert plains, while being segregated into stringent social classes. The upper class live in domed cities with constant access to oxygen and vegetation, while the working class are delegated to concrete houses outside of these cities. The remaining, disparagingly referred to as refugees, are reduced to life in the barren desert, forced to subsist on limited supplies.
Here’s where courier services come in – most of society rely on these deliveries for necessities (especially food and oxygen). Not only are couriers crucial to survival, but each delivery job is also incredibly perilous: delivery vehicles are constantly ambushed by raiders from the desert. Couriers, like our protagonist 5-8 (played by Our Blues’ Kim Woo-bin), are often heralded as local superheroes by the public for laying their lives on the line for the sake of the people. 5-8 is particularly known for single-handedly fighting off assailants on numerous occasions.
A teen refugee named Sa-wol (played by Kang You-seok), who reveres the couriers and is willing to do anything to become one in order to help out fellow desert dwellers, begins accompanying 5-8 on his journeys after crossing paths. Despite the duo’s determination to aid the needy, megacorporation Chunmyung Group – which also acts as a government of sorts for the people of South Korea – has plans to relocate first-class citizens to newer, larger living spaces, but is at a crossroads of how best to execute them. This gives Chunmyung heir Ryu-seok (played by Song Seung-heon) the best opportunity to enforce his bigoted vision for the “perfect society”, driven by a deep-seated hatred for the lower class.
Despite the solid performances from household names like Kim Woo-bin, Son Seung-heon and Esom (as expected from seasoned performers, though not their best work), dull writing cripples Black Knight. There is no novelty to the circumstances and stakes presented in the show, nor does it present anything notable for it to hold its own against others in the genre, such as The Silent Sea (or even the lacklustre Duty After School).
Black Knight is also significantly shorter than your average K-drama (it spans six hour-long episodes), but yet it somehow fumbles pacing as well. The show drags out and lingers too long on inconsequential scenes, which they then try to make up for by cramming major plot points in the final two episodes. It’s all so unsatisfying, to say the least. There is also a missed opportunity for the showrunners to use Black Knight as a warning about the potential repercussions of climate change – instead, it blames it all on the comet.
Even with all of Netflix’s resources, there’s nothing that can save this K-drama from its mediocre, even lazy script. Though, perhaps there is one silver lining: Black Knight has excellent, nail-biting action sequences. The shoot-outs between 5-8 and the raiders are exceptionally choreographed and tightly shot, and Kim Woo-bin’s performances in these moments are impeccable as always – that is, if you can ignore the fact there’s no rhyme or reason why 5-8 is so darn invincible, he just is.
Black Knight is available to stream exclusively on Netflix