The Korean drama Beyond Evil is a fascinating study of human character, identity, trust, and loss. From how Jin-muk strips his victims of their identities by removing their fingerprints (then ironically returning them to where they ‘belong’) to the loss of self each of the characters goes through to discover what they’re capable of, Beyond Evil questions ‘self’ and the ‘reflections of ourselves.’ It takes a town and everyone in it, turns it upside down, and then forces them to look at and question themselves and each other. It takes morality and immorality and squares them off.
Manyang, like the world at large, reminds me of a fishbowl. We’re all living inside a fishbowl being watched by the people who pass us on the street. But none of us really know the people we pass by. Even in small towns where everyone knows everyone. The more you think you know a person, the less you actually do. It’s easier to hide in plain sight than it is in the dark. The dark is honest, and that’s why the dark is terrifying.
There’s a fine line between good and evil. They are two sides of the same coin. There is good and bad inside everyone. True evil is when that balance is removed, when that fine line is completely crossed, tipping the scales toward total darkness.
Identity and self are the core and heart of Beyond Evil. It’s a self-study inside a bigger story of evil and corruption that ties an entire town together and, ultimately, two men.
Sometimes we dig so deep trying to find the symbolism in dramas/books that we forget our identities and the choices we make in the face of trauma and loss are already symbolic. Every day we look at ourselves in the mirror, at the reflections thrown back at us, and wonder who those people are, what they’re capable of, and what they want.
As a twin myself and someone who lost a loved one (my mother) in an ambiguous, unresolved way, I understood Dong-sik and how he represented the tipping scale between sanity and insanity. No one who has endured trauma or deals with chronic physical pain is fully ‘there’ all the time. Dong-sik channels it well, but he’s also ‘ruined’ by it, which he references quite a bit. His biggest fear is seeing the ones he loves ‘ruined’ the same way he is, especially Ju-won.
But what’s important to remember is that being ruined leaves a person open to being rebuilt.
Beyond Evil is a profound human study about the choices we can and would make for others, either to protect them or ourselves. Where that takes us depends on our choices and our actions.
But most of all, Beyond Evil is a love story between two people who learned how to walk that fine line between good and evil together.
While Beyond Evil is not marketed as a romance, solid romantic tension is built into the story between leads Lee Dong-sik and Han Ju-won. Despite their age difference, they have a similar need for justice and an obsessive presence that commands attention.
Over the last two years since this drama was released, there’s been a lot written about the symbolism behind Beyond Evil. A lot of theories have been shared. Many reasons behind the ‘romance’ between Dong-sik and Ju-won have been penned.
And while all of them are beautifully written and poignant, I found myself missing the deeper look into Dong-sik and Ju-won’s mutual brokenness and ‘ruin’.
The romance within Beyond Evil, for me, exists inside their brokenness. These two men are broken. For one reason or another, they’ve lost who they are. Dong-sik has lost himself to his twin sister’s death and the blame placed on him. Ju-won has lost himself in the broken home he grew up in and his misguided sense of justice.
When these two men come together, they are adversaries. Two men on the same side of the law trying to solve the same crime in two different ways. With two different approaches. Suspicion separates them.
Dong-sik has a touch of madness to him. Ju-won is obsessed with orderliness and the control he feels when order is maintained.
On their journey together, they eventually shed suspicion for intuition. They find the identities they’ve lost while also finding something in each other.
Romance isn’t always about love confessions or becoming a couple. Sometimes it’s about finding the one person that challenges you. The one person who fills in the holes being broken punched into you.
Dong-sik and Ju-won challenge each other. They fill the holes, even as they create new ones.
They are the sinner to the other’s saint. There is no heaven without hell.
And that’s the real beauty behind Beyond Evil.
Sometimes it takes stepping beyond what one thinks is good to see the true face of evil. Sometimes it takes stepping beyond one’s comfort zone to find love.
An intrinsic trust ties Dong-sik and Ju-won’s hearts together. While it seems like Ju-won is constantly questioning Dong-sik, there comes a point where he stops. Outwardly, he’s accusing. Inwardly, it’s obvious he feels Dong-sik’s innocence. For the second half of the series, they no longer question each other. Their connection becomes integral.
The arrest scene at the end of the series could be considered symbolic. And it is. But it’s not a ‘read beneath the lines’ kind of symbolism. It’s apparent.
In a pivotal, emotional moment, Dong-sik concedes. He fulfills a promise. Ju-won accepts. While shaking hands can be construed as collaboration (making a deal), what Dong-sik is doing by asking to be arrested is accepting his collaboration with Ju-won while placing his trust in him. By allowing himself to be handcuffed, Dong-sik is saying, “I support you.” By allowing only Ju-won to cuff him, he’s saying that only Ju-won can hold the key to unlocking them. It’s a trust only Ju-won can break. By handcuffing Dong-sik, Ju-won is tearfully sealing the deal and accepting the weight of that trust, respect, and affection. They are bound by it.
Both their lives have been ‘ruined’ by the same crime. But inside that crime, they discovered the one person who could build on top of that ruin.
Whether, as a viewer, you see potential romance or simply friendship between them, it remains that they have still found a partner in life, that one person each can depend on.
As a twin, I’ve often been fascinated by how films and novels often portray twins as dualistic viewpoints or a perfect balance. While I know from personal experience, we are no such thing, I find Dong-sik and Yu-Yeon’s differing personalities in Beyond Evil to denote precisely that. Losing Yu-yeon off-balanced Dong-sik, but he found his balance in Ju-won, restoring the harmony he’d been without. They are two sides of the same justice scale.
For a drama that steps beyond the evil it delves into, check out Beyond Evil on Netflix. It’s as much about finding one’s identity as it is about finding justice. And, in the process, two men also find their hearts.
One thought on “Beyond the Evil, There is Love”
I love this opinion piece on the show. Missing a piece and finding it again sounds bittersweet to me, and that’s how I felt when I finished the show. Complete, but sad with some hope for the future. In their brokenness, they found each other and support each other. I wish that for anyone in life. Occasionally, I wanted more sparks, but the show made up for that with the intensity of the trust the two leads had for each other. To me, that speaks of a very deep bond that goes beyond romance as we know–more like a different kind of love, but it is definitely love. (I’m reminded of the types of love Plato and the philosophers talked about, I think probably a combination of philia and agape?)
Even though I think the script is very tight, I’ve seen some reviews lament on how slow the drama can be. I think that the drama is also a character study and does need to take its time to deepen the development. The acting and chemistry between the two made highlighted such important beats for their relationship. I haven’t seen as stirring of a moment as when they hold hands, the emotions bared in front of everyone like that is so raw. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.