I certainly did not plan to start watching Psychopath Diary in the nearest future, but somehow, between moving into a place nearer to work and suddenly having all these free hours to myself made me start watching, because why not? I think it was just before its final work of airing, and about two weeks later, here I am, trying to make myself stop thinking too much about it. I am an easy person, after all, because it doesn’t take much for me to be obsessed with a drama, as long as it manages to make me curious and doesn’t tick my annoy-o-meter. Psychopath Diary has lots of things it’s good at, but there are some kdrama clichés it retained that might somehow ventured on the bad side.
The Good: Tonal Balance
The subject matter of the drama is actually heavy, despite the humour depicted through having a salaryman at the bottom of the food chain suddenly finding himself as a predator through a series of unfortunate events. A drama can easily cross the line if it is not careful, ending up becoming a tasteless stupid comedy show masquerading itself as a serious one. Psychopath Diary relies on its two serial killers – the mistaken one and the real deal – and the two polar opposites hold the forts of comedic relief and the cold-blooded scenes.
Yook Dong-sik (Yoon Si-yoon), the mistaken serial killer, basically has his plain life turned upside down when he loses his entire memory after witnessing a murder taking place in front of his eyes. There are only two things that might be able to jog his memory: his house filled with his collection of crime and thriller movies, and a diary recording a series of ruthless killings he apparently made before he lost track of everything. It is funny to see someone who can’t even lift a finger against his colleagues who bullied him suddenly finding a confidence boost after thinking that he was a cold-blooded killer. It might be ridiculous to be rooting for a serial murderer posing as a meek lamb, but we know that Dong-sik just happens to share a similar family size with the real owner of the diary and possesses the knowledge of crime thrillers from his late-night movie binges. His antics as he navigates between the pride in being a cold-blooded murderer and the disgust as he tries to live up to the image projected in his mind makes a very enjoyable and often thought-provoking watch.
But then, the drama respects its boundary between the mistaken killer and the real killer, through how it clearly sets apart the two different, polar opposite men. While Dong-sik’s clumsy failed attempts always bring out a laugh or two, Seo In-woo (Park Sung-hoon) doesn’t play when it comes to killing his targeted preys. Honing his skills throughout the years, he has perfected his killing method by leaving no trace and carefully selecting his next prey so that he could end their pitiful life and staging their deaths as suicide. His meticulous nature and his careful steps make him even more menacing, and no, he is no way acting like a clown. This is someone who has killed people and feels no remorse about it, and there is nothing funny about this crime. Even when In-woo’s endless attempts to approach and get closer to Dong-sik become a hilarious misunderstanding from the company staff’s point of view, the drama doesn’t let us forget that this guy is also the same person who is ready to chop off Dong-sik’s head with an axe if not for the sheer luck of the latter.
The Good: Focus
Sometimes, it gets frustrating when kdramas turn everything into sob stories so that people will root even the seemingly vilest person on Earth. In-woo can easily fall into this category too, since it is hinted that he’s rather unhappy with pressure coming from his demanding father and threat in the form of his younger stepbrother, Seo Ji-hoon. And just like Dong-sik, he lost his birth mother early on. But then, the drama chooses not to focus too much on his sad and lonely childhood; instead, it chooses to focus on his sick obsession of hunting people in his pastime and how he deserves to pay for his crimes at any cost. Having a difficult childhood is not a free pass to justify his wrongdoings, and he is just sick, literally and figuratively.
If anything, having Dong-sik and In-woo coming from a similar family size provides a great opportunity as presented in a scene, where Dong-sik, in his drunken stupor, blabbers about living under pressure of his family based on the diary…which was a reflection of In-woo’s own fate. It is like a slap to In-woo’s face, as he sees himself how pitiful he looks through the entries in his diary. Also, the drama shifts the focus to Dong-sik when it comes to the memories shared with his late birth mother. It’s like saying to us the audience that it’s more appropriate to heap our sympathy on the kind-hearted Dong-sik who just happens to be too kind against the cruel world, as compared to In-woo, who made his choice 8 years ago when he picked up his bloody hobby and crossed the bridge of no return.
The Good: Chemistry
I think the chemistry between the characters deserves to be mentioned here, because the friendships and the assumed relationships are just precious and hilarious. How can you not love the loyal Chil-sung (Heo Sung-tae) and his sworn allegiance towards his blood brother Dong-sik? Their interaction starts out with Dong-sik being the scaredy cat he originally is, before the tide turns and Chil-sung freaking out over Dong-sik’s description of killing a person. Long story short, Dong-sik suddenly finds himself getting a loyal hound in the form of Chil-sung, whose big, soft heart saves his life multiple times. Chil-sung might treat Dong-sik as his boss and his benefactor, but in reality, he is the one who is playing the role of a protective big brother to Dong-sik, despite being actually younger than Dong-sik.
Kdramas can’t live without their share of romance, but I’m glad that Shim Bo-kyung (Jung In-sun) and Dong-sik don’t get starry eyes looking at each other before having a kiss scene in front of a dead body, for example. I’m just saying, because it happened in other dramas. But here, it’s kind of ironic that people around them who are shipping and rooting for them to end up together, while these two are actually busy running around solving murder cases and proving Dong-sik’s innocence. It’s easy to see why Bo-kyung wants to help Dong-sik and how they bond over the cases, but it doesn’t mean that they have to fall in love and make babies at the end of the drama. I’m glad that the drama leaves them at being partners in crime investigation, because it’s just natural and doesn’t have to feel forced for them to end up together. I still think of them as Judy and Nick from Zootopia, because come on, can’t you see the resemblance?!
Even Dong-sik and In-woo have this burning chemistry early on, especially when In-woo thinks that he has found someone with similar interest early on. In-woo’s obsession with Dong-sik grows stronger that even his friend thinks that there is something going on between them. Perhaps, if Dong-sik doesn’t let In-woo know about the diary, In-woo might invite Dong-sik into a paired killing spree without Dong-sik realizing about it until it’s too late. It’s nice while it lasted, but the obsession In-woo has becomes an inspiration to countless fanmade MVs about him and Dong-sik. Viewers also wonder what would have happened if Dong-sik also turns out to be another real psychopath murderer; will it end up well or badly for both of them? Well, one thing I’m sure is that the story will surely go dark, very dark instead of the light tone used to portray Dong-sik.
The Bad: Lone Detective Trope
Man, I really thought that they won’t make Bo-kyung do this, but she ends up doing this lone ranger thing not once, but twice! It provides the opportunity for In-woo to kidnap and attack her, but I guess it is part of the trick to keep the plot moving forward. I think this is the only gripe I have while I watch the drama, and Bo-kyung is such an awesome cop. Most of the time, she is always with someone else when she is out investigating something, like her junior patrol buddy Heo Taek-soo (Choi Sung-won), Dong-sik, or later, Chil-sung. This minimizes the risk of getting into the situation where she becomes a damsel in distress, and that is so smart of her. She is always curious and intrigued, and when the time calls for it, she spares nothing when it comes to investigating into her suspicions. Even when she doubts herself as she suspects Dong-sik, she doesn’t let that cloud her judgment and decides to go for it so that the truth will prevail. She isn’t afraid to admit her mistakes and own up for them, and she truly deserves all her promotions.
I encountered a Youtube channel with psychiatrists reviewing the first two episodes to see how good Yoon Si-yoon is at portraying a psychopath, and they mentioned a lot of interesting tidbits about the characters, like how Dong-sik’s retrograde amnesia might be a result of his traumatic experience of witnessing a crime and the stress following it, and Bo-kyung’s hallucination of her father manifested from the trauma she endured after nearly losing him. It is very informative, and I recommend visiting 닥터프렌즈 channel.