The Smuggling Game is here. After the last two episodes ran off and spun a new and original game for the third round, I thought that there was a chance that the remainder of the drama would continue to create new and original drama-only games. For better or for worse, the kdrama has returned to its pre-President Game pattern and decided to have the participants play the Smuggling Game (a.k.a. the Contraband Game).
This is the same game as was in the manga and pretty much the same game that appeared twice in the jdrama (yes, I consider the Gold Rush game to be a total a re-do of the Contraband Game). And my opinion of this game remains the same as it was back when I watched the jdrama: this game is too complicated for a TV drama.
To see how complicated this game is, let’s look at this Korean adapation’s version of the game, which is arguably one of the simplest versions since it minimizes the number of participants. There are two warring nations, each with an ATM that contains money belonging to members of the opposing nation. Each person can pass through to the opposing nation’s side but can’t come back unless they go through the inspection room first.
The whole withdrawal/interrogation process is fairly simple, and this game would have been the same were it not for the importance of the whole “let’s-switch-cards-and-take-out-money-that’s-not-ours” strategy employed by both nations. By the endgame, I was struggling to keep track of who has which cards, which cards had money in which ATMs, whose money had been completely withdrawn or hidden, and who was winning the game and in what way.
On paper, in manga or book format, the complexity of this game may have been tolerable since the reader has time to slowly digest the events of the round as they unfold and re-read as needed. However, a TV drama doesn’t wait for the viewer to understand everything before going on to the next scene (although since most of us are watching it online, we do have the fortune of being able to skip back and re-watch parts that we don’t fully understand). This adaptation does pretty much the same as the Japanese drama adaptation in communicating to viewers the details of the round’s strategies, but there were a number of interesting differences that stuck out as well:
A Focus on the Side Characters: The number of Liar Game contestants has dwindled down to eight, and I was glad to see that the side characters are being treated as more than just background characters intended to fill the headcount for these games. For example, I liked that the young hacker character who we were introduced to back in Round 2 as the fake Player X gets more screen time as a skilled hacker who gets Ha Woo-Jin the dirty details on Kang Do-Young’s past. This is, of course, not to mention the significance of what happens to him at the end of Episode 10.
In particular, what really stood out to me was the importance of Jamie in determining the outcome of the round. She was the main antagonist in the Minority Game and in the Layoff Game, but by the time the President Game rolled around, it seemed like her importance had dwindled. I had fully expected her to fade into the background as Do-Young and Woo-Jin battled it out. Surprisingly though, the Korean adaptation threw a wrench into the canonical Contraband Game and instead had Jamie be the deciding factor in determining the winning nation.
A More Human Drama: Not only was it important that Jamie played a big role, but it was also very interesting how she played that role. More specifically, the outcome was decided solely based on Jamie’s feelings. She didn’t know that Woo-Jin had already made copies of the three cards Do-Young was offering her. She turned down what in her mind was a winning proposition because she supported and trusted Nam Da-Jung. This kind of trust-based, emotion-based behavior is practically unheard of in the manga until the introduction of Harimoto, and even then, feelings only played a relatively minor role compared to logic-based reasoning and tactics.
This, it seems, is how the Korean adaptation is leaving its mark on the world of Liar Game. This drama strikes back at the cold, logical world painted by the original series. People, it seems to argue, are not always completely rational. They don’t always behave like robots who always take the highest dollar amount; sometimes, their emotions cause them to make irrational and oftentimes incomprehensible choices from a logical perspective.
Building up Nam Da-Jung: In case we’ve forgotten, the drama reminds us again and again in these two episodes that Nam Da-Jung is ultimately the most important character of this series. Until Episode 10, the reminders were communicated to us only through the words of Woo-Jin and Do-Young. They say, time after time, that Da-Jung is the key to this whole game, or that she is the one to watch out for, or that she can’t be predicted.
And frankly, all this was starting to get annoying. Neither Woo-Jin nor Do-Young gives a reason for why they think Da-Jung is so important or unpredictable. If anything, the events of this show suggest she is extremely predictable. Do-Young seems to have been in full control of Da-Jung’s actions all the way up until this point.
Remember how Do-Young successfully lured Da-Jung into playing the game with the old lady who was asking for directions? Or how about when he got Da-Jung to give her teacher all her prize money by sending gangster debt-collectors to his house? Or what about that entire fashion shoot fiasco leading up to the Layoff Game?
Finally, though, it seems like Da-Jung will be stepping up to the plate to prove herself. Her comment to Jamie near the end of the Smuggling Game ultimately ended up winning the game for her team, and if the manga is any indication, we’ll be seeing her more in what is to come…
The Next Round: The next episode’s preview shows participants playing poker and Da-Jung holding a revolver. All of this points to the next round being a close mirroring of the manga’s second revival around. Even in the manga, this is the round where Nao/Da-Jung gets to show off her growth, so of course I’m excited to see how the drama will handle it.
You can view Episodes 9 and 10 of Liar Game on Viki.