The Liar Game kdrama has come to an exciting conclusion. A revival round. Two stages of the final round. Childhood revelations. A hostage situation. And a hint of what’s to come. All packaged in two crazy, suspense-filled episodes. The last two episodes left me with a lot of thoughts and feelings, some positive, some not so much.
Nam Da-Jung’s father: If the show wanted viewers to sympathize with or pity Da-Jung’s dad, it didn’t do a very good job of it. To me, it felt like the writers wanted us to see Da-Jung’s father as a loving parent who just happened to suffer from a string of misfortunes and who had to make a number of difficult decisions because of those misfortunes. “Wanted” is the operative word here. Someone, please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks her dad comes off as extremely irresponsible, stupid, and immature.
Let’s recap all the things he did to Da-Jung, shall we? He ditches her at an orphanage when she was just a small girl because he couldn’t handle being a single parent. Yes, he does come back for her when he changes his mind many weeks later, but at that point, she had almost been adopted. Then he gets into boatloads of debt due to irresponsible stock speculation – basically gambling – instead of focusing on his career. After contemplating suicide, he instead chooses to run away from home, leaving Da-Jung to deal with the dangerous debt collectors by herself.
And let us not forget the events of the actual Liar Game. When he first decides to reveal himself to her, he doesn’t do so in person. Instead, he agrees to go on the show and ends up almost destroying the trust between Da-Jung and Woo-Jin that would later prove essential in getting out of the game with a positive balance. And last but not least, by far the strongest demonstration of his stupidity was in these last two episodes, when he was being held hostage by one of Kang Do-Young’s men.
He is tied to a chair, drenched in a flammable liquid, and the chair is tied to a lit lighter on a table right in front of him. It would be clear to pretty much everyone in that situation (except for him, apparently) that if you move in your chair and tip the lighter over, the whole room would go up in smokes, people included. Any sane person would sit as still as possible and patiently wait for the tiny lighter to run out of lighter fluid. But no, not Da-Jung’s dad. He decides to struggle aimlessly in his chair in reaction to the small television in front of him. I mean, really? Even if you did escape from this chair and this unknown location, what would you even be able to do to help your daughter? If were not for Jo Dal-Goo, he would have died. And it would have been his own fault.
The People Drama: These episodes utilized a lot of tropes and cliches characteristic of Korean dramas, and they were executed very well. There was the whole story about the real bullet, which, of course, was for sure going to be fired last. There were Ha Woo-Jin’s repressed memories of his childhood friends at the orphanage. And there was Nam Da-Jung’s internal struggle about who to ultimately trust. I was on the edge of my seat for pretty much the entirety of the last episode, and it was because all of these elements were blended together to create a really dramatic climax.
The Second Revival Round: It is also very clear that something had to be sacrificed to make space for all of this human drama the writers added to the adaptation. Unfortunately, that something was the core of the original series: the hard logic and strategies behind the games themselves. Let us not kid ourselves here. The games played for the second revival round and the final round were complete jokes.
The 17-card Poker Game played for the second revival round is one of the mini-games from the second revival round in the manga. Unfortunately, the show does not do a good job of exposing the intricacies of this game that made the original 17-card poker so interesting. A lot of crucial details are omitted in this new version.
For example, Do-Young’s strategy (Akiyama’s strategy in the manga) relies on the fact that the dealer always does a perfect riffle shuffle, which the show’s dealer had no guarantee of doing. In the manga, the dealer initially begins with a Hindu shuffle followed by a riffle shuffle, which is what allows Akiyama to observe that the dealer always did a perfect riffle shuffle. No such thing happened with the dealer in the kdrama, which detracts from the reasoning behind Do-Young’s actions.
The Final “Game”: 17-card Poker was a poorly executed game; the Russian Roulette (or what they called Last Man Standing) Game played in the final round was a complete joke. The writers took the name from the mini-game in the manga with the same name and then proceeded to bastardize its rules. The games played in the first half and second half of the final round are pretty different, so I will refer to them as RR Phase 1 and RR Phase 2.
Let’s first look at RR Phase 1, which is the less irritating of the two phases. This is essentially an enhanced version of rock-paper-scissors. Each participant has three choices: load, shoot, and dodge. I admit, the mechanics of the game actually have some value. What unfortunately doesn’t have value is the fact that the game only turned out the way it did because of luck.
Recall the end of Phase 1, right when Jamie was about to be eliminated. Do-Young claims his chances of eliminating Jamie when he chose to shoot his second gun were 60%. Let’s ignore the fact that he’s using bad math (since he doesn’t know how many bullets from the first gun would hit Jamie, he had no way of knowing before shooting his second gun that he would end up with a 60% situation in his favor). Even if we assume his reasoning was sound, he would still have had a 40% chance of losing the game right there and then. If he had not eliminated Jamie that round, he would have almost definitely been eliminated in the next round of choices. For someone as intelligent and careful as Kang Do-Young, this sure was a pretty risky move.
RR Phase 2 is even worse. It’s no longer a game. The only thing that kept Phase 2 interesting was the interpersonal drama between the three main characters. Let’s look at the rules themselves. You can’t dodge, only load and shoot, and everyone has 15 lives, which is just enough for 3 rounds of 5 bullets. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the optimal strategy is to load all the bullets first before shooting (if you don’t see why, just think about it for a little bit).
More horrendous than that realization is that if all three players played optimally, with no hostage situation or other outside influences to affect the outcome, the game would have been extremely boring and would have ended in either an obvious elimination or a tie. If Woo-Jin and Da-Jung teamed up against Do-Young, Do-Young would have lost after the second round of shootings. If they all tried their best to be the last person standing, then it’s very possible that the game would end in a tie after the third round of gunfire (e.g. every player only fires at the person to their left).
Hints to a second season: Part of me wanted this adaptation to end with the first season. Their childhood story was set up in such a way that it would have been plausible for Do-Young to have a change of heart after Woo-Jin takes the bullet for him. It could have ended with Do-Young escaping from public view, maybe to the U.S. or somewhere in the countryside. Instead, we are given a teaser for a second season in a way that makes me think this was not the originally intended ending for this kdrama.
I have similarly mixed emotions for the tidbits of the second season that were hinted at the end of Episode 12. The fact that the game will move underground is not surprising, but it will also defeat the purpose of having the Liar Game be a game show in the first place. There will be fewer opportunities to make this adaptation fresh or original if they take away the whole game show concept.
Plus, the first season of Liar Game ended on a very positive note. Nobody important is in debt (come to think of it, they never really explain what happens to the other contestants…), and everybody is living a good life despite all the trauma from the game. Seeing as the hinted second season will have a darker tone, it seems less likely that we will end up having a feel-good ending to the series, which can be a good or a bad thing.
Oh, and one more thing. His hair. Ha Woo-Jin’s wacky new hairdo. It’s going to make it hard for me to take him seriously. Please tell me that’s not what his hair will look like in the second season.
You can view Episodes 11 and 12 of Liar Game on Viki.