It’s August, the heat is almost unbearable and baseball has just gone through one of the messiest Trade Deadlines in years, so I’m much in need of a breather and here I am in this peaceful oasis called K-List.
Here I’ll try, as I always do, to educate you on the marvelous world of K-Dramas, and if you followed each step of the way by now you should know some of the antics and concepts that are hard not to find in a South Korean series.
This time around though, let me have a nice trip home: the drama I’m reviewing is about an Italian gentleman, one of the rare cases where a Korean production winks to overseas fans and has a main character with European traits and behaviors. There’s also the fact that, as it aired, this drama caused some commotion and discussion about its portrayal of Italians and all their stereotypes, so who better than an Italian himself, me, to judge?
Today I’ll review Vincenzo, a 2021 tvN drama that you can also find on Netflix.
- Genres: crime, action, romance
- Eps: 20 + 1 special
- Runtime: 1–1.20 hr
- Leads: Song Joong Ki, Jeon Yeo Bin
- Storyline: Vincenzo, an adopted mafia consigliere, a lawyer with particular skills, comes back home in Korea for a treasure and finds one in Geumga, a shoddy plaza full of strange people he gets entangled with, at his own risk and peril.
- He, the man
Sometimes truth is in the name, and here more than any other. This drama is all about our Vincenzo, a Korean mafia consigliere, a position in between a lawyer and a bodyguard for a boss, that was adopted into the Cassano family when he was young.
Let’s start off with some tough love: Song Joong Ki is not my thing, at all. He’s one of the Korean actors I like to call “stoics”, those a la Hyun Bin: incredibly handsome, good at their job but with one big flaw, their lack of expressions.
While I think he’s a good if not great actor, he’s not the right fit: he looks cool as hell in a suit and his charme screams “Italian Stallion”, but his temperamental demeanors do not. A lot of his gestures are overblown and some of the phrases and expressions he uses are more akin to Google translate than Italian common speech.
That said, there’s no denying it: Song Joong Ki busted his tail off for this role. I can assure you Italian is a damn hard language to speak, moreso for a Korean that is used to all another alphabet, structure and intonations, so that sounds like the “V” and “Z” on his name are not on the dictionary, anyway he did a phenomenal job in sounding as Italian as possible, particularly when swearing, an activity we are known for all over the world, and in all proverbs and sayings.
On the stereotypes matter: sure, some of them are a little too much, not every single Italian loves red wine and pasta is usually eaten at lunch not in the mornings, but others are spot on such as the hatred for Americanos and cold coffee in general and the tendency at getting 0–100 in mere seconds.
If the actor is good, the character is even better: Vincenzo Cassano is the rare antihero who gets his revenge, abides by his rules and lives his way until the end, he doesn’t transform into a walking UNICEF as he meets a good and honest FL, because she’s not one, so he’s consistently flirting on the line between doing a good deed and being evil while doing so. That makes him entertaining, appealing and debatable: a lot of what he does is illegal, harmful, sometimes even sheer violence and brutality, but his reasons are clear, not always honest but in the end in the name of something good.
It’s also incredibly satisfying to watch him grow out of his shell of shadiness and stone cold “cool dangerous guy” approach thanks to all the people he gets in touch with by coming back to Korea: when it’s all said and done Vincenzo has found friends, companions, a family that is not covered by blood such as in the Mafia, but one with a sense of kinship rivaling the Italian organization.
Vincenzo may not be a good guy, but he has principles he follows and is true to his word, and that is not that common for a K-Drama protagonist.
- They, the plaza
The best feature in all the drama is none other than the place where a lot of the action revolves around and the people that do their daily jobs inside of it: the Geumga Plaza gang is a delight, an ensemble of weird characters that is on par with Danny Ocean’s group of thieves from the “Ocean’s” trilogy.
Each one of these strange guys has his place in the plaza, a store that he/she manners and even a temple where a couple of monks pray Buddha. Not only that, each character has a skill that nobody knows about, a past as someone different, something peculiar that, when added together, makes Geumga Plaza a much scarier place than Italy.
There are strains, not all relationships are merry and happy, I mean you can’t always love your neighbors, still they rally as one in the moment of need. This sense of family and togetherness is one of the most important parts of the drama as it sparks the development of Vincenzo and gives him a true home to serve and protect.
The Geumga Plaza gang is one of the best sets of secondaries I’ve ever seen in a drama, a group of people united in and by a place that survive their everyday lives hiding their amazing selves to then come to the rescue of each other, giving their utmost all. It also helps that a lot of the actors are well known faces and they seem to genuinely have fun toying with each other and standing together on stage, it shows that chemistry is not just for the leads.
- She, the woman
To be honest, the FL was one of the main reasons I went beyond my fears and started Vincenzo in the first place.
Jeon Yeo Bin is a favorite of mine thanks to her amazing performance in “Be Melodramatic” where she was a young documentary director with a scarred heart. Moreover I always envisioned her in a badass role, and this was the one I was looking for.
At first it didn’t disappoint: on the first episodes her character is a journey, a corrupt, foul-mouthed and easygoing lawyer that is all about money, she breaks the screen with her antics and devours the scene; the relationship she has with her dad, himself a lawyer but a honest one, is all ups and downs and realistic as such; she makes a hell of a first impression.
But then, as she meets Vincenzo, goes through hard times and starts changing for the better, she also loses punch and momentum, becoming a standard FL, more of a side dish for the ML as a partner in crime and romantic interest.
That’s a shame because JYB’s performance is amazing on her own and the quirkier she is the brighter she shines on the screen so as her scenes become less upbeat there’s a lot that gets lost. Still she’s a good character to follow, one that has a 360° growth yet not as well detailed as the ML, and her flamboyant acts are the kind of fun that is in dire need given the emotionally and visually hard peaks this drama reaches.
- It, the length
One of the strangest things about Vincenzo is its runtime: 20 episodes, plus a special, are an uncommon number that deviates from the usual 16, not to mention that each episode is more a hour and a half than a sole hour, in Netflix fashion. That’s not a flaw per se, sometimes a drama has a lot to say therefore it needs and deserves time but here things just drag a bit after a while.
There’s a certain pattern going on and on again: characters in danger, people going to jail, people going out of jail and repeat. There’s not a lot of realism albeit the action is always top notch and the production gives a lot of good, from a competent direction to a nice photography and a selection of OSTs that is wide in themes and sounds, but that’s not really the issue, rather it could all have been more streamlined, fitted into the canonical 16 eps by avoiding characters/situations that are just filler.
Vincenzo is still a good watch, one that doesn’t annoy or confuse you with entangled plots, exasperating tropes or absurd shenanigans, except for an animal related one, but it’s also quite the investment of time for a series that could have said the same in fewer words.
Vincenzo is much more than just a revenge drama: an ensemble of characters reuniting in a place, Geumga Plaza, where they built a family welcomes a stranger, a man that came from the other side of the world with God knows what kind of past deeds, and that man becomes a part of the family too.
Behind all the action, violence, payback and “eye for an eye” Vincenzo is the success of a group more than the crime plot and the romance between the leads, which is few but good thanks to their chemistry.
As an Italian, outside of a couple overused stereotypes, there’s a lot to like, from Song Joong Ki’s efforts with the language to the occasional blunders and misplaced hand gestures, so that, while it’s far away from a perfect drama due to its lenghty and repeated structure and for a FL with a lot of unexploited potential, Vincenzo is a fine product, a refreshing take on the revenge concept, one that is more about the people you get revenge for and with than the reason of revenge itself.
That was it for today, until next time for another trip into my K-List!