The best agent of the NIS, Han Ji-Hyuk (Namgoong Min), goes missing during an operation in China. One year later, he reappears in a dreadful state and without his memories. He partners up with junior agent Yoo Je-Yi (Kim Ji-Eun) to unveil the truth about what really happened on that mission.
To all of you fellow spy-genre lovers, bow to the king! Jason Bourne has come to Korea. Yes, after many tries and just as many disappointments in the form of shows such as Man to Man, My Secret Terius, Neighborhood Hero or even The Dance of the Storm, I had very little expectations regarding this show, because Dramaland clearly didn’t want to put any effort into making its secret agents credible in the least. And yet. I guess we just needed Namgoong Min and a novice screenwriter to get the best addition to the genre at long last.
With Namgoong as its main lead, The Veil was guaranteed to have at least one exceptional performance, so it’s no surprise that his acting was indeed flawless from start to end. The man gained 10 kilos of muscle for the role, and it shows, but what makes him so very believable in his role as a veteran secret agent is the way he moves. Just like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in the eponymous series, his every move, his every gesture is calculated. He’s a killing machine, brutal, efficient, and ruthless.
It translates into his fight scenes, into the way he strikes like a cobra, going straight for the kill. It also translates into the way he goes about his investigations, actually using his brain and acting in a perfectly logical manner, as opposed to what we’ve been subjected to in previous “spy” dramas, in which the main characters, although lauded as “the best the agency has ever had”, kept behaving like absolute morons.
And while this could have been a case of Namgoong Min carrying the show on his shoulders, I’m very glad to say that the rest of the case was also very good, especially Kim Ji-Eun and actress Jang Young-Nam, who also did a fantastic job as Iron Lady Cha Kyung-Hee in The Devil Judge. The latter, especially, is a recent discovery for me, and I must say she impressed me in both shows, and I look forward to seeing her in more dramas in the future.
In a show where a veteran male agent partners up with a junior female agent, there’s always a lot of room for error, but I think the partnership between Han Ji-Hyuk and Yoo Je-Yi was in fact very well-handled. Because what Yoo Je-Yi lacks in experience, leading her to make mistakes, Han Ji-Hyuk makes up for with quick thinking and sheer competency. And what Han Ji-Hyuk lacks in people skills and emotional skill, Yoo Je-Yi makes up for with empathy, innocence and charm. And while this repartition might seem a bit cliché, I think it works very well simply by virtue of their respective background and circumstances.
In general, the women of this drama, although fewer in number than their male counterparts, really held their own very well.
Plot and Production
What’s even better is that all these stellar performances were backed up by a tight, fast-paced plot and excellent production. From the very first seconds to the very end, it’s impossible to look away from the screen. For one, because every minute is captivating, and for two, because if you do, you risk missing something important. Yes, just like in the Jason Bourne trilogy, you really need to pay attention, because everything that happens is necessary to the plot.
And then, you have the production values, which are simply insane. The fight scenes were breathtaking in their intensity, with gorgeous choreographies, the car chases were beautifully done, and there some really nice shots in there on top of the rest. Add to that a fantastic soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself a gem of a show right there.
But that wasn’t enough, no. No, this screenwriter, whose first script this was (I’m still reeling from that information, really), had to go even further, and write respectfully about mental health and illnesses. For once, we get a secret agent who is, in fact, affected by his job. As opposed to what a ton of media would like us to believe—that being a spy is glamorous or whatever, killing people is not insignificant, and our main character perfectly reflects that. Even better, he’s not the only one. Several characters are shown to be struggling with depression and severe PTSD, and it doesn’t just go away with the power of love or anything like that. Instead, it’s shown to be the fight that it is, and I love it.
In fact, I love it even more because it’s so rare that it’s portrayed in this way; the only other show of a similar genre which approached this issue this respectfully (that I’ve seen) is The City of Chaos.
A Hommage to Jason Bourne
The cherry on top of the cake, for me, were all the discreet nods to the Jason Bourne franchise, starting with the opening scene itself. Be it Do Jin-Suk’s hairdo, which is very similar to Pamela Landy’s, or the background music, the show likes to pay hommage to the franchise while still firmly standing on its own two feet, and I absolutely adore it for that.
All in All…
I don’t know if that came across clearly, but I adore The Veil. It was such a fantastic surprise, I’m still shook by the entire thing. With a tight plot, stellar acting, beautiful production, gorgeous music and a very satisfying ending, it’s definitely one of the best releases of 2021, and one of my favorite dramas ever. If you like competent protagonists, secret agents, excellent action and fast-paced dramas, this one is for you.
Title: The Veil
Country: South Korea
Aired: 09/17/2021 to 10/23/2021
Number of episodes: 12
Starring: Namgoong Min, Park Ha-Sun, Kim Ji-Eun, Jang Young-Nam, Kim Jong-Tae
Genres: Action, Thriller, Mystery, Espionage
My Rating: ★★★★★
Trigger Warnings: Blood