Premise: A group of misfits stumble across a dead body, three pieces of ancient gold and a map. With a mysterious heiress in tow, the gang embark on search for the long lost loot with gangsters on their tail. Will they find what they’re looking for?
It’s kinda hard to capture exactly what Evasive Inquiry Agency is. It’s a number of things—a wacky comedy, a rollicking adventure tale, a warm human drama—but perhaps most of all, it’s like that rarest of birds the dodo, special and extinct.
So special in fact, that I’m frankly quite baffled as to how it ever got made.
The fact that writer Park Yeon Seon scored a hit with her previous drama Alone in Love, and parleyed that success into this offers some clues. This feels like she threw caution to the wind and set out to flex a different set of storytelling muscles.
How different? Well, for starters there’s zero romance! Yes, zilch! And what little romance there is is mostly the butt of a running joke.
Actually, there’s nothing remotely resembling a conventional Kdrama here, much less one with any commercial or mainstream appeal. It’s handsomest actor Lee Min Ki, for instance, spends the entire drama looking like this:
No wonder the ratings tanked! But it gained traction among a small community of dedicated fans online who loved it enough to beg for a second season. I can totally understand why. Though this is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s certainly not meant to be, it’s a remarkably smart, funny and heartfelt drama that stands apart and way above mass-produced and factory-assembled fare.
If you like your Kdramas slick, shiny and erm, Kdrama-like, then you’ll hate this. It’s not pretty or pat. It’s frankly quite mad, with often broad (there are fart jokes), sometimes absurd, humour. The characters spend a lot of time horsing around and dithering. This can all feel scattershot and random and it will likely test your patience. You might be tempted to give up, as I was.
But I promise you, if you can hang in there you’ll be richly rewarded!
One of the best things about the drama is its fantastic cast. There’s an amazing chemistry at work here, or more accurately at play, since none of this feels much like work at all. This is a real ensemble comedy which thrives on the interplay between each actor like a fabulous multiplayer ping pong match. It’s obvious they all had a blast working together and you feel their zany energy bursting forth from the screen. Their camaraderie breathes life into the show.
All the actors take to their characters like ducks to water. There’s Lee Min Kee’s Moo Yeol, a taekwondo instructor. He’s the brawns of this operation, which explains why his taekwondo school is failing. He’s a doofus, but a loyal, sincere and straightforward doofus.
Lee Min Ki is a complete ham here, and though he takes some getting used to, his lack of vanity is pretty hard to resist. Seriously, how many leading men would be willing to look like this on prime time television?
Moo Yeol is good friends with Young Soo, a slacker manhwa shop owner. Young Soo is the brains, and once had promise but is held back by a family trauma that he has never gotten over. He lives in perpetual arrested development. Ryo Seung Soo has enough range to do both the broad comedy and the dramatic acting required to bring Young Soo to life. He is just stellar, and is my favourite performer here.
Hee Kyung is a tarot card reader, part-time actress and full-time diva. She hankers after luxuries she can’t afford but thinks she deserves, so she swindles unsuspecting folks by faking summonings of the dead.
Ye Ji Won like Lee Min Ki, grows on you, and gives the vain wannabe Hee Kyung a layer of wounded tender-heartedness. The moment when it dawned on me how good she was, and how this show wasn’t just about fun and games, was a moment midway through when Ye Ji Won acts the hell out of Hee Kyung’s anger and pain.
And no, it isn’t all fun and games. It gets pretty serious and emotionally heart-wrenching in surprising and unexpected ways. There’s plenty of heart beneath the surface that imbues the drama with depth and meaning.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because we’ve yet to meet the final player in this gang of four, which is Eun Jae, an heiress who like Young Soo, suffers from a traumatic past but unlike him, wants to resolve it. Eun Jae is socially awkward and closed. Lee Eun Song isn’t as natural a performer as the rest, but maybe Eun Jae’s impassive nature makes her harder to fall for. Nevertheless she’s a vital part of this crew–she’s their bankroller and unlike the rest she’s no flake.
It’s Eun Jae who kicks the plot into gear when she mistakenly thinks they are detectives and hires them to find the rest of the gold they stumble across, believing the answer to her past lies with the gold. The reality is they are squatting in the previous tenant’s vacated office, but beset with money troubles, they aren’t about to turn down the prospect of a few billion won over a trivial matter of not having the slightest idea what they’re doing.
And so it begins, a magical mystery tour of four unlikely treasure hunters–it’s The Goonies meets Scooby Doo! It’s completely ridiculous of course, but somehow, it isn’t. The story unfolds so expertly and naturally that you come to believe that no other group could’ve solved this mystery other than them, a bunch of people so dreadfully normal and living such mundane lives that on hindsight, it boggles the mind how they could ever come so far and how any of this could possibly work.
But it does. They naturally bungle things but they also don’t. And despite not being Indiana Jones, because of who they are (ordinary, yet special snowflakes), and who they know (a universe of wonderful bit characters), everything falls magically into place.
That’s also the plot at work, weaving itself seamlessly and organically through where the characters are going, and not mechanically manoeuvring them where it needs to go. And that’s the mark of fantastic writing. It doesn’t hit you how great it is until the end when all the loose ends tie up in a thrilling pay off that’s funny, gripping and poignant.
I shouldn’t leave out the gangster Baek Min Chul who is also after the gold. He’s no one dimensional antagonist, and like all the characters in this drama, he pulls his weight in the story.
Park Hee Soon plays him straight and suave and serious but with a playful glint in his eyes. He hides pain too, and although he’s not part of the gang, their journey would not be complete without him.
If the drama does have one Kdrama trait, it would be its warm beating heart. What seems like a search for gold and wealth on the surface is really a search for love. Our merry misfits are each without families, either by way of past tragedies or more ordinary rifts such as squabbles over money or life choices, but they find comfort, support and happiness with each other.
In essence they find family among friends, learning that it’s the little moments shared with loved ones that are life’s true treasures. It was the journey that mattered all along, each little step– eating jjajangmyeon, cooking a chuseok meal, evading thugs and escaping death–made meaningful only because it was shared with your best friends.
There’s also an attention to detail that shows in the set design and a commitment to making our regular heroes look believably regular. There’s no runway fashion and they live and work in grimy run-down buildings. I told you it’s not pretty, but the directing is fun and innovative and works marvels with what’s surely a meagre budget.
It’s also fond of musical tics and gags, and if you are of a certain generation (read: old) you might get a kick out of hearing the themes to the X Files, MacGyver, and films like A Better Tomorrow. I also adored the little skits tacked on to the end of each episode, quirky epilogues that don’t really need to be there but add so much.
The show isn’t perfect though, and as I mentioned, its early episodes are wobbly and uneven. It doesn’t get really good until about halfway through when the various threads come together around the characters you’ve gotten to know better and grown fond of.
I myself abandoned it, but for some reason, I picked it up again. The second time around, I decided to surrender to the madness and embrace the quirk. That’s the trick you see–you gotta just let go and let the dodo take you where it wants to!
And if you succeed in doing so, you’ll be charmed by this oddball drama that’s also the complete package of great writing, acting and directing. And if that still doesn’t convince you to watch this, here, it’s got kitties!
Evasive Inquiry Agency (also known as Mixed-up Investigative agency)
Starring: Lee Min Ki, Ye Ji Won, Ryu Seong Soo, Lee Eun Song, Park Hee Sun.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Recommended: Yes! Just hang in there until episode 8
Director: Ham Young Hoon
Screenwriter: Park Yeon Seon (White Christmas, Alone in Love, Wild Romance)