As viewers scramble to find out who the serial killer is in the 2021 small-town murder mystery k-drama Beyond Evil, the Baeksang Best Drama winner poses the question, "Who is the real monster?"
Lee Dong-sik (Shin Ha-kyun) is a brilliant detective who has been demoted and re-assigned to the Manyang police substation in his hometown. His new partner, elite Seoul detective Han Joo-won (Yeo Jin-goo), arrives in the rural town and disturbs Dong-sik's seemingly peaceful life.
An even more tremendous upheaval shakes up the whole town as a murder occurs, and it looks suspiciously similar to the unsolved serial murder where Dong-sik's twin sister was one of the victims. Since Dong-sik has been suspected of killing his own sibling 20 years ago, all eyes are on him as old memories of the tragedy resurfaces—eyes including Joo-won's. The much younger detective is determined to collect evidence that proves Dong-sik is the killer. Unfortunately for Joo-won, even though most townspeople are suspicious of Dong-sik, they protect him from the Seoulite, whom they consider an outsider.
As much as Dong-sik and Joo-won distrust each other, they are forced to work together to solve this horrendous crime and prevent another one from happening. In the course of their investigation, they learn more about each other and what lies beneath the still, vast grasslands of Manyang.
The muted tone of the drama belies the heinousness and gravity of the crime that has struck this town like the plague. The tight plot keeps viewers guessing the serial killer’s identity until the evidence undeniably points to him/her. Before that point of certainty, across various episodes, EACH character seems to have a motive for the crime. Either rich or poor, doubted or trusted, repulsive or pitied—no one is spared of suspicion. Even opinion on Dong-sik's guilt swings either way: his smirk may mean guilt or innocence depending on the scene that peels the layers of evidence. The only thing more frustrating than being unsure of the killer is that the perpetrator, once revealed, treats each killing as nothing out of the ordinary. It is maddening that the murderer has been unwittingly shielded by one or more people who are “just protecting” something or someone precious.
Dong-sik and Joo-won's characters are so different that this conflict is one of many that drives the story forward. While the unhinged Dong-sik clashes with the level-headed Joo-won, their personalities flip in the field as they are forced to work as a team in the face of danger. Their bickering is still interesting even as it descends into non-verbal sparring. Yet, as different as they are, they have at least one thing in common: each detective works relentlessly towards his goals even at the expense of his morality becoming ambiguous or entirely dissolved.
Darkness cannot hide the mundane evil among us while the stillness of the night amplifies the town’s grief and silent wailing. Beyond Evil let us experience this so vicariously that it's no wonder it won Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay out of seven nominations at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards.
Stream if: You love a well-planned and well-executed police procedural. You want to catch a glimpse of Lee Do-hyun as a young Dong-sik. Pro-tip: Binge across several weekends (not just one weekend) for your mental health.
Skip if: Watching murder (including dismemberment) gives you nightmares.