Updated: Jan 14
While Netflix's 8-episode Somebody promises more risque psychosexual fare than your ordinary k-drama, it loses steam quickly because of its sluggish pacing, messy details, and confusing turns.
Kim Sum (Kang Hye-rin), a strikingly beautiful and talented programmer, is the inventor of Somebody, a dating app that she developed in her teens.
Years later, Somebody is a hit and boasts quite the membership. But despite the app’s popularity and her wealth, Kim Sum remains lonely and unable to relate to her peers due to her Asperger’s. However, she is close to Yeong Ki-eun (a detective played by Kim Su-yeon)) and later gets close to Im Mok-won (a shaman played by Kim Yong-ji).
While parading as a user in her app, she matches with Sung Yoon-oh (Kim Young-kwang), a charming architectural designer. They strike up an unlikely friendship and she soon finds herself drawn to him. But she also discovers that Yoon-oh has been using the app to meet and murder other women. Now, Kim Sum has to make a decision: should she turn in Yoon-oh and give up the only man who seems to understand her? Or is there a way for two lonely people like them to live in a world that cares little for their kind?
TW: Sexual assault, violence, and cruelty to animals.
There’s a good reason why, despite Somebody’s rather raunchy sex scenes, there hadn’t been many word-of-mouth endorsements or massively glowing reviews. This k-drama marketed as a modern psychosexual thriller offers few thrills and never really delivers on the pair's dubious slow-burn romance.
But we must give credit where it is due. First, director Jung Ji-woo (who directed Eun-gyo, Kim Go-eun’s controversial screen debut in 2012) still has a grasp of what is sleek and visually arresting. The aesthetics in Somebody are quite elegant, while the production design of the homes and offices is a stunning mix of the kitschy analog and the thoroughly modern. The whitewashed walls and dim lights, the muted neon signs, and the throbbing bars all lend a sense of palpable loneliness throughout the show. There’s almost a David Fincher vibe throughout the series that’s a bit artsier than how other k-dramas usually look. Also, for such a modern topic, Director Jung embraces an ironic, old-Hollywood style. From the musical choices (there's a languid version of “The House of the Rising Sun” in a riveting montage) to the atmosphere he establishes, the entire show seems to say that all these shiny digital haunts are just another version of the oldest hunt of all – that of the search for love and companionship.
The two leads do stand out as well, despite the uneven material they had to work with. Actress Kang Hae-lim, in her remarkable debut as the fascinating Kim Sum, is striking and beautifully blank and perfectly grasps a character who is out of touch and unmindful of social mores. Her heady mix of innocence and sensuality is thoroughly put to good use in the show. Kim Young-kwang as Sung Yoon-oh is also unsettling as a designer and psychopath – cold and terrifying when on the hunt, but charming when he needs to be. Together, they make a strikingly handsome and incredibly flammable pair.
Then there is the matter of representation, which k-drama as a whole doesn’t quite lean into as heavily as Western shows do. Somebody features a lesbian character Mok Won (who is also a mudang, or a shaman, proving that the old can co-exist with modern sensibilities), and a wheelchair-bound policewoman. These characters are also treated as whole persons, and not merely afterthoughts or side decor. The unapologetic exploration of a disabled character's sexuality is especially noteworthy.
But who are we kidding? Most viewers are here for the racy content, something that's more at home in Korean cinema than in k-dramaland. Somebody ventures quite boldly into its sexually-graphic scenes, which probably intensified the buzz around the show. There are a couple of pretty intense bed scenes, some brazen references to certain sex acts, and even a drawn-out one with a vibrator (probably a first in the genre). Someone grab the cigarettes (or the vape). Director Jung is still at home with the erotic and the disturbing, and it shows. You’ll need a couple of smokes when those scenes are through.
However, for a show about satisfying needs, it is as unsatisfying (and as confusing) as they come. Somebody fares well when it matches moments of sexual intensity with violence, but flounders so badly on everything else: the storytelling is confusing, the characters make so many misguided and odd decisions that lead to even more danger, and the end is perplexing and unconvincing. From the middle to the end, the characters seem to be compounding one bad decision after another, making ill-thought-out plans and strange decisions when they ought to know better. For example, an intelligent female character gets assaulted, and yet insists on meeting her assaulter alone again without asking for the assistance of friends or the police. In another instance, Kim Sum -- supposedly a cold and logical character -- insists on wearing a protective talisman instead of taking safety precautions around Yoon-oh. In fact, so many characters make so many dumbfounding decisions that you no longer gasp in pleasure – you scream in frustration.
Probably the most glaring flaw in this show comes down to the pseudo-romance between the leads. They may take off their clothes, but the promised Bonnie-and-Clyde romance, unfortunately, never really takes off. Because of both leads’ mental makeup, we never really get the sense that both leads are capable of caring for each other. Yet when they do exhibit care, it feels forced and disingenuous. The writing never really hits the sweet spot that combines the absolute irrationality of “mad love” and the softness of real human connection.
It would have been nice if all the clunky pace, infuriating character decisions, and nondescript dialogue of Somebody led to a worthwhile conclusion, but sadly, they don't. Somebody, despite its visual stylishness, is a drama so empty and lonely that it could be one of two things: it could be a clever meta-commentary on modern love that went over our heads, or it's simply another forgettable show.
I surmise it is the latter.