As someone who typically likes the antagonistic characters in dramas, finding a villain I love to hate (and hate to love) is exhilarating because — let’s be real — not every antagonist is created equal. Yet, from the moment Baek Sang Ho (played by the brilliant Park Hoon) first strolls on-screen in Nobody Knows — with his boyish charm and sinister finesse — I (along with viewers across the globe) was left captivated, curious, and wanting more of this new villain.
Baek Sang Ho is a peculiar juxtaposition in and of himself. On paper, he sounds like a stand-up guy: he’s a philanthropic hotel owner who seems to derive genuine joy from helping sick, abandoned, and/or troubled youth. Yet, he’s easily one of the most terrifying villains I’ve seen on-screen. Simultaneously friendly, charismatic, and utterly, utterly unpredictable, Sang Ho is just as likely to embrace you in a warm hug as he is to beat you half-conscious. It’s a gross understatement to say he keeps viewers on their toes like no other character I’ve seen before. (In fact, it took me several episodes to even realize which side he is on — if any!)
He’s remarkably quick-witted, often one step ahead of others. Because of what we know of his backstory, I’d say this is due not so much to the power and influence he has accrued for himself, but rather to his heightened survival instincts bred from an unfortunate upbringing. (But more on that later.)
Simply as a reference point to those unfamiliar with the drama, I’ve compared him in conversation to both the classic Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. This is not to weigh characters against each other (because I strongly dislike doing so), but is only an attempt to portray — at least in part — the general vibes of Sang Ho’s absolute bizarreness.
Not only is he both friendly and freaky, but Sang Ho is also incredibly funny — which is always an added bonus for any villain in my book. Of course, if your main villain’s sense of humor often includes the moral agony of others, things can get disturbing real quick. But Park Hoon’s comedic timing is definitely 10/10, and I’ve found myself chuckling when I’m not sure whether I should be laughing or not. It’s definitely unsettling, which seems to be the epitome of our oddball villain.
Of course, his character is beautifully written (the entire drama is), but let’s give credit where credit is due: Park Hoon is owning this role. It’s his. Every movement, no matter how subtle — every idiosyncrasy, glance, nervous tic, hand gesture– every single choice Park Hoon makes as an actor is what creates Baek Sang Ho. His performance is truly nothing short of genius.
It should be noted that Sang Ho’s antics are not merely to amuse (or startle) viewers. His behavior is likely in part due to his bleak backstory, something we’ve only been given morsels of thus far. But it’s been enough to keep us anxiously waiting to find out more. And finally, in the last two episodes to air (11 and 12), we’re given a clearer sense as to what his childhood was like.
Warning: spoilers ahead about Sang Ho’s backstory, but I’ll tell you when they’re over.
In a couple well-placed flashbacks, we see that Sang Ho was abandoned by his mother, who never registered his birth. He was found by Seo Sang Won, who took the boy back to the church where he abused him daily, forcing young Sang Ho to memorize the entire ‘New Life Gospel’ by heart — and whipping him cruelly if he got even one word incorrect.
There’s no doubt we will find out much more about Sang Ho — but for right now, we are shown (at least in part) what life was like for him as a kid: full of abuse from adults who should have cared for and protected him.
End of spoilers.
Nobody Knows is doing a fantastic job with its main antagonist. While honestly presenting a fellow human being, the drama never crosses the delicate line of excusing Sang Ho’s crimes with a tragic childhood; instead, it simply reveals a person who may indeed be a product of his environment, but is making his own choices too. He’s not paraded around as one to pity, which makes him all the more pitiful.
Bonus mind nugget (a.k.a. something to think about until the next episode): Baek Sang Ho’s obsession with choice. Several times in the drama, we’ve seen how significant the power of choice is to him. (This is spoiler-free, so don’t worry.) In a recent episode, the group is discussing their next move and one of them declares that Sang Ho has no choice. He suddenly throws an almost childlike tantrum, viciously insisting over and over that he does have a choice. In episodes before that, he’s let a couple people he intends to get rid of choose their own path, essentially allowing them choose how they die. It should be noted that he’s remarkably casual and polite about it, which of course only multiplies the creep factor.
On an ending note, I have to say that I am loving Sang Ho’s little gang as well. Doo Seok, Hee Dong, and Sun A (played by Shin Jae Hwi, Tae Won Suk, and Park Min Jung, respectively) are totally killing it as Sang Ho’s group of buddies/henchmen.
It’s both surprising and immensely refreshing that these three aren’t merely Sang Ho’s underlings, but also his best friends. Instead of churning out tool-like characters who remain in the shadows of the main antagonist and have minimal (if any) character development/backstory/personality, the drama paints three very distinct, vibrant characters who are just as important to the story as anyone else.
Sang Ho himself says that if you don’t trust people, you won’t get betrayed. Interestingly, however, he seems to trust Doo Seok, Hee Dong, and Sun A implicitly…I wonder why. We know he saved Doo Seok and that he and Hee Dong knew each other in childhood and possibly even grew up together — but we haven’t yet learned about Sun A. However, I have a feeling that we’ll soon find out a lot more about this trio…as well as our main villain.
Nobody Knows deserves all the attention and support from viewers it can get (and then some), so let’s spread the love for this drama!
What do you think of Park Hoon as Baek Sang Ho? Who’s your favorite character so far? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Happy viewing, friends.
(Psst! If you’d like to read my first impressions of Nobody Knows, you can check out that post here!)
Sang Ho’s character poster image source: https://programs.sbs.co.kr/drama/nobodyknows/visualboard/63073/?cmd=view&page=1&board_no=293626