This post contains spoilers. Please enjoy.
Bad and Crazy is a masterclass on how tropes should be used in dramas. Though the term “trope” can carry a negative connotation, it’d be hard to argue that these literary devices have not stood the test of time. So, if those devices are viewed as simple guidelines — not as the rigid law of writing that must be copied-and-pasted every time — then writers can still create truly unique tales, regardless of how many times we’ve seen a particular story element before.
Used poorly, tropes are boring clichés; used well, they’re storytelling tools. That’s what the writers of Bad and Crazy understood, and that’s why this drama works so well despite containing numerous tropes we’ve all seen before.
Let’s take a look at some specific examples that stuck out to me while watching.
Trope: The Not-So-Surprising Reveals
Why it works: The drama doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Bad and Crazy deals with some really tough topics, and fittingly gives those the amount of gravity they deserve. One thing the drama does not seem to take seriously, however, is…itself. Allow me to explain.
The reveals in Bad and Crazy are not overplayed; instead of trying so hard to blow audience’s minds, the drama gives its viewers credit for thinking for themselves and simply focuses on telling what is a truly interesting story. It does not force surprise where there isn’t any; it shows its hand, and lets the story play out organically.
Consequently, the grandeur of some of the reveals (namely, the first major one with K) ends up being much more about style and presentation than about trying to evoke a shock from the audience. Drama knew it wasn’t fooling anyone — which isn’t the point anyways — but the story still needs to be told. So, why not have some fun with it?
This whole point is driven home by the fact that the reveal with K is presented at the end of only the second episode, whereas a less aware drama might have tried to push it much further.
Bad and Crazy is clearly enjoying telling its story and the result is a refreshingly fun watch.
Trope: The Protagonist With More Than One Personality
Why it works: Two separate actors play the distinct personalities…and their chemistry is everything.
A main character having multiple personalities is nothing new, but I find the choice to have two separate actors play the same character is creative, unique, and really quite brilliant. While I’m sure the world would not complain about two Lee Dong Wooks on-screen, it’s far more engaging to watch his chemistry with Wi Ha Joon. Why? Because two human beings interacting with each other in real time will always be more compelling than someone interacting with an inanimate object or with somebody else who’s going to be edited out later anyways — this is part of what “chemistry” is.
Visually, the two actors serve as a storytelling aid to viewers. Rather than the typical alteration in hairstyle, clothing, or voice to try to physically manifest each character’s personality, here we have a whole separate actor playing each personality. It’s simple and effective.
Back to the chemistry thing: these two are hilarious together. They play off of each other wonderfully and their comedic timing is in sync. Furthermore, they are both powerful performers, so watching them share more serious scenes together has been a treat. One of my favorite moments between the two so far is when Soo Yeol (Lee Dong Wook) is trying to open a door in his mind hallway — it makes sense if you’ve seen the drama, I swear — and K (Wi Ha Joon) won’t let him because K, who’s born from trauma, knows what memories lie there. It’s a quiet moment full of impact thanks to the talented cast.
Trope: The Strong, Independent Woman Who Doesn’t Need A Man
Why it works: Speaking of personalities, this leading lady has one.
Okay, this might come off as overly cynical, but I am nearly always ready to dislike female lead characters in shows (at least at first) because a lot of them are clearly meant to be feminist icons and just wind up as one-dimensional anti-man campaigns (which is not true feminism, by the way). It’s boring and uninspired.
The character of Lee Hee Kyum (Han Ji Eun) could have easily gone that route, but the writers (thankfully) had something else in mind for her. Yes, she is strong, independent, and can very much hold her own in a fight. But Hee Kyum is also a fully-faceted and well-rounded character who is kind-hearted, seeks justice, feels deeply hurt by betrayal, knows the pangs of sorrow and pity, and fights for what she knows is right.
I don’t have too much more to say. I think Han Ji Eun is doing a stellar job and I heartily applaud how Drama is presenting its leading lady. If we are talking about on-screen feminism, Lee Hee Kyum is an icon indeed.
Trope: The Corrupt Police
Why it works: Catching the bad guys is not the main focus of the drama.
Interestingly, the drama is not solely centered around the whodunit. The police are corrupt and there’s a hierarchy and all that, yes, but once that whole ordeal is wrapped up and the guilty parties are caught, the story continues very naturally and without skipping a beat. Why does it work like that? Because Bad and Crazy was never only about catching the bad guys. That’s part of it, sure — and we will have more antagonists to catch as the episodes air. But the heart of our story lies in the far more interesting issue: Soo Yeol’s past and K’s existence. Catching bad guys is just icing on the cake.
Trope: The Unhelpful Psychologist
Why it works: The psychologist’s intentions are good and he’s genuinely likable.
A classic example of this on-screen juxtaposition is the montage of snooty, unhelpful psychologists in the beginning portion of Good Will Hunting. Any time I see a psychologist in a show who clearly won’t be of much help, I expect said show to take a similar path. Bad and Crazy shakes things up a bit by heading in the complete opposite direction with a “heart mender” who texts during sessions, shouts back at Soo Yeol, and falls asleep during hypnosis. Professional? Not at all. But as a drama character for our lead to play off of, it is unexpected and really quite funny.
Though his experience might be questionable, Yeom Geun Soo’s (Choi Kwang Je) intentions are good. Not only has his hypnosis shown viewers quite a bit about Soo Yeol (and of course, reminded Soo Yeol about his own memories too) but he’s also actually a really great listener to our protagonist and has been there several times when Soo Yeol needed someone to talk to. His office slowly (and, again, unexpectedly) becomes a safe space for Soo Yeol, and the psychologist himself becomes a trusted character by Soo Yeol and viewers alike. Interestingly, he’s also the only character in the drama (besides Soo Yeol of course) who knows about K. (Because of these positive qualities he displays, I think a valid argument can be made that he is indeed helpful, but in a different way than expected of a typical psychologist I’d imagine.)
I wrote Yeom Geun Soo off at first because I thought he was a one-time appearance, but thankfully the drama kept him on — and his scenes with Soo Yeol have become some of my absolute favorites.
Quick disclaimer: I’m not actually 100% sure if this guy is in fact a psychologist. His office is called “Heart Mender Clinic,” so perhaps he’s supposed to be some sort of healer instead. I could not remember if he’s referred to as a psychologist or called a doctor at any point, so I could be wrong in labelling him as such. Regardless of his official occupation, however, my point still stands.
Although I watched it after having finished writing this blog post, I found the linked-below YouTube video keenly insightful as to the differences between clichés and tropes. (And honestly, it was simply a fascinating and well-done video altogether.) I heartily recommend giving it a watch if you’re interested.
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Currently watching: Bad and Crazy
All-time favorite drama: Sakura no Oyakodon: Season 3
Until next post, friends.