South Korean cinema, especially twisty thrillers, have gained a massive fanbase around the globe in the last two decades for a reason. The genre’s unapologetically hyperviolent approach and thickly layered narratives (with a touch of madness) often venture beyond extremes without breaking the veil of real-life plausibility. It’s a style of filmmaking and storytelling that’s virtually unparalleled (or, at least, hard to imitate), a unique characteristic and hallmark of the country’s entertainment.
After the global success of Netflix’s Squid Game, it’s hardly a surprise that Tving and Paramount+’s latest action-thriller, A Bloody Lucky Day, continues to carry over those impressive qualities to the small screen in an equally arresting manner. The 10-episode series is like a metaphorical butcher knife that keeps getting sharper as its gripping story unfolds between a good-hearted taxi driver and a flagrant serial killer. That might sound like a basic premise, but the creators turn this narrative into a devastating cat-and-mouse epic between good and evil, which will burn into your mind and soul before you know it.
Oh Taek (Lee Sung-min) is a naïve but cheerful buffoon. He drives a taxi in Seoul to repay a stupendous debt he acquired through no fault of his own when he got scammed at his previous job. Though misfortune seems to be his current mistress — on the account of the debt, he did time in prison, his wife left him, and his two children look down upon him — Taek’s lively and benevolent spirit remained intact. He’s a selfless, jolly man who’s simply incapable of facing his flaws that continue to hit him in the head every day. He always assumes the best of people, which is exactly what lands him in trouble when he picks up a young doctor named Geum Hyeok-soo (Yoo Yeon-Seok).
Geum needs a long-distance ride to Mokpo and is willing to pay extra to get there. At first, Taek declines the offer, but through his passenger’s persuasiveness and the amount of dough he knows he can’t refuse, he eventually agrees to take him. Soon, he’ll realize what a giant mistake he made. Once on their way, and after some off-putting jokes about murder, Geum tells Taek that he’s, in fact, a serial killer who wants to share his “origin story.” Naturally, our hero freaks out and tries to bail immediately, but Geum threatens him with such an elaborate plan of killing his family that he’s left with no choice but to drive and listen. And what he has to hear about severed fingers, master manipulation, and despicable murders is really just a taste of something much darker that’s rapidly headed his way — in addition to the grieving mother who’s following Geum ever since he killed her son.
A Bloody Lucky Day deceives in all the best ways: on the surface, its protagonists seem like familiar stereotypes we’ve seen before, yet we can never anticipate what they’ll do next. As the unnerving and riveting flashbacks from Geum’s past keep resurfacing, our notion about him constantly changes. Details like why he can’t feel pain and what’s his motive for killing people permeate the show’s atmosphere with dread and trepidation, creating an inescapable feeling of being trapped. Taek embodies all these emotions — bringing us as close to immediate danger as possible — and serves as the viewer’s substitute, using common sense to outsmart a maniac to save himself.
But Geum’s mind is a labyrinth of master plans, screams, and severed body parts only he can navigate. Once you’re trapped in there, the horrors you have to endure will wash through you like a river of blood. The only way to survive is to become evil, too, at least until you must, but when you finally get out, you’re no longer the person you once were. Taek learns all this through brutal violence (no actual nails were harmed during the shooting, or so I hope) and ruthless emotional torture that eventually breaks him. And to recover, he has to face and overcome his weaknesses that he ignored throughout his entire life.
Though the series employs a few seemingly incidental plot points, make no mistake, everything is meticulously designed here. From lottery tickets to accidents to mysterious suitcases, even the tiniest details are crucially important and connect chillingly as a whole. A Bloody Lucky Day builds the element of surprise into its very fabric, using it to drive the plot always a step further when the narrative seems to have hit a dead end. In fact, dead ends is where the show thrives and delivers its biggest twists that not only catch us by surprise but reshape entire character arcs by putting the protagonists on new paths.
Yet A Bloody Lucky Day is truly at its top-shelf best — if you still aren’t convinced it’s a must-watch — when it builds on its heroes’ emotional journey. There are no bluffs here. The stakes are as real as it gets, and sometimes that means people ending up in meat grinders while their loved ones hysterically wail in tears, collapsed on the ground. Besides the edge-of-your-seat writing, apt direction, and an eerie score that brings John Carpenter’s iconic theme of Halloween to mind at times, conveying these devastating feelings and complicated characters rests on the main actors’ shoulders. The entire cast is superb, but Sung-min and Yeon-Seok are really the spectacles here, utilizing a dazzling chemistry that often recalls Jee-woon Kim’s vicious modern classic, I Saw the Devil.
The show’s first half could be a little tighter (some early episodes run longer than they should), but even that’s negligible, given how neatly everything comes together by the end. Overall, A Bloody Lucky Day offers a fresh, stirring dark tale in an oversaturated sub-genre with a slick style and astounding effort that puts it among the finest South Korean thrillers out there. And given the high standards of K-dramas, that’s no small feat.
All 10 episodes of A Bloody Lucky Day are available to stream on Paramount+ now.