Yet another Korean dystopian drama graces our screens, but this time there are no zombies involved. The post-apocalyptic K-drama titled Black Knight or Deliveryman, as it is known in Korean, makes the peninsula a desert land with no oxygen to breathe. There are many red flags right there, but the show goes as far as to create an underground world with sectors that are divided by cast, essentially like the Hunger Games or, if you want to make random ties, the Netflix film The Platform. This time the classes go underground, and the lower you go, the richer they are. In theory, Black Knight sounds wonderful, but in practice, the show doesn’t translate very well specifically because there is so much to cover in much less time.
It is 2071, and around forty years ago, there was a comet that hit the earth and destroyed 99% of the world’s population. In the 1% remaining, Korea has a conglomerate that has built an air core that keeps people alive and converts oxyanium to oxygen for the people within this air core. The social classes are divided by the district you live in, which are the general, special, and core districts. A deliveryman is the great savior of the country, along with a young mutant boy and a major in the army. Their biggest concern is the conglomerate son, Ryu-Seok. It seems the new big thing for villains is to be good-looking and wear impeccable suits (The Marquis in John Wick, Jae Joon in The Glory) only.
Apart from these things, Ryu-Seok is lacking in all aspects. He’s power-hungry and childish, and he seemingly has no fear for his life. Added to that, the protagonist, 5-8, is the one who smokes out of his truck window while driving in a desert with toxic air pollution. Isn’t this something a privileged person would do? A stylistic choice that’s taken the wrong turn, perhaps, but this is not the only thing. Why is 5-8 so legendary? I don’t quite know after seeing the whole show. Kim Woo-Bin does the best he can to hold up this role, which is somewhat like Mad Max: Fury Road minus the great action sequences. His deep voice and perfect hair are two good reasons to watch the show because there are only six episodes, which are about 50 minutes each. Kang You-Seok is wonderful as Sa-Wol: disrespectful, cheerful, young, and active. He brings charm along with Woo-Bin, and it would’ve been so wonderful to see some real interaction between the two characters rather than the few seconds they take punches at each other. What makes K-Dramas stand out is the heart rather than the action, and Black Knight lacks majorly in this department. It seems drab and unworthy because of this one fact. Aren’t we supposed to feel for the refugees? The dead kids, the people without oxygen, but there’s really no time to feel anything or have any kind of emotional impact through the 6-episode series. Seol-Ah is supposed to be a strong female lead, especially because she is played by Esom, but she makes the same stupid mistakes repeatedly, falling into the same traps over and over again. The Chairman is neither here nor there and is a wasted opportunity, along with the President!
Hilariously, the episodes play out quite slowly, even though it’s a six-part show, and we are left with more questions than answers by the end of them. The action sequence in the third episode is way too long for no reason. There are some interesting hip-hop songs in the show that are picker-uppers when it’s just gruesome fighting to watch, but the fake sandy dunes and the brown tint, along with the graphics, look rather unfinished. For a show based in 2071, there is a lot that actually seems more reminiscent of 2017, the year the webcomic the show is based on was written. There is nothing futuristic at all about it, and even the clothing made it look very 2017. As a huge fan of Kim Woo-Bin, I was terribly disappointed by the wasted potential of this show. Still, I did enjoy all the parts he was on screen, whether it was just driving, smirking, or speaking in a low and affirming tone that makes you want to listen to every instruction he gives.
The world-building is quick, and while the graphic illustrations are stunning, it goes by so fast that if you’re not paying attention, you’ve missed the apocalypse entirely. What we needed more of were the training scenes between 5-8 and Sa-Wol so that they could form a real bond that would bring tears to our eyes by the end of the season, as we usually do in these kinds of shows, but alas, there’s no bond, and there may be tears from yawning in bits. I don’t want to hate on this show because it’s far better than some shows I’ve seen in the recent past, but when compared to other high-budget post-apocalyptic shows like The Last Of Us and recently the second season of Sweet Tooth, there’s no denying that Black Knight falls short in many places. I remember feeling this way after seeing Peninsula, the second part of Train to Busan I honestly don’t even remember what the point of the movie was, just that it was bad. It seems I have formed a similar opinion on Black Knight. It is also yet another addition to the negative effects of a consumerist society that many directors are finding themselves attracted to in all entertainment industries lately. Ro Yoon-Seoh is in the show only for a little bit, but her role is memorable, and I wish we could’ve seen more of her!
There is some profanity and lots of violence, including squelching sounds and blood spatters, so viewers’ discretion is advised. Switching young Sa-Wol from female to male is a choice I cannot understand, but if I hadn’t known about it, the kid does a great job playing the role, so it works. Still, a female Sa-Wol might have been more nuanced and helped the show expand its plotline a little further. If the show was spread out to be about ten episodes with closure to all the open-ended questions, it would’ve been one of the best K-dramas of the year, perhaps another Squid Games, of course targeting a Western audience for an action-packed adventure, but like I mentioned earlier and what I’ve noticed in Korean action movies and shows lately, is the lack of the mix of genres that they just do so well and make us want more. I would rate Black Knight 2.5 out of 5 stars for effort and the actors in the show.