'Bloodhounds' review: Let's hear it for the Bruise Brothers

'If you think we look too good for a couple of brawlers now, relax – there's over half the series to go.' Photos: Handout

One binge later and boy, does my head hurt. Not that the new Netflix action series Bloodhounds is bad, just that it's so unrelentingly... bruising.

The show is a thrill a minute as its two-fisted protagonists batter their way through (and occasionally get beaten down by) hordes of goons and nasty criminals while taking on loan sharks and their minions in a pandemic-stricken South Korea.

At only eight episodes, it doesn't waste time dawdling and puts the main characters through the wringer right from the start.

Former Marines turned boxers Geon-woo (Woo Do-hwan, The Divine Fury) and Woo-jin (Lee Sang-yi, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha) meet in the ring and become firm friends – after beating each other up.

Geon-woo is disciplined and polite with a devastating hook, while Sang-yi is brash but adept at luring opponents into range of his lethal combo.

When Geon-woo's mother falls victim to a loan shark and her struggling cafe gets trashed by the bad man's thugs, he tries to intervene but is overwhelmed.

Even worse, chief ah long Kim Myeong-gil (Park Sung-woong, The Great Battle, Life On Mars) sees potential in him and scars Geon-woo's face (just like his own is badly scarred, and we learn how and why in due course) to "mark" him.

'Watch out – he's mastered the end-of-level-boss stance!''Watch out – he's mastered the end-of-level-boss stance!'

Enter reformed loan shark Choi Tae-ho (Huh Joon-ho, Escape From Mogadishu), who is waging a silent campaign against Myeong-gil and his grand ambitions, and takes the boxers under his wing.

Bloodhounds does stretch things a bit at this juncture, as we become acquainted with Choi, his intended successor Hyun-joo (Kim Sae-ron, The Man From Nowhere's little girl next door all grown up) and his former hatchet/knife guys who are also reformed from their old debt-collecting, bone-breaking, Achilles-tendon-slicing days.

It is to writer-director Kim Joo-hwan's (Divine Fury, Midnight Runners) credit that he actually gets us to feel for supporting characters like these who, by all accounts (aside from Hyun-joo), should be consigned to the same circle of hell as Myeong-gil.

The tone shifts frequently, as the show changes gears from buddy comedy to brawler and drops in squirm-inducing violence and jaw-dropping tragedy without giving the viewer notice. By the end of the sixth episode, you may even feel like giving up hope along with the main characters, seeing how bleak things get.

But another odd gear-change later, Bloodhounds is back on track on its mission from God, namely to see the bad guys brought to account for their misdeeds.

'I'm no sushi chef, although I've been known to slice up one or two in my time. Chefs, that is.''I'm no sushi chef, although I've been known to slice up one or two in my time. Chefs, that is.'

Based on the webtoon by Jeong Chan, Bloodhounds refers to the loan shark minions who specialise in tracking down debtors. It's not always clear if the show intends Geon-woo and Woo-jin to be in that situation, but parallels between their collective arc and Choi's old henchmen are obvious.

The core of it is about maintaining a grip on one's humanity amid utterly dehumanising circumstances, as the pandemic forces desperate people to resort to usurers, and said loan sharks adapt their business to exploit the Covid-19 landscape.

Its likable stars hold things together even if the show fails to hold on to its female lead (Sae-ron exited the project owing to a real-life controversy, and her character vanishes like a Thanos snap), while Park more than holds up his end of the bargain as the smug, vicious antagonist.

There are moments when Bloodhounds descends into video game-level antics, with the bad guys having access to an endless supply of goons and the heroes having a thing for rushing in without thinking.

Despite its occasional excesses, the show keeps itself largely grounded through its focus on friendship and duty. And of course, family. Without the Dominic Toretto memes, if you please.

All eight episodes of Bloodhounds are available on Netflix.

7.5 10


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