Jung Woo in A Model Family
On Television

Eastern promise

Three worthy TV shows now streaming that allow you to zip around the world with a few clicks

This article is taken from the October 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

One of the great joys of streaming television is zipping around the world with a few flicks of the remote control buttons. Two smart new offerings from Netflix, Delhi Crime and A Model Family, deftly navigate the mean streets of the Indian and Korean capitals.

Delhi Crime brings added value as its storylines are inspired by real-life events. Season one was based on the horrific 2012 Delhi bus rape case, when a student was brutally assaulted and eventually died of her injuries. It’s tough viewing but, as good drama should, tears open one of the worst aspects of parts of Indian society — its widespread sexism and misogyny — for which it won numerous awards including an International Emmy.

Season two, just released and only five episodes long, is also led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Vartika Chaturvedi, brilliantly played by Shefali Shah and backed by a very strong cast. Rasika Dugal is captivating as Neeti Singh, a determined young novice, trying to juggle the demands of her job and her new husband.

DCP Chaturvedi and her team are on the trail of a gang of murderers, who break into the homes of rich elderly people and bludgeon them to death. The killers are believed to be members of the De-Notified Tribes (DNT), an ethnic group that suffers from widespread racism and exclusion.

The media howls for vengeance and there is rising mob fury against the minority. DNT members are arrested en
masse and things soon turn rough. Delhi Crime does not idealise or sanitise its police officers — the suspects are slapped, pushed, slammed and threatened.

DCP Chaturvedi authorises an intense interrogation but instructs the officers not to leave marks. Her boss and politicians pile on the pressure to bring two suspects to a press conference and essentially announce their guilt.

In addition, she is struggling to connect with her daughter who has fled Delhi for student life in Toronto, where she is floundering. The DCP does not believe the two men are guilty. But can she stand firm and do the right thing? Will Netflix commission a third season? I do hope so.

Meanwhile, in A Model Family, Dong-ha gives the everyman archetype a new twist: the anti-everyman. A poorly-paid junior university lecturer with a sick son and high medical bills, Dong-ha has also burned through the family savings.

Director Kim Jin-woo deftly moves the storyline back and forth between Dong-ha, the cops and the mob

Luckily — or not — he discovers a crashed car with two dead men inside and a sack of money. He takes the money and buries the dead men in his garden. This is the first of several remarkably stupid decisions that entangle him ever more deeply with the mafia, as though the accident-prone Frank Spencer, of the 1970s comedy series Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em had blundered onto the set of Pulp Fiction.

Still Dong-ha, played by Jung Woo, may be a naive klutz, but he is courageous and determined to protect his family. His marriage is collapsing and his wife is having an affair but he fights to win her back. As he becomes more entangled with the mob, he is forced to run deliveries for them. The police are on his trail and his long-lost father reappears but he stays focused on the prize: a normal family life.

Director Kim Jin-woo deftly moves the storyline back and forth between Dong-ha, the cops and the mob, stepping in and out of their worlds with verve and confidence. The Korean cops cut corners while the gangsters set about each other with bloody abandon. The ten episodes could probably be reduced to eight, but this stylishly-shot series is engaging, absorbing viewing.

Finally, there is a medium-sized treasure buried on Starzplay, a sub-channel of Amazon Prime. No Man’s Land is an intelligent action-espionage thriller set in the Syrian civil war. If you liked Homeland or Tehran, you will likely love this.

Several years after his sister Anna disappeared in a terrorist attack in Egypt, Antoine, a middle-class Parisian, thinks he glimpses her in news footage of the conflict. Did she really die? Then Antoine hears of a woman known as Shamaran, fighting with the YPJ, the all-female Kurdish units in Syria.

Shamaran is scything down the ISIS fighters — and she is a French speaker. Antoine travels to Syria to find her. The storyline twists and turns across eight episodes between Antoine’s quest, the YPJ fighters and foreign volunteers, and the broader civil war. The followers of the Caliphate are shown in all their savagery but also with a degree of complexity, especially a trio of British jihadists. The threat of betrayal and treachery runs like a bloody thread through each episode.

The battle sequences are visceral. You can almost smell the acrid reek of cordite, feel the dry dust of the Levant choking your throat. Souheila Yacoub, a Swiss-born actress, is enthralling as Sarya Dogan, a YPJ fighter and commander.

But No Man’s Land is much more than bang-bang. Filmed on location in Morocco, co-created by several Israelis including Ron Leshem, a doyen of international television drama, the series feels informed and authentic. The scenes when ISIS fighters capture a YPJ outpost and a foreign volunteer fighting with the Kurds awaits her fate are haunting.

Mostly No Man’s Land, like the YPJ itself, is a story of comradeship, courage and resistance — one with a twist in its tail. As one Kurdish fighter says, “When the YPJ marches, earth and heavens tremble.” You may not tremble,  but you will be on the edge of your seat.

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