It doesn’t matter how well you oil your machine, nothing can protect from broken cogs when an unexpected finger jams the gears.
Mashing up crime drama, disaster movie, and real time delivery, latest hit Korean show Bargain explores a microcosm world where capitalism will kick you down a hole and leave you to fight back up again one level at a time.
What Is Bargain About?
First off, Bargain is tenser than the vibrating cable keeping a high-wire walker hundred of meters above a pancake death.
Yet the tables quickly turn as the lecherous Hyung-su is strapped down for a highly efficient black market organ auction, with Ju-young as auctioneer.
After one bidder desperate to buy a kidney for his sick father takes out a loan (with his own organs as collateral) how can things get any worse?
Well, how about a disastrous earthquake? As the shaken building partly collapses the slick criminal enterprise it housed crumbles to bricks and mortar.
Populated by gangsters, chop and dice men, and shady bidders, everyone struggles to clamber out from under the weight of competing interests.
Bargain deploys a 24 style ‘real time’ presentation that never stops ramping up the stress.
Even before the earthquake we are holding our breath to see what will happen to the struggling Hyung-su once the auction for his organs is over.
After, with Ms Park trying to manoeuvre the situation to her advantage, frazzled bidders gunning for survival, and murderous gangsters trying to kill all witnesses, there is never a moment where you can relax.
Although there are times when she disappears from the screen for a while, Jeon Jong-seo anchors a show where characters fade in and out as events unfold; her steely aura later landing her lead in Ballerina.
Ms Park is morally ambiguous (does a tragic trafficked background excuse her breezy complacency at suckering in organ ‘donors’?) but Jeon’s magnetic determination grounds the chaos around her.
Bargain Official Trailer
Is Bargain Worth Watching?
‘Morally ambiguous’ might as well be the tag line for Bargain. Hyung-su may have been kidnapped for forced organ donation, but he was there in the first place for highly salacious reasons.
Jin Seon-kyu keeps him ever teetering on the balance of being hateful, as his explanations are never unproven but still don’t ring true.
It’s hard to be arrogant whilst stuck in just underwear for a good chunk of the show’s run time, but he manages it.
It's even hard to sympathise with the guy who needs the kidney he paid for (Ju-Young Lee, The School Nurse Files).
His blinkered focus to ensure the kidney doesn’t escape him – as the building literally crumbles around everyone – speaks to a dark mania that is only exacerbated by desperation.
Bargain lives up to its name not just within the trade offs between relatable desire for survival vs repellent motivations, but also within the individual situations each episode throws at us.
Hand held cameras jostle for space in cramped rooms and crumbling corridors, where every new survivor you meet will either kill each other or trample over them for self-preservation.
The effect is one of rolling crisis; a precis of life that was barely held together by an established norm where everyone knew their place.
Naked profiteering is of little help to those whose world collapses around them. Even if you do manage to eventually stand atop the rubble, how long will your victory be?
Whilst you ponder that, fire up this lean 8 episode show ‘freely’ available on Paramount+. Bargain!
Words by Mike Record
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