This review, which contains some spoilers, covers episodes 1-8 of Vincenzo, which is currently available on Netflix.
All eyes are on Vincenzo to see if vaunted A-lister Song Joong Ki will be able to recover from his divorce and deliver in his latest drama, after a long hiatus and a rather lacklustre performance in Space Sweepers.
As Vincenzo passes the mid-season mark, it seems rather ambiguous as to whether Song, who plays a former Italian Mafia consigliere, has made a significant impact despite the series staying at No. 1 on Netflix in Singapore for the last few weeks. The series also recently received some flak for including product placements for a Chinese bibimbap brand, rousing anger from South Korean netizens.
It’s great that Song made a decent effort to immerse himself into his role, learning how to speak Italian in order to step into the shiny dress shoes of Vincenzo Cassano, a consigliere of the Cassano crime family. Yet, it is known that the Mafia speaks not so much with their words, but actions.
The Italian Mafia in the '70s and the '80s had an international reputation for being ruthless, cold-blooded and feared for their indiscriminate blood-letting. To join the Mafia was tantamount to selling your soul to them. Once you joined their ranks as a ‘made man’ you would take the omerta, an oath of silence, and be part of the family till death.
Leaving is not an option. The fact that the Cassano family allowed Vincenzo to flee to Korea without pursuing him despite him threatening their new boss by blowing up his favourite car forces me to question the credibility of the show.
A consigliere in the mafia ranks just below the Don, the boss of a Mafia family, as the second in command. He would be chosen solely for his cunning, intelligence, intuition and diplomacy. Song is every inch the consigliere with his perfectly tailored Booralro suits (which coincidentally sounds like testicles in Korean), coiffed hair and signature lighter. But he also gets robbed by a limousine taxi service as soon as he leaves Incheon airport; not very smart for a consigliere eh?
I also had different ideas for the baby-faced Song. Perhaps a scar or two from a scuffle or near-death hit would’ve given him a more convincing appearance. His gaze also lacks the cold-hearted hardness of a man moulded by one of the cruellest underground institutions to exist in our world.
And of course, who can forget the rather lame one-dimensional plot? Vincenzo is intent on blowing up Geumga Plaza in Seoul to acquire a mountain of gold, hidden by a former associate of the Cassano family who has since died.
But the tenants are a very strange bunch who don’t really add very much to the series in terms of value. Evicting them is also the goal of the Babel Group, who want to destroy Geumga Plaza for their own plans to develop high-rise property in the area. Vincenzo ends up teaming up with Hong Yu Chan (Yoo Jae Myung), a lawyer who is determined to fight off Babel Group’s chairman Jang Han Seo (Kwak Dong Yeon) and his lawyer lackeys from Wusang law firm.
There are some triumphant instances where Vincenzo reveals his cunning and vengefulness, willing to use his adversaries' own dirty tactics against them. But these instances are few and far between. He exacts revenge on a senior partner of Wusang, Choi Myung Hee (Kim Yeo Jin), by threatening her with her own tactics when she sent a van crashing into the restaurant Vincenzo was eating in, almost killing him.
But the point is, Song has only deigned to take a backseat in a series which is supposed to feature him front and centre. Instead, he has allowed his feisty co-star Jeon Yeo Bin as lawyer Hong Cha Young to take the reins and drive the show.
Taecyeon as Jang Joon Woo has also seized the opportunity to fill the vacuum and steal the limelight from his much more famous co-star, delivering a powerful performance as a two-faced lawyer.
Director Park Jae Bum decided to up the ante by giving some fan service, making Vincenzo go on an amusement park date with the gay president Hwang Min Seong (Kim Sung Cheol) of Shinkwang Bank, to try and seduce the young man into souring a loan deal between his bank and Babel Group.
The couple cosy up and get flirty on screen and off, going on park rides despite Vincenzo’s agonised protests, even sharing an on-the-cheek kiss!
Perhaps it is already too far gone, even with such gleeful fan service. Where has all of Song's sass as Gu Yong Ha from Sungkyungkwan Scandal gone? What about the bravado as ‘Big Boss’ Captain Yoo Si Jin from Descendants Of The Sun? Song Joong Ki might be physically present and extremely dapper in the show, but his heart doesn’t seem in it at all.