Thursday, October 05, 2023

Bargain, on Paramount+

Imagine getting trapped in a 1970’s-style disaster movie with the absolute worst people in the world. That is the position Noh Hyung-soo finds himself in. Of course, he is one those gross characters. He thought he was coming to the remote hotel for a questionably legal sexual encounter, but instead, a gang of organ-harvesters intends to auction his inside parts to the highest bidder. Then a massive earthquake interrupts everything in creator Byun Seung-min’s six-part Bargain, which premieres today on Paramount+.

Park Joo-young lured Noh pretending to be a high school student offering her virginity for sale, but she will actually be his auctioneer. About a dozen potential buyers will bid and then the Mandarin-speaking surgeons from Mainland China (the world capital of organ-harvesting) will carve him up, sort of like when you order a live lobster in a restaurant. It is almost like divine retribution when a sudden earthquake rips a giant hole through the center of the hotel.

Suddenly, Park and Noh must work together to survive—or so he keeps telling her. Obviously, neither really trusts each other, but they recognize they are probably the best of the bad lot. Civil war erupts among the organ-harvesting gang, between factions loyal to the boss and his chief deputy. Park would probably side with the boss if she had to choose, but she does not feel much loyalty, since she was also trafficked into the gang.

Meanwhile, they also must contend with the clan of troglodytes in the basement that dispose of the bodies and the increasingly unhinged buyer, Guk-ryeol, who keeps insisting Noh must make good on the kidney he purchased for his dying father.

Bargain is the sort of feel-good drama, where everybody learns we are all just the same deep down: nasty, brutish, and mean. The first three episodes are so dark and scuzzy, you might want to take a quick shower before proceeding further. However, the brutal fight scenes and karmic payback of the last three episodes are definitely satisfying, in a grungy, exploitative kind of way.

Jin Sum-kyu achieves the perfect manic-neurotic-amoral vibe as Noh. We kind of pull for him, since everything that happens to him is genuinely horrific, but most viewers will still just shake their heads in amusement at his lowly depths he will sink to. Likewise, Jeon Jong-seo somewhat wins viewers sympathies as the massively fatalistic Park. Plus, Chang Ryul goes from uncomfortably off to utterly crazed, passing fifty shades of lunacy along the way, as Guk-ryeol, the “Good Son.”

The wreckage and destruction of the country resort hotel are also quite impressive. Like any trainwreck, it is hard to look away from
Bargain. Series director Jeon Woo-sung keeps you hooked, even when you wish you weren’t. It is definitely something else that stands apart. Recommended for viewers who can appreciate its grubby, lurid aesthetics, Bargain starts streaming today (10/5) on Paramount+.