I’ve come to expect the most from Netflix’s original slate of Korean dramas, and every month, I’m surprised even more. Somebody, an eight-episode thriller by director Jung Ji-Woo and writer Han Ji-Wan is one of the best series of the year. Its blend of eroticism, violence, and mystery all works to unsettle and ramp up the tension in a story that looks at the way technology that connects us can be exploited.
The series focuses on Kim Sum (Kang Hae-Lim), a developer for the social connecting app “Somebody” which has become a way to hook up or meet the love of your life. In short, it’s a place for people to find someone. Even though she has difficulty communicating with other people, she craves a connection with someone who truly understands her. To do this, she creates a social AI named “Someone,” and uses what she learns from it to fill a void in her life. But she isn’t completely alone, she is friends with Mok-Won (Kim Yong Ji), a shaman, and Yeong Gi-Eun (Kim Soo-Yeon), a detective, who becomes increasingly important as a mysterious man named Seong Yun-O (Kim Young-kwang) enters her life. Yun-O is an attractive man but his attractiveness hides his danger. After a murder where the victim was contacted on “Somebody,” the app and how it can be exploited for a killer to find his victims becomes the central focus as the friends are pulled into the center of it.
An erotic thriller with two leads that will get under your skin, Netflix’s Somebody is beyond anything that I thought it would be. In eight episodes, Somebody tells a winding story of desire, sociopathy, and the pull to be understood by someone else. Kim Young-Kwang as Yun-O is chilling. He’s methodical and callous and yet, deeply emotional, even if what he expresses harms those around him. But his psychopathy isn’t just surface-level, it runs deep and weaves together a trail of dead bodies each have their own meaning. Actor Kim’s range and ability to move from charismatic and sexy to dangerous and terrifying in the blink of an eye and the tilt of a head is unmatched.
For her part, Kang Hae-Lim as Sum is stunning. Sum’s confusion of the world around her may be characterized as Asperger’s at first, but as we see her develop in the story, it’s really sociopathy that drives her lack of empathy and ability to read others. As Sum morphs from someone who seems innocent into someone cold and tantalized by violence, actress Kang’s dynamic skill is on full display. A murderous match, Yun-O and Sum are two forces that break and bend each other while the rest of the cast aims to get to the center of the mystery. While we know Yun-O’s malice and evil, it’s hard to read Sum. Is she teased by violence? Excited by it? Or does she need it as Yun-O does? This exploration is an interesting one that develops over time and as the depth of the mystery grows and grows, Yun-O becomes a destructive web that the women navigate, still unsure if they’re connecting around the same person for most of the series.
That said, the negative forces in Somebody don’t outweigh the characters trying to do good. This balance of having characters to root for and against works particularly well, especially in terms of the series’ eroticism. Moments of sexual intimacy feel like manipulation at times or ramp up tension for impending doom. But still, the intimacy between Mok-won and her girlfriend adds some reprieve, and a couple to root for even as the walls close in. Mok-won grounds the series in something more than a need for connection. Her connections with the women around her and her shamanistic ability to see something that Gi-Eun and Sum can not shapes the narrative in interesting ways. And Kim Yong-Ji’s performance is utterly powerful.
Central to the series, beyond eroticism, is the place that technology plays in the relationships we form with other people. The founder of the titular dating site, Sum is preoccupied with creating an AI chat boy, Someone, to make up for the interactions she lacks in the real world. For Yun-O, Somebody is a dating app he uses for his sick games and to chase his victims and exploit their loneliness and cause them pain. For Gi-Eun, the dating app was a way to get back into love after an accident left her disabled.
While I’m sure you’re thinking that I’ve spoiled most of the series in this review, the truth is there is so much more explored and flipped on its head throughout the series. A psychopath with a group of friends swirling around him, the series changes everything you expect throughout the series. It also manages to tackle themes like queerness and disability in a way that feels real and never others the characters despite the attempts of the world or Yun-O to harm them.
Somebody is unlike any episodic Korean drama series that I’ve seen before. It’s filled with sex, self-pleasure, violence, and the type of violation that will make your skin crawl. This thriller won’t be for everyone, but the way in which it deals with the anonymity of online dating and the forces that drive the creation of the platform and its use of it can’t be understated. Filled with performances that are both deeply unsettling or emotional, it may be one of the best series I’ve seen all year, and definitely one of the best stories that thrillers have to offer this year from film or television.
Somebody is available now, exclusively on Netflix.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.