Korean Sci-Fi on Netflix is expanding and with bigger and bigger shows, it’s leading the genre on the streaming platform. Adding to an already impressive line-up of series, Black Knight is written and directed by Cho Ui-Seok and based on the manhwa by Lee Yun-kyun entitled Delivery Knight. A mixed bag ultimately, Black Knight isn’t like anything else we’ve seen from South Korea on Netflix, and the narrative’s idiosyncracies make the series stand out from the crowd.
Taking place in a dystopian Seoul, which is now a sprawling deserted wasteland, deliverymen known as “knights” play an indispensable role in keeping people alive by delivering parcels of oxygen and other necessities. The landscape has been decimated by the aftermath of a meteor strike that has clouded the sky and left the Korean peninsula nearly uninhabitable, except for the districts set up in Seoul.
There, former refugee 5-8, played by Kim Woo-bin, takes on this job and recruits others from the lowest rungs of society to help him overthrow the hierarchy. With each group of remaining survivors sectioned into castes and relying on a QR code to give them access to supplies to survive, the class critique and dynamics are clear.
While I’m usually a fan of webcomic adaptations, Black Knight like Rugal, doesn’t do well in adapting thick plot points into television episodes. While the latter stretched them over too many episodes, the former frustratingly condensed characters and themes in order to make the short episode order. This makes the pacing awkward in places and delivers my first big gripe with the series, 5-8.
Played by Kim Woo-bin, 5-8, even within the context of the series itself and not just the marketing, is built up to be the central character whose legend inspires and shapes the story. However, Sa-wol (Kang You-Seok) is the true main character of the series, with 5-8 thinly written when there is clearly more to tell with his story.
As a character, Sa-wol is interesting. However, his immature temperament, clueless nature, and status as a character that things happen to instead of affecting change in the story make him hard to root for. On the other hand, Kim Woo-bin as 5-8 commands every room he walks into, a mostly silent intimidating presence that I deeply want to know more about. While we see elements of backstory shown in flashbacks, it’s far from enough to scratch the itch. That isn’t to say that every storyline isn’t entertaining. They are. As the different perspectives of the world converge, they weave together interestingly enough. However, there always feels like something is missing.
Additionally, and shockingly enough, Westworld’s VFX work in Black Knight is inconsistent. Despite bringing to life monsters, death games, and the moon, the digital CGI effects work in Black Knight feel jarring at moments. While the VFX studio manages to expertly bring to life sandstorms and intricate landscapes that show the eye for detail and environment design we’ve seen in other series they’ve worked on like Silent Sea, when you look at the objects moving within it…well, it’s cartoonish at best. When the scenes move from sweeping landscape and architecture to cars moving on the road, it’s jarring.
That said, the special effects of the series take a fantastic turn when things are done practically. Whether it’s in chases, where Grandpa keeps his plant experiments, or the interiors of buildings from the Core to the refugee area, those moments show an eye for set building. Making up for much of the computer-generated elements that don’t land.
Black Knight tries to show the importance of an oppressed class rising up through solidarity to overthrow a corrupt government and company in control. Still, there are moments that lean away from classism and into certain areas of mistrust that I question given our current circumstances, primarily in the choice to make a vaccine the chosen way a population is targeted to be killed.
I want to like Black Knight, if only for how good the costuming is and the promise the concept has, and of course, Kim Woo-bin. Black Knight’s biggest fault is that at every twist of the story I was left asking why, and seldom did the audience ever get the answer. That said, the series winds up being fine at best, getting bogged down by the scope of the series and how much it swings for the fences.
But it isn’t all bad. Instead of being a bad series, Black Knight winds up being in the middle of the road with just as much positive as there is negative. This is particularly true for character relationships and certain action set-piece moments like the first two challenges in the Deliveryman exam. The blending of the tournament with overthrowing a capitalist regime built on personal greed works in bursts, and when it does, it really shines.
In one moment, we get to see a competition with cars and guns that fits the epic scale the series aims for. In another, we get to see a reunion between two old friends who wound up on different sides of the divide, one in the Core and the other with the refugees. And of course, when we get to see 5-8 in-action moments, particularly when it comes to shootouts, Black Knight is worth watching.
Additionally, the villain, Song Seung-heon as Ryu-seok is a good one, and by that, I mean a great bad guy. He’s selfish, greedy and doesn’t hide his true colors. With some killer suits and a scowl that makes him detestable, his motives and his means all work to make a character you hate—in the best way.
Individually, the moments of the series are fantastic. However, it’s how they get strung together with holes in the moments when they meet, and it gets frustrating. Black Knight is a fine science fiction offering. Its big concept and the landscape ends up being more unwieldy than not, but if you’re a fan of Kim Woo-bin, his moments really make tuning in worth it.
Black Knight is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
Black Knight is a fine science fiction offering. Its big concept and the landscape ends up being more unwieldy than not, but if you’re a fan of Kim Woo-bin, his moments really make tuning in worth it.
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.