Who are you in the dark? When no one else can see you, when no one else can pass judgment, when the only consequences you face come from your conscience, who are you? And what are you willing to do? These are the questions asked by tvN‘s Liar Game.
Nam Da-jung (Kim So-eun) is the typical drama heroine: she’s sweet, humble, generous and in crushing debt due to her father, who ran off and left her holding the bag. Unlike the typical drama heroine, she soon gets a solution– she is a contestant on the reality series Liar Game, hosted by the slightly off Do-young. She could win a fortune, with the only catch being she has to swindle that fortune out of the other contestants.
The setup of the in-universe Liar Game serves as a perfect way to explore what people are willing to do for money. It may be a reality series, but the only consequences anyone suffers are internal. Da-jung isn’t swindling innocent people out of their life savings. The money she’d be taking is money those people have been given to be stolen, knowing full well people are trying to steal it. No one will come out of the game worse than how they were when they went in. All that matters is whether or not Da-jung is capable of trading their happiness for her own, and right now that’s a no.
Enter Ha Woo-jin (Lee Sang-yoon), a convict and human lie detector. He believes that everyone lies all the time and that there is no benefit in acting against your own self-interest, even if it would help someone. He is a con artist; someone with the ability to lie, cheat, and steal — completely unlike Da-jung. And he’ll do all of these things, he tells her, in exchange for half her winnings. This solution still involves Da-jung watching people get swindled, though, and that goes against who she is at her core.
Da-jung is not someone who is capable of putting herself above other people. She is generous to a fault, and it makes her typical character– broke, plucky heroine– feel real. She is not perpetually poor because the universe hates her, but because she makes conscious decision after conscious decision to perpetuate her own poverty in exchange for doing what she believes is the right thing.
That 500,000 dollars would literally solve all her problems in one go. It would tempt anyone, but she won’t take it; won’t trade someone else’s security for her own. As much as we might think she’s naive, or overly trusting, or just dumb, the sheer strength of character it takes to turn that down cannot be written off.
Even Woo-jin agrees with that. Before they meet, Woo-jin obviously disapproves of everything about Da-jung. When he and the other prisoners watch the first episode of Liar Game, he is the only one to go against Da-jung, pointing out that she’s going lose fast and hard. So when she does — by being emotionally manipulated by an old teacher — Woo-jin gives her no quarter, pointing out that she really should have known better. Yet, he finds himself swayed by her unending faith in humanity and agrees to help her in the game. This is made clearer when he explains that he knows that Da-jung will have to surrender her half of the money as a penalty for dropping out and plans to return his half to her afterwards.
That course of action sums up Liar Game‘s theme in a nutshell. Both the real Liar Game and the in-universe one make it appear that the theme is “Don’t trust anyone.” In-universe show host Do-young is the embodiment of this philosophy: he is a slimy person who hasn’t actually done anything shady, and appears to (ironically) be honest about his belief that everyone lies. Nevertheless, the instincts of everyone he interacts with, even Da-jung, scream “This guy in scum. Be wary!”
The actual Liar Game attempts to make it apparent that “don’t trust anyone” is their motto as well. Anytime Da-jung trusts anyone, it backfires horribly. Her old teacher scammed her, her father left her drowning in debt, and Woo-jin abandoned her to stand in an alley for hours.
Trust has yet to reap her any benefit. Hell, Liar Game opens with Woo-jin lecturing a college class on this very topic, saying that all people lie all the time. In one minute, he spots 1/3 of students lying over everything from crushes to theft. Throughout the whole scene, we can see written on the board “DON’T. TRUST. ANYONE.” Yet, when he is arrested, the last shot of the scene cuts one word off. What we are left with is “TRUST. ANYONE.”
For all the bad that happens when Da-jung places her trust in people, the first two episodes of Liar Game have an undercurrent of events and actions that undercut the “don’t trust anyone” theme. Da-jung inspires people, winning them over with her generosity and faith. Woo-jin is the obvious example, but he’s far from the only one. She is on good terms with her debt collector Dal-goo, to the point that he frequently joins her for meals and puts his own job on the line for her sake. Her teacher aided her in the past because of how nice she was. Even the audience of the fictional Liar Game like her — she was the 4th most popular contestant when the game starts.
So far Liar Game is a delightful thriller. The set-up of the game is great on its own, but Da-jung and Woo-jin balance out a killer plot with amazing characters. They serve as proxies in the philosophical debate over trusting people, but they also feel like actual people. I will most definitely be tuning in for more. Liar Game airs Mondays and Tuesdays on tvN, and can be streamed at Viki.com.
(images via tvN)