Postapocalyptic scenarios are a trump card in storytelling. ‘The world has ended and…’ the possibilities are endless, for even if the storyline is repeated, regurgitated, or simply recycled, a human on a ruined earth will always find a revamped problem to deal with. Netflix’s latest South Korean drama, Black Knight, is being welcomed with comparisons to George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). However, putting aside the aggressive vehicular stunts across deserted landscapes, Black Knight manages to deliver a unique six-episode saga of a bleary future.
Decades into the aftereffects of a comet crash, the Korean peninsula now exists perennially under a toxic haze. Plagued by severely polluted air, fresh oxygen is a heavily monetised commodity brought to your doorstep in pristine white cannisters by delivery men. Not everyone has access to this facility though. A heavily stratified social order measures privilege by the QR code permanently tattooed on the back of the hand that ensures entry and exit into the elite, gated (and breathable) communities. Those sans QR code, known as ‘refugees’, have been pushed to live in the ruins of the former civilisation.
Black Knight (Korean)
Director: Cho Ui-seok
Cast: Kim Woo-bin, Song Seung-heon, Kang Yoo-seok, Esom, and others
Runtime: 45 minutes
Storyline: In a postapocalyptic world plagued by pollution, deliverymen serve as a lifeline, delivering oxygen while navigating a highly stratified society
Driving through swathes of arid land that has engulfed the former city, the delivery personnel battle hazardous climate as well as ‘hunters’ along the way who aim to steal the goods. Our protagonist, deliveryman 5-8 (Kim Woo-bin), makes these obstacles look like child’s play. He expertly manoeuvres his large truck and quickly disposes of the hunters. Actually, anyone in this postapocalyptic South Korea can do the same because 5-8’s legendary status has also made him into a playable videogame character. A Robin Hood-esque figure, 5-8 delivers to the elite during the day and ducks into the refugee areas at night to help those in need. His lore reaches far and beyond, and eventually to Yoon Sa-wol (Kang Yoo-seok), a refugee teen who wishes to rise through the ranks like 5-8.
Beyond the unbreathable air and the peak industrial capitalism, 5-8 also takes upon himself to counter a nefarious ‘resident relocation plan’ started by the same company that controls the oxygen supply.
Black Knight holds its own with a fresh storyline and engaging worldbuilding. Despite being decades into the future, the storyline (adapted from a webtoon of the same name) ensures a connect, a natural progression to present its timeline as a possible future. We do not have to think too hard to imagine a reality where we must protect ourselves against air that chokes us (ask Delhiites), where delivery personnel are essential workers, gated societies are controlled via digital apps, and where social inequality determines the degree to which you are affected by natural disasters.
These are not improbable eventualities, a comet just sped up the timeline in this show.
An engaging pace, aided by commendable VFX, moves the story along six plot-heavy episodes. However, an abundance of plot is also what pulls Black Knight down.
The show keeps adding to its storylines, elements that at its conclusion it fails to comfortably tie in. The episodes linger on secret identities and secret illnesses and pull away time from fleshing out the main cast. Black Knight is either slow or sometimes entirely unsuccessful in building human relations and strengthening the motivations of its characters. This weakens the elements that tether its dystopian fiction to a possible reality.
Nevertheless, Black Knight, delivers an entertaining premise, checking off all the boxes required to successfully transport us to a dusty, desolate South Korea. While it remains wanting of a simpler but effective treatment of its plots and characters, it should not stop you from taking a peek into the future.