K-drama Under the Gun: SF9’s Zuho and Jo Soo-min lead teen romance with poker symbolism, but nothing else sets it apart so far

Lead cast: Zuho, Jo Soo-min

The high-school teen romance Under the Gun opens in an underground poker bar, where Go Gun, the teenage protagonist played by Zuho of the K-pop outfit SF9, works one of his many part-time jobs.

Occasionally he is pushed by his boss to play against clients and show off his poker skills, and this is when we learn where the show’s title comes from. It is a poker term that refers to the player who is the first to bet in a given round and is thus in the most precarious position.

This phrase and other bits of poker terminology provide the titles of the show’s episodes, but particular emphasis is placed on this first one. “Gun” is a euphemism for pressure and also happens to be the name of the show’s male lead, who handily prevails over the player who bets first in the poker scene in the first episode.

Gun is a careful character who has been marked by trauma in his life. He lost his mother, his sister is in hospital with leukaemia and his father, who used to be a star poker player, has become a drunk, gambling degenerate.

He keeps to himself and, just like at the poker table, allows others in life to make the first move while he carefully bides his time, deciding whether to engage at the right moment.

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So then if Gun isn’t the character who is “under the gun”, then who is? That distinction must belong to the show’s female lead Cha Se-young, played by Jo Soo-min of The Penthouse fame.

Se-young, who comes from a rich family and has just returned to Korea after years of schooling in America, is cut from a very different cloth to Gun.

Unlike the many transfer students we see in Korean dramas who meekly introduce themselves when prompted to do so by their homeroom teachers, Se-young confidently expresses herself to her new classmates.

Jo Soo-min as go-getting student Cha Se-young in a still from Under the Gun.

Se-young takes the empty seat beside Gun. She is immediately drawn to him and isn’t afraid to show it, constantly popping up around him and in no way phased by his very cool behaviour towards her.

Just like in his poker games, Gun can sit back and observe, until he engages, should he choose to do so. Preoccupied with the problems in his own life as he works manifold side jobs to raise the money needed for his sister’s operation, he is far from receptive to Se-young’s charms at first.

That changes one evening when he gets into an altercation with some aggressive young men outside a convenience store he works at.

Zuho as Go Gun in a still from Under the Gun.

Though we get the sense that Gun can probably look after himself, Se-young swiftly swoops in and beats up the bullies, revealing that she is a taekwondo ace. After her brave and cool display, he is no longer quite so frosty towards her.

Given his family and financial situation, Gun is more or less at rock bottom and has everything to gain, while the privileged Se-young, if we continue to follow the show’s poker analogy, stands to lose.

Of course, like many cocky poker players who confidently open up betting with strong pocket cards (the cards you are initially dealt at the beginning of a round), she is not aware of the “pressure” she is under.

Zuho (left) as Go Gun and Jo Soo-min as Cha Se-young in a still from Under the Gun.

Assuming the title provides some kind of foreshadowing, it seems prudent to assume that as Se-young gets closer to Gun she will be sucked into the underworld his circumstances force him to skirt.

Also dealt in to this romantic three-hander is the cocksure Joo Tae-ha (Seo Ji-won), who has been sweet on Se-young since they were young and not afraid to show it, though she has never reciprocated. It is soon revealed that Tae-ha and Gun also know each other, and there is some bad blood between them.

The poker symbolism adds a novel touch to the proceedings, but strip it away and what you are left with is a very formulaic high-school romance between leads from opposite sides of the tracks.

Seo Ji-won plays Go Gun’s cocksure rival Joo Tae-ha in Under the Gun.

Gun’s family melodrama is hackneyed, while Se-young is a bright and bubbly but very superficially drawn character. Still, the leads commit to their parts and the show’s brief running time – six episodes at about 25 minutes a piece – eases the pressure on it to provide narrative complexity and rich characters.

There’s enough here to risk dealing in for a few hands, and should things not go as planned, you can cut your losses at any time.

Under the Gun is streaming on Viu.


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