‘The Whirlwind’ review: underbaked political drama tries too hard to impress

“You’ve fallen into quicksand, but don’t you dare try and reach out for help. Whoever grabs your hand will be dragged down with you,” South Korean President Jang Il-jun (played by Kim Hong-fa) tells Prime Minister Park Dong-ho (played by Sul Kyung-gu) sinisterly as he grips Park’s arm. “You can scream all you want, but it won’t matter. Everyone in your camp will suffer. This is the end for you and I.” But little does the president know, he would soon go into cardiac arrest and collapse in his own office.

The Prime Minister has been a passive whistleblower in the world of The Whirlwind, quietly investigating the president’s illicit activities and corrupt dealings with Daejin Group, South Korea’s most prestigious and cunning conglomerate. Though, there’s little Dong-ho can do mid the quicksand that is politics, slowly getting swallowed up by the growing depravity of those who South Koreans look to for leadership.

But when assemblyman and close personal friend Seo Gi-tae is killed amid his probe into the Blue House’s illicit ties with the rich, he finally decides to take matters into his own hands and see through Gi-tae’s unfinished work. To achieve his goals, he goes down a dark road, poisoning the president in an attempt to kill him (although he would later find out was not entirely successful). That would make him the Acting President, during which he will be granted enough immunity to cleanse the Blue House of its immoralities.

The deep-seated corruption in The Blue House isn’t willing to go down without a fight, and that manifests in the form of Deputy Prime Minister Jung Soo-jin (Kim Hee-ae), a shrewd, egotistical woman who is not above getting her hands dirty. As President Jang lapses into a coma, a power struggle between Dong-ho and Soo-jin quickly emerges as they each try to use the President’s incapacitation to further their own goals.


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On paper, The Whirlwind has a lot going for it. The K-drama is the first project for esteemed screenwriter Park Kyung-su (2017’s Whisper, 2013’s Empire of Gold) in seven years’s first project in seven years. The show is also led by two acclaimed actors, Sul Kyung-gu in his first-ever television role and Kim Hee-ae, who led last year’s majestically Machiavellian political drama Queenmaker. So, what could go wrong?

Unfortunately, this Netflix K-drama is not Park’s best work. For the most part, The Whirlwind tries too hard to impress with intellectual language and overwrought monologues. Working off the age-old question of ‘what defines the line between good and evil’, it attempts to reflect on how far government corruption can go and the ethical dilemmas both leads find themselves in, but the overly dramatic series takes itself too seriously for it to come off as authentic or convincing.


Park Dong-ho does his best to present his character’s morally questionable actions as utilitarian, but the character’s inherent stoicness keeps the audience at arm’s length. Kim Hee-ae, on the other hand, offers a brilliant interpretation of Soo-jin’s unyielding brutality and ambition, even if the script fails to provide her character with more substance than just a Deputy Prime Minister on a power trip.

Political dramas are hardly new in the K-drama space (or on television in general), but many still struggle to go beyond the melodramatics. While The Whirlwind strives to be more philosophical and highbrow than most, it falls disappointingly short of its goals. If anything, the series is still a thrilling watch with twists that promise to keep viewers on the edge of their seat – but does little beyond that.

The Whirlwind is streaming on Netflix now