Mystic Pop-Up Bar Episodes 1 & 2 Review

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JTBC’s first drama to air on a Wednesday-Thursday time-slot delves into the supernatural as it features a pop-up bar manned by three members, all of whom have supernatural abilities.

The female lead is Wol-Joo, played by Hwang Jung-eum, and she has the ability to enter people’s dreams and psyche to help them resolve their problems or inner turmoil. Playing her superior, Chief Gwi, is Choi Won-Young, who is there to keep her in check and to support her in her goal of helping 100,000 human beings. In the first episode, Wol-Joo and Chief Gwi come across Han Kang-bae (played by Yook Sung-Jae) who has the ability to make people pour out the truth and their deepest darkest secrets to him when he touches their hands. They see him as being extremely valuable in helping Wol-Joo identify those who need help and how to help them. Within the second episode, Kang-bae is recruited into their team and the trio are all ready to work towards the Wol-Joo’s goal of 100,000.

Woel-Joo certainly reminds us a lot of Jang Man Wol from Hotel Del Luna, especially her personality and also her sad past. However, this drama certainly isn’t a copy cat and has a clear and distinct tone as well as different rules from Hotel Del Luna. It’s a highly creative show which is able to blend humour and darker themes and moments very well. For now, the format of the show seems to follow a “case of the week” format, with each episode featuring a different human that the trio will help. The issues are certainly very real and dark, with the first two episodes exploring issues to do with workplace sexual harassment, jealousy, trauma and living with guilt. I thought the first episode was bolder than the second, with many scenes of the male superior harassing the female subordinate that made me very uncomfortable. The second episode dealt with a somewhat more familiar type of story, of hidden pasts and guilt.

However, even though the issues may be familiar, the ways in which they are explored are unique. Woel-Joo gives a special magic liquor to those that she wants to help, causing them to go into a deep sleep where she can then enter their dreams. From the first episode, we see that Mi-ran enters into a room where she can see her memories and Woel-Joo dealing with Mr Park. From that, Woel-Joo then gains strength to report Mr Park the next day.

After watching the first episode, I expected the second episode to follow roughly the same formula again, with Kang-Bae agreeing to help and then they go into someone’s dream and helps them. However, even in the second episode, the show starts to throw a wrench in how things happen and reveals even more fun and fascinating facts! Woel-Joo refuses to help the Ms Andong after Kang-Bae makes her reveal that she actually caused the death of her daughter’s, Eun-Su’s, real mum through spreading rumours. This makes Kang-bae resort to having to steal Woel-Joo’s liquor so he can help the Eun-Su. I really liked how the show was willing to already push the boundaries and show us what happens when someone unauthorised uses the liquor.

However, the show gets even more fun when the trio go in search of Eun-Su’s real father, because Ms Andong’s last wish before she died was for Eun-Su to meet him. They realise the father was traumatised after his wife’s death and now had amnesia. He blocked out all that happened back then, including the happy memories. While this is a very serious and tragic issue, the show explores this in such a fun, humorous manner while not trivialising it. The trio realises that they need to go deep down into the man’s psyche to unearth his memories and they literally walk down a deep, dark spiral staircase and reach a locked door, behind which his memories are stashed. It was both exciting and humorous to see them try to unlock the door, but Kang-bae saves the day as he recalls the man’s birthday. The visuals were over the top, with the collapsing pathway to the door, but it’s so crazy and fun.

If you can’t already tell, I love this show! Woel-Joo is so hilarious in her directness and her mannerisms, but we know she has a dark and painful past that will come to haunt her in the episodes to come. Hwang Jung-eum has such a manic energy about her and she’s so charismatic and confident. The character of Woel-Joo is very well written thus far and we know enough of her from each episode to sympathise with her and also yearn to find out more about what exactly her sins were in the past, that made her choose coming to earth instead of the Hell of Extinction.

The first two episodes have put the show off on a good footing by setting up the dynamics and providing so much laughs and excitement. I’m certainly looking forward to more visits to our Mystic Pop-up Bar!

Unlocking the Keys to Kdrama Webminar

Dear readers, I’m planning to have a webinar soon to cover a comprehensive approach to appreciate Kdrama using dramas like Healer, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Legend of the Blue Sea, Goblin, Suspicious Partner, Hotel Del Luna and The World of the Married. I will draw on literary and film analysis learnt from my Masters in Literature and Education and also my experience writing 200 blog entries.

If you are interested, do indicate your interest by clicking this link!

Hospital Playlist Episode 10 (II): Song-hwa

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Thinking about my review for Episode 10 yesterday, I realised I completely forgot to capture the scenes with Song-hwa and residents, which were some of my favourite scenes in the episode!

At the end of the previous episode, we were led to believe that she was meeting only Chi-hong for dinner, i.e. it was a date. However, we learn in this episode that it’s it’s not just two of them as Seok-min and Seon-bin join them as well. We see a lot of the four of them in this episode and besides our 5 friends, this is the next group of people I love in this show. At the restaurant, they take turns to tease each other – first poking fun of Song-hwa for her speed of eating, then there’s a fun exchange where Chi-hong and Song-hwa call Seok-min and Seon-bin out for dating, which finally leads to a confession. Their interactions are so natural and relaxed that it’s fun to watch.

Later on, after a discussion is over, they tell her about the intern who got scolded, which leads to yet another cute exchange where they challenge her to swear. She gamely takes up the challenge, yet her ‘swearing’ is so sweet that Seon-Bin and Chi-hong teasingly tell her that they feel blessed by it. Her saintliness is then reinforced by when they realise that she is actually taking the intern out for dinner. And that isn’t all! Later on, when they see a full moon, she asks them to make a wish and her wish is not for herself, but the intern to become a good surgeon. Her only self-centred wish is to get a good spot for her weekend solitary camping.

Let’s make a wish!

Seok-hwa’s almost overwhelming goodness and kindness could easily come off as unconvincing and bland in another show, yet somehow it’s believable and we buy it in this show. This is because of how the dynamics have been set up, such that the show does not overly exalt her goodness and uses her residents to mimic our reactions to her. In some strange way, the fact that the residents tease her for her goodness and find it amazing makes it easier for us to accept. It’s both heartwarming and funny to watch.

A show that is willing to poke fun at its own characters is always fun, and while we know Song-hwa is virtuous and selfless, she’s also has quirks that both bewilder her friends and endear her to them, like the ravenous way in which she gobbles down her food. She’s also human in the way she takes care of herself by buying a wood stove for herself, and then a rack for logs. These little touches of characterisation make these characters more complete and relatable.

Although I know the show is moving towards a Song-Hwa and Ik-joon relationship, I’d be equally satisfied if Song-hwa ends up in the series without being paired with someone. Not because I feel she does not deserve it, but because I know she’ll continue to be happy and fulfilled leading her life the way she wants to, as she knows how to care for herself. It’s no wonder that almost every mother wants their child to be with her!

Hospital Playlist Episode 10

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U-Ju being absolutely adorable!

It’s really rare to have a show that can create so many charming and lovable characters, but Hospital Playlist has accomplished this feat. You would think having five main characters to focus on is difficult enough, but the show is still able to give its side characters meaningful storylines that allow us to feel for and relate to them.

I particularly enjoyed Jae-hak’s storyline this week. Stuck between his patient and Professor Cheon, Jae-hak is at a complete loss. Professor Cheon knows what’s right for his patient, but refuses to insist on doing it. When the patient refuses to get an enema, Professor Cheon just lets him be. In desperation, Jae-hak runs to Jun-wan to get advice. Jun-wan tells him firmly and sternly to do whatever he can to ensure the patient gets the enema, because “if the doctor gives up on a patient, he isn’t a doctor anymore.”

Jae-hak runs off immediately and the next time we see him, he’s with Seok-min and Chi-hong and he tells them he managed to convince the patient. They ask him how he did it, expecting some impressive tale, but Jae-hak tells them awkwardly that he did so by begging the patient, telling him that he would lose his job if he didn’t do it. He’s ashamed to share it, but Chi-hong affirms him of his efforts and he is encouraged. The biggest affirmation comes when he receives a note of thanks from the patient, thanking him for not giving up on him. He breaks down and cries, which was a really touching scene. I enjoy how Hospital Playlist plays up the vulnerabilities of these doctors and doesn’t aim to show them as supremely brilliant or competent. Just like how Gyu-Wool learnt how to explain the case better to a patient, Jae-hak also learns through this situation how to protect the life of his through his genuine care and willingness to learn.

Besides Jae-Hak’s story, I also appreciated how the show started to show more of Jung-won’s tensions in this episode. While he has decided to become a priest, we also know he’s an excellent doctor and relates so well to children. This is affirmed by Jong-So and Rosa’s conversation, but also by the many scenes we’ve seen in the series of his interactions with children. He truly has a good heart and wants Song-hwa to take over as ‘Daddy Long Legs’, so that the good work he has started can continue even as he leaves the hospital. He has also made arrangements such that funding can continue.

However, just as he decides to go, we also get hints that he may be developing feelings for Gyu-wool. Ik-Joon, being the big-hearted friend that he is, also tries to engineer a situation for Jung-won to come clean with his feelings by asking Gyu-wool to bring in a bouquet of roses and pretend she was proposed to. Jung-won’s aloof reaction and refusal to join in the toast suggests he likes her. Later on, when Ik-Joon asks him point blank about it, Jung-Won does not deny anything as well. Ik-Joon tells him that God will understand if he decides to follow his heart. Jung-Won appears conflicted and uncertain after Ik-Joon leaves. What decision will he ultimately make in the end? It’s not clear cut at the moment, given that we know he’s been wanting to become a priest for a really long time.

While Ik-Joon helps Jung-won with his love life, he seems to be having some good developments with Song-hwa. At this moment, the friendship they share is so strong and they are so comfortable with each other that Song Hwa has probably never even considered him as a boyfriend. To me, it’s quite clear that Ik-Joon still has feelings for her, though he might not be actively pursuing her. In a most telling conversation, he tells her that having a meal with her, or coffee with her, is the way he gives himself a treat. There’s a moment of awkwardness, but perhaps that will be the turning point for Song-hwa to start even considering him as a potential love interest. They would certainly be so cute together and they have great chemistry.

As for Jun-Wan, I am liking his character even more when I see how he handles his relationship with Ik-Soon. He handles it so maturely, even after he learns through Chi-hong that she has been accepted to the medical programme overseas. He does not react rashly, or ask her why she never told him. Instead, he tells her in a voice message that it does not matter how he found out and they can chat more about it when they meet. Even in the last episode, when he saw a message appear on Ik-soon’s phone, he did not react with jealousy. It’s heartening to see such maturity and trust in a relationship, where potential moments for conflict are avoided because our characters know how to deal with them properly.

What I’ve appreciated about Hospital Playlist is that it tugs at our heartstrings through very genuine moments of connection, without unnecessary melodrama, tears or dramatic scores. The characters do not have easy lives by any count – their work is stressful where lives are at stake and they have personal and family issues to grapple with. However, their positive outlook on life and their unwavering support for each other help them get through each day with a smile on their face. I will truly miss these characters and their friendship when the series is over.

Episode Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Upcoming K-Drama Analysis Webinar [update on 23 May 2020]

Analysing k-drama has helped me realise how much work goes into these shows and appreciate them so much more. Having blogged on k-drama for a few years, I would like to share my approach on how to analyse k-dramas so as to enjoy them so much more.

I will be launching a webinar very shortly titled “Unlocking the Keys to K-drama” soon. The webinar will cover my Genre, Characterisation, Technical Details approachusing dramas like Healer, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Legend of the Blue Sea, Goblin, Hotel Del Luna and The World of the Married. If you are interested to sign up, please indicate your interest by clicking this link and you will be placed on a mailing list to be notified once the webinar is up. Spaces will be limited since it is my first run. Thank you!

The World of the Married Finale

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“I think it’s finally over now”, says Sun Woo to Ye Rim three weeks before the events last week. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from “The World of the Married”, it is never over and the show has shown us that there are no easy ways out. Mirroring the reality of broken marriages, the emotional impact on the couple, but most importantly on the child, will take a long time, if not forever, to heal. The show ends on a strong note with another intense, heart-rending episode and gives each character the hopeful ending they truly deserve.

Joon Young continues to yearn for a happy family

At the start of the episode, we see that while Sun Woo and Joon Young have finally settled back in Gosan after a long tussle, their hearts are still unsettled. Joon Young still yearns for that happy family life, whereas a simple phone vibration shakes Sun Woo. She looks uneasily at Joon Young until he shows her that the message is from No Eul. Nonetheless, the relationship between Joon Young and his mum has definitely improved and they tease each other and have found community with Ye Rim, Ja Hyuk, Myung Sook and Yoon-ki. They go out for dinner with them, and she invites them over for dinner. Joon Young is happy and has a love interest – it looks like life is starting to take off again for him.

On the Tae-Oh front, he has been stalking Sun Woo and Joon Young. Sun Woo is definitely uneasy and her suspicions are confirmed when she receives a torn wedding photograph that is taped up.

Joon Young sees it too and tells her to ignore it, not to take matters into her own hands and to call the cops immediately. No action is taken though, which leads us to Joon Young’s disappearance that ended off last week’s episode. Sun Woo calls Tae-Oh continually after Joon Young disappears and he finally replies, apologising to her and saying that he wanted was to be with Joon Young.

Sun Woo rushes over to meet him and Joon Young at a deserted river bank. There, we see him that Tae Oh ultimately meant no harm, and all he is doing is to tell Joon Young about how his dad abandoned him when he was young and how he did not want to abandon Joon Young. Once Sun Woo arrives, Joon Young runs over to her and they are almost going to leave, but Sun Woo’s heart softens and she offers to go to a meal together with Tae-Oh and Joon Young – which shocks Joon Young completely. The whole sequence of Tae Oh walking slowly to the car, Sun Woo entering the car and Joon Young in the car is one of the most powerful scenes in the show – though no words are exchanged, the turmoil, pain, uncertainty and struggle within our three characters are so clearly conveyed.

Sun Woo still wants to give Tae-Oh a chance to make amends and apologise when she sees him all broken. However, when he starts talking about how he has forgiven her and she should now forgive him, she knows there’s no point and that he is truly hopeless. After a futile conversation at the restaurant, they walk out and just before parting, Tae Oh apologises to Joon Young, but Joon Young is unconvinced and walks off with Sun Woo.

Just as they are going to enter the car, they see a lorry coming and Tae Oh runs in front of it. Sun Woo instinctively runs over to see what happened and realises Tae Oh is safe. She brings him out and he kneels down, hugging her. Joon Young sees this and it is too much for him to take, so he runs off.

Fast forward to a year later, we see that he has gone to Runaway Children’s Counselling Centre and they are working to reunite him with her. Tae Oh has picked himself up – he’s not successful yet, but he’s making attempts to get employed. Sun Woo has not found anyone new, but she has been processing. She’s not doing well, but not doing poorly either – enduring each day, not allowing the pain to overwhelm her. We get hints that she may finally decide to forgive herself when she meets her past patient and sees he does well. She looks at Yoon Ki – perhaps wondering if she should give it a shot with him, and give herself a shot at happiness.

“Setting aside my arrogance, of thinking that I set the rules, judge and take responsibility, is probably the best that I can do,” she says after she reads the letter from the Counselling Centre. After fighting for so long, she decides to sit back and do nothing. Not just for Joon Young, but also with Tae Oh – we only see brief messages exchanged about Joon Young, nothing more. There’s a sense that she has also gradually moved on from the divorce. The series ends with the door opening – Joon Young has returned – and she walks to him, ready to receive him and a new beginning for both of them.

Speaking of new beginnings, we also have Ye Rim, who finally decides to let go of Je-Hyuk. Although they have many happy moments at the start, she is still unable to let go of his past betrayals and hurts, no matter how hard she tries to forgive him. In a heartbreaking exchange, she lets him know how she feels and that he may forever have to live such a tormenting life. They have decided to part ways and Ye Rim has started her own cafe, with no regrets at all. Da-Kyung starts to pursue her dream, but the pain of relationship lingers as she walks off from a guy who shows interest in her.

“The World of the Married” ends on a very satisfying note for all our characters. There’s no ‘happy ever after’ even after all the battles have been fought. The pain still lingers, but the best we can do for ourselves is to forgive ourselves and to not let the pain dominate each day.

For the finale, the show has once again broken the ratings records for a cable drama and it’s not hard to see why. This has truly been a very enjoyable and meaningful drama – well-paced, extremely well-acted and complex in its characterisation. Kudos to the entire team behind the drama for an excellent production.

Upcoming K-Drama Analysis Webinar [update on 23 May 2020]

Analysing k-drama has helped me realise how much work goes into these shows and appreciate them so much more. Having blogged on k-drama for a few years, I would like to share my approach on how to analyse k-dramas so as to enjoy them so much more.

I will be launching a webinar very shortly titled “Unlocking the Keys to K-drama” soon. The webinar will cover my Genre, Characterisation, Technical Details approachusing dramas like Healer, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Legend of the Blue Sea, Goblin, Hotel Del Luna and The World of the Married. If you are interested to sign up, please indicate your interest by clicking this link and you will be placed on a mailing list to be notified once the webinar is up. Spaces will be limited since it is my first run. Thank you!

Hospital Playlist: Episodes 1-4

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Hospital Playlist is the second in the Wise Life series following Prison Playbook. It is a collaboration between writer Lee Woo Jung and director Shin Won Ho, who came together also for the highly popular Reply series of dramas.

I was initially hesitant to start watching this series, because I did try watching the Reply series, starting with 1988 but couldn’t get into it because there were just too many characters to keep track. The ensemble style of casting and storytelling was also difficult to follow. I faced a similar issue for Hospital Playlist initially, but was drawn in by the snippets of hospital life, the funny moments, and the musical numbers.

Finally at Episode 4, I can say I’m hooked because I now feel I have a decent grasp of the 5 main characters of the cast. The narrative structure of episode 4 really helped, where we had the “Bong Salon” with Dr Bong gossiping about the five members, whom he describes as the five “nought” because they are all lacking something.

In summary, Hospital Playlist centres around the lives of five doctors who have been friends since medical school in 1999. Having been separated for some time, they are brought together at the Yulje Medical Centre in the first episode when Jung Won recruits his friends to be exclusive medical staff a the VIP ward. However, their ‘reunion’ is not just professional as Seok-hyung will only agree to the contract if the five also agree to form their band again. The setup is done swiftly and slickly in the first episode, setting the stage well for the rest of the series.

I’ve already introduced some of the characters in the paragraph above, but it would be good to do a proper introduction using the poster above. Starting from the left:

  1. Yang Seok Hyung (played by Kim Dae-myung): He is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and comes from a challenging family background. He lost his sister at a young age and his dad cheated on his mum. As such, he has a very close relationship with his mum, who recently suffered a stroke.
  2. Ahn Jung-won (played by Yoo Yeon-seok): He is an assistant professor of pediatric surgery whose dad passes away in the first episode. He comes from a family of priests. While not a priest himself, he is seen as having no desire for worldly possessions and does still aspire to be a priest.
  3. Chae Song-hwa (played by Jeon Mi-Do): She is an associate professor of neurosurgery. Known in the hospital for her drive and professionalism, she also strikes fear in her juniors. While at work, she handles matters with confidence and wisdom, she is completely free and expressive when in the world of music, be it at the band or in her church. She is completely comfortable with solitude and does not mind heading out for solitary camping trips. She is the lead vocalist of the band and often goes out of tune, which is ironic given that Jeon Mi-Do in real life is an award winning artiste.
  4. Kim Joon-wan (played by Jung Kyung-Ho): He is the chief professor of cardiothoracic surgery and is known to be cold-hearted yet excellent in his job. He is distant and issues medical advice without warmth, even when his patients are in very emotional situations. However, his actions speak louder than words. As of episode 4, we have hints of a budding love story between him and Ik-Joon’s sister, Ik-Soon, who serves in the military as a major.
  5. Lee Ik-Joon (played by Jo Jung-Suk): Ik-Joon is the character whose personal life has been the most fleshed out at the moment. As his wife was working overseas, he has single-handedly raised his son for most of his life and thus has a very close relationship with him. However, in Episode 3, his wife returns and they undergo a divorce. As a doctor, he is warm and friendly, building a rapport easily with his patients.

For shows like this, the chemistry in the core ensemble will make or break it and I have to say, it really works well. Besides making music together, there’s a beauty rhythm and energy in all the scenes when the five of them are together. They chat about the most trivial things (like how they have changed with age), banter with each other, squabble about which song is their favourite, while also opening their food packets, passing cutlery and eating their food. They are so comfortable with each other that they lie down while chatting, open each other’s drawers to help themselves to snacks or eat each other’s instant noodles. Professionally they work well together as well as Jung-won frees himself in spite of his many surgeries, so that he can be there to support Seok Hyung’s surgery.

Their scenes making music together are also so much fun, especially that hilarious Karaoke Scene in episode 3 where they sang “Aloha”. Their snazzier version of Canon at the end of Episode 4 was also very well-constructed as it started off with Seok Hyung’s audition when they first started their band in 1999, then we moved between past and present, as they grew in their musical skills together. Of course, the music is lent greater emotional weight because the songs feature prominently in the episode, like how Canon was played when the baby suffering from anencephaly was born, so that the mum would not hear the crying sounds.

As if having 5 characters to follow is not enough, the show has so many other characters like fellow doctors, nurses, medical students, family members and of course, all the patients. However, these different characters serve as a way for the show to shed further light on our main characters and are often well-used to deepen our understanding of them. This was particularly well done in Episode 4, where we understood the reserved and socially awkward Seok Hyung not only through his actions, but through what the other characters said about him, particularly Nurse Han who returns from her maternity who tells nurse Min-ha of when she complains about Seok Hyung’s request to cover the baby’s mouth.

Given that this is a medical drama, I cannot avoid talking about the cases our characters handle. I’m glad to see that Hospital Playlist has found the right balance between showing us enough of the medical cases for us to understand and feel for the characters, while also showing us how our key doctors handle the cases and weigh difficult decisions. Unlike Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim, where we have extended scenes of medical procedures with very precise terminology and language used, Hospital Playlist keeps its surgery scenes brief, trying instead to show us the variety of cases and conundrums our doctors face. Rather than being overly focused on medical details, the series brings us through the daily lives of the doctors as they see patients, operate, eat food at the cafe or in their pantries and spend time with their families. Ultimately, this light-hearted drama shows us that relationships are what sustain us through each day.

Suspicious Partner Episodes 11-12

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I’m still liking this show lots, but I’m starting to feel like our show’s getting a little “crowded” with its latest celebrity chef murder storyline (where both the murderer and the accused get significant screen time) and the appearance of Yoo Jung. Unfortunately as well, I’m not finding Yoo Jung’s character interesting or compelling in anyway, which also makes me wish that we had spent more time on the other characters. Of course it’s still early stages, but she spent most of the episode moping and feebly trying to reconnect with either Ji Wook or Eun Hyuk – which is alright, but I was hoping for there to be more to drive her character ahead than just rebuilding burnt bridges. I don’t hate her, but I don’t sympathise with her either – it’s all just meh at the moment.

And because I didn’t connect with Yoo Jung, I was really hoping we could have spent more time with our other characters. That being said, I liked how we deepened our exploration of Eun Hyuk’s character in this episode and we see the beginnings (the theme of this episode!) of a heartwarming friendly between him and Bong Hee. I really loved the scene where both Bong Hee and Eun Hyuk were in the car, after seeing Ji Wook fetch Yoo Jung home, and Eun Hyuk laughs after Bong Hee tells him that she wishes she were more sick. She responds to him, telling him he doesn’t need to laugh, and so he stops and returns to his contemplative mood. She knows how he’s feeling, and he’s feeling just as unhappy as she is, and she’s telling him that he does not need to pretend or put up a front around her. Eun Hyk confides in Bong Hee earlier, telling her that he’s always laughing and joking, because that’s his own defence mechanism, his way of still allowing himself to be around Ji Wook in spite of all the hurt, remorse, pain and loneliness he feels too. We get scenes of him in his own house – well-furnished, but cold and soulless – and he stares blankly ahead, not knowing what to do, how to feel or what to say and the only thing we see him do is take off his jacket – perhaps symbolic that his defence mechanisms are being worn down too.

Ji Wook and Bong Hee continue to be fun together and while I liked seeing him display some finesse in the courtroom, I enjoyed the scenes of his gentleness even more, especially the one at the start of the episode where he caught Bong Hee’s head as she nodded off  with such tenderness that she just continued to lie on his hand, smiling peacefully and comfortably like as if she’s the happiest woman in the world. When he sees her return from that encounter with the District Attorney with a scar around her neck, he senses something is wrong and he goes to check on her in her room. Even when she chooses not to tell him what happened, he does not insist, because he respects her decision to keep it private, but just asks her tenderly whether she’s alright – twice. There’s such a sweetness in him respecting her boundaries and desire to keep it private. This contrasts of course with Bong Hee’s more outlandish, playful nature where she’s unafraid to ask difficult questions, wear her heart on her sleeve and tell people what they need to know. This is why they are so good for each other.

I’ve spoken before about the directing of this show, but I realise what I appreciate is not just that it’s stylistically beautiful and magical, but that it captures human interactions so well. The directing really reveals that we communicate so much through our body language. There’s a lot of focus on ‘hands’ in this show – tender touches, awkward hugs, firm holds, strangling grips, warm embraces and decisive pushing away. We also get many shots of our characters’ eyes, which reveal so much more than what they say, especially for Ji Wook. He may be denying his feelings with his words, but his eyes say everything. His affection for her was just overflowing in that scene in the rain through his entire facial expression – not just his eyes, but his broad, cheerful smile. I believe that’s the first time we’ve ever seen him smile so happily! I’ve always thought The K2 didn’t give JCW enough opportunity to showcase his excellent acting skills, but he gets plenty of opportunities here and I thought he did very well in the closing scene, where his eyes spoke volumes as he responded to Bong Hee’s confession of love. He wanted to hug her in return, but you could just see that deep hurt and fear in his eyes – echoed also in the voice-over as he talks about beginnings that do not necessarily progress.

As for the murderer storyline, it’s alright at the moment, but I realise we still have big questions that remain unanswered that hopefully we get some light on soon, like – why did the murderer kill Bong Hee’s ex-boyfriend? I’m not sure we got a very clear answer on that. I thought we’d be understanding our murderer a bit more, but right now all we have is him lurking around news broadcasts looking mysterious. I’m all ready now for us to move ahead in that storyline, but there’s just so much I’m wanting from this show now, that it’d be impossible for each episode to fulfill my wishes. Heh. Nonetheless, if I may just have one wish for next week’s episodes, let us have more fun scenes between Ji Wook and Bong Hee’s mums – those two are hilarious!

Nine Time Travel: Series Review [spoilers ahead]

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I’ve been meaning to catch Nine Time Travel after watching W Two Worlds and finally found some time in the middle of assignments to do so. This has to be the best drama series I’ve ever watched in a long time, and not just k-dramas for that matter. The show sucked me in completely and while I took a while with the first four episodes because I was travelling, I finished the other 16 episodes within 2 days. The series had such a strong momentum pushing it ahead and was completely compelling at every turn. The pacing was almost perfect and the show made the most of each twist to fully explore the emotional ramifications on the characters involved. It took a bold, deep step into exploring the very tricky, complex device of time travel and brought it to life in a way I’ve never seen before.

In summary, Park Sun Woo, a newscaster, discovers through delving deeper into his brother’s death that he was in Nepal looking for a box of incense sticks, which allows one to transport 20 years into the past whenever it is lit. Each stick takes 30 minutes to burn, which means whatever needs to be done in the past had to be accomplished within 30 minutes. However, what’s fascinating is that both the past and present move in a linear manner, meaning that the change in the present only happens once the character in the past makes a decision that will change the present, and that could happen after the visit to the past is made. This keeps things interesting because both the characters in the present and past retain their sense of free will and have the ability to make their own decisions without any so-called ‘hand of fate’ controlling them.

The returns to the past start off on a victorious note with Sun Woo managing to use the incense sticks to go back to get even more sticks and then returning to bring cheer to his mum and fulfil his brother’s, Park Jung Woo’s, wish of getting together with Yoo Jin. However, things start to take a bleak turn when the good intent on his part penalises him as it turns out his lover, Joo Min Young, is the daughter of Yoo Jin. Bringing his brother together with Yoo Jin in the past results in Min Young becoming his niece and hence him losing her. The events take an even bleaker turn as he returns to reverse his dad’s death and realises that it was Jung Woo who accidentally killed his dad and not the villain of the show, Choi Jin Cheol. He returns again to the past to persuade his brother to confess his crime, but it turns out that is insufficient to reverse the present as Choi has already bribed the police, hence he realises he needs to rely on other allies, i.e. his boss Oh Chul min, who’s a young reporter back then to bring the truth to light. I always enjoy shows with characters who continually think on their feet and come up with ways to manoveur out of difficult situations and Sun Woo manages to do that time and time again, even though the incense sticks seem intent to do him in.

While I enjoyed the overarching plot structure of the series as a whole, I also enjoyed how well-written and intense each individual episode was. Each individual episode was enjoyable on its own and often adopted a non-linear approach in exploring the telling the story, often times detouring from the present back to past, before returning to the painful present. The show also manages to deftly bring in light-hearted or victorious moments amidst the increasingly bleak main storyline by bringing in the past at appropriate moments and then almost always ending with a shocker that almost over-turns all that’s happened in the episode earlier. One perfect example of this was the episode where present Sun Woo dies because of his tumour. We know from the trailer that he dies, but of course, given that that was one of the earlier episodes, it’s also obvious that his end can’t be so soon. Through both skillful directing and writing, the whole episode shifts back and forth between past and present and in the past, we see Sun Woo gradually figuring out that he’s the one who’s going to die, and Young Hoon discovering the pills in his room which present Sun Woo dropped in an earlier scuffle. This key event then leads to a dramatic turn as we return to the present and Young Hoon realises that Sun Woo’s life has been saved, because he has been going for regular scans to pay particular attention to his health.

If I had to nitpick though, I would have liked the show to go deeper into the source of these incense sticks, which is an issue that’s never touched on – perhaps because it will just make things too complex. This was something that Queen In-hyun’s Man managed to deal with satisfactorily, but this show neglects to address. We do get many references to God/Him throughout and much time is spent in the hospital chapel with both Young Hoon and Sun Woo praying, or trying to pray because it’s something so foreign to them. However, perhaps the source of the incense sticks is a moot-point, because at the end of the series, Sun Woo realises that he is the final incense stick – he was the one who brought the fruit of knowledge to those around him and as such, he’s the one who was ultimately in control all along. It’s quite a chilling realisation, if you ask me, yet also neat and in sync with the show’s logic. There’s been a lot of thought put into the mechanics of time travel in this show, and it’s largely consistent throughout, even as more people get clued in onto the time travel process.

Beyond the writing and directing, it is certainly the cast as well who brings the show to life and I must say that Lee Jin Wook far outshines everybody else. He plays Sun Woo with such aplomb and charisma that it almost seems like the role was written for him. He’s able to present such layered emotions within his expression, hiding sorrow beneath smiles or shocks beneath serenity. It’s a pity he’s kind of gone into oblivion mostly after that and is no longer recognised as one of the top male stars in the kdrama-verse. It does seem though that he was the most deeply and intricately written character within the whole show and the other characters were more or less short-changed because most of the others lacked that depth and complexity, the most obvious of all being Jo Yoon-Hee’s character – Min Young. I never quite connected with her character – if I ever cried or felt for her, it was because of the pain that it also caused to Sun Woo, but never did I quite connect with her, either as Joo Min Young or Park Min Young. She just didn’t ever come alive in the show, and it felt that as a character, she was simply responding to Sun Woo’s actions or passively responding to circumstances. She certainly wasn’t a heroine of any sort. It’s strange that I started to like her character more in the finale because she started to show more of her spunk and wackiness, but most of that disappeared for a large part of the series, especially when she was Park Min Young. I enjoyed the ‘bromance’ between Young Hoon (Seung-Joon) and Sun Woo, but it wasn’t as strong as Sun Woo’s own story arc and his ‘relationship’ with fate/the incense sticks.

On a final note, I would say this series came at a very timely moment for me when I was looking for a show that would stimulate me intellectually and impress me with its intelligence. I have found most of the shows thus far in 2017 entertaining, but not impressive in terms of writing and plotting. I’m hoping Tunnel becomes the show that achieves that. Nine far surpassed my expectations and it’s made me look forward to Sung Jae Jung and Kim Byung Soo’s next collaboration. I’ve enjoyed all their series together thus far, and after watching this, QIHM and W Two Worlds, I’d have to say Nine is the best piece of work. W Two Worlds was arguably more ambitious than Nine in terms of what it was trying to do both creatively and thematically, and I’d argue that had a greater emotional hook and fleshed out its key characters more thoroughly. However, in terms of overall structuring and tightness of writing, Nine beats both shows hands down for its sheer complexity and coherence. I will definitely be recommending this show to anyone who wants to watch a great k-drama!