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!

Innocent Defendant Finale

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Have not been able to blog about the second half of Defendant due to various commitments, but it’s the only show I’m currently following loyally every week. I’ve dropped Missing 9 a long time back ever since it became mainly about Tae Ho and his murdering sprees. I’ve started Tomorrow with You and Strong Woman Do Bong Soo, but the shows just haven’t drawn me in so I just watch them here and there when I have the time. The k-drama verse seems to be in a little bit of a slump, so I’m thankful for Defendant which is a truly solid drama in many ways.

I’ll be first to admit that it isn’t a perfect show and there are several plotholes surrounding the murder of Ji-Soo and a few easy solutions to move the plot ahead. However, for all that it’s worth, I’ve truly enjoyed how the show keeps moving the story ahead and we’re always on our edge thinking of what Min Ho or Jeong Woo’s next move is, even right into the finale. This, to me, is truly impressive. I always enjoy shows where the good and bad guys are equally matched in terms of wits and will, because it’s satisfying when you see them outsmart and outplay each other. In this sense, both Min Ho and Jeong Woo have been very well-written because their battle for power has been engaging from start till end. Min Ho fights till the end, even pulling out the insanity card. Unfortunately, because it was already the final episode, it was also rather predictable that this trick wouldn’t work, but kudos to the writers for trying to keep things moving towards the end.

The finale also left me wanting to know more about Min Ho’s back story, especially what transpired between him and Yeon Hee, and his love for Eun Soo. Yeon Hee’s final appeal to Min Ho in court could have been so much more powerful if we had seen more of Min Ho’s love for Yeon Hee and his son. I felt that this was a point that was more told to us, rather than shown and I honestly didn’t feel that Min Ho truly loved Yeon Hee. Rather, it seemed like she was just someone he really needed to help keep up his pretense as Seon Ho. I’ve always felt that Min Ho’s characterisation was a little lacking, but I did think that it picked up in the second half especially when his dad’s betrayal happened and he was forced to turn his back on his dad. I liked also that inheriting Seon Ho’s identity brought along benefits, but also burdens like Jennifer Lee as well as the slush fund incident. Both of these incidents could have been used to explore the conflicts and dilemmas faced by Min Ho in taking on his brother’s identity, but I personally felt the writers took the easier route by ending both story-lines in deaths which reinforced how far Min Ho had fallen into the dark side.

While I’ve been relatively disappointed with Min Ho’s characterisation, I truly enjoyed Jeong Woo – both in terms of his characterisation and especially Ji Sung’s portrayal of him. I’ve not seen an actor who has really put in so much physically into making the character come alive. Ji Sung brings so much raw energy to the character of Jeong Woo that you can literally feel his will power and determination pulsating through his veins when watching each episode. And he brings so much heart to the character of Jeong Woo as well – I loved the scene with him talking to Ji Soo at the columbarium, telling her that he would apprehend Min Ho. I loved the scene at the end of episode 15, where he finally catches Min Ho and reads out his crimes to him with a tear in his eye when he mentions the murder of Ji Soo. That moment just captures everything that Jeong Woo represents – his integrity, his sense of justice, his determination and resolve and most of all, his immense love for his wife and family. You can see Ji Sung bringing his own experience as a dad into his role and he speaks to Ha Yeon with such love, tenderness and protectiveness. Every scene between him and Ha Yeon was so fantastic in the finale and just brought tears to my eyes, especially the scene of them singing a lullaby at Ji Soo’s grave – OMG, that scene just killed me.

This series is one of the very rare K-drama series without an OTP to root for, yet contains so much heart and warmth because of its focus on friendships and family ties. I certainly cannot write an finale post on the show without talking about Jeong Woo and his prison-mates who gradually grew on me. I have to admit that early in the series, I found the scenes with them boring. However, once Chul Shik came into the picture, and Jeong Woo started plotting his escape, the bond between his cell mates became closer and I found the brotherly, protective bond between them so real and so natural. One of my favourite scenes was that of them celebrating Jeong Woo’s birthday for him. Of course, it does seem a bit neat that all of them have happy endings – well, except for Seong Kyu – but it’s a point I’m willing to let go, because they are all such endearing characters! Mir Yang doesn’t get much screen time, but he certainly shone in all the scenes he was in – especially the one between him and his wife in the finale, which brought tears to my eyes. Moongchi and Wooruk just crack me up all the time and they bring much needed humour and lightness to the otherwise intense and dark storyline.

As for the other characters, I’m just glad Jun Hyuk finally came to his senses and was instrumental in bringing the truth to light. I did find it hard to believe that both as a prosecutor and a very good friend, he would be so willing to hide the truth and cause harm to both his friend and his daughter. This was especially surprising given that he did also like Ji Soo. However, he did come to his senses at the end and paid the price for it. As for Eun Hye, she wasn’t utilised much, but I felt she was adequately used to move the plot ahead where necessary. Yeon Hee’s character came to life when we learnt that she had handed over the slush fund documents to the police and wanted to bring down the Chamyung group. That was the start of her exercising her sense of agency, and of course, her final act of handing Min Ho over to Jeong Woo further displayed her taking control of her and her son’s future.

Defendant has been certainly a great series from start to end. Even with the episode extension, the pace never flagged and there was never a sense that the show was intentionally dragging out any plot-points. The first half was suspenseful and intriguing as the pieces of Ji Soo’s murder and Ha Yeon’s kidnapping were gradually put together and the second half remained exciting with Jeong Woo’s escape from prison and attempts to put together a case against Min Ho. The show’s ratings have been phenomenal and it has truly deserved it! I’ll definitely be looking out for Ji Sung’s next show, or looking for his past series.  However for now, I’m looking for the next k-drama series that will hook me in! Hoping that the upcoming slate of dramas will be more refreshing and engaging!

Innocent Defendant Episode 9

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For all the flaws in the writing of the show – both in terms of the plot and the characterisation of Min Ho, I have to say I’m really really enjoying the performances of both Ji Sung and Uhm Ki-Joon and they play off each other extremely well in this episode.

Ji Sung’s performance as the tormented, floundering Jeong Woo has been compelling and engaging thus far, but I enjoy his performance of Jeong Woo pretending to be crazy and out of his mind even better. What’s even more perfect is how he overplays it in such a frenzied and exaggerated manner that those of us who’ve seen him actually break down can tell the difference, but not Min Ho. We also learn get an explanation regarding Jeong Woo’s repeated loss of memory – it happens when he recovers all his memories because of his desire to protect himself. It’s not the best explanation in light of what’s been going on because I always thought Min Ho had a role to play in ensuring Jeong Woo lost his memories – wasn’t that why he kept arranging for Jeong Woo to be sent to the prison cell?

Min Ho is vicious as always and we finally get to see what happened on the night of Ji Soo’s murder. The act of him pausing before stabbing Ji Soo and then changing to his left hand was so devious, creepy and shocking at the same time. In prison, he truly turns on his manipulative prowess, provoking Jeong Woo in such cruel ways by firstly pretending to perform a scene from a play which is actually Ji Soo’s last words, and then bringing Ha Yeon to prison. I loved how sharp and smart Jeong Woo was in both those instances, especially when Min Ho acted out Ji Soo’s last words. He indeed lost control of himself and wanted to get Min Ho, but realised that he needed a decoy to divert Min Ho’s attention hence he pretends to be angry instead over his bread.

Beneath Min Ho’s deviousness is a huge sense of insecurity as we witness a nightmare of his with Jeong Woo strangling him. He’s grappling at all ways to regain control over Jeong Woo and his condition; while he is able to use his power to manipulate the prison warden to put Jeong Woo in a separate prison, it is in the area of psychological warfare that he loses out to Jeong Woo because if there’s anything we’ve seen from Jeong Woo’s time in prison, we know that he’s not just smart, but also very mentally strong and determined. I found his act of stopping himself from seeing Ha Yeon very admirable, because it showed how he could see in the long term and overcome his most heartfelt desire to be with his daughter, so as to ensure she’s safe. While not explicitly mentioned, Seong Kyu’s previous visit must also have given Jeong Woo a sense of assurance that Seong Kyu is protecting and keeping Ha Yeon safe, hence he cannot do anything now to jeopardise that situation.

We’ve had a little less focus on Jun-Hyuk and Eun-Hye recently, but I’m glad Eun-Hye is proving her worth in the short appearances she has. This time, she manages to spot a key detail even before Jeong Woo tells her about it, which is that two knives were missing from the kitchen and not one. I’m keen to see the latest development of Min Ho getting Eun-hye to defend him and am wondering what he has up his sleeves. Now that Jun-Hyuk has heard Ha Yeon’s voice, I’m sure that will prompt him to take more action, but that also potentially means his promotion and career could be on the line, since he was so resolute in putting Jeong Woo behind bars. Will he finally make the right choice this time?

Besides the Jeong Woo-Min Ho drama that we got in this episode, I also enjoyed the brief insights we got into the struggles of the Cha family, especially the scene between Min Ho’s dad and mum at the altar of Seon Ho. They know the truth but the tension they face is genuine as revealing the truth would mean they lose both sons and also means the whole reputation of the family goes down the drain. We see Yeon Hee increasingly losing her nerves too and becoming increasingly frazzled when she remembers Jennifer Lee’s cry before dying. How long will she be able to keep up the pretence before she breaks down completely?

I’m glad to hear of the two episode extension, because I feel there’s much scope to flesh out some of the relationships that may not be critical for the main storyline, but useful nonetheless. Of particular interest would be Min Ho’s relationship with his mum over the years, and also with Yeon Hee. It’d be nice if we got clearer sense of Min Ho’s gradual downfall over the years to the cold-hearted murderer that he is right now. I don’t necessarily need him to be softened or redeemed as a villain, but at least it’d be nice to see him humanised so that we understand how he became who he is today.

Nonetheless, in spite of certain plotholes, I’m really enjoying this drama because we see two equally intelligent, capable protagonists continually trying to outsmart each other. Now that Min Ho knows that Jeong Woo remembers, one has to wonder what his next step is going to be.

Innocent Defendant Episode 8

InnocentDefendent8.jpgFor most of this episode, I was enjoying the way it delved more deeply into the Min Ho storyline by exposing darker aspects of Seon Ho that Min Ho wasn’t aware of – namely that he had a mistress! Of course, since he wasn’t aware of it, that was a part of Seon Ho that he couldn’t replicate convincingly, so he pleads with  Yeon Hee to help him out. She helps him out by lying about how he had to go through therapy after his brother’s death, which buys Min Ho some time.

However, Seon Ho’s mistress isn’t buying it and she hires a private investigator to verify if Min Ho/Seon Ho is really suffering from amnesia. Even after the report is received, she’s still suspicious and Min Ho is certainly wise enough to know he needs to ensure all bases are covered, so he takes her to the villa that she used to go with Seon Ho, so that he can get a sensing of whether she believes that he’s Seon Ho. When she checks his chest for a scar, and later on serves him white wine, he knows that she’s still suspicious and hence needs to be silenced. Just as he silences her, she actually calls Yeon Hee, who hears what happens. Yeon Hee is traumatised by what she hears and she seems like she can no longer live with a murderer who continues to kill.

The hit-and-run accident is where I feel the storyline started to fall apart. The story would have been perfect and  more interesting if Yeon Hee didn’t somehow get into a hit-and-run accident. It would have provided opportunity for genuine exploration of how Min Ho convinces her to keep up the pretense and not mention what she heard. However, the hit and run accident shifts the direction of the story and Min Ho decides to take over the vehicle and use this as an opportunity for him to enter prison and get rid of Jeong Woo, since he has decided not to go for the final appeal.

This decision of Min Ho’s really didn’t make sense to me. Firstly, as the President of Chamyoung Group, him getting into such trouble would cause so much sensation and affect the company negatively, which would further reinforce the dad’s negative impression of him. We know Min Ho has good relations within the police force who may be able to keep this arrest under wraps, but the more important question is why Min Ho feels the need to go to the extent of becoming a prisoner just to kill Jeong Woo. Doesn’t he have other people in there who can help him, for example, the people who have been helping to drug Jeong Woo so that he keeps losing his memory? Also, what would he have done if Yeon Hee didn’t get into an accident? Was this a plan that just somehow came to his mind when he saw her get into the hit-and-run accident? It all seems like an extremely miscalculated step for Min Ho, who has thus far been shown to be rather shrewd and sharp.

I was disappointed we didn’t get to see the interrogation between Joon Hyuk and Min Ho and immediately skipped to Joon Hyuk putting Min Ho in prison. That interrogation would certainly have been interesting to watch, especially to see how he asked to be put in prison and how Joon Hyuk responded.

I’m looking to see how the show will deal with Min Ho and Jeong Woo in prison storyline subsequently, especially now that Jeong Woo has finally recovered his memory of what happened that night and confirmed that Min Ho was the one who killed Ji Soo. I like how the show has made it such that the appeal route is no longer viable, because Jeong Woo had arranged all the evidence in such a way that made it look like he was the one who killed his wife. This results in Jeong Woo having to resort to a more criminal route of having to break out of prison, which he has actually before. There’s lots of interesting, creative work in how this show constructs its storyline and I’m really enjoying how things are gradually pieced together from different time periods. I’m sure we’ll get to see more of his first attempt at breaking out and what happened then. It’d be a nice contrast to his second attempt now, which I’m sure will be thwarted by Min Ho to a great extent.

Now that Jeong Woo has almost pieced together everything, I’m sure we’re in for a reset of some kind, i.e. him losing his memories once again. I’m wondering though if he might decide this time to pretend that he has lost all his memories, just to throw all those who are against him off guard, and allow him to finally bring the truth to light. This would certainly be a more interesting story to tell than him really losing his memories again. Nonetheless, my sole concern now is to see how Min Ho’s character can ‘recover’ from this mis-step of entering prison and whether the show can convince us that it’s a meaningful move on his part.

Innocent Defendant Episode 7

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As much as I expected Ha Yeon to be alive, it brought a smile to my face when I saw her in the Seong Kyu’s car at the end of the episode. Yay!

All this while, we’ve been seeing the murder of Ji Soo being reconstructed through Jeong Woo’s recovery of his memories. However, in this episode, we start to see it through Seong Kyu’s perspective and his involvement in getting rid of Ha Yeon. From a villain’s point of view, it’s a smart move to only kill one of Jeong Woo’s family members and hold the other as hostage, so as to still have a bargaining chip to ensure that he goes through with the confession. And in this episode, we learnt that Jeong Woo’s confession was made to ensure Ha Yeon was alive. Finally, the question of whether Jeong Woo actually murdered Ji Soo is answered. It’s always a good thing when a show keeps moving ahead and answering pertinent questions, because you know it’s going to take you to new places that you didn’t expect, rather than allowing questions to drag on for too long.

While the show generally does a good job with Jeong Woo’s character, I’ve always felt the show could certainly go deeper in exploring Min Ho’s character. I found it very telling when Yeon Hee asked him at the hospital how long he would keep the truth from his mum, and his reply was, “What can I tell her? That the Min Ho she once knew is dead? Or that I am Min Ho?”. It shed light on how Min Ho is looking upon this new identity as Seon Ho – while he takes on Seon Ho’s identity, he’s shedding away his ‘old’ self and proving himself to be as capable as his brother. We certainly saw that in the fencing sequence, where he tried to overcome his fear of needles, wearing Seon Ho’s fencing suit and taking on the young champion fencer. I wish we saw more of the ‘old Min Ho is dead’ storyline, because there is so much scope for story telling there. However, it’s also rather confusing as we seem to see Min Ho descending deeper and deeper into darkness as he continues his killing streak. It would help if we knew more of how Min Ho was like before he killed Seon Ho so that we can see his character trajectory better.

I do enjoy the scenes between Min Ho and his dad, because his dad clearly knows what happened – which makes the conversations between them so layered and tense. The scene in this episode with Min Ho asking his dad why he always treated him so harshly was a good one and I could almost sense the resentment and anger simmering to the surface when Min Ho heard his dad’s response. I wanted the scene to go on for a while longer, for more questions to be asked, but that seems to be the case with Min Ho scenes which tend to be more focused on him planning what to do next, rather than about delving deeper into his psyche and struggles.

Back to the Seong Kyu and Ha Yeon storyline, I’m wondering what happened to Ha Yeon during the period when he was in prison. And why was she so trusting of a stranger who simply took her into his place, away from his parents – unless she had already seen him around before and spoken to him? There are still some questions that need answering, but I do find Seong Kyu a compelling enough character that I’m interested not just in what happened to Ha Yeon, but his own emotional journey and investment in this. I was actively rooting for him in the previous episode to win the appeal and what I’ve seen in this episode continues to paint him in a somewhat positive light, because he’s clearly on Jeong Woo’s side. That definitely means he is in danger, which gives greater impetus for Jeong Woo to find a way to get to him and Ha Yeon.

Given how fast the answers are coming, I’m excited to see where the show takes us next. While the show certainly does a good job in moving the storyline forward, I would appreciate too if it could take time to flesh out its characters more concretely – that would truly make this show an excellent one.

Innocent Defendant Episode 6

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The great thing about this show is that each reveal opens up even more questions and deepens the mystery of what exactly happened on that night even further. Just as we think we are getting closer to the truth, we receive yet another piece of information that pushes us further away. The constant shift in chronology also helps keep things interesting given that we don’t always get the full context of what happens and often see events in isolation.

Take for example Jeong Woo’s confession to Jun Hyuk that he killed Ji Soo and Ha Yeon. IT seems so straightforward that I’m sure there’s more than meets the eye. What was the context of that confession? Why did he decide to do it? Was it just to give himself a peace of mind and end the torment and investigation into the death? I wouldn’t put it beyond Jeong Woo to ‘sacrifice’ himself so that Ji Soo and Ha Yeon can die or live in peace (since we don’t know whether Ha Yeon is alive or not). We see in this episode that he also confesses to Ji Soo’s mum that he killed her, even though he had no recollection of it. Or was he being threatened to confess or else Ha Yeon would die? Is Ha Yeon now being kept as hostage to be Cha Min Ho’s final trump card in the case that Jeong Woo does recover his memories? There are just so many possibilities and as much as I find the repeated amnesia too convenient a plot device, it is very meaningfully used to create suspense and intrigue about what actually happened.

The list of suspects keeps growing and we get two new characters thrown into the mix this episode. The first is Seok who serves as Min Ho’s right hand man, investigating what he needs and also doing his dirty work. He was involved in Detective Ko’s car crash and in the murder, but we’re not quite sure how. Given that he was dressed in black in this episode, is he the man in the video? However, it seems a little too straightforward and simplistic to have Min Ho ask Seok to kill Ji Soo, so I’m sure he’s not the murderer. Then, we have Seong Kyu – oh my Seong Kyu, I never knew you had it in you. His confession at the end was a real curve-ball and I never saw that coming. However, it comes so far afield that I’ll have to reserve judgement to see how this is played out, because I also don’t want the show to go down the route of ultimately pinning the blame on someone who’s completely peripheral to the main storyline. I am hoping that the murderer is someone within the mix of the existing characters, because I’d rather we deepen the existing network of characters we have and reveal new twists and turns to their relationships, rather than keep introducing new ones.

Beyond all the fascinating twists and turns, I’m really enjoying Ji Sung’s performance as Jeong Woo. He’s been consistently good throughout, portraying to perfection his confused, tormented yet determined state. I especially loved the moment of clarity and peace that was so evident in his face when he saw the video of his confession. There was even a subtle smile on his face, because he finally received confirmation about who killed his wife. As a character, Jeong Woo is also very well-written and we see how his morality and sense of righteousness go so deep that his focus in appealing is not really to prove his innocence, but to find out the truth for the sake of his wife and daughter. He’s perfectly willing to be punished by death if he really did murder his wife, but right now, he doesn’t even know if he did.

It’s unfortunate though that not all the other characters are as well-written as Jeong Woo and I’m starting to find most of them rather ‘thin’ and certainly deserving of more fleshing out. The most disappointing one currently is Min Ho, with most of his screen time spent planning his next move or covering up his mis-steps. I was really hoping he’d be built up as a more compelling villain in the likes of Yoo Jin from K2 or Moon Sik from Healer. These were good villains because they were evil and ruthless, but their motivations were clear and they also had a softer side with people in their lives that they cared for. Right now, I don’t even see Min Ho caring for Yoon Hee or Eun Soo genuinely. They seem to be used mainly as a means to carry on his farce of being Seon Ho. If Yoon Hee was his first love, then shouldn’t he show more affection towards her? Also, what was the trigger point for Min Ho exhibiting such violent tendencies? How did he get to this point?

Ultimately, I feel the show is suffering a from having way too many characters which helps to keep up the suspense regarding the murder, but also makes it more difficult to build them all up in a compelling manner. Nonetheless, it’s still early in the series and the show still has time to develop its characters more concretely. There’s still plenty to keep us engaged and thinking and the main question bugging me now as I wait for next week’s episodes is what does 16k refer to and why Jeong Woo thought it important enough to inscribe it.

Innocent Defendant Episode 5

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Murder mysteries are not new and in fact rather common in the drama-verse. What’s refreshing about this show though is how it implicates our protagonist in the whole murder and keeps us wondering whether he is one who committed the murder. Of course, most of us would be inclined to think that Jeong Woo wasn’t the murderer, but honestly, I would find it an equally interesting story to tell if it turned out that he did murder his wife and daughter.

Right now, the strongest suspect would be Min Ho – even if he didn’t commit the murder, he certainly had a role to play in it. However, given how many surprises we’ve gotten so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if Min Ho wasn’t involved at all, because Min Ho might be ensuring that Jeong Woo continually loses his memory for the sake of self preservation to ensure that his fake identity as Seon Ho is not exposed.

We know that Joon Hyuk was there on the night of the murder between 12.30 a.m. to 1.30 a.m., which is reported at the time of death. He made a recording in the fish soft toy about 1 a.m. and left soon after. The impression we’re being given now is that he’s just trying to protect himself because it would be suspicious that he was there on the night at such a late timing. Nonetheless, it does seem a little too easy that he just removed a piece of evidence from a police office? Wouldn’t anyone have noticed that the soft toy fish disappeared since it had already been labelled as item 16? That seems a little slipshod on the part of the investigators, and on the part of the show. In fact, we haven’t been shown any concrete evidence why Jeong Woo was determined to be the culprit behind the murder, given also that he lost his memories regarding what happened. Given how the show shifts back and forth in its chronology so often, I’m sure we’ll see more of the investigation scenes in time to come.

This episode represented Jeong Woo slowly gaining greater grasp of reality and becoming who he previously was again. Even though Joon Hyuk tells him that the doorbell was spoilt, Jeong Woo remembers clearly that he did hear the doorbell. He starts exercising his sense of righteousness and sharp thinking to score points and get him ahead in prison. It was nice seeing him finally step out of his shell to help his fellow prison-mate, Seong Kyu. I thought it was already smart of him to know the best way for him to get the cigarettes, but was even more impressed when I saw how he outsmarted the warden and head of security by passing Chul Sik an empty cigarette box. I honestly didn’t see that coming and I can see him gradually gaining the respect of his fellow prison-mates.

As for Min Ho, I was starting to feel slightly more sympathetic for him after learning about his abusive dad and how distant Yeon Hee had become from him, refusing to even stay with him for a minute after he woke up. However, he then goes and crushes the young fencer’s hand to completely destroy his future, and orchestrates the death of Detective Ko, which makes him completely evil once again. Right now, all that he does is largely being portrayed as an act of self-preservation to prevent his murder of his brother from being revealed. I’m hoping to see more of how he makes use of this as a second chance to prove himself as someone capable and more importantly, someone worthy of love.

So what exactly does the clue of 16k mean? We know Ha Yeon weights 16 kg, but why would that be something important enough for Jeong Woo to note it down? How is that linked to the murder? Also, while we see Tae Soo crying, we don’t really get to see what’s inside the suitcase. It could be Ha Yeon’s body, or it also be something else (like a dummy or a set of weights that total 16 kg) which causes Tae Soo to despair as well because he wants certainty and closure over the whole case. I’m still believing that Ha Yeon’s alive, so my theory now is that it wasn’t Ha Yeon in the suitcase and that Jeong Woo might have deliberately put 16kg worth of weights inside to convince someone else that it was Ha Yeon inside.

Now that Detective Ko is dead – or in coma – we only have Eun Hye to rely on to find out what really happened. Detective Ko’s accident is confirmation for her that there’s more than meets the eye and that someone is keen on hiding what happened. It wouldn’t be too hard for her to trace back and find out where Detective Ko came from before the accident, so I’m sure it will only be a matter of a few episodes before she starts suspecting Min Ho – and then her life will be in danger as well.

It has been a thrilling ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where episode 6 takes us!

Missing 9: Episode 5

A quick mention of my thoughts on episodes 3 & 4 before going into episode 5, since I didn’t have time to blog about them.

I didn’t enjoy episodes 3 and 4 as much as the earlier episodes, because I felt that the light-hearted, almost comedic tone detracted from the dark, pensive tone that the show had established in its first two episodes. I found it so strange that the scene of Joon Oh stepping on an old landmine was played as a comedic scene, though from what I read, there were many who also found it funny. I also felt that it was particularly unconvincingly how everyone on the plane survived almost without injuries, even though there were no seat belts on the plane and how they just somehow managed to survive on the island so well. Best of all, they even managed to retrieve their luggages and find shelter. Life almost seemed too rosy and there was a lack of desperation, loss, and hopelessness that characterised the experience of the first two episodes. However, I felt the show regained its momentum in episode 5, which marks the beginning of things falling apart in our group of 9.

Summary of events

There was so much happening in episode 5 – both on the island, as well as in the present – and the show interweaves both timelines very well, with scenes from the past being perfectly juxtaposed those from the present.

In terms of what happens in the island, we progress very quickly from where we left off in the last episode with Tae Ho returning to camp and immediately deciding who to pick to bring with him on the lifeboat. He makes a very strategic decision to pick President Hwang and let him choose the final person; however, So Hee finds out about this plan and demands to be the final person on the boat. Tae Ho has no choice but to agree when she threatens to reveal the truth about what he did, i.e. his murder of the pilot. The next day, Tae Ho splits the group into three groups to search for the intruder, with him, President Hwang and Soo Hee in one group and they immediately run off to find the boat while the others are engaged in the search. However, President Hwang backs out at the last minute, leaving just So Hee, Tae Ho and the captain to row the boat, which is made even more challenging because of the weather. Just as they are leaving, everyone finds out and runs to the coast to call them back because them rowing out is just seeking death.

As they row out, So Hee is exhausted and can’t row anymore. She loses her oar which angers Tae Ho. The boat capsizes, and Joon Oh and Bong Hee swim out to save them. As they are trying to save them, a huge wave sweeps over them, which splits the group into three – with Tae Ho returning with the boat to the rest of the group, comprising Ji Ah, Cheol, Ki Joon, President Hwang and Ho Hang (President Hwang’s secretary). Bong Hee and So Hee end up on a separate island, and Joon Oh is nowhere to be found, as well as the captain. Everyone else except Tae Ho want to go save So Hee and Bong Hee and he stops them by puncturing the boat. Instead of fighting Tae Ho, Ki Joon decides to ask everyone to go back to rest, but secretly works with Yeol and Ji ah to find materials to patch the boat so they can go out to save Bong Hee and So Hee without Tae Ho’s knowledge. Of course, Tae Ho finds out and just as Yeol goes to repair the hole, he confronts Yeol which leads to a scuffle that ends in Yeol’s death. Tae Ho is evidently shocked by what happens, but decides to hide it by putting  Yeol’s body out into the sea.

While all this is gong on, So Hee is breaking down mentally while waiting for the rest to come save her. She decides to commit suicide, and Bong Hee tries her best to stop her by showing the necklace. We get no news about what happens to Joon Oh, but given that he is the protagonist, we know nothing will happen to him.

The modern day happenings are equally exciting as Tae Young shows his devious, scheming side and manages to get hold of the therapist’s recording of Bong Hee saying she killed So Hee. With this recording, he calls Bong Hee and tells her he’ll do everything he can to send her to prison if she doesn’t confess.  He takes this recording and goes to find Chairwoman Jo, demanding her to make the findings about So Hee’s murder and Bong Hee’s confession public or else he will reveal the truth about her underhand dealings.

Separately, we realise that Bong Hee is not the only survivor and President Hwang has survived too. The current CEO of Legend Entertainment, President Jang, asks about what happened, to which President Hwang only mentions there’s a lot of bloodshed. On his way to the airport, President Jang’s car moves past a construction crane and a huge load of beams fall on the car, crushing it. We see the man in the construction crane calling President Jang, telling him that all has been settled.

Chairwoman Jo eventually succumbs to Tae Young’s threatns and holds a press conference on the interim findings, but is cut short when Investigator Oh comes to her and tells her that they’ve found another survivor. Bong Hee also appears at the press conference and tells Tae Young that she’s regained her memories and she knows who killed So Hee.

Comments

I’m really loving how this show keeps peeling back the layers and revealing that there’s more than meets the eye. This happens on several fronts.

Firstly, there’s the So Hee storyline – we’ve known from episode 2 that she’s dead, but we don’t know how she died. So Hee confesses to killing her during her hypnotism session, and we see Bong Hee failing to save So Hee from falling off a cliff. Yet, in episode 5, it becomes more apparent that Bong Hee couldn’t have killed So Hee given how much she cares for her. Everything then starts to point towards Tae Ho, since he’s already killed two people and there’s a very strong motivation for him to kill her.

Then, there’s the larger conspiracy of what exactly happened with the plane crash, which President Jang, the current CEO of Legend Entertainment, most certainly had a role in orchestrating. He has such a sinister presence and his killing of President Hwang just confirms his role in this even further. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone amongst the 9 is also in cahoots with President Jang and if this may also be linked to the death of Jae Hyun because we know that the all of them on the island, except for Bong Hee, have a connection to him.

We also have several characters in the present day storyline whose intentions still remain unclear. Chairwoman Jo is keen on shaping the testimony of Bong Hee in a way, possibly to assuage the public’s anxiety and lack of closure over this event. However, her intentions may not solely be positive as there also seems to be some bigger political agenda at play. Tae Young’s revenge motivation is rather straightforward, but there certainly is more between the him and So Hee that we have not seen yet.

Besides the way in which the narrative and motivations keep shifting, I also liked how this episode explored darker areas relating to self-preservation and hopelessness. Tae Ho represents a mix of both and while we are not meant to condone his killings, we can see how they were motivated by a desperate,  frenzied desire to ensure his own survival. That is why he smothers the pilot, justifying his act by saying that the pilot was going to die anyway. This desperation is also what leads to his frenzied rage that leads him to do irrational, rash acts like puncturing the boat, and also eventually killing Yeol – which he never intended to do. I actually found myself understanding where Tae Ho was coming from, even though I did not agree with what he did. We also see hopelessness through So Hee, who cannot bear the uncertainty of waiting and not knowing if or when death will come. The only way she can regain control of her future is by deciding to end her life.

While it’s not the focus of the show, the show does explore interesting ideas relating to group behaviours and dynamics. On an island when everyone is stripped of their title and social position, what determines how they relate to each other? Bong Hee is initially very respectful and submissive towards Joon Oh, but soon realises she doesn’t need to because she’s the one who knows how to survive here, and not him. Similarly, while President Hwang may be the head of Legend Entertainment, but he’s evidently not in control on the island and is arguably one of the most passive at least for now. Tae Ho naturally takes charge because his personality and drive are the strongest amongst all, next to Joon Oh. I’m glad we’re not going down the ‘hunger games’ route where every one is fighting for themselves because that would be too dark for me, but episode 5 shows the formation of alliances and the splitting of the group and it’d be interesting to see how these pan out in the episodes to come, especially when Joon-oh comes back into the mix. Can’t wait to catch up on episode 6 and I’ve heard great things about it!

Innocent Defendant Episodes 3 & 4

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I’m impressed at how fast this show is moving, with significant reveals in each episode that open up more questions with the latest being that Jun Hyuk was the one who visited their home on the night of Ha Yeon’s birthday. I don’t think Jun Hyuk was involved in the murder of Ji Soo and Ha Yeon (if she’s even dead), but he certainly knows more about what really happened on that night. Yet we also know from Jun Hyuk’s recount of his past encounters with Jeong Woo (if we can even rely on those) that Jeong Woo had confessed once to killing Ji Soo and Ha Yeon. While I’m almost 100% sure he didn’t kill them, why would he confess to it? It’s a fascinating journey where the protagonist isn’t sure of his innocence – he wants to know the truth, not only to defend himself, but also so that he can get his just punishment if he was indeed the one who murdered his wife and child.

It’s also enjoying how the story still remains coherent as we move back and forth in time to earlier times of happiness, to the time of Jeong Woo investigating Seon Ho’s death and then to the time when Jeong Woo first lost his memories. The show is being very creative with its chronology, but still maintaining a good momentum in moving the story ahead. The shifting back and forth in chronology helps to ensure a good balance of tone throughout the episodes and serve to emphasis how far Jeong Woo has fallen.

The direction of the series is stellar as well. I really liked the scene where both Jeong Woo and Chul Shik are in the punishment cells and we are shown both of them, with the wall separating them. There’s a lot of thoughtful crafting of scenes, as the scene after that also shows us Min Ho’s face from behind the window blinds as he questions why Jeong Woo is making an appeal again. As a whole, the show is well-written and well-directed and looks well positioned to be a ratings hit.

I have to say though the whole Min-Ho pretending to be Seon-Ho plotline is starting to become less and less convincing. I find it hard to believe that nobody can tell that he’s not Seon-Ho. In ep3, we see that he has a secret wall in his office with photographs and details of the previous clients of Cham Young, which he uses to prepare for each meeting. However, certainly there would be details that he wouldn’t be aware of? Furthermore, given that we’re led to believe that Min Ho and Seon Ho had very different personalities, wouldn’t anyone have been able to sense it? The only way this storyline can become more convincing is if we have more people realising that he’s actually Min Ho, but then colluding in this lie for reasons of their own. This is the reason why I’m fascinated by the theory that his dad actually knows that he’s not Seon Ho, but is playing along because he cannot afford to lose another son and heir to his inheritance. We certainly get strong hints of that in episode 4 when the dad asks him to joust with Lee Chan Young.

I’m also wondering about the repeated loss of memories, which seems to be taking the amnesia trope to an extreme. I know it’s a common trope in k-dramas, but I have rarely seen it used well. In this case, I really hope that we get a convincing explanation of how this repeated memory loss is happening, most likely due to the prison chief and warden’s arrangements. I can foresee that it won’t be the last time that Jeong Woo loses his memories and he’s likely to lose them at a critical moment in our story when victory is near. Eun Hye would certainly have an important role to play in ensuring he retains his memories.

Nonetheless, this has been an excellent start to the series and I hope it can keep it its wonderful blend of mystery, suspense and excitement!

Legend of the Blue Sea – Finale

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Legend of The Blue Sea delivers a light-hearted, fun and sweet finale that’s nothing less of what we’ve come to expect of the show.

The show has always done its fun and light-hearted parts well and most of my favourite parts of the show have been its laugh out loud bits. Whether it’s Sim Chung’s awkwardness in adjusting to the world through watching TV dramas, or Joon Jae’s denial of his affection for her, the show has consistently been able to make me smile and laugh. The finale has many of these funny moments too, like Nam Doo in his new profession as he speaks about tax evasion and quotes Benjamin Franklin, Detective Hong becoming part of the trio and drinking beer with them and Sim Chung’s meeting with the mermaid who has come on land.

On the romance end of things, it was never in doubt that Joon Jae and Sim Chung would have a happy ending, even as the show tried to throw in that final obstacle about her having to return to sea to recuperate. I did have a strong suspicion from the start that Joon Jae did not forget Sim Chung, even though she erased his memories, and I was right! It was touching to see that he recorded every single moment of them being together, though the question was why he had to do so in writing? We know from the early part of the series that photographic evidence of her will always remain, so why didn’t he take any photos with her? Wouldn’t there have been any photos from her birthday too?  

Logical issues aside, I appreciated that Joon Jae had to work hard to ensure the memories of Sim Chung were retained, and that the memories didn’t just come flooding back through a random trigger. I also liked how he respected her enough to keep a strong front when she spoke to him through telepathy in front of his friends and family, so as not to expose her identity in front of them. It certainly must not have been easy given that we saw him breaking down already in the car journey back, but his instinct to protect her always comes first, and even after seeing her for the first time in three years, his first priority is to protect her identity. And even after they reunite, they settle down in a home close to the sea, a place where she can be comfortable in, and away from the rest of society, so that she does not have to fear being exposed and they can both live their lives happily ever after while he supports her as a public prosecutor.

Nonetheless, even as the show ends with perfect happiness for our couple, there’s an undeniable feeling that the show could have been so much more. I strongly believe I’m not alone in saying that the mythology of the mermaid was only superficially explored during this series. It was only when Jo Jung-Suk made his cameo that we started to go slightly deeper into the mythology, but we never really got to explore the world that Sim Chung came from. We got hints of it towards the end, but it was never really enough. Furthermore, we never got to explore what it means for a human to fall in love with a mermaid, given that they are both essentially from different worlds. Joon Jae just accepted the fact that Sim Chung was a mermaid without questioning further or even discussing it once. This romance across worlds almost seemed too easy.

Beyond the mythology, the whole connection between past and present wasn’t also fully exploited for its dramatic potential. Granted, we did get some interesting twists towards the end with Nam Doo and Chi Hyun, but part of me also felt like this big reveal came too late and by that point, I had already been so frustrated with Dae Young’s lack of action. There were hints that Dam Ryung and Joon Jae could communicate with each other and help each other when Dam Ryung was also getting visions of the future, but that really wasn’t pushed much further. What I found most problematic was that there really was never any threat to Sim Chung in the modern day storyline, unlike in the Joseon era. Nobody really wanted to get rid of her, except for Dae Young who was largely ineffective. Given that Sim Chung never really was in any danger, it also didn’t feel like their relationship had to go through huge hurdles to get to where it was.

In spite of the above, I still think the show was a worthwhile watch because it was mostly entertaining. Jung Ji Hyun has always been good, but I didn’t think this was her best performance – I felt she performed much better in My Love from the Star, also partly because her character was so much more layered and complex, demanding a larger range of emotions from her than Sim Chung and Sae Wa. However, it’s Lee Min Ho who truly shone in this series and I have to say his performance was really amazing, especially towards the end following his dad’s death. I initially complained that the rest of the characters weren’t interesting, but by the end, I grew to love almost all the characters, which made the show an enjoyable watch. Well, not every show needs to be a classic and I’m glad that this show was one which just allowed me to sit back and relax after a long day.