Posted in Drama Series, Review

Hello Monster, should I Remember You?

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The other cop drama i was following besides My Beautiful Bride which also turned out to be more than just a procedural crime drama. But unlike Bride, i wasn’t impressed with I Remember You* at the outset but was drawn to it more toward the finish line. Due to the mixed feelings the ending gave me, i can’t say i liked it more at the end than i did at the start, but all in all it’s been a great watch two-thirds of the run.

*) also previously known as Hello Monster, which arguably makes for a better/apter title, because while the drama is about remembering important details of one’s past, it’s more about the monster inside all of us.

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Coming into the show practically blind, i was intrigued early on by its monster/psychopath and critical period bits as Show gives its perspective on the nature vs. nurture debate — whether monsters are born or created, whether characters and traits are determined by genetics or environment, and if critical period plays a significant part in shaping people into who they are as human beings — through The Tale of Two Brothers, in which “one is born a psychopath [while] the other acquired psychopathy.”

The older of the two is Lee Hyun (Hong Hyun-taek, later played by Seo In-gook), who’s brainy, precocious, and (unsettlingly, but not entirely) impassive. He breaks down upon being home-schooled and confined from outside world as Dad deems him displaying malicious tendency — “Dad, you should have asked me, before calling me a monster, before locking me in a place like this!”. It seems unfair, but which parent doesn’t freak out when psychopathic corpse-less murderer Lee Joon-young (chilling cameo by EXO’s D.O.) associates with him on one glance? Plus, it doesn’t look like a false accusation since his adult self admits to not committing homicide as a way to rebel to the monster label Dad puts on him. Which is sad. But then it’s revealed that the gruesome drawings (and possibly the animal abuses) are done by lil bro Min (Hong Eun-taek), which had me questioning if and how Profiler Dad ‘gets’ the wrong kid especially if Hyun merely cleans up after Min but decides to take the blame to cover for him.

We learn about the backstory through flashbacks as Show unfolds in the present, 20 years after Dad was killed, Min fled the scene house and was nowhere to be found since and is thus presumed dead, and Hyun erased lost some of his memories from that time, where Hyun finds himself constantly surrounded by Cha Ji-an (Jang Nara) together with her predominantly-inept fellow cops headed by equally derpy team leader played by Lee Chun-hee, medical examiner Lee Joon-ho (Choi Won-young), and Lawyer Jung (Park Bo-gum). Why, because in this dramaland there are only one investigation team, medical examiner, and lawyer at work. They’re either overworked or darn good. Ha.

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While IRY spends plenty of time on solving murder case after murder case, they all curiously link back to the unsolved murder case that started it all — be it in motive, sentiment, or modus operandi — that no case is meaningless just to fill air time or flaunt Hyun’s geniusness as each of them brings him slowly but surely closer to the Pandora’s box. Not all cases are equally interesting although the takeaways are fascinating.

The one that’s particularly memorable and poignant is where this high-schooler whom Hyun refers to as “No. 1” takes a special interest in The Tale of Two Wolves as the story gives him peace of mind that being a murderer’s son doesn’t automatically makes him into one in the future. Besides ending up liking the message behind this Cherokee’s legend myself, i think it’s the point this drama embraces and aims to convey — that everything is a matter of choice.

There’s a battle that goes on inside people.
The battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil […] the other is good.
“Which wolf wins?”
“The one that you feed.”

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[Pleased to see a great team “The Three Psychoteers” makes]

One major niggle i had is its non-shocking reveals. It is probably because Show has been dropping enough hints and clues along the way for us to connect the dots that when the big reveal transpires, my reaction was more “I knew it…” than “Oh dammit!”, which can be a good or bad thing. For me, i come into a mystery/suspense show expecting twists, so i was pretty dissatisfied with the lack of it here. However, IRY does a great job in coming up with the ‘whys’ — why the villain did what he did — and in humanizing its psychopathic monsters, probably a bit too well since the reasoning not only made me unable to hate them but also had me wishing for a happy ending for one of them…

[ending spoilers/discussion ahead] …fully aware that both are cold-blooded murderers. Gasp. I know Min’s got to atone for the crimes he’s committed, but he does so because he truly believes his hyung abandoned and handed him over to Lee Joon-young; plus, he ‘only’ targets those who abandoned their family member(s), however unintentionally. Also, who else felt a pang of sympathy when Joon-young says his only hope is to live together with the two kids? I mean, other criminals kill out of shallow revenge or simply because they feel like it, but he kills those abusing their family member(s). In his mind, he’s saving his young neglected/imprisoned self again and again. That’s still messed up, but somewhat justifiable…?

In that regard, Hyun is one of his kids too — not only was he liberated from being locked up down with a monster label, he was also given a choice to be who he wanted to be: “You can become like me, or you can become the opposite of me. There isn’t just one door. You can leave through the front door, or the back door.” — even though Hyun is also one of a few kids who ain’t grateful to be deprived of parental love and guidance. It’s been established that Joon-young may mean well, but his way of helping is twisted that he ends up causing trouble for the helpees. Like how sparing his carer only gives her a traumatic memory for life, or how giving the closure that Ji-an seeks ends up becoming her worst birthday present ever.

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After watching Korean dramas for years, i thought they cannot do without romance, that regardless of the drama’s genre, romance will take up lots of screen time, but IRY (and majority of OCN dramas, it seems) proves me wrong by keeping it to the bare minimum. It’s not unnoticeable or not hinted at throughout the series, also still the bickering-turned-courtship partners-turned-lovers kind, but it doesn’t take away the focus from the mystery and eventually heart-warming/-breaking bromance.

That’s why i was so upset and confused at the ending since it ties up the romance but not the other things that matter most more. I’m not against open-endings, and i can see why it’s realistic (not all criminals end up in jail or dead; Show also illustrates that those in power receive ‘punishment’ only to hold higher positions with heftier paychecks) but i trusted Show to give us a satisfying closure, especially regarding the ever-so-elusive Lee Joon-young, despite having neither incriminating evidence against his corpse-less murder crimes nor his fingerprints record. Above all else, it has plenty of time for that despite the medium-to-slow pace, and i still believed we’re heading that way 40 minutes into the finale where the scenes started to become choppy, jumpy, and rushed.

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Hyun convinces us that he will still be going after Joon-young and finds him, though i’m still dissatisfied that the final showdown takes place off-screen AND at an unspecified time in the future. That said, i fully appreciate Joon-young for giving Min what he gave Hyun 20 years a go: a choice. It’s nice to see him having a choice because he grew up believing he’s born a monster and passing his critical period under Joon-young made him adopt his way of thinking and doing without a second thought, unaware that he’s actually in charge of his own actions and eventually fate. It’s uplifting to note that when given a chance, people tend to pick the right way.

In the end, what i enjoyed most about the drama were its psychological aspects, food for thought materials on our moral compass and inner monster, and bromance. The last point is what made it extra difficult to part with the show, because the brothers scenes were so bittersweet they’re killing me. They can be stiff, awkward, AND cute at the same time — the way Hyun looks at Min, how Min is wide-eyed and innocent around Hyun(g) (but reverts to be creepy and shady when not), and when IRY juxtaposes past and present scenes… gahh i just wanted more! Hyun/Min is definitely one of the best bromances in dramaland. Theirs didn’t wring as many tears tho as tragic as the brothers in Pinocchio although their reunion to a certain degree felt more wistful.

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I love these two together so much (in my eyes, Seo In-gook has more chemistry with Park Bo-gum than Jang Nara) that Min’s inner monologue toward the end serves as the last punch to the gut:

“Hyung, for 20 years, I hated you, I missed you, I waited for you, and I watched over you. That was the entirety of my 20 years. You were my everything.”

And while i don’t normally like imaginations since they’re usually far-fetched, i really like Ji-an’s what-if moments where they would have still met whether or not Lee Joon-young had come into their lives. It is hilariously sweet that we can hope this is what awaits the three in the future.

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In terms of acting, i guess it’s pretty solid across the board. Hyun is the most consistent, character- and acting-wise, that it’s easy to imagine little Hyun growing up to be adult Hyun. Ji-an was annoyingly pestering at first though later on i appreciated her tough, fearless, supportive and accommodating persona. Joon-ho and Lawyer Jung had their fair share of creepiness though nowhere near the skin-crawling kind a la Joon-young. Blame D.O. for setting a high bar at the start of this mind game. Park Bo-gum sold the plaintive wistful man-boy better than he did the sinister antagonist. Choi Won-young did a better job at embodying a peculiar character that most of the time you just can’t read him. Even when he’s confused and conflicted, his expressions are still somewhat eerie.

In terms of underlying message, complex yet sympathetic villains, and bittersweet bromance, I Remember You would be tough to beat.

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_
Rating: 15 points + alpha (out of 100) 😋
Director: Noh Sang-hoon and Kim Jin-won
Production: KBS2, 2015
Cast: Seo In-gook, Jang Nara, Choi Won-young, Park Bo-gum, Lee Chun-hee, Son Seung-won, D.O. (Do Kyung-soo)
Genre: Romance, Crime, Mystery, Psychological K-drama (16 Episodes)

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