“I’m sorry… for being born to you. For being a monster to you.”
The last thing i thought i’d do for this drama was cry for the character(s) because all series long, i never felt emotionally invested or connected to any of them. Therefore, i was surprised it managed to warm my eyes and make me feel the pain the characters felt at that moment or was going through, in the finale that is. That, the moment that resigned sentence is uttered, is the culmination of the nearly non-existent emotional arc which also serves as the emotional closure Hye-jin never had the chance to get. Regrettably.
Because how can anybody not be moved by what she said, that she truly searched for mom not to live but of out loneliness and that she ultimately apologized for being born and bringing lifelong pain to the person who had given birth to her? Many characters are delusional, manipulative, and twisted that being raw, vulnerable, and sincere go a great deal in humanizing them. I’m obviously aware the characters are in deeply shaded grey area and as much as i enjoy their cloudiness, it’s gratifying to know most of them aren’t necessarily evil; they’re just deliberately saying/doing mean things to protect themselves from being hurt or trampled on, and that’s something we all can relate to — we’re humans, not angels after all.
Apart from serial killer Agassi, serial rapist Ahjussi, and a couple corrupt politicians i cared not at all, the rest of Achiara residents do not commit any heinous crime (if my memory served me right, that is; there are too many things going on in this dramaverse it’s rather impossible to keep track of each of them) to make the village a despicable place to live in. Zooming out, the dirty secret it holds mainly is about the vile assaults going on for decades the victims deemed a disgrace to report. That’s the root cause of bad blood between everybody, the thorn in flesh left to fester, infect, and affect other parties. How can it not, when one’s uncurbed urges end up making many people unwittingly half-siblings?
Achiara folks’ biggest mistake is in remaining silent about things that matter, in fear of disturbing the village’s peace or losing face, incorrectly believing that time would heal everything. No, certain wounds will never be fully healed unless being attended to. Even then, some will still leave a permanent scar alongside a peace of mind, hopefully. Although, really, seeing how small the population was, it’d have been really easy to catch the culprit had any victim reported him. At least Agassi is smarter in not messing up with the town-folks.
If anything, Show could’ve raised substantial questions, such as if statute of limitations should be lifted for certain sensitive or atrocious cases, if someone should be convicted for a crime he committed decades ago when he has turned his life around, or which is scarier: one refusing to atone for the crimes he did in the past or one not even realizing that he’s committing a crime? Because it’s really unfair for Ahjussi to be off the hook when his victims have yet to move on from the psychological trauma he inflicted. His argument is pretty much a fallacy too: how dare he claim to be living diligently when he has ruined so many others’, to have stopped (only) after having a legal daughter when still having the urges? How could he care only about little Da-in and change only after her birth when there’s already Gun-woo who’s around Hye-jin’s age? He’s sick, but his wife who trusted, supported, and married him despite fully aware of his crimes and disease is even crazier.
In this drama, information is given piece by piece that we can only find out which piece fits, doesn’t fit, or doesn’t even belong in the big picture after we get everything in our hand; most of the time, it is misleading only because it’s viewed in itself when it really is one of the interconnecting puzzle pieces. That’s why we’re led to believe the last person seen in public with Hye-jin was her killer, or that the newborn baby was Bengi Ahjimmae’s when her expression was clearly shocked than detached. The reveal would’ve been more twisty had i not read speculations of who it possibly is. I excluded Ji-sook thinking she was too young to conceive. This disclosure sheds light on why baby Hye-jin was sold off and why Ji-sook harbored intense animosity toward adult Hye-jin, which was much less due to the affair. However, i still have difficulty wrapping my head around her extreme ways of getting her way (got into a brawl to obtain Ji-sook’s DNA to blackmail Councilman Seo to be on good side of Chairman Noh) as well as her decision to keep her illness from Jo-hee.
The tricky part about Hye-jin’s presence in Achiara is it all happened in the past. Her story is told via second-person narrative, through the eyes of the people she’s met, that it’s hard to arrange the events in chronological order to make sense of her motive/actions/emotions or to know if any of it was altered at all. The crime re-enactment scene, for instance, did everything take place but the choking? Was her badmouthing Ji-sook before Ki-hyun all an act, since she should’ve learned about her birth story and promised not to disturb Ji-sook anymore then?
Despite her crafty persona and slightly-deranged tendencies, Ji-sook was never the villain and i never hated her. She too is one of the victims of circumstances who is incredibly layered and conflicted. Knowing her scarred history made it easier to understand her drives and delusions, including why she abhorred Hye-jin when Ga-young’s mom was able to love Ga-young unconditionally, and eventually spot the rare moments she’s being sincere. (Ji-sook’s every changing emotion was so palpable thanks to the phenomenal portrayal by Shin Eun-kyung.)
“I’m Kim Hye-jin’s mother, but on paper we’re strangers. In cases like this, what do i have to do in order to get approved for organ donation?”
“I felt as if I would meet that man again if I went in there. It was despicable, but I still had to go in. I had to take my child out of there.”
Something about the way these two sentences were uttered or worded gave away her true intentions, that she’s doing it for Hye-jin and not her own gain. It’s thus sad that she’s charged for attempted murder when she didn’t even try to kill Hye-jin, she was confronted and blinded by her repressed trauma for a moment (when the man who started it all is able to walk away a free man) and even had a visceral reaction to Hye-jin’s dying!
Speaking of which, i spent probably half the series speculating if she’s down by her illness although seeing how things unfold in the last quarter, i shelved this possibility. I was also initially fixated on the why despite knowing that in dramaland, it is usually over a shallow and trivial matter, yet didn’t think much about it when it’s finally revealed. Yes, it’s still overly simple and unimpactful, not the anticipated tragic kind, although it’s a tragic end to her quest for seeking acceptance, being loved, and eventually revenging against the man who not only robbed her of the first two things but also turned her into a monster in her mother’s eyes.
That’s why i wasn’t fully happy about the ending, because Show essentially unveiled Hye-jin’s true wish to escape living a lonely family-less life and ended up putting So-yoon in the same situation. She no longer has a relative, doesn’t manage to create or build a makeshift one, and decides to return to Canada all by herself. Well, Achiara is the story between Hye-jin and Ji-sook that any other character and/or subplot feels tangential, that even So-yoon feels pretty much a plot device. She got a closure for unni, but then…what’s next for her? Oh, that’s not important? Okay.
How about Agassi, who at first seemed to know a lot about Hye-jin and provided a lot of clues to her last sightings but later on reduced to haunting So-yoon to keep her relevant i guess, cuz we otherwise wouldn’t care about her at all? Or about characters who were taken out of the picture for no apparent purpose, like Driver Yang, Oh Gap-soo, Ga-young, Grandma, or this Chairman Noh who came back from the dead? Or about the parent’s accident and the siblings’ fabricated deaths? Or… Or… Or…
I can’t believe i got so hung up on the insignificant things…
But if you’re looking for a mystery drama that keeps you on the edge of the seat while second-guessing everything till the very end, drops a slew of hints yet makes you clueless, and throws you off with every reveal, Achiara shall deliver on that front and then some. It’s a slow burn show — it starts out slow but does get better as it progresses — that rewards your faith, attentiveness, and patience with engaging if convoluted storylines, dark multi-faceted characters, and fully committed acting bar none. The only time my mind wandered was during the political scenes, no surprises there. While neither answers all questions nor ties up all loose ends, it gives satisfying and touching resolution to the case that matters the most.
All in all, i concur with the notion that while Achiara is not ah-mazing, it offers something different and captivating once you get past the initial eeriness. I liked it more than i expected, and i’m convinced parts of it shall stay with its avid viewers long after it’s over.
Director: Lee Yong-seok
Production: SBS, 2015
Cast: Shin Eun-kyung, Jang Hee-jin, Moon Geun-young, Yook Sung-jae, Ohn Joo-wan, Jang So-yeon, Ahn Seo-hyun, Kim Min-jae, Choi Jae-woong, Park Eun-Seok, Woo Hyun-joo, Lee Yeol-eum, Jung Sung-mo
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, K-drama (16 Episodes)
Still wondering what the drama’s message is? Read the PD and writer’s take on that matter here.