[Kdrama review] 너를 기억해 I Remember You (Hello Monster)

hellomonster

Detectives, psychopaths, monsters and brains, brains, brains! The result of this formula? 15 + alpha. Because there’s no cleverer way to say “I love you”.

Genre: Mystery, crime, thriller, romance, comedy

Synopsis: Genius profiler Lee Hyun (Seo In Guk) returns to South Korea from overseas after he receives an email about a murder. At the crime scene, he meets police officer Cha Ji An (Jang Na Ra) who seems to know more about him than she should. He reluctantly helps her and her team of bumbling cops with several cases, but he soon realises that they share a connection with the mysterious murderer Lee Joon Young.

Comments:

It was by luck that I stumbled upon this show. I usually follow news about upcoming Korean dramas, but somehow, I had absolutely no idea that such a show was going to be shown on KBS, not until I saw the highlights teaser just a few days before its premiere. The teaser showed a mix of zaniness and mystery which grabbed my attention. The cast also seemed pleasing, and I was surprised to see Lee Chun Hee, the clumsy Chunderella from the variety show “Family Outing”, starring in the drama. All these were enough to pique my interest and got me excited, so I started watching. And I was sure glad I did!

This drama was unlike the typical Korean drama as its focus was more on the crime and mystery rather than the romance. In fact, I think this is more similar to Japanese mystery dramas. I’m not the kind who likes lovey dovey scenes, so this drama is my perfect cup of tea. However, I must admit that I wasn’t able to fully comprehend how Lee Hyun went about solving his cases because there was a lot of complex problem-solving in the process (I attribute this to Lee Hyun being a genius with a much higher intellect than myself).

Give me an eternity and I still won't be able to figure out how he solved these puzzles

Give me an eternity and I still won’t be able to figure out how he solved these puzzles

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But on the whole, I think this drama was very well thought-out by the scriptwriter. Given that this is the work of the same writer who wrote the very funny but poorly written rom-com “Protect the Boss”, I was surprised by the high quality of the script for this drama. Every episode had a title just like the chapters of a storybook, and I like how the story of each episode actually corresponded with its given title. The story was peppered with many small cases along the way, but the cases somehow mirrored the life of Lee Hyun and Cha Ji An in subtle ways. Like a jigsaw puzzle, everything then wonderfully linked back to the bigger mystery surrounding the murderer Lee Joon Young, Lee Hyun’s past and Lee Hyun’s younger brother Min who went missing as a kid.

Another evidence of the sheer amount of thought put into this show, is how the screens bearing the title of each episode actually form Min’s signature logo when you piece them together. Fascinating! Big thanks to the eagle-eyed Korean fans who discovered this.

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You get this logo when you piece all the title screens together

This drama was initially called “Hello Monster”, but the producers eventually dropped that catchy title for the more generic-sounding title “I Remember You”. Despite the name change, I think both titles actually suit the drama very well, because the story consistently made references to two very interesting and meaningful topics: Are monsters born or made? And what does it mean to be remembered by someone? Since young, Hyun was treated like a monster by his father, and even as an adult, people continue to see him as a monster because of his cold, unfeeling personality. Because he was always labelled as a monster, the writer plants an element of doubt, making the viewer question if Hyun could possibly be a murderer himself. In fact, Hyun is not too sure about himself either. A boy asks Hyun if a child will inevitably grow up to become a killer if his father is a murderer. While he is able to answer the boy reassuringly like a professor would, he is unable to do so if the question is directed towards himself. I really love this conflict and uncertainty in his otherwise composed and intelligent character. It shows that he isn’t as strong as he seems, and that’s why he needs reassurance and understanding from someone like Cha Ji An, who does not see him as a monster. This drama also revealed to me the shocking fact that it is possible for people to be born as monsters, that is, when children are born with inherent criminal tendencies. Although I know that the environment can affect one’s upbringing, it never occurred to me such a psychological condition existed, and this prompted me to do some reading on the topic. I really like it when a drama is able to relate to issues in the real world.

Touching on the other topic of remembrance, Cha Ji An, Hyun’s brother and Lee Joon Young all showed different kinds of emotions towards Hyun not being able to remember them. The drama highlights the value attached to remembrance. The fact that someone remembers you can bring you delight, knowing that you matter enough to the person to be remembered. But if someone doesn’t recognise you, it can cause anger, jealousy or disappointment, knowing that you are merely an insignificant being not worthy of being remembered. This subconscious act of remembering someone is not something that we concern ourselves with everyday, so it is interesting to see this being fleshed out subtly throughout a drama.

Some pretty visuals and CGI in the drama

Some pretty visuals and CGI in the drama

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In terms of style and aesthetics, I like the detective, Nancy Drew kind of vibe given by the instrumental track and the opening sequence that makes use of animated drawings instead of filming the actual cast. I’m sure one can make many interpretations of the animation if one were to sit down and analyse the whole opening sequence. For instance, one segment of the animation shows Hyun speeding along in his car and part of the bridge collapses, but we see Cha Ji An raising her hand to fill the gap in the bridge for his car to pass through. This mirrors her role in the show as someone who offers Hyun support and props him up when events around him attempt to bring him down as he chases after the truth. I especially like how the director tries to put some symbolism in certain scenes through framing. I notice the director likes to film his subjects through a glass window that creates a blurry or reflective effect, which I interpret as a symbolism of confusion or the character’s layered personality, that he is not what he seems. In other scenes, the director also makes use of trees or a piece of furniture to draw an imaginary line between two characters to show that they are enemies standing on opposing sides, just like a line between good and evil. Or am I reading too much into things?

Tree and lamp post positioned right in the middle of the frame seem to separate the 2 characters.

Tree and lamp post positioned right in the middle of the frame seem to separate the 2 characters.

Filming through glass to create a blurred effect

Filming through glass to create a blurred effect

The acting in this drama was also good, and I’m now officially a fan of Seo In Guk because of his impressive performance here as Lee Hyun. I had always known him to be a singer (his song “Calling You” was one of the first kpop songs I liked when I first became a kpop fan years ago), but the only time I saw him as an actor was in the drama “Master’s Sun”. The character Lee Hyun is a challenging one because he is always so composed and doesn’t show huge reactions, so there is a danger of the actor coming across as a wooden block with no emotions. Hyun also uses a lot of difficult terminology and reasoning due to his job and intellect, and he speaks very quickly too. But Seo In Guk did a good job in portraying all the subtle changes in emotions and delivering all that difficult dialogue. I found his chemistry with Jang Na Ra very convincing too despite their age gap; it helps that she always has this sweet, cute personality. Park Bo Gum and Choi Won Young were also very outstanding in their acting. Park Bo Gum already caught my eye when he had a small role in “Gaksital”, and he has risen up to the challenge here to take on a bigger and darker role. I only saw Choi Won Young in “Kill Me Heal Me”, where he had a minor role as a secretary, so I was greatly surprised to see him being given such a huge and important role so soon in this drama. D.O. was also unexpectedly good in his cameo role despite being an idol singer. Well, Seo In Guk also started as a Kpop singer first, so I shouldn’t judge.

Lee Hyun may be quite an unfeeling character but Seo In Guk still managed to portray a wide range of emotions.

Lee Hyun may be quite an unfeeling character but Seo In Guk still managed to portray a wide range of emotions.

Stellar acting by Seo In Guk and Park Bo Gum

Stellar acting by Seo In Guk and Park Bo Gum

All in all, this was a drama that was unexpectedly good. The last episode may not be as action-packed as I would have preferred it to be, and the ending was also somewhat unsatisfactory and not something I was expecting. But I like this element of unpredictability in the drama and its attempt to break out of the conventional Kdrama mould. The ending may not be too bad after all if it gives us room for imagination and hopes of a sequel, but given the dismal viewership ratings the show got in Korea during its run, I believe the story ends here for good.

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Verdict:

Overall: 8.5/10
Enjoyment: 9/10

A suspenseful mystery thriller filled with some laughs, sweet romance (and bromance) and moments of melancholy that make this a wholesome package. And I always appreciate a well thought out show that acknowledges its audience as thinking individuals. A show worth remembering.

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7 thoughts on “[Kdrama review] 너를 기억해 I Remember You (Hello Monster)

  1. You are an incredible writer too 🙂 this post is amazing. Good job on the logo find. Do you have an image of the actual logo without the episode titles? I have been searching for it but to no avail 😦

    1. Thank you for your compliment! I don’t have an image of that logo, but maybe it might be possible to get one by doing a screenshot from the drama itself?

  2. I love the way you write about I Remember You. It’s my no 1 favorite kdrama this year. And I didn’t even know about the logo thing! Thanks for the find. It just makes me admire the writers and director of this show that much more.
    And you are absolutely right about the symbolism and framing. I love how IRY had so many meta-references that one could fill an book with it.
    This is the first time that a kdrama made me think about things other than the romance (which was subtle yet perfect) and I loved every moment of it. I don’t think am going to get over this show anytime soon 🙂

  3. Oh and one more thing. You said :
    “For instance, one segment of the animation shows Hyun speeding along in his car and part of the bridge collapses, but we see Cha Ji An raising her hand to fill the gap in the bridge for his car to pass through. ”

    Which segment are you talking about here? I don’t remember seeing this. Could you give me a link or tell me the episode in which it was featured.

      1. Wow thanks! I dunno why but I never saw this in the sites where I watched IRY episodes! This is amazing! It aptly showcases Cha Ji An’s importance in Lee Hyun’s life.

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