Korean sci-fi and some groundworks – a recipie for success!

What’s The Show? Tunnel

What’s It All About, JG? It’s a Korean series from 2017 about a detective who, while pursuing a murder suspect in 1986, is transported forward in time thirty years via the titular tunnel. Upon arrival he takes the place of another officer with the same name – Park Gwang-ho – and bluffs his way into his life. That Park Gwang-ho was also a police officer, so Our Hero gets partnered up – in the police sense – with Kim Seon-jae, a contemporary detective who’s investigating a serial killer whose modus operandi is the same as the one Gwang-ho was pursuing when he got caught up in all this. It’s a sort of reverse Life On Mars, in other words, with the detective going forward in time not back, a bit of culture-clash comedy, a genuinely compelling case at the core of the show, and a bunch of soap-opera antics to keep us amused while that main plot ticks away. Will Gwang-ho be able to catch the serial killer and return to the love of his life back in 1986?

Why Did You Give It A Go? Well, because it’s a reverse Life On Mars. Also it just kinda sounded cool and it came up on my Netflix recommendations. Whatcha gonna do?

Is It Any Good? It’s thoroughly entertaining, for sure. Choi Jin-hyok is appealingly likeable as Gwang-ho, and it’s rather nice to watch a Korean drama where the lead isn’t a muscular pretty-boy, which is pretty much default operating procedure . He has a nice, lived-in performance going on, and it works well for the character. The situation is suitably ridiculous, yet it takes its premise seriously. There’s no interest whatsoever in the mechanism of time-travel here – it’s just the way Our Hero gets involved in things. It’s literally just a tunnel which occasionally moves people in time for some reason, but that lack of explanation is definitely the best approach here. It means we don’t get bogged down in a lot of detail or unnecessary bafflegab and can just get on with the business of telling the story. And it’s a good story! Yes of course it swerves in to slightly soapy territory when Gwang-ho discovers the baby his wife was pregnant with back in 1986 is in fact Professor Shin Jae-yi, criminal psychologist! And he just so happens to be living above her! But the series has enough swagger going to carry it off so it basically works.

How Many Of These Did You Watch? The whole damn lot!

Would You Recommend It? I would. It has a satisfactory ending that works, there’s an appealing cast of side characters and although by Korean standards it’s reasonably explicit it’s never gratuitous – the murders we see, especially, are fairly unremarkable by Western standards, and shots of the killer with their hands round someone’s neck are blurred. As often seems to be the way with Korean dramas, this is a self-contained single season with sixteen episodes but with enough plot for maybe thirteen episodes, so that means things sag slightly around the two-thirds mark, before the series finds its feet again and brings things to a satisfactory conclusion. In particular, Gwang-ho’s brief return to 1986 before once again getting stuck in 2016 feels pretty wheel-spinny in a “we need to stall things for an episode otherwise the plot’s going to be resolved too quickly” sort of way. Still there’s nothing that derails the series, the writing is clever without being smug, and the fact it’s able to wrap up all its sprawling stories with some aplomb is worthy of praise. It’s possible to quibble with a few plot points of course – everyone really does simply accept Gwang-ho’s story about coming from the part with remarkable ease, and questions like “can you change the future if you go back to the past?” are brushed off by the person in question simply passing out after drinking too much without bothering to address the point raised. So… why bother raising the question in the first place? But for the most part this is a fun, entertaining runaround, anchored by a solid lead performance and a game cast willing to give it their all. This is, ultimately, good pulpy fun that doesn’t itself or its genre trappings too seriously and just invites the viewer along for a ride. And a ride which is well worth taking, at that.

Availability? Netflix for the US and UK.

Scores On The Doors? 7.5/10

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