Nine: Nine Times Time Travel or simply Nine as I would call it is a spillover of time-traveling frenzy from the previous year. It came from the same writers of the beloved Queen In-Hyun's Man (QIHM), a drama series about a Joseon time traveler.
This is a 20-episode series, but it is less than an hour per episode so viewing experience is OK. I thought it could be a few episodes shorter if they actually put away some repetitive recapping of previous episodes and reiteration of certain scenes at the beginning of each new episode. But maybe I wasn't being fair, considering that I started this series after it ended so I could finish it in just a few sittings and everything was fresh in my mind without the need of the reminders. I suppose if I watched it in real time, week by week, I would appreciate the recaps and the repeats.
I adore QIHM, but I'm outright amazed by Nine. Both are cleverly written, but the level of conflict and repercussions of time traveling in Nine make it a little bit more engaging than QIHM.
Nine follows a journey of anchorman Park Sun-woo who time-traveled back 20 years to the past in his pursuit to save his father from death, believed to be a deliberate murder and arson by one Choi Jin Chul. As an anchorman, present-time Park Sun-woo was very active in trying to reveal the true nature of Choi Jin Chul, a respected public figure who involved in unethical conducts in his rise to fame. He was hugely motivated by a personal vendetta against Choi Jin Chul for the ruin of his family after the death of his father.
During the investigation, he was diagnosed with brain tumor. At the same time, he was called to Nepal to collect the body and personal items of his deceased brother. This brother of his was a wanderer and rarely around when Sun-woo was growing up, but it still gave him a huge blow to hear the news of his brother's death. Before the brother's trip to Nepal, they met up and looking back, he realized how unsettled his brother seemed to be that day. They didn't exactly change goodbyes because the brother did a disappearing act while he left him to get some coffee.
Among the personal items delivered to his hands was an incense stick, reportedly found with the body. It was believed that his brother was trying to light up the stick just before he died. It sounded rather random, and the stick's forgotten until he read the hazy journal left by his brother, which led him to his quest to find the remaining 9 incense sticks that would allow one to travel back exactly 20 years to the past.
With the powerful tool in his hands and limited time before his tumor took over, Park Sun-woo vowed to finish what his brother had started, which was to change the past so that they could all be one happy family. The 20th anniversary of his father's death was coming up soon, and he must find the right timing and go back to the past to save his father. His doctor friend however advises against playing god and saving someone that's already dead. He instead wants Park Sun-woo to use the opportunity to go back in time and warn himself about the tumor. Park Sun-woo disagrees to outright tell his younger version for fear of leading his young self to a depressed state and living a meaningless life while waiting for death at a prime age of 38.
Without revealing too much, I can just inform you that nothing went as per plan. Like Park Sun-woo said, the stick was mocking him. He went back to the past to set things right and make everyone happy, but he returned to the present only to find that nothing much had changed, and in fact, life became a little worse for him. Well, much worse, perhaps. And sometimes, the truth of the past were just too devastating, and if only he wasn't too consumed by misguided motivation, things were better off as it were.
Whatever changes he made to the past, they altered the memory of the people in the present. No one ever warned our protagonist to not reveal himself to the people he knew when traveled back to the past, so I suppose he created a bigger butterfly effect than if he did things in secrecy. When present-time characters recalled back their past, he's in it and they kept recalling new things which weren't there before, for each and every minute the present-time Park Sun-woo interacted with them in the realm of the past, directly or indirectly. And from that point forward, their life courses changed, and that courses were being updated every minute until he returned to present time and well, until next alteration. And because he revealed himself to the people of the past timeline, he could no longer predict the outcome (not that he was ever right on that part), and things got out of control since what past characters would do due to his interaction with them were not in his knowledge and power.
What I love about the series are the twists and turns that it presents and the heightened level of conflict after each time travel. The unpredictability was what kept me at the edge of my seat. Things were never good when people tried to play god, as our protagonist soon realized.
I appreciate the parallelism in this series between present and past, presented in split screens. For example, when a character in the present is rushing to the hospital, exactly 20 years ago, he was doing the same thing, for almost similar reason. Or when a character was fighting for his life, similar thing occurred to him at the exact same time, but 20 years in the past. And while he's dodging the danger in the present, he knew how bad his past self was doing as new scars kept appearing out of nowhere. So same person, same thing happen, but in different timeline. Parallel universe, or whatever you call it.
In terms of characters, unlike the hero of QIHM who is all things gentleman, Park Sun-woo is every bit the modern day korean drama hero i.e seemingly cold-hearted, outwardly confident, borderline on arrogant, has a sad past and of course, a bully when it comes to his love interest. Korean drama hero usually admits his feelings for the girl only when she's gone, or when he's about to die from some serious illness. Other than that he usually likes to play it cool and delivers the bad-guy charm. Whatever.
Lee Jin-wook (Air City, Powerful Opponents) managed to play this character well and with a personal charm thus saving it from being as typical as it would sound on paper. I did think he was a little stiff at first, even for an anchorman, but after a few time-travels, he seemed to loosen up a bit. In any case, both protagonists in these two series are equally smart, but Park Sun-woo has a lot more to lose than Kim Bung-do, and a lot less luckier. Kim Bung-do time-travels to the future and saves his ass every time he does that. Park Sun-woo on the other hand time-travels to the past and he inches closer to death every time he does that. While almost all Kim Bung-do's plans go accordingly and achieve the results he desires, Park Sun-woo's just go down the drain and no one is ever ended up as happy as he had hoped.
The female leads in both series were pretty similar, though one was highly feminine while the other appeared to be a little tomboyish. The similarities would be in the sense that both are equally honest to boot, plucky and adorable, and (sadly) a little 'dim'. In comparison to the male counterparts, the IQ might be lower, but their EQ was certainly the best. They had no problem expressing what they wanted, and connecting to people, especially the love of their lives. I wonder if this is going to be the trend for these writers. Super smart heroes with super bubbly leading ladies. If there's ever a next series from them, my only wish is for the females to kick-ass. Or at least intellectually on par with the male leads. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that previous female characters are stupid. I just want to listen to some intellectual conversations between the lead characters on top of all the cutesy and romantic stuff they can do together. Just saying. Jo Yeon-hee (My Husband Got a Family) who played the protagonist's love interest was cute and charming, though at times the laughters sounded forced. I think I first saw her in Love Letter (?) as a mute girl. Because she didn't do any talking, and her small character didn't require much acting, I didn't think much of her as an actress except that she's so darn pretty. The beauty was very much toned down in Nine, the style was kept similar to her character in My Husband Got a Family. Regardless of the look, I do adore her character, as much as I adore Hee Jin in QIHM. Both she and Lee Jin-wook together on screen make such a good pictures. I wish to see her soon in more challenging roles.
I appreciate the consistency of all the characters in Nine, much like how consistent the characters of QIHM were. Regardless of how the circumstances were changed or altered, the characterization itself remained true to when the series just started. That keeps the series grounded and anchored somehow to a point where it can always fall back to, despite all the back and forth of time-traveling and its outcomes. And what's amazing is the younger version and older version of all these characters. Whoever did the casting must be given a thumbs up. They manage to find lookalikes for both versions. Not exactly the same, but enough similarities that when you have both versions on screen, you can tell they are playing the same character. Even more awesome is the fact that the actors/actresses acted well and showed the similarities in personality as well. Park Sun-woo's best friend, the doctor was especially a hoot, in both versions. I love the friendship that he shared with Park Sun-woo. It was unchanging regardless of what happened in their lives. He deserves a friendship award.
All in all, Nine raised the bar of time-traveling drama to a new height, in my opinion. I would not want anything less. I've enjoyed the series, especially from episode 4 onwards, because that's when the action really took off. So if you find it a little slow at first, keep watching.
"This incense stick has always mocked me. But I still have to try. As long as there is still hope. I will believe in what I want to believe. And I will just love the girl that I love." - Park Sun-woo
The ending of Nine may leave some viewers scratching their heads, mine included. Even though the present Park Sun-woo withheld information of the future to his past-self, he will eventually learn about the incense, only this time with the knowledge of what tragic things could have happened from his time-traveling back to 1992/1993, he now know better than to change that particular past. But that is not to say he will not use the incense at all. It looks to me that he will wait for another 20 years for the right time to save his brother instead. We don't have the luxury to learn what the consequence of altering that event would be however, because that's how the series ended. Now, the only trouble I have with that line of thoughts is, all 9 incense sticks have been used up, so even if the young Sun-woo grew up and found the stick again, shouldn't it turn to ashes right away if lighted, like what happened when Choi Jin Chul lighted a stick that he stole 20 years ago and kept until present, but which actually has been used by present Park Sun-woo a few days before when it was still in possession of younger Sun-woo in the parallel universe, which equivalent to a few days before the younger Choi Jin Chul stole it from the younger Sun-woo?