Soul (2009, MBC horror miniseries)

I’ve never watched a horror miniseries before, and usually when I see Korean dramas I see romantic comedies. This was my first foray into horror television (not counting The X-Files) and the one thing that stuck solid in my mind was Im Joo Eun’s solid acting performance. Apparently she beat out 1,058 girls for her role as Hana. This is my first choice of peril for Carl’s R.I.P. VI challenge.

Details, please
The opening of Soul starts in medias res, there is no dialogue in the first seven minutes — just action. “Kill me,” are the first words spoken and we as the audience don’t know why the heck this girl wants to be killed and worst off the guy looks like he’s going to do it…then she wakes up.

Im Joo Eun is Yoon Hana, a happy-go-lucky high school student who happens to suffer from nightmares and is carrying some sort of repressed memory that the audience doesn’t know the story behind. She gets through her everyday life with her loving twin sister Doo-na. From the onset we are made aware that there’s a serial killer on the loose, targeting high school girls with long hair. Shin Ryu (Lee Seo Jin) is the criminal profiler assigned to the case. Si-Woo Hana’s classmate is Ryu’s biggest fan.

All the horror starts happening when a girl commits suicide and on the way to her death makes eye contact with Hana. This would naturally traumatize anyone, but it goes beyond that. It’s not just trauma it becomes possession.

So what?
A line frequently used in the drama is, “the dead are throwing their tempers,” and although this is indeed true, this is really more than a ghost story or even possession. There’s this running theme about how criminals can change and if rehabilitation programs really work and such. It feels like a social commentary on the justice system. The bad guys actually use the law as their weapons, and so that’s another kind of terror. But at the heart of it all, Soul is really a revenge story, and in it people try to play angels and others God. I never thought the line, “let’s help God paint his picture,” would freak me out. It gave me chills.

I really loved Hana as a character. Her relationship towards almost everyone in this drama was as a protector, and to see her placed in many situations where she was helpless or unaware of what was happening through her was frightening. She really was a tragic character. I as an audience member wanted to protect her and Doo-na. Unfortunately every vengeful ghost within a ten-mile radius found her body the perfect place to live. It’s almost comical.

A character I wasn’t expecting to like was Si-Woo, the amateur sleuth/profiler. From the beginning we see he’s a bit of a loner who is weak and Hana comes to his rescue in degrading situations. When she asks why he doesn’t stick up for himself he says he deserves it because,

“My birthday happens to be my mother’s death anniversary. It seems she died not long after she gave birth to me. On my 9th birthday, my dad had a major car accident. I cursed my mother after I was born.They also said that I’m a cursed child. That’s why you should not meddle in my affairs again. My bad luck may pass on to you.”

Later on towards the end of the first episode we see him in a similar situation and when he tries to tell her he is cursed Hana retorts with:

“My birth date is the 28th of March 1993. To be exact, it was 5:30 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. on March 28th 1993, at that same time, train number 117, which was traveling from Seoul to Busan overturned at Jeok Baek, 78 people were dead and 112 of them were either heavily injured or had minor injuries. It’s reported to be the most deadly accident in Korea in the 100 years of railroad history. Do you need more? On March 28th 1979, in an American nuclear reactor plant there was a radiation leak resulting in 22,000 people with cancer as of 2009. On March 28th 1941, Virginia Woolf died. On March 28th 1969, Eisenhower died. On March 28th 1985, Chagall died. Do you still need more? Then, am I also considered a cursed child?”

This conversation shows you a bit of Hana’s personality, and of course the irony is that the audience starts to wonder if she really is cursed. All that to say that Si-Woo started as a weak person, and because Hana got through to him he becomes strong and would do anything to keep her safe (almost in a disturbing way… a scene with turtles comes to mind.)

The profiler Shin Ryu was probably the biggest mystery of all. There is no grey area on Ryu’s stance on criminals. He defends a mysterious person for killing them, because they’re “merely clearing out garbage,” besides, “Is there a need to hesitate when killing a cockroach?” As the series progresses we see why he has such strong feelings on the subject. The two men in Hana’s life both think they’re protecting her or helping her to do what they think is right, and throughout the drama it’s fun to see our perceptions of each change.

Things I noticed:

*Nothing good ever happens in a parking garage.

*You’re not even safe in a glass elevator (where you are clearly visible)

*The cops in this drama seriously need to be trained again…at various crime scenes they missed a book bag, a sweater, a phone, and a bike. How they managed to miss all this evidence was a bit puzzling.

*A ghost is strong enough to open a car door at the bottom or a river, yet it can’t save someone from drowning in a bathtub.

*An interesting thing I kept thinking to myself was that the ghosts in this drama weren’t as scary as the living…maybe that was the point.

Overall

The acting and directing were well done, but the point of focus was a bit scattered. Soul went from being about serial killers, to ghosts, to a somethings wrong with our justice system story, and although there’s nothing wrong with that…it didn’t really mesh. It’s like they were trying to make purple but they didn’t properly mix blue and red. In my opinion things started falling apart around episode six (although there’s a cool fight scene in episode 7.) Some of the scenes got a bit redundant at times, but you have to give Im Joo Eun credit for having to convey so many different faces of terror. Despite saying all that, I felt the drama was polished. Is that weird? It came across like a glossy book with pretty pages. I just wish it hadn’t deviated into rabbit trails and that the ending wasn’t severely lacking.

For those interested:

Dramabean’s Recap of episode 1
Watch the whole miniseries on DramaFever

4 comments

  1. I’ve never seen a horror mini-series either. Aren’t Korean movies always quite glossy looking?
    It sounds interesting but I’m not too sure I’d like to watch it. Too much in it, it seems.

  2. Well, the whole cops missing important clues is pretty standard in most asian dramas, I must say. Were they *that close* to seeing the important clue but something distracted them at the last minute? It’s frustrating and one of the things that’s starting to bug me about the dramatic irony in asian dramas. I think a good horror movie would involve grandparents. Korean dramas always make me really really dread meeting the grandparents and having to deal with them. Also cars. Being on the road anywhere near a car or a CEO guy with a car. Or wait, even J-walking across those roads. NEVER do this!

    Anyway, lovely review! I would be freaked out of my mind if I made eye contact with someone falling down towards me on the way to the death they brought on themselves. On the plus side, don’t you love how well dressed these people are??

  3. @ Kailana Awesome! I think I’ll spend my whole life avoiding parking garages if I can. Thanks for the comment 🙂 I get so excited.

    @Caroline Yeah, they are glossy and like Sharry said they dress really well. Although I’ve noticed the guy always seems to be better dressed then the girl. Lol. Yeah, I’d try watching something else.

    @Sharry Yeah grandparents and in-laws are the scariest! Plus they do U-turns like crazy. One thing that really frustrates me is the trope “Missed Him/Her By That Much”….like the couple will be looking for the other and one gets in the elevator and the other gets off the same elevator and they didn’t notice the other one. Arg!

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