Review: Nine (2013, tvN)

The premise: Time-travelling incense sticks land in an intrepid reporter’s hands, allowing him to try to alter his family’s tragic history. Does he succeed?

In a word, no. Or yes? It depends? Gosh, I’m not sure, because what seemed at the outset like a thrilling ride left me thoroughly confused.

Is it a revenge thriller? A crime mystery? Fantasy romance drama? It’s all of the above, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But by having to juggle all these different balls in the air  the show gets bogged down by convoluted plot turns.

Boy does this show put our hero Park Sun Woo (dishy Lee Jin Wook) through the wringer. He’s got a lot on his plate: rid himself of brain cancer, save dad (multiple times) and his hyung, fend off evil baddie’s (a hammy Jung Dong-hwan) goons, exact revenge against said baddie, win the girl back. With each trip back in time, he creates messes that he has to clean up. 

That would all be fine, if his motivations were clear and focused. The problem is that the show complicates this trajectory with family secrets and plot twists that throw his original motivations into a tailspin. The promising revenge elements set up in the beginning get sidelined.  In the end, he’s mainly motivated to get his girlfriend back –who thanks to the butterfly effect winds up as his niece. (Wait, show, when did you morph into a melodrama??).

Which leads us to the romance. Sadly it is neither compelling nor believable enough to occupy such a large place in the story (despite some undeniably HAWT make out scenes between the leads). The writer could’ve excised it completely, and honed in on the revenge story line (family makjang also optional), and it would’ve made for a tighter and much shorter show.   

The show does an amazing job of handling the mechanics of time-travel narrative, here played out in two parallel timelines that occur simultaneously. Coming from the same team as Queen In Hyun’s Man, it comes as no surprise. It’s easy to be a little dazzled by the show’s good looks and the mind-benders. But with all busyness, a romance I couldn’t get behind, the sagging pacing, after awhile I stopped caring.

Ultimately all this comes to naught. Sun Woo gets kicked around by fate like a football. Battered and bitter, he regrets using the incense sticks and wants nothing more than to press restart. I admire the show’s fatalistic streak, but I wish the show committed to it. If you’re gonna torture the hero for much of 20 episodes, why not give him a good send off?

It’s not exactly fair to compare this to QIHM seeing that they are two completely different shows. But the reason why QIHM was superior is that its premise was clear: two lovers are separated by time, and the show is about them fighting against fate to reunite. In Nine, the exact opposite ideas prevail. Fate wins. Well, in a way because one timeline ends happily, the other not so much. So maybe fate wins some times? I think? Sigh. Ambivalence kills me, and it kills this show!

Crack-meter:  3/5 

Overall rating: 3.5/5 

Recommended: Yes. Or maybe no. If you’re in the mood? 

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