There are a lot of issues with the Korean drama industry and the fact that new ideas can rarely escape the confines of the drama formula is one of the big ones. Romance is almost inescapable and overly melodramatic tropes and devices turning cliche are another such element. Even good writing cannot always escape those and often does not even try. 'Nine: Time Travelling Nine Times' is a series which had great potential and has many virtues, but it also has a few problems, its biggest issue being that it fails to incorporate a solid romance into its plot and goes cheap with its melodrama.
When Park Seon-woo's (Lee Jin-wook) brother is discovered dead in the Himalayas, an incense stick he was holding is found in his belongings. After Seon-woo discovers he can travel back in time upon burning the stick, he tracks the case containing the rest of them and makes a plan to use this ability in order to prevent a tragedy that ruined his family. With barely any grasp on how the sticks work and no clue about their origins, Seon-woo finds himself meddling with a force he cannot control and which brings about many changes, not all of them for the better.
Although to be expected from a medium which uses interesting elements as gimmicks, it has to be said that 'Nine: Time Travelling Nine Times' is not really a drama to explore time travel and it is not a sci-fi one. It uses time travel and what it can do to existence, but never really lays out any rules or explain how the changes work or their origins. In a work mostly about the human impact or change within the person, this would not be as important. The reason why this lack of rules is a flaw here is because the drama does play up the time travel aspect enough for those to be necessary. No rules means that the series conveniently shapes the way time travel works to solve its plot holes and help its progress. By the end, it is all an unexplained mess, overriding many things it supposedly established earlier.
Once past that issue, the series is actually entertaining as a suspense, mystery show. There are deaths, there are attempts to reverse events involving them, there are secrets and we have our cartoonish villain to go with it all. The atmosphere is quite good and the characters have their moments, some of the relationships portrayed being very moving and realistic. The plot also develops in a way that keeps it interesting even when some truths are revealed. Anything goes, anything can change and that change ultimately depends on people and their decisions, not a miracle that time travel alone can bring.
Where this series stumbles in a major way is its handling of certain tropes and also its use of romance. From the get go and until the end, the female lead's character and her separate subplot are entirely unnecessary. The events that Seon-woo originally wanted to change have nothing to do with her and outside of the very off-putting and melodramatic nature of their romance, the existence of her character serves no real purpose. The series focuses too much on a love story that is tedious, unfulfilling and riddled with some disturbing elements that belong in soap operas. If incorporated better into the main plot, this combination could have worked. Sadly, that never happened.
'Nine: Time Travelling Nine Times' is by no means a bad series. It is entertaining, keeps one at the edge of their seat and guessing, some characters face conflicts that are very interesting to explore and there is a lot to like here. But its messy use of its premise, its unnecessary and silly romance and its incredibly unrewarding ending make it feel like a promising suspense drama invaded by a lesser, cheaper one. There is a place for everything in entertainment, even the usual Korean drama template, but it is important to not clutter a story with elements it does not need. That is something creators and productions have to learn.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Nine: Time Travelling Nine Times""
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