KDRAMALOVE KOREAN DRAMA REVIEWS



Alice
앨리스
SBS (2020) 16 Episodes
Science Fiction Melodrama
Grade: A-
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

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A very compelling, but sometimes admittedly confusingly-written science fiction / parallel world / time travel Korean drama, there is no denying that Alice (2020) had me gripped throughout most of its unusual, unpredictable story, although sometimes I would end up throwing my hands in the air in frustration, talking back to my television set, "What in the world is going on here?". I would wait for the next episode to shed light on what the previous episode was alluding to, only to remain confused, because I was still left in the lurch wondering yet again what the writers were trying to get at as their overall theme of the story.



You Know You Have A Complicated Plot
On Your Hands When They Release
Six Trailers For The Drama! :)


This K-drama was written by three screenwriters, Kim Kyu Won, Kang Cheol Kyu, and Kim Ga Young, instead of the more typical one screenwriter with a single vision for a story, so I pretty much concluded by the end that Alice sometimes had continuity errors and awkward potholes in its story because obviously the three of them weren't always on the same page together communicating properly about their story, and the multiple characters in it. Either that or they deliberately planned it to be confusing, to keep the audience on their "mental toes", trying to figure out all the plot twists and turns (and there were literally hundreds of them!). The same characters dying multiple times and then coming back to life somehow seemed to be a favorite story penchant of this screenwriting crew! When this happens it kind of diminishes the power of death scenes because in the back of your mind you're thinking, "I just know I'm going to see this character again later!" LOL! 

In fact, half-way through this drama I happened to read a news article which stated that the authors deliberately wrote the drama to yank the audiences' chains, to confuse them. I was a bit ticked off to read that little tidbit of information. Stop manipulating us, K-drama writers! Tell a clear and concise story, especially when it comes to writing a science fiction drama, which can be confusing enough for a lot of folks, even when expertly written. Perhaps their planned plot shenanigans worked all too well, though, for its many surprises and its constant unpredictability certainly kept me anxiously waiting for each week's new episodes! Everything else I was watching concurrently at that time was as predictable as death and taxes. Not Alice!



I know I wasn't alone in my feelings of confusion at times, either, because the same emotions were often expressed online by many other K-drama fans on different websites as the series progressed. For instance, at the end of episode fourteen there was a cliffhanger that seemed to suggest there was an evil double to the good male lead character played by wonderful Joo Won (Bridal Mask, Tomorrow's Cantabile, Good Doctor), and that the good character was strangling the evil one (with a bad rash on his face!) to death, but then at the beginning of episode fifteen the entire scene was re-written to omit the evil double, except as a reflection in a mirror, who was then smashed into oblivion by Joo Won's character breaking the glass of the mirror! Say, what? Was there an actual double with a rash at any time, or was he only looking at the possible evil dude within himself all along? (I suspect Joo Won, after being released from his military service in 2019, was deliberately looking for an oddball script, to make his comeback to K-dramas in 2020 stand out from the rest: well, he sure succeeded!). 




Episode 14 Cliffhanger (Top)
Episode 15 Followup (Bottom)
Where Did The Rash Go?
How Did He End Up In A Mirror? :)


These kinds of weird followups to previous scenes just seemed like poor writing to me, to put it bluntly. There were also times when the lead female actress Hee Sun Kim (Faith, Angry Mom, Sad Love Story), playing a dual role, seemed to gel too much with the prior lookalike alternate version of her character, instead of always standing out as a separate entity, so the audience was unsure at times which character was which. I'll bet anything sometimes even the actors themselves were confused by this script! I recall Barbra Streisand saying about her 1972 film, What's Up, Doc? "To this day I still don't understand everything about that story, and who all the people were who were carrying the same exact suitcase," she stated in an interview decades after the film was made. LOL!

But I digress. It would take me multiple web pages to describe this story plot, detail by detail, blow by blow, so I will only give a general overview. If you decide to take the plunge into this unique science fiction K-drama be aware that it's NOT one that you should watch late at night when you're sleepy and ready for bed. You need to stay awake and on the ball mentally throughout for this drama! Watch it earlier in the day. You've been forewarned. :)



The Story:

Alice is a time travel / parallel world drama, very loosely inspired by the classic story Alice In Wonderland, about a police detective named Park Jin Gyeom (Joo Won) who has long been searching for his mother’s murderer; even ten years after it occurred he is still on the case. He ends up being aided in this task by a genius physicist named Yoon Tae Yi (Hee Sun Kim), who miraculously appears in his life and just happens to look exactly like his deceased mother! He is totally shocked. (When he walks into a college classroom where she is teaching I got an immediate flashback to Lee Min Ho doing the same thing in Faith).
 


Tae Yi is obsessed with the possibility of time travel, and that interest ends up coinciding with Jin Gyeom's search for the killer of his mother, Park Sun Young (also played by Hee Sun Kim), since it soon becomes obvious that the killer (or killers) probably came from another world (wicked drones in the sky a lot were a big giveaway!).

It takes awhile for Tae Yi to feel comfortable enough helping Jin Gyeom with his case, but she becomes more and more intrigued by his story, especially when she discovers that she reminds Jin Gyeom so much of his mother in appearance and in their shared scientific gifts as well. There also seems to be a very subtle attraction growing between them, but Jin Gyeom's troubles expressing emotions often prevent anything like a romance from occurring. (Which was a relief, frankly!). The show was at its most poignant when it concentrated on the pure sacrificial love of a mother for her son, and his determination to find her killer.

 

Jin Gyeom had been born with autistic traits due to being exposed to radiation while in utero. One of these traits is difficulty showing deep emotions. Sun Young had devoted her life to him entirely. We see Jin Gyeom grow up without any real close friends, except for one brave girl named Kim Do Yeon (Lee Da In), and he sometimes gets in trouble in school because people don't understand him. He often takes his mother's devotion to him for granted, a character flaw which will end up causing him a lifetime of guilt when she is eventually killed.



It's revealed early in the story that Sun Young had been a citizen of a parallel world called Alice, one that existed in the year 2050, and which had citizens in it, including Sun Young, who had created and tested the ability to time travel. She and her partner (and father of her baby) named Yoo Min Hyeok (Kwak Si Yang) had traveled into the past in order to find a "book of prophecy" that had been rumored to foretell of the end of time travel. The leaders of Alice desperately want this book. The Professor who possessed it (cameo appearance by veteran actor Jang Hyun Sung) ends up being killed in front of his young daughter. Sun Young tries to comfort the little girl, but the girl is swift enough mentally, despite her grief, to pocket an important page ripped out of the "book of prophecy", as her father had told her to do, before that book could be taken to Alice. Of course more myriad plot twists result from this story complication, as the leaders of Alice eventually find the page is missing and are hellbent on finding out who has it.



When Min Hyeok wants to return to 2050, Sun Young has a big change of heart. She will stay in the past (the 1990's through 2010) and raise her child alone. Min Hyeok is distressed about it but Sun Young is firm. She stays and builds as normal a life as possible for herself and her son, striving to be happy as a single Mom. That is until the nefarious leaders of Alice seek to interfere in her humble life and bump her off, thinking she must have the important missing page of the prophecy book. This while the Alice people pride themselves on their "goodness" and "humanity". Ha!




After her death, Jin Gyeom grows up determined to become a cop and find out who exactly murdered his mother. Tae Yi assists him and helps him unravel the other-world mysteries of Sun Young's death while both live in 2020. He also has help from a good friend on the force, Kim Dong Ho (Lee Jae Yoon, Mother), and from the lead detective at his precinct who had adopted him after his Mom's death, named Go Hyeon Seok (Kim Sang Ho, City Hunter). Hyeon Seok has some important secrets of his own related to Alice that are revealed eventually in the story.



As Jin Gyeom matures, and goes on his unique crime solving journey, he finds himself able to feel deep emotions more frequently. He can even weep, and occasionally even smile. He's healing, but it is all to be too short-lived, as the conflicts between him and the powerful Alice agents, who keep reappearing in his life, grow dramatically. The man who is his biological father also returns to the present day from Alice, and seeks to help him and Tae Yi in any way he can. Will they accept his help, or continue to mistrust his motives? As Jin Gyeom becomes more natural in his emotions Tae Yi becomes stronger too, in her own important, edifying ways, able to confront evil head-on when she sees it. She seems to develop the same motherly protective feelings toward Jin Gyeom as his own mother had possessed. Yet sometimes we see a bit more than motherliness developing in her, which added more curiosity to the story.



Both Jin Gyeom and Tae Yi have to be savvy in dealing with the clever Alice characters, particularly in uncovering who "The Teacher" could be (the main guy in charge of that other world). We spend some later parts of the drama trying to figure out which different character he (or she) could be: Director Ki Cheol Am (Kim Kyung Nam), female agent Oh Shi Yeong (Hwang Seung Eon), or secondary agents Choi Seung Pyo (Yang Ji Il) or Jung Hye Soo (Nam Kyung). Or could it be a mysterious, apparent outsider, an advanced scientist from the well regarded Kuiper Institute, named Seok Oh Won (versatile actor Choi Won Young, from Twenty Again and Love In Memory), who is also fascinated by time travel? He arrives later in the drama and spices things up even more (I always get a kick out of this actor, he can play such wicked characters so perfectly).



Once again, I won't give away too many spoilers, and no end spoilers: if you are brave enough to venture into this strange tale yourself then you'll need to go on your own personal journey into the bizarre world of Alice and the people confronting their evil ways, and not just rely on someone's review. It's a time travel adventure you will either love, or grow frustrated by -- but one thing is absolutely certain: it is NEVER ONCE predictable! Despite some writing flaws, the perfect acting is what makes this sci fi drama so fascinating. They really lined up a superb cast of pros for Alice. The cinematography and special effects and set designs are all excellent for a science fiction story as well.



Honestly, there is some amount of bravery involved for a studio to produce a K-drama so "out there" in its story that an audience keeps coming back for more, even though they consider it confusing at times, and even when there is no overt romance between the principal characters. After watching over five hundred K-dramas, these days I will be more likely to watch and stay with a drama like this one that isn't cookie-cutter, rather than yet another typical ho-hum traditional love triangle drama we've all seen more than enough of over the years. Watch Alice and make up your own mind about it! Enjoy.