Wednesday, June 24, 2015

‘Hyde, Jekyll, Me’ Gratifies, Then Dissatisfies

I just finished binge-watching Hyde, Jekyll, Me a few days ago. 

I think it’s still early to say that I’ve become a bona fide fan of Koreanovela (Filipino term for Korean TV series).  Hyde, Jekyll, Me is just the third Koreanovela that I was compelled to watch in its entirety.  Hence, the pool size is still small to make a definite conclusion.  But I guess this won’t probably be the last Koreanovela that I will binge-watch.  I think I Hear Your Voice really started something.  I extremely loved I Hear Your Voice, and I wondered if another Koreanovela could impact me as much.  My curiosity in replicating the experience with I Hear Your Voice led me to watch Pinocchio (which had the same lead actor and writer as IHYV).  I thought it wasn’t nearly as great, but I still enjoyed the show enough to see it through until its last episode.  Subsequently Pinocchio somewhat led me to Hyde, Jekyll, Me, since the latter succeeded the former’s SBS time slot, and Hyde, Jekyll, Me might send me to follow another Koreanovela.

Anyway, Hyde, Jekyll, Me is a mix of romantic comedy and psychological thriller, and the premise is – as what the title implies – loosely inspired by the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  It tells the story of Gu Seo-jin – the executive director of the theme park Wonder Land, and the next in line to be CEO of his family’s conglomerate, Wonder Group – who contracts DID (dissociative identity disorder), or most commonly known as “multiple personality disorder”, after experiencing a traumatic kidnapping when he was a kid.  The twist is – instead of a “Hyde” monster-personality emerging from a “Jekyll” normal-personality – the original personality Seo-jin is grave, heartless, cynical, and only cares for what benefits him, while the personality that emerged from his illness – who took the name “Robin” – is kind, cheerful, pleasant, possesses a Messiah complex, and creates comics.  Seo-jin and Robin have an understandable conflict with each other, but they nonetheless observe a set of protocols they have agreed on in order to survive and to keep Seo-jin’s condition a secret, one of which is to pretend that they’re twins.

A major shakeup in the existence of Seo-jin and Robin occurs at the arrival of Jang Ha-na, the new commandant of the circus show of Wonder Land.  Jang Ha-na becomes the key witness to the abduction of Dr. Kang, Seo-jin’s psychologist who, prior to her disappearance, revealed to him that she has found the cure to his condition.  But before he can get to her, she disappears, and Ha-na was the last to see her.  However, due to a traumatic encounter with the kidnaper, Ha-na can’t remember his face.  Desperate to find Dr. Kang, Seo-jin’s arranges for Ha-na to be kept protected as well as have hypnosis sessions with Dr. Kang’s talented protégé, Yoon Tae-joo, in order for her to remember the face of the abductor.

Amidst this, a love triangle ensues between Seo-jin, Robin, and Ha-na.  Initially unaware of the truth between Seo-jin and Robin, she buys their assertion that they’re twin brothers.  She gets closer to and develops feelings for Robin, whereas, on the other hand, butts heads with the insufferable Seo-jin.  However, later on, Seo-jin finds himself getting attracted to Ha-na, while she finds herself caring for him and be confused about it since she loves Robin.

This unique love triangle – two different personalities in one body loving the same girl – was the initial draw of this series on me.  This is the first time that such concept was explored (I don’t count Me, Myself, and Irene as a real love triangle involving split personalities), and I was intrigued.  The series was indeed able to use this fresh romantic scenario to create a delightfully complex dynamic... most of the time (I’ll get back to this later).

Another intriguing element of Hyde, Jekyll, Me is the suspense and mystery brought by the psychological thriller aspect of the story.  The utilization of psychological concepts in the plot was nicely done.  The science is obviously wobbly, but it did have an enjoyable presence, which reminded me of the psychology books I’ve enjoyed in the past (including Sybil which detailed the real-life story of Sybil Dorsett, who suffered from 16 different split personalities). There were a couple of well-done twists but these can be predicted if one would carefully observe the details being provided as the narrative progressed.  Nevertheless, the storytelling was gripping in respect to this aspect of the series.

During, the first 16 or so episodes of Hyde, Jekyll, Me, I felt that the series had a good chance of catching up with my fondness for I Hear Your Voice.  There was a lot of dumb in it, but there was a sufficient dose of smarts in it, too.  The dilemma of the multifaceted romance was also seemingly going into a gratifying resolution.  The message that the story was trying to sold us on were working well, too.  There were flaws that I nitpicked for a while, but they didn’t linger in my mind long since I was enjoying it much.  It was in good position during those 16 episodes or so.

But all that good was not sustained till the end.  I was much unsatisfied of where the story went.  I was frustrated that a story that was generally well-told at that point is ruined by bad writing in its closing episodes.  There were parts that were stretched which I felt weren’t necessary to stretch, and parts that were rushed which I felt should have been mined and expounded more.  The resolution of the dilemma of the romance was disappointing in so many points.  The narrative spent a lot of time on the side of the love triangle the audience was definitely least interested on.  Sure, it eventually shifted to the more interesting side, but the transition towards it was poorly and limitedly executed.

The bulk of Hyde, Jekyll, Me is pretty good.  The characters are pretty likable.  The romance was riveting (before it got to its closing episodes).  There was enthralling things in many parts of its narrative.  The themes explored were thoughtful.  The humor, drama, and tension have good chemistry.  The acting was fantastic – especially by Hyun Bin (Seo-jin/Robin) and Sung Joon (Tae-joo).  So there’s enjoyment to be found in this series.  Unfortunately, the bad ending significantly diluted the story.

Hyde, Jekyll, Me was like getting a seven course dinner in which you find the first six courses scrumptious, but an awful dessert was served in the end.   It was a generally pleasing meal, but you still left with a bad taste in your mouth.

Miscellaneous musings – WITH SPOILERS:
  • Gu Seo-iin is, by far, the best character in the series.  The characterization and character development were so well-done.  I was rooting for him all series long.
  • Han ji-min was a descent actress.  However, her character, Jang Ha-na, suffered the most from the bad writing.  I was hoping that Ha-na would find herself being in love with both Robin and Seo-jin, and after her struggles, she would eventually figure out a way to reconcile her feelings for the two personalities, and be the ultimate factor in making them whole.  For a while, it felt like the story was indeed going there.  But that didn’t happen.  Instead, Ha-na focused her love on Robin, and kept on insisting that her love was solely for the Robin personality.  Heck, they even got married (so dumb).  She doesn’t seem to comprehend – as well as most of the characters around them – that though Robin is a distinct personality from Seo-jin, he is nonetheless a creation of Seo-jin’s subconscious, and still a part – an extension – of Seo-jin.  All those things she loved about Robin is basically hidden somewhere inside Seo-jin.  And if ever Seo-jin gets cured from his DID, he and Robin should merge (just like the case with Sybil Dorsett.  When she got cured, she recovered or absorbed every memory and quality of her other 15 selves).  Sure, in the end, that exactly what happened – “Robin” was integrated into Seo-jin, and the two got together.  However, there was no real development about it.  I never really see Ha-na identifying Seo-jin himself as the man she loves.  It felt like she only get to love him because the qualities of Robin emerged from him.  Throughout the last episodes, it seemed Ha-na would have even preferred for Robin to fully take over Seo-jin’s body and life rather than for Seo-jin to get cured from his illness.  All of these kind of portrayed Ha-na as dumb and superficial.
  • Sung Joon delivered a very compelling performance as the “big bad” of the story.  His transition from a pleasant, caring Yoon Tae-joo to a vengeful, obsessive Lee Soo-hyun was nearly as impeccable as Hyun Bin’s distinctive portrayal of Seo-jin and Robin.
  • Detective Na’s Conan O’Brien hairstyle was enough to make me laugh at the character.  But actor Lee Joon-hyuk is legitimately funny.
  • Min Woo-jung’s cheer dance routine was pretty amusing and charming.
  • A gorilla named Bing Bing – which was seemingly brought to life by a mix of bad CGI and an actor in an ape suit – played a big part during a significant scene in the pilot.  I was a bit disappointed she (he?) never appeared in the series again.  Come to think of it, there was no other circus animal featured.  And I never saw an official performance from the Wonder Circus.
  • An element of the story which I hoped was further explored in detail was “Terry”, the third personality that came out when Robin was brought to the edge.  In connection, it was revealed that Ha-na isn’t the first girl that Seo-jin and Robin loved at the same time.  But these details merely had fleeting referencing, and didn’t have any substantial contribution to the plot.  Thus, in the end, it felt like a needless plot detail resulting from bad writing.
  • I didn’t like the music at first, but it eventually grew on me.  “♪ Because of you… Because of you-uuuuuu…  ♪ lalalalalalalalalala… ♫ Because of you…. Now I can say, ‘I love you’…. ♫ Lalalala. ♪”
  • Interesting note: MBC’s Kill Me, Heal Me – a Koreanovela that has a similar premise of a woman falling in love with someone that has multiple personalities – aired at the same time slot as Hyde, Jekyll, Me.  Intriguingly, according to what I read, the former is better than the latter.  Hmmm.  I might check it out.  Might.
  • I welcome any recommendations on what Koreanovela I should try next.  Just take note that I’m looking for something that can recapture the magic of I Hear Your Voice

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