One of the year’s most talked-about dramas has finally arrived! “Memories of the Alhambra” stars Hyun Bin as Yoo Jin Woo, a hotshot CEO who shows up one night in the Spanish city of Granada, hoping for a bed at a rundown hostel owned by Jung Hee Joo (Park Shin Hye). What happens next is actual magic (or high-tech wizardry, at least).
We’ve got two of K-drama’s hottest stars on our hands here. Not to mention, “Memories of the Alhambra” is written by Song Jae Jung (of “W” fame) and directed by Ahn Gil Ho, who bought us “Forest of Secrets.” The question is, does the drama live up to its sky-high hype? Check out four things we loved and two things we hated about the first couple of episodes.
LOVED: Hyun Bin’s return to TV
The last time we saw Hyun Bin on the small screen was nearly four years ago. Now that we finally meet him again in all his crisp linen summer blazer glory, all we can wonder is: how did we survive for so long without Binnie?
In “Memories of the Alhambra,” Hyun Bin’s character Jin Woo heads to Granada after a mysterious phone call from Jung Se Joo (EXO’s Chanyeol), who’s trying to find a buyer for the augmented reality game he created. We get to see many different sides of Jin Woo along the way. Yes, he’s a vain, pampered CEO. But he’s also a huge geek who cheerfully sword-fights with thin air, giving no thought to how ridiculous he looks. We also see that he’s a heartbroken ex-husband, regarding his now pregnant former wife with quiet devastation.
HATED: Not enough Park Shin Hye
As you can tell, Jin Woo took most of our attention this first week. Park Shin Hye’s Hee Joo, on the other hand, doesn’t get very much to do in the first episodes. In what screen time she has, she mostly enables Jin Woo or reacts to things he did, which is pretty disappointing. Her character is described as a mysteriously alluring classical guitarist, but so far she comes off less “mysterious,” more “downtrodden,” and there’s hardly a guitar in sight.
Park Shin Hye has played some great, multi-faceted characters in the past. It’s okay if she’s not really a take-charge type in this drama. But we still want to see her as a complete, unique person, not just as a foil to the male lead. Here’s hoping we find out more about her next week.
LOVED: The augmented reality concept
“Memories of the Alhambra” is that rare thing: a K-drama with a completely new concept. It’s the first Korean drama to tackle augmented reality gaming, and it does so in a thrilling, inventive way. It’s a huge relief that the graphics are top-notch too!
The exotic, sun-bleached elegance of Spain provides a perfect backdrop for our journey into the game. We get to explore the mysterious old city of Granada alongside Jin Woo. We never know which statue might come to life, or which long-forgotten knight could come riding around the corner. There’s no clear line which shows where the game ends and where real life begins, which is eerie and unsettling in the best way.
LOVED: The unexpected comedy
One of the dangers of a high-concept drama is that it ends up taking itself too seriously. Luckily, our writer Song Jae Jung knows how to balance the high stakes with a bit of cuteness and fun, just as she did in “W” – in the first half, at least.
Jin Woo, in particular, has some great interactions with the people around him. It’s a treat watching him trying to eat ramyun while Hee Joo’s sister Min Joo (Lee Re) dances around the hostel kitchen, flinging her hair in his face. Even better are the reactions he gets at a local restaurant, where he keeps coming back to fetch an in-game weapon from the bathroom. If we were in that poor, confused waiter’s (incredibly sexy) shoes, we’d assume he had a bladder infection.
HATED: The classic Rich Guy/Poor Girl setup
Tale as old as time, song as old as a chaebol grandpa. This is a story of a rich, arrogant leading man and a poor but hard-working heroine, aka 75 percent of all dramas ever. It’s uninspired at best and lazy at worst. We’ve even seen both these actors do it before (Park Shin Hye in “Heirs” and Hyun Bin in “Secret Garden“).
It’s easy to see why such a well-trodden trope is tempting in a drama like this one. The concept is completely new, the plot could go to some strange places. You might want to ground the story in a familiar dynamic, giving the viewers something to hold on to. There are less irritating clichés to fall back on though, just sayin’. But there is hope yet! Just look at that final scene.
LOVED: The time jump at the end
It looks like episode 2 is going to end on a pretty standard note, as Jin Woo offers Hee Joo untold riches in return for the rights to the game, which was created by her underage brother Se Joo. As she considers his offer, we suddenly flash forward a whole year and find Jin Woo on the train, under the same looming clouds that came for Se Joo.
Future Jin Woo has traded his slick suede shoes and breezy blazer for bloody Converse and a bulletproof vest. He walks with a limp and holds not one but two guns like a pro, as a cold-eyed killer stares him down. Um, WHAT? We’d just about come to terms with the drama’s concept and we already had one mystery to solve: what happened to Se Joo? Now it looks like Jin Woo’s whole world has fallen apart. What has the game done to him? And where’s Hee Joo? We can’t wait to find out!