November 04, 2005

[KOREAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS] 부활 (Rebirth)

(Posted In Asia Drama Reviews TV )

rollthedice.jpg부활
Rebirth (a.k.a. Resurrection) - KBS TV 2005
(Buhwal - lit. Rebirth/Resurrection)
24 Episodes - 60 Minutes p.e.
Official Website

DVD - Korean Version

PD: 박찬홍 (Park Chan-Hong) & 전창근 (Jeon Chang-Geun)
WRITER: 김지우 (Kim Ji-Woo)

CAST: 엄태웅 (Eom Tae-Woong) as Yoo Shin-Hyeok/Seo Ha-Eun, 한지민 (Han Ji-Min) as Seo Eun-Ha, 소이현 (So Yi-Hyun) as Lee Kang-Joo, 강신일 (Kang Shin-Il) as Seo Jae-Soo, 김갑수 (Kim Gab-Soo) as Lee Tae-Joo, 고주원 (Go Ju-Won) as Jung Jin-Woo, 김규철 (Kim Gyu-Cheol) as Choi Dong-Chan, 안내상 (Ahn Nae-Sang) as Yoo Geon-Ha, 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon) as Gyung Gi-Do, 이정길 (Lee Jung-Gil) as Kang In-Cheol, 선우은숙 (Seonwoo Eun-Sook) as Kim Yi-Hwa, 기주봉 (Gi Ju-Bong) as Jung Sang-Guk, 유혜정 (Yoo Hye-Jung) as Yoon Mi-Jung), 고명환 (Go Myung-Hwan) as Kim Soo-Cheol, 최용민 (Choi Yong-Min) as Heo Deok-Woo, 이연희 (Lee Yeon-Hee) as Kang Shin-Young, 김기복 (Kim Gi-Bok), 조재완 (Jo Jae-Wan), 최원석 (Choi Won-Seok), 정호빈 (Jung Ho-Bin), 이한위 (Lee Han-Wi)

Next Week: 별은 내 가슴에 (Wish Upon a Star/Star in My Heart) (MBC TV - 1997)

THE SHOW

Doppelganger, split personalities, one of the most popular subjects in both literature and cinema. From Oscar Wilde to Guy De Maupassant; from Kurosawa Kiyoshi [ドッペルゲンガ- (Doppelganger)] to Choi Dong-Hoon [범죄의 재구성 (The Big Swindle)]. But when it comes Korean TV Dramas and even certain films, in recent years the basic structure of the Doppelganger has become a sort of escapade to prove something. Need an image transformation, something to prove your acting has matured? Here's your nice 1인2역 (One Person, Two Roles). Of course, that's mostly been used in the laziest possible way: the 'evil twin' syndrome. One of them is rich and arrogant, the other poor, nice, and probably doesn't even know he has a twin.

Creating two black and white characters instead of one doesn't make any difference. Better yet, it makes things even worse, like Jung Joon-Ho's tentative to use the Doppelganger theme for his latest comedy 역전에 명수 (The Twins). And of course, few films really take into account all the defining traits of the real Doppelganger syndrome, when dealing with their characters' emotional state. But what if that situation is not a simple psychological condition, but something reality forces on you? The basic idea of the Doppelganger syndrome and its psychological consequences is at the foundation of 부활 (Rebirth), one of the biggest surprises of recent years on Korean TV.

The setup is simple enough: Yoo Shin-Hyeok (Eom Tae-Woong) is Vice-President of a successful company led by his stepfather Kang In-Cheol (Lee Jung-Gil). He's a very opportunistic young man, even going as far as setting up a fake marriage with his friend Kang-Joo (So Yi-Hyun). Why? Because that will create good opportunities between their two families. He's not really arrogant, just indifferent to anything - including other people's feelings - not involving money or power. On the other hand of the spectrum we have Seo Ha-Eun (Eom Tae-Woong again). He was just 7 when he lost his father in a car accident. Growing up with his mentor Jae-Soo (an impressive Kang Shin-Il), Ha-Eun became an easy-going person and especially a capable detective, able to differentiate between petty crimes which can be forgiven and bigger fish to fry, which is what people like him should focus on. He certainly doesn't have a very straightforward modus operandi in dealing with suspects, but his instinct and unpredictability always ends up helping him at work. Although he grew up along with Eun-Ha (Han Ji-Min) for most of his life, and she's become like an acquired sister, the two know there's something more than that growing inside them.

Ohhh... sounds nothing special, right? Well, with a few exceptions, that was my reaction regarding the first two-three episodes of the show. Here's another trendy Drama dealing with the 'evil Twin' syndrome, with cardboard cutouts acting up their peculiarities until they finally meet and it's all out war. That's what I thought. Although the supporting cast looked good on paper - with greats like Kim Gab-Soo, Lee Dae-Yeon, Kang Shin-Il, Gi Ju-Bong and Lee Jung-Gil - the main four leads didn't promise too much. Eom Tae-Woong showed good acting range in poor TV Dramas like 구미호 외전 (Forbidden Love) and 쾌걸 춘향 (Sassy Girl Chunhyang), and even left a lasting impression in small roles on the big screen, like in 공공의 적 2 (Another Public Enemy). But let's be honest: until this TV Drama, he was just Eom Jung-Hwa's little brother.

Although I'm sure I saw her before in smaller roles, the first time I really became aware of Han Ji-Min was when she played 'little Song Hye-Gyo' in 올인 (All In). She looked like a doll, so innocent and beautiful. And, sure enough, she repeated the same roles over and over again: in the underrated Police TV Drama 좋은 사람 (Good People), and to a lesser extent even in 대장금 (Dae Jang Geum: Jewel in The Palace). The other two, Go Ju-Won and So Yi-Hyun, were just pretty faces acting here and there, without ever leaving a mark.

So what happened, then? I'd love to spoil it, and it wouldn't be even that much of a spoiler, since it happens after a few episodes. But I'll let you enjoy it. A major plot development changes the cards in a way I - someone who should be used to things like this, after years and years of watching Korean TV Dramas - never expected. No, Yoo Shin-Hyeok and Seo Ha-Eun don't meet each other and start bitching, it's actually the opposite. At the end of their first and last meeting, only one of them remains. And this is where the brilliant script of this show begins to shine. It's no 'evil twins', it's not even a Doppelganger. It's two people inside one. The third choice, so to speak. To find the culprit of such plot development, Shin-Hyeok and Ha-Eun become one person, but then something incredible happens.

The script doesn't just let the personality of the two clash and wake up people around them that something is fishy. This is no mere 'Oh! This guy didn't use to act like this... he must be an impostor!' like in most Doppelganger films or TV Dramas. No, the fact the two personalities become one creates an entirely new person, who has to live with the pain of both people, with the realization that even if he finds the culprit, there's no way for him to return to the past. And, even better, that he's starting to embed some of the personality traits of the 'twin' he's impersonating. And that in itself is changing him, making him like a powerful warrior who knows he's going to die one way or another.

Words won't do justice. When you'll see Eom Tae-Woong punching the steering wheel of his car, not even able to cry because of the pent up anger inside him, you'll understand. There's moments of amazing intensity on this show, the kind you never find in TV Dramas of this type, because they're simply too interested in creating an entertaining show for their viewership. The questions that arise, the way the writers took care of developing characters around their relationships instead of lame cliffhanger bait shows the kind of love for storytelling that seemed to be lost in today's 'Korean Wave' Dramas.

It even shows some pathological reactions to the Doppelganger Syndrome, namely the Capgras Syndrome - a.k.a. delusional misidentification, a pathology which makes the subject suffer a kind of paranoia, thinking a close relative or friend has been replaced by an impostor. And that's just the beginning. There's also a multitude of sub-plots, including all the corruption and murders committed by the people who put Eom Tae-Woong's characters in this situation, a really nice - and mature - portrait of father-daughter relationships gone wrong, the idea of adopting people not related to you (still a touchy subject in Korea). And the characters are so well written, they seem like people coming out of a great giallo novel.

Take for example how the story builds up a formidable villain for almost the entire show, then pulls the rug from under your feet at the last moment. No, it's not a 'Sixth Sense'-like swerve, all the hints had been planted from the first episode. But the exciting pace, the tremendous performances of the cast and the great writing let you fall into the storyline so much you could have missed them. Praising the performance of the real villain and the fake one would be the biggest spoiler, so I won't name names. Let's just say one of them perfectly hides his identity even though you can feel something strange is going around him, while the other acts like a baddie from a Disney cartoon, but then shows his humanity and weakness when it counts. Brilliant, just brilliant.

But the real star of the show is Eom Tae-Woong. He doesn't just follow the usual path of Doppelganger characters, playing a good and a bad one. He shows both sides of the coin in all characters, and when they unite it's really his moment to shine. He said in a recent interview that his characters in this Drama reflect a lot of bad experiences he's made in his life, a lot of bad people he met, a lot of demons he had to combat. And it's the kind of performance you'd expect from Song Kang-Ho or Choi Min-Shik, not from a young actor who just shot a few TV Dramas and films. The last time I was so excited by a young talent's performance was in 2002, specifically Yang Dong-Geun in 네 멋대로 해라 (Ruler of Your Own World). And there's more surprises: So Yi-Hyun gives a surprisingly mature and multi-faceted performance, particularly poignant when she discovers even 'daddy' can be a corrupt man. And there's really no need to praise people like Kang Shin-Il, Kim Gab-Soo and Gi Ju-Bong. Hats off to another great effort, which sadly often ends up becoming forgotten.

'Rebirth' had the arduous task of competing with a little Drama called 내 이름은 김삼순 (My Lovely Sam-Soon), and the ratings suffered as a result. The show went down as much as 7% ratings, while Kim Seon-Ah's hilarious turn in the hit Drama was hitting the high 40s. People actually asked KBS to re-run the show during the Weekend (nothing out of the ordinary, but usually it's the Wed-Thu Drama being repeated), so they could watch both Sam-Soon and follow this story. And, go figure, the moment 'My Lovely Sam-Soon' ended, 'Rebirth' shot up to 20%, enjoying the same kind of rebirth its characters face. It has become a 'Mania Drama', those shows with a tremendous following online, that somehow end up struggling in the ratings, for whatever reason.

But this show needs to be seen, even if you've never seen a Korean TV Drama. Its script is almost flawless, the characters interesting, multifaceted and true to life. The 'love triangle' shenanigans are really only an afterthought, just there to pretend this is a Trendy Drama, and when there is a touch of melodrama it always feel sincere. Why? Because such emotional intensity is brought up in an amazing crescendo that when it explodes, it's like a Scud Missile. And I'm not talking about easy, formulaic 'Korean Drama' histrionics. Trust me, you'll feel it as well watching the show.

Those who've read my film reviews might beg to differ, but I actually don't like hyperbole. Will you allow me to use it this time? It's deserved. I'm going to pull out the dreaded 'M' word. M for 'maybe the best Korean TV Drama in the last 3 years'; M for 'maybe the TV Drama which will open you to the fact it's not all about lame love triangles and pretty faces acting like fools'. And, definitely, M for masterpiece.

THE DVD

Bitwin plans to release the DVD around the end of November. No word yet if it will have English Subtitles or not, but looking at their other release of KBS Dramas, it's very likely (MBC Dramas would be another story). As for US Versions, YesAsia Entertainment seems to accept the idea of producing DVDs if the demand is high enough. I remember a thread on the Soompi Forums dealing with YesAsia Entertainment's future releases, and them often asking Tom Larsen (president?) for future shows. I don't know if they'll eventually release this show, but it's worth it. So if you're interested in seeing this with subs (in case the Bitwin one ends up without subs), they're probably your best option: shoot them an e-mail here.
I can't stress this enough, this is a must see. And that's if you're a fan of Korean Dramas or not.

» Posted by X at November 4, 2005 07:42 PM
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Reader Comments

Sounds fantastic...Can't wait to see the show on DVD!

» Posted by paratize at November 5, 2005 08:10 PM

I've watched many K-dramas myself, and I must say this about "Resurrection:" I was really impressed by the plot, by the cinematography, by the music... and by the acting of UTW and the rest of the cast!

I have read many reviews too (in Korean and in English) and I've written a bunch myself. But this one's indeed so well written I must give a standing ovation!~ Your review is really measuring up to the drama itself~ I've enjoyed reading it so much and can't agree more with all that you said!

Thank you!

» Posted by priscilla at November 7, 2005 01:05 AM

Well, you've done it again, X. After Sam-soon this is the second Korean drama I've become hopelessly addicted to after reading one of your reviews. Thanks!

» Posted by Milo at November 13, 2005 08:27 PM

I've heard from a friend in Korea Bitwin could make a Directot's Cut out of this, but release has been pushed to mid December~Christmas.

Can't wait.

» Posted by x at November 13, 2005 09:31 PM

OK, Rebirth Director's Cut CONFIRMED for End of December.

» Posted by x at November 18, 2005 10:58 PM

Dang X... you've got me intrigued now.

» Posted by opus at November 23, 2005 03:47 PM

I really wanna watch this! This sounds totally awesome! :)

» Posted by M.S. at November 29, 2005 02:24 AM

Awesome! Curious til the end & the end was great! Usually, the end would show the lovers living everlasting together., but left to our imagination rather he comes back or not???? 2 thumbs up! great!

» Posted by gladys tupulua at December 17, 2005 11:04 AM

omg. i totally want to watch this now. can't wait for its release! that director's cut dvd boxset is mineee. xD

» Posted by making00dluv at December 22, 2005 04:38 PM

Now it seems like it'll be out on January 6.

» Posted by x at December 22, 2005 09:00 PM

How more exact can the title be as it applies to so many situations in this drama. The performance of ETM/UTW was intense and his ability to emote was incredible. I need to watch this drama again to more fully appreciate the writing and characters.

» Posted by coreenne at January 9, 2006 02:48 PM

I watched Resurrection based solely on your review...and you're absolutely right. The critical hype, my high expectations--it even exceeded those. It IS fantastic. Mucho thanks. ^_^

» Posted by melusine at January 27, 2006 04:19 PM

I watched Boohwal from DAY 1 and til the end, the first day it aired & when i went to korea.
I'm amazed by this drama.
I used to be the girl that when a new drama comes out & a new hot actor with great acting skills (like Yoogun); I used to obsess over him & her & the story and how it made me .
Now i've watched like 3 dramas after Boohwal; the girl i was- is now gone.
No drama compares to the brilliance of this drama; the chemistry between han jimin and uhm tae woong are just so natural. YU can tell both the GUY AND THE GIRL are suffering. Most dramas, the girls cry and the guys leave a stern face on- but uhm taewoong breaks all.
He's acting ability & the Boohwal crew and director put so much effort.
Loved this & I can't stop trying to influence people into watching this drama.
I couldn't agree with yu more!!

» Posted by bebyxanna at May 17, 2006 05:33 PM

How are the English subtitles on the Bitwin set?

» Posted by Elusive at June 6, 2006 01:45 AM

How are the English subtitles on the Bitwin set?

PRETTY GOOD

» Posted by robin løvli at June 8, 2006 04:59 PM

I watched this series based on your review and have to agree to the rating of about 7.5 (out of 10). Eom Tae Woong was superb, but Han Ji Min quite disappointing with one-dimensional expressions.
The series flounders quite a bit in the middle and would have been tighter if there were six episodes less.
Nevertheless, a satisfying watch with a storyline that doesn't insult its viewers.

» Posted by betty_c at June 20, 2006 06:38 PM

Dear Taewooong

How are you? He is very clever korea actors.I like you.

Thank and best regard

sawthandarthaug

» Posted by Saw Thandar Thaung at August 15, 2006 05:57 AM

This korean series is superb! Uhm tae woong acted his role well.. can't stop myself to watch this series over and over again in dvd! the role uhmplayed was really impressive with his acting skills, the plot, script and music are all good! plus the cast and crew! no wonder it received such recognition worldwide..! can't wait to see Uhm tae woong! sarang heh uhm tae woong!

» Posted by turnthedice at September 27, 2006 03:40 PM

Hi!!!!
I am from Myanmar.

I was very much impressed by this series.I like it very much more than others.Most of it,I like the actor Eom Tae Woong and the actress Hang Ji Min.Please give my compliment to them becauser they did a good job together.I would to see many more series that you two together.

Thank you for your performance.

» Posted by pann moh moh phyu at November 13, 2006 10:20 AM

I'm looking for the sound track or the songs from this series, can anyone help me? Please email me at foam_cup@yahoo.com

Any help would be great thanks.

» Posted by tony at December 18, 2006 07:20 AM

This is the BEST K-drama I have ever watched! Excellent drama! Don't miss it!

» Posted by Somebody at February 17, 2007 05:19 AM

hey man, ur review's simply fantastic, and gives the drama it's due credit.. watched it online and finally completed last night. though the director could have included a wider range of music, and the final scene was 'what?!', i must truly salute the most original plot yet in korean dramas that always make the predictable turn unexpected and surprising. an on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama~

» Posted by fz. at March 26, 2007 08:07 AM

I've watched several Korean Series, but this is by far the best one! This is the number 1 Korean Drama of all time. I'm amazed that this show lags in ratings in Korea, what have they been watching????

The ending could have been better, but it's a good ending. The story does not have boring love story, it's pure suspense! I aso love the soundtrack, which matches to every portion of the series.

Great acting as usual!

» Posted by Maelin at May 5, 2007 01:38 PM

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