Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kdrama Review: Nine: Nine Times Time Travel (2013)

Nine: Nine Times Time Travel
나인: 아홉 번의 시간여행

Poor Nine. Poor me. When I heard months ago there’d be yet another time travel drama (with such an obnoxiously long title), I wrote it off instantly. As a favor to a fellow editor, I then found myself proofing a single mid-drama episode recap, and while reading it on a grammar/spelling only basis, I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on and it sounded utterly ridiculous. I fully planned on it being included on this year’s upcoming “Dramas I Skipped” post.

Then it ended, and the blogosphere exploded.

And I suddenly thought, “Did I just miss out on something spectacular??”

You really had to ask yourself that question??

For those of you who’ve seen it, you’ll probably scream out YES. And now, so will I.

What’s the Story?

Lee Jin Wook (I Need Romance 2012) plays Park Sun Woo, a super sexy news anchorman with a super cute, though not sexy almost girlfriend Joo Min Young (Jo Yoon Hee). When his older brother is found dead in the Himalayas, Sun Woo go to retrieve his belongings. Amongst the items is an incense stick and his brother’s diary, claiming the stick can send you back in time. And if such a thing is possible, maybe Sun Woo could finish his brother’s dream and change a few things… like their father’s suspected murder 20 years ago.

And, I seriously can’t say anything else about the plot unless you want to be ridiculously spoiled.

Just know that this time travel story is one of the most tightly-woven stories I’ve ever seen, full of mind-blowing plot twists that no one, and I mean no one could’ve seen coming. I wouldn’t even call it a Kdrama except that it’s, you know, Korean. And the cast is perfect. My favorite character might actually be Dr. Han (Lee Seung Jun) as Sun Woo’s best friend and well meaning mischief maker/mischief fixer. And the find of the year has to go to ZE:A’s Park Hyung Sik who plays the younger Sun Woo. Who knew an idol (other than TOP) could act?!? 

Who is this guy (he says) and wow - I'm gonna look hot in 20 years.

Since I finished the drama, I can’t let it go. Hence I’m going to go ahead and keep analyzing it just to keep things straight in my head. Or my brain might just explode.

More Up on my thoughts of time travel, parallel dimensions, a timeline of events and how they are altered, and other wibbly wobbly stuff like that. Also, if you want my general thoughts on it, skip down to the end. I seriously wrote a ton!

Super Major Ridiculous Giant Spoilers Beyond! 

Sit back and relax, this is going to be a loooong tale. 

The Consequences of Time Travel

Equally mind-boggling are the parallel timelines: our ‘main’ story in 2012-13 and the past 20 years back, the past the keeps changing each time Sun Woo visits. It’s rare I believe in time travelling Kdramas for a story to bother revealing all consequences of meddling with the past. Nine does not have this problem, or rather it does have this problem. All I can say is: timey wimey wibbly wobbly. Some things and some people remain untouched, like how Min Young always becomes a reporter and likes Sun Woo. 

It's because I'm always hot, in every timeline... 
But each time Sun Woo returns to 1992 he leaves a mark. It’s his first major shock (and ours) when he learns that it’s not only his actions in each 30 minute segment that effect the world, past and present. What he does in 1992 and the impressions he leaves affects others who in turn make different decisions.

Parallel Dimensions

If I was just a little bit more of a nerd I might’ve had a billion and one thoughts on the topic of parallel universes (either scientific references or complete bullshit). As is it, I only watch Doctor Who and for me that’s enough to get super excited about the greatest concept Nine writers came up with: that the 1992 world first encountered in Sun Woo’s first visit moves at the same time as the 2012 world when he lights the first incense stick, exactly 20 years apart. 

As he writes, the other reads. 

When Park Sun Woo first meets his 20 year younger self he tells him, “Don’t try to do anything weird. I will remember everything you’ve done once I return.” However, Sun Woo doesn’t at this time realize one slight untruth - that when he returns, yes he has his memory of what happened before. But when Sun Woo, the now changed younger self, does something different as a consequence of his older self’s actions, older Sun Woo won’t learn of it until something actually happens back in the 20 year old plane of existence. It’s the most clever plot device I’ve ever heard of, and it not only fuels the entire story, it makes the story. Because now everything that happens in the altered past could possibility change the present, and will continuously for the next 20 years. 

But which memories will be remembered, and which forgotten?

Pardon me while I take a minute (or an hour) to keep the story, and each timeline straight in my head.

Time Table (Not Episode Chronological):

  1. The Unchanged Present 2012
  2. The Changed Present 2012
  3. The Past 1992
  4. The Altered Past 1992-3
  5. The New Present 2013
  6. The Totally Altered Present 2013
  7. The Final Past 1993-

Plane of Existence #1

The Unchanged Present 2012

Sun Woo meets his brother Jung Woo for coffee. They slightly reminisce about their tragic family history: father dead, mother incoherent for 20 years. Jung Woo leaves for the Himalayas and dies. Sun Woo collects his body and belongings. Meanwhile he’s fallen in love with co-worker reporter Joo Min Young and they celebrate their honeymoon in Nepal, possibly anticipating a short-lived happiness because Sun Woo is dying of a brain tumor. Lighting his brother’s incense stick reveals the possibility of time travel, and he retrieves the other fabled 9 sticks. 

Getting slapped around was no feat - at least I got the sticks! 

His mission: to find his father’s murderer (always suspected to be Choi Jin Cheol), make his brother happier in life so he won’t end up dying chasing after a dream, and as an afterthought, keep himself of dying from the tumor (though this last part is more Dr. Han’s idea).

*What Changes: Sun Woo visits the past, observes the situation, has a date with him mom, and tells a little girl named Shi Ah to call a man who loves her mother. Jung Woo will get a second chance at his first love.
Ahjussi? Honey, that's your future husband, or uncle. 
Take your pick. Literally. 

Plane of Existence #2

The Changed Present 2012

Jung Woo is alive and Chief of the hospital he inherited from their father. He is married to his first love, and their daughter Park Min Young is a happy reporter. Back in this time zone Sun Woo realizes that Shi Ah became Joo Min Young after her mother (in Plane #1) remarried. And now, she is Park Min Young, his niece. Wtf. Even I'm traumatized. 

I swear, when he cries... I sob. 

In torment about his now lost love, he continues his plan to find his father’s murderer and pin the blame on Choi Jin Cheol.
*What Changes: Sun Woo traumatizes his younger by appearing in his room in an attempt to save his father but both versions of Sun Woo fail to save the father. Instead, Sun Woo learns a devastating secret (and retrieves video evidence) that it was his brother who accidentally killed his father, and that Choi Jin Cheol just covered it up for him. 

Still in Plane #2

The Changing Present 2012-2013

Jung Woo may be alive but he’s still traumatized from keeping the secret, Choi Jin Cheol is a power hungry madman, and Sun Woo is still dying of the tumor but at an even faster rate. He dies on the operating table and the story is over. Just kidding.

Never knew a shirtless scene could be so heartbreaking.

Plane of Existence #3

The Past 1992-

Before the incense sticks were ever used, where everything adult Sun Woo in Plane #1 remembers happens and nothing ever changes.

Plane of Existence #4

The Altered Past 1992-3

Where one or two things change regarding the father’s murder and Choi Jin Cheol, and Jung Woo marries his wife and gains a stepdaughter, Park Min Young. Young Sun Woo and friend become suspicious of the man claiming to be himself from the future and begin to piece things together. They conclude that Sun Woo in the future is probably dying or dead of a brain tumor by now and make the decision to get regular check-ups.

Plane of Existence #5

The New Present 2013

Oh the bromance... 

Sun Woo is alive, and no one but he and Dr. Han will ever know that he ‘died’ of a brain tumor and came back to life. Park Min Young is vaguely enamored by her handsome uncle, but engaged to another man. She suddenly sees a record with her handwriting “I will always love you. J.M.Y.”, an impression left over from Plane #1 and her memories return. Like Sun Woo and Dr. Han, she now possesses multiple memories. They end up rejecting each other in favor of the status quo. Sun Woo confronts his brother, revealing that he knows Jung Woo killed their father, and the truth about the incense sticks. Jung Woo in grief begs Sun Woo to return to the past and fix things.

Particularly the fact that they now remember both lives. 
*What Changes: Sun Woo is unable to persuade Jung Woo, and almost dies thanks to Choi Jin Cheol , who due to Sun Woo’s meddling in Plane #4, is smarter and more suspicious of adult Sun Woo.

Still in Plane #5

The New But Mostly Unchanged Present 2013

Nothing has changed except that as the two parallel worlds go on, Choi Jin Cheol becomes ever more ruthless, and everyone is miserable. Sun Woo decides to use one of his last incense sticks and try one last time to make his younger brother confess, and not marry his wife. 

Guilt trip him, Sun Woo! 

Because in the meantime, Jung Woo kills himself. Choi Jin Cheol’s thug who stabbed Sun Woo in Plane #4 is arrested in Plane #5 accused of assault for something he technically did, 20 years ago. Choi Jin Cheol learns the secret of the incense sticks, steals the last one, and gets 5 minutes in Plane #4 to tell thug guy to murder young Sun Woo, right before adult Sun Woo steals back the stick. 

Knife versus umbrella... At least he used something to defend himself. 
*What Changes: Sun Woo returns to the past, saves his young self, persuades his brother to turn himself in, and effectively stops the wedding.
Plane of Existence # 6
The Totally Altered Present 2013-

Choi Jin Cheol is a bum in a medical supply shop, Jung Woo is alive and a medical missionary and unmarried. His wife from Plane #2 married the lawyer from Boston, and Joo Min Young is about to marry the love of her life Park Sun Woo, just like they probably would had Plane #1 continued unhindered by the incense sticks. Except that the groom is missing.

And she knows why.

Plane of Existence #7

The Final Past 1993-

Adult Sun Woo accomplished everything he wanted, and gets stuck in the past. Time’s up, and that’s it. He can’t return. An infuriated Choi Jin Cheol (slightly before he will be arrested) sees the man he recognizes as a pest, and kills him. As he lays dying, Sun Woo sees a little girl called Shi Ah, and warns her: If you ever see a man with my face, don’t fall for him. He will ruin your life. Sun Woo dies before her eyes, and Shi Ah/Joo Min Young carries the trauma for the rest of her life.

Don't love me in the future... please. I mean, it's for your own good.
Noble sacrifice here, can't you tell?

Nevertheless, time progresses and she meets Sun Woo as she was always meant to. She tries to avoid him, but can’t help it. It changes the way they interact but can’t hinder their love. 

Because the attraction's too strong. 

She finally confesses to having met a man who looked like him before, relates his warning and tells how he died.

The young Sun Woo (now grown) realizes what happened to his future self. But he also remembers the advice his older self had given him: to live his life, and know that he will always make the right decisions. 

Screw fate. I'm going back to Nepal! 

Jung Woo and Sun Woo have met in 2013 and had a nice conversation. His brother is headed out on a trip to the Himalayas (again). No mention of incense is ever made, and it’s likely that the new Sun Woo in Plane #7 will live happy and healthy; the only mar on his life knowing that another version of himself died horribly in the past.

"December 4, 2013. My first message to myself: I don't know if it's fortunate or unfortunate that your will didn't work... [but] maybe I can save you. Maybe it's possible to prevent Min Young from being unhappy because of me... But that's not true [that's a fantasy]. What would you do right now? I would keep it simple. I will just believe what I want to believe, and love the girl I want to love." 

The End. 

What’s Not Shown?

Remember the parallel dimensions? Episode 20 was a beautiful episode, finally showing the whole story (or at least one version of it) of how Sun Woo and Min Young fell in love over the course of their life, right up to what the audience recognizes as the present. There’s a hint of something strange in how the happy new Jung Woo is still planning a trip to the Himalayas. What's happened to the incense sticks?  And why is Jung Woo still holding one in his hand when Sun Woo comes to.. save him? In Plane #7? Episode 3 gives us a clue: about how Jung Woo in Plane #1 found the sticks, and about a man who only used one to save his family and left the rest there. Does this mean Sun Woo in Plane #7 finds the whole 10 first and leaves them there for Jung Woo to find? It's just open-ended up to make our heads spin for the next 20 years.

I like to think that Plane #7 wipes out everything else, however there’s another image I have left over. And that’s of Min Young in Plane #6 standing groom-less, remembering now how she saw her fiancé die as a child, and knowing exactly what must have happened. Will Plane #6 keep going forever and ever in its own time bubble of a dimension? There won’t be another time traveler. There are no more sticks to alter past or present. There’s just a future for everyone. Nine doesn’t show us what happens to Min Young in Plane #6, doesn’t show us the investigation and search for a missing person that only 3 people in the whole world know the truth of. Will they have to keep these memories for the next 20 years, or until the young Sun Woo grows up learns about his counterpart? 

Plane #6 also gives us the tragic is somewhat redemptive death of the villain Choi Jin Cheol. Will that too be wiped from existence? What happens to him after he gets out of prison in Plane #7? Presumably he’ll still become a bitter old man, but will the new Sun Woo bother with him now that he’s not a threat to bring down. Will he never learn who his son is? 

I almost pity him. Wow. 

I like to think that Nine, despite all the 7 planes of existence tells us at least two main stories. One is the tragedy of a life adult Sun Woo leads, messing with fate and ruining everyone’s life even when it seems he’s fixed it all. But the second story is the redemptive story – that despite ruining one dimension, he gives hope and a second chance to the young Sun Woo. Armed with the knowledge that his future self could travel in time, young Sun Woo lives a similar life, but without all the drama. As a viewer, I loved episode 20 and the beauty of this new life Sun Woo leads despite everything the roller coaster plot has taken us on for 19 episodes. But I am also miserable thinking that adult Sun Woo died with only the slimmest hope that Shi Ah would never meet him. Adult Sun Woo died never knowing it was his wedding day, and that makes my heart ache more than anything.

Ahh, back when everything seemed simple and unhindered by time. 

How many times did these two hook up and split and forget and remember and love each other all over again? Too many times to count.


  1. So, I'm not reading this because I have every intention of watching Nine and I don't want it spoiled. But I'm glad you give it such a high rating, everyone else has as well so I'm assuming everyone is right and it's an awesome show, lol. I must get onto it asap!

    1. Do it! I can't believe I waited so long to watch it. :D

  2. Darn just made me want to watch this again. I bet it would be even better the second time through—it would be easier to pick up on all the repeated scenes.

    1. I started reading other commentary on it, now that I've finished writing down my own thoughts, and I'm absolutely convinced that I need to start rewatching it again, right this minute. Lol

  3. Okay, i just marathoned this over the weekend. All of the planes still exist in their own world, I think. So somewhere, Min Young is grieving over the death of Sun Woo, while in the other world, she's perfectly happy with Sun Woo. It's so sad thinking about it!

    At the end when he's saying that he's just going to live his life and love the girl he loves, that didn't quite ring true because if that's the case, why did he buy the watch? Doesn't that mean he's going after the incense? He can go back and save his future self, but the voice over suggested he wasn't going to do that.

    I didn't quite get the ending bit during the credits either. Is that Jung Woo from plane 7 with the incense stick? What is Sun Woo doing there? Which Sun Woo is it? I'm confused.

    Bah, I don't like these unanswered questions!

    The doctor friend was my favourite character as well; at one point during the show, I was thinking that the show wasn't even about Sun Woo, it was all about the friend. He was the one that was always there dealing with the memories while Sun Woo was off in the past doing stuff. God, can you imagine having memories from multiple timelines? How does a person not go crazy in that situation?

    1. I've actually just revised the last 4 paragraphs of this review (I've been continuously rewriting bits since I published it) because I've already gone back and watched several episodes again, though what I really want is to just marathon it through again lol.

      All this rewatching though doesn't mean it all suddenly makes sense. If anything, it makes me more confused and more curious about how this all happened haha.

      I'm going to miss the doctor friend (I also like the actor who played his younger self). He was so good, freaking out at each memory shift.

  4. Not reading this post, but I've been eying this drama... You 10/10 rating is encouraging me further. ^^

    1. Yesss! It is my new mission in life to get as many people as possible to watch this drama! Hope you get around to it soon! :)

  5. This drama sounds amazing but, I feel like I'm too dumb for this show. Not in a self-deprecating way, either, in a everything-I-watch-I-absorb-like-a-ridiculously-gullible-child kind of way. OTL

    (And, I'm back in blogging land! I thought I'd tell you guys [the people who welcomed me so encouragingly] that I've returned and will be staying with it this time. It was a complicated past couple of months, to say the least.)

    Is this a drama I should watch with my parents (read: mother)? I've been trying to get her into dramas, and she's willing but... the fluff isn't doing it. And I'm avoiding melodramas and makjangs like the plague so she won't call dramas "Asian Soaps". OTL

    Even if she doesn't want to watch, I'll definitely be tuning in. I don't think I'll be marathon-ing it, though.

    1. Welcome back!
      Actually I think this might be a great drama to watch with your mom. It doesn't follow all the stereotypical flaws that plague most Kdramas. The story is unique and fast paced. Good luck not marathoning it. ;) It's pretty infectious, especially the further you get along.