What happens when an augmented reality video game becomes terrifyingly real?
I finished the K-drama fantasy-adventure Memories of the Alhambra last weekend and have some (relatively) spoiler-free thoughts on the series.
Let’s start this off on a positive note.
- Hyun Bin (The Swindlers) rocked his role and carried this show. His character, protagonist Yoo Jin-woo, started out as a Korean drama stereotype: the handsome-but-arrogant CEO. However, as the series progressed, I started to see him someone who also felt compelled to take responsibility for his actions – despite the grave personal costs involved. That made him admirable on some level, even when he wasn’t conventionally likable and I often didn’t agree with his decisions or actions.
- It was very cool to see supporting actor Min Jin-woong (Father Is Strange) shine and get so much fan attention for his role as the protagonist’s loyal executive assistant. His endearing portrayal of Secretary Seo (screenname: City Hunter) ranged from comedic to heartbreaking and was one of the miniseries’ true highlights.
- The cinematography throughout this series was gorgeous – from its start in Barcelona and Granada (shot on location in Spain, Hungary, and Slovenia) to the finale in South Korea. I have a feeling more than a few K-drama fans will be making travel plans.
The premise of Memories of the Alhambra is intriguing, but its execution was lackluster from a writing standpoint.
- Except for Jin-woo, very few of the other characters were adequately developed. And unfortunately, the character who suffered the most was the series’ heroine, Hee-joo. Beyond a few very human flashes in the first two episodes, she wasn’t given much to do beyond cry and look concerned. The script didn’t offer Park Shin-hye (Doctors) much to work with, and she was the co-lead.
- There was an overreliance on flashbacks and flashes forward. Too many game-changing scenes didn’t take place in real time, which reduced the story’s momentum, compromised its impact for viewers (it already happened!), and felt gimmicky after being used repeatedly.
- The romance between Jin-woo and Hee-joo wasn’t necessary or based on anything viewers witnessed on screen as it was actually happening. On the flip side, while I remain unconvinced, there is a legion of fans disappointed there wasn’t more romance. (No one was satisfied.)
- File under “Whyyy?” Hee-joo, the head of her household, didn’t contact the police about her missing teenage brother or actively search for him beyond making a few phone calls. Then, she moved her entire family from Spain back to South Korea – without knowing his whereabouts. (Yikes!)
- THAT ending. The series’ last episode cheated both the audience and its protagonist. Were multiple deaths and sacrifices for nothing? Did anyone learn anything? I don’t mind open endings if they are well done. In my opinion, this wasn’t.
- Can we get an alt-universe spin-off filled with hilarious banter between Jin-woo, Secretary Seo, and Hee-joo’s kid sister? I’ll settle for the actors making cameo appearances in each other’s projects. (Best chemistry in the entire series.)
I enjoyed watching Memories of the Alhambra as new episodes were released each week. However, now that I’ve reached the end, it’s not something I plan to watch again or can wholeheartedly recommend to others. Dig up spoilers via the recap sites before starting this one!
Watch & Explore
📺 Memories of the Alhambra is a Netflix exclusive and available with English subtitles.