Are monsters born or created? A simple question at face value, but an incredibly difficult question beneath the surface. The 2015 KBS drama series Hello Monster (너를 기억해/I Remember You) aims to provoke thoughts on that discussion in an accessible, but meaningful package.
Hello Monster follows criminal profiler Lee Hyun (Seo In Guk) and detective Cha Ji An (Jang Nara) as they unexpectedly come together to solve mysteries from their past while also solving mysteries in the present.
As a child, Lee Hyun loses his father (who was murdered) and his younger brother (who disappears right after) after meeting convicted serial killer Lee Jun Young (EXO’s Do Kyungsoo) in jail. Lee Hyun’s father is a renowned prosecutor, but his work has him concerned about the emotional wellbeing of his own children who he fears may become the very same “monsters” as the criminals he prosecutes.
All of this, in the first episode, sets up the rest of the series that moves at a steady, but brisk pace. Upon returning to Korea, Lee Hyun’s personal mission intertwine with the cases of the week being investigated by Cha Ji An’s team of fellow detectives.
Each case of the week is interesting on its own; dramatic and many times emotional. But each case parallels the unraveling of the layers from each of the main characters’ stories. Each one with questions about their past or secrets waiting to be uncovered.
Each case as well touches on very real emotional and mental struggles in society today, even five years since this series first aired.
Aside from Lee Hyun and Cha Ji An, there is attorney Jung Sun Ho (Park Bo Gum) and coroner Lee Joon Ho (Choi Won Young) who also have layers needing to be peeled off.
And over the course of the series, every character becomes a piece of the puzzle in a fascinating and always exciting way.
There isn’t a slow moment in the series’ entire 16 episode run. And that is even as the dramatic tension in the thriller aspect of the series is broken often with the well-developed romance that grows between Hyun and Ji An. The series keeps you guessing as (believable) twists and turns in the story appear out of nowhere. And there’s enough detective action to keep the adrenaline going from time to time as well.
The ensemble cast is excellent, each delivering effective performances to bring the tight, well-written script to life.
The breakthrough performance by Park Bo Gum is definitely a highlight. He is able to make you connect to a character that immediately comes across as suspicious. But his very nuanced performance allows you to empathize with his situation and draw you in to his story and the greater narrative of the series.
Seo In Guk is well-suited for the clever and sometimes cold Lee Hyun, capturing the essence of the character with even just a facial expression. He is cold and stoic when he needs to be and emotional and expressive when he needs to be.
Jang Nara brings her experience to the table as Ji An expresses such a wide range of emotions through the course of the series. From joy and happiness to sometimes childlike and naïve to bad-ass and smart to sadness and hurt; Jang Nara is undoubtedly capable to bringing all of that to life in an effective way. And she does so here.
Choi Won Young delivers a fascinating performance, of which I can’t say much more for fear of spoiling something. But trust that he gives a masterful performance.
But a special mention needs to go Do Kyungsoo as convicted killer Lee Joon Young. The EXO member proves his acting worth with an absolutely chilling performance that grabs your attention right from the start. The darkness Do Kyungsoo is able to bring to the character looms large over the series in a way that emphasizes the high stakes our main characters face. But big revelations in the middle of the series allow him to also show a vulnerable side that just solidifies his acting talent.
Returning to the question that is posed about whether or not monsters are born or created. KBS’ 2011 miniseries White Christmas posed the same question in stunning fashion. A deep and dark psychological and philosophical thriller.
Hello Monster may not dive as deep into the heavy darkness that White Christmas did, but it allows a fascinating discussion about the question in a way that is much more accessible to a wider audience.
It’s a very thought-provoking question. Does life circumstances and experience shape a person’s thoughts and being? Or are people somehow wired a certain way from the very beginning.
The series offers several answers, especially in the final episode. And each option ends up surprisingly plausible. It’s definitely up to the viewer to decide.
But as thought-provoking as Hello Monster can be, it is also simply an exciting and emotional thriller. With a good romance thrown in, the series’ many plot threads come together with excellent performances for a truly enjoyable package. An underrated, but wholly worthwhile series to watch.