Save Me (구해줘) may frustrate and enrage you at the start. But this 2017 OCN drama series quickly evolves into a bizarre, terrifying and twisted psychological thriller.
A stellar ensemble cast powers this drama about an eerie and mysterious religious cult that engulfs a provincial Korean town from the shadows.
Im Sang Mi (Seo Ye Ji) and her parents get swept up in the convincing sermons of the religious sect’s “spiritual father” Baek Jung Ki (Cho Seong Ha). A horrific tragedy drives the family toward the Goseonwon church with the promise of salvation from the evils of the outside world. But Sang Mi is immediately weary of the church and its leaders.
Three years go by with Sang Mi feeling hopelessly trapped in the church’s secluded mountain compound when she begins to uncover the dark, violent secrets lurking beneath the surface.
Initially wanting her and her family to escape, the cascading horrors she uncovers compels her to bring the entire cult down from the inside. And she is able to enlist the help of her former high school classmates Sang Hwan (Ok Taecyeon) and Dong Chul (Woo Do Hwan).
Together with their friends, they find the conspiracy and corruption extend far beyond the forest borders of the church and into the government and law enforcement of their small town of Muji.
The series begins with an unrelenting onslaught of jaw-dropping twists and turns. Tragedy after tragedy befalls Sang Mi’s family, ultimately driving them toward the increasingly bizarre and dangerous church.
That jarring introduction to the series sets up a steady stream of shock and awe as the inner workings of the cult are revealed and our protagonists fight to bring it crashing down. Even if it means risking their lives to do so.
Save Me is certainly nothing like anything you’ll see on Korean television. And rarely even like anything on television period. The uncommon subject matter being more the stuff of nonfiction documentaries than as a stylized dramatic series.
But Save Me does a strong, if not masterful job at depicting how terrifyingly easy it is to exploit and take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. Whether it is being sucked into a fanatical cult or the sadly too common suffering of school bullying. The series unpacks the effects of trauma and manipulation while molding that together with more familiar themes of corruption and social divide.
Countering those sometimes hopeless situations in the series is how a strong sense of family and friendship can help refocus one’s sense of faith and belief toward a better place. Being able to gain that strength to assert oneself and how human connections can help support a faith in a higher purpose without surrendering one’s self-worth.
The stellar ensemble cast does their absolute best with the heavy material. Balancing the grounded emotional drama with the more outrageous and terrifying situations, the cast walks that tightrope to deliver great performances.
Seo Ye Ji is great as Sang Mi. She is the emotional center of the series and she effectively portrays the emotionally draining life of Sang Mi as she fights a seemingly unstoppable malevolent force and inescapable prison.
Woo Do Hwan is also a standout as the fighter with a heart of gold Dong Cheol. Ok Taecyeon gets a chance to flex his dramatic chops as Sang Hwan who undergoes one of the series’ biggest character growths.
Jung Hae Kyun is absolutely terrifying as Sang Mi’s father who devolves into a blindly and violently loyal follower of Cho Seong Ha’s “spiritual father” Baek Jung Ki. Cho Seung Ha is downright chilling as the cult leader, melting into the role so much you may get charmed by his roaring platitudes yourself.
Jo Jae Yun makes your skin crawl as the spiritual father’s right-hand man Jo Won Tae. And Park Ji Young delivers the series’ most nuanced performance as the fiercely devoted Kang Eun Sil. She will have you questioning and doubting her true motives and feelings for every second of the 16 episodes.
Save Me is a fascinating, often times eerily twisted thriller. It might be difficult to watch at the start and the oddities do pile up alongside the emotionally and physically violent revelations. But that investment in the series pays off big time in the end at a level not often seen on Korean dramas.