MBC’s Tomorrow (내일) is one of the most complete and well-put together dramas of the year so far. That’s in addition to being perhaps the most envelope-pushing, timely and profound series as well. Tomorrow‘s excellent cast, led by the always captivating Kim Hee Sun, bravely shines the spotlight on topics and stories that rarely get touched upon in mainstream Korean entertainment. Even when tackling such difficult topics is more important now than ever. Tomorrow‘s ultimate success is being able to carefully and respectfully tell these stories while effectively building a colorful world of characters who each have their own worthy stories as well.
Tomorrow follows Koo Ryeon (Kim Hee Sun), a grim reaper and leader of the Crisis Management Team of Jumadeung, an organization that guides the dead toward their destinations in the afterlife. Along with assistant manager Lim Ryung Gu (Yoon Ji On), Ryeon’s objective for this department within the larger “company” of Jumadeung is to prevent suicides. Through their work, they encounter young Choi Joon Woong (Rowoon) who himself has been unsuccessful at finding a job.
After an accident where Joon Woong tries to save a suicidal man, he falls into a coma. Though he is pre-determined to lay unconscious for three years, the Jade Emperor and director of Jumadeung (Kim Hae Sook) offers him a job at the company. And in return, he’ll be able to wake up from his coma in three months instead. Accepting the deal, Joon Woong comes to work with Ryeon and Ryung Gu and is quickly thrown into the dynamic, but difficult world of grim reapers.
Not everyone at Jumadeung, however, agrees with the Crisis Management Team’s work. That includes Park Joong Gil (Lee Soo Hyuk), the head of Jumadeung’s elite Escort Team of reapers. Joong Gil and Ryeon, who used to work under him in the team, often clash on method and principle. Especially when it comes to people who make the ultimate decision to take their own life.
Tomorrow‘s world centers around the business-like Jumadeung that efficiently facilitates souls to their destinations in the afterlife, whether that is a joyful heaven or being condemned to hell. But its central focus is the difficult and sometimes taboo topic of suicide, something that continues to be an unfortunate and prevalent reality in Korea.
The fact that Tomorrow can carefully and respectfully tell the different stories of people who are contemplating such a delicate decision is an accomplishment in and of itself. Every story is told with care and sincerity. And while on paper it might sound a bit dark, Tomorrow deftly handles these stories always with a touch of hope and positivity without sounding preachy or pretentious.
There are serious discussions about mental health and the difficulties that are present in Korean society that affect one’s mental health. The series does not aim to condemn anyone who struggles or even makes that ultimate decision. But instead, Tomorrow offers opportunities to listen and understand. Especially in a culture and society that sadly still struggles to do eithers.
Presented as a bit of a procedural drama series, each “case of the week,” so to speak, is relatable and accessible. There are stories of people forgotten or even unfairly shunned by society. There are stories of people who have had to face unexpected tragedies. There are stories selflessness and even selfishness. There are stories that show how much the weight of our own words can be either a positive or a tragic negative.
All are handled with care and sincerity. And each story helps to carefully and deliberately lay the foundation that will ultimately lead to the series’ emotional and affecting climax.
Part of that foundation is the fact that Tomorrow is an even stronger character-driven story, balanced perfectly with the procedural “case of the week” aspects and a properly handled touch of humor and fantasy.
The series’ five main characters in Ryeon, Joon Woong, Joong Gil, Ryung Gu and the director/Jade Emperor are all fully developed characters. The layers for each are slowly, but surely peeled back across the series’ 16 episodes. And their relationships with each other, which also get ample and deserved focus, provide the backbone to the series. And it is that strong foundation that raises the series up to great heights.
Kim Hee Sun is as captivating as ever. Koo Ryeon is a multi-faceted character. A cold badass on the outside, but broken and vulnerable on the inside. Kim Hee Sun effortlessly brings the character to life in a way that allows Ryeon to be a full character with heart and depth.
It is a fun reunion with her former Room No. 9 co-star Kim Hae Sook who is both a scene stealer and a commanding presence as the Jade Emperor, essentially the god of this afterlife. Kim Hae Sook has no problem providing the gravitas to such a role, but also has a bit of playful fun in many scenes.
Lee Soo Hyuk is always a dependable actor. And time and time again he proves that he is more than deserving of a headlining, leading man role. Joong Gil is a typical brooding, mysterious guy at first. He appears to be all-business and highly principled. But when his own story begins to unravel, Lee Soo Hyuk absolutely steps up to the plate in an excellent way.
Yoon Ji On has had many diverse supporting roles in the last few years. But his performance as Ryung Gu is definitely his strongest and most memorable yet. His character’s journey is perhaps the most engaging amongst many engaging stories. But he delivers a really affecting performance, including some breathtaking moments.
Rowoon, similarly, has had many great opportunities since his acting debut. And his role as Joon Woong is almost like a culmination of his previous roles. Rowoon is able to bring together different emotions and styles from those previous characters to help bring Joon Woong to life. Whether it’s scenes of Joon Woong as the playful maknae of the Crisis Management Team or in more emotional and dramatic scenes, Rowoon has no problem delivering in each one.
Overall, Tomorrow is simply an excellent series. Being able to tackle such a sensitive topic such as suicide and death in a way that is relatable, respectful and sincere is a major accomplishment. And a necessary one in today’s world as well. Tomorrow provides a profound and thought-provoking discussion on the struggles and difficulties many face while being pushed toward the shadows every day. And alongside this important discussion, an excellent cast supports the wonderful character-driven stories that support what is ultimately one of, if not the most complete and well-put together series of the year so far.