One reason that K-drama has been riding high in recent years has been the strength of its storytelling, be it in well-worn genres such as the crime thriller (Signal, 2016) or in less familiar territory - for Asian television series - such as science-fiction fantasy (W, 2016).
Moon Soo-yeon, who had previously written for the 9th and 10th seasons of the long-running drama Ugly Miss Young-ae, has come up with an intriguing premise for sci-fi fantasy crime thriller Abyss.
An oversized transparent marble is capable of reviving a person who has died, but his appearance then takes on the form of his soul - which can be very different from how he looked before.
Cha Min (Ahn Se-ha), a rich, good-hearted but unattractive heir to a cosmetics company, dies after getting abruptly rejected by his fiancee Jang Hee-jin (Han So-hee). He is brought back to life (now played by Ahn Hyo-seop) and is given possession of the orb - with an ominous warning not to regret bringing people back to life.
Key questions about the provenance of the magical object and why Cha Min was chosen are left unanswered. But no matter, there is more than enough here to reel viewers in.
In the first few episodes, viewers slowly learn more about the marble, from rules governing its use to who exactly is able to see it.
There is also a bigger story about a serial killer who has been eluding the grasp of the law. Cha Min's good friend Go Se-yeon (Kim Sa-rang), a prosecutor working on the case, is murdered. She gets revived (now played by Park Bo-young) and is determined to track down the perpetrator.
But there are frustrating moments when the vicious and brazen criminal seems to be getting all the breaks while everyone else makes agonisingly wrong-headed decisions.
In addition to elements of sci-fi, fantasy and crime, Abyss also mixes in romance and comedy.
A running joke here is how handsome the revived Cha Min looks, with One o One boy band singer Ahn Hyo-seop fitting the bill on that count and managing to look somewhat embarrassed every time someone points that out.
Meanwhile, jibes are thrown at Park - not exactly a plain Jane - for having a "common look". To add insult to injury, Cha Min, who used to carry a torch for her, is now so good-looking, she finds herself falling for him - just when she is no longer his type appearance-wise.
Actress Park, who previously worked with director Yoo Je-won on the romantic comedy Oh My Ghost (2015), can always be counted on to deliver laughs and the big emotions.
While a buck-toothed Anh Se-ha plays "ugly" Cha Min, snaggle-toothed Masataka Kubota (Death Note, 2015) snags the lead role on J-drama Radiation House.
VIEW IT / ABYSS
Medical dramas are a mainstay of Japanese entertainment, but at least this series takes a different approach by focusing on the radiology technicians.
Kubota plays Iori Igarashi, who chooses to work as a technician, even though he is qualified to be a doctor, in order to be close to radiologist doctor An Amakasu (Tsubasa Honda) - a childhood friend who does not seem to recognise him.
Surrounding them is a bunch of kooky hospital personnel, from Emi Wakui as a hospital director who loves hawking all manner of knick-knacks to her staff to veteran actor Kenichi Endo playing a slacker team leader who is secretly caring.
There is a medical mystery each week which, no surprises, Igarashi solves with his tenacity and brilliance.
What keeps the show watchable is Kubota, who conveys socially awkward technician with shy smiles and medical savant with wide-eyed stares radiating concentration and thoughtfulness.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'From saving lives to reviving the dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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