Telemad: K-drama Memories Of The Alhambra is like an addictive game

Hyun Bin (left) and Park Shin-hye star in Memories Of The Alhambra.
Hyun Bin (left) and Park Shin-hye star in Memories Of The Alhambra. PHOTO: STUDIO DRAGON/NETFLIX

MEMORIES OF THE ALHAMBRA

Netflix

4 stars

PRIEST

Viu

3 stars


A cursory glance suggests some similarities between K-dramas Memories Of The Alhambra and Encounter.

Both feature name stars - Hyun Bin (Secret Garden, 2010) and Park Shin-hye (The Heirs, 2013) in the former, Song Hye-kyo and Park Bo-gum in the latter - and a pivotal exotic location, Spain's Granada and Cuba respectively.

But selling Memories Of The Alhambra as a romantic drama is doing it a disservice. Despite the promotional poster of Hyun and Park gazing at each other, there is very little romance in the first few episodes.

Instead, there is high-stakes corporate intrigue over an augmented reality (AR) medieval warrior game with characters that seem to interact so seamlessly with the real world that it makes Pokemon Go look like child's play.

One night, Yoo Jin-woo (Hyun), the chief executive officer of an investment company, receives a harried phone call from the young man who developed the game, which is set in the Spanish city of Granada, where the palace and fortress complex Alhambra is located.

They arrange to meet at a hostel in Granada but Jung Se-joo (Park Chan-yeol) never appears.

Jin-woo is impressed with the game and wants to buy it, but soon finds himself literally crossing swords with competitor Cha Hyung-seok (Park Hoon). The two men used to be business partners, but Hyung-seok is now married to Jin-woo's ex-wife, who is pregnant.


Hyun Bin (left) and Park Shin-hye star in Memories Of The Alhambra. PHOTO: STUDIO DRAGON/NETFLIX

Where is Park Shin-hye in all this?

She plays the owner, Jung Hee-joo, of the rundown hostel Jin-woo is staying in. The two clash at first but things change when he realises that she is the older sister of the missing game developer.

Their initial run-ins are rom-com worthy, but instead of a romance, we get a whole bunch of puzzles. What has happened to Hee-joo's brother? Is there something nefarious about the game, which events early on suggest? And how have Hyun's cheekbones stayed so sharp over the years?

The show is directed by Ahn Gil-ho (Rooftop Prince, 2012) and written by Song Jae-jung (W, 2016). It jumps back and forth in time, which can be a little confusing at times, but by doling out context and new information, the revisited scenes take on a different meaning.

Be warned, like an addictive game, one keeps wanting to return to Memories Of The Alhambra to progress deeper into its mystery, hoping that all will be revealed. Binge-watch factor: very high.

Priest is not quite your usual K-drama offering either.


Actor Park Yong-woo in the K-drama Priest. PHOTO: VIU

The first episode throws all the familiar exorcism tropes at the viewer: possessed little boy who speaks in a creepy deep voice, levitating child, flickering lights, jump cuts.

But there is more.

The buddy cop dynamic between older priest Moon Ki-seon (Park Yong-woo from Handphone, 2009) and younger priest Oh Soo-min (Yeon Woo-jin from Judge Vs Judge, 2017) provides some welcome comic relief given the dark subject matter here.

The latter's backstory - as a child, he watched his possessed mother fall to her death - is likely to figure prominently as the story progresses.

There is also a medical component here as doctor Ham Eun-ho (Jeong Yu-mi from Rooftop Prince) tries to care for possessed patients from a rational health perspective. There is a bit of the believer-versus-sceptic tussle between Soo-min and her that is reminiscent of Mulder and Scully from the American science-fiction drama series The X-Files (1993 to 2002, 2016 to 2018).

It turns out it takes a village to perform an exorcism. Apart from the priests, there is a driver/hacker/videographer, a gallery owner who can, say, help to procure objects such as a powerful cross, and a cop on the cusp of retirement keeping things under the radar.

Shades of sci-fi action film Inception (2010) creep into a scenario where Soo-min has to attempt an exorcism by delving into the subconscious of a possessed person.

Now that is really asking the viewer to take a leap of faith.