The game within the drama
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Netflix Originals’ “Memories of the Alhambra” begins with an exciting first two episodes.
It opens with Jung Se-joo (EXO’s Park Chanyeol) running away from an unseen adversary. He manages to make a call from a phone booth to the CEO of JayOne holdings Yoo Jin-woo (Hyunbin). Se-joo tells him that they have to meet before he takes the train to Granada, Spain. Before he reaches his destination, the skies become ominous and fear is written all over Se-joo’s handsome face.
In the next scene we see Jin-woo making his way to a dingy Korean hostel in Granada. His suit and expensive suitcase look out of place inside the dingy accommodations of Hostel Bonita. He unknowingly meets Se-joo’s older sister, Jung Hee-joo (Park Shin-hye), who owns and runs the place.
“Most people come to Granada to visit the Alhambra Palace. I have come a long way to see magic,” narrates Jin-woo. This direct conversation by the lead character with the audience subtly sucks them into the augmented reality (AR) game masterfully woven into the story.
Jin-woo as the narrator immediately makes you biased to his point of view. Sure, you get to see other characters’ stories, but it always depends on Jin-woo’s generosity of sharing it with you. You root for him even when he is not a likeable person. He is rude, mean and selfish. He is also jaded. He has trust issues that need addressing. He is a powerful man and he knows it.
First of its kind
One of the selling points of this series is that this is the first K-drama that tackles AR. Shin-hye revealed during the press conference in Gangnam, Seoul, last week that she and Chanyeol did not spend a lot of time shooting together because the EXO member is very busy. She emphasized, however, the importance of his character by saying that, “he brings everybody together. He (Se-joo) is the key.”
Se-joo is the developer of the AR game Jin-woo is testing and trying to acquire. Se-joo’s genius made it possible for Nasrid warriors and knights wearing chainmail to walk the cobbled streets of modern-day Spain. The game he created is intuitive. It quickly adapts to whatever real environment Jin-woo is in into the game interface.
The first few scenes of the game are exciting. The idea that a player can hold a sword and fight warriors from the past is breathtaking. We understand finally why the historic backdrop of Granada was chosen for this drama. It is essential in creating the mythos of an epic game.
The drama also shows how AR gaming can force someone out of their comfort zone. It makes it obvious that it is not a game for couch potatoes. You have to go out, walk and move to increase your levels. You have to be creative on how to make people around you cooperate so you could complete your mission. You also have to think and strategize.
The first two episodes are obviously to establish the characters and the setting. We immediately get to meet the antagonist in the form of Cha Hyeong-seok (Park Hoon). We already know that the bad blood between him and Jin-woo runs deep.
Shin-hye often reiterated in the press conference how “Memories of the Alhambra” is about the story of people and not the AR game. We finally get to see what she means. Her character brings out the humanity of the drama. Hee-joo’s struggles to make ends meet make her relatable. When she lost her temper and spoke what came to her mind make her sincere. The actress nails the vulnerability and strength to play the role of Hee-joo.
“Memories of the Alhambra” manages to tell the story clearly even when events are told in a nonlinear manner. Trying to keep up with the narrative adds to the feeling of the audience being part of the game. It gets so immersive that the audience can sometimes no longer tell if the person they are seeing on the screen is part of the “real world” or part of the game.
Episode two even ends the same way episode one begins: on the train, with ominous, dark skies. It is one year later. Jin-woo’s perfect suit and leather shoes are gone. He wears an oversized jacket and sneakers. He looks unkempt. He has obviously leveled up as a player. His adversaries are leveled-up, too.
It leaves you asking more questions. Has he gone crazy? Is it like “Inception” for him, where he can no longer tell what’s real and what’s not? These cliffhanging questions leave the audience wanting. Thus, you also know, this drama is a keeper.
“Memories of the Alhambra” is streaming on Netflix one hour after broadcast in Korea every Saturday and Sunday.
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