K-drama review: Abyss

Abyss poster

Not the classic 1989 sci-fi film, I’m talking about the glossy new tvN/Netflix series Abyss – though it is arguably also sci-fi. Or maybe crime drama. Or fantasy. Somewhere in-between, with a large dollop of romance thrown in. Of course. This show makes little sense but is still fun.

In the first episode we meet most of our protagonists, but don’t get too attached as there are multiple deaths. Cha Min is a young businessman (and heir to a fortune, natch) who has just been dumped – and fleeced out of money – by his girlfriend Jang Hee-jin. He is devasted and attempts suicide, but as he dies he is approached by two…spirits?..who revive him and hand him a glowing orb they call Abyss. They tell him he can revive other dead people with Abyss but there are rules he will need to follow. Oh, and he has a new body now that is a truer reflection of his soul – he goes from plain/odd looking to very tall and handsome (now played by Ahn Hyo-seop), which in theory gives us some insight into his character.

Min’s best friend since childhood is prosecutor Go Se-yeon. She has been working on a serial killer case, and just as she thinks she’s closing in on the culprit, she herself is murdered. Min is devastated and decides to put Abyss to use but he can’t get to her until after her autopsy, by which time the whole country knows she is dead. Min is considered to be missing (as no-one witnessed his suicide) and is now the lead suspect in Se-yeon’s murder. He has to explain quickly to Se-yeon why she is waking up in a morgue faced with someone who looks like a total stranger and why she really shouldn’t interrupt her own funeral when she doesn’t look like herself anymore.

Se-yeon’s new body (played by Park Bo-young, who was the lead in Strong Woman Do Bong-soon and Oh My Ghost) is shorter and cuter than her original (she was more classically beautiful in her original incarnation) – and confusingly is now a dead ringer for fellow lawyer Lee Mi-do, who is conveniently away (for the first few episodes at least) in America. Also conveniently, Mi-do’s ex happens to be one of the police officers investigating Se-yeon’s murder, so Se-yeon flirts information out of him and begins her own investigation, with Min’s help.

We learn early on that Min has been in love with Se-yeon for half his life, but she always rejected him, possibly because she is superficial and he was not a looker. Now that he is super hot, she is attracted to him, but she isn’t entirely sure she can trust him. How can she be sure he’s really Min? Is there more to the police suspicion of him than the fact he was the last person to phone her and has apparently disappeared?

An added complication is that, shortly after he got Abyss, Min stumbled across a dead body in the street and revived the person. But it turns out that was the suspect Se-yeon had been investigating, surgeon Oh Seong-cheol. Has Min brought a serial killer back to life, and in the prospect given him a new face to hide behind?

Abyss still
The crime drama parts of this show are sometimes genuinely creepy.

There’s a lot going on here: parents who think their children are dead; revived people who must survive without any identity; accomplices who must be persuaded of a pretty unbelievable story to help Min and Se-yeon; murders and kidnappings; romantic entanglements. The darker stuff is handled well, rich-mother histrionics were minimal, and the balance with fluffy romance was pretty good.

However, the story regularly makes no sense. The main villain seems to have an uncanny ability to get people to help him without us ever being given a reason. The rules surrounding the use of Abyss are revealed clunkily in a manner that feels suspiciously like the writers were making it up as they went along (“We need Abyss to change owner! Quick, invent a rule for that!”). There are plotlines that could have been fascinating that are just dropped and a few too many deus ex machinas and secret relatives.

I also found Ahn Hyo-seop’s acting stilted at times. To a certain extent, the character of Cha Min is a pretty boy with a goofy smile and a heart of gold, but he’s also meant to be super smart and a savvy business manager. Ahn did not convince me of those things at all. His adoring looks made the happy romantic moments believable, but I was less convinced by sad or angry scenes. I don’t know if this was highlighted by him acting opposite Park Bo-young, who is multiple-award-winning and a very capable actor (though I don’t think she really shines here, compared with Oh My Ghost).

Overall, I enjoyed this show a lot. It’s very glossy, has good music and a twisty plot that’s enjoyable as long as you don’t interrogate it. The three women we see the most of turn out to be capable and self-reliant, and save men as often as they are saved by men (I think; I didn’t count). It is nonsense, but nonsense with this catchy theme tune by Suran & Coogie.