Alchemy of Souls

While my main focus is on Japanese dramas, every now and then the story of a Korean drama will catch my interest.

It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered many of the Korean dramas I’ve really enjoyed have been written by the same pair of writers, Hong Jung-eun  and Hong Mi-ran (apparently known as the Hong sisters).

I watched My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (now on Netflix in Japan anyway) and loved how funny and heartbreaking it was.

I’ve had my eye on Alchemy of Souls (also on Netflix) for a while, too, after reading the summary for it on Netflix, but the preview made it seem like the entire show would be about a woman with the soul of a mighty warrior being forced to work for a spoiled man who doesn’t know she’s really a warrior and how one day she’s going to take him out. The preview made the plot sound ridiculous, but maybe something lighthearted to enjoy.

The preview gave the entirely wrong impression; the spoiled man finds out in the first episode and within about 30 seconds of meeting her that she’s actually a warrior trapped in another body. That alone had my attention and kept me going for the first few episodes, at which point the overall plot had me wrapped up in it, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next episode, then the next.

Both dramas I mention above were written by the Hong sisters, long may they write great dramas. Gumiho is a lot lighter, though that vet seriously needs to cool it with the melodramatics.

After years of casually watching Korean dramas, I’ve learned a few things about them.

  1. They are ridiculously long. Each episode is at least an hour, and there are at least 16 episodes. Alchemy had 30 episodes.
  2. At least for shows the Hong sisters write, seemingly unimportant conversations among minor characters will have a knock-on effect to the overall plot and can prove to be fundamental plot points later on, so there is no skipping in these things.
  3. There will be heartbreak, often set to singers wailing ballads. Several times I thought the ballad ruined the scene. One death scene in Alchemy, for example, I thought would’ve been so much better in complete silence, but I had to listen to a singer hitting those high notes as the character’s hand falls limp.
  4. Metaphors run rampant. Alchemy had people being referred to as bird’s eggs, room-warming stove things, turtles and dogs throughout. And these metaphors will not go away; the main characters will drag the metaphors through their heated, passionate arguments with each other until the end of the series. (“I guess I really am as useless as a room-warming stove thing in summer,” says a character before storming away. That kind of thing)
  5. The fan base for every single actor seems to be absolutely rabid, and it makes me want to not even look up the names of the actors because a lone Google search reveals so much fans have tried to dig up about them that I’m a bit scared.
  6. At least with Hong sisters’ series, viewers are given all the information except in a few rare ocassions. This makes it frustrating when characters do things simply because they don’t have the whole story (most of watching Part Two of Alchemy was me screaming at the screen, “I can tell you who she is!”)

Despite some of the cheesy tropes (I’m looking at you, “Characters who always have tearful breakups because they don’t have all the information” trope), I really liked the relative tightness of the story for Alchemy and how, like in life, seemingly unimportant things turned out to be crucial.

I liked the acting (admittedly I speak about three words of Korean despite the hours and hours of watching this series), and the special effects were sometimes good. The soundtrack was magnificent, as were the sets. All of this made for quite an enjoyable series that hardly ever went the way I thought it would, which I always appreciate.

A clip from the beginning of the series