Review – I Remember You / Hello Monster

Review – I Remember You / Hello Monster

I will remember this show… until I’m dead.  I am a sucker for sympathetic villains and this drama featured not one but TWO.

Plot:  Basically, two young brothers are separated in childhood after one is kidnapped by a teenage serial killer.  The story is what happens when they are reunited in adulthood… including the reunion with the serial killer.

To say that I loved this show is an understatement.  I love a lot of dramas.  If I didn’t love K-dramas, I wouldn’t bother with this blog.  There are tons of great K-dramas.  And for every K-drama, there is one that seems made… if you can find it… just for you.  As if K-World read your diary, said, “Oh, you like this, eh?” and created a drama and wrapped it up like a present, tied it with a bow, and put your name on it.  This drama HAUNTED ME.  The romance and the cop shenanigans and the mystery plot lines were all awesome, but the center of this story is about nature vs nurture.  Do we create monsters or are they born?  Can they change?  Can they learn?  Can a monster evolve into a human being?

I’m not even using poetic license when I say I had dreams about this show.  I literally had dreams about this show.  

Overall Rating – 12/10.  Monsters Make Their Own Families.

Much Much Much Rambling, Character Explorations, Themes, And Massive SPOILERS follow… so, you know, you have been warned.

Let me just give you the setup to the show first.

There’s an old saying, “You Are What You Do.”  There’s another saying that everyone takes their work home with them – whether they want to or not.  How you spend your time affects your life.  If you spend your time working with children all day, you’ll have a different view of the world than if you spend your time working as a customer service representative at a busy airport.  And if you spend your days psycho-analyzing criminals… you might start seeing criminals everywhere.  In this show we have a father who studies the criminal mind who starts analyzing the behavior of his own sons… and sees red flags.

Shrink Daddy has two young sons (mom is out of the picture, why is a mystery to be solved later in the show).  They are both creative, rather sheltered, and extremely close.  They draw colorful illustrations in their sketchbooks, keep each other’s secrets, and are both brilliant.  They will both grow up to be awkward, socially challenged yet successful men.  Hyeon is the oldest – we shall call him Big Bro – who has become the most grounded as he took over his mother’s role and cares for both his father and younger sibling.  Min is the youngest – we shall call him Baby Bro – who secretly cuts up the neighborhood dogs.  At one point dad is talking to another therapist, voicing his concerns over his son… listing off “arson, bedwetting, cruelty to animals…” and to be fair, I might be concerned if my kid were drawing beautiful, weird shit like this too.

Unfortunately, dad pins the tail on the wrong donkey, assuming it is the oldest son who is getting closer to the psychopath line.  As Big Bro is covering for Baby Bro… and crazy Baby Bro lies and throws his own crimes onto Big Bro when cornered… you can’t blame daddy-o for his mistake.

ENTER THE CATALYST FOR BURNING THIS FAMILY TO THE GROUND:

Lee Joon-Young – who we shall call Psycho.  Psycho is a notorious young serial killer who leaves no corpses behind.  He’s finally behind bars, having been captured in a robbery/murder case (we will learn the cops tampered with all kinds of evidence to capture Psycho, including Shrink Dad).

Shrink Dad has been visiting our serial killer, getting his life story.  And it’s horrible.  Just… a nonstop litany of hideous child abuse from a variety of relatives.  We, as viewers, do not get to hear much of it.  But the implications of the piles of tapes are clear… this monster was made.  Psycho’s strange calm demeanor, his passive behavior, his seeming detachment from the world around him… all these things remind Shrink Daddy of his oldest son.  It doesn’t help when they start asking the same creepy questions, verbatim….

Daddy’s paranoia culminates in a fateful meeting between Psycho and Big Bro.   By chance, they spend a few strange moments together while Big Bro is visiting the police station… and it changes all their lives forever.

Because Psycho sees it too, the similarity between himself and the oldest son of his shrink.  And Psycho experiences something new… the possibility of being understood by another human.  It’s sad, really, that such a casual meeting could be so significant to both boys.  They bond by sharing secrets.  And daddy-o comes in to discover his son and this serial killer holding hands and whispering to each other and freaks the fuck out.  Psycho further torments Shrink Dad by watering his seeds of doubt…

And Shrink Dad goes crazy.  Just… nuts.  He labels his oldest child as a monster (with beautiful penmanship, I might add)…

And decides to lock him away in the basement!

This is even sadder, as it is a direct parallel to what happened to Psycho when he was a child. Psycho was locked away in his family’s home his entire life, isolated and treated like a beast to be caged… and surprise, surprise… it turned him into a beast.  Big Bro’s imprisonment in the basement is also ironic, as it separates the two young brothers – and Big Bro is clearly the strongest influence in keeping Baby Bro from turning into a full blown psychopath… but now Baby Bro is left alone, abandoned in an empty house while his Big Bro is locked away downstairs.

Our favorite Psycho escapes from prison and comes to visit shrink daddy cause he’s got some murdering to do! He sets Big Bro free from his basement prison and they share one last fateful encounter.  Meanwhile,  Baby Bro, terrified by the home invasion, sneaks outside and hides in the backseat of a car.  Unfortunately, it’s Psycho’s car.  And when our serial killer realizes he has a little mirror of himself in the backseat, he decides to just take him away with him.

Big Bro blacks out from the shock of his murdered fathered and kidnapped Baby Bro – and looses his memory.  When he comes to, all he can remember is that his father thought he was a monster… and locked him away.  He just can’t remember why.  The poor guy spends his entire life tormented by this mystery. Big Bro is raised by a police woman who tells him his Baby Bro and Psycho are dead… and he feels completely alone in the world. Big Bro grows up to be a famous professor of criminology and profiler in America.   He also grows up to be rude, blunt, friendless and funny.

Baby Bro grows up under the care of our Psycho…. convinced he was abandoned by his brother.

This is the set up for the show.  We’ve got Big Bro struggling to regain his memories of his childhood when he returns to Korea. A string of murders seem to suggest that both his Baby Bro and our Psycho may be still alive… and Big Bro is on a mission to uncover the truth.

AWESOME, isn’t it?  I mean… wow.  What a plot!  

This is the theme of the show.  The uncertainty over what creates evil.  Psycho is convinced that some people are born that way, others are created.  Whereas Big Bro is convinced all evil is created.  Their differing perspectives are battled out over Baby Bro (who grows up to be a serial killer).  Psycho believes Baby Bro was born evil, and nothing could have prevented him from turning out the way he did.  Big Bro is convinced that it was Psycho’s influence over Baby Bro that turned him evil (he follows the everyone has two wolves inside them theory, a good wolf and an evil wolf – the one you feed is the one that takes over).  And Baby Bro is somewhere in between.  He recognizes his own darkness, which he sees as an innate part of his being, but is willing to put it in the corner for his brother.

Min Knows What He Is.

Due to the mystery element of this show, there are a lot of interesting dynamics in how these three men behave and interact.  Because not everyone is sure who everyone is right away.  Big Bro is struggling to figure out who his brother is… and who Psycho is.  Meanwhile, both Psycho and Baby Bro know who Big Bro is but are deceiving him.

As Big Bro Hyeon begins to form his conclusions of who is who, there a huge shift in power between the three men.  Their conversations turn to veiled threats and doubletalk.  They’re all so smart, quoting philosophers at each other, carefully circling each other.  It’s mesmerizing television.

Big Bro starts to suspect his neighbor might really be Pscyho after they go into his house together- which is a collection of clues.  There are toys everywhere… Psycho’s keepsakes from the children he’s “saved” over the years, representing his true self.  And there are also fake photos of his fake family, his mask.

The show uses the motif of the men having their backs to each other over and over, depicting their conflict and their secrets. When they turn towards each other, it   illustrates their recognition of each other’s true identities.  In this scene they are both wet from being hosed down outside, and change into clean shirts together.  But the whole exchange is used more as an unveiling… taking off their masks, their skins, their secrets… it’s when you know “Holy Shit, that’s Lee Joon-Young the Psycho!” And you know that Big Bro Hyeon knows it too… he just can’t prove it yet.

The tension of them having their backs to each other is further pushed when Psycho comes at him from behind and puts a razor to his neck…. to cut away the tag of the shirt… but you know he was letting Big Bro Hyeon know who he was.  Psycho gives him so many little clues – just begging Big Bro to remember him! He’s just psychotically waiting for Big Bro to turn to him with recognition… so they can reunited at last.

Facing away, then coming together. This motif is also used when Big Bro discovers Baby Bro.  And with how Big Bro finally exposes himself to Psycho, casting the last bit of doubt aside to fully reveal himself and his awareness of the identity of the other man.  Just like their original meeting is mirrored…

It all repeats. And it all comes together.

Some of the best scenes are when everyone knows who everyone is (Hyeon, Min, Lee Joon-Young) but no one has said it out loud yet.  They’re all still wearing their masks, but they’ve already come together as this odd make-shift family.  They’re having dinners together and talking in circles around in each other – and you can see them waving their invisible flags, sending secret messages – and all these subtle glances and smirks go back and forth.

I especially love when they turn into a little crime-fighting unit together.   The three of them share an insight into the criminal mind that is unparalleled to the regular cops… and of course, two of them are actual criminals in disguise, so uh… they know what they’re talking about.

Psycho is by far the most complicated character – and the actor, Choi Won-Young, conveyed that eerie psychopathic lack of emotions perfectly.  That emptiness and questioning ever present in his passive face.  Watching him observe the brothers coming back together… both orchestrating their reunion and then actively sabotaging it.   Cause Psycho’s not sure what he wants.  He’s jealous of Baby Bro’s relationship with Big Bro, of their blood ties.  There’s an ongoing conversation between Psycho and Big Bro about what casual title he should have…. hyeungajeossi… certainly not oppa…. cause Psycho doesn’t fit anywhere.  He knows it too, and it’s one of the only things that truly hurts him.  Even though Psycho raised Baby Bro, Baby Bro just calls him Uncle.  It’s tragic, really, Psycho’s inability to form a family… as pitiful as his lack of understanding of what a family is.

Speaking of tragic… when Big Bro confirms his little brother’s identity, simultaneously confirming that Baby Bro is a serial killer… DAMN.  That was heartbreaking.

So much heartbreak!

Even the serial killers motivations were heartbreaking.  Psycho went around “rescuing” abused children by killing off their hideously cruel parents.  It was cathartic and justified in his mind – as something he’d prayed for during his own childhood of abuse. He sees himself as the good guy.  And Baby Bro went around killing off people who had abandoned people, as he thought he had been abandoned. He viewed himself as the hand of justice as well, punishing those who deserved it.

But let’s have a round of applause for Big Bro. Seo In-Guk was outstanding in this show as Big Bro Hyeon… funny, aloof… tormented…

This guy can act. And he had such perfect chemistry with Park Bo Gum who played his Baby Bro.  The casting was flawless. The young versions, too.

When the two brothers finally confront each other, as they are, their true identities revealed, their stories finally brought to light… there’s so much blame and guilt you could cut through it with a knife.

The brother bond is strong with these two. It’s the fundamental difference between killer Baby Bro and killer Psycho.  Baby Bro has something – some one – who can make him feel human.  He can experience emotions, fully, including guilt and shame and regret and longing.  These are things Psycho has only been able to experience abstractly… whereas the brothers have their love for each other to ground them, Psycho Lee Joon-Young is untethered.

When Big Bro Hyeon finally reclaims his brother from Psycho’s grasp – drawing a line between them – things get even more complicated.  Psycho honestly thinks he’s done a marvelous job of raising our little monstrous Baby Bro (and to some extent, he has… but it’s all so questionable when you teach your kid to be a killer, eh?).  Psycho’s proudly talking about how well Baby Bro has turned out… using cryptic metaphors because everyone’s still unwilling to say who they are out loud…. and it’s stunning, how screwed up they all are.

Baby Bro’s roots were set with Psycho during his formative years.  The critical point in our childhood… when your soul is made.  Once you’re formed, can you be reshaped?  Where does Baby Bro really belong…?  What creates evil…?  And once you’ve done evil things… can you be redeemed?  Inside or outside of the justice system?

This theme is also reflected in all of the cases that Big Bro Hyeon and the Special Task Force he gets involved with are assigned to.  You have wealthy younger sons dealing with inferiority complexes who turn into hideous killers.  You have sons of rapists and murderers tormented by the possibility that evil is hereditary.  You have stories of abuse and vengeance.  And you start to see the parallels to the theme over and over again – what made these people killers?  Some of them seem naturally inclined to be so… true monsters who belong in cages.  While others are driven to it.

Psycho & Baby Bro feel confident in their decisions of justice, killing those they feel have wronged others.  Big Bro is torn, raised to believe in the justice of the legal system but also always seeking to add an emotional impact beyond the law, a psychological torment to those he’s deemed guilty.

And then, firmly on the side of quiet justice… we have our fourth big cast member.

The Stalker.  Cha Ji-An.  

Stalker is the daughter of the prison guard who is accused of helping Psycho escape prison.  (In actuality, her father physically abused Psycho while he was incarcerated, a crime Psycho deemed worthy of death….) Thus Stalker has spent her life the daughter of a criminal. When she grew up, she ran to the law for solace, becoming a policewoman.

As a young girl, she attached herself to Big Bro, the other survivor of Psycho’s bloody escape – someone with a similar connection to the event that had changed her life.  But she’d also grown up suspecting him, too, of being involved with Psycho somehow.  So she’d kept her distance and methodically stalked him for twenty years. #goals

When Big Bro shows up to assist with the cases she’s working on – Stalker is both elated and suspicious.  She sticks to him like glue.  And of course… he has no idea who she is, having a faulty memory and no awareness of her decades of stalking.

So these are our main four cast members.  With Psycho and Baby Bro representing lawlessness, and Big Bro and Stalker representing the law.  Good and Bad.  And all the ambiguous in between.

Let’s talk about love.

Big Bro and Stalker’s romance is amazing.  Because he’s so stoic and introverted when it comes to relationships, and she’s so all over the place and in your face, they’re a funny combo.  They have quick witted banter and great chemistry. I was glad that they had a slow progression with their romance, it was so believable and suited their characters.  He’s always pushing her away and she’s always running right back at him.  But letting someone in has never happened to Big Bro before, so he’s wary and uncertain and actually adorably innocent.

Stalker’s the first person to really get to know him, personally, even if it was by force.  So when she sees the good in him he’s been questioning, he’s able to finally believe it exists. She’s the flashlight that chases away his self doubts and dark shadows.

Of course, Baby Bro has mixed feelings about her… being openly jealous of how close she is to his brother.  And Psycho likes her, being clueless as to why she might not like him back.  Stalker’s relationship with all the leading men is extremely fun as it flips and morphs and changes throughout the show.

When Stalker tries to frame Psycho… we get one of the few scenes that show the actual active dark side of our infamous serial killer.  There’s not even a shift in his demeanor!  Psycho fluidly leaps to violence as easily as picking up a tea cup.

Both Psycho and Baby Bro are so subtle… it’s only their shifting expressions or suggestions of their past crimes that remind us they are killers.  But in a scene like this… wow… our demure Psycho really shows his scary side.

These four alone would have been enough to make this show unforgettable.  But they aren’t the only memorable cast members.  The Special Task Unit is also composed of four characters who will steal your hearts.  The cops all had such natural chemistry and casually playful dialogue, I had no trouble believing they’d been working together for a long time.

My favorite, of course, what this dude:

Son Myeong-Woo… the wildcard.  The emotional one.  The most reactive.  The one who butted heads with Big Bro Hyeon the entire show, but begrudgingly respected him.  Min Sung-Wook really makes any show better… he’s such a fantastic actor.

Stalker is the only female in the group, and they’ve just been assigned a new boss – the adorably awkward son of the police chief.  There is a scene where he’s having dinner with the main “four” and he suddenly asks, “Who is this Lee Joon-Young person anyways?”  And they all freeze and turn to look at him… it’s hysterical.  He’s sitting right across from Psycho and is the only one who doesn’t realize it!  I swear… this show…

OTHER THOUGHTS:

I liked how every time Psycho thought he was doing something nice, it was something horrible.  Like sparing the girl who saved him from captivity – but leaving her in a mound of corpses.  Or sending Big Bro to find his mother’s skeleton.  Or giving Stalker the most fucked up birthday present ever – a map to her father’s body.  Baby Bro says it best it when he says, “That’s what happens when an evil one tries to do a good deed.”

How gorgeously sad was it that Big Bro had been living with the ghosts of his father and brother his whole life?  Imagining them with him everywhere?  He thought they were both dead for twenty years.  That scene that shows him alone at a restaurant… and then it pans back and you see he’s imagining his family with him… oh, my heart…

Snaps to the cinematographer of this show, too – and the use of blocking throughout the program.  So many perfectly angled shots.  So many scenes through blinds and windows and bars… representing the prisons these characters had trapped themselves in.   All those extreme angles of the camera, further adding to the sense that things were “off” and precarious. It was artfully done.

How cool was Baby Bro’s art studio?  Those nest chandeliers?!

And how amazing was the ending of this show???

I loved that neither Baby Bro nor Psycho were captured!  They were both still roaming free… and their fates were still open ended.  Such a gorgeous continuation of the opening episode, in which Psycho is waiting to see how Big Bro will grow up….

And now he’s waiting again… to be caught?  To be reunited?  To try again?  To finally give up?  Who knows what he’s expecting, but he’s still expecting Big Bro to be a part of his future….

Thus solidifying him as a genuinely creepy, wonderfully complex psycho.

HELLO MONSTER.  My personal favorite k-drama of all time.  Number 1 on the charts.

4 thoughts on “Review – I Remember You / Hello Monster

  1. I loved I Remember You. A great drama with layered characters and relationships.
    I wouldn’t call it my most favourite but it was a great ride. Bromance was so good and heartbreaking.

    • I know… it’s such an odd drama… but like I said, it’s just perfect to me. It’s like the ring that was meant to go on my finger. I have to say “I Do.” It came to me being everything I wanted… so who am I to turn it away? I am sure you have said “I Do” to your own drama…

  2. Pingback: Review – Lucifer | subtitledreams

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