Awaken was one of those rare dramas that tagged all of my favorite tropes. Compelling, badass male lead with swagger and a secret past? Check. Courageous, self-reliant badass female lead with a mean right hook and a secret crush? Check. Ominous overtones of dark forces, corruption, and shocking evildoing lurking just below the sunny surface of Seoul? Check, check.
I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish this series, hooked from the opening shot and not content to leave the couch until I had all the answers to the mystery.
Namkoong Min once again proves he’s A-List All the Way with this stellar performance as a chief detective with a secret agenda. Does anyone swagger more than Namkoong Min? Maybe Kim Na Gil, back in the day… but otherwise, no. No one. Namkoong swaggers into every scene, sucker stuck in his mouth, zero tension in his body but you can sense all the action churning around in their minds. His eyes are alert and constantly assessing. You know he’s aware of everything, that he hasn’t missed a clue, but you also know he’s not about to clue you in on that fact unless it serves his purpose.
Can I just say now that I am deeply annoyed GIFs are no longer supported through my website software? Cause I saved about a dozen gifs of Namkoong Min just slinking about in this show, grinning and causing trouble and looking cool as hell.
The man was born for this role. He’s just such a cool shark, slinking through the waters.
The female leads were also outstanding.
We get our cool as a cucumber FBI agent from America – incredibly intelligent, gorgeous, and blunt. She’s level headed and practical and detail oriented…
She’s also socially awkward and suffering from ever-increasing OCD behavioral ticks…
the exact opposite of our second female lead, who is impulsive, outspoken, and a bit insecure of herself around our male lead and the new FBI lady.
But the girl can kick ass and run for miles without slowing down. She’s so feisty and headstrong, I loved her!
To balance out our enigmatic male lead got two competent and unique female characters, each with their own agendas and stakes in the plot.
And oh what a plot!
As it’s a mystery-thriller, I will not dive into spoilers or a long analysis of the series. Instead, I’ll give you a basic outline.
26 years ago, something horrible went down at hospital/research facility. This is the opening scene of the drama – and quite a shock! People are randomly attacking each other, committing suicide, and acting crazy – all with pleasant smiles on their faces as the world goes up in flames around them. We find three children in the midst of this madness, seemingly unaffected. One of them gives us a creepy speech:
I am standing on an empty road all by myself. The sun is shining brightly, and the clock that’s never wrong says it’s 12. Then, I wonder to myself, “Is it noon or midnight?”
Welcome to the White Knight Village!
I don’t know about you… but I was hooked after that scene. What in the world just happened? Who are those kids? What sorta freaky facility is this and what were they up to? This is the foundational mystery of the series – and you will have a very good time finding out the answers.
This drama is “Sci Fi Light,” as I like to call it. There’s some science fiction elements… with mad scientists and nefarious human experimentation projects… but it does not lean too heavily into this aspect. Awaken is not the Avengers, after all, oh no no. None of that overt bash you in the face with it, spell it out for you in block letters American-style super hero nonsense here, oh no no. Awaken is gonna sneak it in subtly, little hints here and there. You might even forget you’re watching a science fiction show for a while, distracted by the police procedural elements or the human relationship drama… but then it reminds you. It gives you chilling backflashes, suspicious “something ain’t right about that” scenes, creepy lingering stares filled with subtext, layer by layer as you get closer to the dark heart of the mystery behind the White Knight Village and the massacre you witnessed in the first episode.
I absolutely LOVE the slew of mad scientist storylines coming out of South Korea in the past year or so. That’s a trope that never gets old, in my opinion. With all the miracles of modern technology and medical sciences, it’s frankly shocking we don’t have more of these dramas globally.
On a more random note, perhaps, I’m pleased that South Korean mad science shows don’t try to convince us of the realism of their experiments, either. There is nothing more annoying than pandering to the small percentage of fans who are gonna pull out their dry erase markers and draw us a diagram of how and why some mad scientists’ project is unrealistic and thus deserving of scorn. I don’t care in the least if genetically altering humans isn’t plausible. No one stopped enjoying Spider Man or the Hulk because they thought the science behind their transformations was faulty.
The more outlandish and overdramatic the science project the better, in my opinion. I want secret laboratories and mad scientists with wild hair and white coats who make grand speeches about why they’re destined to control nature and bend it to their wills. I want unrealistically dark corridors and medical wings with no overhead lighting. Give me brains floating jars and syringes full of neon green liquid! (speaking of – we’ll get into this more with my review of L.U.C.A.: The Beginning… which I am L.O.V.I.N.G.: Every Minute of It).
This series had outstanding villains, each of which were as enthralling and complicated as the protagonists.
Though I’ve seen this listed as a romance… I’d be reluctant to call it that. It’s got romantic elements, for sure… with some serious simmering stares and pining from afar, but you’re not gonna have any piggy back rides or hangover soup scenes with this show. They’re all too busy trying to stop people from spontaneously committing suicide and keeping secret organizations from taking over the world to have time to go on dates or make out in an alley way. Which is honestly a little unfortunate, cause they could have squeezed it in. There was room. They made it work in other dark mystery dramas like Hello Monster, so I know it can be done.
Overall Rating: 9/10. Secret Science Projects of the Wealthy Elite and Why to Fear Them.