Nine: Nine Time Travels (20 Episodes)


Park Sun Woo (Lee Jin Wook) is given nine chances to travel back in time to solve a crime that happened 20 years ago. However, this is not without consequences as his involvement in the past effects the lives of many, including his own. 

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My Rating:

I love time travel. 

What I love even more is a time travel story that's done well. Nine, unlike many of its predecessors, managed this feat in a fascinating, compelling way, without getting tangled up in its own conceit. Here, everything was planned so well, so minutely, that even the method of time travel became a character in its own right . . . with the incense sticks there were rules, and heaven help the fool who was stupid enough to wrangle with time, and not expect consequences.

And oh boy, those consequences. . .

Aside from the amazing cast, directing, music, story (need I go on?) that was one of the things I truly appreciated about this series. This drama did not pull punches - the twists and turns came hard and they came fast, and though some of them could be seen a mile away, the ones that came out of nowhere really hit hard. Like, OMG-I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that hard. This was an intelligent, suspenseful roller-coaster ride, one that had me on the edge of my seat one minute, then bawling, laughing, and swooning the next. And the best part?

The ending.

With a story that starts with the main character having a brain tumor, there's really no guarantee a happy ending's in the future (particularly when you're dealing with a drama, rather than a romantic comedy) yet when the credits rolled, I couldn't have been more satisfied. Looking through one lens, it may seem bittersweet, but it's a hard-won victory; and all the more satisfying because it feels earned. These characters were so likeable, sympathetic, and selfless (such a terrific, adorable OTP) you can't help but cheer and root for them.

I know there's been a lot of speculation concerning the ending, so I decided to address it here, because nothing is more frustrating than finishing a series and having questions. And though this is my own interpretation (aided by fellow fans/theories I read on various forums), use this as a signpost, not as the gospel truth.

So, without further ado:

Spoilers.

First, I think it's necessary to straighten out the intersecting time-lines, since they can confuse the bigger picture. For me, I used Sun-woo's brother as the main marker, since it was his life that he was trying to fix/save all along.

Basically, there are four main realities:

1. his brother died
2. his brother married
3. his brother the philanthropic
4. his brother died (but was saved)

The first three realities are the ones our "original" Sun-woo experienced. This ranges from the first episode (when he claimed his brother's body) to the final moments when he gets stuck back in 1993, and killed. From then on, the fourth reality begins (the most recent one); the one where young Sun-woo grows up to become his future self.

This is where the bittersweet part comes in: We never get to see "original" Sun-woo succeed. Like he said, those nine incense sticks were an extension of his life-force . . . once he used them all up, he'd essentially used up his "nine lives", and then the future had to reset itself. All those people couldn't have lived with conflicting realities anyway, so even if he had succeeded, something would've had to give in the end.

So in the final episode, it's not exactly a reset.

His life is now a blank-canvas, with nothing per-ordained about it.

However, it's important to remember that THIS Sun-woo is still aware of time-travel (even if he's never experienced it), and though the people in his life were influenced by this phenomena - Young-min, having seen him die; his brother, having met his future-self; his friend, having learned from young Sun-woo - they have no way of knowing what it all means.

I think it's that uncertainty, that mystery, which is what propels Sun-woo's brother back to Nepal in the fourth reality (the scene we begin with in Episode 1). Unlike his third incarnation, HE doesn't have all the answers. He doesn't know why his brother grows up to look just like the man who saved their family - and I think that's why he's still a wanderer, why he still finds himself in the Himalayas, dying on the mountain. Like his original self, he learns about time travel, about the incense sticks, and goes searching for them. The only thing that's changed is his motivation (I don't think he retrieved the incense in order to save his father; instead, I think he did it because he knew Sun-woo would need them).

You can see Jung-woo's fate is taking a similar path to the first one, thanks to the meeting they have in the final episode. It all lines up: The date, the red-hiking jacket on the chair, the fact that he's once again heading for Nepal, and how he casually mentions how similar his brother looks to the man who saved them (as though insinuating he knows they're the same). However, what truly convinced me, is the way Jung-woo greets Sun-woo in the coffee shop: "It's been a long time." That's the same thing Sun-woo tells him after saving him in the credits.

I think, in the fourth reality, Jung-woo died again in an effort to deliver the incense to Sun-woo (not realizing he no longer needed them). However, this time, when Sun-woo recovered his brother's body, and found the incense stick, he knew what to do with it. He waited 20 years, and in 2032, in December, he returned to save his brother (which is why he looks noticeably older, and why his greeting held much more weight). It HAS been a long time; twenty years in fact.

And from there, their future's must have reset for the very last time.

Just the fact that Sun-woo was alive long enough to wait twenty years to save him though, shows that his future was happy after all: he didn't die in the past like he had feared, and considering he was headed to see Min-young on the plane, and had decided to love her, despite the danger, you know it was a happy ending after all.

So he saved his brother, got the girl, and got to be a brave hero. Not bad for a teenager who had to have his life saved by his super-awesome-future-self. He truly became the man he was meant to be, and we all got to experience the journey right along with him.

He may not be the Sun-woo we started with, but he became the same Sun-woo we knew and loved; and who can complain about that. ^_^

End of Spoiler.

I did honestly go back and forth between whether this deserved a 4.5 or 5 stars . . . but in the end, I really couldn't find a fault egregious enough to warrant a half-star drop. Even though I know many people complained about the cartoonish nature of the villain . . . that was an acting issue more than problems with the writing, and for me, writing wins hands down every time. Plus, I personally like my villains nasty and horrible, since that just makes them easier to despise!

Also, the first few episodes are a little slow, but in a drama that requires a strong background, and mythos to go with it, I think a little build-up is necessary - and the slow build-up just makes the actual story that much more intense when it gets going. After all, you have to climb the roller coaster to get to the terrifying drops!!

That being said, this is in no way a perfect drama. It was just perfect to me, lol. Plus, it didn't hurt that it's the type of show you could watch more than once, and still find something new.

Oh! And rumor has it that there's going to be an American remake (into a television series), so you better hurry and watch the original before our country manages to screw it up!

So yes, if it wasn't clear already, watch this. Watch this now!!

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