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. 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. They keep each other’s secrets. They are both geniuses. They will both grow up to be awkward, socially challenged yet successful men. Hyeon is the oldest, 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, 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 Hyeon is covering for his little brother… and crazy Min lies and throws his own crimes onto Hyeon…. you can’t blame daddy-o for his mistake.
ENTER THE CATALYST FOR BURNING THIS FAMILY TO THE GROUND:
Lee Joon-Young. 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 Lee Joon-Young, 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. His strange calm demeanor, his passive behavior, his seeming detachment from the world around him… all remind Shrink Daddy of his oldest son Hyeon. It doesn’t help when they start asking the same creepy questions, verbatim….
Daddy’s paranoia culminates in a fateful meeting between psycho Lee Joon-Young and big bro Hyeon. By chance, they spend a few strange moments together while big bro Hyeon is visiting the police station… and it changes all their lives forever.
Because psycho Lee Joon-Young sees it too, the similarity. And he also 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 dad comes in to discover his son and this serial killer holding hands and whispering to each other and freaks the fuck out. Lee Joon-Young further torments Shrink Dad by watering his seeds of doubt…
And Shrink Dad goes crazy. Just… nuts. He labels his oldest child Hyeon 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 Lee Joo-Young to turn him into a monster. He was locked away his entire life, isolated and treated like a beast to be caged… and it turned him into a beast. It’s also ironic, as it separates the two young brothers – and Hyeon is clearly the strongest influence in keeping his younger brother Min from turning into a full blown psychopath… but now he’s left alone, abandoned in an empty house while his brother is locked away downstairs.
Our favorite psycho Lee Joo-Young escapes from prison and comes to visit his shrink, murdering him and setting big bro Hyeon free from his basement prison. Little bro Min, terrified by the home invasion, sneaks outside and hides in the backseat of a car… unfortunately, it’s psycho Lee Joo-Young’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 Hyeon blacks out from the shock – and looses his memory. All he can remember is that his father thought he was a monster… and locked him away. He just can’t remember why. And he spends his life tormented by this thought. He is raised by a police woman, who tells him his brother and psycho Lee Joon-Young are dead… and grows up to be a famous professor of criminology and profiler in America. He also grows up to be rude, blunt, friendless and funny.
Little bro Min grows up under the care of our serial killer, psycho Lee Joon-Young…. convinced he was abandoned by his brother.
This is the set up for the show. Big bro Hyeon struggling to regain his memories of his childhood when he returns to Korea, after a string of murders seem to suggest that both his younger brother and psycho Lee Joon-Young may be still alive….
AWESOME, isn’t it? I mean… wow. What a plot!
This is the theme of the show. The uncertainty over what creates evil. Psycho Lee Joon-Young is convinced that some people are born that way, others are created. Big bro Hyeon is convinced all evil is created. Their differing perspectives are battled out over little bro Min (who grows up to be a serial killer). Lee Joon-Young believes Min was born evil, and nothing could have prevented him from turning out the way he did. Hyeon is convinced that it was Lee Joon-Young’s influence over Min 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 little bro Min 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.
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. Hyeon is struggling to figure out who his brother is… and who Lee Joon-Young is. Meanwhile, both men know who Hyeon is but are deceiving him.
As Hyeon begins to form his conclusions of who is who, there a huge shift in power. Their conversations are all veiled threats and doubletalk. They’re all so smart, quoting philosophers at each other, carefully circling each other. It’s mesmerizing television.
In the scene in which Hyeon begins to suspect Lee Joon-Young, they go into his house – which is a collection of clues. There are toys everywhere… keepsakes from the children he’s “saved”? And the 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, the turning illustrating their recognition of each other. 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!” And you know that Hyeon knows it too, but he can’t prove it…
The tension of them having their backs to each other is further pushed shortly after, when Lee Joon-Young comes at him with a razor to his neck…. to cut away the tag of the shirt… but you know he was letting Hyeon know who he was… he gives him so many little clues… just psychotically waiting for him to turn to him with recognition.
This set up is repeated again and again. With how Hyeon discovers Min. With how Hyeon finally exposes himself to Lee Joon-Young, 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…
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 at each other, 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.
Lee Joon-Young is by far the most complicated character – and the actor, Choi Won-Young, was able to convey that eerie psychopathic lack of understanding of emotions perfectly. That emptiness and questioning. Watching him observe the brothers coming back together… both orchestrating it and actively sabotaging it. He’s not sure what he wants. He’s jealous of Min’s relationship with Hyeon. There’s an ongoing conversation between him and Hyeon about what title he should have…. hyeung… ajeossi… certainly not oppa…. he doesn’t fit anywhere. He knows it, and it hurts him. Even though he raised Min, Min just calls him Uncle. It’s tragic, really, his inability to form a family… and his lack of understanding of what a family is.
Speaking of tragic… when Hyeon confirms his brother’s identity, simultaneously confirming that his brother is a serial killer… damn. That was heartbreaking.
In fact, even the serial killers motivations were heartbreaking. Lee Joon-Young went around “rescuing” abused children by killing off their hideously cruel parents. Just as he’d never been rescued… or rather, just as he’d had to rescue himself. And Min went around killing off people who had abandoned people, as he thought he had been abandoned.
Seo In-Guk was outstanding in this show… funny, aloof… tormented…
And when the two brothers finally confront each other, as they are… there’s so much blame and guilt you could cut through it with a knife.
But it also shows the fundamental difference between Min and Lee Joon-Young. Min has something – someone – who can make him feel human. And experience emotions, fully, including guilt and shame and regret and longing. These are things Lee Joon-Young has only been able to experience abstractly… whereas the brothers have their love for each other to ground them, Lee Joon-Young is untethered.
When Hyeon finally reclaims his brother from Lee Joon-Young – drawing a line between them – things get even more complicated. Lee Joon-Young honestly thinks he’s done a marvelous job of raising our little pyschopath Min (and to some extent, he has… but it’s all so questionable when you teach your kid to be a killer, eh?). He’s proudly talking about how well Min has turned out… using their cryptic metaphors because they’re still unwilling to say who they are out loud…. and it’s stunning, how screwed up they all are.
Min’s roots were set with Lee Joon-Young during his formative years. The critical point… when your soul is made. Once you’re formed, can you be reshaped? Where does Min 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 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 see the various parallels to the theme over and over again – what made these people evil? Some of them seem naturally inclined to be so… true monsters who belong in cages. While others are driven to it.
Lee Joon-Young & Min feel confident in their decisions of justice, killing those they feel have wronged others. Hyeon is more 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.
She is the daughter of the prison guard who is accused of helping Lee Joon-Young escape prison. Thus she has spent her life the daughter of a criminal, and ran to the law for solace, becoming a policewoman. In actuality, her father physically abused Lee Joon-Young while he was incarcerated, a crime Lee Joon-Young deemed worthy of death….
As a young girl, she attached herself to Hyeon, the other survivor of Lee Joon-Young – 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 Lee Joon-Young somehow. So she’d kept her distance and methodically stalked him for twenty years.
When he shows up to assist with the cases she’s working on – she 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 Lee Joon-Young and Min representing lawlessness, and Hyeon and Cha Ji-An representing the law. Good and Bad. And all the ambiguous in between.
Cha Ji-An and Hyeon have a great romance, too. 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 and I was glad that they had such a believably slow progression with their romance. He’s always pushing her away and she’s always running right back at him…. but letting someone in has never happened to him before, so he’s wary and uncertain and actually adorably innocent.
She’s also 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 believe it exists. It was actually quite sweet… and lovely.
Of course, Min has mixed feelings about her… being openly jealous of how close she is to his brother. And Lee Joon-Young likes her, being clueless as to why she might not like him back. Until she tries to frame him… and then we get one of the few scenes that show the actual active dark side of Lee Joon-Young. There’s not even a shift – he fluidly leaps to violence as easily as picking up a tea cup.
Both he and Min 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 Lee Joon-Young really shows his scary side.
These four 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 the four other 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 Hyeon the entire show, but begrudgingly respected him. Min Sung-Wook really makes any show better… he’s such a fantastic actor.
Cha Ji-An 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 everyone knows everyone’s secret identity but him… 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 him! I swear… this show…
I liked how every time Lee Joon-Young 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 Hyeon to find his mother’s skeleton. Or giving Cha Ji-An the most fucked up birthday present ever – a map to her father’s body. Min 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 Hyeon 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 – 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 Min’s art studio? Those nest chandeliers?!
And how amazing was the ending of this show??? I loved that neither Min nor Lee Joon-Young was captured! They were both still roaming free… and their fates were still open ended. Such a gorgeous continuation of the opening episode, in which Lee Joon-Young is waiting to see how Hyeon 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 Hyeon 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.