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[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Signal"


Having a love for suspense, mystery or any other genres outside of romance, family, period and melodrama can be hard when a Korean drama fan. Crime shows are aplenty now, but few really achieve great quality in an enthralling presentation. "Signal" is nothing new. The timeline communication element is reminiscent of works such as Hollywood film "Frequency" and the rest is a suspense and crime series. Yet what makes "Signal" work is something Korean drama creators tend to forget. Quality matters.

Park  Hae-yeong (Lee Je-hoon) is a criminal profiler. After being caught by Cha Soo-hyeon (Kim Hye-soo) for selling celebrity secrets to reporters, he discovers an old two-way radio in a van at the police station's parking lot. The mysterious voice on the other side is detective Lee  Jae-han (Cho Jin-woong) and he knows Hae-yeong. Hae-yeong realizes the busted radio connects him to the past and works with Jae-han to solve cases in the present. Both men soon discover the consequences of altering what has already come to pass.

Soo-hyeon and Hae-yeongJae-han and Soo-hyeon

When I wrote my first look piece on the series, I had a few issues with it. Two of the main ones were the lacking appeal of Hae-yeong's character and the worry over whether the show had a solid plan on how to progress and how to use its time defying element. It is a rare, humbling and hopeful feeling to see those worries proven wrong. Kim Won-seok and Kim Eun-hee-I have created an atmospheric, balanced and thrilling piece of television. This comes from someone who does not give such compliments lightly.

The series has good pacing, its sub-plots and their place in the overarching mystery are well-written, the characters are all important to the plot and get their focus and development. Crime shows which handle different cases sometimes leave the human element underdeveloped for the sake of the main crime-solving, but "Signal" makes the most out of its side and guest characters as well.

This is a series which has made considering its flaws a very hard task. It is important for reviewers to have some level of distance between their emotions for a piece and their opinion of it. When finding myself struggling to really consider things such as plot holes, inconsistencies in the rules of the leads' supernatural communication and the altering of timelines, it was a challenging experience.

Chi-soo and Beom-jooGye-cheol and Heon-gi

In retrospect, perhaps a work which involves viewers emotionally and intellectually enough to not make its flaws obvious and frustrating to them is what makes it a quality work. "Signal" is not flawless at all. Characters get away with things which they should not, the way the past and present interact can get confusing and sometimes lacks clear rules and there are some very predictable twists here and there. What makes the drama a success is not flawlessness, but that these flaws disappear in the shadow of its overall achievements.

"Signal" is a well-crafted and captivating experience. It highlights how far quality in all aspects of a work can take it. There is no reason why appealing to audiences has to only be done in ways which sacrifice that quality and disrespect their intelligence. This would be a much better industry if more creators understood that.

"Signal" is directed by Kim Won-seok, written by Kim Eun-hee-I, and features Lee Je-hoon, Kim Hye-soo and Cho Jin-woong.

Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'


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