When I first heard about the Korean remake of Life on Mars, I was really sceptical about it being properly done, as Korea doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to remakes and I loved the original British show. Happy to be proven wrong in this case. 🙂 Korean LoM is very good indeed. They kept the original framework, even some of the more iconic scenes, but filled it with plenty of local color. The story felt at the same time familiar and new. This is one of the rare cases where the marriage of original content and Korean flavor works like a charm.The story is basically the same. While chasing a serial killer a modern day detective gets into an ‘accident’. He wakes up in 1988 Insung, which oddly has the same feel as 1973 Manchester, and has to figure out what’s going on in order to get back home. The end of 80’s in Korea is still an era of rough policing methods, like beating up the suspects. The more scientific methods have just started to be introduced into mainstream police procedures, misogyny runs rampant and no-one’s heard of political correctness. Information gathering is hands-on as there is no going on-line to help you out and the fastest way to find out something is often just legging it.
The Violent Crimes Unit 3 at the Insung Seobu Police Station is a bunch of misfits lead by boisterous and larger than life Kang Dong Chul, wonderfully portrayed by Park Sung Woong. He is the heart and soul of his little ‘kingdom’ and his underlings are fiercely loyal to him. The actors portraying the rest of the Unit 3 cops do a bang up job too, but Go Ah Sung as Na Young is the stand out. I adored Na Young! Go Ah Sung is a fine young actress and I’ve loved her in all of the roles I’ve seen her in so far. The main characters feel very familiar as well, albeit somewhat “softer” round the edges compared to their British counterparts. This is especially evident in the character of magne Nam Shik, who is very much a clueless baby compared to Chris in the original. And Dong Chul is just a big teddy bear wrapped up in a gruff exterior, at least when it comes to other people than the perps.^^ Something Gene Genie certainly wasn’t. I like Jung Kyung Ho as an actor and he does a great job as the somewhat cold and withdrawn stickler-to-the-rules Tae Joo, but he doesn’t have the nervous energy and edgy intensity of John Simm as Sam. Well, Tae Joo is a different brand of detecitve and JKH fits the bill perfectly.
Nifty character descriptions originally pinched from Wiki, with corrections and additions of me own.^^. I had fun translating parts of the profiles from the OCN site, though I have no idea how accurate they are, ha:
Jung Kyung Ho as Han Tae Joo (Sam)
A brilliant, principled modern day detective who prefers to rely on data and evidence rather than people. His fiancé got tired of his by-the-book personality and left him and this personality trait also got him demoted. Due to a suspicious accident while chasing a serial killer, he wakes up in the past.
Park Sung Woong as Kang Dong Chul (The Guv, Gene Hunt)
Head of the Violent Crimes Unit. Seobu Station’s “Wild Boar”. Flagrantly does as he pleases and damn the routines… Even though incidents are never ending, he is excellent at solving cases due to his stubborn way of investigating. Once he sinks his teeth into a case, he won’t let go till the end. His warm heart makes it possible for him to honestly ease victims’ pain. He is tolerant and knows how to take his junior colleagues under his wings.
Go Ah Sung as Yoon Na Young (Annie)
An enthusiastic PC who joined the police force with dreams of becoming a detective. But, in reality she is “Miss Yoon” who arranges investigation data, makes coffee, answers the phone and even takes care of the laudry for detectives on stake out. However, instead of complaining, she has her own way of developing her skills.
Oh Dae Hwan as Lee Yong Gi (Ray)
A police sergeant in the violent crimes unit. He is described as uneducated, obstinate and with a nasty temper. A powerhouse who chases, beats up and seizes on his own. Living with a chip on his shoulder, he pours the bent up anger on culprits.
Noh Jong Hyun as Jo Nam Sik (Chris)
The youngest detective on the team. A slow to act, clueless rookie. Finds dealing with cases stifling but is meticulous, gentle and gets along with anyone.
I really loved the way they managed to insert some of the cases from the original show in the narrative but in a way that made them very much local. It was fun trying to spot what bits of plot were imported. There’s also some great acting from the supporting cast. It was an especially nice surprise to see Kwak Jung Wook back in the small screen and in a pretty important supporting role too. He’s such an underappreaciated actor. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in the future. The British show had two 8 epi seasons, S1 culminating in the team solving the case about Sam’s father. The Drama on the other hand has cases lifted from both seasons randomly distributed in it’s narrative and also it’s own season long major arc. As it is, Korean LoM has just as many episodes as the orignal, forming a full season. The original show had a wonderful OST and even though the k-version didn’t do too badly on this aspect, they didn’t utilise musical cues as much, which is a bit of a pity. Well, it’s better thant the grating BGM that have ruined many a recent kdrama. 🙂
****** MAJOR SPOILERS TO THE ENDING BEYOND THIS POINT ******
So, they decided to go with the BBC ending. Maybe because I’ve already seen that version, I’m a liiiiiiittle bit disappointed. They gave a very plausable explanation for why it was that particular time and place Tae Joo’s ‘coma world’ was set in and with those particular people. Something the original show never truly managed to do. TPTB could have given him a big enough reason to get on with his life in the “present” and to put the lessons learned in the “past” to good use. I would actually have loved Tae Joo to become his timeline’s “Dong Chul” in his own way and to form an awesome criem fighting team who’d stick to each other no matter what. They could also have gone with the “Chinese route” and made Tae Joo’s soul/conciousness/what’d you want to call it, to actually time travel to the past and into the body of a detective who had just been transferred to Insung and happened to be in an accident. 😀 That the said detective was also named Han Tae Joo would not have been too much of a streach, as there are plenty of people who have the same exact name in Korea.
The ending of the Korean version is ambiguous and open to interpretation, just like is the case with the British one. It also looks like TPTB have left a door open for a possible 2nd season, especially with that epilogue. Lot of people hated the original’s ending but even though I didn’t really like it that much myself at the time, I decided to go along and just accept it, as I really wanted Sam to somehow find a way to stay in the “past” with The Team. I suppose what most of the viewers objected to was Sam apparently killing himself, but I always saw his waking up from the coma as not real. It was just another aspect of the coma world, a sort of “half-way-house” to give him time to figure out where he really wanted to be. And he choose the reality he felt the most comfortable and happy in. It seems to me that the k-verson has the same idea. Despite of what Ashes to Ashes claims, I don’t see Sam’s (or Tae Joo’s) ‘leap of faith’ as a suicide but as the point he let go and his physical body finally died. His soul kept on living in whatever dimenson the “coma world” happens to be in. That’s my take and I’m sticking to it. 🙂