If you haven’t yet checked out TVN/Netflix’s new binge-worthy drama Memories of the Alhambra, you have no idea what you are missing out on! I went into Memories expecting to be disappointed, or at least not knowing whether I’ll watch it past the first couple episodes (I didn’t care for the cast and was skeptical of the plot, considering I’m a giant gaming nerd) but I’m now anxiously anticipating new episodes every week, and boy, it’s a painful wait.
IS THIS REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANTASY?
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to become somebody completely different? To visit a world only envisioned as a result of the abilities of new technology, and to become part of a world where you’ll meet characters you’ve only ever dreamed of? Memories of the Alhambra takes a concept very new to the digital age and uses it to its advantage to tell a story that’s definitely one of the first of its kind.
I’d say Memories is quite an acquired taste - you’ll ever love it or you’ll not care for it. It’s early days yet, having only aired 6 out of its 16 episodes so far, but already you could cut through the suspense in this drama with a knife, than any of the other dramas I’m currently watching. And I have to admit, for a drama to keep me on the edge of my seat for 6 episodes running is somewhat of a record.
For those viewers who like a bit of diversity in their dramas, Memories of the Alhambra has it all. It’s classed as a fantasy melodrama, but I’d say it swings more towards a fantasy/sci-fi thriller with an underlying mystery and hints of a slowly brewing romance (though we’ve yet to see any inkling of that just yet!)
MORE THAN JUST KOREA’S ANSWER TO SWORD ART ONLINE
Memories of the Alhambra has a fresh original concept, one that I feel hasn’t really been tackled previously. The story centers around an augmented reality game, which is a technology quite new still to even the most seasoned gamer. (For those interested, more on this below). To say too much would really detract from the experience, as Memories of the Alhambra is appreciated best knowing as little as possible about the plot, but to give you the rough gist;
A developer of a new AR game reaches out to company CEO Yoo Jin-Woo in order to offer him a deal to introduce the new technology to the world. But Jin-woo’s business trip to Granada, Spain, to meet the developer doesn’t quite go as planned. Instead, it led to some mysterious incidents including an altercation with his rival and old friend, and a surprise encounter with Jung Hee-Joo, who runs an old hostel there.
At the heart of the series are our characters, who contribute to the drama's experience just as much as the story itself.
Hyun Bin as Yoo Jin-Woo: The hardworking CEO with a great business sense and co-founder of J-One Holdings, Jin-Woo is strong-willed and competitive. After a mysterious phone-call regarding a business proposition, he sets out to Granada to snatch the deal before his rival and ex-co-founder Cha Hyung-Seok. Although Jin-Woo comes across as quite cynical and fearless, he also has his charms, as well as a softer side that’s not revealed until a little further down the line.
Park Shin-Hye as Jung Hee-Joo: The owner of Bonita hostel, Jung Hee-Joo moved to Spain with her family in order to continue her studies, but had to take on several jobs to support her sister and grandmother after her parents died. She is a very family-orientated and sensible young woman, and highly artistic, considering she used to play classical guitar in the past. Her path gets intertwined with You Jin-Woo after he turns up at her hostel looking for someone. (spoiler: She’s also the sister of Jung Se-Joo, the creator of the AR game).
Park Hoon as Cha Hyung-Seok: The CEO of rival company New Word Soft, and former partner and co-founder of J-One Holdings, Jin-Woo and Hyung-Seok have quite the turbulent past. To reveal why would be a bit of a spoiler, but their relationship broke down after his betrayal. Park Hoon has a lot of difficulties in his personal life and lashes out on those around him but he considers himself a rather proud and opportunistic guy. He becomes the main staple in the story’s progression when things take a bit of an unexpected turn.
Among those who contribute to the star-studded cast include Park Chanyeol as Jung Se-Joo and Min Jin Woong as Seo Jung Hoon, as well as a whole host of other supporting characters who are integral to the story.
The drama itself prides itself on its stunning cinematography, use of high-end computer generated graphics, exciting fast-paced storytelling, and a unique theme. So far it’s managed to captivate viewers from the moment it began until its current episode (at the time of writing this article, episode 6 was just aired) and I have faith that if it continues this way it’ll continue to keep viewers’ hooked until the very end.
The drama is the brainchild of director Ahn Gil-Ho of Stranger, and writer Song Jae-Jung who recently penned W and whose previous works include the highly acclaimed Queen In Hyun’s Man. I only recently discovered who was at the helm of this series, and now I’m even more excited to see where the series will lead. Being set in Granada for a good chunk of the drama also helps contribute to the drama’s unique atmosphere, and charming setting, which definitely creates a different feel to what viewers may be used to.
THE WORLD, BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT
So what is Augmented Reality? In the simplest terms, AR is an interactive technology used to generate digitalized information over elements within the real world. One such recent example is Pokemon Go! but AR has actually been around for a little while, though perhaps didn’t take off so much in previous instances (examples are the somewhat popular Amiibo collectibles for the Nintendo systems, and Kid Icarus AR cards on the 3DS). In Memories of the Alhambra, one such developer has created an interactive world that is accessed via some smart lenses designed specifically for the game, where all the information and gaming elements are layered over the real world by using the existing environment. Of course, Memories may indeed be an exaggeration of what could potentially be a future development, but it's definitely credible in its representation. Though it’s hard to believe we’ll all be kitted out with the latest high-tech smart lenses that’ll instantly be able to change the worldview as we see it, apps and programs have indeed made this possible, so it only feels like a matter of time. After all, there was a time long ago, where the internet was even a distant dream….
I’m not sure why the ratings in Korea have been so low for this series, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re at all interested in gaming, or even just a fan of suspense dramas. I’ve already recommended this series to a couple of people who have as a result told me they’ve really got hooked, which I’m glad to know! I think the series is best marathoned when all the episodes are available, but tbh part of the fun is waiting every week and anticipating the new episodes!
And as someone who feels like music and soundtracks definitely contribute to the dramas overall feel, here is a beautiful performance of the Memories of the Alhambra song as covered by Ana Vidovic, to get you in the right mood.
WATCH THIS IF...
- You like gaming (or even if you don’t!)
- You love Hyun Bin (and his sexy smirking smile)
- You like suspenseful fantasy dramas with a touch of romance.
- You're looking for something different from the usual.
As of now, I can only highly recommend this series, even for the non-gamer.