Memories of the Alhambra Review
Not since Goblin has a drama I’ve been so apathetically unwilling to drop
been so wildly frustrating to watch. Like W: Two Worlds, Memories of Alhambra is a high concept sci-fantasy by screenwriter Song Jae Jung with a promising set up and a charismatic protagonist caught in an intriguing dilemma. But like her previous drama, it completely fails to deliver on this set up through either laziness or lack or foresight, leaving a bad taste in your mouth that overshadows any redeeming qualities the story might have had.
There are a few elements of the drama that worked, for a while at least. The pacing is pretty poor throughout so it takes a while to get rolling, but once we reached the “big hook” around the end of episode 3, I was genuinely curious to find out where all this was going. Pretty much 100% of the credit for that goes to the interesting core concept of a video game that consumes its players and regurgitates them as soulless, murderous NPCs who hunt you day and night. Oh and of course the character of Jin Woo, who was trapped in a genuinely fascinating personal hell and transforms over the course of the story into a haunted, hollow-eyed, walking disaster of a man. And Hyun Bin in this role elevated the sheer aesthetic suffering of his character to a nearly religious experience. This drama’s sadistic commitment to the misery of its main character is truly something to behold.
But that’s where the nice things I can say about this drama stops.
About one-third of this show is a makjang corporate melodrama–consumed Jin Woo’s ex-wives and ex-friend and horrible surrogate father and corporate strategizing–that has almost no connection to the AR game part of the plot (aka, the only good part of the plot). It could be substituted for almost anything else or lifted out of the drama in its entirety without anything being lost. But then I suppose the story would have been too thin to sustain itself.
Speaking of being too thin to sustain itself, rarely have I watched a drama with a romantic subplot that gave as little of a shit about existing as this one does. No effort was exerted on any level to make the love story convincing or to incorporate it into the core plot. I honestly feel sorry for Park Shin Hye. I wouldn’t even call myself a PSH fan, but she is utterly wasted in this role. It was like her character was included purely to check a box or hit a quota, and the writer actively resented having to give her anything to do.
But the sci-fantasy plot and even the male lead had both basically checked the fuck out by the final week of the run, with Jin Woo hardly bothering to make an appearance in the conclusion of his own story except in flashback, and the AR mysteries left largely and infuriatingly unexplained to the very end. So all we were left with were the perfunctory romance and the boring corporate maneuvering.
This drama has so little respect for the intelligence of its audience I don’t know whether to conclude that SJJ has officially stopped caring or that something went horribly wrong behind the scenes that I don’t know about. Either way, I felt downright insulted by the absurdity, the sheer half-assedness of the finale. Memories of the Alhambra is edited in the most bizarre, amateurish fashion. Scenes unfold in a confusing non-chronological order that is as unintuitive as it is cheap and manipulative. I found myself wondering if the original script had more punch and vigor, but the incompetent editing cut the life out of it. However, the ending made me suspect instead that the editor was trying to save a failed story that was beyond repair.
Would I recommend Memories of the Alhambra? No. It was in irretrievable waste if everyone’s time. Whether this drama died in the planning phase or on the cutting room floor, the only we can know for certain is that it’s dead. 4/10
Memories of the Alhambra Review, Memories of the Alhambra Review