Alice (2020) Early Impressions

As a preamble and an aside, I am fascinated by Kdramaland's endless fascination with Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This has to be the third SK drama (that I've watched) this year that pays homage to that classic work in some fashion. While I can see the unerring affection for Alice in so far as it relates to the exploration of a non-existent fantasy world, I'm always left with the feeling that someone somewhere has missed the point of the original work.

In Kdramaland's latest offering evoking Carroll's madcap tale, "Alice" is thus far not an actual person but an organization or facility (fashioned after the Avengers training headquarters and The Jetsons) that provides a "healing" service by taking its clients back to some pivotal moment in their past in order to prevent some later tragedy. In that regard it has reverberations of 365: Repeat the Year, one of my favourites of 2020. On paper it sounds like a great idea. If one has the capacity to go back and fix the past, why not do it? But of course there's always... the law of unintended consequences to contend with.

The main character here is Joo Won's Park Jin-gyeom who is the offspring of two time travellers. His mother Yoon Tae-yi (Kim Hee-sun) after a mission to grab the ominous Book of Prophecy discovers she's pregnant and opts to remain in 1992 to give birth to her baby and raise him. As a child, Jin-gyeom is diagnosed with some kind of antisocial personality tendency due to a smaller than normal frontal lobe but it has no detrimental effect on his intellect which is above average. Mum's devotion pays off and Jin-gyeom turns out to be a considerate morally upright kid. One night during his late teens, mother Tae-yi aka Park Sun-young is shot by a mysterious intruder with a mysterious weapon and dies. The normally emotionless Jin-gyeom breaks down and grieves for his beloved mother.

Fast forward... adult Jin-gyeom is an outstanding cop having previously demonstrated talent for investigative work in his teens when he solves a suicide case at school. His high school friend and possibly his only friend Do-yeon played by Lee Da-in is a noisy reporter perennially in search of an exclusive. Everyone assumes that they're an item and there's good reason to believe that Jin-gyeom... the stereotypical tsundere lead in some ways... does have feelings for her even while he is oblivious to them.

Soon odd, inexplicable things come to the attention of the police. A child who goes missing for 3 days presumably kidnapped while her mother is on an overseas trip, returns home unharmed, claiming that she was spending time with her mother the entire time. Then a high school kid is bashed to death by a mysterious assailant who speaks cryptically about being 5 years old, prattling off his ID number with braggadocio. These mysterious occurrences are accompanied by the presence of a drone whose technical specifications are beyond the capacity of 2020. The same drone was also present on the night of Mum's death.

The audience is immediately privy to the fact that a slickly run time travelling tourism outfit is behind these events. Presumably anyone with some legitimate grievance make up the clientele. Rather than chasing aliens from other planets, these men (and women) in black drop off and pick up clients once the visit to the past is completed. Jin-gyeom's biological father, Min-hyuk is one of its top agents (or tour guides) although their relationship is not known by either at this stage while each is in hot pursuit of the other.

For a television show, the production values seem to be on the higher side. Two episodes in and there are already movie-like car chases and action sequences. I don't have any complaints about the CGI but I seldom do. The show is intriguing enough that I'm completely engaged with this universe and its diverse cast of characters. I've liked Joo Won since 7th Grade Civil Servant... although I would never recommend that show. He can be relied upon to put on a good performance even if the script goes belly-up along the way. Although it is early days yet to make any definitive declarations, the show is off to a good start and may it remain that way to the end. I am always a tad nervous that these timey wimey K dramas end up going wibbly wobbly.

One of my favourite things so far in this is Jin-gyeom's relationships with the people around him which includes Do-yeon, his team leader (Kim Sang-ho) who raises him after his mother's death and his police partner (Lee Jae-yoon). As someone who is emotionally closed-off, these relationships provide a different perspective of the man in all his shades. I especially like his dynamic with Do-yeon which isn't I suspect, one-sided. I appreciate the fact that she doesn't try to change him or turn him into something manageable. She knows exactly what she's dealing with and she's intelligent enough to accept that the reality of the creature that is Park Jin-gyeom with all his idiosyncrasies. Her persistence and patience over time appears to be paying dividends when she discovers that he's filled his refrigerator with her favourite poisons.

Do-yeon's mini-lecture that nothing is off-limits is suggestive. "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. Be positive Jin-gyeom. Only then will a new doorway open." Whether she's aware of the full extent of what she's saying, these words coming out of her mouth could well be the mantra of Alice and the people behind it. I also get the feeling that the Alice project is populated by individuals with varying agendas. Min-hyuk doesn't seem to know that Tae-yi was killed and has been led to believe she is happily married somewhere in time without him.

The presence of the Book of Prophecy is meant to remind us in all probability that there are trade-offs to time travel and fixing the past more specifically. On some level it seems like a well-intentioned notion to use time travel to alleviate or remove suffering altogether but what price will that exact? There are trade-offs for everything. Already in the two featured cases of these initial episodes, it's clear that going back to the past comes with its own set of ethical issues. Just because one can doesn't necessarily mean that one should.