Sisyphus: The Myth (2021) First Impressions
My youngest said this when asked about her impressions of this new offering from Netflix, "I like science fiction, I like fantasy and I like mystery. This checks all the boxes." Well, she's undoubtedly a chip off the old block so it bears to reason that this latest out of K dramaland would also appeal to her mother. When I saw the first trailers in December (was it?) it was obvious that this would be entirely up my alley. Without any kind of context, what I saw said "science fiction" in flashing lights. I happened to mention that on Janghaven Forums which generated some discussion about locating it generically. At the time it was a mix of the action sequences and the technology that gave off a sci-fi vibe. Plus the fact that I'd watched a couple of episodes of the C drama Light On Series: Sisyphus (2020) earlier on which had a potentially intriguing Groundhog Day type of storyline. The C drama showed promise but I'd read on MDL that somebody managed to completely botch the resolution -- which didn't come entirely as a surprise -- so I immediately ended my relationship with that show.
Although Sisyphus arguably seems like the most expensive looking science fiction K drama that I've seen since Alice, it also feels like the most raucous and... fun. There's a surprising lack of brooding moodiness that has characterized the others. Sure, there's a bit angst because the protagonist Han Tae-sul is carrying around the dead family baggage trope with an unhealthy cocktail of pills. Lots of them as a matter of fact. However, there's a surprising number of comedic moments. Bleakly humorous perhaps but it could be a testament to my sense of humour that the drama sends me chuckling now and again. There's enough nuttiness in these early episodes to satisfy action adventure fans but Tae-sul himself is an idiosyncratic figure, patterned after many a tech entrepreneur... no names mentioned. While the CEO of Quantum and Time adopts a larger-than-life persona, he is undoubtedly brilliant to have made it as far as he has. At least that's evident from all the MacGyvering and obvious sciency stuff that the audience is privy to. The playboy persona seems a bit contrived, calculated to be a cover story but at this stage I'm loath to jump to too many hard and fast conclusions. The man clearly has problems but overall I find him likeable. And as I've said it elsewhere, Cho Seung-woo is rocking it and honestly, it feels like he's having the time of his life, probably ecstatic to break out of the Si-mok restraints of the Stranger franchise.
Han Tae-sul is a fabulously rich guy who despite being surrounded by the usual trappings of wealth is really a nerd at heart. He's very hands-on despite having a man about the house that drives him around and a bestie who makes sure that the business engine continues humming along as he placates the conservative pencil pushers who insist that Tae-sul take more interest in the bottom line. Tae-sul is the sort of character I recognize (and am fond of) having being surrounded by nerds my entire life. But he's been thrown into the mind boggling situation of wondering now if his deceased brother Tae-sun is really ashes in an urn. And we know that he's about to be, if he isn't already, cast into a situation whereby his sense of normality will be challenged on every front. There's little question that some kind of temporal device is at play here but the drama is being cunningly mysterious about the mechanics so far.
Park Shin-hye as the visitor from a dystopian future seems to be more in her element here than I last saw her in Memories of the Alhambra. I'm of the view that she's one of those actors that does better when she plays off stronger co-stars. That said the action hero role seems to suit her and probably not having a lot of dialogue to contend with helps. Her character Seo-hae predictably has some connection with Tae-sul, possibly romantic but portends doom. There are these fascinating dream-like sequences interwoven all throughout which leads me to wonder if they are oracles or memories ie. flashbacks or flashforwards. Some appear to be memories while others seem out of sync with events we've been witnessed to. Without an outline of the bigger the picture, we can only speculate at this point.
My enthusiasm for the drama in part comes from an abiding affection for dystopian narratives. The whole idea that the world seems fine but there's a hidden conspiracy in the background is always something to look forward to. A favourite which is patterned after 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 is the Christian Bale 2002 film, Equilibrium which has one of the best gun fight sequences I've ever seen. A world where anything that threatens the equilibrium of the society is quietly eliminated and emotions are controlled by the mandatory use of drugs. It's quite eerie in how topical it's become particularly in this current situation where governments are discussing mandatory vaccinations and policing them.
If there's any criticism of Sisyphus to be had, it would be the cartoony action sequences. However, as the tech/weaponry that's at play here isn't clear I am hesitant about being too critical. It might be that the guns don't shoot fatal bullets and the Control Bureau (has resonances of Men in Black here) can somehow teleport from one location to the next. There's also been some criticism of the plane incident which seemed unnecessary prolonged. It did seem to be long but on hindsight I think there was method in dwelling on Tae-sul's antics and interactions during that near-death experience.
Overall the drama shows a great deal of promise. My family likes it and I like it. Which says a lot considering we don't watch a lot of dramas together. There is a lot to like, production values are high and I'm getting nice Circle and Nine vibes.