K-Drama Review: ‘Awaken’: Now I See the Fun They Hid So Well

Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

Credit: tvN

Awaken is a drama that starts with the weight actor Namgung Min carries with his name and the curiosity sparked by the mystery related to the incident from 28 years ago. The fact that it’s a new project chosen by the “go-to actor” Namgung Min ensures faith in us, and the question about how the past and the present connected through the mysterious deaths raises expectations. Unfortunately, however, we have to endure quite a long time before these expectations are finally met. The mystery, which has been covered in veil from the start, only wanders about the deep fog, providing fatigue to viewers rather than exhilarating thrill.

Credit: tvN

The early development deliberately puts a hole in the mystery. After showing White Night Village being plagued by a mysterious string of events that shook it to its core 28 years ago, the drama jumps to the current days where tension begins to form as Jamie Layton (Lee Chung Ah), a criminal profiler from the FBI, joins Do Jung Woo (Namgung Min), who is hot on the “forewarned serial murder case.” It doesn’t take a genius to link the mysterious events happening in the present with the secrets behind the bizarre events in a village 28 years ago, and Do Jung Woo and Jamie are speculated to be the survivors of the village, but the plot shows no further progress.

Instead, the drama highlights a dark and ambiguous aura and unclear boundaries. The victims of a serial murder case all show something in common in the fact they died after boldly acting out anomalous behaviors as if they were under hypnosis (even though they all committed suicide, no one shows signs of fear about death), and Do Jung Woo and Jamie heightens the tension as they look at each other with doubtful eyes. And this tension reaches its peak when Jamie is convinced that Do Jung Woo is the serial killer, putting viewers in a world of confusion. The incidents tail one after another, and the characters are in clear conflict, but there is not a single solid clue to solve this mess. On top of that, the uncertain romance between Do Jung Woo and Gong Hye Won (Seolhyun) only disperses viewers’ concentration, while lone hacker Moon Jae Woong (Yoon Sun Woo) only waltzes around the plot as he is all about hiding his identity.

Credit: tvN

Perhaps it’s because so many things have been covered with thick veils. The process of unveiling every mystery feels like shock therapy. Do Jung Woo became a prime suspect, then was declared terminally ill. This is not the end. He was eventually revealed to be the informant who sent warning messages to reporter Lee Ji Wook (Yoon Kyung Ho) (officially, he is a fugitive) and the hunter who has been gunning for the White Night Foundation. Moon Jae Woong shows such a big gap as a person who went from being a survivor of the experiment to a multiple-personality serial killer. The mysterious White Night Foundation was revealed to be the house of human experiments on children, and Gong Hye Won’s father Gong Il Do (Kim Chang Wan) turned out to be the head researcher who conducted these experiments. Of course, these truths surface in the process of digging up the cases, but how they all hit us at once like a tsunami is somewhat baffling.

When this desultory story starts to focus in on the White Night Foundation, the drama is outlined as a narrative of an anti-hero, rather than just being limited to a mystery crime genre. Do Jung Woo, the experiment victim and the survivor of the White Night Village, uses all means possible to expose the truth behind the White Night Foundation, which victimized him and countless children. In particular, under the stress of being cornered by the police and the foundation, his power to use his super brain is now manifested into physical ability. The same goes for Jamie and Gong Hye Won. The more Jamie digs into the case, the closer she will get to the memory she lost 28 years ago, and Gong Hye Won, who always had a strong sense of duty as a police, will not be able to overlook her father’s atrocities. And the opposite of them, there stand Moon Jae Woong, who began his actions with hostility towards the world and the White Night Foundation, and the rich and powerful sponsored White Night Foundation.

The drama has finally found its rhythm. Although the preheating process to reach the core of the mystery took longer than expected, the curiosity over how the suspicions that have been scattered will be resolved comes forward. Can Awaken satisfy the viewers who have been enduring the rather dull beginning in the end? On the premise of what the drama shown in the turning point continues, I am looking forward to the rest of the story of Do Jung Woo, the special investigative team and Jamie as they confront White Night Foundation and Moon Jae Woong.

Verdict: The story that expanded from murder mystery to anti-hero epic (6/10)

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Edited Hong Hyun Jung: K-content guide who publishes various articles for people to enjoy Korean movies and dramas deeper and richer. I’ll introduce you to the works that you can laugh, cry and sympathize with.

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