K-Drama Review: ‘Island’ The Only Impressive Thing About This Dark Fantasy Series Is Actors’ Looks

island kdrama review

Edited by Kim Won Hee
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

island kdrama review
Credit: TVING

Island, the new TVING series based on the comics of the same name by Yoon In Hwan and Yang Kyung Il, has finally taken off its veil. Ever since the announcement of its production, Island received great attention from viewers who hoped for an attractive occult exorcism drama that’ll take over the baton from The Priests and The Guest. The original comics already had its own fandom, and the stellar cast of Kim Nam Gil, Lee Da Hee, Cha Eun Woo, and Sung Joon heightened the anticipation even further. The show, which was launched on December 30th, wrapped up part 1 after releasing episodes 5 and 6 last week.

Won Min Ho (Lee Da Hee), the only daughter of a conglomerate family who came under fire for something she didn’t do, is ordered by her father to “reflect on herself” on Jeju Island. Upon her arrival, light emanates from her body, briefly showing some kind of connection with the island. Soon after, Mi Ho is chased by Jungyumgwi, the evil that has existed on the island since the beginning of time, but the moment she’s killed, Ban (Kim Nam Gil), a half-human half-monster, comes in for her save. Mi Ho hires Ban as her bodyguard against the Jungyumgwi, and just then, exorcist priest Yohan (Cha Eun Woo) lands on Jeju Island with one mission – to protect Mi Ho, the savior in the prophecy.

The biggest thing that stands out in Island is, without a doubt, the actors. Firstly, they look like they’ve just popped out of the comics, showing perfect transformation into the characters and providing a visual impact. In particular, Goongtan (Sung Joon) fits in flawlessly with other actors, so much so that worries over his disheveled silver hair were in vain.

But it’s not just their looks that are impressive. They’ve captured the characters’ charms very well. Kim Nam Gil casually wields a knife and radiates his cool charisma as he hunts down Jungyumgwi, while at the same time subtly revealing emotions closer to affection toward Mi Ho, the reincarnation of Won Jung, the only person who was nice to him in the past. Lee Da Hee also lovingly portrays Mi Ho, a passionate and cheerful woman who also takes good care of the people around her and knows how to get the job done. Cha Eun Woo immaculately pulls off two sides of Yohan, the sacred and cool exorcist who looks perfect in cassock and the cute brother keeping Mi Ho’s side.

island kdrama review
Credit: TVING

However, there are things about Island that even the actors’ performances can’t make up for. Since the original comics had the dark, mysterious fantasy vibe, I half-expected the drama adaptation to take a similar form, but as it turns out, it’s more of a fantasy action series with a much bubbly and light tone. Even the sight of people possessed by Jungyumgwi chasing after Mi Ho isn’t tense enough, and the transition from the bright mood to the dark tone isn’t all that smooth either. As a result, Island becomes one big lump of stories that flows awkwardly and ambiguously. Since the series is released on the OTT platform, which is given more freedom of expression than a work released on TV networks, I wonder what it’d have been if it went for a heavier, more horror-like color.

The repetitive composition at the beginning also contributes to halving the fun. From the moment Mi Ho arrives on Jeju, she becomes the target of Jungyumgwi. And every time she’s caught off guard and whenever she screams for help, Ban shows up out of nowhere to rescue her. The same pattern repeats over and over, which makes the story highly predictable and reduces expectations. So one can’t help but think what it’d have been like had the action stunts with the Jungyumgwi shown a more realistic approach. But trying to capture Ban’s swift action with a sense of speed in camera movements, the scenes become too light, and the awkward visual effect just makes things worse.

Yes, there are many letdowns in Island, but the good news is that it’s not over yet. Ban reunited with Goongtan, his half-human half-monster brother who controls Jungyumgwi, and Mi Ho figured out that she’s the reincarnation of Won Jung, the one who fixes the barrier stone that confines the Jungyumgwi. And then there’s Yohan, who lost his brother again after finally reuniting with him. Will part 2, slated to be released on February 24th, mend the disappointments and have its last hurrah? (6/10)

 

Edited by Kim Won Hee: I am a person who needs more than 24 hours in a day because there are so many things I love. I am amassing various genres in the jewelry box in my heart.

 

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