The short version: I Remember You is one of my favorite dramas to watch for philosophy. It gets a 4/5 on plot, a 5/5 on philosophy and a 6/5 on characters. That last one is not just because of Seo In-guk‘s face (not gonna deny that’s a factor, though). I’d recommend it to anybody, but especially people who like to think while they watch. To know know more about why, read on!
NOTE: When * follows a reference, it will be more specifically included in the “spoilers” section at the end.
Themes: Nature vs. Nurture in our lives; Juxtaposition what makes a monster, what constitutes humanity?
I Remember You official KBS poster from: http://www.koreandrama.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Remember-You-Poster2.jpg
Premise: When Lee Hyun was a child, his brother was kidnapped and his father killed by an unfeeling serial murderer–a monster in every sense of the word. Now years later, he works as a profiler for a South Korean police force–alongside another childhood acquaintance, Cha Ji-an. Rather abruptly, the past he thought he’d left behind comes back to find him. This is his story as he solves crimes, falls in love and rediscovers what it means to be human.
I Remember You does a fantastic job teasing out the nuances of nature, nurture, how they affect us and how changeable–or unchangeable–they are. Throughout the show you’re confronted again and again with questions of who’s really at fault in a situation: should the blame fall solely on the individual, or do surrounding influences and wrong teaching play a part in criminality? I love that the show doesn’t simply answer the question with a one line fits all answer–questions like this are often complex and need to be looked at from all angles before replying. Different characters have different opinions, and some of them really surprised me. The younger brother Min had a different stance on it than his older brother Hyun or the serial killer, Joon-ho*.
Another question in the show concerns humanity. What does having humanity really mean? Does simply following the rules and complying with society’s expectations make us a human? If so, what does that mean for those who’re really scumbag humans but they do everything by the book? Conversely, can we simply say that even if they break the rules they’re human because they have a deep connection to another human–or that they’re doing all of the wrong things because they desire to help some others in need? How can we quantify that, if that is so?–We cannot make it an equation, saying ‘they only love one other person so they must not be human.’ But if they really don’t care about anyone else and feel no regret for those they’ve hurt to help, what then?
I Remember You is actually not the original title of the drama. When it was first planned it was titled Hello, Monster and I think we ought to consider that when watching the show. To me, both titles have something to say about the central character of the show: Min*. He’s easily someone the writers could have glossed over as clean cut tragedy, immoral and unlikable. Instead, he yanks at the viewers hearts and terrifies them completely in the process. He makes you wish that somehow–oh, for a that chance–that he could be good. That any suspicions are wrong and he’s actually a decent, law abiding, non-serial killing everyday younger brother. This works because while he is amoral (sociopathic, really) he isn’t entirely emotionless. He respects his older brother enormously, and that sways his actions. It makes it all the more heartbreaking to watch him struggle between what he perceives as his unchangeable nature and his love for his brother. This is where the different undercurrents play out in the title: Hello, Monster seems to assume that when he makes his choice in the end it isn’t out of any sort of growth or change, just respect for Hyun*. I Remember You is a nostalgic title, thinking back on what used to be–which assumes that something has moved on and progressed, changed in some way. I like the second title I Remember You better because it still gives a nod to Ho-Joon (the true monster) while allowing Min to be redeemed to the audience in some way.
All in all, I liked the storyline (the case of the week was always interesting enough to hold my attention, while not being the focus of the show), I liked the romance (mostly subtle, with some nice human elements) and the camerawork/directing (nothing too creative or wowing, just good quality). All of that allows the show to really shine through where it wanted to: the relationships and life questions. Kudos to you, show, you were great!
*WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS*
I Remember You Episode 8 obtained from: http://www.dramabeans.com/2015/07/i-remember-you-episode-8-2/
*1 Stances on Nature vs. Nurture and responsibility: Min firmly asserts that he was naturally born a “monstrous” human (ep. 14 esp.) but also believes himself accountable for his actions. This doesn’t stop him from believing he did nothing really wrong, however. Hyun holds himself accountable for the way his younger brother developed and so falls more clearly into the nurture side of the argument. Emotion does have to be considered in this however, as he might simply want to take responsibility for his broken family. Jo-hoon at the very beginning believes Hyun was born like him (Ep. 1, jail conversation) but also blames his family for the way he developed. Of the three he has the most balanced view of nature and nurture in the growth of an individual–but he’s also the most twisted in his world view.
*2 Why Min is the central character: not only does Hyun worry about him (eg. ALL the episodes after 7-8), Jo-hoon feels protective of him (general undercurrent, ep. 13-16 esp.), and Ji-an gets anxious about him because she doesn’t want Hyun to get hurt (general undercurrent, ep. 13-16). Beyond that, though, the show spends its last episode largely devoted to Min’s choice. Basically, Min is the character who really undergoes change and development throughout the show. Thank goodness they got a good actor to play him (way to go, Park Bo-Gum!)
*3 Min’s Choice: will he live as a human with his brother, owning up to his mistakes taking the consequences or will he choose to run away and continue with Jo-hoon?
I really liked the way they handled his decision to stay and turn himself in. Just by adding that space between scenes and keeping Min in a contemplative mode showed just how much he was still in conflict over the decision. It keeps his growth real and honest–he doesn’t necessarily feel bad for the murders he committed, but he wants his brother to be proud of him, and he wants to stay with his brother not just watch him or know about him anymore. That more than anything highlights to me that while a new environment or influence does change behavior, our inherent nature resists that change and hangs on. He doesn’t feel yet that what he did was wrong, but does want to accept the punishment for it and is open to learning. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take anything if it means eventually rehabilitating him and recovering his humanity.
About Philosophical Reviews: If there’s one thing I love in the world, it’s a good pop culture and philosophy book. (And a well made choco-raspberry cheesecake, but whatever.) I have several of these books: LOTR, Star Trek, Spiderman… But you all know I love Korean Drama, and so I was frankly miffed when Amazon told me there was no Kdrama and Philosophy book. The closest I could get was Dramabeans ebook, but I need a hard copy of that and there is none yet. So I decided to satisfy my craving by blogging my own, and here it is! You might wonder how these are different from Friday Book/Drama/Manga Rants. Well, rants are more emotional (they come from notes I take while watching/reading/listening), whereas the Phi.Review is my lasting impressions of the drama, book or song. Anyway, thanks for reading!