One of the few time travel shows I had seen ever, Nine piqued my interest with its mysterious flair for storytelling. It was ambitious, but never too showy about it. I really enjoyed the drama, and though it could have been a shorter series, it never felt too draggy. I think that’s the charm of tvN dramas – because they never quite hit the hour mark, they feel so short and can drag out story lines longer without making it feel more burdensome to the viewer. Spoilers abound with a discussion below.
The drama follows reporter Park Sun Woo, who travels to Nepal to pick up the body of his dead older brother Park Jung Woo. He discovers that his older brother was in possession of an incense stick that allowed one to travel 20 years back in time in increments of 30 minutes at most. Sun Woo believes that his brother never got his chance to be happy and marry the girl of his dreams, because of their father’s disapproval, so he goes back in time to let his brother have a second chance. He also tries to save their father from an untimely death in the process. However, all that fails when his father still dies, and his brother’s marriage completely changes the future.
Sun Woo ends up unhappy, but he has 9 sticks to help get it right again. With each travel back in time, he sometimes makes it worse for his future, but it’s all in an attempt to right the wrongs in the past, and hope for a better future. Twists and turns abound, as Sun Woo’s decisions get him in dangerous situations. He does start off having a brain tumor, but it eventually disappears once he tells his younger self to be more vigilant about his health, and detects it early. Sun Woo finally ends up in a fatal car accident that leads to one last twist I certainly was not expecting.
The drama’s time-travel logic is linear but a closed time-line. It’s linear in that every single thing Sun Woo makes causes a butterfly effect and can vastly change the future. It strangely creates a parallel universe as well. Because Sun Woo makes himself known to past versions of other characters – and the past version of himself – they make decisions that he can no longer predict. As they make those decisions, it simultaneously alters the present versions’ memories. The present characters become hopeless and lost until they gain that memory that explains how they reached their present state.
However, it’s also a closed time-line because from the very beginning, we see how the drama will end. When Jung Woo dies on the mountain, we see a shadow standing over him, but never see who it is. In the first timeline (the one of the whole drama’s) we learn that Jung Woo dies, and propels Sun Woo on this journey that ends with his death in the past. But because of adult-Sun Woo’s actions, young-Sun Woo still ends up on his fated career path as a journalist, and on a fated romance with Min Young. It brings them all the way to the present, and young-Sun Woo eventually learns that adult-Sun Woo died in the past, allowing him to pave the way to a new future. And to take control of that future, he ends up being the shadow that saves his brother from freezing in the mountain in the first episode. We are then left to assume that Sun Woo ends up happily with his brother and woman beside him.
From the start, we’re already watching two parallel universes that affect each other. Had we thought of it, we would have known that Jung Woo never really died – but he had to die in one universe for the other universe to exist. Sun Woo also had to die so that his young self could lead the life he never had. In this drama’s reality, you could have just had one chance to make it all right – go to the past, tell your young self what not to do, and then die so that your young self has the chance to change your futures. But the incense sticks toyed with man’s greed – by giving nine chances, it gave Sun Woo eight too many times to make it right.
I was shocked by the last three episodes by all the twists that suddenly sprung up. I didn’t understand how the stick just chose not to send him to the future. Did it just know magically that it was the last stick, and refused to send him back? Since when did the incense stick break its own rules about time travel? Then they had to kill off Sun Woo in the past. Based solely on character motivations, I get it; Sun Woo had messed things up so much in the past that he was a prime target for Jin Cheol. But they killed him off and gave all of us nearly no hope for a better future.
But then, what happened to the present time that we knew about? What happened to Min Young, Jung Woo, and Young Hoon, all left to grieve over the loss of Sun Woo? Where do they go from here? And if Sun Woo was stuck in the past, how did we even end up with all of them at the wedding between him and Min Young when he was never going to be there?! If he changed the future in such a way that would lead to their marriage, how come he couldn’t return? Did the future of marriage happen on the condition that he still did all that time traveling up to the hour of their wedding?
Or is that wedding supposed to be connected to the future of young-Sun Woo when he grows up? If so, it wouldn’t make sense because they all acted and reacted on the assumption that they were expecting adult-Sun Woo to come back.
Despite the hope for a better future – because young-Sun Woo manages to avoid all the mistakes adult-Sun Woo made, I felt strangely unsatisfied with the ending because I had all those questions. While the idea of parallel universes was intriguing, I found it sometimes frustrating as each character gained a new memory. It felt like things were getting a bit out of hand because nothing was happening in a proper order anymore, and I admit I was getting confused on who knew what. Jung Dong Hwan (who played Jin Cheol) was painful to watch because he over-acted every single “new memory zap” scene. (And to think he was tolerable in You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin!) I couldn’t believe the ending was the ending, because it looked too easy. In the end, all it took was one incense stick, one visit, and just one chance to get it right.
However, I understand that it was a journey we had to get through with Sun Woo, and that it wasn’t exactly easy. He had to learn his lesson 9 times over, and he did it at the expense of his life. And because it was written in such a way where we got new developments with each time travel, I didn’t feel frustrated while watching the drama as he kept getting it wrong. I always thought that future selves were not supposed to meet past selves because that would severely mess up the timeline, but I guess in this case it worked out for the better.
On a note about acting, I have found Lee Jin Wook more tolerable and better with each drama I see him in. I enjoyed him here far more than I enjoyed him in I Need Romance 2012, and I loved his chemistry with Jo Yoon Hee. Right up there in favorite characters is Lee Seung Joon, who played his frantic best friend Young Hoon. I loved every moment this guy had a freak out session because – in a way – he acted just like I would. And he’s God-fearing, which makes me crack up too. I was most annoyed with Jung Dong Hwan – so annoyed with him – and yet I enjoy him so much in You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin as the loving father of three girls.
The writing-directing team of this drama also did Queen In Hyun’s Man, which I have heard numerous times is awesome. And no – I have yet to watch it, which I think helps because I can watch this drama and not compare time travel methodologies. I don’t know if it handles the time travel better, but I’m curious how they implemented it in Queen In Hyun’s Man. I hope it’s better; this one wasn’t bad, but it certainly felt a little clunky.
Verdict: 7/10. Overall, I enjoyed this thriller, but it’s not completely perfect. It certainly had its moments of comedy – which I really treasured – and that made up for the time travel.
If anyone has ideas or opinions on the time travel aspect of this drama, I am really curious to hear your thoughts and see if you could clarify it better for me.