A bit over the top on the melodrama and fantasy side but quite interesting on the mystery side. Different times and different people are creatively blended into one in the new Kdrama Born Again.
Three people’s fate are intricately intertwined – even after death. Thirty year old lies, a trail of dead bodies, and false accusations are brought to light when the mummified remains of an unknown man are unearthed. Will the truth concerning a persistent detective, a sweet bookstore owner, and a convicted killer finally be revealed after laying buried for three decades?
Main characters in the 1980s:
Gong Ji-Cheol has had a horrible life and still carries the scars he received as a child from emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother. He is aware of the fact that his father is a notorious serial killer because he has seen some of the corpses with his own eyes. The paintings of the dead women the evil man has created are proudly displayed on the walls of an old, abandoned school, like trophies on a mantle piece. Although Ji-Cheol’s father has tried to convince him to begin his own killing spree so he can experience the wonderful feeling that accompanies murder, Ji-Cheol has been able to keep his inner beast in check and refrain from causing harm to anyone. However, desperation and love has a way of making people do what they otherwise would have never even imagined. Then, one fateful day, Ji-Cheol is accused of having committed all of his father’s murders.
Jung Ha-Eun lost her parents in a car accident when she was an adolescent and spent the rest of her teenage years in an orphanage. She is gentle, kind, and always able to see the good in others. She feels sorry for pitiful Ji-Cheol and does her best to empathize with him. Ha-Eun owns and operates a used bookstore called Old Future and enjoys reading Wuthering Heights in her spare time. Although she loves Detective Cha Hyeong-Bin, Ha-Eun is reluctant to accept his marriage proposal because of her weak heart. She knows she could die at any moment and doesn’t want Hyeong-Bin to go through the pain of being a widower.
Cha Hyeong-Bin is a tenacious young detective who is 100% certain Gong Ji-Cheol is the yellow umbrella serial killer he has been chasing – he just doesn’t have proof. He’s also sure his girlfriend, Jung Ha-Eun, is the murderer’s next target so he does everything in his power to keep her safe. Since his sweetheart owns a used bookstore, he wrote his marriage proposal at the bottom of a page on many different books.
Main characters in the present:
Cheon Jong-Beom is the apple of his mother’s eye simply because his genes coming from the top 1% in the country (he was conceived from a sperm donor). The young man is brilliant. He received the highest score for the comprehensive exams of basic medicine in the nation and is considering forensic medicine as a career. Jong-Beom is also amazingly talented and has been able to paint pictures worthy of being shown in galleries since he was only four years old. He comes from a wealthy and prominent family – his father is the chief prosecutor and his mother is the medical school’s foundation’s director. He has a younger brother who is jealous of him and has been slowly trying to poison him. Jong-Beom is a second-year medical student who suffers from alexithymia, so he pretty much keeps to himself. When he was accused of killing a female classmate, at the young age of 15, his parents changed his name to avoid trouble in the future. Jong-Beom fell for Jung Sa-Bin, one of his professors, the minute he saw her.
Jung Sa-Bin is a busy young woman. Aside from being a professor at Seoyeon University Medical School she also works at the NFS (National Forensic Service) identifying the remains of people by studying their bones. Her team uses 3D to reconstruct skelletons that have been discovered in order to identify who the person was. She is sympathetic to the remains, often making up stories about who they were or what their life was like. Her father was once a prison guard but is now living in a medical facility because of dementia. Her two uncles are ex-convicts. They absolutely adore her and watch out for her on her father’s behalf. Sa-Bin is positive, helpful, self-sacrificing, and able to empathize with others. Eighteen years ago she was the first person to receive a heart transplant from a death-row inmate.
Prosecutor Kim Soo-Hyuk is a pretty shady character. The man wants those he deems criminals off the street and doesn’t mind breaking the law to achieve that goal. He has imprisoned people by fabricating warrants and one person even reminded him, “You make things out of what doesn’t exist and make things that do exist disappear.” He unashamedly orders a person at the NFS to testify that 30 year old bones are really that of a person killed just recently in order to convict the man he thinks is a murderer. Jung Sa-Bin is appalled at his dishonesty and refers to him as “Formaldehyde Face.” Soo-Hyuk is under the impression Jong-Beom killed a woman and thinks Sa-Bin may be his next target. Although Prosecutor Kim is engaged to a violinist who comes from a rich and influential family, after he saves Sa-Bin’s life a couple times he begins to have feelings for her.
Jang Ki-Yong, the 27 year old actor who plays both Kong’s Ji-Cheol and Cheon Jong-Beom, began his entertainment career as a model. He even won the Fashion Model Award at the 2014 Asian Model Awards. In May of last year he became the model and face of Sprite Korea. (I love Sprite.) You can read more about him in my review of Come and Hug Me.
Twenty-six year old Jin Se-Yun is the actress who plays the parts of Jung Ha-Eun and Jung Sa-Bin. You can read about her in my Selection: The War Between Women review.
Lee Soo-Hyuk, who plays the characters Cha Hyeong-Bin and Kim Soo-Hyuk, debuted as a runway model in 2006 and even did cover shoots for several top fashion magazines. He later appeared in some music videos and then he switched his name around (from Lee Hyuk-Soo to Lee Soo-Hyuk) and became an actor. He has received several modeling awards as well as a Best New Actor award for his role as a frightening vampire in The Scholar Who Walks the Night. You can read a little more about him by clicking on my review of The Man Living in Our House. (By the way, did you notice one of the characters he plays in this drama has his name – Soo-Hyuk?)
A huge shout-out goes to actor Jung In-Gyeom for playing the serial killer Gong In-Woo so convincingly. His personality is bone-chilling and his appearance is absolutely terrifying – the stuff nightmares are made of, folks. He doesn’t appear in the story often but when he does show up the entire scene is unsettling.
How is the show’s ending? Well, three words can answer that question – Stairway to Heaven. (Such a classic melodrama.) Although I saw that show so long ago (and cried my eyes out) it so easily popped into my head as Born Again began to come to a close. I’m not telling you any more than that.
This drama’s main theme is reincarnation. Dying and then coming back as someone else – is it possible? If you could come back as someone else would you be able to recall the details of your past life? And would people you knew from your past life be able to recognize you because your new self would look just like your old self? And would you reside in the same general area as where you had lived before? Just for fun, think about those kinds of things before you watch the show. The logistics of this story were hard for me to accept but I just kept telling myself, “It’s make-believe Sara. Fantasy. Just go with it.” Let go of the this-could-never-happen-in-a-million-years thought and Born Again is quite entertaining.
Although the mystery is very good, the show failed to answer some of my questions. In my opinion, things weren’t adequately explained concerning what happened after all hell broke loose on the snowy mountain top. I wanted to hear the particulars as to what transpired after everyone was down, but precise details on that subject were never given. That bothered me.
I learned two things while watching this drama – in South Korea those who commit a crime by aiding and abetting others will receive the same sentence as those who have committed the crime, and police officers can’t have tattoos. I’m about 99.9% sure neither of those things are true in America.
Born Again’s soundtrack has a definite sad/tragic feel to it (because the story is pitiful) and the title of the songs prove that – A Flower That Didn’t Bloom, Dream, Because I Miss You, You Can’t Come to Me, Fate, Like the Stars and the Moon. I wondered about Dream and Like the Stars and the Moon and then realized – a dream is something that seems so real but actually isn’t, and the stars and moon are far away and therefore unattainable. So even the titles that don’t sound pessimistic, really are. The soundtrack sports musical artists Kim Yong-Jin, Sondia, JeA, GB9, Lee Chan-Sol, and Kim Bo-Hyung.
The background that stood out the most to me was the peaceful, snowy mountain top that is disrupted by hatred, fear, desperation, and misunderstandings. The area is quiet, white, and even (no footprints) – in other words pure. And then the ill-fated triangle shows up and everything changes – the silence is broken with screams and a gun shot, the white snow becomes stained with blood, and the evenness of the freshly fallen snow is ruined with footprints and bodies. Watch carefully for that same scene to reappear in the present – at the abandoned school.
Although Born Again isn’t perfect, it is entertaining and worth 16 hours of your drama time. Fantasy, romance, mystery – they blend together quite well in this story. Give it a try.
Interesting, original career – forensic archeology
Jung In-Gyeom’s excellent acting as serial killer Gong In-Woo
Extremely clever snowy mountain scene that foreshadows the abandoned school scene
Some details not explained
Romances feel a bit hokey at times