“Memories Of Alhambra” boasts as the first Kdrama focused on AR Games, with a budget of $25 million, you beat they delivered!
“Memories Of Alhambra” is one of the most interesting kdramas I have watched in recent years, and I watched A LOT! However, it has some serious flaws.
I didn’t have extremely high expectations going in because it appeared to be yet another tale about prince charming and the damsel in distress. However, I was shocked by what it turned out to be.
Despite the hype, the finale of this drama left many wondering if it was worth it or not. So in case you’re wondering whether you should watch or not, I am here to discuss the drama without getting into spoilers, I hope this helps you decide whether you should watch or not.
[note: this review is subjective.]
The Story Line
“Memories Of Alhambra” is written by Song Jae Jung, and in case you didn’t know who that was, she is the same writer behind the immensely popular drama “W: Two Worlds” led by Lee Jong Suk and Han Hyo Joo.
Now after reading this, you’re one of two people, you’re either encouraged to watch the drama or even more hesitant.
For some reason I had no idea she wrote it up until half the drama runtime, I decided to check out the cast and the lineup and I saw her name, that was when I started nervously sweating.
Personally speaking “W: Two Worlds” was one of the most disappointing messy kdramas I have seen in recent years, back then Song Jae Jung built up the script and excited me to the point of no return only to crush it all in the final episodes.
I brought this up to partially compare both dramas writing-wise, “Memories Of Alhambra” feels like “W: Two Worlds” on adrenaline, it’s a very bumpy ride, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.
So what does “Memories Of Alhambra” talk about?
“Memories Of Alhambra” tells the story of a rich man who runs a gaming company and a woman who runs a hostel in Granada with her family, she looks after them until one day that rich man shows up at her door changing her life forever.
This was the basic description of the drama; it was purposefully very vague.
I personally didn’t check out the press conference so I didn’t know it was about AR [Augmented Reality] going in, so I went in thinking it was something and was shocked to find out it was something completely unrelated to the original vague plot and that excited me.
The story is extremely intriguing and gripping, one of the few kdramas of 2018 to have been able to keep me glued to my screen waiting patiently weekly.
2018 hasn’t been very kind with innovative or entertaining dramas, most of the dramas felt flat during the second half of its run time but this wasn’t what happened with “Memories Of Alhambra.” In fact, it got ridiculous as time went by, a trait of Song Jae Jung scripts.
The drama is so much fun to watch and very interesting, it’ll have you guessing what’s to come next as you struggle to wrap your head around what happens which is partially due to the fact that (I believe) the writer herself also has the same issue as you do.
I did find it enjoyable and I thought this should be mentioned, however, the worst part of this entire drama was; with all honesty; the script!
Writer Song Jae Jung has been writing for so many years and it still feels like you’re watching something a rookie writer would put out. It’s puzzling, really!
Let me explain.
I will start by commending her boldness; I don’t see many female writers ready to experiment with their scripts, most of them don’t stray away from what we’re so used to with kdramas. Song Jae Jung pushes the envelope but she takes it too far.
Basically, the idea behind the entire drama is something that is yet to come, meaning its about technology that hasn’t happened yet, it’s about something we as humans are far away from. So it has a fictional element to it.
This means a lot of things happens throughout the drama that doesn’t make sense since it talks about ideas and principals we haven’t yet experienced. AR is still a fresh idea that has a lot of room for improvement in the future.
So how did writer Song Jae Jung deal with that? Poorly, she dealt with it poorly!
I am not judging the script based on the fact that its fictional because it would be stupid of me to rationalize areas that can’t be rationalized, it would be unnecessary nitpicking.
The problem is that Song Jae Jung doesn’t do well explaining her script. She even had to talk to the press to explain the core idea of the plot and why certain events happened because a lot of viewers just didn’t understand. She had to do that towards the end of the drama.
When you have to explain your script, you have a problem, especially if it’s something that should be easily understood by the general public.
My problem with Song Jae Jung is that she doesn’t keep track of what she writes. She is hella ambitious but can’t plot coherently. She can’t glue together her own ideas.
To me, she feels like a mad scientist that created a monster and doesn’t know how to control it. This was the case with “W: Two Worlds” as well.
She doesn’t keep track of the rules she set for the worlds she creates and she keeps scaling up without keeping track of what she had built. This leaves us with many contradictions, she basically sets rules for what we should believe about “Memories Of Alhambra” but then she just tosses it away and expects us to do so as well.
In simple terms, she sets rules within the universe of “Memories Of Alhambra” but doesn’t follow through. She abandons her own ideas for the sake of exaggeration. She doesn’t know when or where or how to stop, this means “Memories Of Alhambra” ended up being a total mess.
You might think I am harsh for saying this but this is honestly how I feel about what she writes, I really believe that the only reason people tolerate her scripts is because she and the director are able to get their hands on hallyu stars.
If it weren’t for Hyun Bin and Park Shin Hye I highly doubt this drama would’ve even been made because it’s so ridiculous.
The issue with some (not all) kdramas is that they’re writing as they’re being produced. Writers take into account the public’s feedback and adjust accordingly. There are some kdramas that are completely written before they’re completely shot but that’s like 5% of all kdramas.
For an idea of such a big scale going in and shooting while the drama airs is a big no-no, anyone with a brain can figure it out after reading the outline of the script she wrote.
Her idea is so huge, its large scale, it’s something that should be written, revised, checked for validity and revised again. Why so meticulously you ask? Because the budget is $25 million, that’s why.
The first half of the drama goes well and it’s very exciting, things go downhill during the second half. It’s when you start to realize nothing makes sense and the writer has no idea how to wrap her head around her own ideas.
This time instead of judging the writer, I decided not to recap or review as episodes were airing, I waited until the last episode before sharing my thoughts because I didn’t want to rush for the sake of some clicks on my articles.
This is why there is no recap or review of “Memories Of Alhambra” on jazminemedia.com, that’s because this time I wanted to give Song Jae Jung the chance to explain herself before judging what she wrote.
I am not going to lie; I really really enjoyed “Memories Of Alhambra.” It was one of the most enjoyable kdramas I have seen in recent years, I was able to enjoy it so much because I decided to trust the writer and see where she leads me… she led me nowhere.
I have to give a fair warning, this is a spoiler free review however, I must say the ending is unexpected, meaning you’re probably NOT going to like it.
I don’t mind sad/unexpected endings because I am not that young and I know life sucks, not everyone gets a happy ending. However, given the circumstances, the conditions and the boundaries she set with her script, the ending made absolutely no sense which is why I personally found it disappointing.
This is why some kdrama fans might flat out tell you not to watch this drama, however, if you still don’t mind dramas with bad/disappointing endings, please continue to read.
Characters And Performances
Now this where kdrama fans also get into a heated debate around Park Shin Hye’s character.
The script is about this millionaire CEO (played by Hyun Bin) who finds out about Park Shin Hye’s brother invention [the AR game]. They get involved together and obviously fall in love.
The script was designed in a way that focuses mostly on the male lead not the female lead. We’re used to seeing Park Shin Hye lead her dramas; in this drama she takes the backseat and never truly shine.
Park Shin Hye’s character is your basic damsel in distress. She cries often, she worries often; she does almost nothing of substance throughout the drama runtime which is sad because Park Shin Hye could have benefited the drama well.
She plays the role of Hee Joo, a diligent woman who takes good care of her family and has done so since she was little. She is talented but overpowered by circumstances which led her to give up her true dreams in search of a better income only to settle for a life of misery as a part-timer.
Park Shin Hye takes on another role in the drama as well. However, I can’t talk about it because it’s too complicated and we’ll get into spoilers. The second role she takes on is far more interesting than the main role.
Despite the fact that she played two characters, I found her character disposable for the most part. There are episodes were she literally appears for like only 10 minutes or so.
She did very well in the drama, as expected. However, I personally would have given this role to a rising actress or a talented unknown actress who could have benefited from Hyun Bin’s status; I would have NEVER picked Park Shin Hye.
With her small role in the drama, I don’t understand what honestly compelled her to choose it to begin with. It’s not like she’s doing badly or her character is bad but it’s really insignificant. That’s all.
This is why some kdrama fans were not happy with how the writer dealt with Park Shin Hye’s character.
Her brother is played by EXO’s Chanyeol. He’s a key character in the drama but only briefly appears in it. He basically controls the entire drama with his actions.
Chanyeol is by no mean the best idol actor but he’s okay. I have watched his performances and this is by far his best, he’s still far away from perfect but he did well. He deserves a round of applause for his performance because I noticed he improved and that I appreciate.
He plays a nerd computer genius that literally turns his family and other people’s lives upside down, he basically ruins lives, you’ll find out why when you watch it.
When I see Hyun Bin and the rest of the cast interact and reflect that on Chanyeol, I find him the weakest link in the cast. I would have preferred the role be given to a rookie but talented actor. There are many around waiting for their big break.
The man who carried the drama on his shoulder is yours truly, Hyun Bin.
In case you didn’t know, Hyun Bin struggled with fading popularity back in 2015 and 2016 because of a series of poor projects that performed poorly on both TV and the big screen.
Luckily for him, 2017 and 2018 were his lucky years. He picked up the pace and chose interesting projects. He took on the villain role for the first time in his career in 2018’s film “The Negotiation” which I thought was an excellent career choice.
He followed that with his choice in “Memories Of Alhambra” making 2018 one of his best performing years in recent memory.
I like Hyun Bin when he takes risks and I loved him in this drama.
I was extremely pleased with his performance in “Memories of Alhambra,” he basically carried the drama from start to finish. His character was written so well and with all honesty, it’s difficult for me to ever imagine someone else playing the same character.
In the press conference of the drama, he described this project as a very interesting one that he wasn’t able to put down the script when he began reading, the same was for me while watching the drama.
Yoo Jin Woo (Hyun Bin’s character) is your typical not-so-typical male lead in kdramas. Yes, he’s rich, famous and handsome but he doesn’t fall into staple stale characters that are easily forgettable.
He doesn’t advertise himself as this pitiful rich man who so desperately needs a woman which is why there aren’t many scenes of him and Shin Hye. He is not entirely a good person, he makes lots of mistakes. He’s also extremely selfish and manipulative.
His world is turned upside down when Chanyeol’s character contacts him about a game, that’s when his life takes a tragic turn and doesn’t really improve. Everything just keeps spiraling out of control.
Yoo Jin Woo becomes this beaten, psycho, in-way-over-his-head CEO who is trying so hard to make ends meet walking in the darkness.
He starts out as a basic character but slowly changes, his reality changes and so his life due to series of events during the drama runtime. I found the way his character developed throughout the drama simply AMAZING.
I also liked the way he interacted with Shin Hye and her younger on-screen sister Min Joo (played by actress Lee Re).
At first, you don’t like his character because of the shady condensing way he approaches Hee Joo at the hostel in Granada. However, he grows beyond that and develops into an amazing broken character and I loved him for that.
He was broken and overtaken by circumstances but also very brave in a sense, he took on the burden of uncovering the reasons behind the way his life changed forever and took a very interesting approach. I loved that.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for Shin Hye’s character Hee Joo which I thought was seriously under-developed. At times he felt like an object of some sort rather than a main character, sometimes, she felt like a secondary or supporting character in her own leading drama.
There are other characters in the drama that play an important role but they’re also relatively underdeveloped and 2D-like, still enjoyable tho.
Hyun Bin’s character is one of the most interesting ones I have seen in recent years. I just loved the way the writer played around with his character; I will commend her for that.
I liked the dynamics between the entire cast. I also liked the chemistry between Hyun Bin and Shin Hye.
They do fall into the cliché hate relationship that turns into love over time. I still found them cute together.
However, the way Hyun Bin and Shin Hye relationship was weak, in my opinion. It was also not explored well. They might have worked better as friends/rivals than lovers given the context of the drama because their romance really goes nowhere.
This goes back to the talk about the script. I liked the two actors chemistry and wished to see more of it, however, the script is lacking in that regard.
I wished the writer would have made a clear choice, you either go all in on the romance part or omit it, not half-ass it (if that’s even a word). It was like she wants there to be romance for the sake of the kiss but it doesn’t really add or subtract from the plot.
I would have personally preferred if Shin Hye’s character became a rival or a source of stress to Hyun Bin’s character, that would’ve made things wayyy more interesting and it would’ve fit the script well too.
Hyun Bin also has good chemistry with child actress Lee Re. I just loved their interactions together.
Directing and production
I don’t usually dedicate separate sections for “directing and production,” however, in the case of “Memories of Alhambra,” I believe it’s a must.
“Memories of Alhambra” is a beautiful drama. It’s atheistically pleasing and well-polished. It looks like a movie almost because of its high production quality.
I personally found the production to be great. “Memories of Alhambra” started filming back spring of 2018 and finished filming in late December 2018.
It had lots of CGI and thankfully it was believable, this was because the editing team had time to work on it because some scenes were filmed a while before they aired.
It had lots of cool elements to it; it shows what AR can become in the future. It was truly an ambitious interesting idea.
Should I Watch This Drama?
To answer that burning question I had to go through what I had to previously, I couldn’t just give you a flat out answer without explaining why.
Personally, I don’t have the gut to flat out recommend this drama. This is mainly because I wouldn’t recommend it to myself, why would I recommend it to others?
This review is subjective, it’s about my own personal thoughts so I don’t expect everybody to like what I say or agree with it.
Having said this, I would recommend you try this drama out if:
- You’re a fan of Hyun Bin, Shin Hye or both.
- You’re a fan of the writer.
- You like interesting different kdramas that don’t follow the usual route.
I wouldn’t recommend this drama if:
- You like to watch scripts that actually make sense.
- You’re skeptic about Song Jae Jung’s writings.
- You dislike bad/sad/disappointing endings.
The thing is, the drama ended on a sad note, this meant kdrama fans rioted. This led into serious criticism of the writer which would have gone unnoticed if she had chosen to give fans a happy ending.
If you had read netizens comments about her and the final episodes, you will feel sorry for the writer. She was cursed out for the ending, and because it was a bad ending people started recalling what they understood of the drama and completely dissected it, leading to the point that people heavily criticized her for how poorly she wrote the drama.
Some will disagree with me, saying that when you watch this kdrama you should appreciate everything. I do appreciate everybody’s efforts but since I gave 16 hours of my time to it, I think I have the right to say the writing was bad. It’s just my opinion, not a fact.
I personally wished for a realistic logical ending above all else. I enjoyed it; I am not to going lie. However, the final episodes really disappointed me because it showed me just how weak the script was, and how unprepared the writer was for the idea she conceived in her head.
This doesn’t cancel the fact that “Memories of Alhambra” was fun ride and a different drama but it left a bad after taste in my mouth. The script being the weakest part of all.
This could have gone down in history as one of the BEST kdramas of all time only if the writer had chosen to write the entire drama ahead of time, this way she would have had time to go over each point and correct the inconsistencies. She could have made a masterpiece, that’s the tragic part. She has been writing since 2000 for crying out loud.