“Awaken” has wrapped up its run recently. The tvN drama has done something most kdramas wouldn’t intentionally attempt to pull off, and despite some of its flaws, it is an underrated drama that’s worth watching for the performances alone.
Today, I am here to discuss “Awaken” and my thoughts on it. Originally, I intended to write a spoiler-free review of this drama but honestly, it’s very difficult to do so because no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t help but end up spoiling some details while discussing certain points.
If you want to know the summary of whether you should check it out, scroll to the last part of this article.
Note: this is a subjective review. I will share my personal opinion while keeping in mind how others might perceive it.
Table of Contents:
- The art of misdirection
- The script- good but could’ve been better
- Justifications and actions- a look at the characters
- The characters- the well-written and the missed opportunities
- The performances
- Should I watch this drama?
1The art of misdirection
Just like its characters act, “Awaken” has mastered the art of misdirection. It’s one of the few kdramas that knowingly attempted to trick their fans into thinking they were watching just another crime drama to surprise them with the ‘super-natural/human experiment’ element.
This is in my opinion one of the strengths of the series, that is subverts expectations and ends up providing a much-more interesting narrative to a repetitive plot that’s been done thousand times already.
The way the director goes about revealing this particular point is also very interesting and it did surprise me, if the screenwriter hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have stuck around.
The reason is, I watch a lot of OCN dramas, and I watch a lot of crime-related dramas that aren’t Korean, and this in turn has made me desensitized to a degree to the level of violence it exhibits as well as the narrative. Misdirection definitely added an edge to the series.
2The script- good but could’ve been better
“Awaken” screenwriter is Shin Yoo Dam, I looked at her profile and she doesn’t have many other credits to her name, this is obviously her most notable work which is pretty impressive, it takes guts to write something like this and to knowingly attempt to trick the audience, I wish more screenwriters would take such chances.
Other than that, the narrative is about the same like every other crime-related kdrama, the upper hand goes to a bunch of high-ranking officials who are evil to the core and want to control everything, they’re helped by minions who follow orders whether they feel happy about it or not.
The first half was definitely interesting, but the second half felt unnecessarily long, I think 12 episodes would’ve done a lot better because it would’ve condensed a lot of the content we consumed.
Once the identity of the bad guy was revealed, it definitely lost a bit of its edge, it was getting pretty obvious who the bad guy was towards episode 5 especially if you were paying attention but the reveal was so lackluster and it left me feeling empty.
The justification behind why Jae Woong wants to hurt Jamie and Jung Woo is was childish and very underwhelming, I expected a very shocking reason as to why he’d want to harm them. I know its his other personality but the reveal and the way they went about it was so lackluster.
Added, he had an adult with him to help him out and he was strong enough to fend for himself, it’s not like he was left all alone without anyone which makes me take it a lot less seriously, especially considering that the other personality is also an adult, if it had been a child persona [which is a thing], I think I would’ve taken it more seriously.
If it were me, I’d never make Jae Woong attack Jamie and Jung Woo, and instead consolidate his efforts on hurting those who made him this way; it seems like a more valid reason for his existence and definitely one that makes us question our own morality.
I feel conflicted about screenwriter Shin Yoo Dam, on one hand I am pretty impressed and on the other hand I feel she needs to work more on her writing and let me explain what I mean.
“Awaken” has a lot of plot twists, to the point that some of them felt so odd. The issue is that the ‘reveal’ of the plot twists was for the most part very lackluster. This could also be potentially an issue with the director. What I mean is, the screenwriter works so hard on establishing a certain plot device and certain points, and she builds up to them so much so that you end up waiting for something to happen, waiting for the reveal, but the way it gets revealed ends up being very timid/lackluster/boring. It’s like you’re watching a volcano about to erupt only for it to let out a tiny sound instead of an explosion at the end.
The techniques in which she used to reveal certain plot twists felt like they needed more work to give them the grand entrance they deserve.
The sub-plot about Jung Woo and Jamie being twins was so random and felt very odd, the way it was inserted into the conversation was very weird. Upon viewing the drama while writing this review for the second and third time, I came to the conclusion that the writer had likely been planning this since the start, but on first viewing, it felt so random and that’s an issue.
Most of the plot twists fall short and don’t end up causing the impact I believe the screenwriter was aiming for. She is amazing for having thought of such an idea and it’s a shame this particular part in her writing was obviously not as good.
Also, towards the second half, certain scenes that should’ve been very big get repeated at least 4 times. For example, the scene in which Hye Won confronts her father asking him to surrender gets repeated at least 5 times in the second half.
What should’ve been once and a lengthy argument gets reduced into three sentences said by both characters repeated on five different occasions.
Also, the scene in which Jung Woo asks the team to stop helping or ask his sister to go back to the U.S also gets repeated so many times it becomes very frustrating and loses its charm.
You can obviously tell that Jung Woo’s character acts dumb in the second half just because it says ’16 episodes.’
And one of the biggest plot twists which happened in episode 16 felt so overdue, Jung Woo also having multi-personality disorder. Its like the screenwriter wanted to delay revealing this until she no longer could, the ending was great but we needed more time to explore exactly what happens to everyone involved in this case.
The grand reveal should’ve happened in the last minutes of episode 15, so episode 16 resolves everything and gives us enough time to get the conclusion we deserve. It just felt so rushed in certain places even when it had all time in the world to be crafted better.
3Justifications and actions- a look at the characters
“Awaken” is a fun drama, I don’t know how it’ll feel binge-watched but it could go either way for the fans, either they’d be extremely interested or lose interest fast, why? Because this could give them more time to think of each character arc. Let me explain
The first half of “Awaken” thrived on our ignorance because we were unaware of what is what and who’s doing what. Also, we didn’t feel that attached to each character because those who were getting murdered were the bad guys.
The thing is, the main characters, most of them, are smart. Like really really smart and towards the second half, they act and react like dumb people. Each and every one of them.
Since those characters are so different and above the rest of us, you’d think they can either hire help or take care of it more efficiently but they don’t go that route, especially during the second half. The first half is dealt with more analytically but in the second half, they’re just winging it.
From the way Jae Woong just exposes himself like a 90s villain talking about the justification behind his shenanigans, to Jung Woo going places unprotected only to get ambushed, the last episodes felt sooo underwhelming and mind-boggling especially considering how each character has been acting.
To me, what annoyed me out of all instances similar to what I just told you, was the one when Jung Woo blindly believes what Oh Jung Hwan tells him around mid-series and just leaves him be. For someone who is a part of the ‘organization’ that ran experiments on him, he took his words at face value and exhibits stupidity unlike his character description which felt very frustrating. this particular point really stalled the series.
I could go on and on but I think you get the point.
It’s like they play smart when the screenwriter wants them to and then play dumb when it’s necessary for the plot. You guys know, I hate it when it happens.
Now onto the characters
4The characters- the well-written and the missed opportunities
My favorite characters were Jamie, Jung Woo and Jae Woong- the other personality, the timid one.
Jung Woo was brought to life by Namgoong Min’s outstanding performance which I’ll discuss later, but as a character, I found him to be especially interesting in the way he calculated things. It’s very sad he couldn’t stick to the original characteristics assigned to him at first.
The moments between Jung Woo and Jamie were some of the highlights of the series for me. I love the way they converse and how everyone around them seems oblivious to their conversations. I shipped them together at first, but when she bonded with Jae Woong, I also liked it.
Jamie is one of the characters that really kept the series going for me in the first half, when she wasn’t on screen, things just weren’t as fun or interesting, it’s because she was the only one capable enough to challenge Jung Woo.
Jae Woong’s character was poorly written. One of my bones to pick with this character would have to be the multi-personality disorder he has. The first half he spent as his timid character and the second half, he spends as his vengeful character. It’s almost like two different characters unrelated to each other.
The writer just discarded the timid character by explaining the crazy one had taken over but it felt so sloppy and I was sad, sad because this could’ve been an interesting plot point, not only does the screenwriter actively avoids delving into Jae Woong’s mental illness but treats it like it never happened.
I liked the timid character a lot more and when he’s shown the other side it felt so cartoonish and void of substance, unlike the struggling genius he’s been before. It should’ve been untangled better in my opinion. Showing how he continues to struggle with the two parts of himself, the part that just wants to be loved and the other part that wants to kill everyone.
And now onto Seolhyun’s character Hye Won who I have the most issues with.
Hye Won was possibly the most 2D character in the show and the one that had the least development out of all of them, and this got me thinking that it could be somewhat related to the whole bullying scandal involving two of her AOA members.
In the beginning, you notice that Hye Won felt like a ‘secret-weapon’ and since she’s the main lead, many people expected her to be naturally more hands-on in the drama which didn’t happen. Even the way she was written and the way the director focused our attention, we could tell she was special but lacked that ‘training’/revelation to realize she’s also special. I legitimately thought her father also experimented on her and that it was to be revealed later on especially considering her powerful moves and how she’s easily able to beat up men twice her size.
You can see the potential at first, but towards episode 4, she almost becomes this supporting character who’s job is to question the morality of the situation, cry at times, kick ass but not add much to the conversation as the MAIN lead. Not only her screentime was reduced a lot in comparison to Lee Chung Ah who was the second lead, but she literally wasn’t mentioned that much in the second half and the spotlight just shifted. I rarely see this happen in kdramas, because even when a second lead is obviously stealing the spotlight, the screenwriter never shifts focus and it remains on the first lead.
Hye Won is very frustrating as a character, not only did I find her the opposite of cool which was what the writer intended, but I found her an obstacle. She could’ve been so much more but ended up being below average, I could see there was potential and her character could’ve been written a lot better, but she’s so difficult to like.
Not only does she not drive the plot forward, but she hinders progress at any interval and feels often useless, if she was reduced to a supporting character, I don’t think we would’ve noticed the difference. It doesn’t feel like she’s leading anything but rather being led.
Hye Won was unaware of the situation at first, even after she finds out her father is a psychopath, her reactions and actions are mind-boggling, sis, be more assertive, this is why she felt frustrating to me. She never felt on the same level as the rest of the characters and that was an issue.
Namgoong Min is obviously the star of this show, there would never be enough words that I can use to properly express just how amazing he is in this drama. I think its my favorite performance of him to date.
6 years ago, Namgoong Min was stuck playing second lead roles, I always liked him and wondered why he wasn’t bigger. Then, he took on the villain role in “Remember” and he nailed so much so that he stole the spotlight from Yoo Seung Ho completely. Since then, he began to mostly carefully pick roles and I love most of the dramas he’s been in since then.
What I am saying is, he’s one of the few Korean actors who can legitimately scare me when they stare. This is why he was the perfect man for this drama, without him, I don’t think I would’ve stuck around. He literally did his best to carry the drama despite the controversy surrounding its lead actress.
Seolhyun is okay in this role, she did her job but I couldn’t feel that spark, she wasn’t a cool detective in my opinion, I don’t know whether it’s the writing or her this time because the writing did her dirty.
Lee Chung Ah is one of my fav underrated actresses; she just shines and is on the same level as Namgoong Min which is pretty difficult to pull off. I can’t wait to see her shine more in 2021.
Yoon Sun Woo is an underrated gem, but…. As I said previously, I liked his timid persona performance a lot more because I thought he properly nailed it. His performance as the villain was comical at times and difficult to take seriously, again, I don’t know just how much I should be critical here because the writing for this other persona was not as good.
Special shout out to Kim Tae Woo who is, again, annoyingly good and to An Si Ha who was so crazy that I wanted to punch her. Definitely one of the highlights of the drama.
The teen actors including Shin Ian did a great job, especially him, he has a bright future ahead of him.
6Should I watch this drama?
If you like crime-related kdramas, then please give this one a try. If you like to scratch your brain and enjoy something out of the ordinary, then give it a try.
“Awaken” has its issues but is overall a fun unexpectedly heartbreaking drama. The performances are solid and the casting was done well. It is definitely underrated and deserved more success.
So these are my thoughts on “Awaken”, so what about you guys? did you like the episodes? let me know what you thought in the comment section below.