I consider 나인: 아홉 번의 시간 여행 (Nine: Nine Time Travels) to be the Korean drama to end all Korean dramas for me. In a good way. It’s not my all-time favorite drama, but it hit me in a way that no K-drama since has been able to. In fact, I don’t think I’ve managed to finish a single Korean drama since watching Nine – as if I’ve been cursed by the magical Himalayan incense myself! About a year ago, there was news that Nine would be remade for an American audience which made me simultaneously roll my eyes and perk up my ears. If it ever came into fruition, I love the story line and the questions it raises enough to consider watching it. Cautiously.
Anyway, this is an old piece came that out in the April 2013 edition of Marie Claire Korea, right when Nine had started to air that I translated on a whim last night. If you’re looking for something mind-bending, thrilling, heartbreaking, and suspenseful all at once, I highly recommend Nine – just sit tight through the first couple (rather slow) episodes!
(Disclaimer: As with all my other translations, all copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy. In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties with my translation this time by prioritizing meaning and written fluency over more literally representing the original text.)
A Time for Love
Source: Marie Claire
A man who time travels into the past and a woman who exists only in the present. Can their love ever be happy?
In hopes of ascending the Himalayas, many people first seek out Pokhara, Nepal. Board a small plane in Kathmandu only carrying some thirty-odd passengers and after about an hour, you will arrive in Pokhara. On the way, the Himalaya Mountains soar high into the sky amid the clouds like a thing of fantasy. Most people come to Pokhara wanting to see the breathtaking view of the Himalayas up close. Hardly bigger than a countryside bus stop, its little airport may be the one with the world’s most beautiful view, for the snow-capped mountains seen from the plane were just a bit closer. No matter where you are in Pokhara, the much-admired Himalayas are always close. Kids playing soccer at the gym, swimming in Lake Pewa which was formed from mountain snowmelt, people heading off somewhere, riding their motorcycles on dusty streets – all of them live within the Himalayas. To them, it is merely everyday life but many others head to Pokhara with the desire to conquer the Himalayas or, at the very least, to see them with their own eyes. Although many people intend to make their way up there, it is not a feat easily accomplished. Unpredictable weather might mean that you are unable to hike your way thus and forced to turn back or it may mean that you succeed in your ascent and set a world record. Or the weather may be so bad that you may have to just be content with gazing at the mountains’ indistinct shape from afar. The Himalayas do not waver according to will. Life is like that as well. Although it may take a predicted course, you never know what unforeseen circumstances may arise. Sometimes we may wonder, “If I could go back to that time, I would be able to change the present, wouldn’t I?” We may have no way to travel to the past but Sunwoo, the protagonist of Nine, does. Every time he lights one of the nine incense sticks found by his dead brother in the Himalayas, he travels back 20 years into the past. He can remain in the past only as long as it takes for one incense stick to finish burning – 30 minutes. Sunwoo wants to get back the father he lost to arson, the mother who lost her mind because of it, and the brother who died in the Himalayas, and return to a happier time in his life.
“Nine is a really confusing drama. It’s about ‘time travel’ but it’s also about revenge and love and philosophy – it’s hard to describe it in one word. The main concept is this: change the past to change the present. But had I really been in Sunwoo’s place, I wouldn’t have gone back. Even though there are things I want to erase in the past, whatever decision I made at that time would’ve been the best decision for me, right? People say Nine is a drama about ‘time slips’ but I want people to watch it and realize how precious their life is in the present. Live in happiness, without reliving the pain of your past.” (Lee Jin-wook) And that is why this time it’s not romance. I had never considered Lee Jinwook the actor separate from the realm of romance. From his portrayal of a charming-yet-impudent, youthful love in Alone in Love to the mean-but-actually-sweet, bad-boy-but-actually-good Seokhyun in I Need Romance Season 2, Lee Jin-wook’s romantic acting has always been special. In Nine, romance isn’t central to the drama but it does contain elements of melodrama. His co-star is Jo Yoonhee. “She’s a really cheerful, lovable character. She has the courage to approach the one she loves first. She doesn’t think; she just expresses her feelings with sincerity.” (Jo Yoonhee) When I was in my twenties, I think I ran around recklessly too, like Yoonhee’s character Joo Minyeong. I didn’t think or weigh anything. But after passing thirty, instead of leading with my emotions, I started weighing things more. When you’re young and going to school and living under your parents’ roof, you don’t really have any responsibilities. For some reason, I thought I could just focus on love. But now things have changed. There are other people I need to consider in my life. In my twenties, I thought I only needed to take care of myself and my life, but now that’s not the case.” (Lee Jinwook)
Together, Lee Jinwook and Jo Yoonhee make you fantasize about their beautiful romance. Even in front of the camera, they appear to get along quite well. Once he returns to the studio, Jo Yoonhee greets Lee Jinwook with touching concern, since he had been up since dawn filming without proper rest, and he receives her with the dignity of an older man. Without delay, the studio staff puts an end to the maudlin scene. The natural chemistry between these two is not merely a product of time; indeed, they had not spent that much together at all. They did not have many scenes together and, to date, they had not filmed many scenes together either. Once filming for Nine began, they first felt their chemistry for each other in Nepal. In Nepal, many places lose power after sunset, so you can only film while the sun is in the sky. You could say that the disarming, breathtaking scenery and leisure time in Nepal were what made them mesh so well with each other. “The most important factor for me when I’m acting like I’m in love is the person I’m acting with. When he’s comfortable with me and makes the first move, I can follow his lead. Lee Jinwook really looks after his female co-stars. The male lead has to be one who is the most considerate towards the female lead, in my opinion. I’m the kind of person who finds it incredibly difficult to have a conversation with someone I don’t know well. Instead of making random bits of small talk, I just say what I have to say and move on. But I think I’ve changed a lot these days. Maybe that’s why in the past people used to say that I looked angry when I was worried or sad. But at some point, I started to change little by little. There were times I tried to be cheerful on purpose too of course.” (Jo Yoonhee) This time Lee Jinwook helped. “I was like that. I hated that that people knew me. I hated that people made my name a point of discussion, even though my life as an actor meant that I had no choice but to reveal myself to others. But at the start of my thirties, my personality changed dramatically. Before, I was really awkward about being around people, but one day I found myself getting along really well with them. I also had something like commitment phobia. Just meeting up with someone was fine, but I was bad at keeping appointments. Even now I don’t really like making appointments but I’ve gotten much better about it.” (Lee Jinwook)
They are an interesting pair to be around. A man and a woman, neither overly lively nor especially sociable, both uneasy around strangers, came together to act as a couple in love. Yet these two get along tremendously well. A woman who boldly declares her love and a man who wants to film a sex scene with her before he dies…. Though I don’t know how things will turn out for these characters, meeting these two actors has painted a heart-stirring picture in my mind’s eye.