When I was in middle school, I watched a lot of Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese dramas. I love the angst, the cute relationships, and the tears. So many tears. As I grew up, I stopped watching them as much because they felt too formulaic and the girls had a tendency to be weak characters who fell in love with guys who treated them poorly most of the time. Occasionally, I would watch a Japanese drama because they had some really intense, meta plots, but that was it.
Recently, I started watching some more Korean dramas, but mainly ones that weren’t centered around relationships. ’14 Days’ with Lee Bo-young was a thrller with a time time-traveling element. ‘Answer Me 1988’ follows the lives of four teens who grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A family centered drama beyond everything. Now, I am watching ‘Signal’ a police drama and thriller also containing a mystical time element.
On Asian Wiki, they describe the plot as “Detectives from the present and a detective from the past communicate via walkie-talkie to solve a long-time unsolved case.” The main protagonists are Park Hae-young (played by Lee Je-hoon), Cha Soo Hyun (played by Kim Hye Soo), and Lee Jae-Han (played by Jo Jin-woong).
I will avoid giving any spoilers, but the plot is basically centered around cold cases and a deep level of corruption with the police. Park Hae-young is a young profiler in 2015 who communicates with detective Lee Jae-han from 1988 to 2000 through a walkie-talkie. Through the show, they confront cases that weren’t solved during Lee’s time and are seemingly significant in their lives.
Although the fantastical silly elements in Korean dramas can get a little silly sometimes, they are so worth trying because when they get it right, it makes for a wonderful show. This walkie-talkie that connects the two male protagonists across the years is a great example. It is such a great plot device and mystery, even though it is impossible.
The best aspect of the plot is the insane amount of layers to their story-telling. Although the detectives are working on the same cases, there are essentially different stories happening in the past and the present that connect at all the right places. They have a great corruption plot, which I love because I appreciate shows that address the problem of putting money about human lives and justice. This show is doing that plot so well (so far) because they address all the fallout from the corruption. Even when the bad guy is “caught” and “punished,” lives of innocent and helpless individuals still suffer because of their wrong-doing.
All the characters in Signal are wonderfully constructed. They are interconnected, well-developed, and multi-dimensional. They are all damaged and hurt in ways that are believeable and their motivations for doing what they do feel genuine. I still need to see some proper development for the antagonists to be satisfied, but I love what they’ve done with the protagonists.
One comment I do have is that their attempt to use the same actor for the past and present version is borderline hilarious. Either the young version looks too old or the old version looks too young. Obviously, they could only do so much, but it is still funny.
I have been getting nightmares because of this show, which means they are doing their job right. ‘Signal’ is a true thriller that tackles dark, yet relateable, themes. They have solid characters and a great plot. Episode 11 and 12 just came out this past weekend (2/26-27), so there are 4 episodes left. As they say, a story is only as good as its ending, so I will hold off with my conclusions until then. However, the journey has been riveting so I recommend it. If you don’t mind watching show through subtitles, check out ‘Signal’ at Drama Fever!