Recent 2016 Kdrama Remember: War of the Son explores the dark side of what lurks behind the less than legal dealings of the judicial system. In a whirlwind of courtrooms, chaebol bigwigs, and a protagonist with a remarkable memory that he wields as a double-edged sword, this drama shows just how far the corrupt will go to keep power. It demonstrates the extent to which the wronged will go to fight against them for justice.
Main Cast: Yoo Seungho as Seo Jin Woo, Park Sung Woong as Park Dong Ho, Park Min Young as Lee In Ha, Nam Goong Min as Nam Gyu Man, Lee Si Eon as Ahn Soo Bum, Jung Hye Sung as Nam Yeo Kyung
Running Time: 20 episodes; approximately 60 minutes per episode
Summary: Seo Jin Woo is a high school student that lives with the rare ability to remember everything he sees in vivid detail. He lives a peaceful life with his father Seo Jae Hyuk even after the death of his mother and older brother many years ago. The two will be shaken from their happy existence in a single day when the body of a murdered woman is discovered and Jin Woo’s father is framed for her death. Jin Woo is put in the position of finding a lawyer to support his father in a court case that is being manipulated by very powerful people, the true criminals behind the death. To complicate matters further, Jin Woo’s father is slowly falling victim to the rapid development of Alzheimer’s disease. And while it is difficult to fight against the corrupt court system run by money and special favors, it’s even more challenging to do so when fading memories cause the innocent to doubt their own clear conscience.
In his fight for his father’s innocence, Jin Woo will enlist the help of some unusual allies. But bribery and threats will force even the most upright individuals to betrayal and Jin Woo struggles in his quest to find true loyalty in a world run by money and violence. Time is running against him as well, as Jin Woo soon discovers that his remarkable memory that he carried with him his entire life comes at a terrible cost. And he won’t just lose the ability in the future, but the very memories he holds dearest to him and keep him fighting for his father’s verdict.
Review: I started watching Remember: War of the Son the week it started airing in Korea. Yoo Seung Ho as the lead and an intriguing synopsis were the only encouragement I needed. This was months ago though, and the drama has long since finished airing. And the reason for my long break from the drama is the crux of the issue I have with Remember. The beginning of the drama hooks you in right away with its quick pacing and interesting characters. I was so emotionally invested from day one that I even cried multiple times during the first four episodes. But once you move past the “prequel” episodes and get into the meat of the drama where the action really happens… it moves incredibly slow. And not slow in the sense of “nothing is happening” but slow by way of “let’s take two steps forward and then three steps back so we’re always going in the wrong direction.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love a story where so many things go wrong in the beginning because that just makes the final turnaround for the heroes to be all the more satisfying. But I reached a certain point in this drama where my frustration with a complete lack of progress from the protagonists was hugely disheartening. I don’t think a storyline where the plot will ultimately be resolved in one final court case, really warranted a drama length of twenty episodes. Especially not when we didn’t get to see any major wins for the good guys until about Episode 16. For characters that are supposed to be intelligent legal professionals, their tendency to give crucial, secret evidence to any seemingly trustworthy person was outrageously high. The golden rule of this drama: you can’t trust anyone. They will betray you because of their own self-serving desires. The antagonists always seemed to have the upper hand which, to the writer’s credit, did contribute to the themes of suppression and injustice prevalent in Remember: War of the Son. And boy, is it easy to hate the villains. From Nam Gyu Man’s psychopathic tendencies and complete lack of remorse, to his weasel of an attorney, to his abusive father – you just want them all behind bars. Each character gets progressively worse as the story proceeds, and exceedingly more pathetic.
In my opinion, the outstanding performances of the actors and actresses in Remember: War of the Son were the driving forces of this drama. Yoo Seung Ho and Park Min Young had great chemistry together, one that portrayed the genuine friendship of these two characters (a rare thing in a drama full of double-crossing agents). There was also a love line between them that didn’t really play a major part until the end of the drama and I found to be less believable. But this wasn’t an issue of acting rather than the way their changing relationship was incorporated into the plot. If the writers were to have left Jin Woo and In Ha’s relationship as only a very close friendship, it would not have negatively affected the drama. And I don’t think the ending would have been any less meaningful, or heartbreaking. Moving on, Park Sung Woong was an absolute gem as well, with his satoori accent and wild wardrobe as lawyer Park Dong Ho. He did a fantastic job of portraying such a brash, confident character yet still allowing Dong Ho’s vulnerability to show at the appropriate times. But the standout performance of this drama was without a doubt from Namgoong Min as the psychotic chaebol villain Nam Gyu Man. The range of emotion Namgoong Min was able to show with this character is astounding. And so is his ability to make you hate a person to their very bones in the beginning of a drama but still pity them when their justice is finally served, despite Gyu Man never really owning up to his sins. Be it with his voice or nuanced facial expressions, that man can work magic and I look forward to seeing Namgoong Min in new roles in the future. An honorable mention goes out to Dong Ho’s right hand man and Ahn Soo Bum, Gyu Man’s secretary and the subject to his abuse throughout the drama. The strange friendship that occurred between their characters was utterly adorable and Soo Bum remains one of my favorite characters in Remember. His character development was one of the most striking in the drama and his portrayal by actor Lee Si Eon made it impossible not to root for him. To me, Soo Bum is the most relatable character in the drama. Forever the middle man, neither smart enough to escape from the Nam family’s clutches nor brave enough to try to overthrow them himself. Soo Bum’s character is important nonetheless, and key in bringing about the turning point of Remember: War of the Son.
The title “Remember: War of the Son” is a bit of a mouthful but carries a huge significance with respect to the characters of the drama. It captures of the image of Jin Woo, armed with only his wits and a fiery will to win, in a battle for his father’s honor. But there are other sons in the drama that are fighting their own “wars,” so to speak. Park Dong Ho discovers the true culprit of his own father’s death as he gets an inside look into the corruption of the Nam family. And perhaps even more significantly, Nam Gyu Man is fighting as a son to be acknowledged and loved by his father. Despite being such a despicable character, there was something about Gyu Man and his final fate that left me feeling somewhat morose. Gyu Man was cruel and demeaning towards everyone around him, even his closest friends and sister. Yet his attitude would completely change in front of his father, resembling that of a kicked puppy rather than the head of corporation. It makes you wonder: was Gyu Man such a terrible human being because of innate physiological reasons or the constant years of abuse and heavy expectations from his father? His moments of vulnerability come only when facing his father’s disappointment or as he eventually admits to himself his loneliness. And this makes Gyu Man’s final conversation with his father all the more heartbreaking. The one thing he feared the most in the world occurs when he is abandoned by the only person he ever wanted to please.
The ending of Remember: War of the Son did an excellent job of wrapping up loose ends for the many characters in this drama universe. Many of the people I disliked in the beginning turn around to be all out champs, while most everyone else experiences some sort of character growth on the way. I will say [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD] that the ultimate resolution of Jin Woo’s Alzheimer’s disease conflict did not sit well with me however. It didn’t seem altogether plausible that his closest friends and loved ones would simply let him leave after he loses all memory of them simply because Jin Woo asked them to. These people had been through his struggles through thick and thin and let him go all too easily, especially considering that he is being plagued by such a dangerous illness. It did make for a heartbreaking final sequence as In Ha watches him walk away, only wishing him happiness. And I do appreciate that the writers didn’t give Jin Woo a miracle cure so that everyone gets a happy ending. So I suppose this gets a free pass in drama world, but the logical side of brain can’t help but be somewhat disgruntled nonetheless.
Conclusion: If you can stomach some heartache and a frustrating cycle of bad decisions, Remember: War of the Son is an ideal watch for any fan of legal dramas or chaebol corruption. While the drama drags in some parts with its tendency to prolong conflicts, the ultimate justice served in the end is resounding enough to may the struggle worth it. A great cast and beautiful cinematography cap out some of the other strengths of the drama and create a story that is bound to invoke a few tears. All in all, Remember: War of the Son maintained a solid plot that could have been executed more speedily but still succeeded in sharing its message of family, loyalty, and justice in an all too realistic world.