In a world full of sageuks and rags-to-riches chaebol romances, The Village: Achiara’s Secret stood out from the rest of 2015’s Korean dramas with its chilling murder mystery and layered characters. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy my historical dramas and rom-coms as much as the next person, but it is refreshing to see a production that discusses such dark themes in an intriguing and believable manner.
Main Cast: Moon Geun Young as Han So Yoon, Yook Sungjae as Park Woo Jae, Shin Eun Kyung as Yoon Ji Sook, On Joo Wan as Seo Ki Hyun, and Jang Hee Jin as Kim Hye Jin
Running Time: 16 episodes; 65 minutes per episode
Summary: When Korean-Canadian Han So Yoon is called through a series of strange coincidences back to her birthplace Korea, she is hired as an English teacher in Achiara, a quiet village where few outsiders visit and even fewer seem to leave. However, the seemingly peaceful town is soon thrown into chaos when So Yoon stumbles upon a corpse that she suspects belongs to a woman named Kim Hye Jin. The same Kim Hye Jin who disappeared from the village two years earlier.
So Yoon soon discovers that her own deceased family has unimaginable ties to Achiara as she begins her investigation with the assistance of Seo Ki Hyun, the son of a prominent businessman and politician in the village. Soo Yoon also enlists the help of police officer Woo Jae, who is currently examining a string of serial murders occurring in vicinity of the village. Only one thing is for certain: nobody in Achiara is without their own secrets and some will do anything to stop Soo Yoon from revealing them.
Review: This drama was criminally underrated during its run on Korean television (being overshadowed by the hugely popular She Was Pretty) and its lackluster ratings fail to show just how good it is. Particularly, the women of this drama were standout characters. So Yoon is resourceful and resilient; she knows the entire town either disapproves of her mission or actively opposes her, but she does not let this adversity stop her. However, the most complex character in the drama was Yoon Ji Sook who was so masterfully portrayed by Shin Eun Kyung. Ji Sook was just selfish enough to be shameful and just damaged enough command sympathy. She’s a mother that never had the children she asked for and holds onto her husband out of desperation rather than love. In my opinion, this drama was just as much a story about So Yoon’s investigation and family as it was Ji Sook and the origin of her suppressed self-hate.
One of the most enjoyable parts of The Village was the suspense it built and suspicion you can’t help but feel towards each of the characters. At some point in time, there wasn’t a single person that I didn’t doubt the motives of or suspect of some wrongdoing. The eerie string instrument soundtrack used throughout the drama played a large role in establishing this atmosphere. Scenes that ordinarily would seem innocent became terrifying when the music is telling you everything isn’t as simple as it seems.
With all this good does come with some bad. You will see a few standard K-drama troupes present in the the storyline but they are connected to the plot in such a way that makes them seem less like a gimmick and more like a necessity. The police work was sometimes shoddy and left me a bit frustrated though. On the plus side, this did allow for the heroine to take a more aggressive role in her search given that the authorities lacked the ability to do so efficiently.
If you are looking for light humor or a romance to sweep you off your feet, The Village isn’t it. There are subtle hints at love lines between characters and a number of twisted marriages, but don’t expect much further in the romance department. Instead, it is a story that will leave you uneasy with the slow revelation of Achiara’s secrets. Each time something new was exposed I would wonder to myself, “Now that XXXX is revealed, where else could the writers possibly go from here?” But the drama kept up the pace and finished the final episode strong with just enough mystery intact that a second season may be warranted. It was a conclusion that was both heartwarming in its discussion of family and forgiveness, and thoughtful in the the questions it left open.
Conclusion: I would recommend this drama to anyone who enjoys thrillers and mysteries that discuss themes like justice and family relations. The Village: Achiara’s Secret has an eeriness to it that leaves you unsettled after each episode but still maintains a careful optimism that brings warmth to the story. Overall, one of the best Korean dramas of 2015 in my personal opinion.