Sunday, 3 July 2016

KDrama Review : Signal

16 episodes of heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and mind boggling adventure. Even now that I'm several days past the final episode, some of the symptoms persist and the memories haunt me as I carry out my activities of daily living. I swear the soul-stirring OST is still ringing in my ear even as I'm typing this, like a premonition, that something is about to go down somewhere. There's no other differential diagnoses,, I have this one particular condition. 

Hands up if you, just like me, are also diagnosed with Signal arrhythmia!

Wait what do you mean you've never heard of such condition?

Ah right. It's underrated, it's not widely talked about, and I think that's not right. In this world, regardless of your power or status or social back up, we right the wrong. We need to raise more awareness for this condition.

The only good thing about Signal getting lukewarm attention is that I didn't know anything about it, at all. It felt like taking a plunge, a leap of faith, face first into the unknown, without encountering any spoilers beforehand. But Signal proved to be worth the free fall, because of many things - stellar ensemble, phenomenal acting, tightly written plot with astonishing attention to detail that leaves no room for me to notice any loopholes, intensity that is consistent throughout the entirety of 16 episodes, darkness & eeriness that gripped me right from the first episode, brilliant take on the time paradox concept, fantastic twists, and effective use of OSTs.

I'll be honest with you, I'm not too keen on the idea of time paradox, because it's a fantasy, and fantasy easily comes off as tacky & silly to me, unless it's treated in a very careful manner. And it also messes with my brain. The only time-travel-time-paradox-esque viewing experience that I have ever truly enjoyed was the movie About Time, but I'm happy to inform you that Signal has been added to the list. Not just that list, but also my scanty list of favourite KDramas ever! Sorry City Hunter, you're going to have to vacate that 2nd place, because Signal is here for occupancy.

If I had known earlier that there's a magical walkie talkie that enables people of two different times to connect with each other in this drama, that would have seriously deterred me from watching this drama, because like I said, I find fantasy tacky most of the time. But thankfully, like I said, I didn't come across any spoilers before watching this drama, so I had no idea what was in store for me. And also thankfully, the magical walkie talkie is an integral part of the drama, but only to allow the characters to interact with each other, hence, their character development.

Another thing that enables the character development in this drama is the cases. I love that each case held some kind of personal connection to the characters, to a certain degree, instead of just being the boring one case per episode style. The thing about their cases is that the characters ALWAYS find a way around to get the culprits, even though many times I shook my head and spoke to my laptop screen "Alright guys, that's it, we're doomed. There's no way in hell we can get out of this mess. Annyeong." when it felt like we're really backed into a corner. And how they got to the bottom of each case appeared intelligent rather than cheap implausible gimmicks.

My favourite character has to be Detective Lee Jae Han (guys, I'm starting to remember character names now!! Do you like my new skill?!).

It wasn't difficult to root for this guy, even though he is relegated to the scenes of the past 95% of the time, and the past is edited in a way that the frame ratio is a bit skewed, so the characters of the past look deformed in my eyes. But still, even with being made to look deformed and a layer of yellowish hue over him, his character shines through. I love him!!! Not the I fall in love with him in a romantic sense, but I love him for his zeal to catch the culprits, his tenacity against those with greater power while attempting to restore justice, his quirky ways around women that he likes, his genuine desire to right the wrong, his unwavering core integrity. Ahhh. He's just the hero that you root for by default, no ifs and no buts. You don't get to choose to root for him. He chooses you to root for him. I rest my case.

I also would like to publicly announce my greatest admiration for Detective Cha Soo Hyun (guys I haven't just acquired this new skill, I've actually mastered it!!). She's this wide eyed sweetheart rookie in the past, but a stern, no bullshit team leader in the present, and it's this duality of her persona that I find intriguing. Sometimes her woebegone present character makes me think she's not an absolute protagonist, like she can be driven to make bad decisions if given enough push, and I initially hoped that she will do at least one bad choice because that would add more layers and dimension to her character, and hey a little spin on the narrative. But she didn't, the farthest she went to was being suspicious of the profiler Park Hae Young (oh my God guys, I'm on a roll). But now, thinking of it in retrospect, I'm actually glad that all three of them have been in the same team from the beginning, because if Cha Soo Hyun did turn her back against the other two, that just creates unnecessary tension, and I don't know anyone else who harbours as much hatred as I do for unnecessary tension. As if the whole drama hasn't done enough damage to my heart already.

The culmination of this drama, to me, lies in Episode 15. My little sister was legit concerned when she came back from school and found a puffy eyed, red faced crying stupor (read : me) opening the door for her. 

Because that's the impact of Episode 15 to a crybaby like me. This episode was when I realised sometimes it's just impossible to find a solution that ticks all boxes, a solution that works in everyone's best interests. Yes I did realise that, but I couldn't bring myself to fully accept it. Because I want Park Hae Young's brother (Park Sun Woo) to be rescued from being murdered under the pretence of suicide, and that was only possible had Lee Jae Han straight away gone to Injoo after receiving the call, instead of joining his team (together with Cha Soo Hyun) to catch a burglar. But had he not joined his team to capture the burglar, he wouldn't have been so severely injured that gave Cha Soo Hyun the desperation to confess her feelings. Had she not confessed her feelings, Lee Jae Han would have never known, ever. And Cha Soo Hyun would've been the one stabbed by the burglar if there's was no Lee Jae Han around. But if Lee Jae Han did go to Injoo in time to talk to Park Sun Woo about the red scarf evidence, Park Sun Woo may even get to live until 2015, together with Park Hae Young. This would have saved Park Hae Young from 15 years of deep seated vindication for his hyung, but I think it was that dire need to vindicate for his hyung that fuelled him to pursue his studies in the Police University. Had his hyung lived, after all, he may not even end up being a profiler. He wouldn't have moved to Seoul and got into a new school and seen that little girl being abducted and solved that abduction cold case in the present.

It's a tricky thing, you change one thing of the past, and the effect makes this huge ripple all the way to the future, in greater ways than you can imagine.

But here we have in Episode 15, present day Park Hae Young is crumbled and losing himself in the jail, and Cha Soo Hyun desperately wants Lee Jae Han to stay alive, regardless of the scale of ripple that was about to hit her. It seems selfish to me, but this selfishness makes her character even more human, and I would have preferred this to her playing the noble idiot any time. Because her professed feelings were still hanging with no answer from Lee Jae Han. The 15-year wait is a great torment to her, and a person can only wait for so long.

There, right there. This conflict of interests, the way each story is just intricately intertwined with each other, this is where I wanted to just pull all three characters into one group hug and have a crying fest because how else do I tell them that there's no perfect happy ending to this?! I can't save everyone!!!

I was a tad bit disappointed with the final episode, because it feels so altered to the point that it appears like a whole new drama to me. Nonetheless, it gives me a breath of hope that maybe, just maybe, the three of them will live to the day that they can finally meet each other, all three of them. Maybe they'll live to the day they become the dream team and solve future mysteries together. Because as it turns out, only the three of them know that the story has been modified, because only the three of them know about the magical walkie talkie, which brings me to another point :

no one else knows. No one.

No one else has the slightest inkling as to what the story should have been/could have been/would have been. It begs the question are we, all of us in real life, aware that there is a possibility that our stories could have been changed? Are we not aware just because we have no access to the means that allows us to transform the stories? Is it possible that my life and your life was/is actually written out differently, but someone somewhere is holding on to a magical walkie talkie?  It also left the ending as an open end, and I like dramas being open-ended because it leaves me with my own interpretation and it gives me the freedom to craft the ending however way I want it in my mind. Now that there's just one walkie talkie, it's no longer magical as all three of them are in the same timeframe, will the walkie talkie work or would it be obliterated? What will happen? What could happen? The last hospital scene, is it from the past or the present?? Because it looks yellowish to me... Idk man I've lost my marbles after Signal screws up with my mind.

Time paradox is one thing, but being a detective is another thing, so I feel like my mind gets overworked with every episode of this drama, and I mean that in the best possible way. The first transmission that I was introduced to as a viewer took place in 1999, and it was evident that that was Park Hae Young's first time receiving the transmission. However in the very same transmission, Lee Jae Han already knew his name, and it was his calling out Park Hae Young's name that initiated their connection. So when exactly did Lee Jae Han discover of the supernatural powers of his walkie talkie, when and how did he know about someone with the name Park Hae Young from the future, and when was Lee Jae Han's first transmission then? If we arrange the chronological order of the transmissions between Park Hae Young & Lee Jae Han according to Park Hae Young's timeline, the first one was in 1999, and then it jumped backwards to 1989, and started going forward from there. Why is that, who controls the direction in which the time loops? I mean, Lee Jae Han said in the first transmission (1999) that the transmissions will start again, and the year will be 1989, and he was asking Park Hae Young to convince him. The fact that he knew there were/are(??) more transmissions to come suggests that he's gone through these transmissions before, probably more than once, so maybe he had some kind of navigating force that steers the direction of the time loop, or maybe he had the leeway to time travel. It also had me second guessing if there is actually an infinite loops of time paradox going on, and what we're being shown in the drama is just one of the many, many loops. Or maybe the loops overlap and we're seeing fragments of each loop? MY HEAD HURTS.

Another question is when Lee Jae Han altered the fate of the depressed-plastic bag serial killer case by solving it in the year it happened, how? I know he went back to the site and he ran into the killer (who reminds me of BTS' Jungkook!! Is it just me?), and they exchanged an unsettling, knowing smile, and then suddenly case solved already. I just want to know how Lee Jae Han works out his way to come to the conclusion that the guy was/is(???) indeed the culprit.

Overall, Signal is excellent. Like Healer, I'm sad that Signal is not more widely recognised and talked about. But even if Healer had underwhelming response in South Korea, at least it had HUGE international following (I mean, Healer's final episode recap on Dramabeans garnered close to 11 thousand comments, and to me if a drama has that monumental magnitude of power that spurs people into talking and discussing about its elements, that's a reliable indication of how good the drama is). Signal honestly deserves more!!! I was hoping there'd be thousands of comments on Signal's episode recaps on Dramabeans, because there's just so much to talk about! So just like how I annoyed everyone with my recommendation to watch Healer, I will do the same for Signal


Okay maybe not everyone. I've come to terms with the fact that different strokes for different folks, different people watch Korean dramas for different reasons. Some regard Kdramaland as a world of sanctuary that they can escape to when the real world is too much to handle. Some resort to Korean dramas for cutesy fluff and cheesy stories, while some love a bit more action, thrill, brain exercise, and serious showdown. If you're the latter, we're in the same boat, so go watch Signal. Hahah.

So the cure for Signal arrhythmia? None. This condition is here to stay.

There's only palliative management. Management kit : take your antiarrhythmic agents, listen to OSTs for days on end, and be wary of your surroundings because everything will look like it's a scene from Signal

I went to a mall yesterday with my mum and while we were looking for parking in the basement, my heart was pounding, because I felt like I was going through Episode 15 in real life. Over kan. But hey you'll never know when danger will rear its head and strike you. And don't forget to smile before a mentally ill serial killer mistakes your frown as depression and puts an end to your suffering (read : your life).

Anyone else with Signal arryhthmia?? We need to form a support group. Studies show that talking to people with similar condition helps.


  1. Signal arrythmia + ventirucular fibrillation dah ni !! haha love your reviews as always hun :*

  2. OMG I LOVED SIGNAL TOO! So different and so creative and so clever and no forced cohabitation or forbidden love involved!

    1. Exactly! Signal is like a breath of fresh air in kdramaland, breaking all the typical kdrama stereotypes. There's a high possibility for Signal 2 as well, but fingers crossed it'll be as good as, if not better than the first one haha