Writer and revolution. It’s something that I have to see. Literary and history have become the subject of my interests for several years now, so this type of premise caught my attention right away. Well, to be honest, it was more because of Lim Soo Jung’s return to the small screen. Her last drama was 13 years ago and she has since acted more in movies and been dubbed as one of South Korea’s A-list actors, starring in different genres and scales, from romance to arthouse, from indie to blockbuster.
Though I was never really impressed with her acting, but she did fit some of the roles as if they were tailored to suit her. A delusional young woman who thinks she’s a cyborg in Park Chan Wook’s ‘I’m A Cyborg, but That’s OK’ probably is the best example. Throw in Yoo Ah In and Go Kyung Pyo in the picture, the more reason to watch, though I am never a fan of Yoo Ah In and I never get the hype, but I don’t dislike him either.
Chicago Typewriter‘s story revolves around writers who lived in the 1930s’ Japanese occupation of Korea, and are reincarnated into the present as a best-selling writer in a slump, a long-time fan, and a ghostwriter. Using flashback narrative, the story’s going back and forth between the present year and the 1930s, with our heroes keep getting flashing images of their past lives in the present time.
In the previous life, Han Se Joo used to be Seo Hwi Young, a writer who was stuck writing third-rate romance novels as under Japanese colonial regime’s watch, writers didn’t have the freedom to write anything they wish. Hwi Young quit medical school to pursue writing, but he was blacklisted because his writings brought up the social and political themes. Hwi Young was best friend with Shin Yool, who decided to just quit writing and ran a club called Carpe Diem (Seize The Day) instead of writing third-rate novels (whatever that means), where they formed camaraderie with Ryu Soo Hyeon. Soo Hyeon was left alone by her father, who chose to commit suicide than getting arrested by the Japanese soldiers, when she was a kid. The adult Soo Hyeon then became Joseon Youth Alliance’s sniper.
In 1930s, the three were youth revolutionaries of the Joseon Youth Alliance, bound together by the same freedom and independence dreams. Furbabe wrote a very detailed and meticulous historical background of these Korean independence movements, including the resistance groups, and even historical figures, which the drama loosely based upon. Unrelated to the topics, but personally it’s interesting for me to learn that most of these figures were leftist activists (I see so many similarities with Indonesia’s history as both countries were entangled in the same wars), which seems to leave almost no trace in the present South Korea. Quoting from @_Jessee’s analysis, “In the opening sequence, the typewriter is likened to a machine gun that uses the Korean alphabet as bullets. It is especially poignant in the context of Korea under the Japanese rule. Leftist writers who believed literature should serve the cause of class liberation founded the Korean Artists Proletarian Federation (KAPF), which was eventually forced out of existence by the Japanese in 1935.”
In 2017, they meet once again. This time Seo Hwi Young has reincarnated into Han Se Joo (both played by Yoo Ah In), an idol-like best-selling writer who finds himself trapped in a long-term writing drought, or as they like to call it, a slump. Se Joo meets Jeon Seol (Lim Soo Jung), an ex-shooting athlete turns veterinarian and his long-time hard-core fan who is willing to jump at any chance to get close to him. The story later reveals that Jeon Seol is the reincarnation of Ryu Soo Hyeon (also played by Lim Soo Jung). Then there is Yoo Jin Oh (Go Kyung Pyo), a mysterious guy who suddenly appears in front of Se Joo and claims to be Se Joo’s ghostwriter, who is literally a ghost writer. He was trapped in the in-between world not being able to rest in peace because he didn’t know why he died, or what we Indonesians call it, hantu penasaran. The three then work together to finish a novel which will supposedly can help Yoo Jin Oh to discover the cause of his death.
The first eight episodes are quite a drag to be honest. Only after the past lives story takes over most of the plot, the drama gets more interesting. Too bad that it had to take eight episodes for the drama to finally pick up its pace. To make it worse, the present story feels underdeveloped compared to the past lives’ story.
Lim Soo Jung’s performance unfortunately is a big disappointment. She seems lost in figuring out how to portray these two different characters. Both Jeon Seol and Ryu Soo Hyeon come across as weak characters, which is ironic since both are shooters, so I expected they would have some sort of tenacity as well as versatility and resilience, but instead she looks like a fragile glass doll.
Same case with Go Kyung Pyo, especially since he only had to play one character. In his hand, both Shin Yool and Yoo Jin Oh fell a little bit flat. Shin Yool was supposed to be Hwi Yeong’s Fitzgerald to Hemingway, Lee to Capote, Yin to Yang. Unfortunately Kyung Pyo’s performance couldn’t match up to Ah In’s, making him look more like a subordinate rather than a comrade.
Now Yoo Ah In. I finally get what the hype was all about. He does exude this so-called ‘star’ aura. Though I find his acting is always a bit too theatrical, it kind of works for this drama. He’s the only one of the three that sort of successful depicting both characters given to them. Han Se Joo is a kooky and awkward writer hiding behind his palace of fame and fortune, while Seo Hwi Young is the leader of an independence movement hiding behind his third-rate author identity. It still doesn’t impress me that much, but I finally get him. Slightly off topic, I even think that he’s probably one of the very few of South Korean celebrity that can pull off the 80’s oversized slouchy trousers trend while other failed miserably (even Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook looked ridiculous in them). The other one being Bae Doo Na in ‘Secret Forest’. Further analysis of Han Se Joo/Seo Hwi Young’s characterization and backgrounds can be read here, though it’s Yoo Ah In’s biased (since it’s a fansite).
While the show is far from being flawless, but the details (especially the past era parts) are commendable. For me, the highlight of the show is the relationship that goes beyond friendship and romance. It’s a camaraderie shared for the love of motherland and freedom, to achieve a higher purpose, a sovereign nation. It’s heartwarming, though unavoidably heartbreaking in the process.