Rating:
Average user rating 4.8
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Nine: Consequences, resolutions, and the ending

All right, the overall review is up, now on to the good stuff. Not that the rest of the series wasn’t good, of course. There’s just so much going on with the way the series wrapped that I think we’ll have plenty to discuss here. I don’t usually separate out the ending into its own discussion, but this is a unique situation where I believe finding out the ending in advance would especially ruin the experience—it would unravel the whole build-up of the rest of the series. They don’t call ’em spoilers for nuthin’.

Needless to say, this post will be allllllllll about the spoilers. Spoilers, spoilers, everywhere! You are warned.

SONG OF THE DAY

Nine OST – “아홉개의 향” (Nine Incense Sticks) by Lee Ji-hye [ Download ]

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If you’re here, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the show, so let’s dive right in.

A major theme of the drama is the role of god/time/fate, whatever that force is that refuses to let Sun-woo change things to his will, even if presumably that very god/time/fate has permitted a world wherein time-traveling incense sticks exist in the first place. Quibbles. (But honestly, talk about entrapment.)

This force is not treated as a religious or paranormal power, and in fact it’s not an overt character in the drama. The characters speak of a god, but the drama doesn’t explicitly show some external force acting upon the world; it’s more of an interpretation than a hard-and-fast explanation. So while we (and the characters) infer that some generic higher power is displeased at the disruption, the issue is more about retaining a cosmic balance rather than a direct punishment-reward dichotomy.

But the cost of messing with Time is an explicit, real thing. In Sun-woo’s case, not only are his adventures met with thwarted outcomes, he is literally trading in bits of his life every time he burns the incense sticks. His already worsening health accelerates its decline due to his travels, and this culminates with him getting stuck in the past after the last stick burns, using up all his chances to stay alive in the present. But we’ll get to that ending in a minute.

I appreciate that at every point the show demonstrates that the course of life is the sum of choices, and that the drama doesn’t take the traditional K-drama fate line on this. Fate stories tend to take the power of choice away from people, one side effect of which is to absolve them of responsibility for their actions: Fate intended for this to happen, so it’s not your fault.

In this story, to the contrary, we see people maneuvered (coerced, perhaps) into taking responsibility, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of big bro Jung-woo.

So Jung-woo first dies in the Himalayas. After Sun-woo travels to the past and acts as Cupid to reunite the younger hyung with his ex-girlfriend, Jung-woo comes back to life in 2013—or rather, in this new reality, he never pursued the chain of events that would lead him to die in the Himalayas. Instead of fixating on a mysterious time machine, Jung-woo takes over his father’s hospital, marries, and has a seemingly successful life.

However, a closer look proves that the quality of that life is much the same as it was in the previous one: Because his emotional issues stem from the guilt of causing his father’s death and cheating justice, he has essentially forfeited his right to live a normal life. It’s tragic because the accident was an honest mistake and defensible as an act of protection, but his choice to cover it up is what sealed his fate, and speaks to the weakness of his character.

Thus even in this new life, Jung-woo ends up dying; the means are different, but the reasons driving him are much the same. It’s only when his past self is convinced into owning up to his actions that Jung-woo can go on to live a real life. Sure, he may have spent some years in prison, but he can now shake off the crushing guilt that his previous selves suffered, and does good work as a doctor for the disadvantaged. In both previous lives, Jung-woo succumbs to drug use to deal with his depression, but once free of those psychological burdens, I have faith that he’s finally clean in the last version.

That ties in to the realization that Dad’s death was not the tragedy of the past—it wasn’t the incident that needing fixing. The key to Dad’s death is Jung-woo’s complicity in it, and in getting to the bottom of the full story Sun-woo gains a measure of understanding, as does his brother. By leading him to making the right choice, Sun-woo saves his brother’s life in a way he couldn’t accomplish when he simply gave him the trappings of a happy life—having a wife and daughter kept Jung-woo hanging on longer, but it wasn’t enough.

One of my favorite developments from the dual-time storyline is the way that Young Sun-woo begins affecting the future as much as Future Sun-woo affects the past. This occurs in the stretch when Sun-woo runs out of incense sticks (having left the remainder in the past, deciding not to use them anymore), which keeps his younger self in fits of curiosity, waiting for him to show up in 1993 again as promised. It’s a genuine head-scratcher to cut off the hero’s access to the time machine with no way of getting them back.

So Young Sun-woo diligently waits, and writes a steady stream of messages to his older self, while Future Sun-woo can do nothing to answer him. There’s no way to explain that he’s dying of a brain tumor, either, to ensure that his adult self lives past 2013. And yet, it’s Young Sun-woo who figures it out on his own, deducing in his logical way that there’s a reason Future Sun-woo can’t come back. When he finds out about the possibility of a brain tumor, he secures his own future—having the knowledge means he can prevent the illness that Future Sun-woo couldn’t catch in time.

And, most importantly, his younger self finds the incense sticks recovered in the aftermath of the fire, and sends them back (er, forward) to Future Sun-woo. Now how’s that for a clever partnership?

I love that Sun-woo actually dies (twice!), because the drama doesn’t draw back at the last minute, saving him before we call its bluff—it frankly wasn’t bluffing. On the flipside of that is my disappointment in knowing that he died twice, because reviving Sun-woo in a rewritten alterna-reality doesn’t quite have the same punch as knowing the original Sun-woo lived on.

For one, the mechanics puzzle me: Consider the scenario when Future Sun-woo dies on the operating table in 2013. At just about the same time in 1993, his younger self makes the brain tumor connection and thereby secures his future health, rewriting history. So then Future Sun-woo returns to life. Not in the sense of reanimating a dead body, but in the same way that Jung-woo’s altered storyline now avoids the road that would have led to death.

Even so, this revived self retains all the time-traveling memories of the other one (including the part where he died), like he’s a video game character cashing in a 1-UP token to get another life, and I’m left wondering just what happened, in a metaphysical sense. It’s one thing to merely “acquire” memories of an altered past, the death-to-life jump strains my imagination.

Confusion aside, there’s a fantastic symbolism to Sun-woo’s death in 1993 as he finds himself stranded in the wrong era, without even his own identity. I would shudder to think what would happen if he were actually allowed to live on in that world, because could you imagine the chaos that would wreak? Would a cosmos that allowed him to leap into a different time allow him to stay there? I would argue no.

“The incense was me,” Sun-woo realizes in his last moments. It’s a spine-chilling line, as befits a drama that is bold enough to play out its life-and-death stakes to their full conclusions. Even if he weren’t to die in the hit and run, he has still used up all his incense sticks, and I fear that that means his life has been used up as well.

This question turns out to be a moot point when he dies in the phone booth soon thereafter—trapped in his glass box, locked out of his life, ultimately killed by the same device that allowed him these travels in the first place.

A stranded Sun-woo isn’t the only potential complication to threaten our future, because as more and more people start learning about the incense, their combined knowledge starts messing with history in diverging, conflicting ways. No longer are we dealing with one ripple sent out by one person, but a whole cascade of them. The circle of characters “in the know” expands from the inner circle to include dangerous loose cannons, particularly once Choi gets his hands on a stick and takes a quantum leap himself, spawning so many alternate memories that the future starts feeling rather unstable.

It’s a scenario that brings to mind Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (spoiler alert?), where the time traveler’s series of changes to history render the world so unsteady that it becomes assailed by numerous large-scale disasters. He plays with Time and literally brings about the end of the world.

Nine doesn’t go this far, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that this kind of chaos is where we’d be headed if things were allowed to continue indefinitely. The present world gets too twisted, with Sun-woo and Jung-woo and Young-hoon and Min-young and Chairman Choi all finding out about the time travel and being awakened to their alterna-realities.

That’s why I’m a fan of the ending, because it provides a clean slate to start over with. Instead of a future where all those intersecting lines and parallel lives coexist in these people’s heads, some in direct conflict with the material world around them, the drama is able to present a single truth with which everybody can continue onward. There’s a really lovely simplicity about that.

The Sun-woo who prevails in our last episode is the grown-up version of Young Sun-woo, who went on to live a life much as his original version did. (Once again, we are shown that Time or Fate is a massive force that is difficult to divert from its original intentions.) The older Sun-woo(s) who tried to alter time paid the price for their interference and died, but the Sun-woo we are left with is the unwrinkled life. There’s something deeply satisfying in that.

(Yet I will concede that there’s also a tinge of dissatisfaction, depending on how you choose to view it. Is the final version a facsimile life, because it’s not really the Sun-woo we started with? Are all realities equally valid? Is only the first one valid? Or should we measure success by the last one standing?)

In Future Sun-woo’s final message to his 1993 self, he advises the younger version to forget about his encounter with the older one, because he wants him to live out his life freely. He says that Young Sun-woo’s choices will create the older man, so there’s no need to wonder or worry what became of the visitor from the future; if he continues to live his life well, in twenty years he will meet that man in the mirror.

Thus we circle back round to the issue of choice, and in the last scene, Sun-woo (the last one) ponders how to make sense of his knowledge, and how to reconcile his belief in fact versus fantasy: Is it fantasy to hope that he can live on? “In 2013, the me from the future traveled to 1993 and died there. Because that happened in the future, is that something I can avoid because I know about it? Or, because I died in the past, is it already a foregone conclusion?”

In true Sun-woo fashion, he decides that the simple approach is best: He’ll move forward and live as best he can, regardless of that question. If that means he’s believing the fantasy he wants to believe, he will, and he’ll love the woman he loves.

But, but, but… does Sun-woo live? Or is he doomed to die again per the “foregone conclusion”?

Here’s how I see it: The original Sun-woo (er, the second, really) traveled to the past and died, which means that he disappears from his own lifetime. The people in his future will never see him again, and if we were somehow able to find some magical incense sticks to transport ourselves twenty years into the future, first of all don’t do it, but second of all we would find that Sun-woo existed there, but one day was nowhere to be found.

But that future timeline exists until something in the past changes its course. This parallel-flow mechanism tells us that when younger Sun-woo acts differently than Original Sun-woo did at that age, his future is now changed. All series long we have been following the older hero, but now that he’s gone, we hop timelines to follow the last Sun-woo left—and he is, ultimately, the one whose history will stand.

Even if younger Sun-woo reaches a point in time where he finds out about these incense sticks, he will have no reason to go back. For one, he is now armed with the knowledge that time travel is dangerous. For another, the great injustice in his past no longer hangs there unsolved, prompting him to pursue revenge. As he told himself, he trusts that he’ll make the right choice—and it’s the sum of those daily choices that make up his character.

In short? The younger man creates the older one, and Sun-woo lives. And living well, they say, is the best revenge.

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Thank you so much for the ending discussions. Even after months of watching this drama, I didn't have anybody to talk to that explained quite this well. :)

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Bravo, Javabeans! Really cool. Really!

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Question for everyone, including javabeans.

So, then, do you think that the very first scene was a scene from the new timeline? Or do you think it was from the original timeline?

I think it almost has to be from the new timeline given what we see then and with the last scene.

But that raises additional questions like why does Jung-Woo go back to the Himalayas if he's at peace with his life.

Also, how does Sun-Woo know that Jung-Woo is going to be trekking in the Himalayas....

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This has confused everyone. All the blogs and discussion groups I found online questioned that scene also. I wish the writer of this series could be interviewed to answer these questions and give her insight into the thought process behind all this.

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If I recall correctly, the writer left it open for interpretation.
It's your choice:
There is no answer.
or
Whatever YOU think is right. Ha!

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That is the only question I have left from the show. I *think* the opening scene with hyung is actually the future with Sun-Woo 2.0. Because if that happened in the first timeline (with Sun-Woo 1.0) hyung wouldn't have died and the rest wouldn't have occurred. That's the best I can do with an explaination. Feel free to inject your own theories :)

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Oh, and also, the only thing we know is that Sun-Woo 2.0 is content with his life. We know nothing about hyung 2.0. Sun-Woo 2.0 is smart and probably put together the clues about hyung 2.0's behavior at the coffee shop and that's why he determinedly sets off to save hyung 2.0.

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To be quite honest, I feel like that scene was more sequel-baity than anything, and clearly put there to raise questions rather than answer them. (Plus it happens as the credits are rolling, after the series as 'closed,' so to speak.) So maybe that's why I didn't really think much about not arriving at a definitive answer for how this came to be, because I felt it was intended not to be an answer.

(I would hate a sequel, by the way. Let the cohesiveness of this series endure as it is!)

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This is how I understood the last scene (I wrote a similar answer on another blog after the show ended)

Jung Woo is destined to find the incense sticks. Fate happens, you can’t escape it. So even ‘new’ JW of 2013 finds the incense sticks during his conference. He is not consciously looking for them, they come to him. JW dies on the mountain. SW 2.0 learns about his fate, the incense stick is in JW’s hands and ‘new’ SW knows now how to use it. He also knows about the time of death of JW, because his attendance at a conference narrows the time line down. Also he doesn’t have to find JW at a definite point in time. A time slot is good enough, because he roughly knows the place where they’ll find the body. Being the fighter that he is, SW is not willing to accept JW’s fate. (He once said, when MY broke up with him, that he would always, always fight till the end and use the incense.) He waits 20 years (hence the aged look) and travels back to save his brother. “Long time no see.”
The first scene of the show was indeed a flash forward to the end. Full circle.

I loved how the writer knew from the very beginning how the show should end and followed it through, it never had a sequel feeling to me. So cleverly done!

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This is exactly what i thought too. JW waits 20 years and saves his brother

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I thought it was about sun woo saving his brother, but I thought it was also about his brother trying to fix things again. Why? Because he wants to save sun woo that's dead in 1993. The two brothers that meet are future-dead in the past sun woo and adjusted brother number 3.

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ahjummabunny I don't think you are right there.

His brother wouldn't know Sun-woo 1.0 died. Why? Because the last time they met was at christmas a year before Sun-woo 2.0 went to nepal. ( just as 1.0 did)

The scene where MY tells him that his first version died was shortly before he 2.0 went to nepal. So there is NO WAY he would know.

Confusing right?

So (MAYBE!) he might get a call after the last scene in the plane and the detective tells him that they found his dead brother....and here comes the full circle of the ending sequence. Old Sun woo 2.0 rescues his brother 2.0 and thereby creates a new alternative reality...

ONE REALLY HUGE QUESTION I HAVE:

For me the first sequence was already a hint that someone from the future might rescue the brother in the snow. As the series went by it became clear that it only could be Sun Woo. (that scene always stayed in the back of my mind)

BUT! Remember the scene where Director Choi used one of the two sticks he gained? One fizzles into air. That where the two sticks from the past. That first one he lit - that one was already used by Sun Woo.

So I thought maybe there is always only ONE TIME to use an incense stick in the whole space-time-continuum. But that might not be the case right? Because Sun Woo uses THOSE sticks again, which he used in his first life already, to safe his brother after 20 years of waiting.

SO - there is no ending to the use of those sticks....never ever...they could be used again and again - if they (the sticks) wanted to be used?!

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Newbie, agree with your interpretation.

There was a discussion on Soompi at the time of the show's ending, that pointed out how careful this production was with details - even things like when the Teddy Bear was and was not in the car with young MY (as lotus pointed out in that forum). As I wrote then, no detail in this drama is wasted or wrong - the writing and editing are so careful and thorough. All the flash-forwards that show up from so early on in the show, including the very first scene, really stand up to our scrutiny, which is so rewarding.
So the 2 scenes (very beginning and very ending) were definitely critical parts of the (current) story. The now-grown (formerly Past) SW returns to save JW 20 years later. He would be 58 in his timeline. He is “the man who used one stick to save his family” alluded to when the incense is first introduced; and left the rest behind, because he knew that all of original SW’s trips back to the past resulted in his death, and he didn't want to repeat that, nor was there any need to.

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Yes! Totally forgot about the line 'the man who used one stick to save his family'!

I see it just like you. This drama was written and produced very carefully with every detail being in the right place. It is a feast for an attentive viewer and among the best things I ever saw on TV. :)

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@gretac - I also completely forgot about "the man who used one stick to save his family" and I think your explanation works! If I go with that, I think I can finally be satisfied with the ending of this drama.

Of course, with all the fantastic discussions on this post, I feel the need to go back and watch it again!

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That might sound smart but that is to much for my head...no way he could be the one who did that.

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I love this interpretation. However, if he saves his hyung 20 yrs in the future, how can he be the man who saved his family with one stick in the past, 20 yrs ago when his hyung heard the story?

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This is exactly what I thought too. Sun Woo looked older (so he lives, yay!) and he said it had been a long time. So I assumed he hadn't seen Jun gWoo in 20 years because he died there, and Sun Woo waited, then used the incense to go back and save him.

(I always thought it was strange that in the first scene, we see Jung Woo dying on the mountain, but then he's found dead in a river...so it makes sense by the end, that those scenes were in different timelines)

I'm very curious though, why Jung Woo went to the Himalayas in the final timeline, and how he got the one incense stick in the first place.

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Remember what Jung Woo said to Choi Jin Cheol in the "happy ending" future timeline made by sw 2.0:

"We'll meet in hell"

Jung Woo may have payed for his crimes while in prison, but he never forgive himself, in the sw 3.0 timline the same mindset remains because jung woo didn't build a family or never tried to contact his lost love, it's clearly stated that she doens't know about his crime.

Jung Woo was definitely not in peace.

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I know this is an old post but I just had to get this out of my system.....

Sun Woo 2.0 can't re-use the incense found on JW 2.0's hands.... because it has been used by Sun Woo 1.0 when he was looking for the other 9 incense.

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I agree. Once the incense stick has been used, it can't be used again. I have another theory for the ending, the Sun-woo with his brother in the last scene is Sun-woo 1.0. I blogged about my interpretation in details, please read if you are interested.

http://oh-my-tv.blogspot.sg/2014/10/nine-nine-time-travels-ending.html

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Thanks Javabeans for this post.
After reading your comments one thing became very clear- that at the moment Young SW found out he would have a life-threatening brain tumor in the future, he acted upon it causing a ripple effect of saving and extending Future SW’s supposed life expectancy. I believe that the Future SW is wise in the sense that he knew from then on that he has passed the ball to Young SW and that everything he’d be doing – like risking his life going back to 1993 and dying in that “past” - won’t weigh much anymore since Young SW is already rewriting his life story. Like you, I also believe that future timeline exists until something in the past changes its course.
I also believe that final scene at the Himalayas shown while the credits are rolling is not a part of the story anymore but a sequel-baiting thing.

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This post was put together so well. Love the last line that living well is the best revenge. It made me smile and feel at peace about this drama. Thanks, javabeans!!

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I think the very first scene is actually the very last scene (how the whole episodes intended to end).

The story starts with JW learns the news about his brother's death in Himalaya. His death prompts him to start the whole time travelling business, which ends up with his own death. But his death doesn't go in vain because his younger version lives.

This younger version has the chance to go to Himalaya and finds his brother in time.

What they'll do with the remaining time travel devise is not explained but we're shown that both of them live.

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Actually we don't really even know for sure that both lived - perhaps he went there to say goodbye.

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The first scene has to be from the new timeline. There's no reason to introduce a stranger (the shadow, in the middle of the snowy mountains) without resolving who that is. It has to be grown up Sun Woo.

Jung Woo was shown to always be weak-willed - the first timeline, the second, and probably also the third. He may have paid the price by going to jail, but this does not change the fact that he killed his father and would likely regret this for the rest of his life. And his mother still suffered from dementia, also a consequence of this. This would be reason enough to want to travel back in time to try to save his life as original Sun Woo once did.

As for Sun Woo knowing, well he's proven himself to be quite resourceful so far. But I don't know for sure.

I really doubt there will be a sequel. I think the last scene (in the snow) is a closure to the first scene. Basically saying we can fix today's issues today, we don't need to go back in time to fix anything.

To me, I very much prefer a larger focus of the ending on original Sun Woo than the "younger" one. Even if it's all death and gloom, I rather they kill Sun Woo off right and proper then end the drama. I really don't care how the "younger" Sun Woo leads his life in the future. But I think they had to do it this way in order to provide an answer to the first scene (shadow over Jung Woo).

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Thanks for all the replies.

I guess it's one of those open-ender things that won't ever be resolved.

I agree with javabeans that I don't think a sequel would work very well.

Most of the conflicts have ended and Choi has got his comeuppance. There's not really any more room for more conflicts.

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I think the last scene shows the possibility of a completely different reality. Meaning when Sung-woo found out about his brother's death and the incense sticks he could have only used a few to find the rest of the sticks and prevent his own brain tumor , and wait for twenty years and then go back and save his brother from the himalayas . This way would have caused the least changes to everybody's lives , but of course Sung-woo had no way of knowing beforehand that this would be better or easier. I feel the whole point of those first and last scenes is showing that there are always lots of ways to choose to go , but one cannot predict which one will be better , and one can definitely not know that what he thinks is better for him is really better for him!

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From what I understand the trek to the himalayas of Sun-Woo on the first timeline was after his brother died. So, in this timeline, where he goes to the Himalayas soon because of Min Joon, he could save his brother even though the ending doesn't give much information.

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Amazing post! The last part gave me chills and I find Sun-woo's approach super-inspiring :D

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Loved loved loved this show.
I'm a Yankee and am not at all confident that the American version will do this original story the justice it deserves. The masses who prefer perfectly and prettily wrapped, happy-ever-after endings is just too strong.

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Of course it won't we always ruin anything we remake, especially if its origin is from Asia.

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Sajen, its my curiousity. Would u tell me some Asian remake? all I know was Lake House and 18 vs 29 (?)

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The Ring, The Grudge, a whole slew of Japanese horror movies, I think there was a remake of the Korean movie Phone, Oldboy, sure it's not out yet but I already know it's horrible.

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Thank you sajen..
haven't watched any of them as I dropped US movies recently. I do occasionally watch only that aired in national TV.

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Adding My Sassy Girl & Infernal Affairs

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I'm no Yankee but I'm not optimistic the US version will be any good. The track record of Asian remakes (besides The Departed) was never so great. I don't doubt they can pull off the actiony timetravely stuff. But I don't think anyone does the emotional stuff as well as our Korean blokes. I haven't seen any US shows in recent years though, so hopefully they surpass my expectations.

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I didn't feel cheated by the ending.

It was sad but I mean, Sun-Woo was trying to cheat TIME which we know will only bring catastrophe. I am just glad Future Sun-woo decided to make his own decisions and not live in fear that things could go wrong since he already have more than a glimpse of what could happened.

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Thank you so much for your view of the ending! The ending has been on my mind for months now, especially the last scene. So it felt good to hear what others thought about the ending. I thought the same; the older Sun-Woo died in the past, but the younger Sun-Woo lived on with some knowledge of the future.

But did Sun Woo, in the last scene, really fly to Himalaya to meet Min-Young? Or did he possible have other motives for flying there?

And is the drama trying to say that the future Sun-Woo from 2032 maybe will travel back to 2012 to save (again) his brother from freezing to death?

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Whoah. This write-up blew my mind. I guess I was a little stupid so I didn't think of the ending like that but what you said makes a lot of sense. I was already quite satisfied with the ending but hadn't really understood what it meant . Thanks for detailing the last few dialogues.

Also, if I remember correctly, wasn't there a scene of the Himalayas trip at the very end, sort of like revisiting the Himalayas scene in the first scene of the series? What was that about?

Anyways, thanks for sharing this write-up. It makes me want to go back and rewatch Nine again just to see the awesomeness unfold once more. Also, one of my favorite things about the dual timelines was how younger Sun-woo kept trying to contact future Sun-woo. Funny how the multiple Sun-woos were all fated to be awesome, hehe.

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I thought that you would talk about the first scene in the drama with the shadow over Jung-Woo's body and the last scene which appears to be Sun-woo from 20 years in the future coming back to save his brother.

He had one incense stick left and he saved it for 20 years just so that he could go back at the right moment in time to save his brother again.

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This was also my belief on the mechanics of that scene.

He had to wait around twenty years (by himself) to make the final attempt at making things right.

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But does new timeline Sun Woo know that his brother from the other timeline dies in the Himalayas? Like, the older brother in the Himalayas is from the original timeline, but in the new timeline, he'd have no reason to be in the Himalayas. And new Sunwoo wouldn't know that his older brother died in the Himalayas in the original timeline.

So, they're in completely different realities, so I don't think it's new timeline Sun Woo.

Oh wait. Is that the original Sun Woo, who didn't die because of the choices new Sun Woo made? So it's original Sun Woo, who is now alive, who goes back to save his brother?

I'm going to stop thinking now, I'll just end up going around in circles.

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In the new timeline, Jung Woo goes to the Himalayas, there's a short scene with him calling Sun Woo and telling him he's going there right before Sun Woo finds out Min Young is also going to Nepal, and we're assuming he dies there (in the new timeline, as well as the old). Sun Woo, in the new timeline, saves the final incense stick for 20 years, then goes back to the Himalayas and saves him. So the beginning scene, and the final scene, are both New Timeline Jung Woo and New Timeline Sun Woo, only Sun Woo is from 2033, 20 years later, because he had to wait in order to use the incense one last time.

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I think you are right. Thanks for this conclusion. Now i can sleep peacefully.

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Agree - See thread above at 2.3.1 and following.

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This wrap up is really really good. I read through twice, but still need to read it again to make sure I get it.

I agree that I also loved how because of Adult SW, Young SW managed to survive because he knew to check for brain tumors early, but didn't change his life too much as a result of meeting/interacting with him(self.)

I cried like a baby when SW died in the past in the phonebooth after warning Min-young away from himself. It really made his SW V2's ultimate survival past the cancer very satisfying to me. Yes, the poor guy died cold, in pain, alone and terrified, but it wasn't the end of him forever.
Sort of.

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That was what was so bittersweet. That he died in the past and couldn't be a part of the present. However, because he managed to change and progress his own life, it was worth all that he went through. So yeah....that moment was very touching and I wouldn't have wished it otherwise. Seeing Sun-woo slowly dying in such a lonely manner broke my heart.....but seeing him live a potentially better life in the end gave me hope for him.

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I also cried like a baby when he died in that phone booth. Because for me he IS the hero, the one I root for. It completely breaks my heart that he dies alone like that while leaving his waiting bride behind. It's so sad.

Yes, the other SW lives, but it's not the same. The old SW is the one who is with me, the one I fall in love with. The one I want to be happy but ends up dead like that.

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that's where i stop watching cos i cried and cried for days... even thinking abt it right now make me teary -that's how affected i am of this show. i dont have the heart to continue anymore.

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It all makes sense now!!!! thank you for your spoilers and insights!

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Wow!!!!! Especially this --> "Is the final version a facsimile life, because it’s not really the Sun-woo we started with? Are all realities equally valid? Is only the first one valid? Or should we measure success by the last one standing?"

Great post!

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I appreciate the cerebral meaning of the ending, though I admit I was disappointed and heartbroken for the Min Young and Young-Hoon from original/older Sun-Woo's timeline who are left to accept Sun-Woo's death. The romance did work for me, there was a ton of chemistry, and so that part was sad.

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This show was a rollercoaster mindfuck. Awesome.

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exactly.

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butt
the wayyy last scene with the even-older sun-woo reaching out to his brother in the mountain?!
still confused about that scene.....

nine was definitely one of my favorite dramas! so deep...made me think a lot.

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This was the reason that I loved this show so much: not everything was wrapped up with a nice shiny bow by the end, but it still felt satisfactory and real. I'm watching this show for the third time now, and I'm still picking up on new little details I didn't notice before. Thanks for this post!

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What an incredible post. I must say i didnt think that much nor think that much of the show while it was going on. I enjoyed it intellectually with regards to the consequences of playing with time but i really didnt like the romance thrown in. Emotionally it didnt connect.

Your post did more to make me think than the drama did. Thanks!

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I loved the interaction between the two Sun Woos, who were both very smart. I can't help but feel that older Sun Woo died in the past (I remember bawling), but as the only evidence of all those past alternate realities was his own memory, maybe the one we've been following all along was erased too. That's the only conclusion I can come to without thinking about Min Young waiting in the future.

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Bloody hell thats one awesome and amazing analysis JB.. Indeed i salute thee for this incredible post.

I will admit, I felt a little stumped when I couldnt figure out just how the Sun Woo came back in 2012, in the Himalayas, when he rescues Hyung.. But then, we can only understand that, the Sun Woo who got stuck in 1993, manages to live because the 2012 new Sun Woo made the choice to live and save him??

That part still eludes me.. If the new 2012 version manages to not use the sticks knowing its implications, then does it mean there will be more sticks left?

Can someone help me with this analysis?? I would like to atleast have the mystery solved by say 30%.. will help me sleep better

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I don't think 2012 Sun-Woo can use the sticks at all, even if he somehow finds them (I don't think they exist in the new timeline as they would be stuck in the first timeline). It looked like the Rule of the Sticks was that you can't reuse a stick that has already been used, even if it was used elsewhere. Remember when that one stick turned to ashes when lit? I think if 2012 Sun-Woo found the nine sticks, the same would happen. Also, Original Sun-Woo was the sticks personified, and he not only died in 1993, but no longer exists at all in the new timeline.

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Maybe.. your analysis makes sense..
But what about the final scene?? Jung Woo had the stick in his hand as seen in the original time line..

Point is, if the past Sun Woo of 1993's actions reflected in the 2012 timeline, with Sunwoo saving Sun Woo and all.
Then if and its a big IF.. the sticks do exist and he doesnt use it, then the Sun Woo stuck in 1993 and died might just live,. For if he is the sticks personified, then if they arent used, they still have their life

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I meant that the sticks may physically exhist but they aren't useful for time travel. So hyung can still hold the stick even if it doesn't work.

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The incense stick cannot be used but Sun-woo 1.0 is still alive, and he's the one who appears in the last scene with his brother. I have an explanation for that in my blog. Feel free to read if you are interested.

http://oh-my-tv.blogspot.sg/2014/10/nine-nine-time-travels-ending.html

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Hmm, I hadn't thought of that before. You could be right. I personally took it differently. If in this version of reality he doesn't get the incense or chooses not to use them that would not only affect his future but it would now go back and affect his past because his current self would essentially negate the actions of his previous self. If that makes any sense, haha. Which leads me to believe that not only will he end up with the incense again, he has to use the incense. Once you use the incense all versions of yourself are forced to use them, it's cyclical. If you follow the same train of thought this might also mean he has to die again, but there are definitely others ways to look at it. It's fun to think about though. :) Also, I think the clip with hyung in the snow was more of a tease than an answer to any questions.

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I'm super hoping that this isn't an eternal loop time travel story!

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Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I finished Nine only weeks ago, but it's a pleasure to revisit this series through such an insightful lens.

My knee-jerk reaction as the drama wound to a close was one of distaste. I initially felt cheated that the original Seonwoo dies and young Seonwoo takes precedence, 'cause like the universal question goes, what makes you, you? Memories, and therefore experiences. But young Seonwoo does not have the same experiences as that of the original Seonwoo, someone with whom we've stuck through thick and thin as he weathers pain, suffering, and hardships for a whoppin' nineteen episodes. I was a little bitter that when all's said and done, he died a sad death alone in the past. In a way, young Seonwoo... felt less worthy to take the reins.

To my surprise, I came to terms with that by the very end and began to appreciate the overarching simplicity of young Seonwoo's narrative. Everything the original Seonwoo did was not in vain; he put everything back in its rightful place—Jungwoo deservingly receives his chance for redemption, and Choi Jincheol is paying the price for the crime he should never have committed. Anddd, let's not forget, he paves the way for young Seonwoo to become the best he could be, a reality that wouldn't have been possible in the original Seonwoo's timeline, at least not with all the cluttered, conflicting realities existing in everyone's minds.

This show was all sorts of awesome, really.

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Ok, ok I think I get it now! I thought there was an alternate timeline where Sun-woo disappeared and everyone has to live the rest of their lives without him; then there's a separate second timeline where young sun-woo grows up and gets to have a better life. But actually as young sun-woo grows up he is re-writing the original future day by day so that by the time he is as old as first Sun-woo was the sad future no longer exists. Right, right? Am I right?

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Right!!

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Yes, agree! You said that much more simply and clearly than I have been able to!

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"Nine doesn’t go this far, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that this kind of chaos is where we’d be headed if things were allowed to continue indefinitely. The present world gets too twisted..."

I'm a fan of time travelling story but to be honest IF somehow someone would actually able to invent time machine in a distant future I won't be pleased. I would be livid if my perfectly fine life suddenly change without me knowing why because of the ripple effects. Time travelling should be outlawed in our time just in case.

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Not sure how you would "outlaw" something that probably won't be around for thousands of years, if ever.

But on the other hand, perhaps your perfectly fine life has ALREADY been changed - how would you know?

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That's exactly my point. I want my life to change for better or worse because of me. Because of the decisions I make not because of the doing/decision made by somebody else who doesn't even aware that their decisions will affect my life.

But again these talks are all hypothetical. Personally I don't believe that a time machine would ever be invented in the future nor that we could travel back and forth in a time line.

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Thanks for reviewing this sooo much!!! I watched this a while back, and I was actually a little bit confused over the ending, tho I didn't dislike it. It cleared up a lot of stuff for me.

This show was just all kinds of awesome really. It's the best time-travel I've seen so far. Heart-wrenching, in a great sort of realistic way. I don't even know if that sentence made sense lol.

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Great post! Thanks for clarifying some things I wasn't able to see clearly when I was watching it. I think this is the drama (one of) that I'll rewatch over the holidays.

I think this is one of the most solid dramas this year and though it started off slowly, it was worth watching until the end. I love the writers/PD and tvN.

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My conclusion to this series: time travel is not possible. :) I have theorized my way into so many paradoxes and impossibilities while thinking about this drama! It's been fun.

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Actually, I think it was Stephen Hawking said that time travel may be theoretically possible, but only one way - to the past. But he also concluded that it would take enormous amounts of energy, perhaps as much as a supernova puts out.

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He actually said the opposite, it is possible but only to the future. :) Haha, I just listened to an NPR podcast about that.

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when i saw this post,i really wonder if you hv finish e shw n recap it becos if e news of e US remake.anyway,i watched e shw after readin e news too.i am glad i got thetip to fast fwd past ep 4.from then on,its realky mind blowing n i crash the shw in 3dys makin my eyes hurt.

really one of the most thoughtful time traveling shw ever.it is a classic n lee jin wook shd really be proud thar he took on tis drama.

i can see why its suitable for a us remake,i felt like i was watchin a us drama anyway.

good shw!no regrets watchn it

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Omg was yhis drama this goof I never watched t fully I just caught bits from gere and there now I have a reason to watch it sound so deep and amazing PLUS hyun shik oppaa ! How amazibg was he

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The conclusion that the sunwoo at the end who boarded the plane is the same as the one in himmalayas hence making the beginning of episode 1 same as the end of the last episode, sounds more logical.

He did not need to use the time machine to save his brother but just made sure he was there on time.

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my favourite scenes are the interaction between younger and adult Sun Woo. It feels so heartwarming... I remember feeling the same when I was watching Choi Hee Jin - Kim Bung Do's interaction in QIHM. Park Hyung sik is such a talented idol, Lee Jin Wook is so hawt!

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Thanks for an awesome review of an awesome show.

After being such a fan of QIHM, creating an even better time-traveling show became such a tall order... So glad to be proven wrong.

It'll definitely watch out for the next project of this Writer-PD tandem.

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As you probably already know, Nine was written by the same people behind QIHM. Though hardly anyone knows that Nine was actually written first.

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Interesting that Nine was written first - thanks for that tidbit!

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Thank you for your explanation!!!!I was so confused about that ending, but now i get it and agree with you!
Makes sense!!! So happy that he will live on!!!

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I confess: I was quite mad at you guys here when Nine was dropped - I was so in love with it I couldn't quite believe.

But now that I've read both reviews I'm pretty happy that you gave it another chance and found it satisfying. I agree with you most of the time, oh ok, I don't agree about the religious stuff. It seemed to me they were mixing Budism and Hinduism beliefs, while trowing Christian ones to make us confused. Hee.

I think the drama suffered a little detour somewhere in the middle because of young Young-hoon DUI (off screen I mean). I distinctly remember the times it hinted at possible future life changings for Young-hoon and nothing happened.

For anything that matters, Nine is absolutely fascinating and most probably the best drama of 2013 (next to Heartless City).

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I agree with ur conclusion to the end but I don't understand why Hyung still went in search of the joss sticks in Nepal. The guy who greeted Hyung was that sun woo from 2023?

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Thank you so much for this, Javabeans. Thanks for filling the request. It seems like everyone has got a different openion about the ending. It was good to read all the different theories. I guess I should be happy with my best theory too. Yay, for Nine being a winner show. It somehow flew under my radar when it aired but so glad I decided to watch this. Lee Jin-wook's charm definitely doesn't hurt.

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Thank you so much for the explanation. Now I understood well and appreciate the drama. No wonder people from other countries would like to remake this drama. Congratulations to Nine maker and my idol Lee Jin-Wook.

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All drama long I felt compelled by how the story would unfold rather than by how it would end. Even after finishing it, I felt the journey was what made me enjoy it so much. The ending was pitch perfect. Older Sun-woo dies, but in his wake he left his younger self to grow up with the knowledge that older Sun-woo left. Like a parent and child. Loved it.

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Just finished watching Nine. What a show!

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I also noticed that the incense sticks took you back 20 years, while the series has 20 episodes. If in the end we've burnt a stick, as the series cover picture shows, then indeed we've traveled to the beginning of the series.

I picked up this drama because of the reviews. Good recommendation! Indeed, very clever and well thought out.

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I don't really read Korean-drama reviews here in dramabeans, but when I do, it's to satisfy my verdict into a certain drama that I watched. Regarding about why I don't like reading dramabeans reviews, is because the blogger here sometimes write unnecessary words which are difficult and too fancy for an "ordinary" reader to comprehend. We read reviews because we have questions and confusions hindering us to sleep peacefully every time our favorite drama ended with a huge question mark. Instead of understanding a certain drama, few of the bloggers here tends to add more confusion to the K-drama fans, like me, who don't have time to google your unearthly words! (Your english is great! Really great, but you are not writing for an essay to your professor in English class here!)

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Finally! someone talked about Nine's ending. This drama ending is confusing but I enjoy the story line. Indeed, very interesting ending.
Thanks!

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This drama just shot to the top of my "Best Dramas of All Time " list, right after Coffee Prince. It was so careful! As for the ending, I think Sun woo's monologue on the plane at the end about keeping things simple, and living his life as best as he could, explains what we see at the end. At that point he has realized that in his previous timeline he was also in a relationship with Min young, and that *despite* the best efforts of SW 1.0 he's in the relationship again. Which I think means that he realizes that there are some things that are going to happen in his life no matter what. He also knows SW 1.0 dies in 1993, and he doesn't want that to happen. So when Jung Woo (by some unexplained fashion) dies on the mountain again, with Sun woo's new wisdom he realizes the only way to save his brother is by keeping it simple. Be patient, live without him for 20 years, and only go back once to help him off the mountain. I don't know if he's the man who only used one stick to save his family, but it may be the thing that everyone else who uses the sticks eventually comes to realize. You only need to use one, and leave the rest alone.

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i have been watching this drama over and over again ,it has kept me lingering for days,, firstly am not Korean so there are lots of things that gets lost in translation esp when its a drama as complex and intricate as such,,,,, and finally now have been able to make a conclusion my conclusion...
I was completely lost as to why he says that min young was the key to his fate( my brain was at wreck like literally some may have got it sooner but I do get things a bit slowly ya but I did understand it at the end and it feels like a big discovery ) and finally now I understand.........sun woo was in dark of his past self and he would have certainly vanished from the face of earth if it hadn't been for min young who lets him know that his past self dies in 2013.... and so now that he knows it,, the game is in his hands,,,,how he decides to proceed it lies completely on this new sun woo whether he wants to do something about the fact that he will be dying an year from now or not........
and as to how i see it, after understanding the sun woo that we have learnt about in the past 19 episode, he will certainly go back get those incense stick and will save himself and his brother 20 years from now.
but then the series of unfortunate events that will follow because of his interference of the inevitable will be the consequences he will have to pay and he knows that.
I think he will go for another round of time travel being the sun woo he is,,,
but he has to save himself first and if he does survive because of the incense stick he might have to lose min young again as a consequence which he has to be ready to face if such a circumstance does come......
thus the conclusion I have come up with is this
,,,so at the end the drama makes us feel like as if it has let us decide whether he survives the untimely disappearance or not.
But then that's where the drama (acc to me )becomes so clever because episodes until 19 were not just the replay of what happened before the present sun woo came along but also to make us go under the skin of sun woos character and understand what decision he will make in the future.
so even if the drama lets one believe that it is an opening end for any kind of interpretation you like ,,, in a very sly way it is also pointing us in the direction as to how it will end.
so for me the ending is that he goes back to Nepal not just for min young since she is the key to his answers but also to save his past self so that he can live on and not let min young be unhappy because of him. Will at some point in his life will also be able to save his brother.
personally I don't want that to happen,, the whole circle to start again where every one is unhappy and will eventually end up dying or separating it is just too painful,,, I wish the new sun woo would let things roll as they are supposed to and not interfere with fate cause as we see it the new sun woo and his brother have had a good life and he doesn't even find his girl to be...

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(old thread, I know, but I just finished watching on Hulu so...)

The one glaring hole that bothered me from early on in the series is this:

In the original, unaltered timeline, Jung Woo breaks up with his girlfriend and they go their separate ways. So he would never have gone to his father's office to say they're getting married, which was the trigger that led to their argument and the murder, etc. etc. Did he actually murder his father in the original timeline? The timing is also different (Jung Woo arrived after his father returned to the office.) Sun Woo does find out who murdered his father in the timeline he set in motion, but ultimately never finds out what really happened.

Yes, it's possible Jung Woo went for some other reason, and they argued about something else, but that's not very convincing.

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Well, if you remember, Sun-woo traveled to the past and gave Jung-woo's phone number to Shi-ah, who called him to the hospital because her mother tried to commit suicide. That incident renewed his determination to be with the girlfriend instead of dumping her, which is why he went to the office to state his decision to marry the girlfriend. This show needs focus and attention while watching it.

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I ended up watching this series twice...once on my own, and a 2nd time, sporadically, while my husband and mom watched it.

Hubby noticed that in the last episode, before boarding the flight to Nepal, Sun Woo buys a watch at the airport and checks-in for his flight. At the airline check-in counter, a lot of screen time is devoted to watching him open his suitcase, take off his coat and pack it into his suitcase... We were just wondering if anyone caught this and if any clues are supposed to be gleaned from this. Cos why otherwise would they 'waste' 3 minutes on this particular shoot?

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Okay, the only thing about the drama that I didn't understand was how NEW SunWoo had a memory that OLD SW made in the future. As I recall, OLD SW died months (or was it years) after JMY's Nepal trip. By the rules of this drama, he shouldn't even have any memories of that yet or at all.

As I come to understand it, NEW SW is in a completely different timeline! That's why NEW dissatisfied Hyung has incense sticks. He didn't light them so we aren't sure they work or not. But I am sure they work because it's a brand new timeline. Meaning, new incense sticks.

Okay, the reason why I'm so confused about the new memory is because he shouldn't be connected to that OLD SW at all because its a new timeline. It's interesting still because the audience isn't aware of how OLD SW got to where he is because of the incense or because of his own merit. Everyone else in the NEW timeline seems to have succeeded on their own.

One thing is certain, there were things each character was meant to do and they show that well at the end. NEW SW still ended up in Nepal even though his Hyung wasn't dead and he still arrives with the same attire.

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I've just finished watching it 2 days ago and my brain hurts thinking that last scene at the mountain in year 2032. Here's my take on it.You're right that the New SW is in a completely different timeline frm Old SW.In fact he and everyone else in the new timeline should be in the dark of the past timeline.The only memories they should have are:
1)New SW should remember that his future self (Old SW) visited him when he was 18 to warn about his dad's death.The future self reminded him to not blame hyung for the murder as it wasn't intentional,and future self advised him to not worry about the future,that he trusted him to make the good choices in life,and promised to see him in 20yrs.He and his friend also found out that future self suffered from brain tumor,so he took early precaution in this new timeline to prevent the disease.
2)MY should remember that she saw Old SW when she was a kid,that his last dying wish was for her to stay away from a man who looked like him in the future,because that man might ruin her life.When MY told New SW about this,only then he knew that his past self died while traveling back to 1993,and that MY must be someone so precious to Old SW.That's why New SW said that MY is 'the key to his fate'.
3)Hyung should remember that a man who looked like New SW used to save them 'back then'. That's why he said he's shocked every time he sees his brother.
Actually the events in the new timeline are pretty much the same as Old SW's original timeline.He ended up being an anchor at CBM with the same boss and MY ended up falling in love with him anyway despite the warning.As for hyung,although he paid his crime by going to prison,somehow he still regretted that Dad died in his hands.Hence,he still determined to change the past once he discovered the stick in this new timeline and ended up died at Himalaya.Since New SW didn't have memories of Old SW,he would't know that hyung will die.All 3 of them happened to go to Nepal about the same time.New SW followed MY upon realizing the she's the key to his fate,while hyung actually attended a conference (and somehow discovered the stick there?).So my guess is hyung died in the same manner as before and New SW knew it too late.New SW found the stick among hyung's remains and later knew that Old SW used that stick to time travel.All that happened in the original timeline repeated itself,though this time New SW aware of the consequences that Old SW had to endure the last time (that he died stuck in the past).I refuse to believe it but I think that last scene in 2032 is actually New SW time traveled to 2012 at the age of 58 to save hyung.Why did he risk it if he knew the consequences?If my guess is true,what will happen to him this time?It's anybody's guess.that's where it opens to interpretation.Whatever the case may be,at least New SW was tumor free,managed to live until 58 and I believe he had a much better lives than his past self

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Thank you! I so love Nine, the whole story and the characters.

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I really enjoyed this drama, with all the Lee Jin wook's hotness an added bonus. Only wish that the ending isn't as confusing for an average viewer like me. Now that I have read ur analysis I understood it better.

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Time travel is very difficult because no matter what, it has to be paradoxical since not everything can be explained logically. This was definitely the best time travel series ever made. Does anyone know the significance of the use of so many mirrors in the show? And, I was a bit confused at the ending because he says he wants to live and love his girl. But then in the credits he's saving his brother who's obviously alive when he finds him. The comment about it being 20 years later is interesting and could work I guess. So many open ended questions since it's ambiguous. Thanks for the recap/review and comments.

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After thinking about the ending, I totally get it. How he saves his brother 20 years in the future. Brilliant.

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the ending is just a joke. really wasted 50 minutes x 20 episodes there. they just make a excuse for an sequel ( hope so!!)
they just messing up the ending which should already ended earlier. just twist twist twist the story to use all the sponsor money, well they just realize they run out of money to continue the drama at 20 lol.
so they made up bullshyt time frame JW was saved by SW at snowie Seoul hill to make all the poor viewer keep speculating the ending in attempt to get more sponsor money for another shyty 30 episodes.
sincerely, from mad Choi granddaughter :)

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Suppose in the new timeline, JW dies in the Himalayans, also looking for the incense in 2012, perhaps to try to give his brother a chance at marriage after their conversation. New SW from the "past" lived, so the SW from the original ends up living too, but he is living in the past 20 years, being stuck. He still gets memories of what the new SW is doing and the events going on. So the original SW knows JW dies again, this time elsewhere on the mountains and rescues him. (Remember the confusion about how JW's body is found near the river?). There would be no need to use the incense sticks that probably wouldn't work anyway. However, I'm not sure SW would want to really mess with history again.

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This is so great!! I really appreciated your point by point explanations as I was left confused at several points as the series came to a close. I was having trouble wrapping my head around what people remembered in each life. I wasn't totally satisfied with the ending...I wanted to see what the choice would be, but I agree with your final conclusion that Sun Woo will live on. After watching many Korean dramas with the same old themes, lines and plots; I was beginning to give up hope for something unique. I was pleasantly surprised by this series and thoroughly enjoyed the entire story.

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