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Nine: Series review (spoiler free)

Better late than never, right? I caught tvN’s time-travel series Nine: Nine Time Travels when it first aired in March, and had a generally favorable response: good actors, solid directing, interesting backdrop, a story with potential. But while they were positive impressions, they were not particularly strong ones—it was well-executed, but a little slow to get going. It took its time setting up its world and its conflict, and thus fell by the wayside.

But I’m glad I returned to Nine, even if it didn’t grab me with the kind of immediacy that addicts you right away, because it ended up being one of the year’s highlights. It was smart and tightly written, with a story that sent your brain awhirl after every episode, trying to figure out what would happen next and how our hero would work his way out of his fix. I appreciated the way Nine juggled its cerebral, intricate plot without sacrificing entertainment value, supplying a steady stream of suspenseful turns.

Sadly I had no magical incense sticks of time-travel to buy me the time to cover the show as it aired, but hey, I’m here now. Although, lacking the wherewithal to time-travel is probably a fortunate thing, given the tribulations our hero faces in his wormhole adventures as he jumps back twenty years in his own lifetime to right an egregious wrong. You can’t cheat in life and win, and that, as it turns out, applies to Time as well.

Important: No ending spoilers here! I will be putting up a separate post exclusively to discuss the ending [here it is], because I think it’s fascinating and warrants discussion, but don’t want to spoil an intricate drama for people who haven’t seen it yet. Plot points from the first half will be mentioned because that’s just necessary, but I’ve done my best to keep from giving away twists from later episodes.

SONG OF THE DAY

Nine OST – “그대라서” (Because It’s You) by Kim Yeon-woo [ Download ]

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THE PREMISE

To get a fuller intro into the show, you can catch our recaps for Episode 1 and Episode 2, but I’ll give an abbreviated setup anyway:

Our hero is Park Sun-woo (Lee Jin-wook), a successful news anchor who sees every scenario through a no-nonsense, facts-first lens. He has an older brother who’s a wandering lost soul, as weak-willed as Sun-woo is strong; his ailing mother lives in a nursing home with dementia; and his father, a hospital director, was killed twenty years ago in a fire.

It’s the last point that sticks with Sun-woo even now, because while the hospital fire was ruled an accident, he believes otherwise. It was curious how his father’s ambitious friend soon took over the hospital and benefited handsomely, turning it into a large operation and becoming the rich chairman he is today. Sun-woo has long suspected Backstabber Choi of setting the fire to kill his father and enact the coup, but lacks evidence.

One day Sun-woo is called to Nepal after his brother is discovered dead in the Himalayas, clutching an incense stick. He had previously dismissed his brother’s fanatical insistence on the existence of a time machine, but comes to accept both the possibility and his brother’s mission: To find that time machine, go back twenty years to prevent their father’s death, and set everything to rights so they can live the life they were supposed to live.

 

THE RULES

The mechanism of time travel in Nine is one of its most innovative and thought-provoking traits: All time flows at the same rate, regardless of which reality you are in. One incense stick will transport the traveler back exactly twenty years, so while Sun-woo can change something in that time, he cannot later negate it—his next trip back will occur after the first.

Thus time is a line, not a loop, and with these incense sticks Sun-woo has found a way to cut the queue. There are nine sticks, and a person can only travel back in time for as long as a stick burns, which is roughly thirty minutes. Consider Sun-woo’s two timelines (past and present) to be traveling on parallel tracks: If he changes something in the past, in the present he must wait for the past to react before his reality changes. All the time in between then and now remains unrippled until the change arrives.

If he were to kill somebody in 1993, for instance, he would return to 2013 and find that person long dead. However, if in 1993 he were to rig a bomb set for tomorrow to kill somebody, he would return to 2013 and find that his life will have remained the same, until the next day when the now-altered 1993 world experiences the bomb. Only then does history follow suit and change, and his 2013 self then acquires the memory of what happened.

This is the opposite of what we find in many time-travel stories, where a change in the past immediately affects the future, including the time traveler right then and there. Remember when Michael J. Fox time-traveled in Back to the Future and almost disappeared when he interfered with his parents’ romance? Nine’s mechanics are different.

Sound confusing? To add a complication, Sun-woo retains all his memories of the life he lived before the change. After the first time he changes something, he is essentially cognizant of two realities—there are his memories of the life he first lived, and also the memories he acquires of how things played out the second time. With nine sticks, Sun-woo essentially creates alternate realities every time he travels, and the same rules hold true for anybody who finds out about the time traveling. Once they know, they also retain memories of the other lives they lived, which means that there are fast-growing alternate threads of reality that get created with every change Sun-woo enacts. This can become occasionally confusing to keep straight, but is also deeply fascinating.

It also becomes a recipe for disaster, because you can’t go around creating so many ripples in the time-space continuum and expect to get away with it without consequence. And he does not.

 

SERIES REVIEW

Nine is the most thoughtful of the time-travel series to come out of dramaland, and it’s perhaps the best treatment of time travel that I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s the only drama to actually be about time travel, rather than using it as a gimmick to feed another conceit. I have no problem with time-travel shows ultimately being about something else, because I enjoyed the hilarity, the fish-out-of-water antics, and the star-crossed romances that those other shows explored. But as a fan of the device itself, I’ve always been left a bit disappointed that many shows didn’t delve into the rules and consequences of time traveling itself; Nine, on the other hand, does so with depth.

I don’t know whether Nine is the first time-travel story to depict its two timelines flowing at the same rate, concurrently, though I generally assume that there’s nothing new under the sun and every idea has been done before. But even if it’s not unique in this approach, the drama wields this device with finesse, weaving the two timelines together while keeping their respective developments distinctly separate. It took me a few times to get used to the idea of future-reality not changing immediately (I kept expecting Sun-woo to land back in his time in a whole new reality), but the directing very clearly keeps the sequence of events straight for us. Thus the directing not only acts as a style choice or visual cue, but functions in a rather significant capacity as narrative editor.

Sun-woo makes for a dynamic hero for several reasons, which include his dogged pursuit of justice, his wry sense of humor, his resourcefulness and quick thinking. Moreover, making him cool-headed and logical makes him the ideal foil for this setup—nobody believes this fantastical premise less than the man living it. He’s the ultimate skeptic, and that is a grounding force in a drama that could spiral into incredulity rather quickly.

Furthermore, Sun-woo isn’t aiming to take advantage of this loophole in the universe for reasons of selfish greed. Well, yes, altering events in his past is selfish and perhaps trying to get the world to give back his father’s life is greedy, but he’s primarily driven by a desire to see justice meted out. If the world won’t take down Choi, then he will. His overall decency and intelligence make him easy to root for, in case the terminal disease weren’t enough to earn our sympathies. And while brain tumors seem so ubiquitous in dramas, here it serves as an impetus to get our hero going. The fact that he’s dying also highlights the point that he’s not out to score for his own purposes, keeping his motives (relatively) pure.

Speaking of brain diseases, one of Nine’s distinct strengths is its ability to take some hackneyed tropes and work them into a story that feels fresh. This is a feat, given the glut of time travelers crowding our recent memories: Rooftop Prince, Dr. Jin, Faith, Operation Proposal, Mi-rae’s Choice, and Queen In-hyun’s Man. It’s particularly impressive in light of that last one, which came from the same writer and director team; despite utilizing the same device, Nine stands on its own, different from In-hyun in structure, genre, tone, and format. (The main similarity is in its directorial touches with the split screens and musical cues, which remind us of the brand while remaining, ultimately, inconsequential as points of comparison.)

Nine is not expressly a love story, but the drama is clever in rooting its romance into the consequences of time travel: In tying in the device inextricably with our hero’s heart, we are immediately invested on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one.

Okay, not immediately, because Nine does take its time setting up its quandary and I don’t think it was to its benefit. Don’t get me wrong, I like stories that properly build their worlds and set up their conflicts—not all dramas should or could set the stage perfectly within the first hour. (American shows are especially guilty of this, which often results in frenetic pilots that are hard to engage with because stuff happens before we care about anybody.)

On the other hand, much of Nine’s first four episodes felt like chess pieces being maneuvered into place before the game could begin, and we could have gotten to the hook more efficiently.

Because what a hook it is: Our hero believes he can save Dad’s life and take down a villain, but as it turns out, Time does not like being cheated. Sun-woo overreaches by attempting to fix his brother’s broken heart on top of everything… and he returns to the future to find that he made his girlfriend his niece.

I know. But here is fauxcest used to its best effect, because it’s not some random third-act plot twist sent in to deliver some convenient angst. What better way to illustrate the consequences of messing with the order of things than by taking away his love, and in such cruel fashion? In both realities, Min-young (played by Jo Yoon-hee) is bright and bubbly and winsome—but in one of them, she’s out of reach, even if they aren’t blood related. In this lifetime they’ve grown up for the past twenty years as uncle and niece, since she was in grade school. In the blink of an eye, he’s created an entirely one-sided, inappropriate love for his brother’s (adopted) daughter.

The twist delivers a genuine Ohhhh fuck kick, because setting things back to rights would require breaking up his brother’s marriage. It forces him to choose between love or family, between his happiness and his brother’s. There’s a whole lifetime of memories that no longer exist anywhere but in his head, which is both painful and consoling—if he’s the only one suffering, then maybe he’ll just take his punishment. On the other hand, he wonders at one point, “How I can I live this way if I miss my other life?” It’s doubly frustrating for him because he never appreciated how much he had until he’s lost it.

Thankfully the story doesn’t end on that angst, because there is so much more to get through. Sun-woo’s friend Young-hoon, aka The Best Friend Who Ever Was, is clued in to the whole shebang early and therefore gets to keep his memories from the old life, making him a much-needed source of support. He’s also a voice of reason, often echoing our thoughts in the face of Sun-woo’s stubbornness in pressing on, in pursuing what he needs to do despite the possibility of dire cosmic reprisal.

The mystery of Dad’s murder keeps the conflict moving, and Sun-woo struggles both to save Dad and to understand what happened that fateful night at the hospital. The first time he goes back to keep Dad away from the hospital, he returns to the future and finds that Dad ended up dying in the fire anyway—just a few hours later. So this is not the butterfly effect version of time, where one tiny change can have huge effects down the line; it’s more a fatalistic view, where the set pattern has a certain inertia that is difficult to displace.

For instance, take hyung Jung-woo (Jeon No-min), who is at the center of both the romantic conundrum and the father’s mystery. Sun-woo finds that while he may be able to finagle more life for his brother, who doesn’t die in the Himalayas this time, he cannot make the reclaimed life a happy one for him. Over and over again, hyung suffers, often the source of his own undoing, despite the warmth of his love and his generally decent character. His weak will is a constant factor in his downfall(s), and just because his life changes drastically (you don’t get more drastic than going from dead to alive) doesn’t ensure that the quality of his life is any different.

Sun-woo also takes a risk in engaging his past self, a dangerous prospect that turns into another of the drama’s highlights. Understanding that Younger Sun-woo (played by Park Hyung-shik) has the same tenacity and curiosity that drives himself, he makes the tactical decision to reveal his identity, and lets his younger self gradually come to acceptance. I appreciate the way these two actually feel like the same person, which many dramas don’t manage successfully when transitioning childhood roles into adult ones.

But more than that, in doing this Sun-woo creates an unforeseen complication that is alternately problematic and extremely helpful: Younger Sun-woo develops his own volition, independent of Older Sun-woo. What that means is that our hero finds it difficult to know what his younger version is doing in the past, because he loses a dimension of his memory when the past self starts acting independently. They are the same person, yet they almost become separate. It makes sense that as their stories diverge with Sun-woo’s experience, the wills they develop also change.

This is confusing, admittedly, but so interesting. Such as in the instance when Sun-woo is unable to warn Young Self of harm, yet Young Self figures it out anyway based on the clues he has deduced from the Future Self’s visit. Nifty.

The issue of creating wills that weren’t initially present extends to our villain. Early on, Sun-woo treats the past as a place he can drop in on, do his thing, and leave—but he forgets that evildoers exist in the past too, who then start to conflict with his aims. He’s not the only one trying to get stuff done, and he finds his trips back becoming more and more fraught once Chairman Choi (aka The Big Bad) realizes something shifty is going on.

This leads me to one of the drama’s detractors, which is the outlandishness of the villain, who grows more and more cartoonish as the series goes on. He’s meant to be a legitimately evil foe, but it’s difficult to take him seriously; if mustache-twirling were a recognized literary device for villainy in Korea, he’d have a whole drawer full of stick-on mustaches, just in case the one on his face wore out from all the twirling.

I could do with less slack-jawed gaping as well, which accompanied every time a character was hit with a brainwave. I know it’s meant to emphasize the magnitude of the acquired memory, but surely the tilted-camera close-ups and the epic score got the point across. There’s also a seeming tvN fixation with sepia tones, which can muddle the picture quality with their darkness and lack of contrast. In this drama, it’s particularly noticeable given the frequent jumps back in time, which are tinted slightly darker, effectively making our color palette sepia and more sepia.

But those are minor points compared with the main hurdle, which is the way in which the plot grows ever more convoluted. This is not all bad, because there is enjoyment in having a drama complex enough to even merit close analysis; for the majority of dramaland’s offerings, there’s little point in trying to find meaning in things where none was intended.

Still, even for an intricate story, Nine sometimes gets caught up in its many twists—it’s not that they don’t make sense, but that it requires a certain amount of processing to keep everything straight. Because each time-slip keeps creating additional memories and alternate realities, keeping track of all the threads—who knows what, and in which timeline—can require a bit of mental gymnastics. There were definitely scenes when a character reacted to a change in a way that jolted me, because I didn’t think they would retain a certain memory or know a certain fact. Fair warning: Maybe you’ll want to draw a diagram, or whip up a chart.

 

THE ETHICS OF TIME TRAVEL

Whenever a time-travel drama comes along, I’m curious to see whether it will deal with the ramifications of altering time to one’s benefit. Is there a quid pro quo, or is he just gonna get away with a karmic freebie? Even if a character suffers over the course of his journey, many of these stories end with a feel-good reward for an ending, and we’re happy for them so we don’t question it. But while I’m not going to complain about Back to the Future giving the hero a spiffy life upgrade, I find stories much more intriguing when they choose to explore that concept of paying a price for cheating the laws of the universe.

Sun-woo begins his journey with the idea that he’s won a chance to make everything better. He soon finds that there’s a wild-card aspect to time travel; just because he got to go back and prevent something doesn’t mean he ultimately gets what he intended. Once Sun-woo is out of the past, things are out of his control; he soon finds out that Fate/Time/The Greater Powers always find a way to remind him that he isn’t the one deciding things.

The drama never defines this force as Fate or God in a religious sense, though the characters do refer to the greater power as a god that can’t be beaten or cheated. Every time Sun-woo tries to fix something, the world gets messier with more people’s lives being rippled by his actions and more parallel memories created.

I’ll discuss more about the consequences in the next post about the ending, but for now it’s enough to say that he cottons on to the fact that this isn’t a free pass, and his best friend regularly urges him to quit while he’s ahead. Even so, Sun-woo remains true to his character by opting to do his utmost anyway, even if the results are not assured. I love that message: that Fate may have you by the throat, but you have to live your life your way anyway. Do what you can and let the chips fall where they may.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Nine took a while to engage my interest fully, despite being executed well from the start, and I think if the American remake were to go forth with its pilot, it would probably speed things up mightily. I just hope it doesn’t cram too much at once, because there’s a lot of plot here and it doesn’t need to get any more confusing. Plus, there are revelations that land with us expressly because we’ve been given the chance to feel what that means for the characters, and speeding things up loses that impact.

Once it got going, though, it built up from a slow burn to a consistently suspenseful pace; there were multiple moments when I genuinely had no idea how our hero could get himself out of a bind. The show keeps you guessing, and for me that on-edge uncertainty lasted well into the last episode, as I wondered right up to the ending how things would wrap up.

Performances were strong throughout, especially for Lee Jin-wook, for whom the drama marked a career turn. He hasn’t had the most successful projects in the past, but this one really showed him off to best advantage, all deadpan humor and brusque charm. Jo Yoon-hee was also solid, doing much better after shedding her pretty ingenue image for one with much more personality, and they had endearing chemistry together. (The many makeout scenes definitely don’t hurt, especially when adults are allowed to kiss onscreen like real adults.)

Nine didn’t have my heart in the way that some other favorites had, but it kept my brain engaged the whole way through, and is ultimately a worthy series with an interesting spin on a familiar conceit. I’ll be posting on the ending soon, so stay tuned!

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Thanks!

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it was a menboong series all through out. im kinda worried about the remake. i hope the american audience would touch the Korean version first to see how awesome this was. specially on the hotness of Lee Jin Wook *squee*

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I'm American and I'm always concerned when Hollywood tries to remake a foreign series. They usually miss the point of what made the foreign series so good and therefore ruin it. I haven't watched the last episode yet - almost afraid to. But I'm looking forward to reading the recap and thoughts afterwards.

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Thank you so much for reviewing the show. It's been on my "should or I shouldn't I" watch list for a while, and this really helped me make my decision! It will also increase my understanding when I get around to watching it.

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Nine is one of the top 5'ish or so shows this year I think. It is one of the few time travel shows from any country that actually treats time travel with some logic and common sense.

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Yes, definitely the best time travel drama that I've ever seen so far.

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This show is a must watch for someone who loves being puzzled. Like me! It gives you a good kind of headache. It manages to keep you guessing til the very end and of course.. having Lee Jin Wook to grace the screen with hot make out sessions.. I think that's enough to make up for the slow-ness of the story.

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THANK YOU!

Being a Doctor Who fan, this is one of the best in the genre re Korean dramas. I was disappointed when the site didn't recap this because I so want to read javabeans take on this. But yes, better late than never! :D

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I, too, rate this one very highly.

I guess we can agree or disagree, but when examining other dramas that were airing at the time (including the ones that Javabeans did recap), I would say that the remark "While they were positive impressions, they were not particularly strong ones" might describe them more aptly than Nine.

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Hello there! Sorry for the late reply

Anyway, since I haven't followed those dramas airing at the same time with Nine (I was busy with other things, I can't even remember what they were now) I cannot for certain say that Nine was better than them. But I can say that Nine is better than some Kdramas currently airing in terms of execution and tightly-written plot. For most part, while I think Nine missed opportunities for big emotional payoffs, it is clear to me that the writer knows where this is headed. And you can't help but let the writer lead you regardless of the doom it might bring you in the end.

That said, what I like best about Nine is that the audience aren't pampered or treated as dumb. Nine is to me, in fact, a challenge to think outside the box but at the same time, giving you lampposts to guide you on your path. I like this treatment that I felt while watching the series that the writer wants me to join him in the quest, something like that, that I became part of the story and the world itself.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this but I think I'm just rambling whatever comes to my mind. I hope I still made sense though :P Sorry for this long reply hehe

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Thanks for the series review! I'm looking forward to the next post since the ending threw me in for a loop - would love to discuss with others how they interpret it.

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to be honest, after nine finished airing, i wanted to start marathoning it but after episode 1, it didn't really make me curious or interested.
then last month or so when db had a post about nine being turned into an american remake, all the comments below were praising it, so i picked up where i left off and i'm so glad i did.
this is a smart drama. when sun woo went back the first time and then returned all happy and optimistic about living, i thought all would be well and then he had to go back for his brother's sake. that's when s*** started happening. that's when it gets interesting.
i like shows that keep me on edge and make the viewers involved by making them raking their brain while watching.
i love lee jin wook, i mean i love nine.

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I recently watched this and loved it! I thought they did great job on how time travel worked, linear rather than willy-nilly. I found it fascinating that they had to wait in the future to find out the affects of meddling in the past. I found it vey thought provoking. The love line was very much appreciated, in that it was filled with some funny and more adult moments than most dramas I've watched recently. Definitely good steamy chemistry. ;). I was shocked when she became his niece and actually a little heart sore. He really does have one of the best friends ever, and was occasionally the foil for his friend. Your right about the the evil guy and the imaginary mustaches; they should get bigger and twirler in the 'present'. They really did a great job with his past character being easily recognizable as his future self. I thought that part was very well done.

Thank you very much for the condensed partial recap Javabeans. I'm really looking forward to the ending discussion, both your thoughts and everyone else's.

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Thanks to this drama I realized Lee Jin Wook is a gorgeous specimen of a man & one I'll like to get my hands on *ahem*. Also Nine is a worthwhile watch, I was hooked all the way & hoping the same team will come up with something just as brilliant, just as charming & romantic as this & Queen In Hyun's Man.

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He is. He is SO DREAMY

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mmhmm :)

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Thanks for this recap! I fell in love with Lee Jin Wook since I Need Romance 2012 (I know, I am WAAAY behind, but better late than never right?) and immediately delved into Nine! Both characters in both dramas were VASTLY different I needed time to adjust. That said, I truly enjoyed LJW's performance here in Nine because I just couldn't see any other actor pulling this off (also, is he a great kisser or is he a GREAT kisser?) Best part of the drama has got to be the scenes between him and his BFF, the guy is truly there for Sun-woo and it made the audiences root for the hero more.

This is the first time I've watched anything with Jo Yoon-hee, she, however, does not impress :/ Maybe its the character, but I felt Min-young did not match Sun-woo in terms of maturity.

All in all, I do love this series and we can never ever go wrong with anything tVn.

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yes, absolutely. The best scenes were between his BFF and him. Honestly, the friend annoyed me in the beginning because I thought his action was a bit over the top, but he was amazing towards the end.

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*Being spoiler free* I watched it till episode 16 or 17 and managed to read recaps after that.
After getting to know what happened in episode 19, I really was not satisfied with the way the ending was written. Maybe they could have written it better. Or maybe, there could have been better options.
But nevertheless, it was a well written drama and as you said the make out sessions are what an adult mind would have definitely wanted ;)

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it WAS a facinating drama and a must see

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whoa! Just in time... I started watching this show last weekend and I cursed myself for half watching it because I am painting my nails (imagine doing my nails and reading subs). Anyway I have to replay some for me to understand it well because its not quite the same as the the other time travelling stories. (reminds me of finishing the Time Travellers Wife book)

I really like that he can go back in time do something there and the person actually remembers it and affects the present which is so daebak!

Thanks for explaining how the time travel works for this show because really I still have some questions and I still have to read your explanation again javabeans :)

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I've just started watching Nine as well. I'm on episode 9 right now. Someone suggested it on the Mi-rae's Choice thread as an alternate take on how time travelling into the past will effect the future question. Or rather how each individual action of the time traveller in the past creates changes in the future even though he can only stay there for 30 minute at a time. The action is being played in "real" time in both places rather than the traveller getting to pick the exact time he wants to go back to in the past. I'm really liking it so far.

I have one question. I get that if the time is 12 noon on a certain date, he will go back to 12 noon on the exact same date in the past. But how does he pick the year to go back to when he lights the incense stick? Does it have something to do with his mental state at the time? Is this ever explained?

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Or do the incense sticks always send any one who possesses them back 20 years into the past? No more, no less. More than one question!

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It's always 20 years back in time, exactly 20 years and no going forward. So for example if a traveler wants to go back to 26.11.1993 at 13:00 (1pm), the incense has to be light on 26.11.2013 at 13:00.

This then means that if it's already 14:00 (2pm) on 26.11.2013, you cannot go back to 13:00(1pm) on 26.11.2013. Answered the question?

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When I read javabean's comment "dealing with the ramficaitons of altering time to one's benefit" I thought of this drama and Mirae's Choice, too. After all, why would altering time be a theme if not for its beneficial results? That is the big question which encompasses how altering time affects others as well. In other genres, I've avoided time travel for the most part. But time travel kdramas have somehow hit me in a different way that makes me curious about how time travel is handled. I am following along in the Mirae's Choice recaps and posts and trying to piece together what the time travel logical end might be. On the most basic level, I am going to rewatch Nine (which I actually did not finish, but watched at least 2/3 of it and appreciate javabean's no spoiler recap) with a semi systematic approach to embrace my newly acquired appreciation of the time travel theme. Once again, kdramas expand my horizon :)

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The big problem with time travel in Mi Rae is that large changes have already been made in the past, but since she is apparently on a one-way trip, there is no possible way to judge the effects. In essence FMR is shooting in the dark after the first change. I personally think the time travel trope in Mi Rae is handled pretty poorly.

But in Nine the hero actually goes back to the present and can see what happened when he changed the past - and that is where the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in. In short, there is a feedback loop that Mi Rae is missing.

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Finally DB covers Nine. Thank you!

To me it is simply the best show of 2013. For all the reasons you said. It is so smart and well written, I loved, that the viewer has to be on its toes to keep up with all the twists, I loved the OTP, the bromance (in past and present), the casting (Park Hyung-shik was so, so good in his role), the ending, just everything.

It didn't bother me at all, that it took 4 episodes to really get going, in contrary I liked the thorough introduction and, boy, did we get a ride afterwards. The week we had to wait for the continuation was hell! I don't think I have ever been as invested in a story as in Nine.

Highly recommended!

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Ah finally!! Thank you for recapping this drama.For me,Nine has the most outstanding and clever story and Sun Woo is the smartest,coolest and the sexiest male character I've seen so far in a K-drama.

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Thanks JB! Please do more of these series reviews of drama's you haven't recapped but have watched if you girls have the time. Its always great to have your thoughts on them. I notice you do mention in different posts drama's that haven't been recapped but you have watched. I wonder if its possible to also rate ones you have watched but not recapped on the ratings page as well (pretty please). I'll repay you with eternal gratefulness.

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This was also a favorite drama of the year for me, but it is sort of like finding something special - whether it is a great place to get your haircut, or buy a special dress - I really don't want to always share the goodness with others. This kind of special I sometimes want to keep to myself, so I am really hoping the American remake doesn't screw this up! Really I am not a greedy person, but this drama requires an investment from you as a viewer, both watching the drama, and mapping out a diagram tracking the coexisting timelines if you are like me and need to see things on paper.

Simply brilliant writing, great acting, adults actually acting like adults, this is the time travel drama to beat.

I'm surpised that a few of you mentioned that it took four episodes or so to get into this drama. I was hooked immediately, and I realized this wasn't your grandma's drama. Do yourself a favor, buckle your seatbelt, and join us for the ride of your life (all nine of them).

And thank you Javabeans for having an open thread to discuss the ending. I for one liked it, at least the version I worked out on paper.

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I agree! You totally summed it up for me. I too was hooked right from the start.

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Yeah, I'm not excited about the American remake either. Nine is just too special and nothing can replace it or be like it, imho.

Just let all of America watch Nine with subtitles like the rest of us, hehe.

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Personally, I'm just going to ignore the American recap. I mean, there is no one that can replace Lee Jin-wook in Nine!

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If the American remake follows the usual pattern it will be excessively full of CGI, impossible stunts, meaningless random violence, and a botched story line :D

That said, I would watch it just to see the differences.

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I've been interested in this since it first aired, but never got around to watching it. My major drawback was the fact that the hero has a brain tumor. But now, that seems like such a minor thing compared to all the intricacies of the time travel itself. It sounds so interesting, yet confusing, yet fascinating. I find the whole concept of time travel interesting, and rarely have I seen a show or movie that has done it well enough that I understand. Doctor Who, for instance, is pretty easy to understand, especially when the Doctor, the main character, is a Time Lord. But Nine sounds so cool! Should I really watch it? Should I? Should I? You've piqued my interest yet again, Javabeans! Thanks!

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Definitely watch it!

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Unlike the very stupidly handled brain-thingy in Dr Jin, the tumor is not really a major part of the story in that the plot is not built around it.

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Thanks much Javabeans for this review of Nine. I too was not grabbed right away by Nine that I had to put it on hold after episode 1. Your recent post on a possible American remake was the one that made resume watching it. I'm glad I did because of the many strengths of the drama as you described it...I'm reminded of another example of a time traveling device that allows the character to have 2 (or more?) memories: it is Harry Potter's Time-Turner. In one of the HP books, Hermione is able to take and complete multiple courses concurrently while keeping her excellent grades through a Time-Turner. In this same HP book, it is mentioned the ill effects of abusing the use of Time-Turner and so it is rarely used in the wizarding world.

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Yay! Thank you thank you thank you! I loved this drama sooooo much! I'm glad you also liked it and are giving us a place to talk about it here on dramabeans. It's definitely one that benefits from a lot of discussion/speculation.

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this one really upped the bar on time travel. I measure all time travel dramas by it.

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Exactly! If rules are not established as well as it had been here, then I get annoyed with the writers, lol. I mean, it doesn't have to be Nine-like time-travelling, but it wouldn't kill someone to flesh out a decent mechanism of how it happens and how it works.

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The lack of comprehensible rules is what ruins most time travel movies and shows. But the writers of Nine actually seem to have taken the time to come up with a logical set of rules and then actually followed them.

I have been a big fan of time travel in books and show both for years, and over the past few decades (in the science fiction world) certain rules have gotten established. One of those was portrayed pretty well in "Butterfly Effect", and the other main one in this drama.

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@Windsun

THAT exactly is the reason why I am in love with Nine, because of the movie "Butterfly Effect" Imho, it is a very underrated movie I think mainly because it starred Ashton Kutcher (?) Idk, but I'm in love with the movie and for years have been waiting for something with the same take on time-travel as that one.

Wish granted in Nine *and I'm a happy camper* It's like reliving Butterfly Effect all over again, but with additional layers of fudge and caramel syrup, topped with mint-flavored sprinklers ;)

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THANK YOU!

I was seriously waiting for your thoughts on this drama ever since you said you'd write a series review. What an excellent review. I was totally nodding my head off with everything you said. I do agree that the beginning was a bit slow but luckily, I wasn't watching much of other dramas so I was fine with the slow pacing, hence I was watching as it aired. But yeah, once it picked up, it was amazing. I also found the time-travelling to be the best thing. It was well conceptualized and very smart. With time-travelling, if the rules are not so well established, I'll be very bothered with it. Like currently, in Mirae's Choice, the time-travelling has obviously been chosen as a gimmick for the romance stuff but as a result of not setting down rules, it doesn't do much to help bring up stakes that it should have. And that's why I feel like it was totally unnecessary; the show could have done well without it.

So yeah, I LOVED the idea of time running along, with all alternate universes parallel to one another and not knowing what exactly will be the outcome of all that. It was very suspenseful and brought in high stakes that made me go nuts.

The heroine was okay-ish....I didn't really like her all that much mostly because of her aegyo. Otherwise she was fine. The hero was, of course, awesomesauce. I loved his best friend too who made such funny faces when he was horrified.

Overall, the drama was great. I enjoyed it. I can't wait for your thoughts on the ending. I felt it was very interesting and did like it a lot even if I actually didn't quite understand it.

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An interesting show indeed, thank you for discussing it.

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Park hyun shik oppaaa ! ! Well yeah ! Thats all I cared abour in this post ! And the kisses in this drama were fabulous! !!

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(The many makeout scenes definitely don’t hurt, especially when adults are allowed to kiss onscreen like real adults.)

Amen to this.

I wonder when network kdramas became, en masse, so conservative about kissing and when the dead fish kiss became a trend - 2013 is more conservative about kissing than 2004-07, judging by the fact that earlier dramas allowed lip movement, even on the women.

(and yes, they rate over even the infamous 'game over' kiss from Personal Taste for allowing the female half of the OTP to visibly respond, and are comparable to anything on cable now)

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I think the Dead Fish Kiss is most common in the over-the-air network dramas, like TBS. The cable one - like in the US and most countries - seem to have a lot more leeway in actually portraying adults as.. you know... adults, and not 30 year old virgins just out of the nunnery.

But I think you are right in that it has gotten more pronounced in the past few years - perhaps because the irate netizens get upset when their favorite idol gets passionate about anyone the fans don't like??

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That's why I specified I was talking about network kdramas, not all kdramas in general - cable has acquitted itself pretty well on that front.

And it's not just idols who get the treatment, it's actors who've been at it for 10+ years, and the dead fish kiss has even sneaked its way into dramas by writers who were known for writing some seriously swoony smoochies in their dramas (Lee Kyung-hee - look at the difference between MiSa/A Love To Kill and Nice Guy, for instance).

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This show is love, even more than love.

At one point, I remember watching the next episode without subs--my brain hurt... for the good reasons.

Sooo proud of you, Nine!

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Thanks for this article, now I'm more convince to watch nine.

I know this is not a request site but I hope you also cover cruel city, one of the best dramas of this year IMO, really want to know your thoughts about it.

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I must agree, Cruel City is by far my favorite for the year. I did not want to watch it because Nam Gyu-Ri does nothing for me but she was surprisingly good and hot damn Jung Kyoung-Ho was amazing.

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Second this, CC was a surprise for me. I didn't expect it to be good but it turned out to be my favorite dramas ever.

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Thank you much for the review. Sadly I dropped it early and I don't think I'll go back and finish it.

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Urgh! As if I don't have enough dramas on my to-watch list...especially since I have put all my current dramas on hold to watch Dae Jang Geum! Where are those incense sticks when you need 'em?! XD

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This series remain as one of the best written scripts and I appreciate how it requires audience to think and not just accept what's shown to them. Though I definitely hope the OTT-ness of the big bad could have tuned down. I still remember vividly how I was comparing his OTTness to the Dowager Queen of JOJ which was aired during the same period. Seriously, I couldn't decide who won in this OTT contest.

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Lol. Tell me about it! At one point I just couldn't take the bad guy seriously. His expressions were so hilarious! What with his bulgy eyes and gaping-fish mouth. Just, no.

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Awesome. What timing!! I've just started watching this drama after marathoning qureen in hyuns man last week!! I'm loving it so far and it definitely keeps me on the edge of my seat (and constantly screaming at my screen). I swear, this writer and PD duo are dynamite, they really know how to get the heart racing. Oh, and lee jin wook seriously killed it in this drama, his character just wrung my heart out at every turn. Thanks for the review javabeans!! So glad to hear you enjoyed this drama and I'm looking forward to you're post about the ending. ^^

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Reading this made me want to re-watch it all over again... Such a great drama!!!

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I've been meaning to watch this since it caught buzz during its showing. Haven't found time to yet. I will definitely marathon this as soon as I can. Med school is such a detriment to my drama-watching...

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I thought Nine was awesome. Not perfect, but very much my cup of tea – it was clever and it did it's own thing. That's something I appreciate a lot because with too many dramas I feel it's all the same, all over again – same stock characters, same plot premise, and way too many easy clichés. Not here though, where it was all so unpredictable and you never knew whether the next episode wouldn't turn thing 100% around...

I was glad the romance wasn't at the heart of it (it was, in some way, the least interesting aspect of the drama, although I was also very glad that we got real kissing and chemistry, which made me root for the lead to get his girl, even if I wasn't particularly invested the female character herself).

Lee Jin-wook was perfect in it of course. I'm going to have to look out for every project he does from now on.

I didn't mind the ending, it suited the drama as one that was full of mystery. If things had been tied with a neat bow –  that would have been a real let-down.

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My favorite drama of the 2013! I LOVED it!

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I loved Nine easily the best time travel story I've ever seen on screen the only one that comes close is Queen In-hyun's Man.

One of the biggest things to come out of it actor wise for me is I really want Lee Jin-wook to play a psychopath in something. He has a nice smile but he also had a creepy unhinged serial killer smile or was it the same smile that looked different in different situations, I can't remember.

I hope the American remake falls through, remakes in general pale in comparison to the original but especially true here in the U.S. Especially when we remake something from Asia, we take all the atmosphere and heart out of something and replace it with "superior" special effects and then wonder why it fails, gee I wonder.

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I agree. American movies lately have been replacing real acting and character depth with over the top CG graphics, to the point where quite often you simply don't care about any of the characters. Pacific Rim is one example - while I liked the movie OK (but not great), I honestly don't recall a damn thing about the characters themselves.

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"Nine didn’t have my heart in the way that some other favorites had, but it kept my brain engaged the whole way through, and is ultimately a worthy series with an interesting spin on a familiar conceit."
That's exactly how I felt. It's a really good brainy drama rather than a sswoony-hearty drama (as in "between your brain or your heart, who did like it best?").

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I'm so glad you reviewed Nine because I feel like the show flew under the radar and it deserves to get some recognition. I love any time travel drama but I really appreciated that this show assumes the viewer has a brain and can follow a complex plot. Complex but not convoluted because they establish the rules and it all makes sense in this universe. I pretty much agree with your whole assessment, right down to the villain's bad facial expressions. I literally use the same phrase "mustache-twirling" to describe any over the top villain performance. But the quibbles are far outweighed by the smart, thought provoking writing. I hope everyone gives this show a chance!

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Thanks for this. Your timing is perfect: I just started it yesterday, am up to Ep. 3. I agree with everyone that Lee Jin-wook's wonderful to look at & a fine actor. Also that the show is stylish & well done. I'm not too happy with the female lead. Maybe she was told to play it that way -- twittery & oh so girlish & innocent -- but next to LJW's sexy 30-something guy she seems about 16 years old.

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Thanks for the thoughtful review.
If I were to pick the ONE thing I would say about this show that would make someone watch it, it's this:
The show keeps you guessing, and for me that on-edge uncertainty lasted well into the last episode, as I wondered right up to the ending how things would wrap up.

Plus the way the past interacted with the present was pretty freaking cool. I fell in love with Park Hyung-shik's Young Sun-woo and how he managed the mess he was handed. You could see flashes of his older self, Lee Jin-wook, in how he didn't give up.

Yes, that and the make-out scenes didn't hurt. They started early, and lasted throughout.
All the hotness that is LJW was released into the air waves, and I will be forever grateful
Not the ONLY reason I loved this show, but it did indicate from the git-go that this was a cable show and all bets were off as far as censorship.

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This drama was amazing. My sister literally had a full-on argument discussing the ending. It got really intense. We were discussing the entire show and the gimmicks of the time travel. No other show has made me so emotional before, no the pity/that's so lovely emotion but the confused, enraged kind of emotion. I agree with the post that I've never used so much of my brain before.

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I need to watch this. I watched the first episode planning to marathon it after it ended, but I didn't get past there. I've been meaning to give it shot again.

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Guess I'm going to have to give this another shot b/c I couldn't get past the 1st 2 eps (despite hearing good things about it).

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Stick with it. I started it after the series had ended and the hullabaloo had died down, and despite being a huge sci fi fan (with time travel storylines being a particular favourite) I was very underwhelmed by the first 4 episodes or so. I reluctantly reached the conclusion that it was grossly overrated and considered putting it back on the shelf. But I stayed with it, and found that from eps 5 onwards, it got more and more engrossing. So much so, that I watched 16 episodes in 4 days! I would rate this series in my top 5 favourite Korean dramas that I've seen so far (and I've seen a lot!!).

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I watched it after I heard about the possible remake in the US. Well I am glad I did.

I could give many reason as to why it is one of the best drmas of 2013, but I am going to give 1

Lee Jin Wook is the BEST DAMN KISSER IN KOREA if not the WORLD.

Seriously the man can freaking kiss. Just watched for the kisses and his smiling eyes and he has a pretty cry.

That's it.

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Marry me Javabeans! I'll bear your kids! Oh wait...

I'm glad you finally reviewed this. Nine is my favourite drama this year. Only one I preferred to watch than read. I didn't enjoy the slow start as well. All I remember was there were nothing else worth to watch at the time so I stuck through with it.

I love the way Sun Woo was written as a character (manly man without being a real bastard); I love how the drama can go to dark places; In Queen Inhyun's Man fashion, they didn't explain the how of the time travel device, but I guess it doesn't matter so much as the character drama. Very thorough.

I don't really like the ending, though it's probably a (less abrupt) better one for the story than how Queen ended theirs. I also really wanted to smack Choi every time he did his WTFOMGBBQ raccoon face when the time shift occurred in the present.

I remember considering that time to ask if I could recap this series. But then I realized I prefer to read your/girlfriday's writing than for me to write it myself. I wanted to read your thoughts of each episode as they went by. A bit less fun, watching the show without the DB community

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LOVED this drama, one of the best of this year!!! you made me want to watch it again!!!
thank you!!!!

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THANKS! <3 I've been waiting for this day to come because often i couldn't wrap my head through the story and even until now i still get headache everytime i think about the ending. Now off to read your next post.

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me, too! I really felt the lack of db recaps to explain this show to me while I watched it, so thanks so much for getting back to it!

I remember LJW being great in a drama called "Someday" that I think flew under the radar. A bit strange but it has Bae Doo Na, the most true-to-life "business" scenes I can remember in kdrama and a GREAT OST.

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AHH I loved this show so much. It spun my head around so much but the story is compelling.

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Nine IMO is definitely the year's best drama- and one of my all time faves since I'm a junkie for time traveling. It excels in everything from acting, directing, to narrative. Even the OST by Kim Yeon-woo is great. I'm glad it's getting more recognition, because this complex drama deserves every bit of it. Thank you Javabean for your much anticipated take on the drama. And I just want to mention how wonderful Lee Jin-Wook is in the series. I always thought he was handsome but seeing him here really raised the hotness bar for me lol. I melted whenever he smiled or cried...or pretty much whenever he was onscreen haha. Fangirling aside, his performance was very strong and I agree he had impeccable chemistry with Jeon No-min.

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I'm so happy you have this series review. I was a little disappointed when you and gf both didn't like this series in March because I would have loved to hear you guys weigh in on the show. But anyhow better late than never. Thanks!

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