W–Two Worlds: Episode 1
MBC’s new supernatural suspense drama W–Two Worlds premiered today, and despite my expectations for it being really high (I couldn’t help it, okay? The comic book fan in me was just geekily excited!), I wasn’t disappointed with the first episode. It’s a heightened world, full of reality-bending twists and shot with flair, and I’m already sucked into the mystery that connects one seemingly ordinary girl and everyone’s favorite comic book hero, who by all accounts shouldn’t exist in the same time and space. What is it that’s pulling them towards one another? Desperation? Fate? Or something far more nefarious? Down the rabbit hole we go to find out…
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In a live telecast of the 2004 Athens Olympics, announcers herald a new dark horse from South Korea, who’s about to come out of nowhere and potentially win a gold medal in pistol-shooting. The seventeen-year-old shooter is competing in his very first international competition, and the sportscasters introduce him as KANG CHUL (Lee Jong-seok). [His name literally means “steel.”]
He leads the first eight rounds and makes a critical mistake in the ninth, leaving him in second place before his final shot. As he steadies his nerves and prepares for the last round, we zoom into the TV screen as it flickers, and it’s like we go through it and come out on the other side, in the richly colored arena.
Kang Chul takes his time making the final shot, and with only a second to spare, he fires. His coach (and father) is breathless as they wait for the results… and it’s a bulls-eye!
Kang Chul picks Dad up and whirls him around in a victory cheer. Dad cries like a baby and Kang Chul mugs for the cameras as they announce his gold medal win.
The TV screen flickers again and shoots ahead to the 2006 World Cup, which Kang Chul’s family—Mom, Dad, little brother and sister—watch in their living room. The shelves are lined with Kang Chul’s trophies, and when they hear the front door open, Mom calls out, “Chulie, is that you?”
But when she gets to the door, she looks up in terror. Dad hears a thud and goes looking for Mom, and finds her lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Dad looks just as terrified when the intruder, a dark figure in black gloves and black boots, points what looks like Kang Chul’s sports pistol right at him.
The shooter mercilessly guns down Dad, then the little brother, and the little sister, all four of them shot right in the center of the forehead like a twisted bulls-eye.
They miss the winning goal of the game, and the cheering crowd on the television is a stark contrast to the bloody scene. The TV flickers again, and we fast-forward two days, as a news anchor announces the arrest of the prime suspect in a brutal domestic shooting: Olympic gold medalist Kang Chul. What?
Chul looks terrified as he’s hauled into the police station amidst a sea of reporters, and the news anchor continues to narrate the facts of the investigation as we see the points unfold: The shooter dumped the murder weapon in an alley near the house, and it was later found by the police and confirmed to be Chul’s Olympic sports pistol. Naturally, the only DNA evidence on it was Chul’s own, and the blood of his four family members.
Newscasters speculate on possible motives for beloved athlete Kang Chul to murder his own family, and they say that when Chul quit shooting right after the Olympics and went into computer science, there was some strife between him and Dad over it. Still, they say, it’s no grounds for murder.
Lead prosecutor HAN CHUL-HO interrogates Chul and says there are two witnesses placing him at the scene, and reminds him of a drunken outburst the week before, when Chul had complained to his friends about Dad’s meddling, and said he wished Dad weren’t around.
Chul looks like a terrified little boy and shakes his head, but Prosecutor Han shoves Chul’s head to the table and accuses him of losing it and shooting down his family just to be free of them. He growls that Chul is a coward for killing them and being too afraid to kill himself.
Prosecutor Han calls Chul human scum and says it’s his job to keep society clean. Yikes. Chul seems to realize what deep shit he’s in and buries his head into the table as a tear escapes.
When we see Chul next, he’s in prison and an ajusshi visits to tell him that Prosecutor Han is an ambitious man, looking to make a name for himself on a famous case. Ajusshi says sympathetically that they couldn’t put it off any longer, and had to hold the funeral for his family. Augh, without him?
Chul spills a few quiet tears, and then starts breaking down in sobs. Ajusshi tells him to stay strong, because they’re not going to give up.
Chul’s trial begins and Prosecutor Han comes out strong, asking for the death penalty. Public sentiment is on his side, it seems, because people cheer in the courthouse. That makes Chul snap and he launches himself at Prosecutor Han.
The bailiffs bring Chul down to his knees, as he screams violently, “How? How…? You crazy bastard!” Prosecutor Han very nearly cracks a smile.
Elsewhere in a messy hospital office, a phone rings endlessly while two residents doze away in bunk beds. Neither of them wants to get up, but finally the female doctor OH YEON-JOO (Han Hyo-joo) caves and gets out of bed.
She happily tosses the phone to her sleeping colleague KANG SEOK-BUM (Kang Ki-young), when she sees that “Crazy Dog” is calling his phone. It’s a fleeting return to bed though, because Professor Crazy Dog is actually calling Seok-bum to get a hold of Yeon-joo.
She sees ten missed calls on her phone and freaks out, sending her on a mad dash through the entire hospital looking for Crazy Dog. She finally ends up at his office, where Crazy Dog lives up to his name and chews her out for taking this long. She’s confused when he suddenly asks Yeon-joo if her father is really THE Oh Sung-moo (Kim Eui-sung), the famous manhwa writer.
She confirms that that’s her dad, and Crazy Dog sighs, “Then why are you like this? If your father is Oh Sung-moo, how come you’re just… Oh Yeon-joo?” Ouch, it’s really in the delivery, the way he says Dad’s name like he’s a god and her name like she’s a sorry excuse for a human being. Yeon-joo doesn’t know what to say and answers, “I’m sorry, for being just Oh Yeon-joo.”
Professor Crazy Dog starts asking her all sorts of invasive questions about her family, and Yeon-joo says she lives with her mom ever since her parents’ divorce, and sees her dad fairly regularly. She asks where all this is going, and finally Crazy Dog says, “Gimme some spoilers!” LOL.
He takes out a copy of her dad’s famous manhwa, W, and says he’s super into it right now. Yeon-joo has this hilarious look on her face, like she can’t decide between mocking laughter and angry ranting.
Crazy Dog shows her that he went out and bought all thirty-three volumes, and says he’s especially a fan of W’s lead character, Kang Chul. (He happens to be holding up Volume 4, and the cover art looks awfully familiar to the super-close-up that closed out Kang Chul’s courtroom scene earlier…)
Yeon-joo agrees that the hero is awesome, and they share a bonding moment over being Kang Chul fans. Yeon-joo takes it a little too far and rambles on about how handsome and sexy Kang Chul is, and thinks Crazy Dog is raising his hand to hit her, but he asks for a high-five instead, heh.
Apparently the series is due to end this week with its final issue, and Crazy Dog can’t handle the suspense and wants to know who the culprit is. Yeon-joo says that her father never divulges story information, but when Crazy Dog offers to let her cut open AND sew back together the next open-chest surgery, she runs off to squeeze some spoilers out of Dad.
Yeon-joo starts to call her father, but thinks better of it and calls Dad’s assistant PARK SU-BONG (Lee Shi-un) instead. Su-bong answers in an agitated state, and interrupts Yeon-joo to say that he was just about to call because her father’s gone missing.
Yeon-joo laughs it off and says Dad probably stayed up all night drinking as usual, but Su-bong says no one’s seen or heard from him before last night, and Dad wasn’t at any of his usual bars or with any of his friends, and he even left his cell phone behind.
The assistants are facing a deadline today without knowing how the story ends, and Su-bong is beside himself with worry, knowing how uncharacteristic it is of Yeon-joo’s father to miss a publication deadline.
Yeon-joo starts to worry and heads over to Dad’s workshop, where all the walls are lined with artwork from W. She check’s Dad’s room, and Su-bong says the weirdest part is that they were working outside in the main room all night, and her father never once left his room.
The scene fades into a flashback of last night: Su-bong had asked Dad if he wanted coffee at 9 p.m., and Dad requested it at 10 p.m. instead. But by the time Su-bong brought the coffee, Dad was gone. They searched everywhere, to no avail.
Su-bong is quite the drama queen and punctuates his report to Yeon-joo with: “And he disappeared… without a trace.” He wonders if they should call the cops, but while Yeon-joo agrees that it’s weird, not enough time has passed for them to consider Dad missing. She supposes that Dad is only human and might have had a hard time parting ways with a character he’s drawn for ten years.
But Su-bong surprises her by saying that Dad was feeling quite the opposite, in fact, and said that he was sick and tired of Kang Chul and wanted to kill him in the manhwa’s final scene. Yeon-joo scoffs in disbelief at the idea that Dad would kill off Kang Chul, but Su-bong swears up and down that he saw it with his own two eyes.
To prove it, he swears her to secrecy and then shows her the frame that Dad was working on just before he disappeared. Su-bong switches on the monitor, and there’s a drawing of a man covered in blood. Yeon-joo gasps, “What is this? Why? Why…? Why would you kill our Kang Chulie?”
Su-bong says it wasn’t him, but agrees that it makes no sense to kill off Kang Chul. Yeon-joo just stares and stares at the image and asks if he’s really dead, and Su-bong hilariously points out that she’s a doctor and ought to have reached that conclusion from all the blood.
Su-bong rants about how the team has never once argued with her father over a story point until this happened, and that one of the staffers even cried. But Dad insisted he was going to kill Kang Chul, and brutally at that, saying it was his life’s wish to do so.
Yeon-joo is hardly listening because she’s so distraught over Kang Chul’s death, and she scrolls down to the next frame on Dad’s computer, which shows a hooded figure in black holding a bloody knife in the background as Kang Chul bleeds to death.
Su-bong says he doesn’t know who the hooded culprit is, because this is the last thing Dad drew before disappearing. She wonders if maybe Dad had second thoughts after putting Kang Chul at death’s door, but Su-bong is positive that he saw Dad smiling as he drew these images last night.
Yeon-joo can’t understand why he’d seem happy while killing off his own lead character, and then realizes that maybe one of W’s rabid fans got wind of this story turn and kidnapped Dad to prevent it from happening. They realize it could be serious and decide to call the cops after all.
Yeon-joo finds stacks of indecipherable notes on Dad’s desk, and pauses at one—a copy of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (about the Greek god who devoured one of his children out of fear that he’d be overthrown). On the back is scrawled: “Rather than be devoured, I will devour.”
As she reads the phrase out loud, Dad’s monitor begins to flicker. Yeon-joo turns to walk away from the desk, when suddenly something stops her. She’s frozen with fear, and slowly raises her hand and draws a sharp breath at the sight of blood on it.
Ever so slowly she turns around… and we see a bloody hand grabbing onto her jacket with a vice grip. Aaaaah, the hand is coming out of the monitor! By the time she lets herself get a good look, the hand yanks so hard that she gets… sucked in? She disappears, and the image of Saturn Devouring His Son flutters to the floor.
Yeon-joo is beyond confused when she wakes up on the roof of a skyscraper, and then literally trips over a bloody body. It’s Kang Chul, straight out of the final scene that Dad drew, except here he’s not a drawing, but a living, breathing person. Er, a dying person.
She quickly checks to make sure he’s still alive and empties her pockets, but it’s not like she has medical equipment in her pants. So she runs down a level and bursts into a busy kitchen, where a staff of cooks is stunned when she runs in screaming about someone dying, and asks them to call emergency.
She grabs a towel and a pair of scissors and runs back up to put pressure on the stab wounds, and a waiter follows her up as they wait for an ambulance. When she asks where they are, he says it’s a hotel. Yeon-joo says she’s a doctor and adds, “Though I don’t have a lot of talent.”
Kang Chul finally comes to and starts gasping for air, and Yeon-joo cuts open his shirt to find his chest bruised, likely from his lungs filling with blood. She stammers that she has to puncture his lung to let him breathe, and her eyes land on the pen in the waiter’s pocket.
She talks herself out of doing something that crazy, but when Kang Chul starts struggling for more air, she grabs the pen. After another round of self-doubt, she cries, “I don’t know, they do this all the time in dramas! They just… do it!” She finally works up the nerve and stabs him right in the chest, and his eyes dart open on impact.
They stare into each other’s eyes as he takes a breath, and then he passes out again. Soon the rooftop is flooded with hotel employees and then the paramedics, and it’s determined that Chul will survive.
Yeon-joo sits off to the side and sighs that Crazy Dog should’ve seen this, and wonders if she’s one of those naturally-gifted doctors who do better in action than in practice. The hotel’s manager interrupts to thank her for preventing a murder at his hotel, and she hands over her card and says she was just doing her job as a doctor.
The question that stumps her is why she was up here on the roof, and she suddenly flashes back to being in Dad’s office before this. The manager gets distracted when the waiter runs over to tell him that the bloody man is Kang Chul, and the manager totally flails at that.
Yeon-joo peers over at them curiously and wonders who Kang Chul is. The only Kang Chul she knows is the fictional hero of her dad’s manhwa, and she wonders if he’s a celebrity or something: “No wait, that’s Kang-ta.”
Suddenly two and two start coming together: Dad’s last drawing of Kang Chul lying in a pool of blood, and the man she just saved…
She shakes away the crazy thought and walks over to where Chul is being lifted onto the stretcher, and their eyes meet. Their gazes are locked on each other as he gets taken away, and she’s left standing on the roof alone.
What startles her even more is the appearance of a chyron—backwards, like someone invisible is writing it onto an image of her—that says, “To be continued.”
The camera swirls around Yeon-joo, and much to her shock, she finds herself back in Dad’s office. She reaches a shaky hand out to the drawing of bloody Kang Chul, but it’s back to being a static monitor and her finger just taps at the screen.
She screams when Su-bong comes in and says that she’s been gone for a long time, but he never noticed her absence. He happily announces that her father is okay too, because he just finished the latest issue. Dad hasn’t contacted them, but he made the deadline, and even saved Kang Chul.
Su-bong ushers her out to read the latest episode, called “Mysterious Attack,” and one of the staffers says that the series must be getting extended, because it didn’t end today. Yeon-joo scrolls through the episode, and her jaw drops at the appearance of a woman in the rooftop scene.
There it is in the webtoon, frame for frame, matching moment by moment what happened with her when she suddenly found herself on that roof. Su-bong says that Dad introduced a new character, and strangely enough, she has the same name as Yeon-joo.
Yeon-joo gets to the end of the episode and gapes at the last image. She mutters, “That’s… me.”
Then we fade into an introduction of Kang Chul as a manhwa character, narrated by Yeon-joo. She says he was born in 1987, and that his company, JN Global, is worth over one trillion won.
His story began twelve years ago, when he became a nationally beloved sports star, and then was suspected of murdering his own family. We catch up to the court scene where we last left Kang Chul in his backstory, and as he sits huddled in his prison cell, Yeon-joo narrates that he was able to appeal his case and be declared innocent due to lack of evidence.
She says that wasn’t the end of his suffering though. We see him return to an empty house after a year of imprisonment, and cry alone in his dark house. People whisper everywhere he goes, calling him a murderer. And after a year of living in agony this way, he decides to end it all.
He stands on a bridge overlooking the Han River and thinks back to the horrifying moment when he’d come home to find his family gunned down. Yeon-joo narrates that he’d never once thought of an end like this, and was overcome with rage and futility.
He cries at the memory of holding a belated memorial service for his family all by himself, and then lets go of the railing. As his body starts to fall forward, Yeon-joo narrates that in that split-second, one phrase came to his mind: “come-from-behind victory,” the way he’d ultimately won his gold medal.
As lightning strikes overhead and rain begins to fall, Kang Chul dangles from the bridge by one hand, having chosen at the last second to fight for his life. Yeon-joo narrates that he chose victory over death, and knew that he wouldn’t be able to turn things around until he found the true culprit. So he decided then and there that he would find his family’s killer before he died.
In the classic rise-from-the-ashes hero moment, Kang Chul steps forward in the pouring rain, each step making him stronger and more determined to change the course of his life.
The screen fades into a webtoon drawing, and then we fast-forward to the present day, after Chul’s rooftop stabbing. A news reporter says that the surgery went well, and the entrance is lined with fans wanting to wish him well.
A well-dressed young woman is allowed into Kang Chul’s hospital room, and she reports to Chul that she searched everywhere for the doctor who saved his life, but couldn’t find any trace of her. This is YOON SO-HEE (Jung Yoo-jin), Chul’s assistant, and So-hee says that there’s something off about that doctor.
She looked, and there’s no such place as Myungse Hospital, where the doctor claimed to work, and all her contact information is fraudulent. So-hee says that the cops suspect the doc of being an accomplice to the attack, but Chul says no, she isn’t.
So-hee argues that Chul has no memory of the attack, and he says it’s just a gut feeling. Chul wants them to find this woman, “Because I think she holds the key to my life.” From the couch, Chul’s right-hand man and bodyguard SEO DO-YOON (Lee Tae-hwan) silently drops his tea in surprise.
So-hee finds the assessment over-the-top, and assumes it’s because the doc was pretty and he fell for her at first sight. Chul argues that she wasn’t pretty, and that’s not why he thinks this, though So-hee remains unconvinced that a playboy like him was thinking of it differently.
Chul whines to Do-yoon (whom he calls “hyung”) that he’s never heard of an assistant who talks to her boss this way, but So-hee totally ignores them and presses for an explanation. Chul says that he feels like this doctor will hold the key to his reason for existing.
That doesn’t explain anything from where So-hee stands, and she breaks into banmal and argues that his reason for existing is that his parents fell in love and made a baby. Chul reminds So-hee to only use banmal when they’re alone, and tells her to make sure that the police sketch artist doesn’t make the doc too pretty, otherwise they’ll never find her.
After So-hee storms out, Chul supposes that she’s pissed again, and Do-yoon just calmly drinks his tea and says the doctor must’ve been really pretty. Lol.
Chul looks at Yeon-joo’s card again and says, “Oh Yeon-joo… where are you now?” This fades into a webtoon frame, and Yeon-joo is flabbergasted to read it.
Fellow fan Professor Crazy Dog busts into Yeon-joo’s office and gets all worked up at the absurdity of her father writing his own daughter into the story, and points out that her business card in the webtoon is real. He’s especially offended that a quack doctor like her could save Kang Chul’s life, and is up in arms, thinking she asked her daddy to be a character, and will ruin a masterpiece like W.
But Yeon-joo is too worked up herself to listen to Crazy Dog, and ends up shoving him out of the room so she can process what’s going on. She locks the door and tells herself to think, and calls up Dad’s assistant Su-bong.
Su-bong agrees that it’s Yeon-joo in the webtoon, and that the story is taking a weird turn. He still hasn’t heard from her father, and doesn’t even know where he’s holed up and drawing these from.
Yeon-joo tells him that Dad’s not the one drawing these: “It’s just happening, ever since Kang Chul didn’t die!” She knows she sounds nuts, but says, “Kang Chul is alive and looking for me! The world of W exists! The world where the real Kang Chul exists!”
Su-bong assumes she’s talking crazy, so Yeon-joo shouts that she saw him, and just hangs up. She goes back to her monitor and asks the Kang Chul in the webtoon why he’s looking for her, and why he thinks that she’s the key to his existence.
That was a lot of ground to cover in the first episode, but I’m really glad we got this far in the story, because this is essentially the setup we’ve been promised in the teasers leading up to the premiere, and I like knowing that everything else from here on out is new territory and we don’t know what to expect. It’s really the supernatural premise from writer Song Jae-jung ( Nine, Queen Inhyun’s Man) that hooked me from the get-go, but I was happy to see that the hybrid manhwa/real-world universes were executed stylishly. It helps to have such beautiful artwork, but I also like that Kang Chul’s world is directed to look very much like a comic book, and that I felt the mood and tension of the darker parts, like Dad’s world and the mystery surrounding him.
I thought it was clever how the writer used the fact that Kang Chul was a famous fictional character within the story to have Yeon-joo narrate and give us his abbreviated backstory. The reactions from his diehard fans tell us a lot too—despite being fictional, when so many people are rabid fans of a character, it makes us trust that he’s something special. But the trick is, of course, that Lee Jong-seok has to play the character like he’s a real person, not a caricature, and I like that everyone in the world of W the manhwa lives life as if it’s just real. For now. Then on the flipside, there’s a fun level of meta when Crazy Dog is fuming mad at Yeon-joo for being written into the storyline of his favorite webtoon. From his perspective, his favorite series just jumped the shark, and I love how violent his reaction is when he thinks it’s her fault. It kind of is, but then, she didn’t know she was changing the story by saving Chul’s life.
There’s just a really compelling conflict here, between the father who inexplicably wants to kill off the hero that made his career, and the daughter who wants to save him. At first it may have been instinct to save the dying man in front of her, but as she and Kang Chul connect across their parallel universes, I suspect the strife between father and daughter will increase exponentially. I find Dad to be such a fascinating character—I like the slightly unhinged creative mastermind feel to him—and the mystery surrounding him is dark, dense, and eerie. It made me wish we could just stop at his desk and pore over all his scribbled notes for clues. I really enjoy that the weight of his character will provide a contrast to the otherwise light and somewhat flighty Yeon-joo.
I find her endearing though, because she confesses to be rather average at her job and seems equally excited to be linked to Kang Chul as she is confused about the whole thing. But beyond these two characters and their connection to one another, I love that there’s a huge overarching mystery at play. Why is the barrier between their worlds breaking down? Was it Chul’s desperation that broke through and pulled her into his world, or was it her earnest desire for him not to die that made it possible? Or are they both just puppets being directed by Dad, or someone else? I guess this means they’ve hooked me.
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