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Five drama recommendations… for well-made serial killer thrillers

signal
It’s no lie that dramaland loves to inject some life-threatening stakes by way of serial killers. Genre is no great matter, for a serial killer can now be inserted into any story. All jokes aside, dramaland does produce some really top-notch thrillers that are brimming with great writing, great acting, and great evil to overcome. Here are some of our favorite (well-made) dramas with that thriller-killer element.


signal
Signal (2016)

 
Signal ranks high on my list of favorite K-dramas, and it’s my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a mystery thriller to watch. The acting is terrific, the characters are well-rounded and compelling, and the plot hits my favorite sweet spot between being a bit of a procedural whodunit while also having an engaging overarching story that ties everything together. Said story follows Park Hae-young (Lee Je-hoon), a criminal profiler, and detective Cha Soo-hyung (Kim Hye-soo), who are both assigned to a newly established cold-case division.

But this isn’t your typical drama featuring cops on the hunt for serial killers because there’s an added element of magical realism thrown into the mix — which sounds like an absolute recipe for disaster on paper, I know. Except, Signal executes it perfectly by keeping the magic simple and restricting it to one single plot element: a walkie talkie that that allows Hae-young to communicate with Lee Jae-han (Jo Jin-woong), a detective living in the past and working the cases while the serial killers are still actively hunting their victims. Having the characters work the same cases simultaneously but in two different timelines is a stroke of genius. We aren’t just rooting for our characters to identify the killers, we’re hoping that our heroes will arrest the murderers in time to save lives and alter the future, something that becomes keenly important to our present-day characters who want to save Jae-han from a mysterious end.
@daebakgrits

 

the guest
The Guest (2018)

 
This isn’t a conventional serial killer pick since the killer is technically incorporeal evil, but same diff. The Guest does the good, old-fashioned possession story well, and it’s probably my favorite horror drama to date. The basic premise is that a demon known as The Guest controls minion demons to possess people, causing the possessed to kill their families and then stab themselves.

While I went in for the horror, which didn’t disappoint, what made this drama memorable were the characters. The central trio of Kim Dong-wook, Kim Jae-wook, and Jung Eun-chae is delightful as the shaman, priest, and cop — respectively — working together to hunt down the evil that wreaked havoc on their lives. I already liked Kim Dong-wook and Kim Jae-wook, so I knew they’d be great individually, but I didn’t expect their terrific chemistry that had me half hoping they’d couple up by the end. I loved watching the uptight priest and the freewheeling shaman bicker and bond over the course of their mission, adding some levity to all the murder and mayhem.

There aren’t that many pure horror dramas, so my interest is always piqued when a drama like The Guest comes around. If you’re like me and enjoy creepy yet fun horror stories with good characters, an engaging plot, and possession-induced murder, buckle in for a good time. –@quirkycase

 

nobody knows
Nobody Knows (2020)

 
I feel a particular fondness towards Nobody Knows for a few different reasons. It gave me one of my favorite K-drama heroines ever in the tough, reserved, secretly warm-hearted detective Cha Young-jin (Kim Seo-hyung), it helped get me past a pretty big drama slump, and it’s an engaging, intriguing, and heartfelt story that has stuck with me since Episode 1.

The thrills center around Young-yin’s cat-and-mouse chase to catch her childhood best friend’s murderer, and the story also dives deep into said killer’s backstory, which is twisted and steeped in trauma of his own. At Young-jin’s side is an ever-growing team of supporters, including a high school teacher played by the marvelous Ryu Deok-hwan. But the most important and compelling relationship of the show is the familial bond between Young-jin and Eun-ho (Ahn Ji-ho), her teenage neighbor from downstairs. Yes, Nobody Knows is full of darkness, murder, and violence, but what made it memorable for me was the lingering message of hope in the midst of all that. It’s not just a warning of the terrible things that can happen when adults fail the young people in their lives, but also a reminder of the positive difference a person can make by stepping up to be the adult their younger self needed. –@mistyisles

 

inspector koo
Inspector Koo (2021)

 
From now on, when I say I want to watch a thriller that’s also fun, Inspector Koo is the gold standard. This show is weird, quirky, and unmatched in its love for literal theatrics. After all, why stick to just dark, thrilling, heartfelt, thoughtful, comedic, or dramatic, when you can be all of the above and more? The key, of course, is to fully commit and do all of those things well, and in that department (and many other departments) Inspector Koo delivered above and beyond my expectations. Basically, it’s a wild, and wildly entertaining, ride.

It’s hard to have an engaging serial killer show without, well, an engaging serial killer, and Kim Hye-joon’s “K” is brilliantly captivating, changing in an instant from charming to terrifying to vulnerable and back again. As she and the titular Inspector Koo Kyung-hee (Lee Young-ae) figuratively dance around each other, it gets harder for Kyung-hee to ignore their similarities… and less clear if she really wants to. In addition to these two, there’s also a full cast of colorful, memorable characters, all with secrets and doubts and agendas of their own. And if there were ever a K-drama that left me both completely satisfied with its send-off and hungry for a second season, it’s this one. –@mistyisles

 

through the darkness
Through the Darkness (2022)

 
I’ve already written odes upon odes to this drama in my weecaps, but no amount of praise could ever encompass the sheer amount of awe and respect I have for this show. It’s not often that a crime thriller chooses to forgo shock value for nuanced and respectful storytelling, which makes Through the Darkness stand out even more for its sensitive portrayals. This drama was utterly compelling because of how understated and contemplative it was; it took the time to linger on its multifaceted characters and their motivations. It never sensationalized the brutality of murder, instead choosing to pay tribute to the people that the media coverage often neglects — the victims and their bereaved families. A lot of care was clearly put into crafting this drama, from its gripping interrogation sequences to the palpable grief in the wake of crime, and the cast’s masterful acting and riveting chemistry only served to elevate the story even further.

Kim Nam-gil is absolutely phenomenal as the criminal profiler Ha-young, portraying his tenacity with a quiet fortitude that belies his deep empathy. His subtle microexpressions brought us through every shift in his emotional state, highlighting the toll that such a demanding profession takes on one’s psyche. Ha-young isn’t perfect by any means — he falters, he wavers, and he almost loses faith. But that’s what makes him so heartbreakingly human, and what makes us root for him all the more.

It may seem odd to call a serial killer thriller hopeful and comforting, but this show reminds us through its deftly-woven social commentary that no matter how bleak the world may seem, we can take that first step and make a difference, however small. Even when faced with the darkest depravity of crime, we can still walk onward with integrity and compassion. Thought-provoking, insightful, and profound, Through the Darkness is a drama that deeply touched my heart and will linger in my memory for years to come. –@solstices

through the darkness

 
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Really I just came here because Lee Je-hoon's face was real big up there.

+1 for Signal which is at this point my third favorite drama that I've seen! I'm excited to watch some more of these. For the record - how horror-y is The Guest? I'm very intrigued, but also get scared quite easily haha. Maybe I'll just have to give it a go and decide for myself.

Another great one is Beyond Evil. Gorgeously acted, especially Shin Ha-kyun who manages to be paternal, irreverent, unhinged, creeptastic, and tender within the span of five minutes.

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Yes to Je Hoon and his jawline. Did you know there’s a japanese version of Signal? There’s a movie and drama but i’ve only watched the movie.

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It's always the jawline and eyebrows that get me. I did not know about this! Are they any good?

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The movie was ok but tbh i mostly watched for Kentaro. I linked the trailer for you.

https://youtu.be/m1X1_Xxef78

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For the record - how horror-y is The Guest?

A bit stabby , and 🔪 lots of sea water 💦 🗡 .
Good show, wonderful cast.

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You forgot to mention the part about them being The Best group of misfits To Family.
The Guest Is The Best.
My Trio Are The Best.

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the best kind of clickbait

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Signal has been my no 1 drama for years. I've been waiting for season 2 until now even though i know they won't give it to us. I miss our trio.
I also love Through the Darkness. Gosh i have to finish this drama but i'm still not in mood to continue.

There are also dramas like Life on Mars and Tunnel. Tunnel especially have two serial killers. I could never forget Heo Sungtae's character in Tunnel and i think his performance and overall character nuance(?) kind of outshine the doctor, who is the real real serial killer in the show. Meanwhile Life on Mars is more lighter and has a bit of sci-fi(?) to it, real or not real. Jung Kyungho's nailed his role so well and this drama made me discover Go Ahsung.

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SPOILERS!!

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...why i didn't think that my comment gave such important spoiler?😔 i just assumed most people have watched Tunnel and post my comment. So dumb.
I'm sorry

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It is unfortunate, but not really your fault. Most of these recommendation posts contain huge spoilers.
Sometimes even writing the title under a given subject can be a spoiler if you know what I mean!
I usually skip over any shows I haven't watched, but not everybody does that apparently.

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Lol. I watched Tunnel and enjoyed it, but if people are here to look for recommendations telling them the end isn’t advised…. Hahaha

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You could still delete it.😊

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All these. are great. I will second Tunnel. That drama had such excellent emotional punch.

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Since there is a comment on Lee Je Hoon jawline, I will confess that I was swooning over Choi Jin Hyuk during Tunnel so much that I had to rewind to listen/read the words and not just be taken by his voice.

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Lol, good for you. I love it.

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Totally normal! 😁

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I agree with every word @mistyisles and @solstices have written about Nobody Knows and Through the Darkness. Both shows were masterclasses in subtle nuanced micro-acting, micro-writing, and micro-directing.

To add other recommendations,

Lookout
Train
365 Days

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I would like to add Confession to my list too.

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I agree with Nobody Knows and Through the Darkness, and while horrors ain't my forte, I'm drawn to respect the Guest from afar.

Memorist was one thriller that was almost well done with the serial killer theme.

Others include Voice 1-4, Children of Nobody, Mouse, and Tell Me What You Saw.

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Agree with all the other comments and the DB staff write-ups. Nobody Knows, Signal, Through the Darkness, Tunnel, Memorist, Life on Mars and Train are all great shows.

Only one I'd add that hasn't been mentioned yet - Hello Monster (I Remember You) where you get to see how a serial killer may be created.

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Hello Monster is by far the best of these. It's a solid script and execution, and all three main actors, especially the older killer, knocked it out of the park. I was also pleasantly surprised by D.O.

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I remember you was absolutely great.

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Interesting to see Memorist come up a few times. I thought it lacked good character writing to sink your teeth into, found its thriller elements a bit too dumb and dropped it at episode 8... 😅😅

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I think Memorist's payoff is absolutely in the back-half actually so probably after you dropped it 😅.

In the second half we see a slow unraveling of the story and with each episode you think you've reached the final mystery but there's still more story to be told. I was very impressed with how the past storyline was connected. The eventual 'villain' itself was probably less impressive though.

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lol! I told myself if by that point there wasn't any improvement or focus on the character writing, it wasn't gonna get better, and I'd be better to drop. The mystery itself wasn't interesting to me 😂 - I'm typically a character and theme driven watcher, but that IS interesting.

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Well by unraveling the mystery I did mean the character motivations or the 'why' of the serial killer and not just the whodunit. His childhood and life and how they are linked to the origins of Yoo Seung-ho's character sort of form the base of the story.

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Hmmmmm 🤔

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I was going to say Hello Monster, it’s really good.

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I really loved Signal, The Guest and Through the Darkness!

Otherwise, I liked Children of Nobody, the casting was "original" for this kind of drama and they were really good.

Life On Mars>/b> was a good remake with a Sci-Fi touch. The same for Tunnel.

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I haven't watched yet signal, inspector koo or through the darkness.
But I can add children of nobody, beyond evil and strangers from hell.

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Children of Nobody and Beyond Evil are great dramas, although the difficult subject matter of Children of Nobody does turn some people off. Understandably.

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It sure is difficult, It was hard to watch in general

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@quirkycase have you watched the priest???
It's another ocn drama, you might want to try that 😅😉

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I haven't seen it, but it sounds up my alley!

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Yes yes please watch and tell me what you think 😀

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I would like to add Voice, Gap dong and The Five. The Five being a movie.

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What no Hello, Monster/I Remember You?!?
What *is* the world coming to 😂😂😂

That would be my first Recommendation for this specific category. So tightly written, directed and acted, black comedy mixed with melo and thriller, and the two antagonists so chillingly well done. Ziggy when will you do another drama on par with IRY 😭

I liked Signal when it was airing but its dropped down on my list more and more as the years have gone by.
Inspector Koo was fun, especially at the beginning, and it takes the cup for having the more uncommon female serial killer, but I think its back half meandered too much and it lacked overal focus to know where it was supposed to go.
Nobody Knows, and more recently Through The Darkness although not initially on my radar, are on my watchlist.

I sort of feel like mentioning White Christmas again but I feel like that's a. a spoiler and b. more in the realm of psychological thriller genre and tone wise, and c. I feel like I've mentioned it in the last three or more drama reccs somehow and that maybe I should find something else lmao.
Phenomenally directed though ugh.

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Hello Monster/ I Remember You is the one here I would recommend.

I mean, I love Nobody Knows but tbh I love it despite the serial killer plotline and I don't know the criteria here but a lot of shows would be better off without the serial killer or at least a more realistic villain.

I enjoyed Signal at the time but I have never loved it like others do (although I'm one of the few people who actually like its ending).

Inspector Koo was fun and super stylish but I didn't feel the writing was strong enough overall.

tbh I've never really understood the kdrama obsession with serial killers, especially in romcoms - the recent Link would have been a much better drama without it.

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HTML fail

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I think that's what makes IRY stand out in this category for me, is that you coulDN'T take the serial killer plot line OUT of it; it not only does it well, but it's integral to the show itself.
And yeah, indeed, what is the criteria here- anything that has a serial killer in it?

Agree re. Link. Ugh need to get back to my essay lol.

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Yes IRY is the one where the drama needs the serial killer in it and couldn't work without it. You could make an argument for Nobody Knows since the serial killer taunting her was the reason why she became a cop in the first place, however there didn't need to be a serial killer really for that to happen.

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yes without it

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Hello, Monster/I Remember You is also my top recommendation.
It was, in my opinion, one of Park Bo Gum best roles. The other leads were also amazing. Jang Na Ra was such a bad-ass cop.
I am not much of a horror genre lover, and often wish they'd stop ruining otherwise great shows by adding such plots. But I Remember You was about so much more than serial killers

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I really liked IRY but I don't remember the investigation well... only SIG and JNR and of course his family.

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From what I remember of the investigation and the plot, it was well done and interesting, even though I didn't actually like the ending of it; but it's never been enough for me to drop my rating of the drama.

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Agreed that Signal didn’t compare well as new thrillers of all kinds emerge afterward.

Great to see so many memorable works mentioned by Beanies. I have to say these thrillers, together with slice of life dramas, are now overtaking romance as my fav genre.

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Hello Monster, Through the Darkness, The Guest, Beyond Evil and Signal are among my faves for this genre.

Also memorable is Mouse, Tunnel, and Flower of Evil (more melo but still good). I know I am missing something but these are what I can off the top of my head for now

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If we go by body count, a good number of chaebol dramas fit this category (as do most sageuks).

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Well if we're going THAT route, then Arthdal has a literal genocide by one guy... *ahem*

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I'm a bit bloodthirsty lately, may I know which chaebol dramas, makjangs, and sageuks have the most body count?

- The Penthouse, 13 deaths
- Scarlet Heart Ryeo, 12 deaths

Any recommendations? I need to conjure list on this one! Haha

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By my count, Vincenzo and Kill It have the highest murder/kill on screen. But sometime it is not easy to count the minions/guards (and do they count ?)
The devil judge has also some blood.

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Voice seasons 1-4

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ahhh I've watched all of these suggestions besides the last one, Through the Darkness! I definitely want to give it a go since I also love all the ones listed before.

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Signal, Through the Darkness and Nobody Knows are great picks!! I'd have to say for my top 5:

Come and Hug Me
Flower of Evil
Children of Nobody
Hello Monster (I Remember You)
Tunnel

Special Mention: Through the Darkness, Nobody Knows

All of those are dramas that specifically center their plot on a particular serial killer. It's not just one case among several that happens to be a serial killer... it's that the entire show revolves around the killer and trying to catch them/the effects of being near them. Through the Darkness gets special mention for being all about serial killers in general, and Nobody Knows gets special mention becuase I only got 5 choices ahaha.

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Just +1 for all the recommendations for Tunnel, Mouse and Hello Monster.

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I didnt watch Inspector Koo so I replace it with Children of Nobody but the rest are my favorites

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I’d recommend Special Affairs Team Ten! It’s also got 2 seasons… :D
And didn’t Vampire prosecutor have a serial killer?
OCN for the win!

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Also I loved I Can Hear Your Voice…

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Seconding Special Affairs Team Ten! I liked the team members in that one and it's what Criminal Minds Korea should have been.

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Does I can hear your voice count? It is not a serial killer drama per say (although the big bad kills three people that I can recollect of). That was mismash of genres but the suspense of what is going to happen remains in the story.

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Lee Je-hoon’s face is the best clickbait, absolutely loved Signal! Been watching Taxi Driver lately and tho that drama wouldn’t fit in with this category (it’s more of a serial kidnapping show lol) I feel like the movie Time To Hunt kinda does…

The film takes the opposite approach where instead of tracking down the serial killer, our main leads are escaping/ running away from said serial killer. Park Hae-soo is absolutely brutal in this, his performance actually gave me nightmares!

And wow lots of good drama recommendations here and very much appreciated! Through The Darkness & Nobody Knows are high on my to-watch-list

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So I need to watch TTD and Koo.

I love how everyone in the comments mentioned Hello Monster. I love that show.

If someone wants comedies they can watch Psychopath Diary or Penthouse.

Flower of Evil doesn't have the most intriguing or smart serial killer but it has the hottest, so that's something.

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@enriquequierecagar: I found him terrifying so his looks just didn’t register with me.

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For me he was such a weird character. He acted like some spoiled kid so he wasn't scary in a typical serial killer way, however I remember feeling uncomfortable with his creepiness... But most of the time I was more focused thinking that he looked really pretty with long hair. 🤣 I just keep thinking that probably I would've liked his character in Flower Boy Next Door if he had long hair back then LOL. I'm so dumb, I know.

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@You’re not dumb! That has never been my impression😊.

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He did look pretty but he was also creepy and scared me in a couple of instances.

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One more vote for Hello Monter / Remember me.
Gimme me a (on screen) dinner with a psychopath anytime.

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