There’s a lot going on in Netflix’s A Time Called You, the Korean remake of the hugely popular Taiwanese series Someday or One Day. This includes friendship, romance, grief, angst, a killer on the loose and most importantly, frequent time travel.
Comparisons are inevitable when an acclaimed show that’s been celebrated by fans globally gets a remake, and A Time Called You has been creating a buzz ever since its cast lineup was announced. While I haven’t seen the original, it has been interesting to see polarising views from both fans of the original as well as first-time viewers play out on social media. Does the remake work, for a viewer experiencing this rollercoaster tale spanning multiple timelines for the first time?
A Time Called You (Korean)
Director: Kim Jin-won
Cast: Jeon Yeo-been, Ahn Hyo-seop, Kang Hoon
Run-time: 45-75 minutes
Storyline: Grieving the death of her fiance, Jun-hee finds herself travelling back in time to the nineties, where she meets a high schooler who looks exactly like him.
The 12-episode Korean web-series begins with Han Jun-hee (Jeon Yeo-been), an enterprising working professional in her mid-thirties mourning the death of her fiance Koo Yeon-jun (Ahn Hyo-seop). who died in a plane crash a year ago. She’s struggling to come to terms with his sudden demise, and is mostly in a state of denial. Parallely, we are introduced to the world of high school student Kwon Min-Ju (who looks exactly like Jun-hee), and her schoolmates Nam Si-heon (who resembles Yeon-jun), and Jung In-gyu (Kang Hoon). There’s a lot of intrigue from the get-go, as the names of the characters who resemble each other aren’t revealed until the end of the first episode. Who are these people who look like each other, and yet don’t seem to have any connection whatsoever? Subsequently, suspense builds as Jun-hee is sent a photo where two youngsters resemble her and her deceased fiancé. Soon enough, a mysterious package also finds its way to her.
It isn’t long before Jun-hee finds herself transported back to the late nineties, and finds herself inhabiting the body of Min-ju. This isn’t just a chance for her to simply delve into why her classmate Si-heon bears a striking resemblance to the love of her life from the present, but also to unravel the mystery behind why Min-ju was attacked, as well as her impending death.
As questions begin to pile up, Jun-hee realises that she’s caught in a complex web and nothing is what meets the eye – both for Min-ju whose present timeline she is inhabiting, as well as for herself as Jun-hee in the future. Amidst all this, she forges a quick friendship with Si-heon and In-gyu, who are never unkind, but remain largely dismissive of her claims of time travel. Of course, there’s a love triangle blossoming here as well, but one where it’s evident from the start where Jun-hee’s preferences lie.
Given the constant back and forth, body swapping, and parallel timelines, writer Choi Hyo-bi remains largely consistent with the sharp, pacy writing throughout the show. There’s a steady build-up in intrigue, especially with regard to the whodunit element. Every plot point in this show’s complex narrative finds a place in a time loop, and the effort that has gone into the writing is evident from how it all unravels neatly.
The pace also, in a way, becomes this K-Drama’s biggest enemy as it robs the show of much of its emotional nuance and depth. While the high school trio’s friendship and blossoming feelings of love make up the core themes of the show, there’s precious little screen time accorded to this. We hardly get to see the trio bond or are allowed to enjoy their camaraderie, and In-gyu in particular is often forgotten. Something that particularly hurt was how abruptly short a storyline involving Yeon-jun and his classmate (Rowoon, in a surprisingly lovely cameo) is. The show instead constantly shifts focus, and proceeds to march forward in an inexplicable hurry.
The show belongs to Yeo-been, who excels in multiple roles- as a shy, introverted Min-ju, as the grieving, yet high-functioning Jun-hee, and most importantly, as Jun-hee inhabiting Min-ju’s body as she struggles to adapt to a timeline that’s alien to her. We’ve seen how well Yeo-been brings alive grief onscreen in the 2019 K-Drama Be Melodramatic, and here, she’s got even more to do. Watch out for the scenes towards the end where Yeo-been effortlessly plays Min-ju and Jun-hee who are both in despair, as they navigate their feelings. While Kang-hoon has little to do and is let down by a disappointingly underwritten character, Hyo-seop shines as the charming and vulnerable Si-heon whose world revolves around his friends. All three leads are, however, well into their thirties and yet play high schoolers. This is something that many K-dramas don’t seem to tire of, and one can only hope that these casting decisions are re-evaluated in other shows to come.
While it goes without saying that A Time Called You requires a willing suspension of disbelief given the paradoxes of the world it is set in, the writing in the last two episodes stretches this to the hilt. Nevertheless, for a show that’s packed to the brim and has a convoluted plot towards the end, the writing remains taut, and manages to nearly tie up all its loose ends.
Music plays a big role in propelling the story forward and here. We have the lilting strains of Seo Ji-won’s ‘Gather my tears’ and ‘Beautiful Restriction’ by current K-pop sensation NewJeans which stand out in the soundtrack. For all the internal turmoil given the constant time travel and despair the characters face, the world they inhabit, especially in the nineties, is one that’s filled with sunshine, aesthetically pleasing school buildings, and winding countryside roads with an abundance of cherry blossoms. Unrealistic, this might be, but every frame seems to be lovingly crafted and it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of it all, and revel in the heady nostalgia of an era where cassettes made for personal, warm gifts.
For a show where the clever writing and pace lend much heft, A Time Called You could have benefited from more emotional depth. However, the attempt is earnest, and the remake is definitely worth a watch.
A Time Called You is currently streaming on Netflix