The Cursed: Good or Evil Spirits?

This was tvN’s 12-episode drama offering – and I emphasise on that because its slick, and in no way less than a typical kdrama with 16-20 episodes. In fact, I think the length worked well for the drama and from the get-go I was in for a wild ride. It was not long before the intrigue I felt at the beginning became investment and to be frank, I was slightly sad to see it go. Still, it was satisfying overall without losing the initial spark it had. That was when I thought I had to write about it, and hopefully more of you would appreciate it like I did. 🙂

First of all, The Cursed 방법(bang-beob) deals with themes of shamanism and elements of dark magic which may not sit well with some audiences. I don’t have much interest or knowledge in the field, except through watching dramas (e.g. Mirror of the Witch) or movies (e.g. The Wailing) that contain such aspects. This was truly an eye-opener because I left with more knowledge about shamanism and was even introduced to more related scientific terms. I can’t say that I know A LOT more, but the effort put in by the production crew with regards to the research and theatrical property used is evident. It helped viewers like me to immerse into the drama world, although it might seem otherworldly and strange. Props to everyone, really.

We are also in the hands of a strong cast to pull off this story – veterans Sung Dong-il and Jo Min-soo are at the helm, together with Uhm Ji-won and Jung Ji-so. All of them managed to bring out the essence of the characters they embodied but before going in to the details, I’d like to talk about some macro aspects of the show that I enjoyed.

The aesthetics

I am not sure if it’s because movie directors are behind this production, but everything in this show looks polished, which makes it all the more immersive. Show is written by Yeon Sang-ho (who directed Train to Busan), and directed by Kim Yong-wan (Champion) In particular, the sets with the shamanism and voodoo aspects are clearly well-planned out. An example would be the house of Shaman Jin Gyeong (Jo Min-soo), you can see everything is purposefully placed when the camera pans through. I think what stood out the most to me was the detail of the sets. While it was necessary to tell the story, I honestly never expected it to be of this scale. The main characters also each have a specific colour theme, which is telling even in the costumes they don on for the drama. From the opening credits, title cards, all the way to the end of each episode, they are so pretty I don’t skip over them like I usually do for a drama.

The music

The background music and soundtrack is also a highlight of the series. People often say that the first thing that makes you cry/excited over a drama is the music, besides investment in the plot or the characters’ plights. I really liked the eerie background music and also the fast-paced one when something big is happening/when the villain is on the move. I’d also like to take the opportunity to introduce the OST that Kim Yuna sang for the show, titled “Nobody Knows” which you can find below.

The script

The writing was assured throughout; the show makers knew where they were headed and there was a main issue or point to make in every episode. Each had specific titles which also guided my watch. Most importantly, I think we went one full circle with the plot in terms of mirroring, parallels and also our characters’ motivations. Another thing I would like to highlight is the significance of the supporting characters. Too often, dramas introduce someone for a small plot point just to get things moving and the person subsequently ‘disappears’ without much explanation. In this case here, the minor characters eventually make major contributions to the plot which show that they weren’t added in without much thought and had their own moments to shine. For instance, Professor Tak (Ko Kyu-pil) and Investigator Kim Pil-sung (Kim In-kwon) were seemingly small characters who made an impact during my watch. The professor aided in Jin-hee’s investigation, eventually finding out important clues for them. Thinking back, you simply couldn’t do without them.

The themes

Shamanism is the overarching theme in our story but amidst all the cursing and ‘dark’ stuff going on there are universal values such as friendship and a sense of justice at play. But the one thing that inspired me the most was the exploration of human nature. A reporter’s never-give-up spirit and sense of curiosity contrasted with the dark tendencies of human nature, which is what pushes someone over the edge to manipulate others and even do evil. Becoming possessed or harbouring an evil spirit would just be the invisible hand that manifests these actions.

Now it’s time to zoom in and put the individual characters in the spotlight.

Actor Sung dong-il is a familiar face to many of us, and he leads the drama as Chairman Jin Jong-hyun of South Korea’s largest Information Technology (IT) company. He is a firm believer of shamanism, relying heavily on Jin Gyeong, who provides him with spiritual consultations. It is clear that much of FOREST’s revenue goes into shamanistic dealings such as buying of statues or items to keep ‘evil spirits’ away and investment for developing the shaman’s expertise. Already sounds shady, doesn’t it? The whole idea of Chairman Jin doing things subconsciously (or not), and the fact that he loses consciousness each time after followed by looking visibly fatigued was interesting, yet scary at the same time. The concept about his company’s technology booming in popularity by playing on the weaknesses of human nature was also really mindblowing to some extent because it was so true and framed in a unique manner.

As personal assistant to Chairman Jin and director of FOREST, Lee Hwan (Kim Min-jae 1979) is smart, capable and shrewd. One thing I like about him is that he doesn’t blindly follow his boss’s instructions or his insistent over-reliance on Jin Gyeong. He knows how to cover up his tracks and save himself, which also makes him a force not to be reckoned with. It’s also kind of funny to see him talk to himself and complain about his boss. There’s also something about the way the actor delivers his lines, I actually really believe he is Lee Hwan.

I remember Uhm Ji-won from writer Kim Eun-hee’s drama Sign, and was glad to see her again here. She plays Reporter Im Jin-hee, determined to seek social justice through her job. She launches a journalistic investigation on FOREST owned by Chairman Jin, who hides some secrets of his own. Jin-hee is the only human being in our main cast, we see her exhibiting humane qualities of guilt, regret, and virtues of being firm and upright. It wasn’t hard to connect to her, but given the nature of this drama we enter the grey territory when she starts to question what is right or wrong. It’s a relatable conflict, much like the idea of intentional lying versus telling white lies.

Jung Ji-so stars as Baek So-jin, a high school student with a secret special ability. And that is to perform a procedure on someone else, with the help of a few items. As a result they become “possessed”, almost like some kind of darkness enveloped them. We see it being brought to the fore a number of times, and is unbeknownst to most except the person who requested for it. I also like the friendship she forged with Jin-hee, although it started out as a ‘transaction’. It became a sisterhood that lasted for a lifetime. She really did treat Jin-hee as a true friend, despite being portrayed as cold and unfeeling. So-jin turned out to be the most mysterious character for me – I was intrigued, and also in awe.

Jo Min-soo put in a very impressive performance as Jin Gyeong – I was absolutely blown away. It must not have been easy to portray such a character, but she did it all with the subtle expression changes, fired up anger and shamanistic doings. Shamans are lonely beings despite having abilities and skills that no others have. They also can’t have many close friends or connect with humans too much lest they find out or feel something they shouldn’t. The writers also added a layer to her character and So-jin’s during their showdown. Its also when I was introduced to Wine Loop, a band of two and their songs. I’ll link them here for your listening pleasure. ❤

Chun Joo-bong, the shaman’s aide of ten years also had a characterisation I liked. It’s fascinating that such a blur and slow person is an assistant to a powerful shaman. His character introduction did give off some laughs as well and I think Lee Joong-ok portrayed him well, even up until he was threatened to tell the truth. I had reason to believe that he was sincere in working for Jin Gyeong, and likewise she treated him like family. When things turned sour, there was a tinge of sadness and pity in the atmosphere. Their dynamic was amazing, how do you not feel for them?

Kim Pil-sung also turned out pivotal as the private investigator hired by Jin-hee. I really liked that they brought him back to the foreground towards the climax, which helped the Seodong police and everyone involved get to the bottom of the truth. The definition of attention to detail. He also became much more likeable to the other characters from not likeable, just like Professor Tak. Which I must say is no easy feat. Thank you drama gods!

Some flaws

What I didn’t like so much about this drama was that it also left me with some unanswered questions despite the fact that we went full circle. While I agree that some parts being left open to interpretation was more apt, I also found myself wanting to know more. Like what brought our main characters So-jin and Jin-hee together in the first place? Was it fate? Was Chairman Jin aware of that darkness? Or did he totally become someone else? Thankfully, Yeon Sang-ho said he would consider making Season 2, so I guess I can hope that I’ll find the answers then? Heh

In closure (minor spoilers)

Nevertheless, So-jin saved the human race with her ability showing the dual nature of things. Being a performer of procedures was always depicted as something bad, I liked that it was turned around. Although much of the in-betweens were shrouded in mystery, it was satisfying to see that Chairman Jin was unable to achieve his ultimate aim and was stopped before he could do more damage in order to benefit FOREST. My heart’s full.

Last but not least, I have to thank my friend Thea for recommending this show to me – it was LOVE, I definitely enjoyed the ride. Check out her Jin Gyeong gif set here! (*contains spoilers of some scenes) I was completely out of loop with the airing dramas until recently, so if I hadn’t heard about it it would’ve gone off my radar completely. One final shoutout to all who took part! Didn’t manage to mention everyone, but I wrote what I liked most about it. Overall, it was an enthralling ride.

Rant Out, Souls!

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