OCN’s quintessential mystery drama ‘Save Me’ is back!
If you are unfamiliar with the drama to this day, be prepared to be let in on a secret that will save you from an abundance of unoriginal scripts. Contrary to the poignant song by BTS of the same title, this OCN television series is a jarring mystery full of wicked suspense that will give you an unsettling yet entertaining feeling of tension!
The first season, starring 2PM’s Taecyeon and Seo Ye Ji, aired back in 2017 and received critical appraise for its unconventional topics of pseudo-religion and targeted bullying. The synopsis follows four teenagers who move to a suburban village with their parents and end up discovering an underground scandal that involves the existence of malicious cult leaders. Audience reviews on Google praise the actors for their “top notch performance” and “realistic insights of cult believers” that make the series “totally different from regular K-dramas.”
This success immediately prompted a second season, arriving at a sequel which premiered two months ago and ended on June 27. In this season, the running theme of mysticism and psychological coercion continue to dominate, but the intensity of the cult leaders’ societal stronghold becomes more evident as the sect conspires with government powers and corporate profiteers to manipulate followers with a bigger scheme. These devious leaders employ a decoy to build a new water dam in the village, attempting to reinforce political and economic authority by taking over an entire urban infrastructure. In order to divert attention and arouse public fear, the leaders offer a false promise of savior to those who follow them against an impending apocalyptic terror.
In the drama, former SECRET member Sunhwa appears in both seasons as character Ko Eun Ah, aka. “Madame Ko”. Eun Ah is the owner of a café in this fictional village of Wolchoori and happens to be the first love of the protagonist Min Cheol, played by Um Tae Goo. As a character that both nurtures and seduces the protagonist, she gives support and provokes dilemma in Min Cheol with her uninhibited ingenuity and bubbly demeanor. Sunhwa’s character is an auxiliary yet important role, as her alias ‘Madame Ko’ also draws attention to matters of gender roles and power dynamics. The character doesn’t exude intellectual wit; instead, she is portrayed merely as a “beautiful woman” but with a hint of ‘femme fatale-like’ persona. This innocent charm and youth clash with her identity as the town’s central café owner, because the word ‘Madame’ (used in its original English form in Korea) is a rather derogatory label placed on small-town business owners who are female and older, in charge of the town’s social meet-up grounds such as cafés, cabarets, brothels, and other clandestine joints usually run by the lower class.
This element sheds thematic light on the series, since the rather outdated term for today is still used in a narrative that is set in the present day. In one scene, Madame Ko is also sexually harassed by a male customer, which provokes anger in the protagonist. This type of residential insularity harbors a slowly developing society rather than a progressive one, which becomes a controllable environment for the conman to utilize persuasive tactics in coaxing the naïve villager to believe in pseudo-spirituality. These villagers obviously have limited sources of information to turn to, completely entrapped in a suburban bubble where they become prone to brainwashing even in modern times. In the original Korean title, the imperative grammatical mood “save me” is also written in the informal form rather than the formal, making the title sound even more raw and intense, as if to accentuate someone’s desperation in seeking immediate help.
Judging by the poster for the series, the drama may at first seem like a typical horror flick, but what really pulls viewers in is this realistic aspect of the hypothetical realm. It resembles something from ‘The Twilight Zone’ or an Alfred Hitchcock film; the scariest part does not stem from the actual physical threat but the deceitfulness of the bad guys who try to work around political red tape in order to win in a game of extortion and corruption.
Because the drama revolves so much around the idea of conspiracy theories, secret businesses, and psychological manipulation, the viewers also, in turn, wake up from their own reality after watching the drama. In relation to their own responses, interesting parallels are drawn with exclusive groups in our own society. In fact, in the religious world, there was an actual petition from a Korean religious group that protested against the drama and sued the production company for airing the program. However, without enough reasoning to back up what the plaintiffs alleged to be “defilement of existing religious groups,” the court ruled in favor of the drama’s producers and stressed strongly that the drama was only based on fictitious events.
With OCN being one of the leading cable channels for high-quality mystery dramas, including ‘Tunnel ‘ (2017), ‘Reset’ (2014), ‘Missing Noir M‘ (2015), and the latest series ‘Watcher’ (2019), this sequel of ‘Save Me’ has taken the upper hand in a pool of successful cable dramas. At the press conference, Sunhwa expressed that she thoroughly enjoyed playing Ko Eun Ah as well, whose charm was indeed “honesty and freedom” in a rather dark and unusual drama. It had allowed her to act more comfortably, living inside a character that seems to have ”the beauty of simplicity,” as she put it. As an experienced idol-turned-actress, Sunhwa seems to be taking it step by step in contrast to a handful of other former idols who wish to switch gears in the industry. Even in this drama, she may not play the lead character but might as well be the ‘secret’ ingredient to the bigger picture that will be beneficial for both the drama and for herself.
Does this stir a significant intrigue in you? You never know, once you start watching the series, you might become entrapped by an addiction that will have you clamoring for a third season, against your own will. This drama is currently available to stream internationally via OnDemandKorea, with all 16 episodes available for viewing.