[REVIEW] Life on Mars (Korea)

Hey friends. Hope you’re all doing fine and well. I’m going to warn you now and say I am one of the rare few that found this drama overwhelmingly disappointing. If you’re one of the many people who loved this drama, and don’t feel your heart can take any critiquing of it, please feel free to exit this page. My intention is never to kill the mood for those that had a good time watching shows that let me down. I’m just here to put my honest thoughts out there so that anyone who can relate knows they’re not alone. That being said, I’d like to make a few notes first. I have not seen the original British, or the American versions of the show (and have no intention to). I went into this show blind, with no prior information on what it was like or about, aside from the brief descriptions given by OCN. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Tunnel, a drama with a slightly similar premise, I was very enthusiastic about this show’s premiere. The trailers looked fantastic, the cast was promising, and I love a good crime show. All things pointed to this show being a success, but unfortunately for me, it failed to meet the high expectations I’d set for it.

[Be ForewarnedSpoilers Below].


ENJOYABLE ELEMENTS:

Lovable Team & Cast: The highlight of this show for me was undeniably the team dynamic and quirky set of characters. There was amazing chemistry amongst a reliable, trustworthy cast. Everyone delivered in their respective roles, which is the reason I hung in there until the very last episode.

I’m a big fan of Jung Kyung Ho and I must say, if not for him, I probably wouldn’t have cared for the character Han Tae Joo much at all. I’ll talk about the issues I had with his character’s writing later on. Jung Kyung Ho showcased a vast range of emotion in this role. While his character was reserved and collected majority of the time, the moments where Han Tae Joo was disoriented really stood out most. I bought into his suffering, desperation, and confusion. At the same time, Han Tae Joo had a soft side, separate from his cold, distant appearance. This side often came out in moments where he looked after Ms. Yoon and his mother. It’s safe to say that Han Tae Joo was the gentleman of the group. He really knew how to take care of those around him. Not the best at conveying his thoughts to others, he sometimes struggled to communicate with his team members. I like that Han Tae Joo eventually comes to love his 1988 companions, and though the ending is a bit foggy, I was pleased that he made it a mission to go back and save them. There was a nice balance between the various types of emotion Han Tae Joo exhibited, which I think can be credited to Jung Kyung Ho’s steady performance.

I’m never a fan of the loud, barking detective that seems to make an appearance in every OCN drama known to man. However, this is one time where I feel that type of detective was well suited to the group. Park Sung Woong was just the right actor to pull this type of role off. He had an ease about him that made his character feel familiar, friendly, and goofy. Yes, he yelled an awful lot, but that can also be attributed to the time frame we were in, and the eclectic group of officers we were dealing with. Someone had to reign them in, and Dong Cheol was just the right man for the job. His sense of humor, though crude at times, often became a catalyst for peace in more tense moments between some of the team members when there were misunderstandings. Though he appeared uncouth and childish, he was actually mature, dedicated to his team, and proud of his profession.

Go Ah Sung was so refreshing, as was her character. Ms. Yoon was so delightful to watch amongst a team of rambunctious men. Behind her meek and mild nature, was some unexpected, but welcomed spunk and intelligence. It was brilliant to make her the brains behind a significant portion of the case cracking. Had she not been there, Han Tae Joo would have had a much more difficult time solving the cases. Moreover, she provided emotional support and comfort to Han Tae Joon when he was at his limit and needed it most. Ms. Yoon might have seemed like a weak link who only made coffee at first, but it’s amazing to watch her character grow over time, and get more and more involved with each investigation. She was fearless, tough, and compassionate even when her teammates made undermining remarks. As she grew, her teammates came to recognize her value more, and I love that Dong Cheol gives her more work to do aside from being the maid. The moments where she beat up a few crooks was also hilarious and awesome. I love how scared the team was when her fighting spirit came out! Go Ah Sung really did justice to this role and character and was nothing short of perfection. I can’t imagine Ms. Yoon being portrayed any differently.

Oh Dae Hwan was great in his role as Lee Yong Ki. It took me a while to warm up to Yong Ki, and I’m still not quite sure I’m 100% on board with his character. He often made ignorant remarks toward Ms. Yoon and Han Tae Joo. Some of his sexist remarks could be blamed on the time frame, but it’s not like all of the other team members made those sexist remarks as well, which makes me think he really had no excuse. However, he does showcase some growth, and eventually come to treat Ms. Yoon well, work cooperatively with Han Tae Joo, and do everything within power to save his boss from harm. Jo Nam Shik was a good character for balancing out the team. There were so many dominant males, so his more subtle, gentle presence was much needed. Noh Jong Hyun was fitted to this role, and even though he had lesser screen time than the others, I felt he held his own when it was his time to shine.

Nice OST: As far as I know, this soundtrack hasn’t been released yet, so I haven’t been able to give the instrumental tracks a listen. For now I’ll have to go on memory, but I’ll be sure to edit this if I ever get my hands on the full soundtrack. Thankfully, the vocal tracks were all available on youtube, so I was able to give those a listen before writing this. They were all well suited and complementary to the time frame. My favorite tracks were “Where Are You” by Shin Hae Kyung, and “Always within Me” by Runy. This latter track contained English lyrics that meshed well with Han Tae Joo’s predicament which was fantastic. Although this video was not included in the actual drama, I thought this promotional clip was gold, so I feel I must promote it here while I can. Definitely check it out, because the song perfectly represents not only the 1988 atmosphere, but the team camaraderie. I can’t speak much on the instrumental tracks due to the fact that they aren’t released and my memory of them all has waned, but there was one track in particular that made use of the organ, which made it a great track for more suspenseful scenes.

Attractive Cinematography: For a crime show, I was pleasantly surprised by the visuals of this drama. Although, not too surprised, since OCN shows usually perform well in the cinematography department. I loved that the 1988 setting really came through, and was full of character compared to the present. The color adjustments and other elements cluing us in that it was a different timeframe were a nice touch. I noticed right away how the past was filmed with a sunnier tint than the present, which instead showcased more blues, purples, and greens. The settings were well adjusted for the representative times, with the old style cars, buildings, and radios showcasing the charm of the past, while the tall, looming and modern architecture of the present provided a completely different feel. You could tell the past and present apart easily, with the past having a much different feel and warm flavor to offer than the more industrial, cold vibes emanating from the present. In terms of scenery, this drama had much to offer. There were many eye catching shots of tall grass, open fields, riversides, train tracks, and bamboo forests to enjoy. Along with those were some thoughtful close ups of characters or key items that showcased clever usage of negative space within the frame. The lens was also very high quality, with every scene having a crisp, clean appearance.


PROBLEM AREAS:

Ho Hum Hero: I like Jung Kyung Ho, but I just couldn’t connect or invest myself in Han Tae Joo. He came across as such a flat and bland character. It wasn’t a fault with acting, but rather a fault in the writing. There was nothing for me to grab onto. He didn’t feel relatable. I felt bad for him, and wanted him to succeed, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in the cause. It was more because I knew he was doing the right thing that I wanted him to win, and not because I was enamored or drawn to his character in any sort of way. Yes, he was a good guy, but that was about it. There were no interesting or stand out qualities about him. It was hard to get a feel for who he was as a person. Aside from the reserved, gentleman he was at work, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about his personality and I can’t help but conclude that it was because he was poorly developed and didn’t really have a personality at all. If he did, it was as flavorless as they can get. Even his backstory and childhood traumas didn’t help me understand him as a person.

Uninspired Cases: Similarly, I found myself struggling to get caught up in the cases. Compared to the various other crime shows I’ve seen, this had to be one of the most boring and hollow string of cases I’ve come across. None of them moved me the way those in other shows often have. They just felt absent of any emotion and the way they unfolded sucked the suspense and tragedy right out from under them. I didn’t feel the loss here. Nowhere did I experience the sorrow from the surviving family members in the way that I have witnessed it in most other shows. I truly feel that the style in which they were written and presented was a direct cause for this. Even the main case involving Kim Hyun Seok and his younger brother Kim Min Seok was a yawn fest. I didn’t find the main antagonist convincing, menacing, or interesting in the slightest. I was completely underwhelmed by the overarching case and how it unraveled. Most of it was terribly predictable, especially the parts where Dong Cheol’s longtime friend and fellow detective ended up being involved. The minute he showed up on screen, his face screamed guilty. All in all, not a single one of the cases had me on the edge of my seat, or emotionally invested. In almost every other crime show I’ve ever watched, I’ve either been suffocated by the suspense, or touched by the grim nature of a particular case and its affects on the victim and family. None of that was present here.

Perplexing Plot: Moreover, I found the show more confusing than interesting. Now, I’m quite aware that this element of the show was obviously intentional. Han Tae Joo himself didn’t know what was going on, so the viewers were also supposed to be confused by the mystery of it all. However, this didn’t really work in the show’s favor, or at least it didn’t from my point of view. The more I watched, the more unsure I was of what was going on, and the less I cared about the result. Rather than sparking a curiosity and interest within me, the enigma of his situation and the way it unfolded annoyed me. Instead of becoming increasingly invested in Han Tae Joo’s well being, I grew more and more detached as I gave up on trying to decipher what was going on. Even the ending failed to be coherent. They never gave a concrete answer as to what took place, and that was the final nail in the coffin for me. Furthermore, each episode dragged on for what felt like endless hours. There were very few scenes that kept my attention, and most of those scenes weren’t even that great. There was a lot of repetition; Han Tae Joo calling out to the TV, hearing the doctors over and over again, confusing peoples’ vague statements to mean something cryptic about his situation. I get why they were there, but they were a snore to watch.

The Ending: The ending is never really cleared up. It looks like Han Tae Joo committed suicide …but possibly survived and ended up in another coma, this time willingly choosing to remain in a comatose state rather than go back to his present day life. I’m not sure how I feel about this considering it’s never fully explained and it would mean he is leaving his mother alone. I feel like the scenes shared between him and his mother, where she talks about living happily with his Aunt and shows a willingness to accept whatever decision he makes, were an eerie build up and a sign that we are supposed to take his choice to live in the past well. The whole portion involving Ahn Min Seok was also very clunky and didn’t pan out. That chunk of the story made no sense at all, and they just abandoned all reasoning regarding his character in the end, probably hoping we wouldn’t notice the gaping discrepancies surrounding it. Personally, I am glad Han Tae Joo ends up going to the past and choosing to stay there. We spent most of the show getting to know those characters, so it made more sense for him to remain with them, instead of the present day characters whom we didn’t develop any affinity for. I like the statement by his doctor which was, “The place you can live with a smile is your reality.” It was very clear that Han Tae Joo was unhappy in the present, so seeing him return to the past and be able to live life in a happier place there was a relief and the catharsis I was looking for. I wouldn’t have been able to let go of the team had he chosen to return back to the present. The only catch is that we don’t know if he’s actually alive and dreaming this, if it’s some sort of time travel element, or whether it’s some kind of afterlife related happening. There were definitely some loose ends with this ending that never got tied up. I am willing to overlook some of them because they gave me what I was hoping for, which was the team members and Han Tae Joo getting to remain in each other’s company, but it was still messier than I would have liked. Either way, it may not be reality or it may be just a dream, but I am thankful that we got those scenes.

Lowbrow humor: Most of the humor in this show was what I’d deem cheap humor or bathroom humor. Farting in the sauna, belching, people spitting on each other, etc; this show had it all, and it was a huge turn-off for me, as I never find those kinds of jokes entertaining. I feel like they’re a lazy, crude way to try and get people laughing, and therefore, they just don’t sit well with me. Most shows that ditch the bathroom humor, for other less vulgar jokes, are often more comical, and higher quality (in my humble opinion). There were, of course, some humorous scenes that were enjoyable. Particularly the scenes with Ms. Yoon pummeling bad guys to a pulp, and intimidating the team of male detectives with her impressive fighting skills, were always amusing to watch. There was also some fun banter taking place between Han Tae Joo, Dong Cheol and the other team members. Unfortunately, the funny scenes that appealed to me were often outweighed by the excessive toilet humor that pervaded the show.


Overall Thoughts:

I truly felt like the odd one out with this one. Many were receptive to this drama, and I’m glad that viewers were able to enjoy it. I wish I could have shared their sentiments, but honestly speaking, it was hands down, one of the most boring and disenchanting crime dramas I have ever watched. While I have immense affection and appreciation for the talented cast and their on screen chemistry, the way the story unfolded was too dry, repetitive and anti-climatic for my tastes. Many of the episodes felt too similar to each other, with only small details or cases differentiating them from one another. Not a single one of these cases moved me, let alone peaked my interest. I failed to connect with our main hero, which made tuning in every week all the more difficult. If not for my profound respect and adoration for the cast and their team shenanigans, I would have dropped the drama long before the halfway mark. I personally wouldn’t recommend this show to anyone. If you’re looking for a show with a similar premise, I would advise you to check out Tunnel instead.


Rating: 5.0/10 

Did you watch Life on Mars? What did you think of the drama? If you haven’t already, you can check out the preview for it here.


 

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7 comments

  1. Hi again! Finally finished this one today. This was an okay watch for me and unfortunately I have to agree with you especially on the not good parts. This really had the potential to be excellent, they had mostly everything, especially the cast.

    Spoilers here
    First episode was promising but like you said, it felt anticlimactic. I did feel some satisfaction towards the last few episodes. But its a bit of a shame because the parts where they were in the past were building up to something exciting but then falls flat. I felt there were too many plot twists extensions. Once they givd you something surprising they then follow it up with something else. Honestly by the middle bit towards the end, I just didn’t know where we were going anymore. Not like I did in the first place. One of the things that kept me watching was finding out why/how the suspect was able to ‘time travel’. But I was never really able to make that connection. Both of them got caught (in my opinion) way too easily in the end. It was way too easy because after all what Han Tae Joo and the team had to go through (and me!!) I felt like, that was it? It just felt like we should at least have felt some sense of closure from it. You know, the feeling of everything makig sense finally. But it didn’t. It just felt like one of their side cases have been solved and the main one still left without answers. I think that’s why it’s so messy. They made it out in the beginning to have that case connected to why he went back to the past in the first place.

    That’s why I too was confused at the end. So was he dreaming all along? Not that Im complaining. I was happy and relieved that he came back with them. I love their team. And I agree that what they intended to seem mysterious felt confusing instead. There were times when i didn’t care anymore how it was going to end. I would have still watched it but I no longer had an ending I anticipated or dreaded, apart from the team dissolving. The cases leading to the end just felt a bit long winded.

    I just think by the end we’ve never truly touched the heart of the plot. I wouldve understood if they showed how Han Tae Joo was before. I know that we already know he wasn’t exactly happy in his present life. I just wanted something that would satisfy and give me some answers. Something that would show me what I watched the show for. Because I really do not know what the point of all that was towards the end.
    It was good but it lacked the motivation and the answer why which what we all watched for. Lol
    I saw on twitter beforehand that it seemed to set itself up for a second season. seeing the ending though, I doubt it, but who knows. It just seemed like an alternate ending because he chose to go back. And I was also questioning myself If I am ready to sit through 16 episodes and I hate to say this but, endure, to see what it would come to. I reallyyyyt did enjoy watching the team though, saying that. Im just afraid of more unanswered questions.

    I was a bit disturbed at those toilet humour too lol. Especially the sauna farting one. I felt that was unnecessary, a bit disgusting to be honest 🙈. I kept remjnding myself it was the 80s though, their humour might be that different 😂
    Overall, I’m happy to say I don’t regret watching this show, seeing the team happy compensated just enough. Although pd/writer, what was the reason whyyy? Oh, I didn’t watch the versions before this nor did I know what it was all about apart from the brief synopsis. I don’t know why it’s called Life On Mars too and was wondering that all throughout the show. i obviously didn’tget my answer in the end.
    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there!! ❤️😁Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I had a busy past two days and didn’t get around to sitting down until now haha. I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw the great potential this drama had, but never fully reached. I think anticlimactic is the best way to describe my entire viewing experience. Even a fantastic team couldn’t cover up the fact the the show lacked direction, failed to execute a coherent story from beginning to end, and delivered some pretty, uninspired, run-of-the-mill cases. I totally agree with your sentiments about the criminals being caught way too easily at the end. I never really experienced any catharsis with this show. It always felt like something was missing while I was watching, and thus, I was never really able to fully invest in it or connect with the hero. The show’s purpose was definitely a befuddled mess that never gets fleshed out. Like you, that was a huge problem for me. I need a show to have purpose, otherwise, I have no reason to spend time watching it. I kept going for the team and the hopes that things would resolve themselves over time, but I never really found what I was looking for, which is why it ended up being a disappointment for me. If there were to be a second season, I definitely wouldn’t be tuning in, lmaoo.

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one turned off by those!!! I mean, sometimes toilet humor can be funny when done right, but this was…too grotesque-…. I just couldn’t stand it, even if it was meant to be 80s style humor. 😂 I’m glad you at least felt it was worthy of your time. It certainly wasn’t the worst show I’ve ever seen, but definitely mediocre compared to others. This was definitely a show you watch for the sake of the cast rather than the plot. HAHAHA I’m not sure why it’s called that either. Maybe it’s explained in the original series but got lost in translation during the remake? Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! It was great to see that we had a lot of similar sentiments about the show! I no longer feel so bad about not being able to enjoy it as much as the majority.

      Like

      • No worries!
        Yes, I felt like Tae Joo didn’t really have a proper character development. I don’t know though, something about it just kept me watching. One of the reasons being was that I was waiting for a climax to bring everything together. I know right? Haha the nonexistent plot. I enjoyed watching but you know what, even if I was to watch the original one, I feel like I still don’t know what it’s going to be really about. If others asked me to describe the ‘plot’ of this show I don’t think Ill be able to give them a straightforward answer. Is it even really time traveling lol. Well, it’s all good because I don’t have plans to watch the original, at least for now.
        Im still happy that I got to see these things for myself instead of not watching it altogether haha.
        See you at the next drama ❤️
        Ill try watching Cold Case Japan based on your review, Im expecting quite a bit as you didn’t have bad things to say about it 😁

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t think I’ll be tuning into the original one any time soon either lmao. I think it’s just not the show for me, no matter who’s telling the story. I’m glad you gave it a shot too! Hoping you will enjoy Cold Case Japan as much as I did!!! ❤️😁I’d never want to steer you in the wrong direction! 😅

          Like

          • Yes same. I havent watched Western TV shows in soooo long, kdramas hit the spots for me. There’d been so many remakes of international TV shows recently but I honestly haven’t been drawn to them. I don’t think theyve got great reception from the audience or at least met the initial expectations. I wish they’d just keep producing their own stories. Remakes are great but there’s a reason I keep watching kdramas instead. Theyve got a certain heart to it and paired with great story you find only in kdramas? It’s amazinggggg.
            Im sure it would be a great story, see you around!

            Liked by 1 person

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