It’s been a hard time in KDramaland.
With few to no amazing productions coming out, except for worldwide phenomenon Extraordinary Attorney Woo, I had to go quite the distance to find something above average.
As it happened in the US and Europe before, it’s not always the big channels that churn out the best material, rather the opposite: cable channels such as AMC and CW developed some of the best series in the past few years and even in Korea a smaller competitor such as OCN was able to win over the bigs, SBS MBC KBS, and find its own niche in thrillers and crimes.
Recently it has been streaming providers that started to enter the fray, producing their own series.
In that sense, today I’ll review Ultimate Weapon Alice, a 2022 short form drama by the provider WATCHA.
- Catching the wave
In search of their identity, KDramas became somewhat of their own breed as in topics, tropes and constructions: melos and romances, social differences, fantasy crimes and sageuks, the Korean drama environment has settled and staled up so that there’s not much new coming out, rather a lot of similar scripts and ideas with different actors and resources.
Being original is though, and Alice found a way to do so: copying what has already been done somewhere else!
In particular, the drama is akin to a UK classic that tore up the charts 5 years ago or so: The End of the F*****g World.
As in the aforementioned, we have two young adults with problematic childhoods, brought up by either lousy parents or no parents at all, that decide to evade their boring reality and flee together to an unknown future, without a proper target if not simply leaving behind where and what they did until that point.
A coming of age drama, Alice borrows then from another foreign series, a less known US gem: Wayne.
To the on-the-road component that both TEOTFW and Wayne share, Alice takes the whole bloody, violent component of the latter and does a Korean rendition of it: mental characters, deranged villains and nonsense situations are aplenty, actions scenes to spare and machine gun pacing make for a fast, easy watch that is all but a rush of adrenaline.
Alice is nothing new, but it is so in the KDrama scope of things, shaping up much more like a US/UK teenage drama with shades of Korean thriller than your standard KOR product, and that makes it stand out in a sadly homogeneous field.
- Looking the part
To be honest, acting is not the main focus nor the strength of Alice. That said, casting made an admirable job in picking actors that are spot on the nature of their characters.
The ML is a bored, wasted teenager that has already seen too much and wants to leave the world as soon as possible, better if it’s in a painful way. Living his routine of getting smashed by a bully and finding his body’s own limits in terms of damage resistance, he sees his life turn the tide as he’s saved by an unknown woman, fighting his enemies and becoming his de-facto muse.
I didn’t like Song Geon Hee much: his acting is too deliberate and erratic, trying to do too much on a character that does so few he is overstating his presence when he shouldn’t. But damn, does he look the part: his desperate smirks, average looks and sleepy eyes perfectly suit his ML and sometimes that is more important than having elite acting chops.
Leave the latter to Park Se Wan and her FL standout performance: one of the brightest young stars in KDramaland, she started off with minor roles in morning dramas and in School 2017, got her breakout as FL in the long running drama Never Twice, showing off her ability to be both cute and feisty.
Here she has quite the character: her FL was born and raised a killer, and to that she has outstanding athletic abilities, few to no common sense, inability to adapt and make friends and a tough time pulling the trigger, her emotions stopping her from becoming a cold, ruthless death machine.
She does an amazing job portraying such a strong, yet weak and flawed lead: her cold stares and no-nonsense are well balanced by awkward antics as she gets to know and love the ML, both finding out someone similar in each other. Her upbringing clashing with her morale, a battle to remain human and not become a true assassin, are well brough to life by modulating her actions and voice to the situation, acting as it’s intended.
Props to secondaries too: Kim Sung Ho as Alice’s mentor, himself a killer and the one who saved her, and Kim Tae Hoon as Alice’s antagonist, a drug addicted monster looking for the one who hurt him, are both incredibly good, not only playing crucial roles but also elevating the series through their acting, more times than not better than the leads themselves, a collective effort.
- Run Boy Run
Alice doesn’t wait a second to push the throttle: with only 8 eps and each half of the standard hour of runtime, the drama starts off fast and then some, keeping up the pace for the whole duration thanks to a streamlined plot and an abundance of action scenes, well supported by high pitch, rythm and bpm OSTs.
That makes UWA the perfect drama to binge in a single day, a surefire way to fill an afternoon, one that doesn’t give itself a chance to be boring and instead ends up being so good you’d even want more of it.
Changing the ep/runtime structure is another way to break free from KDrama conventions and Alice exploits that, further solidifying as interesting and entertaining.
- Sacrifices must be made
Alice’s own structure as web series, while making it much more bingeable, costs the drama a place in greatness: there’s simply not enough screentime to have serious character development for both leads, so while the FL has a nice arch the ML stays the same from start to finish, and there’s not enough meat on the bones to cover small plotholes with secondary storylines.
UWA is short and fast, enjoyable but also not devoid of flaws that stand out more as there’s not much else than your main story and the leads.
If the cost of having something ready to watch, a drama that keeps you in for its entire run and leaves with a good if open finale, is a less detailed plot and less decorated characters though, sign me in.
You don’t always need the complexity of a mistery thriller or the character definition of a melo to enjoy a quality product, and UWA is the perfect example of that, limiting its own options to make sure to pitch a nice, easy story that keeps the viewer engaged and in the end makes him a happy camper.
Ultimate Weapon Alice is just another example of what can be done when people have a chance to evade from the prison of standards to develop their own creature.
As the leads do in the drama, running away from their boring lives, so did the writers, escaping from the dull normality of KDramas to offer a product that may lack the shine of a high budget, long running drama, but is more appetible for the masses and perfectly fine to pinch in and enjoy in a sole, big bite.
With the runaway journey of TEOTFW and the hilarious, overdone violence of Wayne, Alice learned the lesson and looked outside Korea to become its own coming of age story, filling a unique spot in the KDrama landscape and shaping up to be one of the best, yet less known, Korean production of 2022.
That’s all for me today, see you in the next chapter of my K-List!