Achiara: Not So Horrible (Unfortunately)

The Village: Achiara’s Secret is a Korean TV show. I watched it because it’s billed as “horror & supernatural.” I’ve seen a few k-drama, one of which was incredibly good (Ghost), and I keep hoping that some day I will find another that I will like that much.

That day hasn’t come yet.

For those of you unfamiliar with “k-drama”, Korean TV shows do not follow the same type of format as American ones do. K-drama has more in common with mini-series. A set number of episodes (usually 16-30 but sometimes longer). They do appear to have some which go on forever but they don’t seem to be as common. A few are episodic but most of them have a story arc which is the focus.

The Village: Achiara’s Secret is about a young woman, Han So-yoon, a Korean who grew up in Canada, who after the death of her grandmother decides to take a job teaching English at a school in the Korean town of Achiara. Creepy things begin at once. Someone chases her through the streets. The previous English teacher disappeared mysteriously, and So-yoon is living in her old apartment which is still full of her stuff.

We’re introduced to a highly suspicious cast of characters: a local businessman/politician clearly up to no good, his wife (up to no good), her sister (up to no good), his mother (up to no good trying to get rid of her daughter-in-law), his son (awkward and suspicious acting), his daughter (who’s either crazy or sees dead people), an art teacher at the school (up to no good since he’s dating the wife’s sister), a mean girl at the school (up to no good because she’s chasing after the art teacher). Almost every single person in town seems to be hiding something or scheming against everybody else.

Achiara is hiding a lot of secrets. Like possibly a serial rapist. And a murderer. Maybe a ghost.

Oh, there’s also serial killer on the loose.

Our heroine discovers a corpse in the woods while on a school outing. It turns out to be missing English teacher, a woman who was somehow involved in ALL the shady characters in town.

The best part of the show is the policemen running around doing detectiving. The k-drama format allows the police work to be presented much more realistically than the wrap-the-mystery-up-in-40-minutes-except-we-wasted-20-of-those-on-stupid-relationship-drama that American cop shows do. Since the detectives are busy with the serial killer, they can’t be much bothered with an old corpse in the woods so they let the officers at the Achiara substation handle it instead. This is not apparently SOP but the detective wants to get rid of the overly enthusiastic young cop, Park Woo-jae (who looks like he’s twelve years old).  Woo-jae and his superior set about solving the case.

Han So-yoon doesn’t have that much of an active role in the plot. She sort of bumbles around, more tying the story together with her presence than driving it. She does a fairly good job of it. However, her motivation for doing so seems a little thin. So-yoon discovers that her sister whom she thought dead might still be alive. Searching for the sister leads her to discover various plot related things. All well and good but So-yoon, after she discovers what actually happened to the sister, starts declaring things about what her sister would and would not have done, acted, been like, etc. She thought her sister died as a kid. She never knew her as an adult. And trust me the portrait the show paints of the sister is not a flattering one. I don’t think I’d care so much about finding out what happened to a missing relative after it turns out that they were pretty much awful.

The weakest part of the story is the supernatural and horror elements, the part I was watching it for. First, a few scary moments are completely ruined by over the top, silly music. Can’t be taken seriously at all.  Other’s turn out to be fake outs for the end of an episode. Then, and more importantly, you could remove the ghost element entirely and it wouldn’t hurt the story. The ghost mostly exists to point the characters towards certain clues. It’s lazy writing. They could have discovered the clues other ways. The supernatural element ends up being pointless.

Which is not to say that the show isn’t scary or intense but it more a mystery/thriller than a horror story. It would have been a better mystery/thriller if the supernatural element had been removed.

Once you’ve invested 15+ hours into a show, those last couple hours better deliver. The Village doesn’t. It’s not a complete failure, but it’s not satisfying either. The main stories are wrapped up: we find out who’s the murderer and the serial killer gets caught. This was a convoluted show, however. Other deaths that popped up in the course of the show go unsolved. Not only did some of the machinations not make a lot of sense (what exactly was the wife’s sister doing and why should I care?) but other things are sprung on you that aren’t explained at all. Like the dead guy who’s not dead at the end, a character who’d I’d forgotten about by then. Was that supposed to be some kind of sequel hook? (K-drama doesn’t do sequels very often I don’t think.) And what on earth did the special pair of shoes have to do with anything?

But the worst part was that by the end, I almost hated the murder victim. Certainly she had sympathetic aspects. Her life had sucked. But then she’d come to Achiara and made everyone else’s life suck too. She goes around digging up dirt, creating more dirt, without any apparently coherent plan of what to do with it and gets herself killed. What did she think was going to happen? She’s not only dumb, she’s a terrible person.

So with the end, Archiara’s secrets don’t seem worth finding out which is a shame because parts of the show are quite good.

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