As a Christian, I don’t believe in reincarnation. However, it certainly makes for interesting plots. The first time I came across them was when I went through a major Bollywood obsession, and I’ve seen them a few times with Korean dramas as well. The Kdrama Chicago Typewriter is about a famous writer, a delivery girl, and a ghostwriter) who are all reliving past events of their former selves from the 1930s.
This was a really fun drama to watch even if it wasn’t always clear just where everything was going. Writer Han Se Joo (Yoo Ah In, Six Flying Dragons) is a bestselling author who is sent a possessed typewriter and simultaneously comes down with writer’s block. He’s also dealing with fans like Jeon Seol (Lim Soo Jung, Search: WWW), who are way too obsessed with him, and haters who think he stole their work and come and attack him in his house. Sometimes fame and talent is as much a curse as it is a blessing, but Han Se Joon takes it relatively in stride, considering.
With the typewriter, from Chicago and the 1930s, he starts to see images of a past life and even starts writing a story about it that is an instant success. At this same time ghostwriter Yoo Jin O (Ko Gyung Pyo, Strongest Deliveryman) shows up, and it’s unclear if he’s writing the story or if Han is. Han is having trouble remembering things. As the story unfolds, Han keeps encountering both Jeon Seol and Yoo Jin O, and we all soon find out they are all embodied by three friends from Japanese occupied Korea in the 1930s.
As the series continues, the scenes from the 1930s really started to take center stage, and in the latter episodes, at least one whole episode is devoted to that timeline, which was riveting. It reminded me a bit of Casablanca, and what an interesting thing it would be to have a Kdrama remake of that amazing movie. It would be cool. Also if they did one of The Princess Bride.
Back to the reincarnation stuff. Although this is a new thing for writer Han, Jeon Seol has been dealing with these visions her whole life and is afraid that in the past she killed someone. Yoo Jin O, who (SPOILERS!) we find is actually a ghost whose name is a play on playwright Eugene O’Neill, is also afraid of what happened back then. He can’t remember how he died, only that he loved Jeon Seol’s historical counterpart, and was friends with writer Han’s counterpart. Not sure what the rules are with reincarnation, but it seems odd that Han had has no problem regarding it until present day. Of course he ends of up falling for Jeon Seol at the same time he’s remembering falling in love with her club singer back in the 1930s.
The acting in Chicago Typewriter was solid. Not so sure about some of the clothes in the modern scenes, though. Writer Han looked like he’d stepped out of the 1990s much of the time, and Jeon Seol’s clothes were often not flattering. The outfits in the past scenes were all smashing, however. Ko Gyung Pyo essentially played the same character throughout, but he had a great screen presence that helped ground, the modern scenes. This worked especially well with the character of Han, as Han was larger than life, but not always in a good way. Yoo Jin O made him instantly more relatable and someone one could be friends with. As for the other two leads, well done acting. I ended up like their 1930s characters a lot more than the modern ones, but I kind of think that’s where the writers were going with this, anyway. The minor characters and actors were all okay, no big standouts. The shaman or fortune telling lady didn’t seem a big help at all, and for some reason couldn’t see ghosts, which didn’t really make sense to me, although it was rather funny.
Writing stuff: How fun to watch stories about writers and publishing. It almost never gets old. Both writer Han and his nemesis had writer’s rooms or offices that were to die for. Han’s house was a character in itself, with unique windows, sometimes looking like squares over the panes, and sometimes looking like white crosses peeking through a lattice. Something covered up, something revealed. The black stain of sin, the white light of redemption. Books were everywhere in this drama. Also, who could not love the cool Chicago typewriter that Jeon Seol’s past self tells writer Han’s past self is also the name of a certain gun that sound just like a typewriter.
The romance: Although this similar love triangle has been done a zillion times over, it totally worked. It was made all the more bittersweet by the fact that the love never really got to manifest: Freedom fighters can’t afford to fall in love, and that’s probably as true today as it was then. Yoo Ah In did an especially great job of using his expressive eyes, and although there was only really one great kiss, it was a great kiss. As for Lim Soo Jung, her Jeon Seol was a bit meh, but she shined as the woman from the 1930s and then it started to make sense just why the men were so taken with her.
Redemption: In the end everyone makes peace and is at peace, especially, Yoo Jin O. While that makes for a great story, it just reminded me again why I am a Christian. In reality, there’s only one person who can atone for sin, and that’s Jesus Christ. He only had to do it once for everyone. These freedom fighters live by a code in which they can’t forgive and have to meet out instant justice as they see it. It’s just kind of sad because the club singer and Yoo Jin O could have had a good life together, because she would have come to forgive him in time. She loved him, even if only as a friend. In the constraints of the story, however, that was not possible, and Yoo Jin O only gets a sense of peace and maybe forgiveness in the present day.
Still, he doesn’t go to heaven or Nirvana or wherever, but decides to stay and be reincarnated so that in his next life he will have his love story. The promise of another life in this sinful world, which might be better than your last, but will ultimately end in death in which you are sent back again to the world to do it all over again, just doesn’t do it for me. It’s not real, lasting comfort or hope. Christians get what some would call a second life in heaven with God, but the difference is, it’s a completely different life separate from this world of sorrow. Anyway, the redeeming or atoning done in association with reincarnation stories isn’t impressive, although the story itself might be.
Chicago Typewriter was one of the better Kdramas I’ve watched in the recent past. Wish there were more like it, as at times it really seemed like a work of art and not just another TV show. As I was curious how good an actor Yoo Ah In really is, I’m currently watching Secret Affair, and it’s unfortunately about adultery and even more unfortunately a masterpiece. He’s good, maybe even Seo In Guk good. If only this amazing artwork had a worthier plot, but the very sinful characters have much to do with why it’s so great. More on that another time.