Spoilers ahead, matey.
Writing involving time travel, even if the characters are not actually traveling through time, can be tricky. I admire any writer who makes the effort. Kairos is a very strong second to the more superior drama Signal from 2016, but I enjoyed and found it brought its own uniqueness to the genre.
Speaking of the genre, I’m not certain it has a name and have seen it primarily with Korean film and TV, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t used elsewhere. For my purposes, I will call it Time Interchange, a genre that involves time travel without the characters actually traveling through time. The “traveling” part is usually done by some medium or device of communication, as in a mailbox or cell phone or walkie-talkie. The characters on either end are separated by time, weeks, years, or months, one ahead, one behind. I first encountered this genre with The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Later in a random book thrift in Tallahasee, I came across the original movie, a Korean one call Il Mare. I quite liked the original and found the acting much better than The Lake House. Although the plots can get confusing due to the time differences, time interchange is a perfect genre for suspense and mystery.
Kairos begins with an extremely heart-wrenching episode. I had to grab a tissue several times as the plot was just brutal. Kim Seo Jin, an executive for a powerful construction company, loses everything precious to him in quick succession. Actor Shin Sung Rok (The Last Empress) is an impressive lead here, and his acting is off the charts. He is well matched by Lee Se Young (Memorist), who plays convenience store worker Han Ae Ri who has a cell phone with very unique capabilities: At 10:33pm each night, she is able to call Kim’s phone for exactly one minute. Not so remarkable in itself, until the two figure out that Han Ae Re is in the past, a month behind when Kim Seo Jin is living!
Although, as always, a little slow for my tastes, Kairos delivers. The word kairos means opportunity and is fitting as the characters are given a fantastical opportunity to change their destinies and that of those around them. A shout out to Park Seung Woo and whoever he hired to be cinematographer, as the cinematography and the shote are unique and top notch. So many episodes have the feel of a movie, not a show. And the camera shots and angles clearly are an effort to move the story along. The music was also spot on and there was almost an 80s, early 90s feel to the show at times.
One of the biggest themes in the show is loyalty. Han Ae Ri has probably the most loyal pair of friends in the world, aside from stolen money, but, hey, it’s just money. Kim Seo Jin quickly finds that no one is loyal to him and soon relies heavily on the loyalty of these strangers from the past. The minor villains played by Ahn Bo Hyun from Yumi’s Cells, and Nam Gyu-Ri from Heartless City end up being a perfect pair for each other and it’s infuriating how the writers especially give Ahn’s character so many chances to continue messing things up for our leads. Both actors had great, great moments, but there is something about them that is missing that star quality, that X factor of most leading actors. I think it is screen presence. Both are very good looking, but in a generic, Abercrombie and Fitch kind of way, if that makes sense.
What Kairos brings to time interchange, is a butterfly effect. When things change in the past, the future–or present, depending on how one looks at it–Kim Seo Jin starts to remember those events, and even events that get redrawn or rewritten due to Han Ae Ri’s efforts. It’s trippy and fun. In the latter efforts, the writing gets very intense as they scenes start constantly flipping back and forth between to the two time periods. It’s all stamped on the screen for the viewing audience, so in that way is easy to keep track, but because we are dealing with two Kim Seo Jins at that point, it’s tricky to keep track of what’s going on. As a whole, the show uses the time difference to great suspense, but never really found a solid groove with that. Many episodes had a lot of boringness with some excitement. Pacing in any show is difficult and even more so with this type of genre. Signal has better pacing and overall suspense than Kairos, but, like I said, Kairos is a very close second. An easy pacing fix would have been to make the show only twelve episodes instead of sixteen. I look forward to what both leads do in the future, Shin Sung Rok, especially. He was definitely the standout performance and carried the show well.
Another show that involves actual time travel that is outstanding is Tunnel starring Choi Jin Hyuk (Zombie Detective) and Yoon Hyun Min (Witch’s Court).