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'Memories of the Alhambra' is AR-gaming fantasy romance

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Scenes from tvN's new fantasy drama
Scenes from tvN's new fantasy drama "Memories of the Alhambra" / Courtesy of CJ ENM

By Park Jin-hai

In tvN's new fantasy romance "Memories of the Alhambra," players wearing smart lenses, a fictional augmented reality (AR) gaming device, see the city around them turn into a fantasy gaming world.

Once you log in, the cobblestone streets seem real and you are on a mission to find a weapon hidden within the city of Granada, Spain.

The AR gaming craze, which took off with the popular "Pokemon Go" in 2016, is now a technology people can find easily in many games. "Memories," starring hallyu stars Hyun Bin and Park Shin-hye, makes use of this widely available gaming technology for its much anticipated fantasy romance drama.

It is penned by Song Jae-jung, who went back and forth between the real world and the webtoon world in her previous work "W," and directed by Ahn Gil-ho of award-winning thriller "Stranger." The new weekend drama tells the story of Yoo Jin-woo, an investment company CEO played by Hyun, who goes on a business trip to Granada to meet game developer Jung Se-ju. He happens to meet Jung Hee-ju, the developer's elder sister and his legal representative.

The first episode, which premiered Saturday, opens with the fleeing Se-ju boarding a train bound for Granada. Yet suddenly the sky darkens with storm clouds and someone shoots at him. But when the train arrives in Granada it bears no traces of bullet holes or the programmer, and only his backpack is left behind. The rest of the episode shows Yoo playing the demo game and finding how enchanting and realistic the AR gaming world can be.

Although the drama has all the potential to become a hit, with its AR gaming story, big name hallyu stars and the acclaimed writer and director duo, there have been initial worries how drama fans of diverse age groups will react to this unconventional format. MBC's much-hyped "Dunia: Into a New World" introduced viewers to a virtual world setting, but exited with low viewership. Given the shorter production time of TV dramas compared with film, fans have criticized its rushed computer graphics.

Defying all those concerns, "Memories" succeeded in its first two episodes in inviting drama aficionados into the experimental world of AR with high-end computer graphics, cinematography and fast-paced storytelling.
The most interesting point of the drama has been that the AR gaming world has been depicted so realistically, suggesting the technology will be possible in the not too distant future.

Director Ahn said he made the show imagining what could become reality in the near future. "Though the show depicts a more exaggerated picture than reality, I tried my best to make it more realistic by imagining what we feature in the show might become reality in the near future," he said during a recent press conference.

Its first episode, reflecting all the attention it has received, posted a 7.5 percent viewer rating, the third-highest opening record for its broadcaster, following "Encounter" at 9.4 percent and "Mr. Sunshine" at 8.5 percent.

The second episode finished with Yoo on the same train dodging bullets. Yoo narrated that "For the future I predicted to Hee-ju a year ago, I was right about half of it and I was completely wrong about the other half," leaving viewers curious what has happened in the year since he painted a rosy picture imagining what the AR game can bring.

Park Shin-hye, left, and Hyun bin pose during a press conference for tvN's new fantasy romance
Park Shin-hye, left, and Hyun bin pose during a press conference for tvN's new fantasy romance "Memories of the Alhambra" in Imperial Palace Hotel in Seoul, Nov. 28. / Yonhap
Park Jin-hai


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