K-drama ● Review: The Silent Sea
English Title: The Silent Sea
Korean Title: 고요의 바다 [lit. sea of tranquility]
Director(s): Choi Hang-yong
Screenwriter(s): Park Eun-kyo
Studio: Art Studio Released: 2021
Runtime: 8 episodes, 40m–50m each.
Starring: Bae Doo-na, Gong Yoo, Lee Joon, Kim Sun-young, Lee Moo-saeng
My Verdict: Despite some weaknesses in the opening and in characterizations, it is a well-produced sci-fi thriller that is interesting enough.
● Set in the near future, about the year 2075, when the world is suffering from severe water shortage, a group of astronauts is sent to the unoccupied and soon-to-be formally abandoned lunar research facility to retrieve a sample and return in 24 hours. The inhabitants of the facility presumably all died in an accident five years earlier.
● The premise is interesting enough. Some of the initial mystery feels a little forced. It is not uncommon in fiction (and presumably in real life) for information to be restricted but it feels silly for the team to be told almost nothing about the nature of the sample.
● The introduction, particularly the initial worldbuilding, could be better presented. Apart from the severe environmental issue, the world looks similar but some things work differently. For example, the shuttle with its booster vaguely resembles NASA’s iconic design. However, it carries a large team of over ten people and the mission to the moon is somehow meant to last merely 24 hours, which is not how the shuttle missions go. That’s fine if that’s how it works in this fictional world but when things work too differently from how it looks, it can be a bit jarring.
● Another example is finding a body at the lunar facility that does not belong to the original crew. The team suspects a mercenary. Apparently, not only are quick trips to the moon possible but may be common for corporations. That’s fine but the world is not initially presented that way. These are minor points but could easily be addressed indirectly in the news montage used at the start by including some snippets about these details.
● Not surprisingly, the team’s approach to the moon is disastrous and they are subsequently stranded. That’s a bit clichéd but it doesn’t ruin the story. What is a little jarring is the reaction of some team members when things go wrong. One expects well-trained individuals to react more calmly. The performances are fine, in this respect it is the writing that can be less cheesy.
● The other weakness is characterization. With a team of over ten people, it is difficult to remember all the names. Granted, in a thriller, some fodder is needed but it lacks focus at times.
● The main characters are all tropes, which is fine but they lack dimension. Bae Doo-na is Dr Song Ji-an who is requested to join the team because of her expertise (not that she is told much). She also has a personal interest given that her older sister was stationed at the facility. Gong Yoo is Captain Han Yun-jae who knows more than he lets on and is on the mission to help save his sick daughter. Lee Joon is Lt Ryu Tae-suk, a capable and seemingly nice guy but one knows something is definitely up with him. It is a shame Lee is under-utilized in the series in the sense that he could be written much better.
● Despite starting off somewhat weakly, the series nonetheless holds one’s interests and does improve. The pacing can be quicker initially but it is not bad. It is that and the mystery which make up for some of the weaknesses.
● Although the environmental issue is one of the motivations for the mission, it is not something which the series dwells on. Thankfully, it’s not annoyingly woke.
● The sample to be retrieved obviously has something to do with water and could potentially save Earth. And of course, something goes wrong with that which leads to more questions. Dr Song Ji-an demands answers and she is determined to find them.
● There are influences from many sci-fi films, including Aliens with the use of the motion tracker and the moving around in air ducts, and every other story that involves being locked in with a mysterious and harmful substance. Although recognizable, these tropes are not overdone and on balance are sufficiently original to be moderately intriguing. Fortunately, we don’t see zombies.
● The set designs are decent, resembling sci-fi pre-2000s. The corridors actually look and feel like corridors. This is unlike many Hollywood sets in recent years that look like it has been designed by an architect trying to be cool taking the minimalist approach with their flat and open designs, and consequently making everything merely look like a big set with decorated walls.
● The costumes are also well done. The visual effects are not bad for such a series. I could be wrong but I think the Earth would look bigger from the lunar surface than what the series shows.
● [Potential Spoiler] Given the importance of the sample and its harmful effects, it raises the question of what type of solution is considered morally and practically acceptable. This is especially relevant in times of a so-called pandemic with infringements of medical freedom. The show doesn’t explore the issue or overly push any particular path. It seems to be against unbridled experimentation without oversight. It also hints at the possibility of some form of transhumanism to solve our problems. It is difficult to judge whether it promotes that view since it also suggests that natural immunity and having the right antibodies will do.
● On balance, the show is well-produced. Despite the weaknesses—the writing could be a little better—it is not bad and is interesting enough to watch in its entirety.
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