K-Drama Premiere: “Awaken” Ignites A Psychological Duel Between A Genius Crime Profiler & An Unknown Enemy
Caught in riddles and cryptic clues, Namgoong Min and his team race against time to save potential victims from serial killings in Awaken.
The police force’s ace, Do Jung Woo (Namgoong Min), will put his skills to the test as he leads the special investigative team in tracking down the root of the string of bizarre crimes. With an unknown enemy who seems to be as smart as he is, how would he fare against it?
Premiere Week Quick Recap
The Forgotten Tragedy
The series opens with a hellish scene 28 years ago – an ocean of flames devour an entire village. People cry in anguish and thrown into a state of madness. What is especially creepy, however, is a scene that shows children calmly watching the fire burning around them.
Although countless were killed in the incident, the tragedy did not linger too long in history. It drifted from people’s memories at the passage of time.
Fast forward to the present time, a series of killings starts to occur and stirs alarm to the public. The media shamelessly lambast the police authorities for failing to get into the root of the serial crimes.
At the helm of the special unit tasked to handle the crimes is Superintendent Do Jung Woo. Although he is a genius and highly skilled officer, his weird and eccentric habits normally overshadow his intellectual gift. His constant sucking on a lollipop, poor social skills and quirky antics seem to take away his sincerity towards his job. But his analytical ability is unparalleled which makes him an indispensable person within the law enforcement.
Under his wing, he works with the passionate yet temperamental Gong Hye Won (Kim Seol Hyun), the young and restless, Jang Ji Wan (Lee Shin Young) and the team’s inspector and researcher Moon Jae Woong (Yoon Sun Woo).
Puzzles & Cryptic Messages
Each crime is forewarned and surprisingly delivered through national television. This makes the media a step ahead of the police force in getting a hand on the information. Only, the warning comes in a cryptic code which first needs deciphering to determine the details of the crime.
Luckily, the prolific leader, Jung Woo, correctly decodes each warning. However, deciphering the message is just one step of the process. Identifying the potential victim is another story. And the fact that they are pressed for time makes it almost impossible to solve the serial killings.
At face value, the incidents are ruled as suicide as there are no evidences of foul play. There was the delinquent high school student who jumped off a building. There was also the trippy party host who jumped into the swimmping pool and drowned himself. And then there was the sexually maniac professor who dragged himself to a railway and got hit by the speeding train.
The string of crimes seem unrelated at first thought. The victims did not seem to have any personal connections with one another. They also vary in age and social backgrounds. Thus, Jung Woo and his team are stuck in finding the common denominator among them which could possibly shed light on the identity of the culprit.
But in addition to the fact that all of them displayed subversive behavior before their death, all the victims appeared to be eeriely smiling as they die.
Resurrected Characters From The Past
The lack of progress in the crime investigation prompts the Korean police force to seek for assistance from the FBI. And here we meet FBI agent, Jamie Leighton (Lee Chung Ah), an American citizen with Korean roots.
Jamie breaks the stereotypical genius profiler Jung Woo’s team are expecting. But her resounding excellent resume speaks volume about her works in crime-solving matters. And she is ready to go head to head with Jung Woo in showcasing her skills.
At their initial meeting, Jung Woo and Jamie spark an instant friction between them. With their characters falling in the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, their work relationship might compromise the outcome of their investigation.
Riddles & Mind Games
Using the puzzling codes as a trope, the story implies that the mind behind the serial killings goes beyond the profile of an average murderer. It rather signifies someone who is smart enough to play mind games with the law enforcement people. The deliberate open message to the public about an impending crime is an outright mockery to the authorities’ inability to track down the culprit.
This makes the series all the more interesting and engaging as we are about to see a face off between two sides of geniuses – one side upholds peace and order, while the other threatens to destroy it.
The premiere week introduced us to characters with mysterious backgrounds. The protagonist, Jung Woo, himself elicits an enigmatic aura that is inviting enough for us to dig deeper into his character. Jamie Leighton, the reinforcement to the investigative team is likewise a mysterious individual as she has no recollection of her past. Their interactions suggest that the two have already met before which could be possibly traced back as far as 28 years ago.
Another suspicious character is the news anchor, Lee Ji Wook. He was the one who broadcast the cryptic warnings in his news program. He is quick to find scoops about the sequence of murders (appearing as suicide) with 100% credibility.
With that, he is either personally involved in the crimes or he just gets tip-offs from an insider source. One thing is certain though, he finds satisfaction in mocking the police force’s failed efforts in catching the criminal.
Subtle Romantic Arc
It’s not common in crime dramas to infuse romance in its narrative as a side theme. Awaken seems to deviate from such fashion as there is already a looming love triangle involving the three main characters.
Hye Won, although she acts tough in front of Jung Woo, actually harbors a secret crush on her boss. Jaimie and Jung Woo, on the other hand, look like they have a shared past. This could be the reason why there seems to be an implicit tension between them.
How this romantic conflict would affect the dynamics among the team members is worth following.
Premiere Week Afterthoughts
With two episodes completed, I’m already loving this series for few reasons. Foremost is Namgoong Min himself. This top-notch actor always exquisitely nails his role, be it a heroic or villainous character. His portrayal as the protagonist of this series brings in a balance of straightforwardness and mystery in his character.
He has so far successfully depicted Jung Woo as someone who is detached from deep human emotions, free from any form of inhibitions and frank in expressing his thoughts. I’m amused with his inferences which are the unlikely product of his gut feelings and exceptional logical deductions. Despite showing these qualities, the story still maintains a certain degree of mystery in his character.
Crime genre has been my cup of tea for years. I have a tendency to deep-dive into the psychology of the criminals and try to understand the rationale behind their misdeeds. With my odd inclination towards bizarre and disturbing cases, Awaken has, so far, filled my thoughts with curiosity about the kind of antagonist that hides behind the cryptic messages.
Moreover, the second episode’s cliffhanger got me absolutely hooked with the series. It seems like some evidences will point at Jung Woo as someone who is personally involved in the crime. If so, it would be an early unexpected turn of the story. I can only imagine so much for now.
Catch Awaken every Mondays and Tuesdays at tvN every 8:30pm (KST). It is also available for streaming in iQIYI.
Streaming Platform: iQIYI