K-Drama Review: ‘Chicago Typewriter’ – A Friendship And Love Story Like No Other
‘Chicago Typewriter’ wistfully recounts a peculiar friendship and love tale that will warm your heart.
Title: Chicago Typewriter
Theme: Romance, Comedy, Historical, Fantasy
Length: 16 Episodes
Broadcast Period: 7 April 2017 to 3 June 2017
TVN has always been home to dramas that are not afraid to experiment on stories. Such is the case for ‘Chicago Typewriter’, which started on a vague footing, but emerged strong in picturing a story that uses heartfelt emotion in fueling the fictitious period drama framework.
‘Chicago Typewriter’ defies creative boundaries as it switches the past and present timelines without losing the brilliant writing and fascinating characters that moved in the story. Sans the bleak opening week, when the chronicle motions to its trajectory, the absorbing enactment just hits all the bullet points of what I look forward to in a k-drama series – innovative plot and committed cast.
A famous novelist Han Se Joo (Yoo Ah In) attends a book signing event where he comes across an old typewriter. Flashes of images trigger his memory from the encounter so he offers to buy the antique typewriter, but the cafe owner initially refuses only to relent when the typewriter starts haunting him. The typewriter is sent to Korea and is commissioned to be delivered by errand girl Jeon Seol (Lim Soo Jung).
Jeon Seol, who is a licensed veterinarian, does an all-around errand job while living free-spiritedly at her friend’s house. She spent her youth days fan-girling over the best-selling writer – Han Se Joo. So when she comes face to face with him for the package delivery, she feels her loyalty being paid off.
Confused how the weird girl enters his property, Se Joo notices a dog that enters his house, which is poised to eat his USB drive. They chase the dog, which swallowed the bone-shaped USB drive, and confines it at a vet clinic to retrieve the writer’s work saved in it.
When a crazy fan trespasses at Se Joo’s home, Seol is lead by the dog to his house to rescue him from the armed psychopath. A scandal breaks in damaging Se Joo’s reputation because the assailant claims that Se Joo commited plagiarism.
Not knowing that it was the psycho’s sister who contacted the media, he assumes Seol of her role as the media informant. They argue on his lack of trust in humanity, pinning her about something she admitted of not doing.
Seol is hurt how she has wasted her time, following an insanely ungrateful man, and promises not to help him ever. With that, she ends her 10-year devoted fan-girl’s life and sets forth to clear her mind in the mountains.
A month later, publisher Ji Suk is trying his best to lure his money machine artist out of his rumored slump. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, Se Joo struggles writing in the recent days while having visions of a man who looks like him living in a different era.
Ji Suk proposes hiring a ghostwriter, which infuriates him more having an insufferable rules on his work ethics. He dozes off and dreams of the same era again but wakes up to answer the publisher’s work reminder call.
An old match from his strange dreams named “carpe diem” appears inside his table drawer freaking him out, leading him to drive in the pouring rain. He meets with an accident and a hooded figure comes to his rescue, who turns out to be Seol. She brings him to a cabin and nurses him back to health.
Se Joo finds an old picture of him when he was a struggling writer inserted at Seol’s book. He realizes how their history runs back in those days when he is just a struggling writer.
At Se Joo’s house, a man steps in to his writing space and starts using the old typewriter. When Se Joo regains health, he is surprised that his supposed writing deadline was met, reaping accolades locally and abroad.
Baffled on how the novel happened since it was published on the day of his accident, he continues to struggle, overcoming his writer’s block for the second installment of his now anticipated work ‘Chicago Typewriter’. He ends up with the strange dream again, and wakes up to a prepared copy of the second episode manuscript, following the exact events of what he just traversed subconsciously.
Se Joo confronts the publisher about his con in hiring a ghostwriter to which the latter denies. He goes home and finds an eccentric looking man ticking the keys on the old typewriter. He interrogates the man named Yoo Jin Oh (Go Kyung Pyo) about his meddling on his affairs and forces a press conference to come clean that he uses a ghostwriter by presenting him openly.
Public sentiments pour in due to his unusual outburst, citing how the trauma he has had momentarily shattered his brain.
Se Joo learns that he was alone in the revelation day and corners Jin Oh, who admits that he is truly ghost writing for him and that he is also a real ghost.
Se Joo also learns how Jin Oh has possessed the stray dog to do his bidding.
When Se Joo is under a famous writer’s tutelage, his first work is stolen by his son Baek Tae Min. The latter gets close with Seol, which annoys Se Joo given their not-so-pleasant history.
Tae Min has spent the rest of his life, abhorring his ill-fated relationship with his father’s favorite student. He is a veteran in putting an angel-devil face that shields his wicked manner.
Se Joo initially decides to let go of his new novel, but he joins hand with Jin Oh after learning their past connection that provides light to his recent perplexing epiphanies.
Se Joo, who is starting to see Seol on a different light, learns of his fated connection with her that dates back since Japanese occupation. Jin Oh chronicles their past lives as friends and youth freedom fighters in the 1930’s.
Jin Oh is Shin Yool – a wealthy family son, who owns night club Carpe Diem. Se Joo is Seo Hwi Young – a third rate writer and hidden leader of Joseon Youth Alliance. Jeon Seol is Ryu Soo Hyun – errand boy of Carpe Diem and sniper of the revolutionary group.
Jin Oh reveals how he lost some of his memories so he does not know how the story will end. Over a soju night, Seol reveals that she sees her past self kill a person, which is why she gave up her shooting career. The boys discuss how one of them might be whom Seol killed in her past life as the latter starts having frequent flashes of her images in a different era.
Tae Min’s mother urges the investors to rebuke Se Joo’s excessive hiatus. The latter decides with Jin Oh not to continue the project as it might hurt Seol in the process, but tied with the contract, they let her read the manuscript first to check if it will tick something in her.
Seol gives two thumbs up, showing no recollection that it is her actual past life happening in the novel, so Se Joo is able to show up on the emergency meeting while displaying the fans’ rave on the episode he just published.
Se Joo sits down with Seol to divulge how ‘Chicago Typewriter’ is inspired by true events based on their past lives. He enumerates details and events, which Seol also recounts every now and then, convincing her to believe the preposterous idea. She remembers the other man in their friendship trio, making Jin oh happy.
Se Joo relates how she will probably remember more of her past so she should not hesitate to disclose those to him if it will be too much for her to bear.
A student of Tae Min approaches him and hints how she knows the true writer of his acclaimed work. Tae Min barges drunk at Se Joo’s mansion, begging for the first manuscript of the novel he stole, following the threat he received.
Meanwhile, Seol’s mother returns after neglecting her for years. She warns her to stay away from Se Joo, which she disregards, deciding how she views destiny as something that can be changed. She heads to a shooting range to retrieve her past life memories and gets images of the man she killed in the past. He appears to have the same face as Se Joo.
At the same moment, Jin Oh corners Tae Min, who apparently can see him while he tries to take away the first manuscript of “Fate” from Se Joo’s belongings.
Seol is calmed down by Se Joo but she feigns ignorance of her recent discovery about the person she killed in her past life. Se Joo catches Tae Min leaving his house and hands the manuscript he wanted as the former wants to start anew by forgetting his angsty past.
Seol bargains with fate and the surrounding predicaments of her relationship with Se Joo.
Jin Oh deduces how calling the person’s past life name is the key for them to see him. But when he is set to reveal himself, she is advised by Bang Jin’s mother to let go of his earnest wishes as he does not belong to the current realm he is in.
Se Joo senses something changed in Seol. She drives them to the target range and spills that she saw her past life killing him and how she thinks she will put him in danger. He chases after her but a speedy motorcycle cuts their moment as he falls on the ground protecting Seol. When he wakes up, he grabs her arm and assures her that her fate is not a bad luck to him. He tells her how she is in fact her life savior and they are fated to meet so she can save him every time.
Convinced by Se Joo’s warm words, Seol finally relents with what her heart really beats for. He brings and introduces her to Jin Oh. He calls her past life’s name so she can see him. The three makes an agreement to work together in finishing the novel.
Jin Oh uses a match for the two to travel back to 1930’s. When Jin Oh picks up the pocket watch, glimpse of his death erupts while the two are running for their lives in the past timeline.
The three’s quick sojourn in the past incites doubt on what each of them plays in the organization – Seol sees her mom’s past life who warned her about Se Joo, Jin Oh recalling his final moment of being shot with his blood dripping on the typewriter, and Se Joo learning a secret agent in the Joseon Youth Alliance.
Jin Oh provides Se Joo the answer he needs and narrates how they were both aware in the past timeline that a trap has been set up for the leader through a party invitation to raise war fund.
Jin Oh notices a crack on his ghostly body so he seeks Bang Jin’s mother to explain the strange situation.
Taking her advice that he will soon perish, he starts taking care of his affairs and causes a fiasco when he sends Fate’s first draft to a nosy reporter, which he stole when Se Joo gave it to Tae Min.
Se Joo is flustered on his action as Tae Min prepares to retaliate without the knowledge that it was not Se Joo’s intention. He teams up with the sister of the psycho fan of Se Joo, Sang Mi, who committed suicide after being caught trespassing and attempting murder on the writer.
Seol threatens the quarreling friends to make up or she will leave the house, so they set a ceasefire as she needs to stay with them for their protection on impending death threats she is getting.
Seol is lured by Sang Mi to her place, who drugs her to keep as a hostage following Tae Min’s crime orchestration. The villain orders Se Joo to prepare money or Seol’s life will be on the line. They meet at a rooftop where Se Joo refuses to ride on Tae Min’s blackmail, citing he knows the latter is behind Seol’s abduction.
Not wanting to face the consequence of his failed vile action, Tae Min stands on the ledge of the rooftop, posed to jump. Se Joo reaches for him to prevent his suicide attempt, but he is pushed and falls down in the process. Jin Oh, who came just in time with his weakening power, takes over his friend’s body to cushion the fall as Se Joo retrieves the missing events of their past lives.
Hwi Young meets the alliance for their upcoming raid on a party where Japanese high officials will be attending. They are successful in causing a ruckus but Soo Hyun is caught as she attempts to meet in the rendezvous. It turns out that Madam Sofia is the mole in the group.
Shin Yool, who loves Soo Hyun dearly, pretends to be the leader of the group but Heo Young Min, Tae Min of the past timeline, knows that he is not the leader they are looking for. He uses Soo Hyun’s torture to make Shin Yool confess so they set forth in cornering Hwi Young and the remaining members setting to go to Manchuria.
Hwi Young exchanges gun shots with the police to pave a way for his comrades to escape. But Young Min and his team corner him eventually. He shots himself not wanting to die in the hands of a Joseon traitor. His soul wanders to where Soo Hyun is imprisoned, and promises that he will look for her in their next life time to fulfill his love to her.
In the present timeline, Se Joo withholds the truth about Kim Yool’s betrayal but Jin Oh demands the truth. Seol who tracks her mother retrieves her missing past life memories. She joins the two best friends on their last embarking of what happened after Hwi Young’s martyrdom.
It turns out that Yool receives a package from Hwi Young. The latter leaves a letter, leaving his prized possession to him – the typewriter, the pocket watch and the unfinished novel he is working on. He asks his friend to finish the novel and to take care of Soo Hyun.
Yool uses his family’s connection to bail Soo Hyun out of prison. She heads straight to Carpe Diem, and retrieve the submachine gun to carry on Joseon Youth Alliance mission.
On the day of Young Min’s celebratory banquet for obliterating the rebel youth Joseon group, Seol gate-crashes to the party, and kills all the people in the venue. She then tracks Madam Sofia for her betrayal, and finally Yool for giving out Hwi Young’s name as the leader.
Time is running out for Yoo Jin Oh’s spirit life, as he faints when he exhausted his energy to save Se Joo. Tae Min is apprehended by the police for instigating Seol’s kidnapping. Se Joo gives a final pep talk for him to be at least remorseful and not resort to blaming other people for his evil deeds.
The three friends, who finally finished their story through their shared memories, go for a quiet fishing outing. Jin Oh suddenly disappears, and wakes up to his past life where he sees his two best friends bicker about Hwi Young’s novel.
Jin Oh tells them that he had a very nice dream about them, and picks up the photograph of them that was taken in the present time. Se Joo releases a new novel about his moments with his best friend, and lives happy and contented with Seol by his side.
Neat alignment of Utilized Timelines
‘Chicago Typewriter’ maneuvers to shifting time lines where the storytelling moves simultaneously with the writing of an online serial novel that is set in the 1930’s. The novel, also titled ‘Chicago Typewriter’, recounts the story of the past lives of the main characters, who are freedom fighters in the Japanese Colonial Period. The characters’ visions of their past lives slowly complete the connection of why fate intertwines their existence again in the present time. In paper, it is kind of hard to digest but the tidy arrangement will not make you feel lost. The link of the past and present events are so cohesive and consistent to the pretext of the story that it feels like you are solving a big jigsaw puzzle while unraveling the narrative.
The idea of a real ghost, ghostwriting for a famous novelist suffering on a writer’s block, hooked me up instantly. It rewarded me more, owing to the bromance of the male leads which brims with charming humor. ‘Chicago Typewriter’ takes pride on balancing romance and friendship, along with the inspiring patriotism message specifically dedicated to the angst of single adults, who are whistleblowers of a corrupt government. The ingenious yarning of the fictional thread sets a basic rule that the viewers have to accept — the dynamic reincarnation plot that involves a life affirming friendship between two friends who love the same girl. The romance is nicely sweetened because it provides an impetus of a love that needs another lifetime to fulfill.
I feel like I will remember this drama everytime I see an old typewriter. There are a lot of good things to say about the trio’s love and friendship story. But what marked most in my following is how even with the complex writing, it follows a path that always makes sense. It never derails to the integral drive of presenting the heartbreaking and heartwarming love and friendship of the characters in the story. All throughout its run, the transition from real to the fantasy realm is seamless even with the switching time periods. I like the trips to the 1930’s, and how the writer stays focused in uncovering slowly but surely the details concurrently with the clues of the past and present. It is amazing how the writing withholds the pertinent hints up to the climax point without diminishing the excitement of unhinging the junctures laid in the story. ‘Chicago Typewriter’ patiently works on the conflicts tackled by the characters, who want to redeem their unresolved issues, and yes even if it took them eight decades after.
The Scintillating Characters
It is easy to focus in a story with minimal characters. That is the reason why even with the complicated setting, it’s easy for the main characters in their dual performances to sink in the story and nail their portrayals so well. The love yarning and the friendship bond are cemented well by how the cast moves to the plot in fantasy and reality. I actually appreciate that the love story threads to the right amount of sweetness, paving a way to feature the beautiful framing of the trio’s friendship and the ghost + writer bromance. Se Joo’s sporadic temperament, Jin Oh’s rational mind, and Jeon Seol’s warm heart spin the engrossing effect of ‘Chicago Typewriter‘.
Imbalance Treatment of the Timelines
While the sequencing of the timelines are daintily planned, the past timeline is more interestingly conceived than the present setting. Although it did not mar the beauty of the story, I wish it was given equal showing and strength since the premise leans on achieving the characters’ unfinished business in their reincarnated lives. I was honestly engrossed whenever the plot shifts to the lively night scene in Carpe Diem, and the subversive spirit of the Joseon Youth Alliance on their quest to bring the emancipation of their nation.
Selective Target Audience
‘Chicago Typewriter‘ has a strong tendency to appeal to a specific type of viewers, who prefer analyzing sequences and feeling great about stories with patriotism and reincarnation as a theme. The novelty is refreshing but not gripping for impatient watchers, who prefer the tried and tested storylines.
Yoo Jin Oh is such a charming character that if he was sketched to regain a human body in the concluding episode, I would have not mind if it will be a lame reason. chuckles I just want to have an ever-after for the three friends, who redefined the meaning of best-friends-forever. The finale week sent me sobbing and happy because the drama culminates at a fitting ending after successfully laying all the cards I need to decipher and to feel the sentiments of the narrative.
I think the age group of mid – 20’s above can withstand the intricate progression of ‘Chicago Typewriter’. It requires forbearance but the reward is gratifying, especially when the drama reaches the euphoric phase. I observed no wasted episode except the pilot week groggy introduction.
Smartly written along with top notch acting, ‘Chicago Typewriter’ is a classy K-Drama experience that embodies a stunningly crafted fiction, which is best served if you will watch it with a lover or with your friends.