Written by Lee Je-In & Jeon Chan-Ho
Directed by Jin Hyeok
‘What in the world is going on?’ asks one character during the first episode of Sisyphus: The Myth, and it’s something you might find yourself asking too during its opening chapter.
There is a considerable sense of world building going on, but the writers have opted not to spell everything out right away, going for a ‘show, don’t tell approach’ which is somewhat refreshing.
You get the sense of what the plot is, but there’s so much of it and it’s being told in a way that never panders or speaks down to the audience that it might come across as a little dense to keep up at first glance. On the surface this looks like a big shiny technology-driven drama with gloss and a lot of style, and admittedly it is all that, but there is also a touch of ‘mystery box’ to its storytelling.
Nothing is explained directly, and you get the feeling that the elusiveness of some of its answers are going to be used as a means to keep the audience watching beyond these two episodes.
The series clearly has a sizeable budget. The first hour features a spectacular sequence depicting a near miss involving a plane crash over the skies of Seoul which is gripping, suspenseful and very well staged, and while predominantly set in the present day, you get a sense of the epic backstory just waiting to be explored.
Time travel stories when done well are great. Think of the best Star Trek and Doctor Who stories (particularly during the Steven Moffat era) or James Cameron’s Terminator films, and you get the feeling the writers are big fans of the latter.
A time traveller on a mission from the future stealing clothes from a civilian puts one in mind of when Arnold Schwarzenegger used those methods, while a prominent technology developer playing a major part in proceedings was a key plot point from Terminator 2. That’s not to say this is unoriginal; these ideas and tropes have been around forever, and brilliantly for the majority of its first hour, Sisyphus: The Myth throws the audience into its time travel story with little to no set-up or explanation and hopes that it’s intriguing enough to keep you invested.
Thankfully, it is. Park Shin-hye’s character emerging into present day South Korea having come from (what I am assuming) is a post-apocalyptic future and being greeted by a bunch of Geiger counter, Hazmat-suited scientists and heavily armed SWAT team is a scenario that draws you in even if we’re unsure of what is actually going on. On the other side of the story, Cho Seung-woo’s character getting caught up in a mystery fuelled by the reappearance of his dead brother (falling on to the crashing plane that kickstarts the plot) is pacey, gripping and utilises the cross cutting narrative style of so many K-dramas in a brilliant engrossing manner.
By the time you get to episode 2, we’re off to the races and the escalation of action and tension starts to build and you can see the mystery elements starting to show their hand. The emergence of The Control Bureau gives the series a considerable antagonist, and one which puts the audience in mind of the Agents from The Matrix, which means we’re getting something that has elements of not only James Cameron but also The Wachowskis and that’s not a bad thing.
If the plane sequence in episode one was a big component of what drew you in, then the moment that will have you applauding in episode two is without a doubt the prolonged fight/chase sequence involving Park Shin-hye beating up a room full of Control Bureau agents and running over rooftops with her new best friend played by Chae Jong-hyeop.
It’s a brilliant piece of action choreography, and while arguably it doesn’t add too much to the story other than suggesting that the character of Seo-hae has considerable self-defence training, it’s a brilliant piece of fun that suggests that Sisyphus: The Myth isn’t above throwing into the mix big set pieces that work if you don’t think about them too much.
It’s clear that the agents of the Control Bureau need to take up firearms training again. They have plenty of clear shots at Seo-hae and yet keep seem to keep missing her. It’s the type of action movie logic one must ignore and if you do you’ll have more fun with the series. That it’s punctuated by a punch line involving the image of Park Shin-hye flipping off the villains makes it even more action movie fun.
Overall, it’s a very promising opening to the series, full of wit, mystery, and action. The trick will be if it can sustain the landing and keep this pace and intriguing mystery building going for the next seven weeks beyond these opening instalments. Not only that, there is also the question of whether the answers it will give (if it will give us answers that is) will be in anyway satisfying.
Series like this are tricky beasts. The unanswered questions that they pose can draw you in so powerfully, but it’s the way it delivers answers that can prove either its biggest success or biggest failing.
That this is Park Shin-hye’s first series in two years and one that puts her on-screen with Stranger’s Cho Seong-woo will no doubt make this a big draw and the series is hinting at their scenes to come. Funnily enough, it appears to have elements that make it another technological parable like Shin-hye’s last series Memories of the Alhambra. That series opened strong but lost its way somewhat in the final stages by mistaking convoluted story telling for complexity.
On the surface that doesn’t appear to be a problem here. Yet. However, on the basis of this, this is a very promising two hours that draws you in with its mysterious charms and lack of fear of going for big set-pieces and emotional moments, as judged by the final scenes of the second episode which have a sweetness to them that I’m looking forward to seeing the series explore more.
So far, I’m hooked. Here’s hoping it will stay the course.