This Netflix Series Hooked Viewers for 18 Weeks

Does K-drama "Soul Alchemy" need to air 30 episodes instead of the normal 16? Its staggering Netflix numbers suggest that, yes, it does.

Alchemy of the Soul, the recently completed 30-episode epic of superstar writer duo Hong Sisters, qualifies as an outlier. While there are always exceptions, traditional Korean cable TV dramas usually don't go beyond the default 16-episode format or return for a second season. They are one-off, and this limitation usually strengthens the final product; less is (almost always) better than more. Netflix's blockbuster "Alchemy of the Soul" proves the rare opposite. The story's ideas are too expansive, and the narrative too comprehensive to be limiting, rather than a tiresome welcome, and the production even keeps viewers engaged enough to come back for season 2 -- in a culture of binge-consuming consumption that continues to prevail, This response is never guaranteed.

Like any successful long-form narrative, "Alchemy of the Soul" offers obvious reasons why it grabs the audience's attention with its charming teeth. On the one hand, the experienced Hong sisters are excellent in this. Their character beats and stylistic themes remain familiar enough to be intriguing, yet unique enough to avoid tedious repetition. One can draw parallels between Soul Alchemy and their previous fantasy outings, like the Hotel de Luna (and this writer), but try to guess at the overlapping, overarching mysteries that drive Soul Alchemy Almost As enjoyable as the content itself is its soul-swapping magic system, alternate historical universes, lavish production, and massive cast. Oh, that romantic bittersweet. The sisters are a chef's kiss in TV form, giving viewers what they want, and a healthy dose they never expected.

What is 'Alchemy of Souls' About?

Fittingly enough, it would take hours to sum up Alchemy of the Soul. The simplest description: A group of mages protect the universe from a black magic known as Soul Alchemy in the fictional Great Lakes (based on a Korean historical aesthetic, but not related to a specific time period). The process involves transferring a soul from one body to another, usually for reasons of greed, power, or immortality (or a combination of all three), and with the help of force. Daeho's Songrim Mages Academy exists to train students in ethical magical practices and eradicate soul shifters. A "running" shapeshifter must constantly feed on the souls of others to survive and poses a clear threat to innocent human life. Beyond that, the Great Lakes are filled with ancient customs, artifacts, legends, legacies, intrigues, and secrets enough to whet anyone's appetite, from traditional secret royal heirs to epic firebirds.

The main dramatic thrust involves Nak-su (Jung So-min in season 1, Go Youn-jung in season 2), a skilled assassin and enemy of Daeho who accidentally transfers her soul to a servant Mu frail body in-de. As such, she has no access to her magic or legendary combat abilities. Her fate is intertwined with that of Jang Xu (Lee Jae Wook), an aspiring mage whose father suppressed his spellcasting ability. Once Zhang Yu realizes Luo Xiu's identity, he hits the stride and makes a deal: If Luo Xiu trains him to unleash his mage potential, he will in turn help her do the same in her new body. Nak-su reluctantly agrees; the two fall in love more reluctantly, a pair of mismatched people who actually complement each other perfectly.

'Alchemy of Souls' Helps Normalize the K-Drama Antiheroine

Creating some of the funniest leading ladies on cable TV is a huge part of the Hong sisters' weaponized appeal. In 2019, years before the Netflix productions "Glory" and "My Name" brought the concept to a climax, Hotel Del Luna's Jang Man-wol (Lee Ji-eun, stage name IU) was known for her tortured, ruthless, often Ruthless and always personable. a mighty god condemned Man-wol is in charge of overseeing the hotel, which is a resting place for ghosts to settle their remaining ties after death as punishment for a murder Man-wol committed over a thousand years ago. She herself must recover from her savage desire for revenge, find reciprocated love in exchange for respite, and instead resolve to live a life of eternal pain. Sure, Man-wol does slip into her redeeming calm, but in the harsher series, IU's piercing eyes and lingering, predatory heel snaps make up the fuel for nightmares.

This is dangerously tricky behavior. Amazingly, Nak-su proves to be equally rich in the lead. Nak-su, an orphan girl raised by manipulative villain Jin Mu (Jo Jae-yoon) to serve as his personal assassin in his relentless quest for power, Nak-su defines the life of a ruthless survivor. concept. Her cold, nonchalant nature suggests that she is emotionally deprived; quite the opposite. Willfully isolating herself, whether out of affection or to make herself the strongest fighter on any battlefield, is her only recourse. Panicked fear is Nak-su's main motivation for resisting her growing affection for Jang-su until the end of season 1, when she argues with herself that he Just a means to an end. Korean media no longer has the stark lack of complex, powerful, morally ambiguous heroines that it once did, but that doesn't make Nak-su a less inspiring presence. Actresses Jung So-min and Go Eun-jung bring their own distinct presences to their shared roles, but never feel dissonant or a poor carbon copy of the other. It's easy to instinctively miss Jung So-min, and season 2 provides lighter, more charming material for Go Youn-jung, but it's a shining portrayal of Nak-su's lost innocence, and also highlights the alternate actress and lead actor chemical reaction.

Nak-su and Jang Uk's Love Story Is Irresistible in 'Alchemy of Souls'

Speaking of leading men, Lee Jae-wook mainly plays villains like Jang Wook. It's not the easiest part of the world, to be sure; Jae-wook strikes the ideal line between a stubborn, young boy, a rightfully depressed and displaced young man, and the committed love interest that romantic K-dramas generate balance. The necessary slow-motion montage is rarely as rich as Zhang Yu catching raindrops on his gleaming sword, and he provides a feast of sad eyes and brooding gazes. After all, Nak-su and Jang Uk's romance drives the series forward soul. Their dynamic is multi-character: sometimes foe-versus-lovers jokes, sometimes tragic, and always mutual devotion. Who can resist the metaphorical and literal fusion of Skylight (Zhang Xu) and Earth Shadow (Nak-su)?

The Production Value of 'Alchemy of Souls' is Second To None

Even for a 30-episode series, the sheer size of Alchemy of the Soul's cast can seem haphazard to a few. Instead, the (admittedly complex) world is nourished by the supporting cast's individual eccentricities, intrigue, power plays, and multigenerational romance. Each mentor, colleague, leader, and foe boasts its own arc to portray: a young leader growing up through irresponsibility, a neglected young daughter looking for purpose, two (yes, two!) The desperate longing for an independent love triangle, and how each individual is personally intertwined with wider power structures and entire social hierarchies. Production design cannot be ignored either. Budgets are rarely wasted in South Korea, which understandably raises audience expectations; nevertheless, Alchemy of the Soul's cinematography and editing are classed as moving art. Each costume is so structured and creative that it's nearly impossible to tell where a location begins and a scene ends, or how much CGI fills the gaps in between.

Yes, completing 30 episodes may sound intimidating; indeed, Soul Alchemy Commitment is required. It's a promise to give back, with a material density that is substantial rather than wasteful. "Soul Alchemy" marks yet another brilliant example of traditional cable K-drama success: a relentless mix of entertaining, inventive, unpredictability, and viscerally satisfying.

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