BEFORE YOU GO FURTHER, PLEASE CONSIDER POSSIBLE PLOT SPOILERS!
Before I lead you into the story, the characters, the actors, and other things that make Alchemy of Souls what it is, let me show you a small recap of what this story is about – Official Clip.
1. PLOT SUMMARY
The plot is set in a fictional country called Daeho, which reminds us of China in her Imperial days or Traditional Japan. Alchemy of Souls revolves around two main characters – Jang Uk, a young man from a noble Jang family that wishes to open his gate of energy, and Mu-Deok, his servant, his teacher, a warrior, and a “hwanhonsool” (the soul of the dead returned to the living).
Well, now things get interesting! Let’s start from the beginning. We follow the journey of Naksu, a female assassin who gets deadly wounded after trying to avenge her father’s killers. It is Park Jin, a leader of Songrim who forces an attack on her because she was responsible for killing mages of Songrim. Aware that she will die in her current body, Naksu decides to swap souls and hide in an unsuspecting body, which happens to be Mu-Deok, a blind girl unaware of her own past.
Naksu, or should I say Mu-Deok accidentally runs into Jang Uk, who becomes quickly aware that there is a soul shifter in the body of a girl in front of him. But he decides to stay silent, keeping his reasons to himself. I won’t reveal more than then, but all I can say is that the main idea behind the story is that Naksu (Mu-Deok), will help Jang Uk to open his gate of energy so that he can become a Songrim mage and he will help Naksu strengthen her body and mind so that she can become a powerful again.
Once they achieve these goals, they are no longer obliged to keep each other safe, from the moment Jang Uk and Mu-Deok become who they wish to be, they will consider each other enemies.
But the more time they spend together, the more things around them and between them become more complicated. People who swap their souls into new bodies are unwanted and considered monsters who should be killed.
It is unnatural to inhabit a new body because in most cases, the new body, and a different soul are not a match. And then what happens is that the soul goes mad. A person slowly starts to turn into a stone and the only way to stop it is to consume other people’s life essences.
Now, you see why they are unwanted. The abominations of magic.
The entire magic of bringing people to life and swapping souls revolves around the Ice stone. It is said that the stone can change its matter into the wind, water, and earth and during those changes, the stone emits a speck of black dust. And that very dust is like conduct which helps transfer a soul from one body to another.
The plot builds up as time goes by, but it is easy to follow the story, and the revelation of every moment is satisfying. There are many other characters in this story that you should keep an eye on, but I will let you learn about them on your own. Expect powerful families of mages, the imperial ruling family, grieving mothers full of hope, lost daughters, men hungry for power and so much more!
In season 1, every episode of Alchemy of Souls lasts around an hour and you have 20 episodes for your enjoyment. A lot of things happen, but some plots are better left unsaid. My words would never do the series justice. It is better to see Alchemy of Souls through your eyes than through mine.
2. A PERSONAL OPINION ON THE SCRIPT
In short: Alchemy of Souls is first and foremost – funny. It is interesting, filled with action, beauty, body comedy, and scenes that grasp your heart and hold it tight until the plot unravels. The show keeps you on your toes and makes you hold your breath until you see how the plot unfolds. The magical beauty of casting spells between the characters is like art unfolding before your eyes. You basically root for more scenes between two main characters, Jang Uk and Mu-deok.
And I must say this, I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Mu-deok and Go Won, the crown prince of Daeho. Her condescending, yet kind-hearted address toward the prince and his acknowledging her, even though she is a servant in his eyes, (and dirty…). Oh, how I enjoyed those moments.
If I have to say one negative thing, I wouldn’t really characterize it as a negative thing, since it only adds more feeling to the scene. Well, to finally explain what I mean, I am talking about the scenes in which the camera holds a bit longer on someone’s face. It reminded me of Bollywood films in which you have 10-minute scenes only of people looking at each other in utter shock. It lasts way shorter in this Korean drama, but enough for me to notice. I don’t really mind it, but it was a bit funny.
What I like about the characters is that nothing happens suddenly, nobody falls in love in a day, past actions follow characters into the present and not everything is as it seems. The creators of this show definitely tried their best to fool their viewers multiple times. My viewing of the show was filled with constant oh-s and loud laughter!
It was so refreshing to discover a show that was not set in the present, and I am happy, that when it comes to Korean series, this was my first.
Jang Uk’s gaze sent shivers down my spine and I loved the scenes in which he showed his resourcefulness, inability to give up, and always capability to keep his promises. During the 20 episodes, he broke my heart, made my soul sing, filled my lungs with laughter, and sometimes destroyed all hope that came and left with him.
Something that doesn’t make sense to me is as we learn about him, he had 12 teachers before he met Mu-Deok (Naksu), and yet he didn’t even know how to lead simple combat. In the beginning, you are taught that he is one of the “Four Seasons” and that he represents “Winter”. But, if people know about him and three of his companions for skills and power, how come he knows literally nothing? That was a bit odd for me. Of course, Jang Uk definitely proves to us that he is a fast learner, but still, 12 teachers and not one taught him anything?
Let’s move on.
I lived for the scenes between slow Park Jin and proud Kim Do-joo, from the very start it seemed that they were meant for each other, but they acted as if he spoke with one language, and she with another. I must say it now or I will forget it, but I believe to my core that every actor was perfectly selected for their role.
Their personalities were carefully orchestrated and the actors did an amazing job, and I stand by my words. You wanted to hate the characters with lawful evil traits and root for the ones with lawful good traits. But then again, even in this show, not every character is black and white. Especially when you look at their past and personality. They are all beings of flesh and bone and desire. They are all people formed by their past, suffering, loss, and crippling hope to have what their heart desires.
Mu-deok (depending on who I talk about), constantly had it all, lost it all, fought, bled, cried, and clawed her way towards the future she desired. I never thought of her as weak, evil, or brazen. She tried her best to live as she was taught and how she believed was right. She tried to survive in a world where the weak are used and the stronger conquer others.
She, among others in the Alchemy of Souls, shows tremendous character growth. The vast majority of characters are different from the people they were in episode one. And the most interesting part is that episode I isn’t the start of everyone’s story. We have already been tossed in the middle of many secrets, hidden wars, character-forming situations, and pasts already set in stone.
You think you know what drives a person until you learn something new about them that changes the whole picture of their persona. You believe that as we watch their lives, we know everything, but even the writer fools us, the viewers. We cannot judge others until new bits of history are revealed to us. And even then, we cannot be sure if everything was revealed to us.
3. EVALUATING ACTORS
Jung So-Min (Mu-Deok) is a South Korean actress, born on March 16, 1989, which gave me quite a shock when I learned her real age. She must be drinking some kind of elixir of youth because I would never say she has that much experience in her life. As Mu-Deok she was electrifying, convincing, and really funny in her scenes with Shin Seung-Ho (Go Won). She displayed emotions with such ease and I truly believe that she is really talented.
If you would like to see her more in her other works, she is known for the television series Bad Guy, The Sound of Your Heart which was a huge success in China and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. And those are just some of her works.
Lee Jae-Wook (Jang Uk) is born on May 10, 1998, which makes him younger than Jung So-Min. Not only does he act, but he is also known for modeling. He was extremely interesting as Jang Uk and one thing constantly when through my mind. Every time he was on my screen, Lee seemed serious and experienced for his age. He gave a feeling of being wise and rational. I doubt that anyone would bring the character of Jang Uk to life the way he did. Especially the scenes he shared with Shin Seung-Ho (Go Won), those scenes were just pure gold.
He is known for Search: WWW, an office romance, When The Weather Is Fine and a comedy Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol which boosted his fame.
Yu Jun-Sang (Park Jin) is a known actor and singer. In the first scenes as Park Jin, he was ruthless, unforgiving, and quite scary. But as the story progressed, you get to learn more about his gentle side and his personal thoughts, which only helped bring depth to the character. He was perfect for the role and I do not believe anyone would bring Park Jin better to life than Yu Jun-Sang himself. Even the silly scenes were acted out in a perfect manner and I have nothing but praise for him. You can see him in The Day He Arrives, In Another Country, and the tv drama My Husband Got a Family.
Jo Jae-Yun (Jin Mu) is a South Korean actor who is known for The Suspect, The Man from Nowhere, and Gu Family Book. I was rather worried during many scenes where he played Jin Mu. When playing an evil character, you can either make him memorable or quite forgettable. Plus, if you manage to make him charismatic, you got nothing but praise from me.
He portrayed Jin Mu quite effortlessly and he definitely made you believe that there is nothing redeemable about him. I took him as serious, intelligent, and not to be trusted. I honestly believed that he was Jin Mu, a mage hungry for power over others. The only thing I would reconsider about him is making him more vicious, and brusque. A couple of times he did seem a bit gentle. No one said that playing a villain is easy.
Park Eun-Hye (Jin Ho-Gyeong) is born on February 21, 1977. She is best known for Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace) which brought her tremendous popularity, Yi San, and the Taiwanese series Silence. In Alchemy of Souls, she played the grieving mother who was in search of her daughter Bu-Yeon. This made her character bitter, always serious and unforgiving, but I never saw her as a black and white character.
I am not a mother (yet), but I could in some way understand her inability to go on with her life after losing her. The constant creeping hope was her main cross to bear. The actress did a fantastic job because at every point I never thought that she wasn’t Jin Ho-Gyeong. I only saw Jin Ho-Gyeong, a grieving and neglecting mother. But at the same time, willing to mend her family.
Kang Kyung-Hun (Queen Seo Ha-Sun) is an amazing beauty born on March 14, 1975. As the Queen, she seemed like she experienced many lifetimes and she convinced me in every way that she is a fragile, unsuspecting woman in a high position. It surprised me that her character was also a soul shifter desperate not to be discovered and ready to kill everybody in her way.
Kang Kyung-Hun gave me shivers during her performance, especially in moments when she had nothing to lose anymore and all bets were off the table. She gave her top performance at the very climax of the series. Those scenes could have seemed silly or overacted, but no. That was definitely not the case. A deep bow to this actress. She is known for Bird That Doesn’t Cry, the movie Hunt, and Empire of Lust.
Shin Seung-Ho (Go Won) is a young South Korean actor, and a model best known for Love Alarm, Double Patty, and A-Teen. As a prince, I was surprised at how well the role suited him. He was serious, but not bratty. Skilled, but brave. Likable, but not forced.
The more I saw him on the screen, the more he showed his worth as an actor. What I didn’t like is that it was easy to brush him off, but I understand it was for comedic purposes. Or at some moments, he was skilled, but later it seemed he wasn’t so good with fighting which I found a bit underwhelming, but that is not on him. I must say he mastered his portrayal of the prince. At some point, he managed to remind us what he represents and that it is best to stay on his good side.
Joo Sang-Wook (Jang Gang) is an actor that I had a feeling I saw before. Born on July 18, 1978, he is known for Giant, Cunning Single Lady, and Good Doctor. As Jang Gang, he didn’t get much screen time, but it was more than enough for him to establish his character and break our hearts into tiny pieces in every scene in which he appeared. He emitted a warm feeling every time he appeared.
Joo Sang-Wook managed to make Jang Gang capable, strong, and determined. The plot went against him, but this is how I perceived him, and I stand by my words. I would definitely like to see more of him as the good guy.
There are many other characters that I didn’t mention but a lot of them, if not all of them were so amazing, believable, and always gave 100% in every scene in which they appeared.
The honorable mentions: Minhyun (Seo Yul), Yoo In-Soo (Park Dang-Gu), Lee Do-Kyung (Heo Yeom), Arin (Jin Cho-Yeon), Oh Na-Ra (Maidservant Kim Do-Joo), Lim Chul-Soo (Master Lee Cheol), Ko Yoon-Jung (Naksu), Seo Hye-Won (So-I), Sojin (Ju-Wol) and many, many others.
4. OTHER WORKS OF JOON HWA PARK
There is not much I can say about him, only that he is a South Korean director with at least 15 years of experience in the director’s chair. And I believe that Alchemy of Souls will earn him the global respect and recognition that he definitely deserves.
Besides giving us Alchemy of Souls, here are some of his other notable works:
- Touch Your Heart (Jinsimi Dadda – 2019)
- What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (Kimbiseoga Wae Geureolgga – 2018)
- Because This Is My First Life (Yibun Saengeun Cheoeumira – 2017)
- Bring it on, Ghost (Ssawooja Gwishina – 2016)
- Let’s Eat 2 (Shiksyareul Habshida 2 – 2015)
- Let’s Eat (Shiksyareul Habshida 1 – 2013-2014)
- Ugly Young-A (Makdwemeokeun Youngaessi – Season 1-11; 2007-2013)
5. TO WATCH OR NOT TO WATCH
Well, after every single word that I have written here, you probably think that I will say that you should stay away from this series and not watch it. True, I didn’t think that either. The truth is, even though I made it obvious from the very beginning, my personal opinion is – WATCH IT!
You should definitely give this series a chance. Don’t expect a lot of blood or intestines gushing everywhere, but that is not even the point of this marvelous story. The visuals are gorgeous, the actors did a tremendous job and they portrayed their characters with a certain dose of seriousness.
There is one thing I am worried about. I am very concerned if Naksu ever changes the body (there is a huge possibility), will the actress be able to show us the Naksu we saw in Mu-Deok? A new actress has some big shoes to fill and I can only hope that Naksu portrayed by two or three actresses won’t seem entirely different. If we move this concern away, I can honestly say that I am really looking forward to the second season. And I will miss Jung So-Min as Naksu. I truly will. Her acting is pure joy to watch.
I really hope you enjoyed my review and I warmly recommend that you check out To Watch or Not to Watch: Romance is a Bonus Book [Review].
Did you watch Alchemy of Souls? Tell me in the comments how you liked it. Or Maybe you disliked it? Have I sparked an interest or perhaps this isn’t your cup of tea? I would love to see your honest and fresh opinions!