Review: Melting Me Softly (Korea, 2019)

 

 

 

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Ah, Human Cryogenics.

The summary on Viki felt underwhelming to me at a glance but I decided to give it a try anyway. This show got me hooked within the first 5 minutes of the opening episode to say the least. Ji Chang Wook is Ma Dong Chan, a TV Producer who volunteers to participate in a Frozen Human Experiment for 24 hours. Won Jin Ah is Go Mi Ran, a volunteer who agrees to participate in the same experiment for 24 hours in exchange for monetary compensation. The experiment, which was only meant to last for 24 hours ended up lasting 20 years.

I’m gonna explain an outline of the sequence of events in the next several paragraphs with some plot spoilers so if you haven’t seen it yet or started watching and do not want to be spoiled, skip to the next picture.

The experiment begins in 1999.

Ma Dong Chan (Age 32) approaches the eccentric, mysterious but brilliant Professor Hwang to volunteer to participate in the Frozen Human Project for 24 hours. Go Mi Ran (Age 24), who is jobless and looking for opportunity also volunteers after being offer monetary compensation. 22 hours after Professor Hwang puts Ma Dong Chan and Go Mi Ran in the Refrigeration Capsules, he gets a mysterious phone call and leaves the laboratory. While he’s away, the professor is nearly killed and ends up in a coma. Since he is the only person who can safely revive Ma Dong Chan and Go Mi Ran, the two end up being Cryogenically Frozen for 20 years instead of 24 hours…in 2019.

Aside from history as we know it, much has happened during the 20 years Ma Dong Chan and Go Mi Ran were frozen. Those they knew before they were frozen have aged but they themselves are physically the same as they were 20 years earlier. Ma Dong Chan, who feels personally responsible for Go Mi Ran’s lost years as well as their shared physical state commits himself to investigating what happened in the past. The Broadcast Station where he worked covered up its involvement in the Human Freezing Project after his disappearance and his father died while he was frozen. Go Mi Ran’s family learned about what happened to her from the professor’s assistant only because she requested the money promised to her be given to her family if something happened.

The world is shocked and mesmerized when Ma Dong Chan announces to the world that he is the world’s first frozen human. Go Mi Ran’s status as the other Refrigeration Capsule volunteer is later publicly revealed as well. One of the interesting things in an early episode is a talk show-style debate on which age someone who was cryogenically frozen and then revived years later would go by. Should they go by their legal age or the age they were when they were frozen? Ma Dong went from 32 to 52 while Go Mi Ran went from 24 to 44. Physically and biologically, they were still their former ages but legally and chronologically, they were their latter ages. Fortunately, they didn’t complicate it further by having either of them have kids though the third person did have a son who is now a grown man 21 years later.

Moving on. Professor Hwang suddenly awoke from his coma 20 years after they were frozen long enough to revive them before passing out again. The revival was successful but not without a major side effect the professor was aware of: Ma Dong Chang and Go Mi Ran’s body temperature have to mantain a body temperature of 31.5 Celsius (88.7 Fahrenheit), which is WELL below Hypothermia levels. A normal human body temperature is around 37 Celsus (98.6 Fahrenheit) so…yeah. I’ll get to the medical science aspects in a bit but in short, their heat tolerance is very low to say the least. The only way to have their body temperature restored to normal rests in Professor Hwang, whose past is tied to their current situation.

The problem is he suffered temporary but severe memory loss due to being in a coma for 20 years. While he was an amnesiac, he got to know Go Mi Ran’s family and bonded with her brother, who has a low IQ. Professor Hwang laments as he begins to understand the psychological and emotional pain of the families of those who are frozen for the first time. When he finally regains his memories, he sets to work developing a thermal formula to restore Ma Dong Chan and Go Mi Ran to normal. Ma Dong Chan volunteers to test the formula first and after 7 days, it is successful (WOOT!). As for Go Mi Ran, tragedy strikes the day before she would begin treatment. She is severely injured but because of her low body temperature, doctors cannot operate on her. A decision needs to be made so Professor Hwang puts her back in a Refrigeration Capsule for 3 years while he makes a new, stronger formula from scratch to thaw her quickly so that the surgery can be done. It’s decided the third person, who was severely injured before being frozen will have their body temperature returned to normal at a later time.

Ma Dong Chan and Go Mi Ran were two of six people we know of who were put in refrigeration capsules by the professor but we find out who a third is since it’s tied to a major plot point. The identities of the other three or why they were frozen is never mentioned at any point. All we’re told is only Professor Hwang knows who they are and their identities are a closely guarded secret. The one whose identity is revealed is a major plot spoiler I won’t divulge here though so go watch to find out. I will say this person who was frozen in 1998 played an indirect role in Ma Dong Chan and Go Mi Ran being frozen for 20 years.

 

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…Whew. Obviously, I was sucked in by all the science aspects of this series!

I want to get back to the Lower Body Temperature the two leads are afflicted with for most of the series. Clearly they did their homework and what I loved about this is they did not shy away from the science around this. The Thawing Process was not perfected at the time–and as far as we know the two leads plus the identified third person were the first known people to have been revived from the Refrigeration Capsules. I mentioned Professor Hwang had discovered the problem when he did clinical trials on a Dolphin that died. He could not pinpoint the exact cause of death but it became more clear thanks to the two leads. If their body temperature rose above 32.5 C (92 F), they could die.

Since their core body temperature is lower than normal, they have little to no tolerance to heat but an abnormally high tolerence to cold. This is displayed a few times when the two are thrown in the back of a refrigerator truck as well as when they visit a Cold Room (a room with near or at freezing temperatures some spas offer). They also drink ice water a lot to help maintain their lower body temperature. A life-threatening mutation was discovered but fortunately, the professor’s assistant was able to quickly develop an antidote. When the professor finally develops a proper medicine to raise their body temperature to normal,

There is plenty of material for a season two with new characters. One of the opening dialogues for the first episode notes that it’s believed that there are at least 600 people who are in Refrigeration Capsules in Korea, the U.S. and Russia. Sadly, it looks like the show didn’t do very well when it first aired last Fall in Korea. It’s easy to see why despite the Korean celebrity cameos in some episodes. The show clearly tried too hard to be a Rom Com, Mystery and a Sci-Fi Medical Drama all at once when it should have picked one of them and stuck with it.

I must also agree with the overall consensus that although they tried hard, they came up short with the storytelling. The Science aspects wasn’t the problem but rather it was pretty obvious the producers didn’t have a clue about what kind of story they wanted to tell. Most of the supporting cast also got too much development given it was a 16-episode series, which is too much for one that short. It also shows where things are rushed or just not really given ample time to move things along.

A few things that come to mind–and there are some minor spoilers–include:

  • Ma Dong Chan’s ex girlfriend and Go Mi Ran’s ex boyfriend don’t really seem to get happy endings or satisfying endings. Both wanted to pick up where they left off despite one having since married. I do think the dissatisfied endings were intended but the problem is they both got so much screentime and development.
  • The third person who gets thawed was at the center of most of the story…but he doesn’t get an ending. The last we hear before Go Mi Ran gets hurt is the plan is to raise his body temperature once he’s recovered more. He’s never seen or heard from after that. You’re left to presume he recovers offscreen.
  • The man who stabbed Go Mi Ran has absolutely no background story and “The boss wants one of them dead for you to be paid”. This point is highlighted by the fact he’s not seen again after he stabs her but is apparently tracked down offscreen.
  • Yes, the same actor who plays Ma Dong Chan’s father in the first episode plays his brother for the rest of the series. That was actually pretty clever and the same was done with one of his colleagues. One actor playing two roles. The 20-year gap makes this discrepency easier to explain but it makes a lot more sense with his brother and father. His father died a few years earlier from a stroke.
  • It’s very surprising that there are only two instances in which Go Mi Ran and Ma Dong Chan meet people who are interested in being put in Refrigeration Capsules. This makes even less sense after Professor Hwang perfects the thawing formula for there to not be a lot more folks interested in being frozen.
  • Speaking the professor. Until Go Mi Ran got put back in a capsule, he states several times that other than himself, his assistant and participants, no one is allowed to enter his laboratory. This is presumably to keep certain information from being made public or falling into the hands of those who would misuse the tech. After Go Mi Ran is put back in a capsule, it’s explained many of the world’s leading scientists are working with him to develop a new thawing formula for her and his lab is like a beehive. I doubt those other scientists would have been able to help him without knowing the specifics of how the Refrigeration Capsules work as well as about Ma Dong Chan, who is restored. I also doubt they would have agreed to leave what they learned in that lab. What’s to say someone doesn’t take that knowledge with them back to their own country?
  • Going with that last point. It’s stated in the first episode that about 600 people are believed to be frozen in the U.S., Russia and Korea. The actor playing Kim Jong Un in one scene remarks had North Korean known about the Refrigeration Capsules, they could have used it to freeze his late father Kim Jong Il. This was a one-off scene but it does raise the question never touched during the course of the series: Do world governments try to develop their own Refrigeration Capsules?

Those are just some things that came to mind for me. By the way there IS cryogenic freezing IRL but as of right now, only those who have already died can be frozen. As far as I know, no one has figured out a way to safely cryogenically freeze a living person. Sure, you can freeze someone in ice but they’ll die. The thing that needs to be figured out is freezing someone without killing them, causing permanent nerve damage or causing permanent tissue and organ damage. Once that can be figure out…well, who knows.

 

Overall, I give Melting Me Softly an 8/10. It’s definitely worth watching at least once. In addition to being on Viki, it was released on Blu Ray internationally (Korean Audio with English subtitles). If there is a Season 2, it would need to fix a lot of the storytelling-related problems from the first season even if it uses an entirely different cast and production team.

 

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