“Memory” Series Review (Ep.1 to 14)

I have a special place in my heart for Vietnamese BLs. I consume them as they are so creative and tell substantial human stories on an emotional level. This one did too; just not as well as others. And I am sorry about that because I think their intent was in the right place. The execution was just not so effective.

The saga is a very convoluted one between two rather sad figures. Khanh Dang (Duy Hung), because of a recent car accident, has lost a lot of his immediate memory about what happened. He keeps getting nebulous flashbacks about a person who is important in his life but does not know why or how. Adding to the confusion is Khanh Dang’s girlfriend, To Linh (Miu July), who plays the forlorn lover, confined to a wheelchair for now because of the same accident. She tries to persuade Khanh Dang to remain with her. Although he does not recall the details, he still feels responsible for the accident but simply cannot bring himself to getting committed to her. He senses there is someone else in his life who is more important than her and akin to being his soulmate. But he does not know who. Depressed and melancholic, he decides to kill himself in three months, as his life seems so rudderless.

He only gets bits and pieces of his memory, that are painful to remember, which becomes even more tortuous for him. His whole disposition now becomes one of anger, aloofness and hopelessness, yet still wanting to do the right thing.

What makes this series indeed interesting is that various deities are, in essence, manipulating the outcome of the story. One is trying to prevent Khanh Dang from losing complete hope of finding his love while the other tries to prevent the memories of Anh Hao (Tran Minh Duon) from surfacing. This battle and schism between the God of Skepticism and the Goddess of Hope tear and pull at Khanh Dang.

Although Anh Hao was killed in this same accident, he is given the opportunity to come back to attempt to jar Khanh Dang’s memory and have him see, at his own volition, the intensity of their relationship, which now has been shrouded away. However, the God of Destiny prevents either one of the deities to interfere in the fruition of their relationship. It must be done on their own before either one of their times on this earth comes to an end.

There are an astonishing number of twists and turns to this series and so many intricacies to its development that the story gets convoluted and is somewhat hard to follow at times. It does come to an interesting conclusion at the end, but with so many avenues to get there and so many characters coming and going, the main point gets wayward.

Given the esoteric nature of this theme and the intervention of divinity into the weaving of the story, the acting is surprisingly deep, adept, and had a sense as well as a feel of compassion. Describing the story sounds a bit unorthodox by Western standards, but it still felt natural and oh so believable. All of them gave everything into their individual roles. Some playing roles of gods and goddesses also took human form, with the transitions in personalities remaining consistent. Impressive. One of the uniqueness about Vietnamese series is their total commitment to making us feel as if these characters, all of them, are real, relatable, and completely believable, no matter what the form. And they all did that.

Two characters deserve a special shout-out. Miu July as To Linh portrayed an exceptionally complex character. She is obviously tortured by her actions in what happened to Khanh Dang. She tries desperately to hold on to Khanh Dang, perhaps in an attempt to lessen her guilt. But in the end, must give way to the truth and, more importantly, develop a path of forgiveness. She is only able to do that when Ahn Hao forgives her for her transgressions. Those complexities are developed and displayed so effectively, not so much with words but with sadness, pained expressions, and an overwhelming sense of guilt and remorse. The second shout-out goes to the psychiatrist (Do Hai Hoa). Always in a position of wanting to help his patients, he must take a back seat to his own emotions. Being a professional, yet displaying a sense of vulnerability without trying to be overt about it. Kudos for such a depth to a character who is supposedly a rock for others but is in need of understanding just as much as anyone else is. A secondary role that stands out with distinction.

This series has a heart. It also has commitment. Perhaps this is one of those series that simply does not translate well into different cultures and that is my bias. I have a difficult time incorporating gods and goddesses into modern day circumstances, even as a fantasy story line. Undoubtedly, that is a cultural bias for me.

However, the keynote that pushed this series into a bit more of a mediocre story was the lack of real chemistry between the two main leads. I just did not see, feel, or get their supposed love connection. The ‘kissing’ scene’ which was repeated as if in a loop throughout, was painful to watch. I did not see or sense any spark and true connection between them. If you are going to kiss, you must give the audience the feeling that it is true and honest. There was no real sense of an intimate connection between them as their body language displayed their uncomfortableness in being close. That I did not feel nor see chemistry was disappointing. It is so ironic as the rest of the acting seems so authentic. This made it stand out even more obviously. Surprisingly, this was the first hesitating kissing scene I have seen in a Vietnamese BL series and the first that seemed so artificial. Their apparent sense of reluctance to do it seemed obvious, and that was a kiss of death to any romantic scene.

The production value of this series was somewhat limited. Repeated scenes. Editing seemed strained and at times it was hard to follow the story, as the sequence did not make sense. It is obvious that they were doing this on a shoe-string budget with limited special effects, which,for its limited capacity, did elementarily work. Perhaps if the story was limited to no more than Thanh Dang and Anh Hao connecting, it would have been a more impactful story. Instead, it became a highly moral story of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘good’ vs ‘evil’. Not a bad message by any means, but it robbed the story of the ultimate outcome – which was a love story between two men. That got lost.

This Vietnamese BL series was a bit disappointing for me. It had good bones to it but was never fleshed out fully to become alive. The native title ‘ANH, MÌNH BÌNH YÊN NHÉ!’ which literally translates to “Brother, Let’s Be At Peace”. I do believe that title is more suitable to this series, as so many of the characters are filled with anxiety, emotional pain, and strife and are searching for inner peace.

Rating- 3 out of 5

Streaming on- here

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