Busan 2022: Netflix K-drama Glitch – quirky, female-driven action-comedy starring Jeon Yeo-been and Nana looks to the stars
- This K-drama revolves around an ordinary woman (Jeon Yeo-been) who sees visions of a little green alien, and whose boyfriend is missing
- With an old school friend (Nana) who hosts an online show about aliens, she starts to investigate her boyfriend’s disappearance
As she embarks on her search for her missing partner, Jihyo soon rekindles her friendship with former schoolmate Hong Bora (Nana), a force of nature who hosts an online show dedicated to crackpot theories about aliens.
Together, they investigate the queer phenomena surrounding the disappearance, which soon leads them into the sanctum of a deranged religious cult complete with neon lights and VR headsets.
Action, drama, comedy and the unknown blend in this delightfully quirky amalgam that excites with the sensations it inspires and tantalising ideas it explores, but occasionally frustrates with its long-winded narrative, overly broad humour and its inability to fully explore those same ideas.
Directed by Roh Deok, who previously made the memorably wry romantic comedy Very Ordinary Couple, and penned by Extracurricular writer Jin Han-sae, Glitch is about our belief in things that are beyond our knowledge and the relationships that ground us within it.
For Jihyo, that relationship isn’t the one she shares with boyfriend Lee Siguk (Lee Dong-hwi). They’ve been together for years and he has just suggested that they move in together.
This isn’t quite the union Jihyo’s parents have been hoping for, but at this point, anything that gets her out of the house is a net positive.
The relationship has been stale for some time and, despite the social pressure to settle down, Jihyo decides to break things off. Shortly thereafter, Siguk disappears.
Jihyo is naturally worried about him, but as unusual details of his disappearance come to light, her curiosity is piqued by more than concern.
As a child, Jihyo was fascinated with aliens and, though she was a loner at school, her unusual hobby found a kindred soul in fellow outcast Bora.
Meeting for the first time on their school’s roof, Jihyo, her excited eyes shining behind oversized spectacles, and Bora, her listless ones blinking behind plumes of smoke, make an unlikely pair.
One fateful cloudless night, in a field of reeds, Jihyo experienced something that marked her forever – except she doesn’t remember it.
In this scene, which opens the series, a young Jihyo lays on the ground, eyes closed, listening to her Walkman, while a strange hovering light sweeps over her. Is an alien abduction afoot?
This hardly constitutes conclusive evidence that aliens are real (within the world of the show), and the story guides us along a knife’s edge as we try to figure out whether we’re watching a sci-fi story or a comedy about mental illness.
In this and other respects, the show takes after the Korean cult classic Save the Green Planet, which features a protagonist whose paranoid delusions about an impending alien invasion may or may not be real.
What Glitch also shares with Save the Green Planet is a predilection for aggressively switching between genres.
There’s the investigative thriller side of the story, as Jihyo and Bora delve into the mystery, which is also investigated by a detective who likes Jihyo and perplexingly teams up with her busybody colleague.
There’s the drama about repressed trauma and how vulnerable and credulous people can be taken in by pseudo-religions, a scourge of modern South Korean society.
It’s also a story about female camaraderie, as it chronicles the slow mending of Jihyo and Bora’s relationship, which was broken years earlier in school.
It also may or may not be sci-fi, but that you’ll have to figure out for yourself by tuning in.
More than anything else, Glitch is a comedy. It’s sometimes quirky and droll, such as during Jihyo’s visit to a dodgy UFO research centre where things fall off the wall. But a lot of the time it’s broad and silly, the frequent culprits here being Bora’s doltish cohorts in her UFO enthusiasts club.
Viewers’ mileage is likely to vary with the comedy, but the real problem is how it saps the energy from the show’s stronger elements. It often intrudes at the wrong moment, killing the tension in a suspenseful scene or undermining the impact of a dramatic reveal.
The overreliance on comedy feels like a symptom of the show’s drawn-out narrative. The story is very slow to get going and the pace remains lethargic even after most of the pieces have fallen into place.
What Glitch does offer is a refreshing gender perspective with a pair of compelling women leads. They smoke, they don’t need men to help them (in fact, the blundering men around them are usually a hindrance) and they are utterly indifferent to romance.
And this sets up the kicker to Glitch’s ultimate question: are we alone in the universe? Whatever the answer, we’ll never truly be alone if we forge real connections right here on earth.
Glitch will start streaming on Netflix on October 7.