Did you hear the one about the chief executive of an investment firm who goes looking for the elusive creator of an augmented-reality game? And who meets an alluring Korean woman running a budget Spanish hostel?
Well, you’re about to, because it’s the basis of the latest South Korean binge bonanza on Netflix. Memories of the Alhambra (episodes one to four of the inaugural series available at time of writing) is an engaging contortionist of a show, covering, like a Twister contestant, science fiction, romance, thriller, fantasy, action, mystery, crime and travel, too. The Alhambra fortress-palace of the Spanish city of Granada is displayed most fetchingly throughout.
Typically well-scrubbed Korean superstars Hyun Bin (as investor Yoo Jin-woo) and Park Shin-hye (playing hostel proprietor Jung Hee-ju) bring our story to life. A cryptic phone call from a young programmer on the run in Barcelona sends Yoo to Granada, where he lands, unexpectedly, at Jung’s establishment. The programmer vanishes before Yoo can meet him and make an offer for his invention – an addictive game so powerful it sucks players into its own “immersive universe”.
Naturally, looming on the horizon is a bad guy who also wants the rights to the game, but for nefarious reasons; in the meantime, Yoo tries playing it himself, which is where the show’s fun really starts.
Switching into game mode through a contact lens, Yoo is dumbfounded to find the action and characters superimposed on his actual surroundings. He’s pitched into battle with a ferocious warrior and dies countless times, but with each reboot he hones his sword-fighting technique until he finally defeats the warrior and moves on to the next level. This is also where the show’s considerable comedic element (add that to the list) makes itself felt, with Yoo jumping, screaming, flailing and lashing out at nothing in particular, watched over by bemused Spanish townsfolk.
Spoilers concerning further developments, and any inevitable smouldering between characters, can wait: series one comes in 16 hour-long instalments, with two new episodes weekly, meaning plenty of time for fluttering eyelashes and plot twists.
Memories can be enjoyed more as romp than fable, but that doesn’t detract from its achievement: if the world we occupy really is a giant video game with revolving scenery, and is in fact operated by a godhead twiddling a retro Atari joystick (they don’t make ’em like they used to), this may come closer than any other television show to representing it credibly.
But the trouble with finding out that virtual reality is real is that it’s difficult to comprehend being a player on a make-believe planet driven by special effects, no matter how convincing. So: is it real, or is it Memories?
’Tis the season for festive films!
It’s no use denying it: Christmas is almost here (again). And although to some it may come round with depressing regularity (and frequency), such grumpy naysayers could always try feeling better by dipping into all the evergreen favourite festive films on Amazon Prime: Elf (2003), starring Will Ferrell, perhaps; or Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! (2014), with Martin Clunes.
Or they could just adopt the whole festive spirit of woe, cynicism and ultimately learning all about generosity and compassion by tuning into HBO Go. There they may catch the inimitable George C. Scott as cantankerous miser Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1984 television movie version of Charles Dickens’ ghost story A Christmas Carol. Scott’s is the only personification of Scrooge ever to rival that of the masterful Alastair Sim, who starred in the 1951 big-screen adaptation. Or not. Christmas? Pah!